Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Years Resolution: More Travel!!!

What is your News Years Resolution?

Among doing more sit-ups and eating better I am going to save money for traveling.

Money - the root of all evil and life.  We all wish we had more of it and we all wish that we could do more things.  
Yesterday for my birthday I wished for contentment. 

There are many ways to obtain contentment: 
meditate (this is a big one b/c being content is not easy)
try to quit complaining and speak of only of the positives
Reframe your life to reflect happiness
Quit crying over spilled milk...get a rag and clean it up.
Create ways to do things that make you happy. 
(this is where the money saving jar comes in)

A blog called Life As You Live It caught my eye because it show cased a money saving technique with a mason jar.


I also love to save money.

It is called the 52 week money saving challenge and you simply find a mason jar and print off the free printables from here and put the money in the jar each week.
The increments are just like the weeks.  Week one you put $1 and week 20 you put $20....get the jest??

At the end of the year $1,378 can buy two plane tickets,  a room in a nice resort, a killer car rental, or activities on a trip like diving the Great Barrier Reef,  finally jumping out of an airplane in Indonesia or booking an amazing world class fishing trip.

Anything you name it!
And what happens if you have your partner do one too?
That would be $2,756 at the end of year for traveling! Woo hoo!!!!!
Ya'll know me and I can do A LOT with that in Central and South America!

I am going to set up three:
We all get one :) 

Now for Noah's he is going to save in 25 cent increments putting him at $344.50 at the end of the year.
Not bad for an infant.

So combine the parent's savings plus one child that is a whopping $3,100.50.

For us the biggest bonus to Noah saving money too is that he will still be under two years old so he will fly for free.  His money will go towards something like food on the trip, souvenirs, travel accessories etc.  Regardless of what you use it for at least you have that extra cushion.

It also can be a fun way of teaching a child how to save for something and earning the money.  For Noah obviously the money will come from us but as soon as he can complete simple tasks he will earn the 25 cents himself.

What an easy and fun way to save!!!
I literally am so excited about this and cannot wait to start :) 

I feel that simple is better.  Sure we could simply put this money into a bank account each week but this is fun.  This is simple because it is laid out for you - easy peasy - you cannot go wrong. And the biggest aspect of this is to actually do it each week and put it somewhere you will see it everyday!
Lets make saving money fun and simple!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

I Am Going To See The World

Its my birthday!!!!

I am 29 years old today.....
Whats does that mean???
I keep trying to figure out something that I can't even put into words right now.
My mind is searching the proper reflection on my life and for some reason it keeps coming up blank.
(see end of post for what I figured out)

Am I losing it???
Or maybe I am thinking to hard.... :) 

Regardless,  here is what I do know - I am going to travel the world!

Over Christmas my 19 year old brother told me that his goal was the travel to 30 countries before he turns 30.
That is a FANTASTIC goal for him to set - I unfortunately need to come up with a different one since my time on that is dwindling.

Maybe I could commit to: Around the globe and over the hill - globe trotting before 40.

That sounds pretty good to me - that is still a lofty goal but more reasonable than 30 before 30.  

So far I can knock 8 countries off my list but to see the world I would only consider my task complete if I add at least 12 more countries. 

Other than seeing the world, my birthday today is making me think about my relationships.  
My husband and son come first and so for my 29th year of life I am going to make sure my son's first year of life is nourishing,  protected, big, and fun.  I want to start his life off with a bang!

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Some people may wonder why it is so important for me to travel and the reason is simple:
It keeps me alive.
Travel for me is like blood to a human.  I need to constantly be flowing to avoid becoming stagnant in order to live.  
On a daily basis I have thousands of ideas that run through my head on what I want to do, where I want to go, where I want to live, etc.
The ideas all involve moving around and seeing new things.  Breaking away from the current couch that I am sitting on.

But you know what brings me back to reality: my husband, my dog and two cats, my son, my dad who needs me, knowing that Noah's grandparents would be crushed if we moved.  

Things like that keep me grounded.  But if I had my way, I would pack up my brood and move to a tropical island, home school Noah and show him the ways of nature.  I believe that nature can teach you everything you need to know in life and my surrounding yourself with the city you limit your life experiences.

