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, First Time Tips to Italy, 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, First Time Tips to Italy, 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, First Time Tips to Italy, Italy

Authentic and Amazing Italy

Posted by Tammy Murphy

April 6, 2018 at 10:46 AM

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 11.26.18 AM.png"Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life" - Anna Akhmatova.
 
Italy is by far, the European country requested the most by my clients....in fact, over 46 million tourists visit this amazing country every year. They come from all over the world, for many different reasons, and many will return again and again for that magic that only Italy can deliver. Italians are very kind, outgoing, family-centric and extremely patient (unless they are driving!). The Italians realize how blessed they are to be the safe keepers of some of history’s most magnificent relics and art treasures and they are happy to share them. However, there are a few things that most Italians want Americans to know before we arrive in their country. Here is our list of the Top 10 ways to blend right in to Italian Culture:
 
1. Slow Down: You will NOT see it all!
Trust me, the reason that the 46 million tourists attack Italy each year is because there is so much beauty to see and experience: culture, art, vineyards, food, museums and the amazing people! A lifetime isn’t even enough time! So, slow down, take it all in, appreciate what you DO see....and then plan to return!
 
2. Dress more conservatively than you do at home.
Mini skirts, short-shorts (they are for the beach!); halter tops and saggy jeans will not live up to the classic fashion taste of Italians. You don’t have to be formal and uncomfortable...just neat, put-together and a little more modest.  Some Cathedrals (including the Vatican) will not let you enter if your shoulders and knees are not covered. Cover up, unless you really are spending the day on a beautiful Italian beach. And leave the stilettos at home...Cobblestone streets and high heels don’t get along very well!
 
3. Cappuccino and Café Lattes are morning-only drinks!
A true Italian would never dream of ordering one after late morning, or especially after a meal! If you need a caffeine pick-me-up later in the day, stop in a coffee bar for a quick shot of espresso.  Did you know that Italy is one of the only countries that doesn’t have a Starbucks? They are illegal there because the Italians are so proud of their coffee culture.  Italian coffee is superior and should be enjoyed as the real Italians do...Give it a “shot”! (Pun intended!)  Caffe Correcto.
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Topics: travel ideas, travel tips, First Time Tips to Italy, Italy

Authentically Italy

Posted by Tammy Murphy

April 13, 2017 at 6:00 AM

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 11.26.18 AM.png"Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life" - Anna Akhmatova.
 
Italy is by far, the European country requested the most by my clients....in fact, over 46 million tourists visit this amazing country every year. They come from all over the world, for many different reasons, and many will return again and again for that magic that only Italy can deliver. Italians are very kind, outgoing, family-centric and extremely patient (unless they are driving!). The Italians realize how blessed they are to be the safe keepers of some of history’s most magnificent relics and art treasures and they are happy to share them. However, there are a few things that most Italians want Americans to know before we arrive in their country. Here is our list of the Top 10 ways to blend right in to Italian Culture:
 
1. Slow Down: You will NOT see it all!
Trust me, the reason that the 46 million tourists attack Italy each year is because there is so much beauty to see and experience: culture, art, vineyards, food, museums and the amazing people! A lifetime isn’t even enough time! So, slow down, take it all in, appreciate what you DO see....and then plan to return!
 
2. Dress more conservatively than you do at home.
Mini skirts, short-shorts (they are for the beach!); halter tops and saggy jeans will not live up to the classic fashion taste of Italians. You don’t have to be formal and uncomfortable...just neat, put-together and a little more modest.  Some Cathedrals (including the Vatican) will not let you enter if your shoulders and knees are not covered. Cover up, unless you really are spending the day on a beautiful Italian beach. And leave the stilettos at home...Cobblestone streets and high heels don’t get along very well!
 
3. Cappuccino and Café Lattes are morning-only drinks!
A true Italian would never dream of ordering one after late morning, or especially after a meal! If you need a caffeine pick-me-up later in the day, stop in a coffee bar for a quick shot of espresso.  Did you know that Italy is one of the only countries that doesn’t have a Starbucks? They are illegal there because the Italians are so proud of their coffee culture.  Italian coffee is superior and should be enjoyed as the real Italians do...Give it a “shot”! (Pun intended!)  Caffe Correcto.
Read more

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

10 great tips for a luxury vacation 7

Posted by Tammy Murphy

March 30, 2017 at 6:14 AM

30352721

Planning to go all out on your next getaway? Here are ten tips for a wonderful luxury vacation, regardless of your destination. 

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Topics: travel ideas, travel tips

Best time to Travel for best values and more

Posted by Tammy Murphy

September 16, 2016 at 3:58 AM

louvre-102840.jpg 

When is shoulder season?  You've heard of "high" and "low", well shoulder season is right between.   

