Welcome to The Modern Postcard Travel Resources Page!
As my travels have expanded over the years, so have the resources I have come to rely on. This page is a compilation of my favorite travel planning strategies and starting points, places where I turn for information and inspiration. I have personally used all the tour companies and have visited every place listed on the Travel Resources page. I have no affiliation with any of them…only a love of the experiences we’ve had there and a desire to share them with other travelers.
Whether you’re embarking on a long journey or a weekend getaway – or even a day trip exploring somewhere new – I hope these links and travel resources will spark a sense of adventure and help make the route along the way a little smoother. And maybe even a little more fun!
Table of Contents
- Getting There
- Where to Stay
- Getting Around
- Know Before You Go
- Making It Special
- Off the Beaten Travel Path
- A Final Thought
Several years ago, my husband Herb discovered this site, and it quickly became his favorite for cross-checking air travel planning. Linked with a site called skytraxratings.com, it features reviews of seats, airlines, lounges and airports. The Seat Guides section is extremely detailed – even including information on seat “pitch” – and the Top 10 and Top 100 rankings are especially helpful if you’re comparing several airline options.
My husband also swears by the free version of the flightradar24 mobile app. He uses it to track the history of flight delays before we book as well as delays of the specific aircraft the day before and the day we fly. It has also proven helpful during long taxis after we land, giving us an idea of how much time it will take before we reach the gate.
This is an invaluable site for comparing seats on different airlines and airplanes. You’ll find details on seat location as well as comfort, amenities and user reviews. Click on an airline (listed alphabetically) and then the type of aircraft. A map and color-coded chart will denote seats that are “good,” “bad” and “mixed reviews,” helping you make an informed decision and avoid disappointment when you board the plane and discover that the window seat you booked doesn’t actually have a window. And this tip: There can be multiple versions of the same plane, so it’s also a good idea to match the map on seatguru with the airline’s map for your flight.
What started as a hobby for English train travel enthusiast and self-described “career railwayman” Mark Smith has grown to become a leading source of information on traveling by train around the world. The Man in Seat Sixty-One has complied pages of train routes, schedules, photos and links for booking tickets directly from the rail lines in easy-to-navigate drop-down menus. His “Great Train Journeys” section offers an especially fun dose of dreamy armchair traveling.
This site saved me from a costly mistake when I was booking train tickets from Prague to Vienna. Surprised by the expensive fare I was given, I checked with seat61 and quickly realized I had been looking at a third-party booking site. Using the link for direct booking, I was able to get the fare I had originally expected. Truly invaluable!
By Cruise Ship
Travel writers Ralph Grizzle and Aaron Saunders have made a career out of cruising. Their helpful website contains a wealth of information on cruise lines, ports and how to choose a ship. Traveling on a variety of cruise lines and itineraries throughout the year, they publish live voyage reports that offer readers the chance to ask questions while they’re on board.
Their companion site called rivercruiseadvisor.com is also worth checking out for information on cruising the great rivers of the world. Both sites contain the disclosure that cruise companies support the websites with monthly sponsorship fees, but do not control the content of their writings.
It’s fairly safe to say that this is the most well-known and complete site of all things related to cruise travel. You’ll find detailed reviews of just about every cruise ship in the world from both the website’s staff and travelers who have recently sailed on a particular ship. There are also reviews of ports around the world that provide an overview of what to see as well as specifics on where the ships will dock. The most helpful way to use the site is to read the Boards section of cruise lines and destinations that interest you. If you have specific questions, sign up with a username and password and post your query on the appropriate Board. There are sure to be readers who will answer your questions, often resulting in a lively discussion!
Just as its name implies, this site enables you to map a ship’s current position. Type and then click on your ship’s name in the box on the home page. You’ll be taken to a page with a host of information about that ship, including deck plans, itineraries and cabins. To reach the map page, click on the “Current Position” link. Your ship’s current location as well as other ships in the area will be displayed.
This is the most comprehensive site on river cruises that I have found. I was initially skeptical of its connection to a travel agency’s media group – whom I do not know or use – but the information is so thorough that it is worth including for anyone considering a river cruise. The group also runs an equally detailed general travel information site called traveltruth.com. Both sites are not shy with their opinions!
