Alaska Cruise, Part 4

Juneau, Alaska:

There are two experiences in Juneau that will keep bringing me back time and time again: Tracy's Crab Shack and whale watching. We approached the Shack in the early afternoon and saw they are in a new beautiful facility right along the docks. There's always a line at Tracy's, but it moves very quickly and it's definitely the place for the sweetest, freshest crab! Next year, they'll be opening a second facility, which will be more of a sit down restaurant than shack. I'll definitely be checking it out on my next Alaska cruise!

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Our whale watching excursion was up next, and we couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day. The sky became more and more blue as we approached Auke Bay and the seas were incredibly calm. During our three hours on the water we viewed a colony of Steller sea lions, bald eagles, and a few Humpback whales.

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We returned to Crystal Serenity feeling thoroughly satisfied by our day! So what could top off a great day like this? Instead of having it delivered to our room, we dined at Nobu Matsuhisa's delectable restaurant onboard.

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After dinner we certainly needed a walk around the promenade deck. It always amazes me how light it is on a summer evening at 9:30 p.m!

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Glacier Bay, Alaska:

This cruise marked my second visit to Glacier Bay. My first visit, about 6 years ago, was cloudy cold and unremarkable. This time we couldn't have asked for a more incredible day! It was absolutely gorgeous with a sunny blue sky and sea of glass.

We spent half a day in Glacier Bay National Park viewing whales, otters, and active calving of the glaciers. A Park Ranger was onboard, sharing excellent information. She talked to us in short snippets, so as not to overwhelm or distract from the immense beauty that surrounded us.

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Did you know only a limited number of ship's can visit Glacier Bay? Crystal again stands out from the pack by demonstrating their commitment to the environment. Throughout our trip, they served no disposable cups, paper napkins, or straws. How fortunate we were to be here with Crystal!

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As our captain sailed out of this special Bay, we stayed out on Crystal Serenity’s bow for a couple more hours enjoying the view, it was too gorgeous to pull ourselves away!  We finally headed back to our room, just in time for Jijo to bring a nice setup of snacks to hold us over until dinner. Being out in the fresh sea air sure made us hungry!

Alaska Cruise, Part 3

Ketchikan, Alaska:

We arrived at our first port, Ketchikan, which is one hour behind Los Angeles time. The evening prior, I set the alarm on my phone, not realizing the lack of service would prevent the clock from updating. Yikes! My alarm woke me 1 hr early after a very late night. It took me only a minute to realize I could go back to sleep, but just like a child on Christmas morning, I couldn't stop myself from looking at my first view of Alaska.

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So beautiful, even with the slightly rainy weather! Lesson learned, next time I'll use the ship's wake up call when there is a time change.

With no excursion planned, my friend and I decided to wander the town. We stopped in some shops and made our way to Creek Street, otherwise known as the former red light district.

Though there were three other ships in port (Voldendam, Millennium and Norwegian Sun) the town seemed relatively quiet. After a stop in my favorite shop, we rode the tram up to Cape Fox Lodge. This quaint lodge includes a hotel, restaurants, gift shop, and a totem circle which is representative of the culture of the Northwest Coast peoples. Best of all is the view overlooking Tongass Narrows and the historic downtown. This was a new experience for me, which added knowledge to my Alaska arsenal of wisdom. The view and totems were worth the short, inexpensive ride.

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On our way back to the ship, we stopped by the Tongass Historical Museum to view the current exhibit of Native artifacts. It was interested to learn how storytelling through craft is passed from one generation to the next.  

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As we were walking up the gangway of Crystal Serenity, another passenger spotted a bear on a nearby ridge! I was so excited! Can you see it?

We rushed back to my cabin and grabbed the binoculars, but when we looked again we noticed that the bear hadn't moved. Upon further investigation, we realized that the bear was actually a tree stump! This disappointment didn’t last long as we had an evening of fun planned ahead of us.

As the ship set sail, we attended Magic Castle at Sea. Only a limited number of guests are able to attend this close up magic show put on by a member of Hollywood's Magic Castle. Tickets are complimentary through a quick visit to the ship’s librarian, but they are first come, first serve. I always tell my clients to request tickets early. As an extra bonus, these tickets also provide for future entrance into the Magic Castle in Hollywood!

