State of the ‘Tuner 2015

Most TV stations here in the US will be broadcasting the Presidential State of the Union Address tonight, but we’d like to offer a much briefer alternative. Ladies & Gentlemen, I submit to you our State of the ‘Tuner Address, with last year’s highlights and what we’ll bring in 2015.

Check out a preview of our sleek new TripTuner 2.0 design.  It’s fully optimized for mobile and tablet, for instant travel inspiration on the go – whether you’re in line at the supermarket, at the doctor’s office or stuck in a boring meeting.  Same addictive sliders, plus a rich tapestry of photos that wrap across your screen to help you find the right place for your next escape.

Click for a preview of TripTuner 2.0!

Whether or not you’ll be listening to O, you should know about our “MO” – the MOmentum gained from 3x growth last year.  We’re using it as a springboard to innovate even more than we did in 2014.  Some high points:

• CNN picks TripTuner #1 of “12 websites that’ll make you a smarter traveller.”

DressTuner 2.0 goes live on Zappos (yeah, we do that too!)

Bahamas’ Wedding Tuner debuts at the posh Per Se restaurant in NYC.

Visit Florida’s Beach Finder launches featuring Google Street …er, Beach View

• Brazil’s TAM Viagens arrives as our first airline partner, with “Inspire Me.” Belleza!

Soccer Tuner helps agnostic World Cup fans pick which team to back. Gooooool!!!

• Kempinski Hotels announces their “Tune in to Summer” promotion.

• Utah launches our latest project with Brand USA: Alpine or Red Rocks, anyone?

• France’s Havas Voyages unveils a rebranded “Inspirez-Moi” in our 3rd year together.

• October 15, 2014 marked our 3rd anniversary.

We’ve got much more in store and we’ll continue to listen to you, our loyal fans on how we may improve.  So enjoy TripTuner 2.0 on your phone, keep the suggestions coming and thanks for all your support. We wish you all the best for a fantastic 2015! #StayTTuned

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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My Sedona: Playing Hooky on the Rocks

Thanks to bill85704 for the photo

Sometimes trip ideas come to you in the blink of an eye. One minute you are sitting at your computer wishing you were outside and an hour later you’re in a car driving through a stunning red rock canyon.

Nothing says summer like blowing off responsibilities and heading outdoors for some fun in the sun. I was hard at work yesterday when my daughter asked if we could go to swimming. Like Tom Sawyer ditching piano lessons to go to go for a dip with Huck, I decided that a morning of swimming holes and natural water slides in Sedona, Arizona would be just the ticket for both of us – and luckily we didn’t have an Aunt Polly to answer to after visiting this week’s #WhereToGoWednesday destination.

Sedona, about two hours north of Phoenix and 45 minutes south of Flagstaff, is justifiably famous for the magnificent red buttes that ring the town. The year-round mild climate and surreal, cosmically-imbued formations attract travelers to Sedona like the healing magnets found in the town’s many New Age stores. Less well known are the waters that run through the area which have played their part in carving the majestic slabs. Oak Creek, slicing its way south from the Colorado Plateau near Flagstaff, has sculpted many world-class swimming holes in this spectacular natural setting. Here are some of our favorites:

Slide Rock State Park 
Named by Life Magazine as one of America’s ten most beautiful swimming holes, Slide Rock is the gold (or should I say “red”?) standard for fun in the creek. Located on an old farmstead and apple orchard along the creek, the park offers natural water slides, picnic areas, and cliff jumping. Extremely popular in the summer, the park’s parking lot limits how many people are allowed in the water. As soon as it fills up, no more visitors are let in until somebody leaves. My daughter and I hustle down the canyon and make it just in time, as the lot closed three cars after us. Whew.

