Thursday, July 31, 2014

When In Rome....

 Enjoy La Dolce Vita when vacationing in Italy by becoming a local and following these 5 simple rules....
This is what I envision my next Italian vacation to look like...
1.  Stay with a local:
This is not for everyone but it is a great way to experience the country from a local perspective.  In Italy its called an agriturismo.  Here in the United States you may have heard of Woofing - technically the same thing.  Agriturismo is essentially a working farm with accommodation built in and also you will get home cooked meals as well as interactions with the family.  It is complete immersion into the culture.

2.  Enjoy local delicacies
It is easy to just eat where you are familiar when in a foreign country but its hard to really dive in like a local would eat.  But why then are you visiting a foreign land - did you spend all that money to just to eat McDonalds?  I don't think so!  And when in Italy the food is outstanding and can teach a lot about the region you are in when you try dishes that are specific to that area.  For example, Limoncello (something I have always to try) can only be called such if it is made with lemons from Sorrento.

3.  Take a hike
There truly is no better way to get to know your surroundings by hopping out of the taxi and using your own two feet.  You can meet locals, learn street names, which way is east, west, up or down (always my issue), and where your local "go to" shops are.  Stop and ask locals, if you are comfortable, for directions or where their favorite coffee shop is.  Italians are extremely kind people and love to share their cities with us.  And always, ALWAYS take your camera with you...inspiration is around every corner.

4.  Learn the language
I have to say that it is the best advice ever and no it does not mean that you have to be fluent to get out and about.  All it means is take the time to learn a few key words and phrases that will make your experience a world better!  Also, when you are in a restaurant actually say what you want instead of pointing, it will help you remember what you like and dislike - same with anywhere you go.  

5.  Get out on the town
Everyone knows that alcohol brings people together so hit the streets and head to a local bar or pub.  In general locals are very proud of where they are from and will welcome any reason to tell you the best places to dine, shop, drink, or play.  They will divulge all their cultural secrets over a glass of wine if you let them!  

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Not only do these rules apply to Italy but anywhere you vacation to.  I am an avid South American vacationer and when I am there I am not afraid to walk to the store by myself (within reason), or make friends with our neighbors, try to the local food, or spend time with a local family.  
It gives me the chance to practice a foreign language, learn my surroundings, see where the locals hang, and make friends.  

On your next vacation try to be a local not a tourist...let me know if you have a different experience over all!  

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Photo of the day
Photograph by Michele Amoruso, Your Shot

Nat Geo's Picks For Best Beach Towns In America

I know this is ridiculous but I automatically trust anything that National Geographic says to be true.  They are one of the largest nonprofit scientific and educational institutions in the world so when they rank something as simple as "best beach towns" I feel there is some merit behind it!  

Anyone feel the same way?
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First off - I am ALWAYS looking for fantastic beach towns...primarily to relocate too but also for vacations. 

 I can exhaust all my knowledge of the beaches I know off the top of my head but it always comes down to researching on the internet.  Most of the time towns come up that offer miniature golf, boardwalks and tattoo parlors.....NOT what I am looking for in a perfect beach town! 

After taking a look at what National Geographic's staff ranked to be the best of the best, I have agreed with what they consider with them.  MINUS the beach towns in New Jersey....working in the Outer Banks has ruined my entire image of the state....I am going to leave it at that.

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Cannon Beach, Oregon
Haystack Rock
“At only an hour-and-a-half drive away, Cannon Beach was an easy day trip from Portland, where I used to live. With access to scenic hiking trails at Ecola State Park, great views of the towering Haystack Rock (which made a memorable appearance in the 1985 coming-of-age classic The Goonies), and a number of mom-and-pop stores and restaurants, Cannon Beach has a little bit of everything I look for in a beach town.” —Tyler Metcalfe, associate photo producer, National Geographic Travel

It seems that Cannon Beach is one of Oregon's quaintest and picturesque destinations.  With nine miles of shoreline it is perfect for long walks, shelling, observing nature or picking the perfect spot for your family to relax.  The town itself has put in place strict regulations that limit large chain stores or restaurants coming to town so the picturesque charm will always be there.    