  Sure I would like to have my own home with horses, chickens, dogs, cats, etc but my biggest fear is that it would trap me.  
Can you tell that I am extremely claustrophobic???
I am 29 years old today and instead of the list of things to be when I grow up shortening - it has grown. 
Can I be them all????
Why do I have to choose?
Why do people frown upon people who try different things ever few years?
All it means is that we are adventurous, not afraid of change, adaptable, fun loving, and creative.
That looks good on a resume right???
But what the "critics" see is that we are flighty, afraid of commitment, not dependable...blah, blah, blah.

They just have no idea.

So what do I really want for my birthday?  
I don't want to figure out what I am going to be when I grow up or think about all the places I rather be.  I am going to enjoy the moments.  Relish in the love that I surrounded myself with.  Breath deep and open my eyes to all the wonder the world can offer me.  
Contentment is what I want for my birthday.
That is what has been nagging me: it is that simple.  
I want to be content.

What do you wish for on your birthday???

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Losing Airplanes - How Does It Affect You???

I am sure by now that everyone has seen the news reports on the missing AirAsia plane that was heading from Indonesia to Singapore.

How do we just lose planes???

And this comes just ten months behind the disappearance of the Malaysia Flight 370 and to this day officials have yet to find any debris from that "crash".  
Call me suspicious but since they have not found any debris from this crash yet - are we going to have another Flight 370 situation on our hands???
AsiaAir Air Bus A320-200
"Once is an accident.  Twice is a coincidence.  Three times is enemy action."

All we know right now is that the plane's flight path was primarily over the ocean, they were only an hour away from landing, they had encountered bad weather, the plane passed inspection in November, and no debris has been found.

My question to you all is this: 
Do mishaps like these make you less likely to fly with those airlines and/or over the "disappearing" areas?

AirAsia had a fantastic track record of never losing a flight or crashes until now so how many mishaps make you want to avoid these airlines or areas of travel.

I personally have Indonesia on my must see list in the near future and have intentions on going there but before I book my tickets I am going to research the airline's safety records and also what kind of plane me and my family would fly on.  
This takes me back to a pervious post just last week when I covered how to stay safe in the air.  It is of the upmost importance that you trust the airline you book with and no what kind of reputation they have.
Never book with an airline because they are the cheapest.  Find out why - research.

Earlier today in the news a Colonel in the Marine Corp stated that those pilots are accustomed to strong storms as that area is their back yard and that he felt more inquiry was needed.
At least he stated everything we are thinking. 

My thoughts, prayers and all of my heart goes out to the families that are missing loved ones right now.  Please do not mistake my curiosity as empathy because it is not.  I am sure the families have the same questions as they have the right to know every single detail.  

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I am interested to see how this pans out and I will continue to pray for comfort and peace for all the passengers and families.

Until then keep traveling, keep looking towards the future and keep living today like it is your last.  Also remember that mishaps happen and do not let them over take you.  

You only live once....

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Merry Christmas From United Military Travel

We did it...we all survived another Christmas!
Isn't it funny how we scramble for a month to get everything ready for this one day and then POOF it is over.  The anticipation, the decorating, the shopping, the cooking, the traveling...
It all comes down to one day and then just as fast as it came it is over.
Did you have any time to sit down and enjoy the day?  

This was my day:
Mother-In-Law's house - 8:30am - 12:15
Josh's Cousin 12:30 - 3:00
Travel to my home 4:00- 7:30

It was a long day to say the least but we had a fantastic Christmas!  

I learned something though and I believe that it is because I have a son now but I realized that I would travel to the ends of the Earth to see my family.

Not just my son and husband but my dad, sister, step-mom, aunt, uncle, grandparents and everyone else.  No matter where they were in the world I would travel to see them.  

Family is hands down the most important thing - they will always be there for you, love you and take you in.  You only have one family so treat them well.  

