If you could travel for a year, where would you go?

One of the #RTW98 series of posts looking back on the ‘round the world trip that inspired the creation of TripTuner 20 years ago. It’s a story of personal growth and change, with impressions of fascinating places and people around the globe. If you’ve ever considered extended travel, taking a sabbatical or gap year or just wondered what it may be like, this is for you.

If you had an entire year to travel anywhere around the world, where would you go?

It’s a wonderfully tantalizing question.  Try it out on yourself or a friend.  Usually, people will reel off a few bucket list destinations or experiences dreamed up over time: see the Grand Canyon, climb Kilimanjaro, search for the Komodo dragon.  Me? I’d like to snorkel with whale sharks in the Seychelles.

Dig deeper and you’ll sense a person’s appetite for adventure, their passions and a glimpse of their worldview – very helpful in today’s polarized society.  I love exploring new places, so it was easy to create a wish list for my jaunt around the globe.  The more foreign, exotic and different they sounded, the better.  Kelimutu? Cool.  Ouagadougou? Sign me up. Continue reading

Why I Quit My Job to Travel Around the World 20 Years Ago.

20 years ago last month, I boarded Varig Flight 855 from Washington Dulles to Sao Paulo on a trip that would change my life forever.  It was the beginning of an epic 11-month adventure around the world, the dream trip of a lifetime that inspired the creation of TripTuner and reinforced a desire to live life on my own terms.  Yet as I boarded that flight, I thought I was making the biggest mistake of my life.

This is the first in a series of #RTW98 posts looking back on that trip: the mechanics and logistics as well as the inner journey, with reflections on how life may have changed in the exotic lands I visited.  Like many journeys it is admittedly #allaboutme – very personal. But if you’ve ever considered traveling around the world or taking a sabbatical, you’ll find inspiration and tips for your own jaunt. If you’ve done it, I welcome you to relive that unique magic with me.

RTW98-1 Grootfontein

Sometimes life presents you with a choice between two diametrically opposed options, both of which are right.

SPARK

Since childhood, I’ve loved to travel.  But the thought of traveling around the world – and quitting my job to do it – never crossed my mind until I experienced the corporate world.  After 6 years in an intense sales job, I was ready for a change. It wasn’t a dream job, but I loved the independence, social aspect and challenge of sales.  Not to mention it was lucrative – it helped me pay off student loans, buy professional DJ gear and visit Europe and the Caribbean every year. The feeling of being debt-free was empowering, sparking thoughts of jumping off the cutthroat corporate treadmill. Continue reading

Feeling Right at Home on a Minneapolis Business Trip

It was good to be squinting.  The rising August sun beamed off Lake Minnewashta, fragmenting into millions of diamonds around my paddle as a gentle breeze offset the rising temperature.  It’s a business trip, and I’m on a paddleboard.  Sweet, right?

Minnesota, paddleboard, SUP, lake, travel

Experiencing a place like a local resident is a desire for many travelers these days.  Lately, it’s increasingly a key ingredient for business trips as well.  Just look at airbnb’s business travel tagline: “Travel for work, feel at home.”

On a recent trip to a Minneapolis conference, I rode this trend like Paul Bunyan on Babe the Blue Ox. Here’s how I rolled (in an intentionally non-numeric list, because the world has reached listicle peak): Continue reading

Destination Inspiration from the Headlines

Thanks to Arian Zwegers for the photo

Read the news headlines of late and you know that parts of Europe are going through some hard times with budget cuts and austerity programs. Read between those lines, however, and you can be inspired with trip ideas. With the dollar strengthening against the Euro and demand for hotels in those areas softening, now is the time to take that shoulder-season vacation to southern Europe. As such, we’re highlighting our favorite Greek Island, Santorini, as this week’s #WhereToGoWednesday destination.

