To all travellers and dreamers it’s been a while.

I have to admit, blogging has slipped by the way side. I checked in here recently and was pleasantly surprised by my stats and that people are actually reading my posts, so I promise I will try to update more. So the last year and a half has been a whirlwind but is finally winding down to a calm. I was offered a job to manage a luxury boutique hotel in Zanzibar, Tanzania. It was a great challenging opportunity and something I will look back on fondly. We packed up our apartment in Hawaii and headed off to the great unknow. The hotel was a beautiful place located 40 miles from town and them 5 km off the most dusty bumpy coral ragged road I have ever seen in my life only to then enter the most peaceful oasis of calm. 11 luxury villas pearched atop a cliff over looking the most beautiful ocean and across from  the barefoot luxury private island of Mnemba Atol where Bill Gates celebrated his honeymoon. After having just finished working the last 3 years for a big hotel corporation opening a new chain of resorts and working for a  500 room hotel in the heart of Waikiki- that ran like a well oiled machine,  this was a huge change of pace to say the least. The 1st day of work I reported with my corporate checklist, looking back now is like a comedy show. Asking questions that now seem absurd, like does anyone know CPR- blank stares, do you have a fire safety and escape plan (considering we are out in the middle of bum fuck no where), do you have an accounting department-laughs, purchasing and store department- nope, human resources??? what is that? Ok, this is going to be a new way of doing things. The next day they introduced me to the staff. 33 members on board, who all came and sat around, looking at me expectantly. Talks of my high expactations and standards all were met with wispers to each others and , and who in the heck is this Mzungu “white lady”.

In the beginning, I spent the days getting the place in to shape. The offices and store rooms were a mess. As my body re adjusted the the hot Zanzibar heat, sweating buckets in the meantime. Contracting some weird skin rash a few weeks in were met with concerns from the staff who I found out half were from the neighboring village of Matemwe, and the other half lived in staff housing on site. Most lived with out running water, in the village in houses made out of coral stones and mud. I wondered to myself what it must be like to come to work at a place where the rooms are $300 a night equiped with modern amenities like air conditioning. The contrats between their lives and the luuxury travellers who stayed at the hotel was really a wake up call for me. It soon became apparent that I was responsible for this whole crew and the requests from the village, the school, the sheaha (government village offical) for requests of all kinds. I took on the challenge of training, educating, and mentoring the students who came to intern from a tourism training program. The staff took my daughter under their wing, which was a great experience for her and I think they all enjoyed having a child around. She would play games and help the house keepers clean the villas and helping behing the counter.IMGP6324

She attended a small international school nearby and I was very surprised at how easily she has adjusted. The staff members became like family. I learned many were also mothers who’s children were staying with relatives while they went to work in hotels. They worked hard long hours and were dedicated. I thought to myself what can I help to do to assist in their livelyhood, as unfortunately their salaries are notorious for being low. Thankfully measures are being taken by the government to put pay raise standards and labor organizations in place to assit the local work force but the disparity is great. I complied a list of efforts that can directly assist, and one implementation was advising guests upon arrival of the communal tip box that is a shared effort of the staff if they feel they had a pleasant experience and wanted to directly contribute. The other was offering for sale arts and crafts in the boutique made from the local villagers or other services such as a village tour, a tour to the local soap making cooperative, organizing dhow sails and snorkeling with the local fisherman as well as sourcing local vegetables, fish and items we could in the nearby village.

Sustainable tourism is something I am very passionate about and I am working on continuing my efforts to promote and educate the sector here as well as hopefully promote it to the international travelling community. There are little things you can do to make a huge difference and impact. The number one thing you can do if you feel to help in any way when travelling to a 3rd world country is ask to leave a tip for the staff to share if you feel the service was good. The money will directly impact their household and go to good use. You can also purchase local goods from the shop keepers when you arrive instead of stocking up at Walmart before you travel. Purchasing local arts and crafts, and eating at the local restaurants, buying fruits and snacks from the vendors, and participating in local tours. Many people asked to bring clothes or candy or pens for school, that are plentiful already here. Used clothes from America and abroad are saturated, being shiped from charities by the bales, so are not really needed. The biggest direct impact you can have is to support the local vendors, shop keepers and if you feel to make a donation, ask to give it to the hotel in a fund for the needs of the village or school. There is also a very good organization called Pack for a Purpose. https://www.packforapurpose.org/

MAKE YOUR TRAVELS MEANINGFUL.

Have a Big Impact in the communities you visit. Simply use a small amount of space in your luggage to pack supplies needed by community projects around the world.

You drop off your supplies from the list at the hotel drop off point and they will deliver to the organization in need. This is a great way to directly help an organization in need.

And here are some suggestions compiled from Thomas and Cook one of the very reputable tour operators doing business here in Zanzibar.

How to play your part

This section covers a few easy ways that you can make a very real and positive impact on the places you visit on holiday and help us to meet our sustainable tourism goals.

What Can Holidaymakers Do?

We’re passionate about the places we visit and want to protect and preserve them for future generations to enjoy. We’re sure it’s a passion you share so here are some ideas:

Look after the natural environment:

Leave anywhere you visit even better than when you found it. Dispose of litter carefully (fire is a serious hazard in hot, dry countries so be careful with that cigarette butt!) and recycle where possible.

Respect local traditions and people:

Observe any dress codes and behave appropriately. It may be your holiday but it’s their home. Try using a few words of the local language.

Always ask before taking someone’s photograph

Some people find this intrusive while others may ask for money for this small service.

Haggle with humour:

Do haggle – it’s part of the fun. But remember that what may be a small sum to you may be significant to the seller, so try to be fair, too.

Resist giving money or gifts to begging children:

It may make give you that feel-good feeling but you may be adding to other problems behind the scenes. Give to a local charity or school to ensure the money goes where it is most needed. Sadly the only English some of these village children know how to say is “penny for school or give me money”.

Buy locally made products and use local services:

Eat at local bars and cafes. Ask about excursions using local guides and drivers – they have insider knowledge! Putting money into the local economy helps local people and gives your holiday an extra dimension.