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Pawley's Island, South Carolina

About 70 miles from Charleston, this sleepy retreat is the home of the Pawleys Island hammock, an institution since it was first crafted in the late 1800s—and symbolic of the slow-down-and-hang feeling of the place. Fronting the Atlantic are rustic, sea-blasted cottages, many on stilts and spacious enough to accommodate several families at close quarters. Behind the beach is an inlet bristling with crabs. Tradition here: At night, ride inner tubes from the inlet through a narrow channel to the ocean and stir up the twinkling phosphorescence that trails you like a meteor shower.” —Keith Bellows, editor in chief, National Geographic Traveler

This pick reminds me of the Outer Banks of North Carolina where the beaches are wide, the houses are rustic (some million dollar rustic), everyone knows each other, and people actually appreciate nature.  Yes, hands down this is a FANTASTIC beach town!

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Cayucos, California 

About halfway between L.A. and San Francisco on California’s often overlooked Central Coast lies the sleepy beach town of Cayucos, noted for its long fishing pier and the irresistible aromas emanating from the Brown Butter Cookie Company. There are thePaso Robles wineries and dormant volcanoes to the west, a beach full of enormous lounging elephant seals to the north near over-the-top Hearst Castle, and iconic Morro Rock looming up out of the ocean to the south. A fun way to get there from L.A. is by Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner: Look out the window and you may see dolphins frolicking in the waves (I did).” —Marilyn Terrell, chief researcher, National Geographic Traveler

Again, I feel that the staff at National Geographic knows how to speak to my soul.  And for all of you who keep up with my blog know that I ADORE the Central Coast of California!  Big Sur holds a very, very special place in my soul.  What is not to love about Cayucos?  With a population is only 2,991 and located on the beautiful Estero Bay it is a complete resort town that will provide relaxation that you cannot get in the California Valley and metropolitan areas.   

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Carmel By The Sea, California

“My sister has a cute bungalow in Carmel. Lucky me, because often when my husband and I go home to California she invites us to spend time there. The beach is ruggedly gorgeous, with tide pools at the northern end adored by her kids. It’s typically too cold to swim, but we like to spread a blanket on the sand and watch the sun fall into the Pacific over a glass of Salinas Valley wine. In the morning, after a run along beachfront Scenic Road to Carmel Mission and back, we stop into Carmel Valley Coffee or—for a splurge—the most amazing French toast smothered in homemade cinnamon maple syrup at Em Le’s. Then it’s off to hike in Point Lobos State Park in search of sea otters and sea lions, admire art in the many galleries on and off Ocean Avenue, or perhaps wine taste in any number of tasting rooms that have popped up around town as we wait again for the sun to set.” —Barbara A. Noe, senior editor, National Geographic Travel Books

Ok ya'll - sign me up and lets move NOW!  Again, its the charm of central California that I love.  
The way Barbara describes her time there is everything I want out of life. 
 Am I there now, no.  
Was I there, yes.  
Why did I move from the beach to a city?  
I have no freaking clue!

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Beaufort, North Carolina

“Beaufort leaves the tattoo parlors and taffy shops to other resort towns. Here you’ll stroll through a historic district of 18th- and 19th-century West Indian-style homes and dine at indie eateries (like Blue Moon Bistro) that serve truly local seafood and veggies. And your beach? It comes with wild horses. The pristine and largely empty sands ofShackleford Banks are a ferry ride away, part of the protected Cape Lookout National Seashore.” 
—Norie Quintos, executive editor, National Geographic Traveler

Now, I have to say that I am super proud that this sweet seaside village made the cut because it is where I am from.  I grew up 40 minutes away and this was our escape from reality and still is.  When you are there you feel safe, happy, welcomed, and young.  It is a quaint, and perfect town that translates exactly what Eastern North Carolina is.

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Call United Military Travel today to book your next vacation to any of these beaches or your favorite spot!  

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What is your favorite beach town?  Is it similar to these or is more of a boardwalk town?  I would love to hear from you, leave a comment on where your favorite beach is!

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Photo Of The Day

Photograph by Anup Shah and Fiona Rogers, National Geographic

9 Of The Best FREE Travel Apps

Lets face it - not everyone is going to go off the grid when they vacation.  I personally take my phone with me but try to only call home ONCE while away....its called a vacation for a reason.

