When Should you Use a Travel Advisor

Posted by Tammy Murphy

October 3, 2019 at 9:33 AM

 
"How to Have a Stress Free Vacation" 
 
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So, we work really hard, sometimes 9-12 months on creating the perfect vacation.  It can be so easy, it begins with a "Discovery Call" where we talk about your hopes and dreams for your bucket list trip.  If it sounds like something we can add value to and we both decide to work together.  We begin brainstorming, putting all the little pieces together. One thing we hear quite often is, "Thank you so much, I would have never known how to put all of these trains, transfers, hotels, etc.  and sometimes after hearing what their interests are, the puzzle may change completely.   It's so much fun watching the joy in their faces when we meet to go over the visual of what this bucketlist would look like.  I know we save our clients so much time, stress and energy doing what we do best, while they can go back to doing what they do best.   But truthfully, the airlines hold that last piece to the puzzle.  I can pretty much make sure everything is covered except the weather and the airlines.. .  This became quite evident the last couple of weeks when airlines (all different airlines), cancelled flights days before travel and we were left scrambling.  
 
On this particular trip, the day of departure they learned that their connecting flight in New York was delayed 1.5 hours so that in turn cancelled their connection in Rome to Naples because with that change by airlines it became an illegal connection in Rome.  You may ask why was there such a tight connection in Rome - well airlines changed that after tickets was booked as well.   If we had gone ahead with the airlines decision to put them on the next flight to Naples, they would have missed their lunch reservations and Pompeii tour.  I knew how important this was to them and just could not give up.   I convinced  them to sleep on the plane I would take care of all the details & they would awake to a text of how to proceed.  So while they were in route:
 
 
Plan B:   I was praying the plane would make up the time in the air which usually happens and about midnight I would be able to switch the flight back to the earlier time.
Plan C: We hired a driver to be on standby to drive them to Pompeii in time for their tour;
 
One thing occurred to me while I was on hold for hours . . .   what are the other travelers on that flight doing that didn't have a Travel Expert? Are you missing the last piece of the puzzle?
 
Thankfully, I was able to text them about 2 hours before they landed that they would be arriving at 8am and  I was able to rebook them on original flight and VIP Meet & Greet in Rome would whisk them through passport control & to their connecting flight, easy peasy.
 
1) You know how crazy schedules are the day or two before you leave to go on vacation?  Would your work schedule allow you to sit on hold for hours making alternate arrangements?  OR
2)  What if you didn't know YOU COULD make alternate plans?  Many travelers just accept that they will be left in airports for hours and hours OR miss the connection and in turn tours lined up that day.    
3)  What if your flight is delayed and you miss your connecting flight?  Where will you stay for the night?  Will I lose that day at my resort? How will I beat the crowd to get on the next flight?  (Sometimes, there is only one flight going to that destination per day per airline).
 
If I had a dollar for every time I am asked "Do people still use travel agents?"  My response is all day, everyday (keep reading, I think you will be surprised at what a travel ADVISOR is).  And the really well informed travelers are using a travel Advisor INSTEAD of a travel agent or online booking site which is actually a travel agent without the service. 

If you have asked the question, "What can a travel expert do for me that I can't do for myself online?" 
A quick example of what a travel expert would do:  If your flight was delayed and your connecting flight would be missed, your travel expert could re book your flight before you landed saving you from standing in long lines of angry travelers at the ticket counter, book you in a hotel for the night* if no other flights for that day and make alternate arrangements at your original destination resort.   Of course, no one wants to HAVE to be the hero in this story, but sometimes travel plans go awry despite the BEST laid plans. Travel Advisors frequently are holding extra pieces of the puzzle, just in case.. .
 
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Travel Advisors take pride in offering incredible service and value for our clients hard-earned vacation time and budget.  Service that begins with their dream and ends when they are unpacking after the trip.  This goes WAY beyond clicking BUY NOW on a computer screen.  Travel Advisors spend hours custom-crafting YOUR vacation to provide you with the EXPERIENCE you are dreaming of, collaborating with colleagues to check the best values, amenities. Travel Advisors don't "sell travel", we won't try to fit a square peg in a round hole . . . we research hotels, resorts, destinations with YOUR interests and hobbies in mind, if we have not visited the particular property or destination, we have long lists of vetted properties and excursions, in addition to being an engaged member of luxury consortia to obtain unbiased opinions (you can't exactly believe all opinions you read online). 
 
ARE WE A GOOD FIT?
You may not need all the services we provide?  We will let you know if you don't need our services.  We will ask questions to find out  what a perfect vacation looks like to you? WE CARE!  If your anniversary dream includes relaxing at a kid-free pool cabana with an umbrella drink?  I'm going to steer you towards an Adult-Only property with amazing service!  Are you looking for a hopping, party atmosphere or some place to relax and disconnect? That may be yet a different resort or destination.
 
Are you dying to show your children the Caribbean, but you really want a resort that has a nice adult-only section to sneak away to while the children take advantage of sports clinics or learn to fly on a trapeze before you all meet up a few hours later for some quality family fun?  I have the perfect place in mind to make everyone happy.
 
