Traveling Thursday – You are not a European*.

When traveling it is not a good idea to select clothing, jewelry or accessories that made you stand out. By blending in, you become less attractive to pickpockets and other criminals.

With that said, your efforts to blend in shouldn’t ruin your vacation. I once had a gentleman tell me that his feet were blistered and sore because his wife wouldn’t let him wear his regular white tennis shoes in Europe. She didn’t want them to look like Americans so their tennis shoes and jeans were replaced by loafers and a trendy all-black wardrobe. After offering the gentleman some band-aids, I had to sigh and shake my head. I understand where his wife was coming from, but she might have gone a little too far.

Research tactics for not looking like an American tourist and you’ll see that some make sense and should probably be followed. I agree with tips to limit logo apparel, ditch the fanny pack in favor of a money belt, be mindful of new personal space expectations, leave big pieces of jewelry at home, and slow down and enjoy the relaxed pace. It’s also nice to learn several key phrases in the local language. Your pronunciation is likely to be off but many locals just appreciate the fact that you’re trying.

Beyond that, you need to use your best judgment. Leaving your comfortable tennis shoes at home could cause you to miss part of your itinerary if your new trendy Euro-loafers aren’t broken in. The same is true for the no-sock advice. Some travel sites would even tell you not to be obvious about taking photos. Again, that’s up to you but if you’ve spent your whole life dreaming of seeing the Eiffel Tower, why stop yourself from taking 100 photos just because you’re worried about looking like a tourist?

Make the simple changes but think long and hard about the rest. I think most locals would agree that they’re much more interested in your attitude and willingness to try new things than your apparel.

*Unless you really are a European and then I’d love to know your thoughts on the topic.

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Fresh to Order – Buckhead

Fresh to Order BuckheadIn our travels earlier this summer, we visited Fresh to Order in Buckhead, Georgia. The restaurant was recommended by a member of the valet staff at our hotel. I’m so glad we took the time to ask him for a recommendation.

Fresh to Order, or f2O, is a casual-dining atmosphere with fantastic meals made in about 10 minutes for roughly $10 per entree. The ingredients are chosen with care and the meals are very tasty.

When we walked in to f2O, the staff greeted us promptly and explained the concept. They were very eager to help with questions. Since everything was made fresh, they were happy to accommodate special requests with our order.

soup flightSince we both had light lunches, we were pretty hungry. We each started out with an appetizer. I chose the soup flight that features five different soups in sampler sizes. This is a great idea and I’m surprised that more restaurants don’t offer this.  My flight including tomato basil (Yumm and I don’t like tomato soup.), corn chowder (good but got a bit too sweet at the end), chicken and dumplings (good), chicken tortilla (very nice), and mushroom (my favorite!!).

Mr. McB had the ale laced chicken fingers. He said they were hot, juicy, and flavorful.

steak paniniFor our entrees, I had the bourbon filet steak panini. It was delicious beef with bleu cheese, caramelized onions, baby greens, and horseradish aioli. The flavors played well together. The sandwich was hot and the bread was deliciously crusty. The kettle chips were a nice side for the sandwich.

McB's meal from f2OMcB ordered the balsamic steak with baby greens and mac and cheese. The beef was tender and the balsamic Cabernet reduction added a fantastic flavor. He was happy with the mac-n-cheese as well.

We had a great experience at Fresh 2 Order. Our delicious food was prepared quickly and the whole meal was affordable. I’m sure we’ll make time to visit f20 on a future trip to Atlanta.

Traveling Thursday – Tip of the Hat

On a recent business trip, Mr. McB and his coworkers used the hotel’s free shuttle to go to dinner. On the return trip, one of the coworkers asked if the driver could stop at a store so she could buy some personal items. The driver gladly complied with her request. When the group left the shuttle, they tipped the driver. He was surprised that they would tip him.

I ran into a similar situation when the valet helped me with a few bags while the bellman was otherwise engaged. He was generally shocked when I pressed a few dollars into his hand.

On a walking tour a few years ago, I was the only person (out of a group of 30) to tip our fantastic guide.

I chose to believe that this isn’t a case of people being cheap but rather a lack of understanding of the importance of tipping workers within the hospitality industry. These folks (porters, valets, housekeepers, guides, drivers…) are there to make your experience special. You can reward their hard work with a tip in addition to learning their names and bragging about them on surveys and/or in your TripAdvisor review.

TravelSense offers a handy tipping guideline card. Magellan’s has a handy grid and Conde’ Nast offers a great article about tipping customs around the globe.

I highly recommend looking at your trip in advance and setting aside your tipping money in a special envelope. By putting the money aside, you know that you have the right denomination and by physically separating them, you won’t feel like the tips are cutting into your spending money.

Artisphere Greenville

artisphere greenville scMy tardiness is shameful but here I am posting about Artisphere, a festival that we attended back on May 12. Since Greenville hosts this event annually, I feel the information here is still relevant.

When McB and I went downtown for Artisphere we were looking forward to enjoying a nice walk while taking in some interesting pieces from a variety of vendors. That’s exactly what we got.

There were at least 100 different vendors selling everything from large, vibrant landscape photography to textiles and furniture. As with most art festivals, some items were within our budget and others were not. This time around it seems like the more I loved something, the more 0’s you’d find on the price tag. While we didn’t make any purchases at the festival, there are a couple of artists including Lisa Norris and Kreg Yingst that really made an impression.

The event did feature live music and some activities for kids. The live music, or at least the performances that were occurring while we were there, was found on a side street in a small, congested tent close to the food vendors. This configuration wasn’t ideal because most of the space in the tent was taken up by people eating lunch.

