Author Archives: travel

London, England Lodging Bargain

In 2017, my friend Erin passed on this great idea for a London, England visit:
I thought I’d pass on bargain that my family found for out trip to London last summer (late August). We used the British Airways air & lodging combo deal and I wanted a place with a kitchen. The Dolphin House hotel/serviced apartments was the only one with the kitchen, so we took it. Turns out that he place is really a large apartment complex a bit more luxurious than we needed but the BA combo price was cheaper than all others. It is a big rectangle with a 3.5 acre park in the middle.

The BA deal also includes daily breakfasts at an on-site restaurant (if we just got the studio apt, two of us would have paid $1418.50 each for the flight & the 7 nights lodging). We had to get a larger unit (2 BR/2 BA) when other people joined the trip which added another $1,240.00 which we spread amongst us.

It is in a great residential location as well (the Pimlico / Westminster neighborhood) with quiet streets but bus & metro stops a short walk away.

The hotel is just a small portion of the Dolphin Square apartment complex with full-time residents.

We met a retired American couple at the hotel the very first day we got there. They had been there for almost a month.

An option for families & people who don’t want the London hustle & bustle outside their windows 24 hours a day.
Dolphin House Brochure – full info PDF to download


Stress-Free Vacation Tips

What Good Is a Stressful Vacation?
Relax, It’s Going to Be Great

What good is a stressful vacation? About 90 million people use the Internet each year to book flights, hotel rooms and restaurant reservations, according to This has created a breeding ground for hackers, identity thieves and con men.

Add this to the other stresses involved in travel, and it can be easy for a vacation to feel like work.
Here are some tips for a safe and stress-free trip:

Keep a Flexible Schedule

If you want to save money on travel, don’t try to make it work around your schedule; work your schedule around travel opportunities. You never know when you’ll be able to take a night flight for less, or book at a less crowded hotel if you don’t mind moving your vacation up a week. Get in the habit of napping in busy or unusual places when you get a chance and you’ll be able to remain well-rested no matter when you have to fly.

Take Care With Your Plastic

When you make an ATM withdrawal, check your surroundings. You don’t need somebody robbing you or peeking over your shoulder to get your PIN. Don’t check financial accounts or use your credit card on public computers or unsecure Wi-Fi networks, either. LifeLock service for identity theft monitors your credit and accounts and alerts you to any suspicious activity, but it’s better if nobody gets a hold of your information in the first place.

Never Share Vital Information Over the Phone

If you’re not face to face or otherwise in a controlled environment speaking to someone you know is an official representative of your bank, the airline or the hotel, then you shouldn’t be telling anybody your credit card number. Share basic information like what hotel you’re staying at and where the taxi can pick you up, certainly, but avoid sharing any details that people can use to steal your identity.

Avoid Travel Around the Holidays

Unless you just have no other choice, avoid traveling around the holidays. You’re better off arriving a week early or leaving a week late for Christmas than trying to book a round trip right at the end of December. Even if you can buy well in advance and save money, you still have to deal with the crowds, and it’s not really worth it. Better to avoid it all and travel when it’s a little less hectic.

Look for a Flight With a Lot of Open Seats

A flight with a lot of open seats offers lots of leg room. That’s all there really is to say about that.

It’s experience that makes you into a great, well-seasoned traveler, and you only gain that experience by actually traveling, so put the stress aside and just take the trip.


BBQ Road Trip! Places to Celebrate National Barbecue Month

While any day is a good day for saucy goodness, May happens to be National Barbeque Month. Hop in the car, roll down the windows and get you to some smoky American goodness that’s finger lickin’ good.


The first thing to do before going on any trip is to make sure your vehicle is in order. Avondale Chevy recommends you give your car the once-over by getting an oil change, fill up on fluids, get the tires inflated to the proper pressure and be sure your breaks are good to go. Don’t want to put miles on your car? Depending on your needs, rent an RV for the family, a convertible for the couple or a big truck for the boys trip.

