Monday, December 21, 2009

I've Moved!

On the off chance than anyone lands here wondering why there are no new posts lately, please go to GlobeDiva Travels ( and visit my newly, self-hosted blog!

I appreciated your checking-in!


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Budget for Your Vacation--Pt. 4 (Lodging-Agriturismi)

Continuing my series on How to Budget for your Vacation, we've been discussing all the very different forms of lodging for travelers. We've talked about hostels, bed & breaksfasts, local vs. chain hotels, and today we'll be focusing on Agriturismi.

An agriturismo (the singular ends with an "o" and the plural ends with an "i") by definition is a combination of the words "agriculture" and "tourism" in Italian and is what might be referred to as "farm holidays" or "vacation farms" in other countries. For the sake of simplicity, in this post, I'll be referring to the Italian agriturismo but with the awareness that other countries offer the same, or similar, types of vacations.

The positives and negatives regarding a stay at an agriturismo need to be weighed out as you're planning your vacation. Because this form of lodging is on a farm, it is typically in a somewhat rural location that has to be arrived at by car so if you're planning on using nothing but public transportation for your European vacation, you should take that into consideration. Having said that, there are some agriturismi out there that might be willing to make arrangements to meet you at the local train station upon arrival. However, realize that without a car, if you're planning on seeing some of the local sights, unless you are within walking distance of the nearest village, you will be "stuck" at your agriturismo until it's time to leave. Of course if this leg of your vacation is strictly for rest and relaxation, you've chosen the right place in which to be "stuck"!

Agriturismi offer a wide variety of venues suitable for every type of traveler. Solo travel or family vacations, rustic or luxurious locations, romantic or girlfriend getaways, there are agriturismi for every type of traveler. There are even some hostels set up in family farmhouses or barns in Italy as well as other countries. On the whole, agriturismi are family-owned, family-run businesses that allow the owners to subsidize the income from their farm through the agriturismo thus allowing the traveler, YOU, to experience what life is like in the rural part of the country that you are visiting. This is the perfect way to rejuvenate during your frantic, "have to see everything" European vacation. The whole point of an agriturismo is to slow down and enjoy the surrounding countryside. Drink in the vistas as you drink your wine. Appreciate the sunset as you work your way through a four or five course dinner. Enjoy your morning cappuccino after a swim. You can do that here. You SHOULD do that here!

Most agriturismi offer at least one meal with your lodging and the other meals can be paid for separately. Because most agriturismi are working farms, the meals almost always consist of products grown and/or raised on the farm, and also sometimes found locally. For this reason alone, you will want to have all your meals at your agriturismo. This is your chance to indulge yourself in the local food and wine. This is one of the reasons you came to Italy, no?

Agriturismi sometimes offer specialty vacations for aspiring cooks, wine lovers, and even those who wish to learn the Italian language. These are great second and third vacations when you've traveled to Italy once or twice already and you're ready to just spend some time in the Umbrian or Tuscan countryside.

Personally, I've never spent time in an agriturismo, but the next time I travel to Italy, I plan on spending at least 3-5 days at one. I've got one picked out already and I'm excited at the prospect of enjoying the Italian countryside as I enjoy the local food and sip on a glass of vino.

How to find the right agriturismo for you? There are several websites specializing in agriturismi. I can send you some links if you'd like to drop me a line. Better yet, save yourself some time and energy and hire someone like me to research them for you.

In my next "Weekend Word to the Wise", I'll share with you how I decided on which Agriturismo I'm planning on visiting. It's an easy way for you to get ideas and discover places you might want to visit on your dream vacation as well. On our next post about lodging, I'll be discussing eco-hotels and eco-vacations.

Until then, stop dreaming about your next vacation and let's go!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Blog Lists, Guest Posts, and other Housekeeping Stuff

I just wanted to take a minute of your time and enlighten you all with a few new things on the blog page and some upcoming changes for the future.

First, if you look to the left of the blog posts, you'll see a section just below the "Subscribe To" section called "My Blog List". This list is comprised of links to other bloggers I'd like you all to take a minute to check into and read whenever you've got some spare time. There is some good information to be found on each and every one of these sites.