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Everyone here at United Military Travel hopes that you had a amazing Christmas no matter where you were in the world and it was filled with love!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Kauai - The Tropical Center Piece Of Hawaii

Kauai, Hawaii

Kauai is truly special, it is an island of discovery.  You can lose yourself in the soft trade winds that carry the fresh floral scent while you lounge walk lazily through the lush greenery.  Or if you choose to kayak to a cascading waterfall through canyons and caves the oxygen rich air will follow you.  Whale watching season is from December to April so make sure you hop on a boat while there to witness the great migration of Humpbacks.  You will also see hundreds of dolphins, manta rays and sea is a must do!
Green Sea Turtle

Humpback Whale

Things to Do

1.  Napali Coast

Hands down the Napali Coast is what comes to my mind when I think of Kauai.  The Napali Coast features emerald green pinnacles that stretches 17 miles of shoreline along the North Shore.  The only access by land this area is via the Kalalau Trail which is a 11 mile trail that starts at Kee Beach, crosses five different valleys and ends at the secluded Kalalau Beach.  The hike is challenging and many advice to break it into two days by setting up camp at Hanakoa beach.  It is also a state park so check out their website for all the hiking information you could want including camping permits which are required.  
*Hiking during winter months are discouraged. 
But no worries if you do not like to camp or hike you can still enjoy the breathtaking scenery from a boat, kayak (during the summer months) or take an air tour.  

2. North Shore

Not to be confused with the North Shore on Oahu.  Kauai guides all suggest starting your journey here because it is the island's northernmost point and working your way south.  While there check out the historic Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse.  It may sound just like a lighthouse but it is really a wildlife sanctuary and scenic spot for whale watching.  
The best town on the North Shore is Hanalei.  It is home to taro fields, colorful shops, galleries and restaurants.  Also, it houses the best beaches on the island like Lumahai Beach and Kee Beach.  
And lets not forget about the plant lovers - head to Limahuli Garden which is part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden to learn about the native plants and take in the sweeping ocean views.  

Are you into golf?
Then head to the area of Princeville and indulge in world-class hospitality and play the premier golf course!

3.  Waimea Canyon

Aka "Grand Canyon of the Pacific". 
There is nothing else like this anywhere in Hawaii and it stretches 14 miles long, is one mile wide and more than 3,600 feet deep.  

4.  Wailua River

Kauai has the only navigable rivers in Hawaii and this one is the most popular.  The river flows from the 5,148 foot Mount Waialeale in the center of the island for 20 miles and features two popular and accessible waterfalls: Opaekaa Falls and Wailua Falls.  No matter how you see the river, kayak or outrigger canoe or boat tours look for the Fern Grotto which is a natural lava rock cave sheltered by draping ferns.  

Fern Grotto
Also, the Nounou Mountains (Sleeping Giant) is a formation on a mountain ridge between Wailus and Kapaa that looks like a human lying on its back.  

Sleeping Giant
5.  And lets state the obvious - the beaches.
Poipu on the South Shore to Hanalei Bay on the North and everywhere in between.

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Staying on Kauai
Not all accommodations in Hawaii are expensive and Kauai offers many types to meet everyone's needs.  Choose from budget hotels to luxury resorts to B&B's and guest cottages.  Also, remember to always look on Homeway for private accommodations.  

One reason why Hawaii is simple amazing is because it is perfect to visit any time of year.  They do not have a rainy or dry season and because of the trade winds the average yearly temperature ranges between 69 and 84 degrees.  The ocean temperature is comfortable too staying between 71 and 81 degrees - perfect for swimming and supporting all sorts of marine life!

The best way to get around the island is by renting a car.  You are going to want the flexibility and freedom this gives you as opposed to taking the shuttles.  You can stop and go where you want, whenever you want.  Also, some of the lush interior of the island is only accessible by air or by foot so you may want to consider taking a sky adventure and hitting the trails to see the true Kauai.  

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Ok now call United Military Travel and book your adventure to Kauai today!!!!!!! Mahalo!!!


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Plus Three / Minus Eight

"Riding on a commercial airplane has got about the same amount of risk as riding on an escalator," says MIT International Center for Air Transportation Director John Hansman.

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80% of all plane crashes happen within the first three minutes of takeoff or in the last eight minutes before landing.  

These are times that you want to be alert.
Keep your shoes on, wait to pull out the book and stay awake.
For me the absolute scariest times on a plane is when we are taking off and landing.

[I literally squeeze my husband hand and sit with my head back taking deep breaths until we land.  I  really try hard to go to my happy place and think happy thoughts but when the turbulence jolts me back to reality my husband loses even more feeling in his hand.....its terrible!]