We can also provide benefits to the traveler that loves the challenge of researching travel and finds the exact hotel and excursions they want.  That's when our inventory to properties that may show sold out online or our vetted suppliers come in handy.  We may have amenities or upgrades at the resort you've chosen without the added cost.  We may have a vetted supplier for excursion or a private tour excursion which provides a much more authentic experience than a  big group tour.

WHY SO MANY QUESTIONS?
So these are why we ask so many questions, not to be nosy, we want you to have the best EXPERIENCE possible.  We take all of your answers and put together the puzzle to match little dream in your head.  It takes  hours and hours of detailed research and planning to put each little piece together
 
Many times, we have access to things that YOU may not be aware of.  Would you like to visit the Sistine Chapel after hours?  Would you like a photopher on location? Would you like a cooking lesson in the chef's home as opposed to cooking institution or restaurant?  Would your kids love a truffle hunt?  And much more, we can't reveal all of our secrets, right. 
 
Will you really get what you think you're getting online? Buyer beware, last week a client sent me an email asking if I could get them a room for 4 at a specific price at a specific resort during Christmas holidays.  Well, turns out I could get the room (which appeared sold out online), however the price shown online did not accommodate 4 people, the price for the room that would accommodate 4 people was significantly higher.  Saving money is great, and I'm all for staying within budget and getting a good value for your hard-earned travel dollars.  That is why we ask for your budget.  I really do have your best interest in mind . . . trust me, I will do my best to find you the perfect fit for the greatest value.  
 
Many think they are saving money "booking themselves", but what they may not realize is that the booking engine is a "large corporation travel agent", you will receive confirmation numbers and that is the end of that story, there is no service during and after the sale.  AND if something is not as you perceived it to be, you probably won't receive a live person that sincerely cares about your time and money.  When you give me or any other hard working travel professional, the "go ahead" to book that same vacation (often at the same price or better), most times, you are not paying in full on that day, you will receive first class service, well-organized travel documents, app with your day-to-day itinerary plans via mobile phone, destination information, restaurant recommendations and sightseeing recommendations, along with the peace of mind that we are available for you each step of the way.  If anything goes wrong on the trip, we typically have affiliates on-location and/or good working relationships with the hotels, resorts, cruise lines.  We sincerely advocate FOR YOU. Just ask yourself or the agent you are working with, what is included in the sale.
 
And lastly, Insure your vacation
Your travel advisor can help you choose the best policy for YOU.  One of the greatest surprises why you may want travel insurance is not just for trip cancellation.  Some countries are beginning to require travel insurance before they allow entry into their country.  We encourage you to purchase third party insurance, we almost never recommend purchasing the supplier insurance, we want someone that is looking out for you, not the supplier.
 
So I hope I've put all the pieces together for you on when to use a travel advisor and hope we can help you again in the future.  
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Topics: travel ideas, travel tips, Italy

Professional Drivers and Guides Enhance the Best of Vacations

Posted by Tammy Murphy

October 1, 2019 at 7:55 AM

 
"Let Us Handle It" 
 

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I have written many times about the importance of using a local guide or local English speaking driver. It's just one of the many we encourage our clients to give back to the destination they are visiting.   It's so important that we support the local communities that we enjoy visiting.  Otherwise, there won't be anyone to driver or guide when we need them.  Beyond that, we encourage the use of  a local guide or driver is to make the most efficient use of your precious leisure time.  There is no lost time and expense of parking, finding the best route and in most countries there is zero tolerence of driving under the influence.   You are too important for us to risk any of these situations hendering your time away with your traveling companions.  Wouldn't it be better for everyone on the trip to enjoy their time relaxing and enjoying the scenery?  You probably can't even imagine the things that CAN go wrong while driving in another country.  Is it worth flying back for a court date?  Believe me, these things happen and sometimes you don't know until you have returned home.

 

IMG_3348Do you have a tight connection in Rome?  We have you covered... we have meet and greet partners to meet you & escort you through passport control in record times.

I know sometimes you have to experience it to understand.  Here is what a few of our clients have shared with us:

"We saw wonderful places and the views were so much better and I know we would not have been able to see as much as we did, if we had tried to drive ourselves!!" Sara 

"Our favorite part of the whole trip were the drivers! They were all awesome!! Especially in Ireland our driver searched for 3 days to get the perfect authentic shillelagh” -Linda

"Thank you for suggesting the private driver in St. Thomas/St. John."  We saw so much more than we imagined AND hearing the stories and suggestions of local, good eats--great value!" Lynn

 

Having a driver serves multiple benefits from punctuality to the ability to seamlessly handle rough weather with a drivers’ years of experience, hiring a professional driver for your next trip could change the way you feel about transportation to the airport, make a country side tour much more insightful, an exploration into hidden gems only the locals know about, and with that one on one experience that lets you decide what you want to do and where you want to go offering wide range of other locations off the beaten path waiting to be explored.  Another added bonus is that they love their home, they will share much more about local restaurants, non-touristy places for you to visit, even AFTER the drive.