They are in no particular order so first on the list is Wandering Off. Wandering Off is another San Antonio blogger writing about family-oriented places to visit and some wonderful pictures of the places she and her family see in their travels.

A View to A Thrill is another awesome travel blog with some solid travel advice for going places "on the cheap" as well as first-hand travel reports from all the places she visits.

Gap Year Escape focuses on travel during what is referred to as the "gap year" in most European countries. "Gap year" is the year between graduation from what we call high school and the first year of University education. European students are encouraged to travel in their gap year and this blog gives those looking for ideas on where to travel alot of great ideas. Look for a guest post from me in the very near future.

The UnRoad Warrior is your resource for how to maximize your airline miles, hotel points, and how to make the most of your loyalty programs. This blog is an awesome resource for anything related to airlines, hotels, and anything else not road related.

Darn Good Digs is a fantastic resource for finding original and inviting small hotels, B&B's, and hostels. If you're looking for a darn good dig under $150.00 a night, this blog is for you!

And finally, Travel Titbits is a fantastic combination feature articles, destination guides for favorite holiday getaways, and travel related news. Look for GlobeDiva's article on "Il Campo di Fiori" in their features section.

All of these blogs are participating in a link exchange with GlobeDiva Travels and I'm happy to be able to exchange links with some other great travel bloggers!

And just a few more housekeeping things before I end this post. A quick disclaimer for this blog and all the other things you see featured on here. With the exception of the links I introduced you to above, you can safely assume that anything else you click on that says "Reserve Now" or "Ads by Google" or "I Recommend" by Amazon, or "Travel Gadgets" or "Create Your Own Package" will lead you to a website or store that is offering me some small remuneration or payment (usually about 5-10% or less) for your clicking on it. When you click on the link for "GlobeDiva Travel Planners" you are taken to my booking site where you can book your own airfare, hotels, rental cars, and other vacation packages. In the near future, I plan on doing some product reviews and when I do them, you can rest assured that I DO NOT and WILL NOT receive any money or remuneration when I offer you my reviews or recommendations.

And finally, in the next month or so, I hope to be moving towards self-hosting. This means that I will be paying a server to host my blog and it will be all my own. Blogspot has been great as I've started out but I need to get a little bigger and need a few more functions so I need to move onward and upward, hopefully, taking you all with me on the way.

Thanks for your patience and your patronage. All of you, my lovely readers, are greatly appreciated!!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Weekend Word to the Wise (Lodging)

This weekend's word to the wise is related to my recent blog post about local hotels vs. chain hotels.

Even though I advocate booking local hotels during your travels, whether domestic or international, there is a great way to incorporate your chain hotels into your travels.

On my last trip to Europe, I initially flew to Madrid to spend several days with family and then flew to Rome for a couple of weeks. I had rented a room in downtown Rome but had to be out of there the day before my flight back to Madrid and my final flight from Madrid, back home to the U.S.

I did a little research and found that the points I could accumulate on my Hilton Rewards program would be quite a bit more with an international hotel, so I made the decision to stay at a Hilton by the airports in Rome and in Madrid. My logic was that since my both flights out were very early and I was using public transportation, a chain hotel would work better for me than booking a room in the city and waking up super early to catch a cab or take a train to the airport.

The positives of using a chain hotel for me were as follows:
  1. I would be staying in very comfortable rooms with free wi-fi access.
  2. I would have a nice restaurant, a spa & indoor swimming pool within very easy reach.
  3. I would be close to the airport and could utilize the hotel's free shuttle to the airport instead of taking a train or subway in from the city. I would be dropped off directly in front of my terminal.
  4. I could take the day to relax, read, swim, eat and generally, rest up before my flights' and the impending jet-lag.
  5. I would be accumulating extra reward points.
It might not sound like much but I think it's the perfect combination of lodging when traveling, especially when flying.

Yes, you will probably be giving up that last day of potential sight-seeing or souvenir shopping, but for me, the time to rest and relax before having to deal with airports and overcrowded flights is worth the trade.

Believe it or not, my room in Madrid was only $100.00 and the room, as well as the hotel, were wonderful! In Rome, my room was about $110.00 but the hotel spa and pool more than made up for the extra expense. I spent both days swimming, munching, reading, internet surfing, photo organizing and blogging. Those days also ended up being the coldest of my visit so I was more than happy to stay inbound, warm & cozy. I also saved the money I would have used for a taxi or train ride to the airport.