I am writing about this not to make ya'll scared of flying but to make you more informed.  A smart traveler is a safe traveler in my opinion.  
And FYI according to statistics flying is still one of the safest ways to travel.
The more you know the better off you will be in any situation.

So what can you do to make yourself when in the air?

1. When booking your tickets choose seats that are within five rows of exits.  Reason being that when a plane starts to go down you have exactly 90 seconds before smoke and flames over take you so sitting near exit seats are crucial.

2. Avoid first class.  According to study done in the UK where they crashed an actual Boeing 727 that they equipped with cameras and dummies - the first class section was hit with 12Gs forces ripping the first 11 rows completely off.  While the back of the plane only was hit with 6Gs leaving the first class with no survivors as opposed to the 78% survival chance of the rest of the plane.  

Before I go on I want you to keep in mind that the actual chances of you being involved in a plane crash are just 1 in 4.7 be exact!

3.  Brace for impact.  According to a test done for airline safety passengers who knowingly braced for impact increased their chances for surviving the crash.  Bracing means leaning forward in your seat and covering your head with your arms.  If you remain upright the tremendous amount of debris flying around could prove deadly. 
(essentially - just get out of the plane as fast as you can by sitting within five rows of exit seats)

4. Be prepared - pay attention during the stewardess demonstrations.  Do not just assume you know everything.  Reach for things to actually know where they are as she explains.

5.  Do not panic!  The only reason to panic is if you are not prepared.  Be prepared for anything!!!!!

You are responsible for your own life so if you know what you are doing and are prepared you have a better chance of surviving.

Which airline is the safest to fly with?

Clearly it is best to avoid airlines that are notorious for poor on time performance, lots of passenger complaints, and financial problems.  This statements reinforces "doing your homework".  
Some airlines have a clean slate with no fatalities and crashes such as Southwest and US Air and then you have some like Korean Air which have had several fatal events.  The safety of airlines really depends on how strictly they are regulated by the nation's aviation authority.  
You always have a choice of who you fly with so before you book - research the airlines.  

And for a list of questions and answers the Boeing website has a great list on safety - check it out!

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Central America Gem...Belize

"Land of the free by the Carib Sea"

Belize....ahhhhh Belize! 
I love Central and South American countries and this one in particular because even though it is nestled between Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras it is an English-speaking nation and mirrors more of a Caribbean vibe than Spanish.  

This small country, almost half the size of Costa Rica, has six districts: Corozal, Orange Walk, Belize, Cayo, Stann Creek and Toledo.  And five different cultures that reside there: Maya, Mestizo, Garifuna, Creole, and Mennonites.  When you plan your trip keep in mind the wet (June to November) and dry seasons (December to May) to avoid soggy feet and high hotel prices with lots of tourists.

I I the only person who finds it a bit stressful to figure out what to do when there are so many options?  Like in Belize for example: there are six different districts that offer so many different things.  Can they all be seen in one week?

Lets try!

First off rent a car - it is by far the best and cheapest way to get around Belize.  Even if the idea of navigating your way through a foreign country scares you take a deep breath and research.  Also, try this GPS map for Garmin devices that will provide you with accurate directions to all cases and ruins.  There are four primary roads - the Northern, Western, Southern and Hummingbird highways and all are easily navigable.  Make sure you rent a 4x4 as some roads leading up to major Mayan sites are rustic and with rainy weather can be down challenging.  But before you arrive in Belize you have to obtain an international driver's license to rent a car there - do that here

Now that you have your car first stop is: Cayo district.
Cayo is inland so before you make your way to the coast I feel it is best to mark the jungle adventures off your list!
The Cayo district is known for its eco adventures to caves, Maya temples and nature reserves.
ATM Cave Ruins
  The town of San Ignacio is located there also and serves as a hub for these adventures and offers many adventures in town too!

Whether you are looking to go canoeing or tubing you will find many tours that will allow you do so or if you want to hike to a waterfall head to Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, the oldest reserve in Belize.  There you can explore the caves or go for a swim at Butterfly Falls.  
Mayan sites are one of the most popular attractions in Cayo so if you want to see Caracol, Xunantunich, and Cahal Pech call Cayo home for a couple of days.  
Go horseback riding or discover what Belize is doing do preserve their Blue Morpho Butterfly at the Natural History Museum.  