Reduce the use of natural resources and energy:

Take a quick shower instead of a bath; re-use towels; switch off lights and air con when out; try the local bus service, hire a bike or walk – you’ll see more that way!

Please don’t take ‘natural’ souvenirs away:

Wild flowers and plants, pebbles and sea shells, should all be left where you found them for others to enjoy.

Don’t buy products made from endangered plants or animals:

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Coming up on living in Tanzania 1 year as a Hotel General Manager and more

imgp5849It has been 10 months since I last blogged. Oh my, this is why I could never make it as a professional blogger. LOL! The days and months just seem to roll into one when you are busy managing a hotel. I had a week to settle in and then hit the ground running. It was non stop for 6 moths, and then I moved into reservations and marketing and have been working from home. It may sound nice, but I have literally been working my ass off. Managing a luxury boutique hotel where customers pay $400 a night takes a lot of care, and ass kissing, leaving me exhausted. Long days and electricity shortages, can make you go off line for days on end.  And then moving into managing the marketing and reservations for 8 hotels here in Zanzibar is no small feat. Not to mention transferring all of the manual reservations (8,000 of them) to a new cloud based system which took a month working 14 hour days, makes me wonder sometime what I got myself into. But I am back in blog land and things have semi slowed down. I hope to be able to share and write more about my crazy and sometime ludicrous foray into managing a hotel with a staff of 30 Tanzanians 5 KM off the most beaten road you have ever driven on, where there is a water shortage in the village, and guests are paying $400 a night for “off the beaten path” luxury which apparently is a new thing. But oh that beach and water is calling.  Stay tuned for more to come….imgp6334

How I have managed to live and work around the world.

I was always scheming up the next job I could do that would allow me to see the world. The 1st job I got abroad was from an ad I saw in USA Today, while working the night shift of my college job at Avis at the airport. After having returned for 3 extended trips throughout Mexico, I was looking for ways I could return. I saw a posting for real estate sales and thought some how I was qualified at the ripe age of 20 to apply. I immediately faxed my information over, and before I knew it, I was offered a job to sell time shares as part of a new development in Nueovo Vallarta. They would even put us up for a week in another time share condo, while I found a place to live. I talked my 2 friends into going, and we quickly bought $99 dollar tickets on Suntrip Airlines out of Denver (8 hours away.) We arrived to Mexico and settled in. I was to meet the people the next day. Taking the bus out to Nuevo Vallarta totally lost, walking across some huge golf course, I finally found the massive construction zone of the soon to be Mayan Vallarta, with just a mock up of the plans, and lots of renderings on the wall. I did not see the vision, and thought how on earth am I going to convince someone to buy this? After a night out at the famous ZOO bar, we some how got recruited to work for a competing, established, time share company, called Sun Club Vacations. They would pay us $65 US cash for every person we got to sign up for a presentation. We lost one friend along the way to the night club scene, after he met up with a group of girls on summer break, and would see him out and about living it up, with a different girl each night. After about a week of us not seeing him out around town, we started to get worried, and called the local tourist police. They confirmed that he had lost all of his money and the Good Samaritan program had paid for a bus ticket back to the border for him. We saw him a few months later back home, and he ended up robbed and stranded in Guadalajara, and sold his camera to make it home. But I digress. The Sun Club Vacations gig was actually pretty fun. We found a 1 bedroom apartment right on the beach, complete with a roof top swimming pool, bbq’s, a housekeeper 5 days a week, in a secure part of old town for only $500 US a month. The company would either pick us up in their company van, or we would ride the bus for 10 cents out to the main office, and then they would shuttle us around the town, dropping us off at various offices and stands through out the city. My friend got a spot located in a fancy lobby of a hotel, because she was “more gringa” and to not draw attention to herself. I was so tan at the time, I could almost pass for a local, and I found it quite funny, them always telling me to slick my hair back, “more water” they would say. We would sit in air conditioned offices, or outside the local shopping mall, escaping for breaks with my 2 co-workers on trips to the beach, and then would shut down for siesta time for a couple of hours and drop us back at our apartment for a break. They would come pick us up for the evening shift which usually finished around 8 PM. My roommate did better in the sales department, while I perfected the art of hanging with the locals. One of the highlights was our co-workers coming to pick us up one night in the Sun Club VW van, asking us if we wanted to go on a cruise. We thought we were going on a dinner cruise, on a boat, but it actually turned out to be a jungle “cruise” in the VW van.Puerto Vallarta

During this time working, or barely working I should say, we came across another tribe of workers in Mexico. The Spring and Summer Break chaperones. They had the coveted gigs of night club and party chaperone. I was intrigued, so I befriended a few and got the inside scoop on their job, making plans for the future.
After the summer ended, and my roommate was forced by her parents to return home to finish up her final year of college, we bid goodbye to our friends and summer of fun. With winter in Montana fast approaching, I applied to become a nanny, anywhere warm. Within a few months, I was living it up on the beaches of South Beach on the weekends and had landed an all expense paid nanny job, making a few hundred a week. I did that for a few months, and then went to work for a wonderful family out side of San Diego who had an 8 bedroom mansion, right across the street from the San Diego Chargers quarterback, in an exclusive neighborhood. I went to college during the day after dropping the kids off at school, had my evenings and weekends free, and just had to pick the kids up from school and make them dinner. I had my weekends free travelling to Mexico or Las Vegas almost every weekend. I then took another nanny job in Passau, Germany, but that was short lived, as the mother (a pharmacist) ending up going to rehab, right before we were to head to the family vacation house in Mallorca Spain, and I got the heck out of the cold German weather. Back in the states, I started applying to all of the student travel companies that were looking for student campus reps, and on site chaperones. With many companies, if you sold enough trips, you could earn cash and your own all expense paid trip to the destination of your choice. I was selected to be an on site staff member, and was given a free ticket to Cancun Mexico, $300 USD cash a week, housed (with a room mate) at the Hyatt, and an all access pass to all of the hottest parties, night clubs, events, and activities. Most of the meals were comped at the nicest spots, and we worked 4 days on and 3 days off. It was challenging, and a bit stressful at times, dealing with a bunch of drunk high school students, getting them out of jail, hospitals, them getting kicked out of hotels, (or getting sent home), but the opportunity was amazing. During my time there, I was able to visit the ruins, Isla Mujeres, Cozumel, Playa Del Carmen and the surrounding areas. All of the activities you could arrange for free with the company, so money was never an issue. This is a great way to spend a summer, and some even make a career out of it as a sales rep a few months a year, and the rest spent going from place to place with the company.