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As I hope you can see by now, hiring a professional, vetted guide or driver has many diverse benefits. These are just the few reasons we want to help your next experience in a new land something that you’ll always remember and to adventure somewhere you’ll never forget. So call VIP Travel Experience the next time you need a stress free vacation.

 
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Topics: travel ideas, travel tips, Italy

2020 Vacation Planning Now

Posted by Tammy Murphy

September 30, 2019 at 7:59 AM

 

Anticipation of Vacation is Half of the Fun?

 

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I love the gorgeous weather of fall and the excitement of getting outdoors and being comfortable.  Before we know it January will be here.   What does January mean to you?  Is it time to start thinking about vacation.   One of our busiest planning seasons begins January 1.  I am SO proud of the many clients that have already planned their 2019 & 2020 vacations.  WOW!   I love to see people plan their work lives around vacation, rather than vacation around their work life.  

 

One  of the most exciting parts of vacation is the anticipation.  I don't know about you, but I'm planning my vacation while I'm on my current vacation and its catching on with many of our clients too.  As we meet to give them their documents, we leave planning their next adventure.  

 

This has to be the sweetest phone call I received this week:  

"I didn't want to save this until we returned because we are just so excited. We are having the most AMAZING TIME (I could feel the heartfelt emotion).  We were super exhausted after the international flight, but our guide was absolutely amazing, so knowledgeable and she knew exactly what we were interested in .   THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!"   (guess what, we are already planning their next trip before their plane was in the air for this trip).

 

We LOVE these fabulous emails, texts and facebook messages  about how thrilled you are with our LOCAL drivers and guides.  We love taking advantage of OUR relationships with on the ground experts that we trust our own family with. 

 

We would love to do the same for you! 

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Topics: travel ideas, travel tips, Italy

Simply Sicily

Posted by Tammy Murphy

September 29, 2019 at 9:18 AM

 

Why Sicily?

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I've just started a great new book as recommended by my bestie, "From Scratch" by Tembi Locke.   It has brought back many memories of our trip to Sicily earlier this year.

 

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The beginning of the book is set in Florence, and it's  pretty awesome to read about all of these places I have visited.  But of course, it lists a few new places which I plan to check out next May when we are in Florence again.    One of the main characters in the book is a chef born and raised in Sicily so that has definitely spurred memories of the wonderful food we sampled while in Sicily. I'm only on chapter one, so stay tuned.  Meanwhile, let's talk about Sicily.

 
I was very anxious to explore Sicily after realizing that Allison's great grandparents were from small towns in Sicily.  We researched to find the specific towns where her great grandparents lived and we couldn't wait to experience the culture that her ancestors grew up in.  I have always been obsessed with Genealogy and my burning question has always been WHY here, why did they settle in the towns they did.
 
My first impression was  how different the landscape and food was from mainland Italy and how much things reminded us of home. I loved how friendly and approachable the Sicilians were to us.  I admired their value of family  and the hospitality they showed us through their love of food, much like most southerners.  
 
You don't have to have ancestors from Sicily to really enjoy their culture and traditions;  they will make you feel welcome no matter your heritage.  

Three things that really stuck with me:
 
IMG_5256Sicilian Heritage:  
The connections were evident as we drove throughthe countryside and saw names of cities and towns that were surnames of people we knew.
 
While we were touring with a private guide in Agrigento, he mentioned that he had visited the United States, he felt most at home in New Orleans because the culture and temperatures were familiar AND THE FOOD!
 
 
Rural Landscape
Sicily is wide open country, and every quaint town we visited IMG_2503was pretty far from the next.  As we traveled along we passed wide open green spaces of  livestock, farms, fishing villages, and  beautiful coasts.   As we traveled, our incredible local guides talked about the history of Sicily, their culture and traditions, as well as prepared us for the next stop.  The value of these local guides cannot be understated.  
 
 
Proud Sicilians:  
I don't know that I would have appreciated as much of Sicily without the local introductions and hands-on experiences with the dairy farmer, winemakers, chocolatier, etc.  They are such so proud of their heritage and traditions and welcomed us into their homes for the best home cooked meals I have experienced.  They explained about zero-kilometer foods grown and prepared in their gardens and communities using only in-season vegetables.  I know that I enjoyed foods I don't normally enjoy at home and I think it was because everything was so fresh.   This also reminded me of our ancestors living off of the foods they grew on their farms.
 
IMG_2474Exploring the Sicilian connections, experiencing the rural landscape and interacting with proud Sicilians are only a few of the things that attracted us to Sicily.
 
If you think Sicily sounds like a place you would like to visit, please reach out, I would love the explore the possibilities with you.
 
Click here MORE BLOG STORIES for more inspiration and ideas for a travel inspired life
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Topics: travel ideas, travel tips, Italy

Medieval Monuments and Top Notch Cuisine

Posted by Tammy Murphy

September 28, 2019 at 9:11 AM

 

Medieval Monuments and Top Notch Cuisine

Bologna_seen_from_Asinelli_tower
 
 
Bologna, capital of the Emilia-Romagna is the perfect Italian city for food and culture lovers.  Bologna is about one hour south of Venice, about halfway between Milan and Florence.  
 