And as you can imagine the birds in the beautiful country are stunning and abundant - bring a set of binoculars and a camera with a fast shutter to capture these gems in their natural environment.  

Spend about 3 days inland before heading to the coast.  
From my research I would split my trip between the Cayo and Belize districts and that is it.

Next stop: Caye Caulker - Belize District!
(you could stay Ambergris Cay but it is more pricey)

You could very well spend the rest of your vacation here and honestly I would advise it.  Cleanse yourself of all the stresses and worries of back home in the beautiful, warm waters of the Caribbean Sea.  When you base yourself in either Caye Caulker or Ambergris Cay you open up an all access pass to the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere. 

"The coastal area of Belize is an outstanding natural system consisting of the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, offshore atolls, several hundred sand cays, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons and estuaries. The system’s seven sites illustrate the evolutionary history of reef development and are a significant habitat for threatened species, including marine turtles, manatees and the American marine crocodile." 
~sourced from here

I am sure everyone has heard of the Great Blue Hole or at least seen a picture of it.  Well you can find it here in Belize and basically any dive operator on the island can take you there.  If you are not into diving other water activities include swimming, sea kayaking, windsurfing, sailing, manatee-watching or sport fishing.  

For the land lovers you can explore the small village by foot, golf cart or bicycle and stop at the wide range of gift shops, restaurants, bars, and art galleries.  
Or one could head to the Split - it is a narrow waterway that splits the island in two that Hurricane Katrina created and now serves as a popular swimming spot.

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And you do not necessarily have to stay in Caulker Caye but like I mentioned earlier it is cheaper than Ambergris Caye so that is why I chose it.  

Enjoy your vacation to Belize and just remember to contact United Military Travel for all your travel needs - they take excellent care of their clients!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Aeolian Islands, Italy

Aeolian Islands: A volcanic archipelago in the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Sicily, named after the      demigod of the winds Aeolus.

Imagine a UNESCO World Heritage Site of seven beautiful and extremely varied islands and islets that are of volcanic origin as your playground.  Their extreme history created perfect black sand beaches, smoldering craters and splintered, rocky coastlines that offer you many opportunities for exploration, adventure, sun bathing, boating, and just simple relaxation.  The islands vary so much so that you can go from the island of Alicudi where the only form of transportation are donkeys to the international jet setters playground of Panarea.  Take your pick!


There are two active volcanoes in the chain, Stromboli and Vulcano but all the islands have volcanic activity of some kind.  Whether you find steaming fumaroles or thermal waters you will always feel the presence of the Earth.  
Like other coastal destinations the locals lives run off the seasons.  The total population of all the islands combined is 10,000 but during the high season of summer the months of July and August are the busiest and over 200,000 people flood the small archipelago in masses.  You will not find your typical American tourist here though.  There are no fanny packs or tie-dye tees walking around - its quite the opposite actually.  Much of the seasonal population is the beautiful and wealthy where the ports are filled with multi-million yachts and the streets are a live cat walk.  
But do not worry the high class luxury really only occurs on the island of Panarea, there is much more diversity so we all can enjoy it!

So which island is the right on for you?

This is the largest of the islands and also the only one with a sizable town and year round population.  The primary industry once was mining and you can see remnants in the mountains where pumice quarries took bites out of them.  The attractions here include the fortified acropolis, flower-hung alleys, and the harbor of Marina Corta....and that is it.  It really is kind of a place to buy cheap, over priced souvenirs of sarongs and mass-produced jewelry. 
As for the beaches they are wild, rocky and most importantly undeveloped which means you get the extroidiary views all to yourself!  You just have to get there first.  Most beaches are inaccessible by car but you can reach them on foot or boat.  

Pomice Beach
Try Valle Muria or Punta delle Fontanelle.
But the best of best on Lipari is the footpath along the coast between Terme di San Calogero and kaolin quarry at Bagnosecco.  The surface of the footpath has been stained indigo, violet, orange, mustard and blue by the emissions steaming from the sulfurous fumaroles. 
The Earth is always present!
Marina Corta
Make a day trip to bath in the warm mud baths swim in the bubbling mid-sea fumaroles.  You can also hike up to the crater after paying a fee of 3 Euros but be careful of inhaling the volcanic gases and bring hiking boots!