USA Student travel Cancun jeep
After I finished the summer in Mexico, we were allowed to hop on any charter flight back to the states, and even stay on if we wanted to go to Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.
I returned back home, determined to keep the travel ball going. I discovered the website http://www.resortjobs.com and put my resume in for any position at any hotel I was qualified for. There were posting in Egypt, Greece, Thailand, and Guam. Most would provide you with a work permit, a 6 month contract, all expenses paid, and a return ticket home after you finished your contract. Within a month or so, I was on my way to Guam to work for a Club Med style resort called Pacific Islands Club as a Clubmate or “ambassador of fun.” This was the best job I had by far. You got a shared room in a wing of the massive resort living with fellow Clubmates. You worked 6 days a week, with all of the meals and a salary (with medical insurance) provided. You were basically there to entertain the Japanese, Chinese and Korean guests, in various areas throughout the resort. There were water slides, tennis, archery, putter golf, a windsurfing pool, and an amazing beach, where you would teach lessons, take the guests snorkeling, or sailing, participate in evening shows, and get paid to hang around the pool bar and drink with the guests. My contract was for 6 months and I signed on for another 6 months becoming the activities supervisor, who oversaw the activity department, planned special games and activities for the guests, and also was the audio and lighting technician for the Pacific Dreams Island show. We even were in guests weddings! Where else would you get paid to basically have fun and entertain guests in a beautiful tropical paradise?

Clubmate 2 clubmate  japanese wedding japan group

After that contract was up, I somehow convinced the HR lady to let me change my ticket home and cash it in for a vacation package to Bali. We spent a month exploring, and had the advantage of traveling with a Japanese friend we had met at the resort, who’s grandfather happened to have a house on Lombok and a guest house on the quaint island of Gili Meno. She spoke the language, and we really got an insiders view of the place. Fostering relationships and getting to spend long term time in a places and learn about the culture has been one of the greatest experiences. The money is secondary. The nice thing is, with all of these jobs, it put me in a good position to save for more travel.

Bali bali 2

After I returned back to Guam from Bali I was going to stay and work for another hotel and even had a job lined up. I had some friends moving to Hawaii, and I had fallen in LOVE with it after a stop over on the way to Guam. So we all decided to move to Hawaii, and right away got jobs in the hospitality field. Island fever soon set in, but I absolutely loved Hawaii, and had fallen in love as well. One of the perks of my job with a reputable tour company included $35 dollar stand by flights on ATA Airlines, which the company used to charter flights to Hawaii. I was able to fly to Los Angeles and San Francisco anytime I wanted. I thought that I would make Hawaii a sort of home base. I thought what a better way to live in Hawaii, and be able to fulfill my travel bug, was to get a job for a big airline. So I actively started applying, and soon landed a job with United Airlines. This is where the serious travel started.

United Airlines

I was travelling almost 100,000 miles a year….To be continued… Stay tuned for the next blog post on how I managed to land a job for a major airline, but still be able to take months off at a time and be able to travel the world for practically free.


World's Largest Student & Youth Travel Agency

 

Sometimes you just have to play hooky and head to the North Shore!

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Balancing a wanderlust spirit and motherhood with a child in school can be challenging. It is always that darn school schedule that gets in the way of planning extended trips. I am slowly warming up to the idea of world schooling, to be able to fit in my travelling lifestyle, along with my daughter’s schooling needs. I firmly believe travel is some of the best education you can have. I tend to like to stay an extended period of time in one place, to get to learn the culture and the people, so this may work for us down the line. But for now, we call Hawaii our home (and a lovely one it is.) I was feeling a bit restless and  wanting to take a little island road trip or “Holo Holo” as they say here, but my daughter is in school on my days off , so what’s a mom to do? Some times you just have to play hooky and take your kid out of school to spend some good quality time with them. So we headed to Oahu’s famous North Shore and proceeded to have one of the best days we have had together in a long time. (Please excuse the photos, they were all taken with my cell phone.)

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We drove up the back way past Schofield Barracks down the old snake road to Waialua town and stopped for delicious treats, coffee and the world famous “snow puffy” at Paalaa Kai Bakery. http://www.pkbsweets.com/pkbsweets-tour/

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Next we explored the new shops that have recently opened in the building next store, picking up some vintage treasures at the Green Gypsy Thrift Shop. https://www.facebook.com/greengypsythrift

There is a new coffee shop, a great little ice cream shop, various art shops and the Bali Moon warehouse has recently relocated there as well, with their showroom of furniture and treasures from Indonesia, and other places around the world.

We then proceeded to the historical Waialua Sugar Mill which back in the day was owned by Dole and was one of the top producers of sugar in the world. It shut down in the md 90’s and now has been revitalized and converted into an industrial park and a great little tourist stop.

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It is now home to the North Shore Soap factory, which is a great place to stop and see the process of making soap. They have a viewing area for their soap making operation and a great showroom. It has really grown from a small mom and pop operation to a worldwide producing soap factory, providing much needed jobs to this area. But the North Shore is growing, and I was surprised to see the expansion that is taking place all over the area.

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The Sugar Mill also is home to the new Vanessa Pack V Boutique, located right next door, which sells her handcrafted jewelry designs, local artists photography, paintings, clothing, accessories and more. http://www.vboutiquehawaii.com/

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There is a vintage Surf Shop called 3rd Stone and another large coffee roasting facility called Island X. The Old Mill site is also  the site of the Waialua Coffee & Chocolate Mill, which is the source of the Old Sugar Mill Brand Waialua Coffee and Chocolate. With the mill being literally just out the back door, they personally give visitors a quick coffee mill tour, where you can see coffee trees and learn about the milling process.