Enjoy an amazing journey through Bologna's culinary legacy and have an aperitivo with a local. 

TASTE traditional freshly baked in-house goods while exploring this beautiful and quaint old university city.  
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Enjoy this crowd-free gem May before the big summer crowds.  You will not soon forget the taste of their handmade egg pasta and stuffed pasta, especially tortellini.  The locals will share with you about the Sunday tradition of preparing their famous pasta bolognese, tagliatelle with ragu (they may spend an entire day on this long cooked meat sauce).  Our friends will take you into the mom and pop meat shops for a taste of the famous Bologna salami and ham.  
 
Piazza_Maggiore_-_Bologna
Admire the heart of Bologna . . . its historic monuments, beautiful churches, and medieval towers as you stroll beneath its many porticoed sidewalks!
Piazza Maggiore is located in the center of Bologna and was once just a grassy area.  In 1200 , the Municipality began purchasing houses and land to create a gathering place.  It's the perfect spot to sit at an outdoor cafe and people watch. 
Portico_Bologna_via_Zamboni

Savor Tasty Memories!
If you have more than a day,  enjoy these other crowd-free towns in Emilia-Romagna regions:  Parma, Ravenna, Ferrara and Modena.     

Our Italy partners will introduce you to a family that has been crafting traditional balsamic vinegar  that has batches aged up to 150 years old. Watch the process and of course, enjoy the tastes of various vinegars.  
 
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Head for the hills!
The hills of Parma . . . watch milk turn into parmigiano cheese under master cheese makers and of course, taste the cheeses aged 12- 24 or 60 months.
 
 
Take a behind the scenes pasta making lesson and savor the fruits of your labor.
 
Let our experts show you the hidden side of Bologna. 
images (1)Long ago, Bologna was a city built on canals. Get a glimpse of the city the way it used to be.
 
Visit the university... The Gelato University.
 
The best reason to visit Bologna is that you can truly discover and immerse yourself into the city instead of being hearded along tourist traps.  ENJOY great food at reasonable prices.  
Ssh, let's keep it a secret a little longer. 
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Topics: travel ideas, travel tips, Italy

Today Was So Perfect, It Was Ridiculous!!

Posted by Tammy Murphy

September 16, 2019 at 8:05 AM

 
 
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It has been a FUN, crazy busy summer, we have clients and friends traveling to France, Italy, Ireland, England, Scotland, New England, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Canada, Turks & Caicos, Alaska, Cabo, Bora Bora , Costa Rica and I'm probably forgetting a few.  Yes, it has been busy, but so rewarding!!!  Busy as it is, it is one of the most fun times of the year... the trips Justin & I have been working on for months, sometimes a year are finally happening and I wake up to see beautiful photos,  texts and facebook posts.  I feel like it's Christmas every morning.

I came across the photo above and I remembered this awesome text:  
"So today was so perfect, it was ridiculous !"   I had to giggle because I knew the next few days would be even MORE 
perfect.

Fast forward next day, I get this text:
"WOW-Dinner tonight- Holy Cow-- Insert- HUGE SMILE - my heart is so happy!"

I figure a picture is worth a thousand words.  How happy do these folks look?  Would you believe they are in Rome?  Would you believe they are dining in the home of a local chef that invites her family over to socialize as she creates a beautiful meal which is amazing in every way, but what you walk away with is ... The AUTHENTIC experience, breaking bread with some Italians that are now your friends!!

Period, enough said.  Do you want to JUST check off a box or take selfies to say "Been there, done that"? OR would you like  to EXPERIENCE the places, the food, the people?  I can help you travel either way, but I don't miss an opportunity to turn a big vacation into a once-in-lifetime experience. If you or someone you know wants to REALLY experience your next destination, I hope you will share my email or my contact information.

I hope tomorrow is so perfect for you, that it's ridiculous!!!

  •  
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Topics: travel ideas, travel tips, Italy, First Time Tips to Italy

Slipping in the back door of Europe

Posted by Tammy Murphy

September 11, 2019 at 11:17 PM

Enjoying Europe Through The Back Door
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Do you like slipping in the back door of a restaurant sometimes?  For many, avoiding the crowds is an essential part of ENJOYING their travels. Of course, there’s some irony in being a traveler who complains about all the other tourists cluttering up the landscape, (ha ha) because of course, we’re all contributing to the crowd!
 