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Our evening began with our butler delivering Nobu sushi to our suite at 6:00 p.m.. What a spread! Good thing this was shared among 6 people, because dinner was around the corner at 8:30! Were we really going to attend dinner in the Crystal Dining Room after this? You bet! Crawling into bed that night, completely satisfied, I looked forward to our next port, one of my favorites.

Alaska Cruise, Part 2

Off To Alaska - Our Day At Sea:

Our first full day onboard was a sea day, spent sailing through the Inside Passage.  When I woke that morning, it took me a brief moment to realize I was in my suite rather that in my own bed at home. I couldn't believe the sea was so smooth!  Excited for the day to begin, I immediately stepped out on my Veranda to view the beautiful scenery, something I continued to do first thing each and every morning of the cruise.

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We met our friends for breakfast on the ship's aft, enjoying the delicious spread offered at the Lido buffet.   As we ate, we were viewing the most beautiful blue ocean as our ship made its way through the Passage.  Our morning routine was set and we continued to meet at the Lido to start each day.   No matter where the ship was on any given morning, our view was spectacular!

Crystal offers a variety of activities to fill anyone's day, especially on a day at sea.  One thing in particular that Crystal is known for is their enrichment speaker program, which we enjoyed attending.   The world affairs lecture on this sailing was Roman Popadiuk, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, who discussed US relations with both Russia and China.  I enjoyed hearing the Ambassador’s inside perspective about a topic important to our country's current state of affairs.

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After lunch at the Lido, and a check through my emails to see if my clients with current and upcoming trips needed me, we had some fun at the blackjack table.  We really enjoyed the ambiance of the casino with friendly fellow players and dealers who smiled and made easy conversation as they dealt each hand.  One young couple that was particularly fun to play with was from Singapore and they were celebrating their honeymoon.  The 29 & 35 yr. old newlyweds were such a hoot, with infectious enthusiasm for the game, especially when the cards were working in their favor!

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Our butler, Jijo, brought us a nice assortment of hors d'oeuvres each afternoon, to make sure we didn't go hungry (ha!).   Dinner each evening included a relaxing meal and pleasant conversation with old and new friends.  The cuisine was delicious!  After dinner my assistant waiter said "would you like some coffee? I have your almond milk ready”.  After the first night, he already had my preferences pegged!   THIS is the Crystal way!

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Dinner was followed by a fabulous Billy Joel show "This is My Life" and a stop in Pulse nightclub to watch some karaoke.  We watched several passengers take the mic, but the most fun was when our friend, Ronn, took the floor and sang the last song of the night.  So much fun!

Join me for Part 3, which will be posted later this week.

Alaska Cruise, Part 1: Our Trip Begins!

Vancouver Arrival:

I was so excited for my upcoming adventure, holding my breath and hoping that nothing would derail my travel plans.  This trip to Alaska was all about traveling with longtime friends and looking forward to meeting a group of clients that I would have onboard.  LAX was so busy, with summer in full force.

After a smooth flight we arrived to a drizzly afternoon in Vancouver.  Every time I visit this beautiful city, I stay at a different hotel – an important way of increasing my destination knowledge.  This time the Shangri-La was my property of choice.  I found this hotel to be very calming, with warm soothing colors, a waterfall as you exited the elevator near the restaurant, and a very understated sense of luxury.  Perhaps  there were some Feng shui principles in place.

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After settling in, we went for a walk about the downtown area, making our way to Canada Place, the port of Vancouver, where Crystal Serenity was docked.  Even though we weren't sailing until the next day, we wanted to take a peek at our ship.  After 19 cruises, I still get so excited when I first see the ship I'll be boarding.  Dinner that evening was at The Greek by Anatoli, which I highly recommend!  Our table was filled with Greek specialties and great conversation with good friends.  Couldn't ask for a better start to our trip!