Review your budget and check out the rates before you leave for your trip. If you're flying, that last day of your travels could be the perfect day to get some rest and prepare yourself for the hectic pace of traveling set before you. I prefer to book these types of stays in advance. It is possible that the exchange rate for international destinations will change but I prefer the peace of mind knowing that my room is reserved and ready for me when I arrive. If you prefer not to do your own research or booking, or you don't have time to do the research yourself, contact a travel planner/travel agent (LIKE ME!) to do it for you.

In my humble opinion, this is the best way to incorporate local hotels with chain hotels in your travels.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Budget for Your Vacation--Pt. 4 (Lodging-Hotels: Locals vs. Chains)

So, let me start by recapping my series on Budgeting for Your Vacation.

In Budgeting for Your Vacation--Pt. 1, we talked about saving for your vacation and I provided you all with some great links that can help you learn to budget your finances with your dream vacation in mind.

In Part 2 of my Budgeting for Your Vacation series, I recommended some good websites to help you start tracking flight costs and we talked about some easy ways to help you start putting aside some money for your vacation.

Part 3 of my Budgeting for Your Vacation series talked about figuring out what type of traveler you are. Figuring out the type of traveler you are will help you to start to budget and will ultimately help you learn how it will impact your overall budget. I also provided you with some fun links to quizzes that might help you figure out your "travel type".

Budgeting for Your Vacation--Part 4 is focused on all the different options for lodging that you will be encountering as you plan your vacation. We've discussed Hostels, Bed & Breakfasts, and in this post I'll be discussing Hotels and the advantages and disadvantages to booking a local hotel versus a chain hotel.

Let's talk about chain hotels first. Most of us have a favorite chain hotel. If you do a lot of local travel for work or are a long getaway weekend person, you probably already stay at one particular chain over the others. You already have an idea of how that hotel chain operates and have had some good experience in the past with that particular chain. If you don't have a favorite chain, you might be more inclined to book according to your budget and you take what you can get unless it's completely unsatisfactory.

At this point, let me just say that if you're booking according to budget and you don't work with a particular chain, you might be doing yourself a disservice. Chain hotels are no longer exclusive to one particular hotel. Each chain is comprised of many different hotels with many different budget ranges and finding something in your budget within that chain is easier than you think. The reason, I say you might be doing yourself a disservice is that when you stick with a particular chain and you sign yourself up with their rewards program, your stays can accumulate points for you and can get you some nice freebies in the long run.

For example, I try to stay in any hotel within the Hilton chain. Hilton's program lets you earn points for your stay, miles for your mileage reward program, or a combination of the two. It's a great program and each individual hotel has its own little set of freebies associated with your level. Admittedly, it's not much at the beginning but a free newspaper, free in-room wi-fi, or a couple of free bottles of water are free and can save you a few dollars a day and that works just fine for me!

In addition to the loyalty programs with larger chain hotels, chain hotel locations are usually excellent, and you are all but guaranteed English speaking staff and some sort of overall familiarity. The downside of staying at a chain hotel is that you might not get a sense of the local ambiance, you'll probably be paying more than at a local hotel, and customer service, although good, might not be of a local flavor.

Locally owned hotels can be large, small, fancy, exclusive, earthy, and bare bones. Do some research before you choose a local hotel. I did quite a bit of research before choosing my local hotels. I've mentioned this website before but JourneyWoman is a GREAT resource for women traveling anywhere in the world. Before I went to England, I read through JourneyWoman's website and found The Cherry Court Hotel. I chose this hotel because other women traveling solo had chosen it as well. There was CCTV at the entrance and lobby area which made me feel safe. It had an awesome location about 1-2 blocks from Victoria Station. It had free wi-fi and provided a simple fruit basket for breakfast every morning. It's been in business for 25 years and other women travelers said they felt safe in the neighborhood and liked the owners. The nice part for me was also price. When I went to London, the British Pound was 2:1 so to be able to stay in central London for less than $100.00 a night was a bargain! Chain hotels would not have been able to match that rate in London.