But I also recognize that its handy and that a lot of people love having their technology with them at all times.

United Military Travel offers a plethora of travel accessories that can help you access any of these apps.  So when you book your trip with them inquire on how you can get a tablet to go with you on vacation!   

For that reason here is the top 9 Free travel apps

1.  XE Currency Converter
Apple, Android, Blackberry 10, Windows Phone, Windows 8, Firefox OS
Have you ever found yourself in foreign country contemplating buying a momento and wondering if you are getting ripped off?  Trying to do math in your head while getting the stink face from the vendor  is never easy.  This is prime example of when using this handy dandy app would help.  XE Currency Converter allows you to compare over 180 currencies and here is the BEST part of this app...
You can use it OFFLINE because it saves the last available rates!

2. Onavo Extend
Apple, Android
One reason I do not use my phone when traveling is because I am TERRIFIED of the data charges that I may rack up....just to check Facebook - totally not worth it!
This app lets you keep track of your data by using cloud servers to compress the data you use.  I honestly have no idea what that means but I do know that when you compress data you do reduce the quality of images etc.  When surfing the web this app will let you know how much data each page, app, and email will use saving your wallet when you get home.

3.  Around Me
Apple, Android, Windows Phone
I could have used this app when I was driving through California and needed cash.  The only ATM I could find was at a sketchy gas station in a bad neighborhood and it ended up taking $20 from me!  So this app in good domestically and internationally.
Not only does this app locate ATMS but anything else you need/want.  It allows users to browse what is nearby and quickly locates anything from the nearest hospital to bars and coffee shops.  Not only that but it will provide reviews from Yelp and FourSquare users!

4.  TripIt
Apple, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7
If you have ever planned a trip you probably remember the amount of research you did and having to save all the confirmation emails on the bookings you did ahead of time.  This app allows you to organize your entire itinerary by forwarding all your emails to the app.  Along with the organization, you can add notes, phone numbers, confirmation numbers, addresses, etc and can operate with any company you book with.  

5.  WiFi Finder
This app does exactly what the title implies - it finds WiFi in 145 countries with a database of over 890,000 free and pay hotspots.  This is immensely helpful because it can help cut down on data charges and giving you options other than the local coffee shop to surf the web.  Not only that but you can filter your search to what kind of location you are looking for ie. a library, restaurant, park etc. 

6.  TuneIn
Apple, Android, Windows
If you love music this app is for you!  TuneIn allows you to listen to over 100,000 live radio stations from around the world, wherever you are.

7.  Viber
Apple, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone
This app is great for when you are traveling for a long period of time and make friends or when you have to be in contact with home while away.  It banishes the days of high phone bills from calls and messaging abroad.  It allows you to send messages, pictures and make phone calls to OTHER VIBER USERS wherever they are in the world.  All for free but it will use data so make sure you take use it when connected to WiFi.

8.  Hotel Tonight
Apple, Android, Windows Phone
I personally would use this app because I HATE planning a trip out before I even arrive at my destination.  The way I travel I never know if when I am going to arrive, leave, stay, etc so this is a fantastic app for the sporadic traveler that hates to commit but still wants a well-priced hotel when ready.  Hotel Tonight's last minute options allow you to take advantage of great prices and even book a room up until 2am.  It is available in most large western European cities, as well as Canada, Mexico, and the USA. 

9.  Hostelworld
Apple, Android
Again, another app I would use because I LOVE hostels.  So depending on if I wanted to a little bit of "luxury" I would use Hotel Tonight but if I needed to save money I would use this app.  Its data base has access to over 35,000 properties in 180 countries with 3.5 million reviews so this simple app lets you track down cheap, high-quality hostel dorms with little fuss!

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Photo Of The Day

Photograph by Logan Watts, National Geographic Your Shot

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Midnight Sun Safari

Doesn't the title, Midnight Sun Safari,  just peak your interest?
But what does it mean????
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Lets travel to Lofoten, Norland, Norway to check out the sun's never ending rays produced around the clock for a once in a lifetime, fairy tale safari!  I am choosing Lofoten but there are a number of other villages that will allow you to witness the natural phenomenon - see them below!