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Crystal Serenity Boarding Day:

Unfortunately, cruise departure day did not start well.  I woke up with one of the worst migraines of my life.  I literally could not eat breakfast and ended up back in my room sitting on the bathroom floor.  Leaving the hotel at 10:45 turned into leaving at 11:30 as I tried everything I could think of to clear the pain in my head.  Of course the ship waits for no one, so eventually I just had to pick up and go.  When we arrived at Canada Place, we saw Disney Wonder and Norwegian Sun had joined Crystal Serenity.  The port staff did a very good job of getting cruisers to their respective ships with little hassle.

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Crystal has an especially nice boarding process with check-in completed onboard the vessel, as opposed to within the cruise terminal, as most cruise lines do.  Typically, passengers wait in long lines to get through security and board the ship, but with Crystal, the process is very pleasing.  We were completely at ease, checking-in with a glass of champagne in hand.  This was our first reminder that there is a "Crystal way" of doing things.

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Excitement and relaxation combined with a chaser of Tylenol and essential oils led me down the path of migraine relief and thankfully, I felt better and better throughout the day.  I was able to thoroughly enjoy our beautiful sail away under the Lion's Gate Bridge, and soaked up every moment.  As we pushed off from the dock, "What a Wonderful World" played over the ship's speaker, a gentle reminder that life is made up of blessings large and small, and it was time to leave my worries behind.


To be completely honest, I was not looking forward to my trip to Hawaii.   I’m sure you must think I’m crazy, but I’m not a fan of the heat, tropical humidity does me in, and sitting on a beach or pool for hours just isn’t my style.    My family, on the other hand, thought Hawaii would make for a great get-away.

As we have vacationed in Maui twice, we decided to spend time on another island.     After some thought, we decided to spend our time on Oahu for two primary reasons.  Jeff has always wanted to see the big waves on the North Shore; and we both considered Pearl Harbor a must see historical memorial.

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We began our trip on the North Shore with a two-night stay at Turtle Bay Resort.   The afternoon we arrived, we checked into the hotel then took a drive to view the Pipeline and Waimea Bay.   While the waves weren’t as big as we had hoped, they surely didn’t disappoint.   The sights and sounds along the shore along with the constant tumbling of the pure blue ocean were mesmerizing.    If it weren’t for the setting of the sun, we definitely would have spent more time.

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Turtle Bay has two golf courses on property, the Fazio course and the Palmer course.   Since the Fazio is known to be less of a challenge, that’s the course I played with Jeff on Christmas morning.   The course was in great shape and we had a great time, but I was hoping for more tees along the coast.   That said, there was one hole that was beautifully placed along the water, which made it all worthwhile.

Christmas afternoon was spent at the beach, so my family could surf.   It had been about 25 years since Jeff had surfed, so he joined our boys in a surf lesson.   I had arranged the lesson though the on-property surf school and have to say the instructors were terrific.   All, including me who took at least 400 photos trying to capture that perfect shot, had a good time.

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There are many activities available at Turtle Bay Resort, but with only a two-night stay, our time and opportunity was limited.    Having time for just one more activity, we decided to take a trail ride.   As it turned out, the trail path meandered right along the shoreline and the view was incredible.   What a great way to end our stay!

On the way to Honolulu, where our second hotel was located, we drove along the Kamehameha Highway to the Polynesian Cultural Center.   I was glad I stopped to see what it was like, but it didn’t hold our interest to stay longer than 90 minutes.    Maybe if it was our first visit to Hawaii, or if we had never attended a luau, or if we had never been to Disneyland (remember the Tahitian Terrace?), we would have felt differently.

Our next three nights were spent at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.   While this wasn’t my first choice property, we decided that the pools, slides and beach would provide a lot of action and fun.    Well, our next two days were busy, busy, busy. 

Our first morning in Waikiki, we took a tour of Pearl Harbor.    Most tours begin at 5:45 a.m. and last a full day.   Since our time was limited, we selected a short tour that began at 8:30.    This allowed us time to see the two galleries that are part of the Visitor Center Complex…“The Road to War” and “Attack”, before viewing a documentary film depicting the attack on Pearl Harbor.    The information was fascinating and a part of history that should never be forgotten.     After watching the film, visitors exit to board a short boat ride over to the Arizona Memorial.    The memorial itself is very solemn, as it is built directly over the remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona and is the final resting place for many of the 1,177 crewmen killed on December 7, 1941.

