With the world locking down and isolating, does it seem an odd time to be discussing travel? I totally understand why travel, per se, is not top of mind for you or anyone else right now. But with the time lots of us have on our hands, I want to spend a few minutes explaining why travel is pretty high on the list of things we might contemplate for a few moments.
Firstly, some of our best memories are of travel. The vacations we took as children with our parents, the trips we have experienced with our own families and friends.
Humans are a pilgrim species. Travel is a part of more than our culture, it is embedded in our very DNA. Travel requires us to endure some discomfort, it teaches us tolerance, patience and perseverance.
There is indeed a spiritual aspect to travel. Though travel is outwardly about transportation, a crossing of borders, lodging and logistics, every journey somehow has an internal component as well, as though some of the borders crossed are interior to our psyche. We long for a horizon that moves one step away from us as quickly as we take a step forward. Yet, when we gaze inward, we find that same horizon there. There is something about travel that involves a defiance of the physical act of travel as though we are participating in a quest for understanding and knowledge as much as accruing mileage.
Now, as we find ourselves largely homebound, perhaps it is a good time to evaluate the importance of travel to our psyche, to what it has meant to us in the past to what it will mean to us as things normalize. One way to do so is to use travel to distract us a bit from the day to day routines we are lapsing into in the much smaller world of our homes, and to use the technologies and media to our advantage to visit the world virtually. So for your digital travel adventures over the next few weeks, let me suggest a few of the best opportunities I have encountered as of late:
It’s a big world and we have seen so little of it. Stopping is somehow inconceivable.
Many of you have been asking about your upcoming travel plans. I want to assist you with your questions, but first, a few words about more important matters.
We find ourselves in interesting times, where much of the normal functioning of our daily lives seems out of order. However, there are also a great many certainties. While we are all engaged in our various pursuits to earn a living and raise our families, we are also neighbors and friends. I want to say I am here for you. Things will at some point return to normal, we will get on with the routine we sometimes complain about but for which we are now a little nostalgic. Until then, know beyond being your “travel agent,” you and I are neighbors, friends and family. As we move through the next few weeks, be strong and maintain your conviction in those things that have always sustained you, whether that be your faith, your family, your pets or your own sense of integrity. We will all get through this together.
Stay informed, but give yourself a break from the 24 hour news cycle. Here are a couple of good resources for information:
Coronavirus Information Center CDC https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html
World Health Organization https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public
World Health Organization Q&A https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses
Now, about those travel plans. Travel suppliers have all been modifying the cancellation policies to assist passengers, waiving fees and penalties for changes. If you had plans about which you have questions, please reach out to me.
A few of you have also inquired about future travel plans. Please reach out to me at any time to discuss and I will provide you with any information you need. As the travel industry regains momentum, there will no doubt be many great opportunities, we can discuss as you feel ready.
If there is anything I can do for you over the coming weeks, or if you just want to check in and talk, know I am here for you. We all want to practice a sound “social distancing” as the medical profession calls it, but that does not mean social disconnection. Stay informed and stay safe. If you need anything, we are a phone call away.
Hang in there, Be strong. Take care of yourself and your loved ones, have faith, and wash your hands!
If you are traveling to London, make it a point to visit Selfridges on Oxford Street. I love this iconic department store for many reasons: the elegant displays, the variety of brands and selections they carry, and the food hall, of course. I can spend an entire day here and never get tired of it...
We arrived just before lunch and did a tour of the ground floor taking in the different displays from the vast cosmetics area to luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci. After browsing for a bit, we decided to head to the food hall for lunch. The food hall is a joy to visit. The beautifully wrapped gift items set up around the specialist counters of delicious foods such as cheese, fresh pasta, meats of all varieties, and charcuterie, to name just a few are a pleasure to view! There is also a champagne and oyster bar which always looks so enticing.
We knew exactly what we wanted when we saw the ramen bar. We headed straight for it and while there was a short queue, the time passed quickly before we were seated and excitedly looking at the choices on the menu. Ramen is a favorite of mine and this did not disappoint.
After lunch we headed back to do some shopping. While Selfridges does offer many luxury brands, you can also find more affordable lines like TopShop. We were there at the end of November so the Christmas Shop was set up with delightful decorations and is a great place to shop for gifts and souvenirs to take back home.
We finished our shopping and headed downstairs where there is a tea/coffee shop. Here you can have afternoon tea with delicious pastries or a cappuccino while you rest your feet. Mine were aching and an espresso was the perfect pick-me-up.
Other than the shopping, dining and beautiful displays that are a treat to behold, a real benefit of shopping at Selfridges is that you can combine all your shopping and claim the VAT back in one step. The VAT refunds office is on the fourth floor and it is very efficiently run. It is a vast office and when you walk in, there is a desk where you are greeted and given a number. When your number is shown on the screens in the waiting area, you proceed to that desk and take a seat. You present your receipts and passport or driving license to the agent and they will take it from there. When you walk out you have everything you need to claim your VAT refund at the airport when you are departing the UK.
