It’s the most wonderful time of the year

I eagerly wait in anticipation of my latest group trip guide-book that I have prepared for my friends, while humming the classic Christmas tune “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”  That phrase can really apply to any time of year that brings you joy. For me, the two months prior to any group trip are the most joyful because everything is a buzz.

Our upcoming group trip to Thailand involves visits to multiple cities; so we are using several hotels, airlines, tour companies and transportation vendors.  This time of year is when everything is due. It’s when I get back in touch with all the hotels, airlines and tour companies, to finalize payments, confirm head counts and secure local contact information.  This is when I am most excited about any group trip, because everything we have planned is fresh in my mind and there is still this sense of curiosity of what lies ahead. The image that is the header for this blog is a photo I took while on a tour of the Phi Phi Islands in Thailand. I can’t wait to see all the new photos from everyone’s unique perspective on the group trip next year.

I have the best group of friends who entrust me with their travel plans, so I always want them to have a great time without having to worry about any details. Once we depart on the trip I am a ball of stress, but right now I am full of excitement.  Each year I create a small booklet of information that includes our trip schedule, flight & hotel information and some basic tips.  The 2011 trip starts in Thailand for the full group fo 23, but at the end of the Thailand portion of the trip 15 of us are going to Hawaii. The Hawaii extension includes a full day layover in Seoul, Korea, so of course we are taking advantage of this opportunity and going on a tour in Korea. To make sure that everyone has all necessary information regarding the 4 hotels, 6 flights, 7 tours and other miscellaneous details… I decide to print a bound booklet this year through the website www.blurb.com. I think that website is a great tool for publishing small runs of text or photography books. My test copy of the book is supposed to arrive today and I am a little too excited about such a small item. haha

This is also a very busy time for me at work, so I am in the “work all day and night” mode to get everything done at work and then for the group. Tis the season! I wish everyone a wonderful season…a season of joy and excitement for a new year of travel adventures.

To blog or not to blog…

Well, it’s official, I suck at blogging about travel.  Since my last blog in July I have traveled to Sante Fe, New Mexico, Chicago, IL, Los Angeles, CA, Lake Geneva, WI, Las Vegas, NYC, Munich for Oktoberfest, back to Vegas, Tampa and a cruise out of Puerto Rico.  So clearly I can find time to travel, but not time to blog.  I was curious if I would be able to consistantly write about my travel experiences. I tend to be focused on doing my actual job during the day and planning my next trip at night.  When I’m on vacation I’m too busy having fun to stop and write. It’s best to write while I am enjoying the experiences of these destinations and yes, there’s an “app for that.”  I downloaded an “app,” but the few posts I drafted seemed to disappear before I return home. 

How do people do it? How do these travel bloggers send daily posts from all over the world without crazy wi-fi fees? How do they find the time to put their experiences in writting without interupting the actual experience? I’m a much better talker than writer anyway. Is there an app that will take dictation and post it to my blog? Come on, there must be… there’s an app for everything. 

Well I’m going to give it one more try. When my friend Janet said she couldn’t wait to read about my trip to Oktoberfest on The Travel Rush, I knew I was in trouble. lol Well that trip has come and gone Janet and to be honest, some things should not be documented on the internet. However, I will post a few of my favorite pictures from these blogless trips. Clearly my lack luster writing will hold me back from making a list like this: http://www.worldhum.com/travel-blog/item/travel-books-make-the-new-york-times-2010-notable-list-20101129/ but that’s alright with me.

In less then 36 hours, I leave for a girls trip getaway to the Dominican Republic. We are adventuring to an all-inclusive resort that we were able to book through some crazy 10 year anniversary special for $10 a day! When you are able to book your room and board for that low of a price…something tells me we will have some blog worthy stories to share. All I am praying for is a safe destination with a clean bed bug free room and no food posioning.  Anything above that is unexpected added luxury! Fingers crossed.

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the past few months of travel.

Reminiscing on past Group Trips

My home computer is set up with a small box in the right hand corner of the screen with a random slide show of all pictures in my photos folder. This box is always visible.  As I type Word documents or surf the internet, a pictorial representation of my past rotates almost in my subconscious.  The pictures that are most frequent in that rotation are from my previous group trips. So last night I decided to spend some time flipping through the past 9 years of pictures… what a ride.

It’s incredible to see how many different people I have been traveling with all these years. We have shared some remarkable experiences together.  It was also interesting to see how much we have and have not changed over the years.  Some people look exactly the same, others completely different.  I definitely had a laugh at my modified looks for some trips where I changed my name and wore a wig. I will chalk it up to my unofficial witness protection program vacation identification… those of you who went to Prague will remember Sky, she had a good time.

I am in high prep mode for the upcoming trip to Thailand and I always look back at what worked and what didn’t, when I plan for our next adventure. Since I announced that Thailand is my last group trip, I find myself “looking back” a bit more than usual.  I wonder what each person’s highlight was from the previous trips and really hope they enjoy their vacation.  If anyone who went on my trips has a highlight they want to share, please comment on the blog. This is a list of my top two highlights from each trip:

November 2002 – Rome, Italy: The day trip to Florence and the price of the trip! The year after 9/11 flights were crazy cheap. Everyone paid $795 total for the international flight, 5 nights hotel right next to the Spanish steps, private bus airport transfers and a half day tour of Rome. Plus everyone who signed up for the USAir frequent flyer program got double bonus miles and an automatic upgrade to silver status.