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There was so much more to see, but our tour time didn’t allow for the full experience.    Though our time was short, it was perfectly fit to our short time in Honolulu.    We’ll return some day to experience the grounds and exhibits fully, including the Battleship Missouri Memorial, and USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and the Pacific Aviation Museum.

Following our visit to Pearl Harbor, we took full advantage of an afternoon to relax.     It’s amazing how completely a beautiful ocean view can take your mind from your everyday thoughts and concerns.   It was time to recharge and that’s exactly what we did!

We got a very early start to our last full day on Oahu.   At 5:30 a.m. we left our hotel and drove to Diamond Head crater, which is now a National Park.     It was still dark as we began our hike, which is a series of switchbacks, uneven trail, and steep stairs.   Just before reaching the summit, the dawn broke and we arrived to what seemed like a sea of others who beat us to the top.   We couldn’t believe that so many people were already there to witness the rising of the sun!   That said, we were able to squeeze into great viewing spots and the vistas and sunrise did not disappoint!  It was quite an experience and one I recommend highly!

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Funny, although the hike back down the crater was a lot easier, it seemed longer in the daylight then going up had seemed in the dark.

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We had one last afternoon to spend at the hotel.   Not one for just relaxing on the beach, I decided to try paddle boarding.   The Hilton had a lagoon on property, which was used for all their “toy” rentals… paddleboards, kayaks and water bikes.   It was a great place to try it for the first time, but with no challenge, it soon became dull.   Next time, I think we’ll paddle board in the ocean.

As it turned out, winter is the perfect time for me to visit Hawaii!   The weather was in the high 70s/low 80s with mild humidity, and there was so much to do beyond lying in the sun.   Plans for next time… kayaking, riding an outrigger, more hiking and a stay on the Big Island!

Below are what I consider the pros and cons of each hotel:

Turtle Bay Resort: 

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Pros:  Location (wow!); Beach Cottage was spacious and had a great Ocean Front view; our second room was in the main building and also had an incredible view; property and activities are well spread out, so it doesn’t feel crowded; surf school instructors were personable, patient and alert.

Cons:  There was a level of incompetence among the staff – room requests were not taken care of, trail ride was incorrectly scheduled and didn’t match our written confirmation (although they did make the necessary adjustment after our third attempt to have it corrected).


Hilton Hawaiian Village: 

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Pros:  Staff were accommodating and service oriented; nice breakfast buffet; lots of activities available; great lagoon for small children and water toys; lots to do in the Honolulu/Waikiki area

Cons:  Rooms were bland and needed updating, need to take waiting time into consideration for dining, restaurant reservations necessary to avoid long waits

Pro or Con, depending on your perspective:  wide open beach with very tame surf; very busy property, city atmosphere, area not as lush as the North Shore; city of Honolulu feels like a time-warp back to the 60s/70s


It seems like just yesterday it was summer.   How did November come so quickly?   Today, as I walk through stores surrounded by holiday displays, I can’t help but take a moment to reflect during this season of gratitude.   As I think about the things I’m thankful for, naturally my mind turns to my family, friends, and good health.   After all, truly they are most important in my life.   As I dig deeper, I ponder what most enhances my life and without a doubt, the answer is travel. 


I travel a lot to build my knowledge and experience, which helps me with my business side of travel, but when I travel with my family, that’s something different.   When I travel with my family, those are the times I cherish most.  Those are the times we disconnect from our every day routine, and we reconnect with each other.    With two entrepreneurial parents, and three boys who are now all young adults, times are rare when we are all in the same place for more than a few hours, watching the same sunsets, enjoying the same undistracted meals, or becoming familiar with a new culture or new city.    When we travel together, times like these are the foundation for memories that will last a lifetime.


The experiences we share, are those we seem to talk about years later.   “Remember when we were in St. Petersburg and decided to take the hydrofoil over to the Hermitage.”………. ‘remember our guide Richard, in Copenhagen, who taught us about toasting with ‘skoal’”……. remember that card game we played on the train, and everyone was wondering why we were laughing so much?…... remember the sound of the whales and how the sound escalated until they were just about to emerge from the sea?”…… remember our waiter Jorge, who brought your favorite dessert each night?”…. and the list goes on and on and on.