So whether you buy clothes, cosmetics, shoes or household items, if your purchases qualify for a VAT refund, it is all processed at one time, which is a real convenience. Trust me, I have done it where I have multiple forms and envelopes from many different shops and all that paper is a nightmare to keep track of.
Selfridges is a one-of-a-kind department store and definitely worth a visit. You will surely enjoy browsing, shopping and eating while you are there.
I’m back from London but still have experiences to write about. One of those is dinner at Simpson’s in the Strand. This British institution is such an experience. The dining room is large and elegant with dark wood paneling on the walls. I love the carving trolleys and the delicious choices of roasts that are offered. The night we went there was roast rib of beef with Yorkshire puddings (a favorite in my family), and a choice of turkey or ham with bacon wrapped sausages and roast potatoes. Our family ordered all three and they were all delicious!
Also be sure to leave plenty of time prior to your reservation to have a drink in the upstairs bar. The comfy sofas and chairs offer a lovely place to relax and enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail.
There is a lot to do in London and one week is certainly not enough. Nevertheless, we try and fit as much as we can into our trips.
Borough Market is one of the activities we always find time for. For foodies, this is a must do! We take the tube to London Bridge and then look for the exit signs to Borough Market. It takes you right there.
The minute you arrive you will get caught up in the atmosphere of the market. There are traders of every type of food and drink imaginable, from charcuterie, cheeses, and fishmongers to tapas, paella, Turkish/Cypriot/Thai cuisines to name only a few. There are bakers of breads, sweet pastries and savory pies. Vegetarian and Vegan options are plentiful and mouth-watering.
I loved the fresh truffles where you could lift the lids off the jars containing the valuable fungi and the strong, unmistakable truffle scent was overwhelming, but in a good way! They even had rare white truffles. The samples of truffle pate were a yummy treat.
I never miss a chance to buy fresh oysters and they are a steal at 6 for £10.
There are wine and beer merchants and Columbian coffee traders as well as a coffee stand run by homeless workers. My daughter, who is studying in London this year, loves their almond milk latte.
A really fun place to stop by is the Tea 2 You shop. This vendor knows about tea, for real. He proudly displays pictures with Prince Harry and letters from the Royal Family complimenting his teas. He will share their favorites and tell you how to prepare each type of tea. Some are best with milk and honey, but you would never, ever add milk to Darjeeling. As the lady in the shop told us, “it would be a crime to do so.” Lol! Seriously, this is the place to shop if you love tea. They will advise you, help you choose from their large selection and prepare teas for you to sample.
So if you are in London and have a few hours to spare or better yet, half a day, stop by and experience this wonderful place.
Reading about the current flooding of Venice makes me so sad. My family and I were there in July, four short months ago, and we stood in St Mark’s Square, which is now flooded and closed off to tourists. It is hard to believe this is happening to this historic city.
We stayed at a great hotel around the corner from St. Mark’s Square and had drinks every night in this cozy bar. The friendly servers welcomed us warmly and brought over snacks of olives, bruschetta and nuts to enjoy with our cocktails.
We had dinner one night at a quaint restaurant away from the touristy areas. The concierge at our hotel recommended it to us after we said we wanted to eat someplace smaller and more local. Il Nuovo Galeon was the perfect spot. We walked there from our hotel and it was a great opportunity to get away from the tourist spots and see where the Venetians live.
We were there during the Biennale Art Festival and saw a couple of the exhibits on our Grand Canal tour. It was a treat to see Banksy’s artwork, which we were told was his only one in the city.
The highlight of our final dinner on the rooftop of Hotel Daniele were these breathtaking views. I truly hope this city will recover from the damage caused by the flooding and will once again welcome visitors to enjoy its amazing landmarks and historic buildings, but sadly, that will probably take quite some time.
I was in London for a weekend recently. I stayed at a charming hotel called The Montague On The Gardens and loved the ambiance of this traditional English boutique hotel. The staff were so warm and welcoming, I felt like I was among friends.
I enjoyed a traditional English tea with my daughter who is studying in London for the year. I loved that we could smell the different tea leaves they offered and we sat for two hours enjoying several different varieties as well as salmon and egg finger sandwiches and lovely pastries and of course, scones.
There is also a hot chocolate cart where you can create your own custom hot chocolate with a variety of toppings including marshmallows, chocolate drops, sprinkles, whipped cream and peppermint straws.
The leopard bar was another feature of this hotel that is not to be missed. The chic and elegant decor makes this the perfect place to relax and have a couple of drinks.
What I loved about this hotel is that while you are in the center of London, walking distance to the British Museum, Oxford Street and Covent Garden, this is a sanctuary of calm and quiet where you can slow down and unwind after taking in all the excitement and buzz that this world-class city offers.
I just returned from Cancun and loved it! It was my third visit in five months. I was at the International Travel Agent Forum learning as much as I can about this destination as well as other top travel destinations around the world.
This Forum is attended by top producing agents, and I was honored to have been included in this select group! Some of the highlights of this annual event include meeting with top suppliers representing resorts in Mexico and travel suppliers from all over the world including South Africa, Israel, Hawaii, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Europe, Russia, and Canada.