List of Travel Items

Next, make a list of everything you’ll want to take with you. This includes clothing, toiletries, maps and other essential items. By having a list, you won’t have to wonder if you left anything behind. Also, make a checklist of everything that shouldn’t be left running or plugged in the house. Do a final check before you go to avoid the old question, “Did I leave the iron on?”

Where To Go

Now for the fun part — where to go? Here are some of the most famous or highly recommended
barbecue spots in the United States:

  • Opie’s Barbecue in Spicewood, Texas. This establishment is named after the owner’s dog. While every menu item is reported to be good, Forbes that the brisket is the ruler of the menu.
  • The Salt Lick in Driftwood, Texas. While in Texas, drive up the road and check out this other highly-rated barbecue joint. Side dishes are plentiful at this establishment, and you can see the meat being cooked over an open pit.
  • Voodoo Barbecue in New Orleans, La. You’ll think the food here is magical after you have a bite. This company has expanded into a chain, but the location you want is the original on St. Charles Avenue. Their barbecue is so good it would be hard to decide which one to get. Fortunately, they make it easy to get past this dilemma: they offer a great platter that lets you sample everything.
  • Virgil’s Real Barbecue in New York City. If you’re up north, you’re not out of luck. This restaurant is a massive roadhouse right in the city. It has Texas BBQ, New Orleans-style and other types of barbecue that make it unique. They also have delicious beers on tap to wash down the spice.
  • Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ and Catering in Kansas City, Kan. The state isn’t the only surprising thing about the location of this barbecue joint. It is located in the back of a gas station. The most exciting thing about it? Well, the meat, but also Zagat has rated it the top barbecue restaurant in Kansas City. Carolina pulled pork and burnt ends are among the highlights.

Arguably, most of the top-rated barbecue joints in the U.S. are in the South. Texas, Louisiana, the Carolinas, Tennessee and other such states are filled with purveyors of yummy barbecued goodness. However, that doesn’t mean no one else knows how to cook ribs and pulled pork. You’ll just have to look harder the further north or west you go.

The Ultimate BBQ Trip

For the ultimate cross country road trip, start in New York, slide on down the east coast to North Carolina and hit a few tangy, vinegar-style BBQ places. Travel through to Tennessee and hit up Nashville and Memphis. Eating the entire way, head down toward New Orleans and into Texas — where you’ll not want to miss Lockhart, a town known for three of its family run restaurants (Black’s, Smitty’s Market and Kreuz Market) and the battle of the BBQ. Drive on through Texas to the Pacific Ocean and take in the sunset celebrating your one-of-a-kind roadtrip. You can go jogging tomorrow.


Vacation in Paris on a Budget

“I think it’s a matter of securing a plan and then saving like crazy. I want to go to Paris for a week. How could I make this happen without spending thousands of dollars?”

One contributor asked on, a question the keeps most people with the travel itch from making their vacation dreams to Paris a reality.

European Vacation to City of Light

Travel to the city of light is  possible on any budget with proper planning and an open mind. See how you can make it happen here!

Flight to France

The flight will be the most expensive part of the trip. Time of year and airport choice can vary the cost of a flight. In the summer flights are more expensive than in the off season. Traveling from LAX or New York City will cost more than flights from Burbank or Boston. Booking through alternative agencies like Aer Lingus instead of directly from the airline or from popular sites like Orbitz and Expedia is cheaper. Book as far in advance as possible.

Lodge Choices

Youth hostels are the most common way to save money on lodging. They can sometimes be available for $20 or $30 per night. Hostels are also a great way to meet people and add a new layer of adventure to your trip. Be sure to check curfew rules and age restrictions before you go. The Village Hostel in Montmartre is a great affordable option that’s clean, youthful and in a great location.

Another option is to rent a room in an apartment. Prices will vary depending on where you stay. For example, in the heart of the popular St. Germain des Pres an apartment rent for a week will average around $650 or about $93 per night. Where an apartment in the Montparnasse neighborhood will average about $430 per week, or $62 per night. Affordable stay has perks but has its risks. Consider trip insurance to cover lost, stolen or damaged items. Or to help direct you through a crisis situation.