The main attraction here is the volcano as majority of the visitors come only to trek to the top.  Hiking to the top of a volcano seems to imply you have to be in peak physical condition but any person in fare shape can do it.  Just as long as you bring proper shoes, a warm jacket and your own water you will be fine.  The hike itself takes two hours and is guided so that you arrive at the summit in time for sunset.  
If you are in the mood to relax on the beach all day or before your hike the gems are the hidden little coves of black sand tucked into lava crags along the coast of Piscita. 

Salina is a beautiful twin peaked green island that offers traffic free streets, chic boutiques and down to earth restaurants.  Also, wineries are present here so spend your day trying the different coastal varieties while starring off into the vast blue sea.  Or if you rather spend your time by the sea head to the stony black sand  beach of Lingua where you can enjoy libations at Da Alfredo bar.  The adventurous also have activities here.  They can climb to the peak of Monte Fossa delle Felci but only in the spring and fall as the other seasons offer to much heat or storms.  

This is the poshest of all the islands and the most beautiful.  If you are like me and consist of the American middle class it would be best to only go in the spring and fall.  Generally speaking the hotels are pricey but check out Pippo and Maria for a small but nice room to rent at a decent price.  
The beaches here are the best too - of course.  You can take a leisurely 40 minute walk to the dark gold sandy beach of Zammara and the bay of Cala Junca or a 20 minute walk on the other side of the village to Calcara.  There you will find fumaroles that once led Panareans to believe it was an entrance to the underworld.  Another calm, clear beach is under Basiluzzo and you will find remains of a Roman port!

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So those are the Aeolian Islands and which ones you choose to visit, hopefully all of them United Military Travel can book all your travel needs!  

Friday, December 19, 2014

Traveling To Cuba Is Now Legal For Americans

Did you know that over 2 million tourist visit Cuba annually?

It honestly never crossed my mind that Cuba had a tourist influx and to be really honest with you I didn't think they had any. 
But really, I must live in my own little world because why would I think that other countries could not visit.
It is just America that they do not like...not Canada or Europe etc and Cuba is one of the most popular Caribbean destination for those countries.  

Major international hotels have popped up there such as Riu, Iberostar, and Melia and are large enough resorts to accommodate the most savvy global travelers.  

I really must have been living in a hole.....

With all the recent news regarding America and Cuba restoring relations it has sparked a huge flame inside of me to visit the country.  I have had images of me dancing in the streets in a long flowing red skirt with my crisp white mid-drift shirt, swinging my son around while my husband smokes a Cuban cigar at the bar.  
That is not going to least not legally yet.

Americans have been using loopholes to travel to Cuba for years now and while the most adventurous person may think that sounds fine it really is dangerous.  There is no embassy there to help you if you get caught there illegally and if you do get caught expect hefty fines and an extremely uncomfortable experience clearing customs (use your imagination).  Also, Cuba is ruled by an authoritarian government which mean many of the rights you are used to as an American do not exist there. Again use your imagination...
*Disclaimer: This is not legal advice nor do I advice you to travel to Cuba illegally.  Contact your own travel consultant with any questions.  

So how have people been going there for so long before now?

Surprisingly, the Cuban government welcomes Americans to visit with a passport but when you pass through Customs you will notice something different happens-they will not stamp your passport.  They do that to make it appear as if you were never there but trust me when I say they still know you are there.  
The most common way that Americans have found to visit the beautiful country is by flying out of a different country such as Mexico or Canada and getting a Cuban tourist card at the airport that makes visiting Cuba good for 30 days.  And you can use companies like Cuba Travel USA to book your flights and hotels.  
Before when I mentioned the penalties for getting caught in Cuba illegally it only applies if you do not have a passport in general AND a Cuba Tourist Card.  All visitors regardless of which nation they travel from need a passport and a travel card.

How can we travel to Cuba completely legit from America?