In reality, the best-known places are always going to draw lots of people, and usually and with good reason.  So how can we see the sights without feeling like we’re stuck in a herd of camera-toting sheep? I take great pride in carefully scheduling a great travel plan...designed to minimize crowds and time in line and maximize your enjoyment. Here are our top ten tips for avoiding the worst of the vacation crowds:
  • Hire a local guide
    • My very first suggestion is to hire a private guide, if your budget will allow. A guide knows when the busiest places will have lulls in the crowds, and exactly where to go to soak in a city’s ambiance without being joined by thousands of others with the same idea. I have several well-vetted private guides all over Europe that I use frequently for my clients. You will get so much more out of sights when you see them with a local guide who can make the history come to life. Your tour guide really DOES know it all!
  • Skip the line!
    • Did you know you could do this? A major benefit of using a travel adviser who specializes in Europe (like yours truly) is that they often have the ability to help you skip right past a 2-hour long line and whisk you inside the attraction you’d rather not wait to see. Some of the most important spots with “skip the line” privileges are the Louvre and Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Vatican and Colosseum in Rome and the Accademia (to meet Michelangelo’s amazing David) in Florence, St. Mark's Basilica and Doge's Palace in Venice, etc..
florence-2.jpg
  • Take advantage of jet lag
    • What does that mean? Imagine you managed to stay up until 8pm after an overnight trans-Atlantic flight. Now it’s 5am the next day and you’re wide awake. Get out of bed and  wander through near-empty streets as the city quietly stirs (I adore this time). Enjoy a coffee alongside locals on their way to work. Early morning can be a magical time to explore the streets of Europe
    • image1-7Travel off-peak
      • Have you ever been to Paris in August? The locals have fled the city for their summer vacation, leaving the tourists to take it by storm. A lot of stores, cafes and restaurants are closed. Consider traveling in your destination’s shoulder season (April, May and September-October) – and avoid school holidays like the plague! If you are worried about taking your children out of school, get over it (Ssh, my husband is on the school board,  you didn't hear that from me)! A family trip to Europe will contribute so much more to their future than a “Perfect Attendance” award in 6th grade.
  • Do your research and plan museum visits accordingly
    • Many museums have “free” days once a month; these are always going to be busy days, and best to avoid. Some major attractions (e.g. London’s Tate Modern) stay open late one or two nights a week; visiting the gallery during these extended hourstends to offer a quieter experience.
denmark.jpg
  • Investigate “alternative” destinations
    • Everyone talks about the big ticket destinations – Rome, Paris, London, Prague – but there’s much magic to be found in Europe’s smaller cities. For instance, if you’re looking to experience Dutch culture, Leiden or Haarlem are beautiful and less crowded alternatives to Amsterdam. (we can find some great alternatives to the hustle-bustle where you will get the authentic “feel” of the country you are visiting).  Haven't you been dying to visit SICILY??
  • Benefit from local insight
    • TALK TO THE LOCALS  to learn about what’s popular with people who live in the city, rather than what’s popular with people who visit or someone that vacationed their once. A good way to incorporate this wisdom into your trip-planning is to use an experienced Travel Professional who specializes in Europe. Our partners  have local connections to obtain inside access and actually live in the destination you are visiting and can give us some great “insider” tips.
  • Choose attractions off the beaten path
    • Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to visit it; you won’t get a failing grade for skipping the supposed “must-sees”.  Don't miss the London sights beyond Buckingham Palace; You can experience Italy without snapping a photo of yourself holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There’s way more to a city than its icons, so let the icons draw the crowds, while you ferret out more unique ways to spend your time.
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  • Stay in locally owned smaller hotels that are centrally located
    • Choosing a smaller hotel in a more residential neighborhood with easy access to the places you want to visit is a nice way to escape the crowds at the end of the day. You didn’t travel all the way to Europe to stay in a Holiday Inn or Best Western, did you? Plus, the owners and employees are super helpful in suggesting some little-known jewels for restaurants and sightseeing.  
  • Be a Good Neighbor:  
    • Please patronize European hotels, it is only fair and just to support the communities through hotel taxes that we are so happy to visit.   (it's only fair right?)
  • Be aware of cruise ship docking days
    • If you’re staying in a port-city, find out when the cruise ships dock – then hightail it out of there! And if you’re one of the people debarking from the ship, see Tip #1...then hightail it out of there with your private guide! Today’s mega ships can dump 3000 people off in Rome...all at the same time and all heading for the same sights.
You don't have to miss the "must see" sights to avoid the crowds.  
Plan carefully and seek guidance of travel professional.  We want you to have the BEST vacation EXPERIENCE possible!!!  Travelers thank us every day for showing them the quiet and secret sights, authentic experiences more so than the icons that drew them to the destination in the first place.    It's OK with us, either way, but do you want your photo in front of XXX like everyone else OR do you want to EXPERIENCE  something AUTHENTIC!!!

Which ever your style, we hope you will TRAVEL far and wide and explore this beautiful WORLD!!

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Topics: travel ideas, travel tips, Italy, First Time Tips to Italy

Tammy, Today was so perfect, it was ridiculous!

Posted by Tammy Murphy

November 20, 2018 at 1:02 PM

Enjoying Europe Through The Back Door
tm_4720
 
Do you like slipping in the back door of a restaurant sometimes?  For many, avoiding the crowds is an essential part of ENJOYING our travels. Of course, there’s some irony in being a traveler who complains about all the other tourists cluttering up the landscape, (ha ha) because of course, we’re all contributing to the crowd!
 