Note: The site’s founder Richard Turen recently reached out to provide background on his Consumer Media Group. He explained that the organization’s websites – including riverboatratings.com – do not accept advertising, promotional dollars or free travel. Good to know!
With information on 1,200 ports of call and an interactive world cruise map, this is an indispensable site for anyone traveling by cruise ship. Click on the country you’ll be visiting – they’re listed alphabetically on the home page – and then on the city’s port where your ship will be docked. The port’s page will give you a printable map, details on its location, distance to town and a link to the port’s cruise calendar. The cruise calendar link will take you to either the port’s home page schedule or to a site called cruisetimetables.com, which lists dates by month and year when ships will be in port. Click on your date, and you will see your ship as well as all ships that will be visiting on that date. It’s especially helpful for planning excursions and getting an idea of crowds at the port on the day you arrive. If a port doesn’t offer a calendar link, I do a Google search of a cruise calendar for that port.
Where to Stay
I almost always choose where to stay based on location. I research a city’s neighborhoods to determine areas that are closest to the places we want to visit and then narrow my focus on possible hotels or lodging. Walkability, easy access to transportation and the selection of nearby cafés and restaurants typically play a role in picking the spot that we will call home for a few days.
One of our family’s favorite hotel experiences was an overnight stay at a Scottish castle. From the winding staircases to the narrow door frames that led to our rooms to the candlelight dinner and fabulous fireplace in the Great Hall, our stay at Borthwick Castle was magical and memorable and a wonderful option for experiencing Scotland.
Castle hotels can be found throughout Europe, and this site by travel writer Pamela Barrus features an extensive listing. Organized by country and specific regions and towns within that country, each link includes photos, descriptions of the property, location and booking information. As an added touch, Barrus adds a personal note called “Pamela’s Perspective,” giving readers her take on what not to miss or how to make the best of your time there.
If you’re looking for a luxury hotel or resort, Leading Hotels of the World is a good place to start. More than 375 hotels are listed by geographic region and then by specific country. LHW was established in 1928 and, according to its website, “selects only hotels that meet our high standards of quality and distinctiveness.”
Small Luxury Hotels of the World is another helpful site for researching boutique luxury hotels around the world. The site features 500 hotels in more than 80 countries and claims to “seek out the little gems that offer genuine one-of-a-kind experiences.”
As the saying goes, this site needs no introduction. According to Wikipedia, TripAdvisor is the largest travel website in the world, with more than 315 million reviewers and 500 million reviews. It’s a great place to check out hotel reviews and get an idea of visitors’ experiences. I love reading the comments from hotel managers who take the time to respond to each review. Their responses – especially when someone has left a negative review – often provide perspective about a particular situation. I also like the “Room Tips” section for getting an idea of specific rooms and locations within a hotel.
I look for repeated trends in TripAdvisor reviews. If a negative issue appears once or twice, I typically ignore it. However, if a complaint continues to show up or if there is a theme to a particular comment – negative or positive – I believe there is a strong probability that it’s true.
hop-on hop-off bus
If you’d like to get an overview of a new city or have a limited amount of time, Hop-On Hop-Off bus tours are a great option. With the flexibility of “hopping” on and off as often as you wish, you can design your own itinerary without thinking about transportation. I recommend researching a city’s tours before you leave; discounts are often offered for advanced online booking.
This is a terrific site for estimating how much a taxi or rideshare will cost. Calculators based on a “proprietary algorithm” utilize current rates from more than 1,000 international locations and claim to be extremely accurate under normal driving conditions. To find a rate, click on a country and then on the city you’ll be visiting. A map and place for typing your starting point and destination will appear. Click “Get Fare!” and you’ll be given an estimate of what you can expect to pay. Many of the locations also feature calculators for Uber and Lyft, and there’s also a helpful section on taxi tipping etiquette around the world.
To find out if Uber or Lyft service is available in the city you’ll be visiting, check out these sites for the most current information. Uber service is available in cities around the world. Lyft is offered only in the United States and Canada.