 

Just about the time that vacation crowds are scurrying home, cinque-terre-340348_1920.jpgTHAT'S THE TIME for best values and wide open spaces.  Availability is better, locals can appreciate travelers more, air and hotel rates drop and just before everything shuts down for the season, and sometimes receive a few more amenities.  

 

Snapshot:  What's the best time of year to visit _______?  If you're looking for value, slower pace, light crowds and good weather, that time is ______. 

 

There is a different answer for each destination.  Here's the scoop . . .

 

I don't know about you, but I like to create my own crowd, group vacations with our friends, or our family, etc.   I digress (more on that next week)

 

I T A L Y
Because all discussions begin with . . . Italy. 
The best time to sip cappuccino or vino with the backdrops of Pantheon or Forum or Arno River . . . would be arno-river-1066307_1920.jpg
Autumn  (late October to November) or Spring (March/April) but this is constantly changing with the popularity of this beautiful country.   Personally, I love Italy so much, it doesn't matter to me which month if the opportunity arises, I'm there.  There are caveats to this rule, so be sure to discuss more in depth with your travel consultant.  

C A N A D A

National Parks (Banff, Lake Louise & Jasper) has a short shoulder season first two weeks of national-park-856316_1920.jpgJune and last two weeks of August.   Weather can vary from one coast to the other in Canada, but fall attracts travelers seeking the beautiful auburn hues and may be the perfect time to experience the viewing of a spot bull moose or wolf howl.   Thanksgiving is a great time for a short visit because it isn't a holiday for Canada.

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Topics: travel destinations, travel tips, travel planner

3 Secrets to the Ultimate Private Luxury Travel Experiences

Posted by Robert Landen

September 8, 2016 at 12:00 AM

 luxury travel agencies
Vacations are often valued as a means of escape. While it is true that travel provides a break from the ritual stresses of modern life, a vacation is not simply the act of running away from daily troubles. It is also the chance to enrich your life, to reawaken your sense of excitement, and to make attainable your wildest desires. When you depart to a new or favored destination, you transcend your normal routine and enter a world where all things ordinary become spectacular. This is a time when you are encouraged, beyond all else, to relish in the very delight of existence.  

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Topics: travel tips

Don't Hate on the Grape

Posted by Tammy Murphy

July 27, 2016 at 2:56 PM

 IMG_9711.jpg

"Don't judge a book by it's cover". "The World is a Book, and those that don't travel only read one page".   

 

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Topics: travel tips

3 Secrets to the Ultimate Luxury Travel Experience

Posted by Tammy Murphy

July 21, 2016 at 7:00 AM

 luxury travel agencies
Vacations are often valued as a means of escape. While it is true that travel provides a break from the ritual stresses of modern life, a vacation is not simply the act of running away from daily troubles. It is also the chance to enrich your life, to reawaken your sense of excitement, and to make attainable your wildest desires. When you depart to a new or favored destination, you transcend your normal routine and enter a world where all things ordinary become spectacular. This is a time when you are encouraged, beyond all else, to relish in the very delight of existence.  

Because travel provides you with a unique opportunity to indulge without restraint, it can be difficult to assess which factors will contribute the most to your stay. Oftentimes, the best trips result from factors beyond the destination itself. So, rather than focus on how many stars your hotel possesses, you need only to read on. For the ultimate experience in personal travel, here are our top three secrets for achieving luxury away from home. 

Secret #1 - Time Your Trip Wisely

Vacations are a time of indulgence. Whether you wish to partake in a lavish trip filled with spa days and top-notch room service or simply need a quiet oasis where you can give in to periods of introspection, it is important that you get the most from your time away from home. This is why it is crucial to choose a time when you have as few obligations as possible. While a change in scenery is always a welcome distraction, it is difficult to transition into a state of complete relaxation when your phone is constantly buzzing. The best way to immerse yourself in your vacation is to depart at a date when you have no unfinished work to bog you down. This way, you can simply silence your mobile devices, turn down the stress meter, and allow yourself to be enveloped by luxury

Secret #2 - You Do You

If you're bringing a significant other with you, it can be difficult to remember that there's nothing forcing you to stay together the whole time. Certainly it's an experience to share and cherish in the coming years, but you're not going to cherish time spent waiting on your wife to finish shopping or your husband to play the back nine. If you're bringing your spouse, it's perfectly fine to admit that you enjoy different parts of the experience and go your separate ways for a few hours. Your vacation isn't a one day affair and neither is your marriage, so go ahead and make time for your interests. At the end of the day, you can meet up at a fine restaurant and swap stories. 

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Topics: travel tips

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