Through travel we build our shared experiences, our knowledge, and our memories.  We fill our image banks with scenes of beautiful sunrises, dramatic sunsets, mountains and glaciers, city landscapes and more.   Our senses are heightened by new foods, unfamiliar languages, unique and distinct architecture.   We venture out to countries or cities we’ve read and dreamed about and we find people who are eager to welcome us to their city, and show us how their past history has propelled their current times.


After a vacation full of lasting discoveries, we go home and find ourselves even more grateful for the home we return to.   Our house, our dogs, our beds, our showers, our routines, and we realize even more that we have an abundance to be thankful for.

Life is good.  I will always be grateful for travel.

Caribbean Cruise, Plot Twist

Well, our cruise came to an early end. We set sail with high expectations for an onboard experience similar to the others we’ve had on Holland America. We quickly discovered that this cruise came with an unexpected and unwelcome surprise. Our mid-ship stateroom (which should be the smoothest location onboard) had an unbearable shaking from vibration, apparently due to a known (to the cruise line) engine issue. Picture one of those old-fashioned exercise belts that Lucy and Ethel tried on the I Love Lucy Show and you’ll get the idea. So, while we booked a suite to spread out, relax and be pampered; we couldn't sit in our room for more than a 10 minute stretch and had to try to get our sleep in an obstructed Ocean View stateroom three decks below. Effectively, we purchased a stay at a high-end luxury resort, but ending up sleeping in a motel down the street. Needless to say, this was not the experience we paid for, and we were not happy campers.


That said, tired and bleary-eyed, we were doing our best to enjoy the ship's features and activities. The casino was fun, and Jeff and I made it still standing through the first round of the blackjack tournament, which was to be continued on Friday. The main stage entertainment was really very good. The first night, there was a preview of all the musical acts available throughout the ship all week. I haven't seen this type of preview before... great idea, more ship's should do this! The second night, we saw a production show called Cantare, comprised of four talented male singers. We really enjoyed their song selection, which ranged from classical to rock. Apparently, this show was voted "Best At Sea" by Porthole Magazine!


After three nights, with our exhaustion growing and still no use of our suite, it became clear that the excessive shaking was not going away. When we considered the toll it was taking on our ability to enjoy our trip and the excursions we had scheduled, it was clear that our cruise needed to be over. We flew home from our second port, San Juan, arriving back home at 3:30a.m. I only wish all our luggage arrived home with us…. It finally was delivered 15 hours later.

While this cruise goes into the loss column, we’ll do what any good travelers do…. regroup and find another place to spend the last couple nights of our vacation. Maybe we’ll go to Newport, or Santa Barbara, or Paso Robles or Palm Springs or Laguna. Or maybe we'll just recuperate at home. So many beautiful places close by to choose from. Life is short, we’ll make the most of it!  

Caribbean Cruise, Boarding Day

Staying at the Ritz... what a way to start a vacation!  From the moment we arrived, we were greeted warmly by each and every staff member we encountered.  Our room was spacious and beautifully appointed.  Our flight was delayed a couple hours, so we arrived at the hotel in time for a late dinner.  I couldn't decide between the meatballs and the pizza, so I asked the waiter how the chef felt about substitutions and additions.  His response was...."it's all about what YOU want".  I like it! 

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After a morning of golf for Jeff, and a long walk along the boardwalk for me, it was time to head to the pier.  It doesn't matter that this will be my 12th ocean cruise, boarding day is always exciting!!   We arrived at 2:00, which is the latest I've ever boarded a ship.  As soon as we stepped onboard Nieuw Amsterdam (NA), we had a nice sense of familiarity... five years ago, we had sailed her sister, Eurodam in Northern Europe. (Can't believe it was that long ago!). NA has a classic nautical ambiance. 

As I write this, we've just completed the mandatory muster drill.  It's time to unpack and settle living out of a suitcase like I do in a hotel!  After dinner we'll take in a show and see how friendly the blackjack tables are. Looking forward to a relaxing day at sea tomorrow. Just what the doctor ordered!