Know Before You Go
I ran across this site while researching a road in Norway I have yet to travel and was stopped in my tracks by the title. Dangerous? Well, I’d certainly better check this out! (Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of shelf roads and have been known to “travel” a road on Google Maps’ satellite version before agreeing to the journey.) It turns out that this site’s subheading is actually “the world’s most spectacular roads” and that it features roads and highways around the world described as the most scenic, hair-pinned, highest, longest, prone to flooding and yes, most dangerous. There’s even a section called “The Most Haunted Roads on Earth.”
Dangerousroads.org has a data base of more than 10,000 roads and features detailed descriptions, driving recommendations, photos and Google Maps links. Written by a network of collaborators throughout the world, it carries the disclaimer of “no guarantee of validity of content since no one is ultimately responsible for any claims.” Despite the warning, it’s an interesting read and worth checking out if you’re heading into any unusually scenic – or dangerous – territory.
guidebooks and maps
Although the internet has clearly become my most relied-upon venue for travel planning, there’s still something about a guidebook that makes an upcoming trip come alive for me. I love marking pages with sticky-note page flags, organizing a country book by the cities I will be visiting and flipping through pages I’ve already read, as if doing so will make our departure date appear more quickly!
The main players in this arena haven’t changed much over the years. Books by Fodor’s, Frommers’s, Lonely Planet and Rick Steves continue to offer really good general, practical information. The DK Eyewitness Travel Guides, filled with lavish photographs and maps, are among the most beautifully illustrated.
Maps, too, are losing ground to online sites like Google Maps, but I still find them invaluable for getting an overview of where we’ll be traveling. Studying a map before we leave home helps me feel as if I know the place in some small way. My favorite maps are from Streetwise. They’re laminated, durable and fold into the size of a thin envelope for easy transporting when on the go.
This is the most helpful source I’ve found for trying to determine when to visit a city. Colorful, easy-to-read charts provide month-by-month high and low temperatures, rainfall, hours of sunshine and for coastal cities, even sea temperatures. The easiest way to directly reach the site’s Averages page is to type holiday-weather.com, add a forward slash, then the city name, another forward slash, then the word averages. If your city has two names, use an underscore between them. For example: holidayweather.com/buenos_aires/averages. Weather, of course, is far from predictable, but this will provide a good indicator of what you can expect for long-range travel planning.
I discovered this website while planning our itinerary for Prague. The city’s famous Astronomical Clock had been removed for refurbishment and was scheduled to be up and running around the time of our arrival. With visible scaffolding and the tarp-covered clock shown in real time on the Old Town Square webcam, I was able to make alternate plans and avoid disappointment. Skyline has hundreds of webcams in key locations around the world. It’s also a helpful packing tool for checking out how people are dressed for the local weather. And on some of the beachfront cams, you can even hear the waves and watch palm trees sway in the breeze!
Freelance photo-journalist Michel Guntern calls his site the “original online guide to travel.” What began in 1997 with the lofty intention of covering every country in the world has grown into an exhaustive source for traveling just about anywhere. Click on a destination under Choose a Country, and you will land on a page brimming with information, from history to maps to recommended things to do. Each destination page features additional links that hone in on specifics about the area. There is such an array of pages to explore that it’s an easy place to lose yourself in thoughts of endless travel possibilities.
Not sure if the country where you’ll be renting a car drives on the right or left? Wondering about voltage and outlet plug needs for your next trip? Conrad H. McGregor has put together an extensive website that lists countries’ plugs, socket and voltage requirements as well as which side of the road to drive on. He also includes internet domain listings for each country and alphabets around the world. It’s an easy site to navigate, with countries listed alphabetically, and a handy resource when planning travels outside your home country.
For American travelers, this Centers for Disease Control link is the go-to site for health information when traveling outside the United States. Use the drop-down menu to find your destination, and you’ll be directed to vaccine recommendations and medical information for that country. The green sidebar on the left-hand side of the page also provides some helpful health-related resources for travelers.
Making It Special
I approach every trip as if it will be the only time I will be in that place. If at all possible, I don’t want to have any regrets about what I didn’t do or thoughts of next time. If I do have the chance to return somewhere, well, that’s a wonderful serendipity.
In addition to a city’s must-see sights, I love places and experiences that make a visit special. Sometimes it’s unexpected, a happenstance event that catches us by surprise and wonder. But more often, a great travel experience is the result of advance planning and knowing what may be possible.