Another great resource to find local hotels are your guidebooks. I talked about guidebooks in one of my Weekend Words to the Wise posts. Most guidebooks will make recommendations on lodging for all types of budgets. You will RARELY find a chain hotel mentioned in a guidebook. And that is because you aren't traveling to any of these places to remind yourself of're going to experience the country you are visiting!

In Madrid, Spain, I found the hotel we stayed at mentioned in several different guidebooks with excellent reviews anywhere I searched for customer reviews. Hotel Europa in Madrid is centrally located on Plaza del Sol. It is an easy walk to the subway, it has a cafe downstairs with good food for any meal. Wi-fi is available in the lobby and in your room for an extra fee. The staff are friendly and knowedgable. Best of all, it's less than $100.00 a night for an excellent location with clean rooms.

Don't get me wrong. I think there's a place for chain hotels in our travels and in my next Weekend Word to the Wise, I'm going to talk about how to use locals and chains to make your trip an awesome experience.

Just remember that in your travels, whether in the U.S. or Internationally, local hotels can be a safe and economical part of your travels that you shouldn't discount.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Weekend Word to the Wise (Saving)

Today, my partner told me about an article she read in the November issue of Real Simple magazine.

In the very short article, the writer shared a tip he used to save money so he and his family could go on vacation. He stated that he used cash to pay for everything. When he received his change, if he got a $5 bill returned, he folded the bill differently than the rest of his cash and when he got home, he immediately put the $5 bill into an envelope and when he accumulated $50, he would deposit the money into a special, separate, savings account so he would never be tempted to spend the cash or to transfer the money from savings into his checking account. In a year, he had saved $2000, enough to take his wife and two children on vacation.

Back in September 2009, I wrote a post about Budgeting for Vacation and talked about different methods for saving for your dream vacation. This short article is a perfect example of what I was talking about!

It is possible to put aside enough money to go wherever you want to go. It doesn't matter if it's Europe or Florida. If you want to get there, you CAN do it!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Foodie Break #2 or How to Travel Without Really Traveling

I've got the travel bug again and that shouldn't be new to anyone who knows me. I seem to get the itch a few months after my last big trip has ended.

But, if you're anything like me, you're not rich and leaving your job to travel for a few weeks isn't always possible so what options do we really have? We could do some nice, little, extended weekend trips in or around where we live (like I did a couple of weeks ago) or we could find some kind of substitute for the actual travel. This blog sort of helps me to do that.

The other thing we can do is eat!

Yes, you heard me, we can EAT! If you can find an authentic, ethnic restaurant in your city that reminds you of that little trattoria down the street from your B&B in Italy, or maybe a pub around the corner from your job that kind of looks like the place you ate at while you were in London, go there and EAT!

Enjoy the food, pretend you're in London or Italy. If you're lucky, the owners might actually be from there and if you're extra lucky, maybe they'll be serving some of the original recipes from their country. Don't go to Olive Garden and pretend it's Italy because they don't even come close! Don't head to Long John Silver's and put vinegar on your fries and pretend it's the same as the fish and chips you bought in London because malt vinegar does not make it British fish and chips! Go as authentic as you can and immerse yourself in the cuisine, the ambiance, and the food. Don't just plow through it all. Examine the decor, sniff the air, and talk to waitstaff or the owner. Find out what prompted them to open this restaurant. Take your time and eat like an Italian or Spaniard or whatever culture you're enjoying. Eat several courses and enjoy each one with some wine. You don't do this all the time so indulge yourself a little!

I have the good fortune of living in a city with some nice alternatives for food, restaurants, and eating.We're also fortunate enough to have several cooking schools as well. We have The Culinary Institute of America-San Antonio which hosts a regular cooking school as well as classes for the cooking enthusiast and we have Central Market Cooking School which brings in some great chefs from all over the world for demonstrations and tastings. We also have smaller, private schools that teach private lessons for all age ranges.

I mention the cooking schools, Central Market in particular, because In my next post, I'm going to write a bit about how I was able to leave San Antonio and visit Tuscany for a few hours and show you how to get away, even if it's just for an evening, and either recapture a recent trip or whet your appetite for the one to come.