October 2003 – Caribbean cruise (Wild DC on the Sea): The extra time at port in Cozumel and the group dinner table.  Partying with the group and the crew in Cozumel was unforgettable. Having a group that was large enough to be fun and yet small enough to have one table together was great. Every night at dinner we would catch up on what everyone did that day.

October 2004 – Dublin, Ireland: The great find a castle adventure and the club connected to our hotel. Dublin was a fun group where everyone spent a lot of time all together. It seemed almost every night the whole group stayed together and enjoyed the Dublin nightlife.

October 2006 – Prague, Czech Republic: The half day tour of the brewery and Konopiste Castle. Another fantastic group and we spent all of our nights handing out together. Who could forget the crazy hot dance floor at the 5 floor club where we danced until we were soaking wet.

October 2008 – Athens, Rhodes and Santorini, Greece: Unexpected Karaoke night in Rhodes and the crazy night out in Santorini.  On our night out in Santorini half of our group was dancing on furniture and the owner broke all the plates and glasses in the place in celebration of the $$ we spent. Lol

September 2009 – Barcelona, Spain: The Jean Leon Winery tour and the night we took over a VIP section of a club without paying.

May 2010 – Amsterdam, Netherlands:  The night out in Leidseplein and the extra day in the Hague (courtesy of the Iceland Volcano). It was such a great relaxing day at a beach. Who knew there was a beach in the Netherlands?!

I can’t wait to reflect on my top two memories from Thailand.  Coming in 2011.

No more 3 by 5’s – the true beauty of Alaska

As I sit back and reflect on my long weekend trip to Alaska for the July 4th weekend, I think of John Mayer’s song 3×5.  “Didn’t have a camera by my side this time, hoping I could see the world through both my eyes. Maybe I will tell you all about it when I’m in the mood to lose my way with words.”  I was actually humming the song as I looked out into the sky at the glorious mountains of all shapes and colors. Some were covered in beautiul green trees, some of red rocks, and of course the snow capped mountains.  We enjoyed the warmth of Denali National Park in the summer. The sky in Denali was such a pure blue with the clouds placed in the sky as if it were posing for a photo.

We also experienced the cooler city of Seward and the beautiful glacier filled waters of Resurrection Bay and Kenai Fjords National Park. The variety of views were amazing, with green mountains on one side of the water and snow capped mountains on the other. We saw steller sea lions, harbor seals, otters, puffins, and a pair of humpback whales with porpoises’ following in their wake. Bald eagles were flying high in the sky and on hanging out on trees… again as though they were posing for a picture. Now clearly I did bring a camera, come on I wasn’t going to travel all that way and have nothing to show for it. Lol But the photos cannot begin to compare to the true beauty of the area through your own eyes. I highly recommend that you take the 6 hour Kenai Fjords National Park tour from the Kenai Fjords tour company.  If you are going to take the 9 hour tour you need to have a strong stomach, because some people had trouble on our 6 hour tour when we hit the open water.

My friends, who saw my facebook link to the album of pictures, know that the beauty of Alaska runs deep from the mountains and lakes to “the Bake.” 🙂 The people of Alaska are also very friendly, so New Yorkers and grumpy DC folks… keep it in check. You must learn to embrace the friendly nature of the people and perhaps, try to learn from them. This world could always use more love and happiness. Hmm, another song comes to mind. Anyway, that is the end of my Alaskan adventure. I hope you make the time to experience the beauty of the Last Frontier.

6.2 million acres of beauty in Denali

image939630657.jpgOur long weekend trip from Washington DC to Alaska started on June 30th. I was happy that my friend Beth was on board with a 4 day trip to “The Last Frontier.” We arrived in Anchorage around 11PM on the 30th, not that you could tell with the sun shining bright. I forgot how beautiful the summer’s are in Alaska courtesy of the midnight sun. The 11 hour journey left us un-entertained by our extremely chatty taxi cab driver upon arrival. We checked into the Sheraton downtown and got some much needed sleep. The next morning we filled up on the fantastic breakfast buffet at the hotel, picked up our rental car and hit the road.

We drove from Anchorage to Denali National Park, a 239 mile trip all on one road so you can’t get lost. Along the way we passed through Wasilla and reconfirmed that you cannot see Russia (sorry Palin). We got excited when passed the “entering Denali Park” sign but realized we still had about 100 miles to go. The first question we wanted answered was “how big is this place?” Denali National Park is 6.2 million acres filled with mountains, wildlife, rivers, lakes, trees, trees and more trees. Around every turn was another scenic view and Beth attempted to capture several of those shots through the bug splattered windshield.