For some terrific travel moments, the following categories are worth exploring:
City Tours and Walks
Getting to know a city or scenic area on foot is one of the quickest ways to feel as if you are a part of your surrounding environment. A good local guide can provide insights that you’ll never find in a book or internet site. Many cities offer free walking tours by locals – you simply show up at a designated meeting spot, joining others who have chosen the same time and venue, and pay for the guide’s services with a tip at the end of the walk.
I especially like pre-arranged private and small group tours that offer specific itineraries. And I most especially like special access tours that peek into places I might not have a chance to explore on my own. Sometimes billed as skip the lines, early access, late admission or even secret access, these tours offer the chance to immerse yourself in the moment rather than bumping elbows with the person next to you as you crane your neck to capture a photo.
Here are a few tours I can personally vouch for and highly recommend:
- Buenos Aires, Argentina ~ Buenos Tours. Guided private walking tours led by native English-speaking guides. Our wonderful guide Richard Shpuntoff recently started his own company, BACityGuide.
- Cairo, Egypt ~ Marwa Youssef. Delightful private guide for Cairo and Giza, with affiliate guides and tours throughout Egypt.
- Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, U.S.A. ~ Carmel Food Tours. Wonderful walking tour of the town’s history, culture and hidden passageways, with stops along the way to sample local cuisine.
- Dubai, U.A.E. ~ Tours By Locals. Organization of local guides in cities around the world offering customizable private tours.
- Edinburgh, Scotland ~ Heart of Scotland Tours. Small group tours to the Scottish Highlands.
- Kusadasi, Turkey ~ Levent Solmaz. Terrific private guide for Ephesus and the surrounding area.
- Prague, Czech Republic ~ Personal Prague Guide. Private guides for key sites in Prague and around the Czech Republic. Guide Katarína Krušpánová is outstanding!
- Rome, Italy ~ Walks of Italy. Special access tours of the Colosseum, Vatican and other sites in Rome; also tours in other parts of Italy and “Take Walks” in Paris, London and Barcelona.
- Salinas, California ~ Ag Venture Tours. Guided tours of California’s “salad bowl of the world” led by agricultural scientist Evan Oakes – a fascinating look inside the world of farming; also wine tasting and sightseeing tours around the Monterey Peninsula.
- Sydney, Australia ~ Kangarrific Tours. Small group day tours to Hunter Valley and Walkabout Wildlife Park and other day trips from Sydney.
Libraries and Bookstores
I love seeking out local bookstores when I travel, and I’ve recently begun adding historic and architecturally significant libraries to my pre-trip research. You’ll never look at a library or book shop in quite the same way after visiting these stunning places!
- Buenos Aires, Argentina ~ El Ateneo Grand Splendid. Grand 1919 theatre-turned-cinema-turned-bookshop; stage with ruby-red curtains, balconies and books.
- Lisbon, Portugal ~ Bertrand Bookstore. Lovely bookshop on the Rua Garrett, open since 1732 and considered the oldest bookstore in the world.
- London, England ~ Stanfords Bookshop. A London institution since 1863, claiming “the world’s biggest and best” collection of maps and travel books.
- Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. ~ The Last Bookstore. Whimsical displays constructed with books hidden throughout a two-story turn-of-the century former bank building.
- Melbourne, Australia ~ State Library of Victoria. 1854; La Trobe Reading Room, 5th & 6th floor viewing levels; octagon-shaped with a magnificent dome and wooden tables spread out like a wonderful game board.
- Paris, France ~ Bibliothéque Richelieu. 1854; Labrouste Reading Room; stunning architecture, turquoise reading lamps and Wedgwood blue lampposts; viewed from the doorway.
- Paris, France ~ Shakespeare and Company. Charming English-language bookstore on the Left Bank, dating to early 1920s.
- Prague, Czech Republic ~ Strahov Monastery Library. Fabulous 17th century old-world library filled with rare and antique books, frescoed ceilings, floor-to-ceiling walnut bookcases, wrap-around balcony and a secret door that reveals a spiral staircase; tour required to enter.
- Sydney, Australia ~ State Library of New South Wales. 1826; oldest library in Australia; Tasman Map & Mitchell Reading Room.