First: Where is Lofoten?!?!?!

Lofoten is an archipelago located in the Norwegian Sea north of the Arctic Circle and is considered a part of Norway.  It is a fairy-tale town nestled in between jagged snow peaked mountains with quaint fishing hamlets and is the departure point to for the midnight sun safari.  

Second: How to get there? Sounds kinda remote...

I suggest booking your vacation through United Military Travel because this is a vacation that is kinda remote and is going to require some research.  That is where you let go of the reins and hand over your ideas to your travel consultant.  Make sure you tell them to go ahead and book all of your airfare, car rentals, and hotels at once so when you get over there you can be stress free!  

Lofoten consists of seven main islands and the closet airport is Harstad/Narvik Airport Evenes which is located 2.5 hours east and it offers daily service from Oslo.  Once you arrive at the airport, pick up your pre-paid rental car and drive to Lofoten to check into your hotel.
The Norway visitors website is a great tool to help you plan your vaca! 

Third: What is a midnight sun???

The midnight sun is a natural phenomenon in which the sun is above the horizon at midnight.  And the rest of the night. And all day long!  At Nordkapp the sun stays shining for over 1,800 hours with setting.  It is caused by the tilt in the Earth's axis and as we orbit the Sun, the tilt makes the North Pole face towards the sun in summer and away from it in the winter.  Hence continuous daylight in the summer.  

Fourth: How to experience the midnight sun


  1. 1.
    the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.

Magic is what you are going to experience when you take the midnight voyage to open water, where the golden sky seems to melt effortlessly in the shimmering sea.  
According to you will navigate through narrow fjords on your way to the open ocean at the northern end of Lofoten and on your trip out you will witness white-tailed sea eagles swooping down stretching their 8 foot wing span for their fresh catch along with otters and other sea life. 

As you can probably imagine, having the sun shine 24/7 might mess up your sleeping habits.  Take this time to take advantage of being able to do outdoor activities around the clock.
*Take a hike to get a birds eye view of the sun right at midnight over the Norwegian Sea. 

*Fish around the clock

*Golf at Lofoten Golf Links any time of the day in the summer - they are open 24 hours.

*Take a boat tour 

*Set up your camera equipment on a sea side cliff and capture nature at its finest.

Famous Midnight Sun spots

Some locations in the north are known for their Midnight Sun view:
  • Mount Rønvikfjellet in Bodø overlooks the Midnight Sun, Landegode island and the Lofoten islands.
  • Eggum on the northern side of Lofoten offers free ocean view
  • The Cable Car in Narvik is 656 metres/2152 ft above the fjord
  • From Nupen near Harstad you see the sun towards the peaks of Grytøya Island
  • At Tungenesset on the Island of Senja the sun illuminates the rock formation of Okshornan
  • The Cable Car in Tromsø with the sun above the the peak of Ringvassøya Island
  • Mount Komsafjellet in Alta with a fjord view
  • Mount Salen in Hammerfest
  • On the flats of the Plateau of Finnmarksvidda you see the sun everywhere
  • The North Cape, with a free view towards the north
  • Longyearbyen; don’t leave the town without a gun, but the sun is high above the horizon everywhere

Fifth: Where else can I see the midnight sun??

How far?

The further north you get, the longer the Midnight Sun shines:
  • Arctic Circle: 12 June - 1 July 
  • Bodø: 4 June - 8 July 
  • Svolvær: 28 May - 14 July 
  • Harstad: 25 May - 18 July 
  • Bardufoss: 23 May - 19 July 
  • Andenes: 22 May - 21 July 
  • Tromsø: 20 May - 22 July 
  • Alta: 19 May - 24 July 
  • Vardø: 17 May - 26 July 
  • Hammerfest: 16 May - 27 July 
  • Berlevåg: 15 May - 28 July 
  • North Cape/Nordkapp: 14 May - 29 July 
  • Longyearbyen (Svalbard) : 20 April – 22 August

Check out this list too for more information on where to see it!   

Sources: National Geographic, Norway's official website, and