We finally arrived at the McKinley Chalet Resort and checked in to our fabulous river facing room in the Cottonwood Lodge. If you ever stay there ask for an odd numbered room in Cottonwood. After our brief photo shoot on our balcony, we had a tasty spinach salad and a few tastes of Alaskan brew across the street at Prospectors Pizzeria. They have 49 beers on tap including some Belgian, Irish, Canadian and local ales.

At the park that day we took the bus to the Savage loop and hiked around the river. It’s a nice 2 mile loop and we also hiked up to the overlook for a view of Denali. We had dinner at the hotel and got our wild Alaskan salmon and halibut fix…so delicious! Then we went to check out a live band at The Bake, a popular spot for the locals.
We only needed 4-5 hours of sleep and then we were back in the park to hike down to Horseshoe Lake and then up to Mt Healy Overlook. As you walk around Denali park you can’t help but realize how big and beautiful this world is and how important it is to step away from the noise of life and embrace peace and tranquility. Feeling invigorated and refreshed we left the park, had a crazy delicious pizza from our favorite spot and then headed back to Anchorage.
That night we had dinner at Orso. Our dinners were both amazing. My petite filet topped with a camembert type cheese sitting on polenta in a balsamic reduction with grilled apricots, was a work of art. Beth had a mouth watering mushroom encrusted wild king salmon. We turned in early that night because our train for Seward left at 6AM.

Today we are on the Alaskan railroad heading to Seward to take a glacier and wildlife cruise. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

A visit to Black Ankle Vineyards; a surprisingly pleasant little trip in Maryland

This weekend I set off for a little travel adventure within my own state, the great state of Maryland. When my friends Vicky and Adena mentioned the idea of visiting a winery in Maryland, my initial thought was not extreme excitement. After all, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting vineyards in Spain, Italy, and California. Let’s be honest, Maryland was not on my list of must visit vineyards. I don’t think I even realized that we made wine in this state. But I love a good group adventure, so I was up for the journey.

On Saturday afternoon, we headed out to Black Ankle Vineyards in Mt Airy, MD. Vicky and Adena are fabulous planners, so they had treats for everyone on the bus ride out and prepared lunch for the group to eat at the winery.  Our friend Jennifer works at Black Ankle and introduced us to the wines and gave us a lovely tour of the property.

Black Ankle was purchased in 2002 and is approximately 43 acres.  Their tasting room was built in 2008 and is a perfect set up with a beautiful view of the fields. Their first harvest from the entire vineyard was in 2006 and they hand-pick all of their grapes.  I believe she also said that they are the only MD vineyard to produce wine solely from grapes harvested from their own fields.

Wine picks: My favorite wine from our tastings was the 2009 Gruner Veltliner.  Jen allowed me to taste her bottle of their 2009 Albarino which was superb!  However, I couldn’t buy it because I am not a case club member. Very sad.  Anyway, we had a great time in Mt Airy. Vicky and Adena did a fabulous job of putting the trip together and I hope to visit Black Ankle again. Maybe next time I’ll join the club.

Next week I leave for Anchorage, Alaska. I cannot wait to go back to Alaska and visit Denali National Park and see some glaciers. I went to high school in Fairbanks, but this will be my first time visiting Alaska as a tourist.  Good times!

Travel gives me such a rush!

Well I have been obsessively traveling the world for over eight years and I thought, why not blog about it.  I traveled a lot growing up as a military brat, because my father was in the airforce and therefore they transferred our family wherever he was needed.  Yes, I called myself a brat. If you live in a hotel for 2-6 months every 2-3 years because you move so often, you become a brat. No cleaning, eating out at different restaurants every night… it can develop into a problem later in life.  I moved to the DC area for college and I think I changed apartments every two years just for a change of scenery. I bought a house after college and decided that I needed a new outlet to provide the change and variety in life that I had become trained to enjoy. 

In the Spring of 2001, I started a new job that involved a great deal of travel in the U.S. When the tragedy of 9/11 hit, everyone used that time for reflection and it gave me a new perspective on life. I wanted to see the world… now. Do not wait for tomorrow, tomorrow is promised to no one. My passport arrived in December and January 2002 I was on my way to Rome, Italy.  I had so much fun on that trip with my cousin that I decided that I wanted to go back with more of my friends. I made another visit to Rome that summer with my friend Paola and then in the fall I came back with 36 of my friends.

Rome was just the start of many travel adventures with my friends. I planned a group trip almost every year since Rome and some of my favorite destinations were Dublin, Prague, Amsterdam, and the Greek Islands. My group to Greece was the largest, where 43 people joined me to tour Athens, Rhodes and Santorini. So much history, so many wonderful people and fantastic stories to tell. I am really sad I never wrote any of it down.

So this is it. Moving forward I will use this blog to capture a picture of my travel experiences. Some good and some bad I’m sure. I will post updates on the stress that goes into planning group travel and also random rants about upcoming “social travel.” I define social travel as a trip I take with one or two other people. I don’t do the planning, but sometimes I help pick flights and hotels that we all book on our own. With the help of mobile technology, I will post the great restaurant finds, the must stay hotels, the important airport travel tips and the hidden treasures of a city.

To anyone who reads this blog, I hope it inspires you to see the world, experience new cultures and catch The Travel Rush!