- Vienna, Austria ~ State Hall of the Austrian National Library. Spectacular 18th century secular Baroque library with graceful curved balconies, ceiling frescoes and more than 200,000 books dating from 1501 to 1850.
Buying stamps and postcards from a local postmaster rather than a souvenir stand is another opportunity for getting a glimpse into a city’s culture. Sometimes it’s also a peek into an historic or interesting building that you might not otherwise have visited. Even though we email and FaceTime with our family when we’re traveling, there is something special about getting a postcard with a stamp and postmark from somewhere faraway.
- Copenhagen, Denmark ~ Kongelig Postgaard. Lovely old building in Old Town, on route taken by Changing of the Guard on its daily march to Amalienborg Palace.
- Mont Saint-Michel, France ~ La Poste. Charming post office on the village’s main street at the base of the Mont.
- Monte Carlo, Monaco ~ La Poste Monaco. Elegant post office for the world’s second smallest country.
- Santiago, Chile ~ Correo Central. Santiago’s gorgeous main post office; Belle Epoque exterior; separate “Filatelia” office for purchasing stamps.
- Tallinn, Estonia ~ Essti Post. Tiny and friendly post office in Old Town.
- Ushuaia, Argentina ~ End of the World Post Office. Perched on a pier overlooking Ensenada Bay in Tierra del Fuego National Park; postcard will be stamped with “Fin del Mundo” (End of the World) seal – a postman and a penguin!
- Vatican City, Italy ~ Poste Vaticane. Post office for the world’s smallest country; in St. Peter’s Square; opened in 1929.
- Venice, Italy ~ Doge’s Palace. Lion’s mouth mail slot where citizens could anonymously deposit information on fellow Venetians who they believe had broken the law; not a real post office where mail is delivered!
Tea and Coffee Shops
One of my first blog posts here, Tea & Coffee Shops Around the World, is also one of my favorite travel activities. I tend to put together itineraries that are pretty full, and I’ve found that the best way to see as much as we can without being completely exhausted is to allow time for a break or two in addition to the usual meals. Starbucks is fine and predictable, but the real fun is seeking out local cafes and coffee shops. I try to track down a few options before the trip, but we always seem to happen upon some wonderful spots when we’re busy heading somewhere else!
Here are some favorites:
- Barcelona, Spain ~ Baluard Barceloneta. Café housed in the lobby of the Hotel Praktik on Carrer de Provença, offering a terrific selection of breads and pastries as well as a variety of coffees; watch bakers at work through a street-view window; there’s also a Baluard take-away-only bakery around the corner.
- Bratislava, Slovakia ~ Konditorei Kormuth. Not not what comes to mind when imagining a bakery: Walls bedecked with paintings and frescoes that look like they stepped out of the Renaissance, centuries-old antiques, porcelain dishes and crystal glassware…and the best honey-walnut cake on the planet!
- Budapest, Hungary ~ New York Cafe. Beautiful Belle Époque coffee house and café built at the turn of the 20th century; the city’s most influential newspapers were once edited in the upstairs gallery.
- Buenos Aires, Argentina ~ La Biela. 150-year-old café known as a favorite hangout for Argentina’s beloved author Jorge Luis Borges; sit outdoors on the terrace by El Gran Gomero, a beautiful rubber tree from the 1800s, and enjoy “medialunas,” Argentinian croissants.
- Copenhagen, Denmark ~ A.C. Perch’s Thehandel. Enchanting Old Town tea shop and upstairs tea room dating to 1835.
- Edinburgh, Scotland ~ The Elephant House. Tea and coffee café where J.K. Rowling famously wrote her first Harry Potter books.
- Gulangyu Island, Xiamin, China ~ Miss Zhao’s English Blacktea & Book Shop. Tea among the bookshelves on a pedestrian-only island, a short ferry ride from Xiamen.
- Helsinki, Finland ~ Signora Delizia, Cozy café near the Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral; great for a coffee break or a light lunch; known for its Italian coffee.
- Lisbon, Portugal ~ Café Martinho da Arcada. Coffee bar and restaurant founded in 1782 off the Praça do Comércio; known for two Portuguese treasures: Pastéis de nata custard tarts and favorite café of poet/writer Fernando Pessoa.