They offer visitors samples of freshly roasted Waialua Coffee and offer other locally made products such as Hawaii’s Best Papaya Seed Salad Dressing (which is my all time favorite dressing by the way) Waialua Soda Works soda and Old Sugar Mill Natural Shave Ice.

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We then proceeded into Haleiwa Town and meandered thorough to check out all of the recently opened Haleiwa Store Lots in the new shopping center which sits on the old site of the Historic Iwa Gallery and the old rickety Aoki’s Shave Ice building, which has now been torn down to make way for the new development, expanding the shopping 10 fold.IMG_20150202_132156_734

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After exploring Haleiwa and having a rainbow shave ice with a scoop of ice cream (a must have when visiting Haleiwa) we headed to the famous North Shore beaches. The surf was up, and not a soul out, so we practically had the beach to ourselves. Rocky Point below is one of my favorite beaches on the North Shore and great in the summer for sand water pools that form.

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It was a little too rough to swim due to the current, so we went the protected cove at The Turtle Bay Resort (which is open to the public. Just park in the beach access spots.) We spent the afternoon swimming and watching the beautiful sunset by the pool, ending the amazing day with dinner at SURFER The Bar. http://www.surferthebar.com/

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And that was the end of a beautiful day playing hooky from school! Some times you just have to stop and enjoy the moment. Even if you can’t escape to far away lands, you can probably take a mini vacation right in your back yard.

With the new year in full swing, what are your travel resolutions?

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With the month of January almost over, this years travel planning is in full swing. I have vowed to make this a year of new adventures. I have consciously downsized, and started to phase out the extra clutter in my life that has been weighing me down the last few years. Sectional sofas, dining sets, spacious digs, you get the drift. We are gearing up for some long term travel and adventures! I am getting my travel spark back! After having a child, you spend the 1st few years of their life trying to protect them from everything. I moved back from Tanzania, to specifically have my daughter back in the safety net of the States. It was always an excuse, “after she is one we will return”, then, “after she grows just a bit bigger”, “to strengthen her immune system”, then pre-school, then kindergarten… “let her finish out the year”…. Now I finally feel she is ready to get out there and see the world! She has been traveling since she was 6 months old, as I used to work for an airline, so she is very familiar with that aspect, but never long term. Airports are like her 2nd home. She has taken trips to the Dominican Republic, and before we moved back to Hawaii, we were flying out here almost every month. We would fly to LA for the day, because I have always had the wandering spirit, even if it is for short jaunts here and there. But after 6 1/2 years of the daily corporate office grind, my kindred spirit is aching to get back out there and see more of the world. Any one who has been bitten by the wanderlust bug, knows the restless feeling. It is like trying to cage an animal, smother the flames of a fire, and deny your own true identity. A little voice in your head says “you must follow the path of society, you have a child now, grow up.” I remember fondly looking back, one day sitting in my Grandma’s living room, she said to me with concern “Sara, when are you going to settle down?” This was after 2 summers spent working in Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, 2 extended bus trips to Mexico (one down the Baja Peninsula and one to Mazatlan), a nanny stint in Miami, San Diego and Germany, and a job offer pending in Guam. I remembering scoffing at the idea. I laughed nervously and I think I said sarcastically NEVER! She was truly concerned for me. Now wanderlust may be a sickness. I don’t know. There is a word called Fernweh which is Literally “farsickness” or “longing for far-off places”, as contrasted with Heimweh (“homesickness, longing for home”). I just don’t know if certain people are programmed to stay in one place too long. I envy those that are just blissfully unaware in their little hometown bubbles, but I grew up in a place with no street light, and I distinctly remember after returning from Mexico for the first time, being depressed to be back in my little town, still recovering for the awe and excitement I had just experienced on my 1st trip abroad. Sometimes I wish, I could be blissfully content to stay in one place, but that is just not me. There is too much to see and do out there, and I am innately aware of my limited time here. I will be turning 40 in a few years and perhaps this is my midlife crisis approaching, but the realization that life is almost 1/2  over (if all goes well) keeps creeping up on me. So this blog is a start of new things to come. A new leaf being turned over and to get back on that travelling saddle! I am so excited to show my daughter the world. I finally feel the time is right. Just like a bird returning to build a nest to hatch their babies, I returned back to my home town to enjoy my pregnancy, back in that same cozy living room of my Grandmother’s home, My Grandma has now long passed, and she never got to meet my beautiful daughter, but her words never left me. I truly don’t know if I will ever be able to fully settle in one place permanently, but like an animal on a migratory path, I always seem to make my rounds around the world, back to familiar cities, friends houses, places, and all who know me by now, know I am never one to stay too long. So to this year of new adventures, let the spark light your flame, if you too are a wandering spirit, who has been denying their true self identity by working in a cubicle, or just going through the motions, hopefully this blog will inspire you to get back out there and see the world.

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In loving memory of Christine Gertrude De Runz Soderling, army nurse turned home maker.

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Gift ideas for the ultimate jetsetter in the family

I sat down to compose my gift guide, for my Secret Santa party this year. My wishes are not your traditional list of gifts. I know there are many of you out there, that has that one family member, always travelling the globe, who doesn’t need or want too much stuff to tie them down. For some, the gift of travel if one of the best gifts they could ever receive. So if I could have any thing from Santa this year, it would be these great ideas.

1) Goal Zero Sherpa 100 Solar Kit
Designed to power all the gear in your kit, the Sherpa 100’s versatile array of ports include two ultra-fast, smart USBs for phones and tablets, a 12V port for lights, an innovative port specifically for laptops, and a detachable AC inverter for DSLR cameras. The Sherpa 100 recharges from the wall, car, or from the sun with the included Goal Zero’s Nomad 20 solar panel.goal zero

http://www.goalzero.com/p/211/sherpa-100-solar-kit/24:2/

2) Goal Zero Rock Out Speaker

Pair this with a set of their rock out speakers that are currently on sale for only $9.99 and you can rock out as well. Cool Gift for the Music Lover! Pump sound from your iPod, phone, laptop and other audio devices through the integrated, high-quality speakers. Rock Out can be used with any device that has an audio output. Since it is a self-powered speaker it runs for 20+ hours without draining your device. Daisy chain multiple Rock Outs together to get even louder!