In reality, the best-known places are always going to draw lots of people, and usually with good reason.  So how can we see the sights without feeling like we’re stuck in a herd of camera-toting sheep? I take great pride in carefully scheduling a great travel plan...designed to minimize crowds and time in line and maximize your enjoyment. Here are our top ten tips for avoiding the worst of the vacation crowds:
 
  • Hire a local guide
    • My very first suggestion is to hire a private guide, if your budget will allow. A guide knows when the busiest places will have lulls in the crowds, and exactly where to go to soak in a city’s ambiance without being joined by thousands of others with the same idea. I have several well-vetted private guides all over Europe that I use frequently for my clients. You will get so much more out of sights when you see them with a local guide who can make the history come to life. Your tour guide really DOES know it all!
  • Skip the line!
    • Did you know you could do this? A major benefit of using a travel adviser who specializes in Europe (like yours truly) is that they often have the ability to help you skip right past a 2-hour long line and whisk you inside the attraction you’d rather not wait to see. Some of the most important spots with “skip the line” privileges are the Louvre and Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Vatican and Colosseum in Rome and the Accademia (to meet Michelangelo’s amazing David) in Florence, St. Mark's Basilica and Doge's Palace in Venice, etc..
florence-2.jpg
  • Take advantage of jet lag
    • What does that mean? Imagine you managed to stay up until 8pm after an overnight trans-Atlantic flight. Now it’s 5am the next day and you’re wide awake. Get out of bed and  wander through near-empty streets as the city quietly stirs (I adore this time). Enjoy a coffee alongside locals on their way to work. Early morning can be a magical time to explore the streets of Europe
    • image1-7
  • Travel off-peak
    • Have you ever been to Italy in April or May? The locals have fled the city for their summer vacation, leaving the tourists to take it by storm. A lot of stores, cafes and restaurants are closed. Consider traveling in your destination’s shoulder season (April, May and September-October) – and avoid school holidays like the plague! If you are worried about taking your children out of school, get over it (Ssh, my husband is on the school board,  you didn't hear that from me)! A family trip to Europe will contribute so much more to their future than a “Perfect Attendance” award in 6th grade.
  • Do your research and plan museum visits accordingly
    • Many museums have “free” days once a month; these are always going to be busy days, and best to avoid. Some major attractions (e.g. London’s Tate Modern) stay open late one or two nights a week; visiting the gallery during these extended hours tends to offer a quieter experience.
denmark.jpg
  • Investigate “alternative” destinations
    • Everyone talks about the big ticket destinations – Rome, Paris, London, Prague – but there’s much magic to be found in Europe’s smaller cities. For instance, if you’re looking to experience Dutch culture, Leiden or Haarlem are beautiful and less crowded alternatives to Amsterdam. (we can find some great alternatives to the hustle-bustle where you will get the authentic “feel” of the country you are visiting).  Haven't you been dying to visit SICILY??
  • Benefit from local insight
    • TALK TO THE LOCALS  to learn about what’s popular with people who live in the city, rather than what’s popular with people who visit. A good way to incorporate this wisdom into your trip-planning is to use an experienced Travel Professional who specializes in Europe. Most of the suppliers we partner with to obtain inside access for your  vacation actually live in the destination you are visiting and can give us some great “insider” tips.
  • Choose attractions off the beaten path
    • Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to visit it; you won’t get a failing grade for skipping the supposed “must-sees”.  Don't miss the London sights beyond Buckingham Palace; You can experience Italy without snapping a photo of yourself holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There’s way more to a city than its icons, so let the icons draw the crowds, while you ferret out more unique ways to spend your time.
london-1.jpg

  • Stay in locally owned smaller hotels that are centrally located
    • Choosing a smaller hotel in a more residential neighborhood with easy access to the places you want to visit is a nice way to escape the crowds at the end of the day. You didn’t travel all the way to Europe to stay in a Holiday Inn or Best Western, did you? Plus, the owners and employees are super helpful in suggesting some little-known jewels for restaurants and sightseeing.  
  • Be a Good Neighbor:  
    • Please patronize European hotels, it is only fair and just to support the communities through hotel taxes that we are so happy to visit.   (it's only fair right?)
  • Be aware of cruise ship docking days
    • If you’re staying in a port-city, find out when the cruise ships dock – then hightail it out of there! And if you’re one of the people debarking from the ship, see Tip #1...then hightail it out of there with your private guide! Today’s mega ships can dump 3000 people off in Rome...all at the same time and all heading for the same sights.
You don't have to miss the "must see" sights to avoid the crowds.  
Plan carefully and seek guidance of travel professional.  We want you to have the BEST vacation EXPERIENCE possible!!!  Travelers thank us every day for showing them the quiet and secret sights, authentic experiences more so than the icons that drew them to the destination in the first place.    It's OK with us, either way, but do you want your photo in front of XXX like everyone else OR do you want to EXPERIENCE  something AUTHENTIC!!!