We walk through the orchard to get down to the water’s edge. Stunning red rocks, worn smooth by the flow of water, have created natural water slides. Although the air is warm, the water is bracing, making for a refreshing contrast. We start on the lower, tamer set of slides and then work our way up to the larger and faster shoots. S is now old enough to also enjoy hurling herself off the 20-foot ledges down into the water – something that I love to do but that scares me when she does it.
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Go Under-the-Radar in Europe this Summer

Last year my husband Bryan and I were kicking around trip ideas. TripTuner had not launched yet, so we weren’t lucky enough to be able to fine tune a range of personalized options for our summer vacation. We had to do the research ourselves. I wanted Italy for the fantastic food and romantic scenery, but felt like that would have been too easy since I’ve been a few times already. Bryan was leaning towards an active trip with mountains and outdoor adventure. We found all of that and more when we stumbled across the tiny country of Slovenia.  It’s capital Ljubljana is this week’s #WhereToGoWednesday destination.

With a population of only two million, Slovenia is an unknown travel spot to many American vacationers. Sandwiched between Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia, the tiny country — which is part of the E.U. — is about the size of New Jersey (but all similarities end there). Slovenia offers towering alps, Italianate wine country, Adriatic coastline, and abundant outdoor adventures all within a few hours’ drive.

Logistically, the country is easy to get to and travel around. We arrived on the national airline, Adria Airways, just a short flight from Zurich. Renting a car was the way to go, as the highways are excellent, it offered us great freedom, and the price was right. We could even use our iPhones to navigate.

If your idea of a great vacation includes miles of hiking trails, back-country huts, mountain biking, rafting, spelunking, or canyoning, Slovenia is just your place. If you’d also like gourmet meals, surprisingly good wine, and wandering cobblestone streets, then Slovenia works as well. Here are a few highlights from our trip (please feel free to add your own tips and experiences to our comments section below):

Trekking the Julian Alps

Stark and menacing compared to the soft green foothills at its base, the craggy limestone peaks of the Julian Alps straddle part of the border between Italy and Slovenia. Dominated by 9,300-foot Mount Triglav, Slovenia’s highest peak, much of the Julian Alps lie within Triglav National Park. With miles of hiking trails and an established back-country hut-to-hut camping system, the park was one of our first destinations. We drove the scenic winding road over the pass and stopped for an alpine hike along the way. We took our trip in late June, a fantastic time to travel the country. School is not out yet, so there are no crowds, but the weather is warm enough to enjoy a wide array of activities. We only saw one other couple, Austrians who had crossed over for the day, on our two-hour hike.
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Adventure Travel Within Reach, Baja-Style

Thanks to Bryan Estep for the photo taken at Villa del Palmar

I LOVE outdoor adventure travel. But logistics can be a pain. If I am planning a trip with limited vacation time, and just getting to the activity from my hotel is going to take longer than the activity itself, I’ll bag the whole deal. On the other hand, some of my favorite trip activities — like hiking, kayaking, and scuba diving –generally involve advanced coordination and transport time. (Sigh). What’s a girl to do? Well, you can travel to Loreto, Mexico — this week’s #WhereToGoWednesday destination. You can fly directly there in under two hours from Los Angeles, and once you’ve arrived, Loreto provides some of the most accessible adventure travel options anywhere.

Last week my husband Bryan and I stole away to Loreto for the long Memorial Day weekend. Loreto is a picturesque colonial town tucked between the rugged Sierra Gigante Mountains and the placid, cobalt Sea of Cortez, about two-thirds of the way down Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Although the town itself is quite appealing — with a well-preserved, centuries-old Jesuit mission and leafy square — the Bay of Loreto National Marine Park is the real draw.

Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002, the marine park covers over 500,000 acres and includes a number of uninhabited islands easily reachable from shore. It’s North America’s version of the Galapagos Islands, with some 695 plant species, 891 fish species, and 39% of the world’s total species of marine mammals. This makes it a Mecca for ocean activities like scuba diving, kayaking, and sport-fishing. The calm waters of the Sea of Cortez are the perfect place to paddle around to quiet, isolated beaches. But what amazed us was how easy it was to experience these off-shore delights.