The food vendors did offer a good opportunity to try some small plates from a lot of Greenville restaurants. Mimi’s Steakhouse of Japan offered the best bargain of the day and their food was quite tasty.

It was a nice (free) event with lots to see. I’m sure we’ll be back for next year’s event, May 10-12, 2013.

bridge

chalk artist

We also treated ourselves to a stop at Luna Rosa for gelato. The ordering system (pay first, pick your flavors later) was a bit confusing but other than that, the service was good. McB got a vanilla and sweet cream frappe. He enjoyed it but it was definitely much different from the thick milkshakes that he normally prefers.

marsala berry gelatoI got three-berry Marsala gelato. The Marsala brought both a sweetness and an alcohol (winey?) flavor which went well with the sometimes tart berries. The gelato was very fresh and the texture was just right. By the end of the dish, the sweetness of the wine was becoming just a bit overpowering but it was a very inventive flavor and I’m glad I tried it.

Traveling Thursday – Thrifty is nifty.

As travelers, most of us are looking for a bargain. It’s why we use Priceline and Kayak or check flight prices around 3 p.m. on Tuesdays.

During our travels this summer, I’ve been thinking about other “hidden” tricks for keeping the cost of vacations low.

Loyalty = lower gas prices
Consider doing your shopping at a supermarket that allows you to rack up gas discounts through your grocery purchases. You can earn even more by buying gift cards at the same markets. Many outlets offer gas station, restaurant, and/or hotel gift cards. Why not get an extra benefit from money you’re already planning to spend on your vacation?

Membership has its privileges.
We all know that AAA and AARP members can save a lot on travel expenses but consider your other memberships as well. I know some alumni associations and professional groups that offer hotel and rental car discounts. If you are member of a zoo, aquarium, garden, museum or other attraction, find out if you can use reciprocal benefits during your travels. With most reciprocal agreements, you can enjoy at least a 50 percent discount on admission fees.

Pack your snacks.
Whether you are flying or driving, there could be major savings in bringing your own munchies. Airport stores and food marts at hotels and resorts are infamous for over-inflated prices. I can remember a trip to a resort market where the items were selling for more than the manufacturer’s suggested retail price.  By packing your own snacks, you avoid the high prices and make sure you’ve got nutritious options.

On trips to Vegas and Orlando, where we we staying in a unit with a kitchen, we took advantage of Southwest’s generous bag policy and packed staple food items in our extra bag. We were able to bring pasta, peanut butter, oatmeal, cereal, flat-breads, and canned soup. When we arrived, we still had to buy perishable items (at the higher resort-town prices) but we saved a lot of time and money by bringing what we could.  If you go this route, don’t be surprised to find a TSA inspection note in the bag.

Couponing isn’t just for the grocery store.
Be sure to pick up a coupon book found in most hotel lobbies or welcome centers. You can find some good deals while learning about the area you’re visiting.

Buy in advance?
Review the websites of the attractions you plan to visit to find out if you can get a discount by purchasing tickets in advance. I highly recommend buying advanced parking for sporting events and concerts. You can save money and avoid the hassle of lines.

Do you have any tricks for shaving the cost from your vacation? Leave your tips in the comments.

 

Traveling Thursday – Extreme Heat

We were in Atlanta last weekend during their record-breaking heat wave. When HOTlanta is breaking records, you know it’s hot.

It was while I was sitting at the open-air sauna Turner Field that I decided to write a post about traveling and/or being outside in extreme heat.

PLAN AHEAD

  • Consider the temperatures when you are packing. Look for light-colored, light-weigh natural materials. Dri-fit shirts are becoming very popular, and if you sweat profusely they can help you stay dry but consider the fact that the very thing that makes them effective might hurt you since your body cools down as sweat evaporates from your skin.
  • Pack a hat and sunscreen.
  • Pack an empty water bottle to help with hydration. There are collapsible versions that will not take up a lot of room in your luggage. There are also versions with both a filter and freezer stick built in. Look around and find the bottle with features that will work well and make you want to stay hydrated.
  • Schedule your activities around the weather. Go outdoors in the morning and early evening and save your indoor activities for midday. This could be the perfect time to see a movie, go shopping, visit a museum, or even take a nap.
  • Check for airline delays. Heat brings storms and potential airline delays. Stay on top of this situation by setting up text alerts from your carrier. If you are caught by a storm and need to rebook, stay as calm as possible. You don’t want to take your frustrations out on anyone but especially not that airline employee you are counting on for help.

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

  • STAY HYDRATED!!! It can’t be stated often enough. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink. You are bound to run into trouble if your body becomes dehydrated. The rule of thumb is that you should drink eight ounces of water for every hour spent outside.
  • Muscle cramps could signal bad things. Visit the CDC’s site for great information on spotting the signs of heat exhaustion/stroke.
  • If you are going to a sporting event, concert, festival, or theme park, scope out the first-aid area. If something happens and you need immediate assistance, seek out an employee.
  • Lather up with sunscreen and wear a hat.
  • Don’t overdo it. It would be better to juggle your schedule, even if it means missing a few outings, than to try too many activities only to be overcome by the heat.
  • Eat small meals. Watch your protein intake as these cause high metabolic heat.
  • Listen to your body. If you start to feel queasy, dizzy, or flushed get to a cool place. If you vomit, seek first aid or call 9-1-1. It doesn’t take long to go from slightly overheated to distressed.

Oh and one final world of advice, if you are going to the Braves game when it’s 106, limit the number of pre-game samples you allow yourself at World of Coke.