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3) The LifeStraw portable water filtration bottle

LifeStraw® Go incorporates award-winning LifeStraw® technology into a refillable water bottle so you can carry safe drinking water with you on the go. Simply scoop water from a river or pond, screw the lid on, and sip safe water through the mouthpiece. The water bottle design is ideal for hiking, backpacking, running, and other activities where you’re on the move and aren’t always near a water source.

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http://www.buylifestraw.com/products/lifestraw-go#

4) The Cabeau Evolution Travel Pillow

We all now how uncomfortable it is to sit on a long haul flight, and all of those neck pillows gimmicks, the blow up ones, the worthless ones given to you by the airline, or the standard neck ones, they all never quite work. Well I came across this one, and the reviews are great. People are saying it actually works. It’s a great price, and anything to make that flight more comfortable, I am all about. It also comes in a variety of great colors.

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The patented Evolution Pillow is the first travel pillow that actually works!

Because of its portable compactibility, the Evolution Pillow can also be used for road trips, sunbathing by the pool or beach, outdoor camping, and travel in the car, bus, plane, or train. It only takes one time using it to understand why people are calling this the best neck pillow in the world.

http://www.cabeau.com/products/evolution-travel-neck-pillow.html

5) IT Luggage World’s Lightest Suitcase

If you have ever felt one of these bags, you would be amazed by actually how light they really are. They come in great colors and sizes. With todays rising baggage costs, a lighter bag can save you a ton of money.

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The popular World’s Lightest® Premium quality luggage collection is fitted with 8 perfect glide wheels for superb movement.

They currently have some amazing prices on these at Ebags and they are even offering an additional 20% your entire purchase until 12/17/14 making some of these bags over 60% regular prices.

http://www.ebags.com/brand/it-luggage

6) Balanzza Digital Luggage Scale
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This is definitely a savvy gift for those who are about to board the plane and are always unpacking at the last minute at the airport to get rid of excess weight. You won’t be going over the maximum baggage weight restrictions and don’t have to worry about excess baggage fees. On sale at Amazon.com

7) The Selfie Stick

These are all of the rage over here in Hawaii. I had never seen one before, until I saw all of the honeymooners from Korea and tourists from Japan taking pictures of themselves. I thought, what a genius contraption. This would be a great gift for the solo traveler or anyone for that matter.

Selfie Stick

There’s no need to trust a stranger with your camera or smartphone anymore. Now you can take great selfies and travel shots with the Telescoping Selfie Arm. This lightweight device holds any D-SLR camera, digital camera, action camera, video camera, GoPro, iPhone, Galaxy or other Android smartphone, so you can shoot amazing self-timer shots. It’s fully waterproof, with a quick-release camera mount, rubberized grip, wrist strap, carry bag and built-in mirror to help you compose the perfect shot. Extends up to 39″. Click the image on the right to order one for yourself.

8) An Airline Air Pass or the Gift of Miles

For the jetsetter, this would be the ultimate Christmas gift.  Primarily offered by national airlines and international airline alliances, air passes are special fare programs that allow you to fly to multiple cities in a designated region at discounted rates, creating your own personalized itinerary.

Who offers air passes?
Air passes are offered by the three major airline alliances (Star Alliance, Oneworld and SkyTeam), by individual airlines and occasionally by third-party agencies.
You can create your own around the world fare with the Star Alliance Booking Tool
A Visit South America Pass enables you to visit the following countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

You can visit vibrant cities like Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, experience the spectacular Andes Mountains or travel to Easter Island, the Galapagos or the exotic Amazonian region in the north of the continent.

http://www.oneworld.com/flights/single-continent-fares/visit-south-America

Sky Team Pass simplifies global travel

Ever dream of traveling around the world or exploring a continent in depth? Whether it’s for business or personal adventure, you now have a smarter, more economical way to go places. With SkyTeam Travel Passes, you can take advantage of our global network of 20 member airlines and enjoy more flexibility and savings during your travels

http://www.skyteam.com/en/Flights-and-Destinations/Travel-Passes/

I also heard the buzz that Air Asia is going to be offering an air pass going on sale Jan. 15th that will be good for 30 days of travel for an amazing price of $155 USD.

Give the gift of mileage to friends or your children

Most programs will allow you to give your miles to someone else. If you would like to save them all up and give them to your child or parent, they will allow you to purchase tickets for them using your miles, or you can transfer miles to their accounts. Also you can buy miles (up to a certain amount each year), to make up the difference in a ticket, if you are a few short. Some times this is a great deal. Hyatt hotels currently has a points plus cash program, which allows you to pay points plus cash. For instance, to stay at a top level tier 6 hotel that averages $500 a night, it would only cost you 12,500 points and $150.00 cash. The possibilities are endless.

9) Eurail Global Pass
The only Eurail pass giving you over 20 European countries.
Here’s what you get:
  • This rail pass gives you unlimited travel on the national rail networks of: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland (includes Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland), Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.
  • The continuous pass is available for 15 days, 21 days, 1 month, 2 months or 3 months.
  • The flexipass is available for 10 or 15 days of travel within a 2 month period
10) And for the most discerning traveler an Around The World Cruise would top the list!

A world cruise is right up there in terms of ultimate travel experiences. You wake up each day in a new place, see “bucket list” attractions (including UNESCO World Heritage sites), and enjoy constant sea views.

Over the course of several months you visit dozens of ports with time to explore, including overnight stays in key places.

Prices start at $11,724 for a 103 to 135 day world cruise on Cunard and can go up to as high as $58,000 on the ultra luxury Silver Seas line for a 115 day sail.

Cunard first pioneered the world cruise in 1922 and has been offering these epic adventures ever since. Your world cruise aboard an iconic Cunard Queen ship will visit ports of call across 4 continents including North and Central America, the Panama Canal, Pacific Isles, Australia and New Zealand, Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, Suez Canal and the Mediterranean

You can see a list of upcoming 2015/2016 upcoming cruises here:

http://www.cruisespecialists.com/ViewFlaggedCruises.aspx?flag=11

So the Christmas countdown is on. Has your world traveler been naughty or nice this year?