Our resort, Villa del Palmar, is perfectly situated south of town and directly in front of the islands of Loreto. Sitting on our balcony the first morning, we were transfixed by expansive views that included layers of corduroy mountains, a calm, blue bay with a few anchored sloops, and multiple craggy desert (and deserted) islands just off shore. We couldn’t wait to get out there — and luckily, we didn’t have to. After a quick stop by the activities desk, we walked down to the beach where we were outfitting with snorkeling gear and a two-person kayak. Total time investment—about ten minutes. How easy was that?

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Three Memorial Day Trip Ideas from a Panicked Mom

Ten days till Memorial Day weekend.  Work’s been crazy, so I haven’t had a chance to even think about trip ideas.  But I’m not going to let the start of summer slip away. Here’s what I did…

Being new at TripTuner, I figured that I need to become an expert on on the site quickly — what better way than to use it to plan my family’s own getaway? I hop onto the homepage and start adjusting the sliders.

Relaxing vs. Active? Adults vs Kid-friendly? Hmmm.  I’ll definitely need to balance this well.  My energetic nine-year old will need some outdoor options for running around, but since I’m wearing the trip-planning hat for this one, my husband and I better like it, too.  So the first slider moves to active, and I’ll keep the second one in the middle. Beaches and mountains are both fine with me, and I can either liven things up or go remote for this trip so I’ll keep those in the middle as well.  (Mom and Dad would push it all the way to remote, but with daughter in tow and a shorter vacation time frame, we’ll keep it in the middle). I know, I’m not going out on any limbs here, but I’m open for suggestions.  Here are the top 3 that TripTuner came up with:

thanks to monikomad for the photo

Flagstaff, Arizona
Wow. TripTuner nailed it. This funky mountain town just a few hours north of Phoenix is my family’s favorite in-state getaway. With 50 miles of urban trails and thousands of acres of National Forest, it’s a place we can all get our fingers in the dirt while biking, hiking, and playing in the pine and aspen woods. We’ll explore haunting 800-year-old pueblo ruins or star gaze at Lowell Observatory, where the now-demoted Pluto was discovered. The 7,000 foot elevation means temperatures that are 20 to 30 degrees cooler than Phoenix – something you won’t hear any complaints about from my crew. Memorial Day Weekend kicks off the summer in Flag with free Movies on the Square on Friday nights, free Summer Concerts, and the first Sunday Farmer’s Market of the season. Oh yeah, and the Grand Canyon is only an hour away.
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Just Back from London

Tower Bridge, London

Tower Bridge at night, viewed from a Thames River boat.

Just back from London and the World Travel Market with our Editor at Large (and New York Times Bestselling Author) Franz Wisner. Had an enjoyable and productive week introducing TripTuner to a select group of old colleagues and prospective partners alike. Year in and out, this event often delivers as much benefit from the chance encounters as with scheduled meetings. Only time will tell, but it seems we made a good impression, receiving many compliments on creating an exciting, engaging new way to help travelers find places in tune with their tastes. While there wasn’t much time for exploring, we did manage to take in a few sights en route to evening events and dinners: going through the Thames river locks; floating beneath a spectacularly lit Tower Bridge; strolling past an illuminated Big Ben and Parliament before viewing the city from the top of Millbank Tower. We checked out the freshly renovated Four Seasons Park Lane as well as the new Aloft hotel–thumbs up on both. After a pleasant dinner at Kentner’s in Soho (tasty French-brasserie fare and Champagne bar in a hip but accessible townhouse atmosphere) we had a chilled vodka martini nightcap at Duke’s Bar— the place where local lore says Ian Fleming conjured 007’s famous “shaken, not stirred” preference. All in all a successful quick trip, and we didn’t really notice the fact that we hadn’t seen the sun for 4 days. But hey, that’s London!