There have been some sporadic demonstrations in Athens (hey, we have those here too), but Santorini is worlds away from any tension. You’ll feel all of your own tensions melt away when you arrive to this idyllic postcard come to life with its cobalt-blue-topped, white-washed buildings spilling down the hillsides of the crescent-shaped volcanic island. Winding alleyways, public walking paths, hillsides terraced with bushy grapevines and mesmerizing beaches await the traveler. What’s not to love?

Santorini, also known as Thira, is the southern-most island of the Cycladic group of islands located in the Aegean Sea. It’s 63 nautical miles north of Crete, has a population of about 14,000 distributed among 13 villages, and covers 28 square miles. Here are some of our recommendations should you find yourself visiting this light-bathed beauty:

Take a Walk
Our favorite times on the island have involved unscheduled exploration. The six-mile walking path from Fira to Oia, along a ridge that used to be the lip of the volcano, is not to be missed. You’ll follow the path through small villages and churches that practically demand dawdling. If you can time your meanderings to end up in Oia (also known as Ia) at sunset you’ll be rewarded with one of those moments that sears into your memory for years. Just follow the troops of Apollo worshipers to the zigzagged levels of walkways that offer the best viewing spots and watch a red ball of fire descend into the Aegean.

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The Best-Preserved Colonial Town on the Equator

 

Thanks to jrubenek for the photo

We took a few weeks off from the blog posts at TripTuner because we were doing some late summer traveling ourselves, but are now ready and raring to highlight more of the great destinations found on our site. Columbus Day is just a few weeks away, so now’s the time to start planning your trip. In honor of Columbus’ arrival to the new world, we thought we would highlight a destination in Latin America. This week’s locale is one of the most beautiful capital cities in the Spanish-speaking world: Quito, Ecuador.

Folded between green pleats of rolling hills and the Pinchincha volcano, Quito’s setting is spectacular. Terraced plots on the hillside are decorative mosaics above the shiny metropolis. The whitewashed buildings and colonial masterpieces of Old Town give way to expansive parks and modern edifices as you move up the valley. It really is quite staggering to find such natural beauty in a metropolis of about 2.5 million people.

My husband Bryan and I spent weeks on end in Quito while we were researching a guidebook on Ecuador. The town has it all – intriguing museums, excellent hotels, superior shopping opportunities, and unique colonial architecture. You might even find a Columbus Day (know in Ecuador as “Día de la Raza,” or “Day of the People”) parade while you’re there.

Here are some of my highlights of the city:

Old Town – Quito Antigua
There may be a higher concentration of colonial churches and religious art in Quito’s downtown than anywhere else in the world. That, and the fact that many of the buildings have been maintained in the colonial style, led UNESCO to name the entire area a World Heritage Site. I won’t go into detail about all there is to see downtown, but will simply call out some of my favorites. The tranquil Independence Plaza, with its spotless, manicured lawns, is a must-visit. Closed to traffic on two sides, it’s one of the mellower spots downtown. The soaring Gothic and Baroque-influenced Metropolitan Cathedral, one of the oldest in South America, sits on one edge of the plaza, while the Government Palace is on another. Also worth a visit is the San Francisco Monastery – take a look up to the choir area to notice the elaborate Moorish-style ceiling and large organ. The organ, capable of playing over 5000 notes, is only played once a year because the intricate wooden ceiling is made without nails or glue. Should one piece of wood be vibrated loose, the whole thing will fall.

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Supping Your Way through Seattle

 

Thanks to Acradenia for the photo.

TripTuner reached a key company milestone last week when we exhibited at our first trade show in Seattle. What a wonderful place to “have” to visit when most of the country is breaking heat records. We were greeted with perfect 75 degree and sunny weather — just what Seattle’s Convention & Visitors Bureau ordered. We were so taken by our visit that we have decided to feature the city as this week’s #WhereToGoWednesday locale.

We were in town for the Destination Marketing Association International’s 2012 annual convention. Although the convention kept us busy most of the day and into the night, we still managed to delve into some of the city’s flourishing food scene. You might want to check out some of these spots the next time you are planning a trip to the Emerald City.