Eat Great Meals

If you choose to stay at an apartment, you have a kitchen available! Which cuts costs tremendously. This is a great chance to check out the local market and enjoy fresh baguettes, cheese and wine. If you go out, choose restaurants wisely. If you are dying to check out a fancy restaurant, go at lunch instead of dinner. The food is just as good but half the price. Neighborhood bistros offer a formule, which is a set, three-course menu sometimes with a glass of wine, all for a reasonable price.

Get Around

Avoid cabs, they are extremely expensive. All sights in Paris is highly concentrated, which makes walking between most destinations possible. Do research on attractions like museums and galleries that have free-entry on certain days of the week or special discounts for travelers, students or teachers.

If you are crunched for time, the Metro is an affordable choice that’s faster than walking. If you plan to do some shopping, consider filling out the détaxe refund form. The detaxe form is a refund for non-European citizens who are visiting for six months or less and who spend more that 175 Euro in one store on the same day.

Here’s how you get it:

  • Bring your passport.
  • Ask the retailer for a form.
  • When you pack, keep all claimed items in your personal luggage. You cannot ship items you
    want to claim.
  • Your form must be stamped in last European country you are on ground at. If you’re flying from Paris to New York with a connecting flight in Dublin, your form needs to be stamped at the airport in Dublin.
  • Customs will review the items and, once approved, will make you mail the forms out.
  • Plan for an hour at customs, but note that customs will not process a refund more than
    three hours before a flight.
  • After that, it’s a waiting game to receive your refund by mail. This can take up to six weeks. If you have problems, communicate with the store you made the purchase from, not customs.

Arizona Camping Made Easy

Camping in any state will have different precautions to take; camping in Arizona and the Southwest is no different. While some of the precautions are unnecessary in other states, anyone can deal with them successfully.

First, you need to realize what the main dangers are and then learn ways to effectively avoid or overcome them.


Camping at the Grand Canyon poses obvious dangers if you pitch your tent too close to the rim, but other
dangers lurk in various types of terrain in the form of rocks, branches, debris, animal burrows and
poisonous plants. Give yourself a crash course on recognizing toxic foliage for the area and season
in which you’ll be camping, says Also rinse any affected area immediately and apply a soothing balm.

Camping Gear

Part of Arizona’s beauty is its untouched and sometimes isolated landscapes. Camping is safer in a reliable and well-equipped vehicle, which you can find at Nissan Arizona in the form of the Nissan Pathfinder or other local dealers with comparable models. AZ Nissan dealers have several heavy duty and reliable vehicles that handle all types of terrain, provide adequate cargo space for your gear and shelter in the event of unexpected inclement weather.

Weather Conditions

Pitching a tent in the middle of the desert during summer is, well, kind of dumb. It can also be kind of deadly. Save the desert terrain camping for cooler months, and opt for one of the other dozens of landscapes instead. USA Today suggests multiple places,
including Roosevelt Lake, which is desert landscape but at least with a grand body of water; Sycamore Canyon Wilderness with its spring-fed creek; Tonto National Forest nestled neatly in the Sonoran Desert; and the Bradshaw Mountains, which are surrounded by the Prescott National Forest.

Regardless of what type of surroundings you choose, always check the weather report. You may be surprised at how quickly an 88-degree day can plummet to a 48-degree night and you want to pack the proper clothing and gear to withstand the weather. Also be wary of selecting a deep valley or canyon for camping during the summertime monsoon season. Storms can burst upon you suddenly and flash floods can rip through an entire
landscape in mere seconds.


Because Arizona is notorious for its dry climate, campfire restrictions are not uncommon. A Smoky Bear sign at the camping ground entrance usually warns how high the fire danger is and if any restrictions are in place. Even when there are no fire restrictions, warns it typically takes more to properly douse a campfire in Arizona than it would elsewhere. The wood has lower water content and the humidity is usually pretty high. Always make sure a fire is completely out before leaving the scene, and never leave a fire unattended!