The South Africa presenter painted an amazing picture of this beautiful country where there is so much to do besides go on Safari. Don’t get me wrong, that is a must when visiting this country and seeing the Big 5 in the wild has to be on many travelers’ bucket lists. However, this destination is also a draw for foodies, adventure enthusiasts, and city lovers. Any visitor must include Cape Town and Table Mountain in their itinerary.
We also heard from a river cruise company which not many may have heard of in the US. Riviera River Cruises is a UK company operating luxury cruises along the most popular European rivers. Their ships have names like MS George Eliot, MS William Wordsworth and MS Emily Brontë to name a few. This is a hidden gem and they offer great value for their product. I am looking forward to sharing more about this company with my clients!
My next post will be about the resorts we toured which were phenomenal. Stay tuned!
I had a great time on the Playa Resorts Panama Jack Fam for the past 4 days. I stayed at the Panama Jack Cancun and the Panama Jack Playa del Carmen. Both resorts were very nice but completely different in terms of style, layout and décor. What they do have in common is very welcoming and friendly staff and great food and restaurant options, oh and great cocktails!
Panama Jack resorts are family resorts and the focus is on FUN! In Cancun, the resort has a pirate ship and kids’ activity area that will keep kids entertained for days. Jack’s Bar is the main bar. It is very large with lots of seating at the bar and comfortable sitting areas all around the room. There is a stage for live entertainment and karaoke for brave guests who want to light up the stage!
The resort is on the Cancun Hotel Zone and I enjoyed walking the long stretch of beach every morning.
We had a dance lesson and learned the Panama Jack dance which the staff perform by the pool for the guests daily. Did I mention the resort is a lot of fun?
We also got to see the turtle sanctuary which was a real treat. We were given a demonstration of how the turtle eggs are buried in the sand until they are ready to hatch. Every time a turtle lays eggs on the beach, those eggs are transferred to a protected area and buried in the ground. A sign labeled with the approximate hatch date and type of turtle is staked in the sand on the mound of each set of eggs. We even got to see an actual turtle egg. They are the size of ping pong balls.
Some of the other highlights of our stay were making Mazapan which is a Mexican candy made with crushed peanuts and powdered sugar. We had a mixology lesson and watched the mixologist make a variety of cocktails, my favorite of which was the mescalita cocktail.
The tequila tasting was the highpoint for me and I had a first ever experience of sucking on a lemon dusted with cricket salt. Yes, that’s right - ground cricket mixed with salt.
This is a great place to relax, enjoy the beach and the friendly atmosphere of this cozy resort.
When we were deciding on our activities in the Azores we came across canyoning as an option and decided to try it. We had never done it before and the idea of being close to nature and trekking through canyons really appealed to us.
When we reached Ribeira dos Caldeirões where our activity was going to begin we met Hugo and Gonçalo who were going to be our guides. I instantly liked them. They were young, warm and friendly and it was very easy to feel comfortable around them. They gave us our wetsuits, helmets and boots and fitted us with rappelling belts. I wasn’t nervous about the activity because I had no idea what was to come.
We started out walking and pretty much immediately entered dark, muddy, narrow paths that were also quite steep. I was huffing and puffing and thought ok this is for real! After walking for a bit, we approached an opening which to our delight was a natural pool and beyond that was a beautiful waterfall. I instinctively wanted to swim toward the waterfall. The water was cold but refreshing after the sweat I had built up from trekking up the steep terrain.
We received our safety briefing there and then set off to continue our climb before we would begin coming back down the canyon. The descent was the really fun part for me. We experienced so many new and exhilarating things and all around us was lush greenery and foliage that grew thick in the wet environment of this protected canyon. We slid down muddy slopes on our backs. We jumped off waterfalls. We rappelled down cliffs. Finally, as we neared the end of our adventure we came to the biggest challenge of all - jumping off a 30-ft. waterfall! Our guides were very good at offering the right kind of encouragement but not forcing us to do anything beyond our limits.
They coached us about how to jump and where to jump. At each point, they instructed us as to whether we should jump out and in which direction to avoid any possible rocks beneath the surface of the water. At this final point, they told us to simply take one step off the cliff when we were ready to jump. It was pretty wild looking down because it was such a high jump.
When the time came, I was very, very nervous and when I took that step, it felt like I was in the air for a very long time before I hit the water. I went in a little sideways on one leg and felt the impact. I was okay but knew I would have a bruise there. Nevertheless, it was amazing! They offered us the chance to jump again and I took it. The second jump was easier. I was less nervous and kept my body straight because I looked down into the water as I jumped which allowed me to keep my bearings. At this point, a crowd had gathered around the walls of the canyon and they were watching as our group took these final jumps off the cliff. It was quite amusing to look out at them as we completed our jumps and got out of the water and climbed the winding stone staircase out of the canyon. We were all excited and flush with adrenaline as we recounted our experience. It was so exhilarating and simply put, FUN!!
Brook Bramley is a travel agent and the owner of TripBoutiq. She loves to share her passion for travel and exploring the world!