(I am in no way affiliated with any of these products, they are just on my own ultimate wish list. Hint, hint….)

What’s in your bag? TSA Packing tips and guidelines.

With the busiest season of travel approaching, here are some simple answers to what you can and can’t bring in your carry on and checked baggage. And my own personal tip:

“As a former airline gate agent, and carry on baggage monitor, don’t try to sneak your oversized carry on through security to avoid paying the baggage fee. It only creates a scene at the gate, and a hold up of the line. It needs to fit in the carry on sizer that all airlines have. If it’s too wide or large, or you have more than the allowed amount by TSA, they are going to catch it.”

From the TSA.GOV website updated March, 2014

Carry On Baggage

Carry-on baggage is a small piece of luggage you keep with you in the cabin of the aircraft while flying.  You are allowed one carry-on in addition to one personal item such as a laptop computer, purse, small backpack, briefcase, or camera case.

TSA will screen any “Carry-on” baggage that will fit through the x-ray machine; however, it is up to each individual air carrier as to whether the baggage fits the size restrictions for your flight.  Please check with the air carrier prior to proceeding through the security checkpoints.

Always keep your belongings in sight during screening .  You are responsible for your property as it proceeds through the screening process.

Checked Baggage

Checked baggage is luggage you check in at the ticket counter or curbside. It will not be accessible during your flight. When locking your checked bags, please use a TSA Accepted & Recognized Lock. TSA is mandated by Federal law to screen 100% of checked baggage. Bags may need to be opened during this process. If your baggage needs to be opened and inspected, TSA may have to break unrecognized locks to access your bags. TSA will not reimburse passengers for unrecognized locks broken as a result of the security screening process.

Packing Tips:

  • Do not pack jewelry, cash, computers, electronics, or fragile items in your checked baggage.
  • Pack shoes, boots, sneakers, and other footwear on top of other contents in your luggage.
  • Avoid over packing your bag so that your articles do not spill onto the ground if the bag is opened for inspection and the screener will be able to easily reseal it.
  • Avoid packing food and drink items in checked baggage.
  • Don’t stack piles of books or documents on top of each other; spread them out within your baggage.
  • Do NOT pack or bring prohibited items to the airport.
  • To avoid loss or confusion between your item and that of another passenger, place identification tags with your name, address and phone number on all of your baggage, including your laptop computer.  It is a good idea to place an identification tag inside your baggage as well.
  • Before arriving at the airport, check with your airline or travel agent to determine the airline’s baggage policy, including number of pieces you can bring and size and weight limitations.
  • Place personal items such as toiletries, toothbrushes etc. in clear plastic bags to reduce the chance that a TSA screener will have to handle them.
  • Do not pack wrapped gifts.  They may need to be opened for inspection.
 What about liquids in my carry on?

You are allowed to bring one small bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes through the checkpoint. These are limited to 3.4 ounces or less per container. Consolidating these containers in the small bag separate from your carry-on baggage enables TSA officers to screen them quickly.

3-1-1 for carry-ons. Liquids, gels, aerosols, creams and pastes must be 3.4 ounces (100ml) or less per container; must be in 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag; 1 bag per passenger placed in screening bin. The bag limits the total liquid volume each traveler can bring.

Be prepared. Each time a TSA officer stops to physically screen a carry-on bag, it slows down the line. Practicing the 3-1-1 rule will facilitate the checkpoint experience.

Declare larger liquids. Medications, baby formula/food and breast milk are allowed in reasonable quantities exceeding three ounces, and they don’t have to be in the zip-top bag. Declare these items for inspection at the checkpoint. TSA officers may need to open them for additional screening.

If in doubt, put your liquids, gels, aerosols, creams and pastes in checked baggage.

Please include attribution to TravelInsurance.org with this graphic.

What’s In Your Bag?

There are many ways to earn free or reduced travel if you learn the system

Having worked for years in the airline and travel industry, this is a place where I can share my tips and tricks. I spent many a painstaking hour trying to book someone an around the world ticket using their Skymiles.Those calls would last hours, and I would want to shoot myself in the head. But now, I can call myself an expert, and share my expertise with anyone who would like to know how the system works. And YES it is possible with perseverance to actually book a ticket around the world using ONLY your skymiles. In fact, there was even a guy who lived SOLELY on his skymiles for 6 months after he lost his job as a businessman who had earned a TON of them while on business trips.

To get the best deals on travel, there are several discounted websites. If you are lucky enough to get an IATA card or to be an airline employee or know someone who is, the savings are amazing!

There are several websites dedicated to these deals in the market.

1) http://www.airlinestaffrates.com
Airline Staff Discount on hotels all over the world. New crew discounts & interline travel deals every day

2) http://www.id90travel.com
A one-stop resource to book flights, lodging, activities, and more, ID90 Travel offers the very best deals out there for airline employees. Wherever your travels take you, save big on everything you need to travel

3) http://www.dargal.com
Dargal Interline offers the very best interline pricing on vacations for airline employees and their friends & family.

4) http://www.perx.com
Membership program that offers steep discounts and savings

If you are not fortunate enough to have an IATA card, or know an airline employee, don’t fret. There are still PLENTY of ways to earn free or deep discounts on travel.
The best way is to sign up for a credit card where you can earn miles, to use for hotels and airlines. If your credit isn’t the best, and you don’t qualify for one, some programs have debit cards you can sign up for and still earn points. Delta Airlines has a good one here:
http://www.deltadebitcard.com/

Look for a card that will let you use it for both. Then put EVERYTHING on it you would normally pay in a month, and take it to the post office, and convert all your bills into cashiers checks. Pay what you need to online with it, and then pay it off each month. That is the fasted way to earn free travel. Why not get something out of the money you normally would spend. Just be smart about it and you would be surprised at all of the creative ways you can earn.

1. Delta SkyMiles Debit Cards

There are two versions available, the “Classic” and “World” with fees of $75 and $120 respectively. The latter version gives you the same rewards as the Delta SkyMiles credit cards, which is one point per dollar on regular spending and 2 points per dollar on purchases from Delta Airlines. You can apply for either debit card through SunTrust Bank.