Which ever your style, we hope you will TRAVEL far and wide and explore this beautiful WORLD!!

road sign.jpg
Read more

Topics: travel ideas, travel tips, Italy, First Time Tips to Italy

Today was so perfect, it was ridiculous!

Posted by Tammy Murphy

June 21, 2018 at 12:33 PM

Enjoying Europe Through The Back Door
tm_4720
 
Do you like slipping in the back door of a restaurant sometimes?  For many,avoiding the crowds is an essential part of ENJOYING our travels. Of course, there’s some irony in being a traveler who complains about all the other tourists cluttering up the landscape, (ha ha) because of course, we’re all contributing to the crowd!
 
In reality, the best-known places are always going to draw lots of people, and usually with good reason.  So how can we see the sights without feeling like we’re stuck in a herd of camera-toting sheep? I take great pride in carefully scheduling a great travel plan...designed to minimize crowds and time in line and maximize your enjoyment. Here are our top ten tips for avoiding the worst of the vacation crowds:
  • Hire a local guide
    • My very first suggestion is to hire a private guide, if your budget will allow. A guide knows when the busiest places will have lulls in the crowds, and exactly where to go to soak in a city’s ambiance without being joined by thousands of others with the same idea. I have several well-vetted private guides all over Europe that I use frequently for my clients. You will get so much more out of sights when you see them with a local guide who can make the history come to life. Your tour guide really DOES know it all!
  • Skip the line!
    • Did you know you could do this? A major benefit of using a travel adviser who specializes in Europe (like yours truly) is that they often have the ability to help you skip right past a 2-hour long line and whisk you inside the attraction you’d rather not wait to see. Some of the most important spots with “skip the line” privileges are the Louvre and Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Vatican and Colosseum in Rome and the Accademia (to meet Michelangelo’s amazing David) in Florence, St. Mark's Basilica and Doge's Palace in Venice, etc..
florence-2.jpg
  • Take advantage of jet lag
    • What does that mean? Imagine you managed to stay up until 8pm after an overnight trans-Atlantic flight. Now it’s 5am the next day and you’re wide awake. Get out of bed and  wander through near-empty streets as the city quietly stirs (I adore this time). Enjoy a coffee alongside locals on their way to work. Early morning can be a magical time to explore the streets of Europe
    • image1-7
  • Travel off-peak
    • Have you ever been to Paris in August? The locals have fled the city for their summer vacation, leaving the tourists to take it by storm. A lot of stores, cafes and restaurants are closed. Consider traveling in your destination’s shoulder season (April, May and September-October) – and avoid school holidays like the plague! If you are worried about taking your children out of school, get over it (Ssh, my husband is on the school board,  you didn't hear that from me)! A family trip to Europe will contribute so much more to their future than a “Perfect Attendance” award in 6th grade.
  • Do your research and plan museum visits accordingly
    • Many museums have “free” days once a month; these are always going to be busy days, and best to avoid. Some major attractions (e.g. London’s Tate Modern) stay open late one or two nights a week; visiting the gallery during these extended hourstends to offer a quieter experience.
denmark.jpg
  • Investigate “alternative” destinations
    • Everyone talks about the big ticket destinations – Rome, Paris, London, Prague – but there’s much magic to be found in Europe’s smaller cities. For instance, if you’re looking to experience Dutch culture, Leiden or Haarlem are beautiful and less crowded alternatives to Amsterdam. (we can find some great alternatives to the hustle-bustle where you will get the authentic “feel” of the country you are visiting).  Haven't you been dying to visit SICILY??
  • Benefit from local insight
    • TALK TO THE LOCALS  to learn about what’s popular with people who live in the city, rather than what’s popular with people who visit. A good way to incorporate this wisdom into your trip-planning is to use an experienced Travel Professional who specializes in Europe. Most of the suppliers we partner with to obtain inside access for your  vacation actually live in the destination you are visiting and can give us some great “insider” tips.
  • Choose attractions off the beaten path
    • Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to visit it; you won’t get a failing grade for skipping the supposed “must-sees”.  Don't miss the London sights beyond Buckingham Palace; You can experience Italy without snapping a photo of yourself holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There’s way more to a city than its icons, so let the icons draw the crowds, while you ferret out more unique ways to spend your time.
london-1.jpg

  • Stay in locally owned smaller hotels that are centrally located
    • Choosing a smaller hotel in a more residential neighborhood with easy access to the places you want to visit is a nice way to escape the crowds at the end of the day. You didn’t travel all the way to Europe to stay in a Holiday Inn or Best Western, did you? Plus, the owners and employees are super helpful in suggesting some little-known jewels for restaurants and sightseeing.  
  • Be a Good Neighbor:  
    • Please patronize European hotels, it is only fair and just to support the communities through hotel taxes that we are so happy to visit.   (it's only fair right?)
  • Be aware of cruise ship docking days
    • If you’re staying in a port-city, find out when the cruise ships dock – then hightail it out of there! And if you’re one of the people debarking from the ship, see Tip #1...then hightail it out of there with your private guide! Today’s mega ships can dump 3000 people off in Rome...all at the same time and all heading for the same sights.
You don't have to miss the "must see" sights to avoid the crowds.  
Plan carefully and seek guidance of travel professional.  We want you to have the BEST vacation EXPERIENCE possible!!!  Travelers thank us every day for showing them the quiet and secret sights, authentic experiences more so than the icons that drew them to the destination in the first place.    It's OK with us, either way, but do you want your photo in front of XXX like everyone else OR do you want to EXPERIENCE  something AUTHENTIC!!!