Bugs and Beasts

The biggest bug dangers to watch for are bees, wasps, hornets and yellow jackets, according to They are best deterred with gentle brushing motions rather than wild swatting. Keep an eye out for snakes, scorpions and javelina in the desert landscapes and do your best to avoid direct encounters. Bears are big in the mountain areas and forests, but you can keep them at bay by keeping a clean campsite and securing your food in locked bear bins or inside your locked vehicle.


Head South on a Caribbean Cruise: 5 Tips to Get a Great Deal

After the recession, vacation cruise travel made a comeback with Americans.

There were 16.3 million passengers (69 percent from North America) traveling on cruise ships in 2011,
compared to 14.8 million passengers in 2010, according to 2012 figures from Cruise Lines International Association.
For those travelers that love the warmer weather, the opportunity for cruise travel to exotic islands beckons.

Caribbean Sightseeing

Stepping aboard a Caribbean cruise might be the perfect fall getaway for you, with luxe accommodations, amazing sightseeing, social gatherings amid tropical climates. Before booking your trip, read on for five quick tips to help you find great deals on a Caribbean cruise vacation.

Pick The Right Cruise Line

There are numerous companies that offer Caribbean cruises during the fall months, like Royal Caribbean, Disney Cruise lines for families, Carnival and many cruise lines in between. Each of these companies offer affordable deals on cruises to cold-climate Americans.

Know the total cost of the cruise, and all that the costs covers, suggests USA Today. Ask if amenities or on-board activities are extra. Look for vacation cruise packages that appeal to your interests, lifestyles and activities. For instance, A young couple might want to choose another cruise line that isn’t entirely family-focused.

Book Your Cruise Early

Once you’ve made your choice, book your trip sooner rather than later, as the cruise cost will likely rise as it gets nearer to the destination date. Booking ahead of time can potentially save hundreds of dollars on your fall getaway to the Caribbean regardless of the cruise line.

While you are booking your cruise trip, consider investing in insurance coverage
through sites like cruise insurance for your vacation. For those on specific dates with connecting flights to the port, having travel insurance can provide peace of mind for any cruise trip-related problems (seasickness, anyone?) that might arise.

Save $$$ with a Group

Many cruise lines offer family and group discounts for cruises, so if you can persuade friends, family members and others to join you in booking, you’ll be able to save money overall on total cruise travel costs. The people you include in your travel package do not even have to be close family. In fact, you don’t even have to spend time with them while you are on the trip. All that matters is that you are bringing more travelers with you, which cruise lines naturally like to reward with discounted prices.

Hope for Last Minute Travelers

If you’re not one of those organized travelers that books voyages months in advance to get the best deal, you still may be able to find discounts for last-minute travel. Many cruise lines run their vessels on what they call “repositioning” cruises, in order to transfer a ship from a departure port to an arrival port. Through these instances, discounted deals are available for those spontaneous travelers that are willing to hop aboard for the journey. This is a great opportunity to get an even better deal.

Hold Out For The Best Deals

Contrary to our first tip above, sometimes it makes sense to hold back on booking.
For example, October 17th-23rd is National
Cruise Vacation Week
. If you can hold off booking your trip until then, many cruise lines and travel agents offer the best deals during this week for symbolic reasons.


An Overview to How Tours Work

by Aazdak Alisimo

Many people have not had the pleasure of a vacation tour and are a bit confused as to just how vacation tours work, but taking care of confusion is what they are all about.

What is a vacation tour and how do vacation tours work? Well, there is no simple answer to this question because of the vast numbers of different vacation tours available. There are some general principles here that apply to all vacation tours. It is good to think of a vacation as having two totally separate elements. One is the purpose of the vacation. It is the fun and relaxation part. It could be educational or informative also, but this is the part that you are going to enjoy. The second element of a vacation is the details. This is all the hard stuff that must be done to enable the fun.

The idea of the vacation tour is to have someone else take care of the hard things so that you can concentrate on the fun things. That is the simple answer. Such things as lodging and transportation are necessary parts of a vacation trip, but they are not the purpose. The tour company assumes the responsibility for the details. They free up as much time as possible for the client so they can concentrate on the vacation itself.