The event’s opening night celebration took place on the waterfront at Bell Harbor. Located just up the waterfront from foodie Mecca Pike Place Market, Bell Harbor offers stunning views of Elliott Bay, the Olympic Mountains, and the Seattle Skyline. Against this backdrop we were treated to some of the state’s top culinary and viticultural delights. Here are a few standouts:

Dusted Valley Vintners
This Walla Walla winery was the most memorable for us among the many excellent options at the event. The Syrah was smooth and flavorful with a silky finish and the Rosé was perfect for a warm Seattle evening — very similar to a Côtes de Provence. As the Dusted Valley owners say, “The first two glasses are for your health, the second two are for ours.” Let’s just say that the owners should be feeling pretty healthy these days. (Although the winery is located in eastern Washington, they do have a tasting room about 30 minutes northeast of downtown Seattle that would be worth a visit.)

El Gaucho
After treating our palates to an array of fine cheeses and slurping away at the oyster bar, we were looking for something a little more substantive. The tender and juicy steak from Seattle’s El Gaucho fit the bill. Serving 28-day dry-aged Niman Ranch Angus Beef, El Gaucho prepares its steaks on a one-of-a-kind charcoal grill in an open-exhibition style kitchen. Whatever the process, the outcome is pure delicioso. We were tempted to stop by their downtown Seattle restaurant another evening to sit outside on the waterfront deck and take advantage of the perfect weather, but simply ran out of time.

Theo Chocolate
This swoon-inducing chocolate is made by the first organic, fair trade, bean-to-bar chocolate factory in the United States. Theo’s growers earn a living wage, the factory is powered by green energy sources, and packing and printing methods are sustainable. Most importantly however, the chocolate is divine. The factory, located on Phinney Avenue in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, is open for public tours daily. In addition to learning all about how chocolate is made, you get plenty of tasting opportunities.
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100 Hours of Felicidad in Central America’s New Hotspot

FeThanks to SE Estep for the photo.

One of my favorite books is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude. The novel’s fictional town of Macondo, where the illogical is viewed as normal, is as central to the book as the main characters. Although the story is supposed to be set in Marquez’s home country of Colombia, I felt as close to visiting Macondo as I ever have in Nicaragua, this week’s #WhereToGoWednesday destination.

Nicaragua is on my mind because a friend of mine just came to me asking for Central America trip ideas. She knows that I have lived and traveled throughout Latin America, so trusted me for some guidance on her next vacation. My advice to her (and to anybody that reads this blog post) is to book a flight to the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes. A perfect spot for a four-day – roughly 100 hours – visit.

Nicaragua offers a bit of everything for adventurous travelers – the country possesses jungles teeming with monkeys, parrots, and other exotic animals; pristine, empty beaches; charming colonial towns; vast lakes studded with volcanoes; and even Caribbean islands.

Most Americans know Nicaragua only from the headlines created during the Sandinista Revolution in late 70s and early 80s. Over the last twenty years however, the country has transformed into a peaceful and safe vacation destination. Discovered and frequented by backpackers in the last decade, the country is now developing a burgeoning sector of stylish boutique resorts as well. If you wonder what Costa Rica might have been like 20 years ago, then book a flight to Managua, Nicaragua to find out. Here are two don’t miss areas:

Granada
Founded in 1524, Granada offers a surreal mixture of the old and new about an hour southeast of Managua — horse-drawn carriages share the road with ox-carts and motorcycles while centuries-old buildings bear advertisements for cellular phone companies. Parque Colón, the town’s main plaza, comes right out of central casting. A yellow cathedral anchors one end of the tree-covered park and brightly painted facades grace the buildings surround its exterior. To the south looms giant Volcano Mombacho and to the east lays Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America.

A parade of humanity uses the plaza as its living room. Old men play cards at rickety tables, women sit gossiping on benches, kids snap old-fashioned clappers, and birds chatter in the trees. The tropical heat slows all movement down to a dreamlike pace.
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