Frequent Flyer Program Partners

Most frequent flyer programs allow you to earn miles for spending at partner businesses. Best of all, you don’t even need an airline card to participate; typically any debit/credit card can be linked to your frequent flyer account.

2. Restaurants

The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards dining card allows you to earn three points for every dollar spent at partner restaurants. If you live in a mid-sized city or above, there’s a good chance you will find participants in your area. For example, there are currently fourteen different restaurants within a ten mile radius of Ann Arbor, MI. Of course, larger cities are likely to have even more. You can also join Delta Airlines Skymiles program and earn points every time you dine out or shop at certain partner businesses. You register your mileage number and card that you will pay with, and each time you shop or dine, you earn miles. How cool is that?

American and United also both have programs also.

http://aa.rewardsnetwork.com/

http://mpdining.rewardsnetwork.com/

3. Financial Services

You may be able to earn miles for getting an auto insurance quote, opening a brokerage account, and even getting a mortgage. The Delta SkyMiles program offers opportunities for all of these. My favorites are their offers for Fidelity and Ameritrade—you can receive 15,000 to 50,000 miles for opening and funding a non-retirement account. The only catch is that you need to be making a five-figure deposit to score all those miles.

4. Rental Cars

Now this category is more well-known, since just about every frequent flyer program has rental car partners. Now there are some, like Virgin America’s Elevate, which only have a couple participants. However most have several different companies in their network, like the United Airlines MileagePlus car/transportation partners, which include Hertz, Avis, National, Budget, Alamo, Thrifty, Dollar, and Sixt.

5. Hotels

This is another common category you will find on most mileage programs. Most hotels have a loyalty program, similar to airlines. You can also put your stay on a regular credit card that gives you points to use for both airlines and hotel stays.

6. Retail

On a day-to-day basis you probably won’t be using these partners, but when it comes time to order flowers or buy gizmos and gadgets through mail order, there’s a good chance you will find retailers like 1-800-Flowers, Bose, and SkyMall among the participants. Now there are a couple exceptional programs out there, which offer a much larger selection of retailers. Take the United MileagePlus, which allows you to earn miles at dozens of popular online stores.

7. Subscriptions

From newspapers to Netflix, some airlines allow you to earn miles on various new subscriptions you buy through them.

8. Charities

Giving is great, but giving and receiving is even better! A lot of charities will give you points for donating. Also there are a lot of charity programs out there, if you HAVE a lot of miles already, and would like to donate them to charity for a good cause. Delta has an excellent program where they partner with several charities that you can give your miles to for a good cause.

http://www.delta.com/buygftxfer/displayDonateMiles.action

9. Give the gift of mileage to friends or your children

Most programs will allow you to give your miles to someone else. If you would like to save them all up and give them to your child or parent, they will allow you to purchase tickets for them using your miles, or you can transfer miles to their accounts. Also you can buy miles (up to a certain amount each year), to make up the difference in a ticket, if you are a few short. Some times this is a great deal. Hyatt hotels currently has a points plus cash program, which allows you to pay points plus cash. For instance, to stay at a top level tier 6 hotel that averages $500 a night, it would only cost you 12,500 points and $150.00 cash. The possibilities are endless.

A week in the Dominican Republic for less than $600


Travel does not have to be expensive and can still turn out AMAZING, and some times top star! I was able to go to the Dominican Republic twice last year for a week each time and spend less than $1000 for BOTH trips. I booked my 1st trip totally last minute spur of the moment. I was supposed to be flying to Tanzania, but ran into problems getting my daughter’s passport processed in Honolulu, which cut my travel time too short. I ended up flying to Los Angeles and getting her passport that very same day (talk about night and day efficiency) but ran out of time to fly all the way to Africa. So sitting in a hotel room outside of LAX, I booked a trip for the next day to the Dominican Republic.  I was intrigued with the Dominican Republic, after watching House Hunters International. I am always looking for a nice tropical, affordable place to go. I was not disappointed either time. I was able to find a great last minute deal from Cheap Caribbean for 2 people for a week at an all inclusive resort 40 minutes out side of Santo Domingo in the Juan Dolio Beach area at the Coral Costa Caribe Resort for only $436.00! Good photos and in
fo here: http://www.oyster.com/dominican-republic/hotels/costa-caribe-coral-hotel-and-resort/

This included the hotel, all you can drink AND all the meals at 5 restaurants to choose from. It also had water activities, a nightclub, a casino (which I never went in to) and a complimentary kids camp. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I am pretty adventurous, and I was pleasantly surprised. We took a taxi from the airport for about $40 dollars one way (a shared shuttle is half that). We had an amazing time. It was located on a great stretch of beach, and walking distance to some shops, and other great beaches and hotels. It is in an up and coming area, and I foresee this place getting much more expensive. But for now, I can’t rave about it enough. There are still some amazing investment opportunities around this area as well. We took a day tour into Santo Domingo and we also explored some caves. Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic and a UNESCO world heritage site, is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Americas and one of the most populous cities in the Caribbean. The city is a mix of old world charm and modern Latin flair. Its medieval palaces and fortresses mix with nightlife and shopping to rival any modern city in the world. You’ll find pristine beaches and hidden gems like a salsa/merengue club set inside a huge underground cave. The architecture was great. For a week away, this makes for a great affordable trip.

 

  




 

 


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About 4 months later we were able to book another week, for $38.00 a night including complimentary breakfast for 2 at an amazing property in Punta Cana. After falling in love with The Dominican Republic, I wanted to return. I was looking at all inclusive deals, but then ran into this Hotwire hot deal. The kind where it doesn’t show you the property, but shows a star rating, what’s included and what it is comparable to. It was rated a 4 star with high reviews, so I said what the heck. It turned out the place was The Puntacana Hotel and Resort: Here is a good link with info from Oyster. ( I LOVE Oyster.com by the way, because they really give you a sense of the place with a TON of real photos. Back when I was a travel agent, you never knew where you were sending a person. You had just a few photos to go by (usually doctored pro shots.) Oyster is real.

http://www.oyster.com/dominican-republic/hotels/punta-cana-hotel/

The 170-room Punta Cana Hotel is in the center of Punta Cana Resort & Club, a gated, 26-square-mile property that includes Oscar de la Renta-designed Tortuga Bay, Villa Estate rental homes, and residential communities. The property also features La Cana golf course, and two newer courses plus the Six Senses spa, a full-service marina, and a huge, private beach, as well as its own Ecological Preserve. The resort even funds its own Ecological preservation programs, Center for Sustainability and Biodiversity, among other Ecological programs. Nightlife is virtually nonexistent — guests come for quiet luxury.