- Lisbon, Portugal ~ Casa Pastéis de Bélem. Birthplace of the pastéis de nata, known here as the Pastel de Bélem.
- Melbourne, Australia ~ Hopetoun Tea Rooms. Tea, scones and freshly baked treats in the beautiful Block Arcade; since 1892.
- Paris, France ~ Mariage Frères. My all-time favorite tea; tea rooms, shops & restaurants in several locations; original rue du Bourg-Tibourg location features an upstairs tea museum.
- Passau, Germany ~ Simon Confiserie. 1903 riverfront café known for its gingerbread and specialty baked goods.
- Prague, Czech Republic ~ Restaurant Bellavista. Castle Hill café with lovely terrace overlooking the city; known for its apple strudel, Czech signature dessert.
- Punta Arenas, Chile ~ La Chocolatta Café. Tea, coffee and desserts in a cozy café on Bories Street.
- Rhodes, Greece ~ Fournariko Bakery. Old Town cafe with patio seating, an impressive-looking wood-fired oven and an extraordinary selection of Greek specialty baked goods.
- Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France ~ Maison Adam. Bakery on the rue de la Républic, known for its macarons.
- Saint-Tropéz, France ~ La Tarte Tropézienne. Pastries, tea and coffee café established in 1955; famous for La Tarte Tropézienne brioche with cream filling.
- San Diego, California, U.S.A. ~ Bird Rock Coffee Roasters. A short walk from Little Italy’s main street, with seating by a wall of open windows that showcase up-close views of planes landing at nearby Lindbergh Field.
- San Diego, California, U.S.A. ~ Lofty Coffee. Coffee, freshly baked pastries and a classic California outdoor vibe in the heart of Little Italy.
- San Sebastián, Spain ~ Pasteleria Oiartzun. Outdoor tables, Basque cake and coffee.
- Santiago de Compostela, Spain ~ Casal Coton. Known for its almond cookies, little crunchy versions of the town’s signature cake, Tarta de Santiago.
- Stockholm, Sweden ~ Grillska Bakery. Fresh-baked cinnamon rolls, perfect for a “fika” (Swedish coffee break); in Gamla Stan.
- Tallinn, Estonia ~ The Pierre Cholaterie. Chocolates, desserts and coffee in a charming courtyard called Meistrite Hoov.
- Ushuaia, Argentina ~ Ramos Generales. Wooden tables nestled among an eclectic mix of memorabilia; known for “submarino” hot chocolate (dropping a chocolate bar into a mug of steamed milk).
- Vienna, Austria ~ Café Central. Elegant 1876 café in the Palais Ferstel, once a popular gathering spot for writers and philosophers; wonderful Viennese coffee and desserts.
- Vienna, Austria ~ Café Demel. Peek through the glass doors to watch master bakers at work before claiming a table at this classic coffee-and-dessert café on Kohlmarkt.
- Vienna, Austria ~ Café Sacher. Best-known cake in Vienna, the Sacher Torte is a “must” when stopping by the historic red-velvet-decked café in the Hotel Sacher.
I can’t help but smile when I think of the non-human creatures I’ve had the privilege of visiting in their native environments. Whether watching from a not-too-distant vantage point or interacting up-close and personal, these wildlife encounters have been an absolute joy and some of my most memorable travel experiences.
- Antarctica ~ Seabourn Quest. Voyage of a lifetime with zodiac expeditions on the White Continent; penguins, whales, seals and albatrosses.
- Calga, Australia ~ Walkabout Wildlife Park. Natural bush sanctuary for free-ranging native birds and animals; kangaroos, wallabies, emus and the cutest koala imaginable!
- Falkland Islands ~ Adventure Falklands. Patrick Watts-created tours by 4×4 vehicles to Volunteer Point and the King penguin colony.
- Galápagos Islands ~ Celebrity Flora. Seven-day cruise with two landings per day on a variety of islands in this remote, precious habitat; zodiac, hiking and snorkeling expeditions; giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies, great frigatebirds, penguins and land & marine iguanas.
- Magdalena Island, Chile ~ Solo Expediciones. 45-minute ride by powerboat (which we found to be more like a covered zodiac) from Punta Arenas to the Magellanic penguin colony on a windswept, uninhabited island.