Which ever your style, we hope you will TRAVEL far and wide and explore this beautiful WORLD!!

road sign.jpg
Read more

Topics: travel ideas, travel tips, Italy, First Time Tips to Italy

10 Foods You Won't Find In Italy

Posted by Tammy Murphy

April 26, 2018 at 6:30 AM

Which Italian Foods are in your Dreams?
Supreme_pizza
 
We associate food with Italy, am I right?  Do you long to taste the delicious fresh farm to table foods, sink your teeth into a glorious piece of authentic pizza?  Or roll your fork into a beautiful plate of authentic Italian spaghetti and meatballs?  

While I know you will fall in love with many, many authentic Italian foods, I need to let you know that unless you visit a very touristy restaurant (never by my recommendations!), you will not taste some of your favorite "Italian" dishes in Italy.  In fact, my Italian friends almost cry at the thought of some of the Italian-American dishes.  Something you should know right up front . . . Italians take their food very seriously and it saddens them to see what others may do to their great, great, great grandmother's recipes.

TIP:  Don't eat at the restaurants on the front row near the 
iconic sights, walk a few blocks back where the menu is only in one language-ITALIAN.    

I hope it's almost lunch time because you will surely be hungry before reaching the end of this email.
 
GARLIC BREAD
Bread in Italy is usually plain and served with olive oil instead of butter.  
bruschetti-2152340_960_720TIP:  Bruschetta (brusketta) is about the closest relative to garlic bread since its drizzled with garlic and olive oil before baking.
 
PEPPERONI PIZZA
Pizza in Italy is completely different (in a wonderful way) than it is in the USA. It has a very thin crust and may be topped with a variety of toppings like fresh tomatoes, broccoli and mozzarella, prosciutto, anchovies, mushrooms, but NOT pepperoni.  

TIP:  Taste the pizza in each city in Italy, they each have their own charms.  Sshh, don't repeat that in Naples.

ITALIAN DRESSING
Salads are sometimes topped with olive oil, vinegar, balsamic, salt, maybe pepper, but if you request Italian dressing in Italy, you may be stared at like a martian.  In restaurants, your salad is served to you plain and you are expected to add the oil and vinegar on table.
 
FETTUCCINI ALFREDO
Fettuccini al burro is slightly similar, but much lighter than the heavy cream sauce Americans serve.  Pasta is topped with butter and cheese (no cream) for a lighter dish that's healthy, not harmful.

TIP:  I always suggest CLOSE THE MENU and ask the chef to share his specialities, I promise he will not disappoint.

MARINARA SAUCE
Most dishes in Italy are not covered in red sauce.  In some cases, fresh marinara sauce may be used, but mostly your dish is prepared with shellfish and or olives.  

SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS
We realize this may come as a bit of a shock, but I assure you it is true.  What could be more Italian than spaghetti and meatballs?  NEWSFLASH . . . Italians do eat meatballs, but they are never served over pasta.  They're a different course altogether and are enjoyed on their own.

This was hilarious the first time I registered for a cooking class and I was asked to choose the menu.  

spaghetti
CHICKEN PARMESAN
Only eggplant gets the parmigiana treatment and not veal, chicken or meatballs.  HA HA, another discovery at a cooking class.


CHICKEN PASTA
No, another myth.  Please don't give your chef a heart attack. Chicken does not belong ON pasta.  These are two very different dishes.  YOU may find small pieces of fish on pasta.  

CHEESECAKE
Another shocker!!  Italians believe a decadent dessert like cheesecake is a bit much for every day eating.  Italians will serve something lighter like cannoli, fruit tarts or fresh fruit in season.
tiramisu
 
 
Don't  be disheartened, it may be different than you are expecting, but I encourage you to try dishes that you may not LOVE in USA, something about the FRESH produce, I LOVED dishes that I had always thought that I didn't like.  I can promise you, the foods you taste will be MUCH better than you are expecting!!!
 
You see, when Italian immigrants arrived in other lands in the 19th and 20th centuries, they did as they did in Italy ... used local ingredients.  This absolutely changed the way they cooked and created a new cuisine.   While the new cuisine is simply wonderful, you will not find it in ITALY.  ENJOY your ITALIAN favorites at home, but prepare your taste buds for a beautiful, authentic ITALIAN EXPERIENCE you will not soon forget.   i.e., FRIED ZUCCHINI FLOWERS--YUMMY!!!!!!
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Topics: travel ideas, travel tips, Italy, First Time Tips to Italy

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