This place even included VIP meet and greet at the airport, where they meet you AT the airplane, holding a sign with your name on it, they whisk  you away in a company golf cart, AND you get VIP express security passage. Talk about feeling like a rock star, when you look back and see the rest of the plane still standing in the customs line. It turns out this hotel group was one of the major founders of Punta Cana.

We had so much fun exploring the huge grounds of the property. It wasn’t just one hotel-oh no! It was in a HUGE development, with luxury homes, tennis clubs, gyms, golf courses, a marina, tons of restaurants, other hotels and villas to cater to everyone. It even had it’s OWN ecological reserve and farm! You could rent these gas powered golf carts to explore the whole place. The grounds are AMAZING! I felt so at peace and free. I am even considering arranging a retreat here. I took my daughter and my mom. We droves the neighborhoods of the luxury villas ohhing and ahhing. We traversed the golf course trails, and the back beach dirt roads laughing and laughing. I even took it out once all day by myself, exploring wildly down dirt roads, to whole other part of the property miles away with an amazing beach and restaurant called Playa Blanca. When I found this place, I felt that feeling of “Eureka” I HAVE FOUND IT! This beach is AMAZING!http://www.puntacana.com/restaurants.html


I practically had the beach to myself. The place is so spread out, that you can roam through each area practically un noticed. If you wanted to go rent kayaks or go to the beach or dine at the Super Luxe 5 diamond property Tortuga Bay designed by Oscar De La Renta, you could. It was all within the same development. This was quiet luxury!

The resort had a courtesy shuttle that would take you to town and other places on the property. After exploring all around the property, I wanted to get out and see some real culture. I decided to take the local public bus to a town about an hours drive away called Higuey.I had heard there were some interesting sights and churches there. We took the hotel shuttle out to  the shopping area where you could catch the local bus right across the highway. It only cost a few dollars, and it was a great day trip adventure. I wandered around freely with my daughter, exploring the shops and this huge basilica.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_La_Altagracia

The town is where most of the locals live, and I was surprised to see that the resorts bused in loads of them to go work in all of the fancy hotels. It was a contrast, and reminded me, why I did need to get out of the fancy resort area and see the local culture, the landscapes, and how people live. For me, these times, are what travel is really about. When I lived in Puerto Vallarta for the summer, we use to just ride the local bus to the end of the route and back for 50 cents. It was the best way to see the neighborhoods, and places you never would normally see, always a curiosity on the bus.
I am so happy that now I get to share this with my 5 year old. I firmly believe travel is the best education you can get.

We spent the rest of the days happily exploring the grounds, the area shopping spots, and the farm and the ecological reserve. Another great thing about this place is they support a great organization called Pack For a Purpose. You can feel good and get involved, by bringing much needed school and medical supplies from home in you extra baggage space, and drop them off at the Tortuga Hotel:
http://www.packforapurpose.org/destinations/caribbean/dominican-republic/tortuga-bay




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I do believe it is time for another adventure!

I do believe it is time for another adventure!

I have to admit, this picture stirs something up deep inside of me. It says it all. The excitement, uncertainty, the emotions I was feeling, and the freedom. It reminds me, of the adventure, and the wild abandon we had back when we didn’t have a care in the world. We had all just finished a 1 year work contract in Guam working for a hotel, as clubmates “ambassadors of fun” and had saved up enough money to travel. I remember talking the HR lady into allowing me to use my comp return ticket back to the US (paid by the hotel after completion of your work contract) to use to fly round trip from Guam to Bali. I had no idea how long I was going to stay there, and no idea how I would return to the States. I recall walking to this  very shady looking plane, thinking to myself, OKAY, we are going to just hop into that, and fly to some remote islands in Indonesia I had never heard of. We were heading to the Gili Islands. One of the guys in our group had met a Japanese girl at the resort, and it turned out her grandpa had a house in Lombok, and a little guest house on the island of Gili Meno called Casablanca. First we had to fly to Lombok, and then they would take us by boat to the Gili Meno. She had been going to Indonesia since she was a child, so we were in good hands.

We all had an amazing time. We ended up spending over a month travelling all around. Sometimes we would split up, but always converge back together in some serendipitous way. My boyfriend at the time, flew over, we fought, he left. Our other friend, made a Balinese boyfriend and she was off having her romance. Others were busy partaking in the local offerings. Magic Teas, milkshakes. Only memories we can cherish and share. Spending the whole day on the beach in a milkshake haze, giving advise to a local who wanted to bring his young brother there, and leave him to find a job. I talked him out of it, and advised him to take him back to one of the bigger chain hotels, where he could make a name for himself, in all of my wisdom at the time. Making sand sculptures of turtles and ice cream cones with the children for hours…and riding the boat back from Gili Trawangan to Gili Meno at sunset.

Towards the end of the trip, it was down to just a few of us. I experienced the WORST case of food poisoning in a hotel room in Kuta with the last 2 boys of the group. 3 days of fever, chills, and worse. They were kind enough to go out and  get me medicine, bring me sprites, and take care of me. We all flew back to Guam to ring in the millennium. After that, we never saw each other again. It was one of the best times I have had in my life. We have stayed in touch over the years, because we all experienced and shared something so special and so profound. All have went off to become professionals of some sort, get married and start families. One devout church member, whos cahoots best go unspoken.

That time we shared was so joyous and carefree. So this picture symbolizes what travel is all about. That is why I started this blog. To reignite the spark and fire in our souls for the love of travel adventures and experiences of the unknown.