Caribbean Cruise, Day 1

Everyone should go on a Caribbean cruise! If I'm being completely honest, what I mean is everyone except for ME. But here I am today, flying to Florida so I can board Nieuw Amsterdam and sail to my least favorite region. Okay, I know your reading this with no sympathy whatsoever for my upcoming hot and sunny get-away. But that's just it... I'm not a "hot and sunny" lover. I'm a cool, cloudy, rainy lover. I absolutely melt in the heat. And here I am today, heading off on a Caribbean adventure. What AM I looking forward to? One week onboard a beautiful ship... exquisite views from my balcony (with my air conditioning just steps away).... some casino time... a few good nighttime shows.... the "newlywed" game show (of course, it's the couple that's been married the longest that actually gets the most laughs).... some time to relax and read.... a few good glasses of wine, and the opportunity to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the day Jeff and I met!

Here I am today, wishing for smooth seas, beautiful blue skies, and a few cool breezes!! Ship photos coming later this week!


The 5 Things I Always Remember To Pack!

I’ve always lived by the rule, don’t stress about packing…. whatever I forget to pack, can be bought!  In fact, I’ll make a confession here: when I was a little girl, there was a time I “forgot" to pack a sweater just so I could get a new one.   This said, there are a few things that I would never travel without.


5. Comfortable walking shoes. 

The comfort of my feet has everything to do with how much I'm going to enjoy my surroundings. I can be walking along the most beautiful path, but if my feet hurt, it's impossible to completely relax and enjoy the moment.   An important tip is: never pack a brand new pair of shoes!  Test them out… walk at least a mile, and wear them around town at least an hour or two. And do this a few weeks prior to your trip.  After all, if you find they're not going to fit the bill, you're going to need time to repeat the process.   My favorite pair of travel shoes?  My solid black Keens… sturdy soles for cobblestone streets and they look great with pretty much everything I wear.


4. My pillow. 

What's the sense of comfortable feet if my day is going to be spent battling a sore neck and a migraine?  I sleep on a pillow that’s filled with a combination of millet and buckwheat.  There’s no hotel or cruise ship pillow that can replicate my usual sleeping comfort, and I have to admit, I like knowing where the pillow I lay my head on has been.  It’s that little piece of home that makes my sleep time optimal.

3. Personal identification.

Whether traveling domestic or internationally, it's crucial to carry proper documentation. Sometimes all you need is a driver's license, often you'll need a passport and occasionally a Visa is required.   Make sure you are fully aware of what's required for each trip you take, and don't wait till the last minute to find out.   A professional travel consultant (that's me!) will make sure you have all required documents in place, and will even monitor your passport expiration date over time, and let you know when it's time to renew.  


2 & 1. Flexibility and a good attitude.  

These two undoubtedly go hand in hand.  Planning is part of the fun of travel.  Personally speaking, the more the planning falls into place, the more my anticipation grows. But the results will never be exactly as planned.  Perhaps your flight will be delayed (by minutes, hours or even days), perhaps your transfer driver will be waiting at the wrong door, perhaps your room won't be ready when you arrive because the prior guests were late to leave, perhaps that restaurant you had heard so much about was a farther walk than you anticipated, perhaps your day tour unexpectedly was cancelled… the list could go on and on.   The best travelers go with the flow, and do it with a smile.  Each vacation happens but once, and life has a nice way of surprising you, if you let it.  Perhaps you replace that restaurant with a closer option, and it just so happened to have the most amazing, romantic atmosphere, or the best tasting soup ever!  Perhaps you replaced that cancelled day tour with time to wander and you discovered the most beautiful park in the center of the city!  Perhaps it took you 10 minutes to find your driver, and on the way to your hotel you drive by an accident that had just happened… wouldn't you be glad you were a bit delayed and it wasn't you?!    Okay, you get the idea. Take life as it comes and enjoy the moments.  There are parts of your vacation that should definitely be pre-planned, but remember… as Yogi Berra once said, "When you come to a fork in the road… TAKE IT”.

What’s on your list of things you always remember to pack?