- Phillip Island, Australia ~ Cape Woolamai. Coastal hike along trails, beach and bluffs; wallabies, echidnas and shearwaters returning to nests at sunset.
- Southern California, U.S.A. ~ Captain Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari. Daily dolphin and whale watching excursions aboard the Manute’a catamaran from Dana Point, California.
- Ulva Island, New Zealand ~ Ulva Guided Walks. Predator-free sanctuary for native birds established in 1997 to protect endemic endangered species, including the kiwi, New Zealand’s flightless national bird; short boat ride from nearby Oban on Stewart Island.
If your travels take you to areas known for their wine production, consider spending a day in the countryside exploring local vineyards. Experienced wine guides are a great source for seeking out the most interesting and best venues and will often customize tours to match your wine preferences. A typical all-day wine experience will include tours of the vineyards, vat and cellar rooms and tastings at three wineries as well as lunch at one of the venues.
Here are several wine tours I have used and highly recommend:
- Auckland, New Zealand ~ Fine Wine Tours. Small group tours to Waiheke Island and other nearby wine regions led by Auckland wine expert and writer Phil Parker.
- Montevideo, Uruguay ~ Bodega Booza. Winery known for wines made with Tannat, signature Uruguayan grape; visits include a tour of owner’s extensive classic car collection.
- Santiago, Chile ~ Uncorked Wine Tours. Small group tours to the Casablanca Valley and other Chilean wine areas.
Off the Beaten Travel Path
Looking for something a little different? Here are a few ideas that may set your creative planning wheels in motion!
I first heard of “escape rooms” while doing research on Bilbao, Spain, for an upcoming trip. The premise sounded intriguing: You are locked in a movie set-like room and must solve a mystery using puzzles and clues hidden in the room in order to get out. I realized, of course, that this would be in Spanish, which I don’t speak. I also thought it would be a great activity for our game-loving family and later booked an escape room experience for all of us at home in San Diego.
It now seems as if every time I research a new destination, an escape room pops up as a suggested itinerary idea. It’s a wonderfully clever, incredibly fun and totally in-the-moment immersion experience and could be a memorable addition to an itinerary if traveling with game-loving family or friends.
London-based landscape architect and garden historian Tom Turner launched this site in the early days of the internet and today has amassed more than 10,000 pages of information and 10,000 images of all things garden. His Garden Finder section is terrific for travelers, listing public and private gardens all over the world that are open to visitors. A quick click on the country you will be visiting takes you to garden listings for that country. Each garden is linked to its own page that includes photos, maps, reviews, hours and even nearby hotels. The website also features a section on Garden Tours in about 40 countries.
Founders Jeff Saward and Kimberly Lowelle Saward state on the site, “We like to think our knowledge of the field is without equal,” and it would be difficult to disagree. Their site is incredibly complex, but the section called Maze & Labyrinth Locations is chock-full of information for travelers. In addition to listing mazes and labyrinths around the world that are open to visitors, the Sawards lead tours to specific sites, including their Signature English Turf Labyrinth Tour.
A modern take on the traditional scavenger hunt game, this smartphone app is an interesting idea for exploring a city when traveling or close to home. The interactive app takes players on a specific route around a neighborhood, asking multiple-choice questions about various stops along the way. There are more than 200 scavenger hunts in six countries throughout the world, with several different hunts offered in many large cities.
Spending the night in a lighthouse was one of those bucket list dreams that was as wonderful as I’d imagined. This website of the United States Lighthouse Society is a veritable everything-you-always-wanted-to-know about lighthouses. The key information for travelers is the link on the home page called Lighthouse Lodging, which lists lighthouse accommodations in 14 U.S. States and several Canadian provinces. Lighthouse stays vary from basic rooms to bed and breakfast lodgings that include gourmet dinners to longer-term vacation rentals of the keeper’s cottage. The number of rooms in a lighthouse is extremely limited, and they book up months in advance.
A Final Thought
Travel can be overwhelming. There are bound to be glitches. And disappointments. And things that don’t work out the way you had hoped. But if you remind yourself of the reason that brought you on your journey, and if you remember to pack your sense of humor as well as a joyful spirit, you’ll be able to handle just about anything.
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Thanks for Reading & Happy Travels!