There was a time when tour companies had a bit of a bad reputation. The idea of European tours that promised 10 countries in 3 days is an example. This joke was centered on the idea of a tour group being moved like luggage through a complex itinerary that allowed no time to stop and savor any of the experiences. The idea of the vacation tour is really just the opposite of this. It seeks to allow a maximum amount of time to savor the experiences.

So, when you are selecting a vacation tour, it is good to start at the idea of what you are hoping the vacation will provide and finding a tour that will enable it to happen. Although some vacation tours involve travel within the tour, there are also some that limit travel allowing time at the beach or golf links. The good tour will be taking care of such details as arranging transportation and making reservations for lodging and meals. The guide is an essential part of any vacation tour. His purpose is not to control you, but to lead you through any confusing hurdles to reach your own comfort zone.

So, when you evaluate a good vacation tour package, look at more than just cost. You should be looking for that attitude that the tour is designed to allow you to enjoy yourself free from as much mundane worry as possible. If the tour seems to be seeing you as a piece of luggage that needs to be moved from spot to spot, it might not be the best idea for a vacation tour. If, however, you get a sense that the tour company is offering to be your host and are planning to ease your way toward your vacation goal, you might be looking in the right place.

About the Author – Aazdak Alisimo writes about vacation tour companies for


Cruises – Great Value For The Budget Conscious

by David Doolin

The cruise line business began in the 19th century. Once reserved for the very wealthy, it has become
the vacation package of choice for the budget conscious traveler. Great food, great entertainment, great
accommodations, great ports of call are all a part of cruising.

Compared to the cost of reserving a hotel at a top tourist spot, finding transportation, eating meals in
restaurants, and paying for top entertainment, a cruise can be much less expensive. Modern cruise ships
are pleasure palaces featuring excellent food and accommodations, as well as top entertainment…all
included in one price.

Cruises can be great romantic get-aways for couples. What could be better than basking in the sun on a
gorgeous beach during the day, or watching the sun set on an exotic tropical island at night? Then take in a world class Las Vegas style show to compete the evening.

They can also be great for families with kids. Our kids loved Carnival Cruise Lines Camp Carnival. It’s
a program on board ship designed just for kids. Activities are age appropriate with groups for different
ages. Whether your kids like swimming, video games, arts and crafts, sports, there is sure to be something
for everyone. The festivities at camp carnival begin with a disco night just for kids, followed by ice
cream sundaes. Parents love it because it allows them time to do what they want to do. Pagers are provided
in case your child needs you.

Carnival Cruises also provide some great excursions once the ship docks at the various ports of call.
(For an extra fee.) The activities are numerous and range from lazy days on the beach, to shopping trips,
nature exclusions, marine encounters, visits to historical sites and more. Helpful brochures are provided
as well as on board information sessions with lectures and videos to help you make your choice. You can
also purchase tickets on board ship for your further convenience.

Some of our favorites have been the Atlantis Submarine, the Turtle Farm, Stingray City and Seven Mile Beach
on Grand Cayman. Jamaica offers the Dunns River Falls in Ocho Rios which is a 900 foot climb to the top of
the falls (in the water!). Don’t worry, its easy enough that the kids can do it. Great fun on those hot
tropical days! Not far from Dunns River Falls you can experience the Dolphin Encounter, in which you get
into the water and actually pet and play with the dolphins under the supervision of trainers. Kids and
adults will enjoy this one.

If your interest is in history and ancient culture, the Mayan ruins can’t be beat! There are two excursions
available from Cozemel, Mexico: Tulum and Chichen Itza. Tulum is absolutely stunning in its setting on the
beach. Although climbing of the pyramids is off limits here, the tour guides are excellent in presenting the
Mayan culture and history. Chichen Itza is further inland and requires a bus ride to get there, making the
entire excursion about 8 hours. It’s worth it though. There are many more ruins to see and you can climb the
pyramid there. An excellent Mexican buffet is provided by the local hotel there. Be careful, some of the
food is HOT!

Looking for a top vacation value? Book a cruise!

About the Author – David Doolin writes on travel and vacationing related issues. You can learn more
by visiting my blog,