Honestly, this way sounds pretty boring.  You have to book with certain companies like Insight Cuba and Central Holidays as these companies have official licenses from the Department of State to offer tours.  These tours will include stops at museums, historic sites, even the Bay of Pigs or a local Community block party - essentially the American government only allows activities that bring together Cuban and American people.  People to people activities... 
The tour packages from these companies range from 5 to 13 days in duration and can cost anywhere between $2,900 to $5,000 per person.  And that does not include the charter plane airfare from Miami to Cuba.  What it does include is all lodging, activities, in-country transportation and meals. 
Now for all of you who follow my blog you know that I would never pay that much money to travel to a "second world country".

Again, I am not advising anyone to travel their illegally but if I were to go I would book everything myself out of Mexico legally :)  I do not like being told what to do, where to go and when....just not my style.
 When I go I want to be able to dance in the streets...

 wander lazily down sun-drenched beaches...

 And walk through Havana unsupervised...

Sounds nice doesn't it????

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Can You Hold A Second Passport???

When I think of people holding multiple passports I automatically assume they work for the government or are some super secret special spy.
Well, that is not the case.  All Americans are allowed to hold one regular passport and a duplicate. How come I never knew this???

I travel a lot but apparently not enough to need a duplicate.....hopefully one day when I am able to take my family on a traveling sabbatical I can get one :) 
At any given time any American can have two separate and valid passports though the second one will only be valid for two years.   The benefits of holding a second one help you gain access to countries faster, save you if your original is lost or stolen, and speed the visa processing time up when you have leave a country.  

Personally, I want everyone in my family to hold a duplicate when we start our world travel adventure.  Here is why...

Arriving in or leaving a political sensitive country.
We all know what it means when someone says politically sensitive, it basically means only go there if you desperately need to.  Not only do you have to try and stay safe there but just clearing Customs will be a bear (a scary one).  Typically they do not like to see multiple international stamps in your passport and it could subject you to additional questioning to explain your travel patterns.  To follow that having certain passport stamps could make it harder for you to visit other countries.  Say you wanted to visit Indonesia or United Arab Emirates but you have a stamp from Israel it would make entering those countries extremely difficult if not impossible.  
Traveling the globe is a puzzle and just because we Americans does not mean we have access to anywhere and anytime.  A simple thing like stamps in our passport could detain you anywhere if you do not do your research.  So this is where holding a duplicate would help you travel more easily.

Expedite visa processing
This reason is much, much, much more common among the general public than traveling to political sensitive areas.  You will need a visa if you plan on living/working anywhere abroad and for some countries just to travel to.  Visa come with stipulations that make you leave the country you are staying in for a specific amount of time after you have already been there a specific number of days.  For example, a bear to visit: China.  Well before you enter their country you are required to have a visa and travel insurance to submit to their travel consulate.  Then if you plan on living somewhere permanently like Ecuador you have to apply for a 12-IX visa which allows you to stay in their country for 180 days the first year and limits you to not being gone longer than 90 days after the second year of residency.  So basically when you are applying for a visa you have to send in your primary passport which means you will be grounded between applications.  But if you kept a duplicate then you could continue to travel internationally and according to the State Department that is reason enough for you to have one.  

Lost or stolen and stranded
The term claustrophobia comes to my mind when I think of being stuck in a country and literally not allowed to leave.  Yes applying for an emergency passport replacement is possible when you are abroad but it is seriously difficult and more than unpleasant.  The process at home is not fun.  Chances are you did not bring all the proper documents with you to apply for it anyway so good luck with a speedy process.   With a second passport you could just file a DS-64 that informs the State Department that it has been lost or stolen granite you need to do that anyway but at least you could still come and go.  The down side to a lost passport is that if you are in a country that has a visa stamp in it that you need to exit the country you will potentially have to have the visa replaced.

Still do not think you need a second passport?
If you do not travel internationally often enough but still want the extra security of having one try out a passport card or Trusted Traveler card.  A passport card can be used to enter the United States from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda at lands border crossings or sea ports-of-entry but cannot be used for international travel by air.  A Trusted Traveler card is provided from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and has several Trusted Traveler programs which provide an improved passenger experience all while enhancing security.  The programs are customized based on travel needs and many of them have reciprocal benefits.  For example: TSA Pre is for primarily domestic travel.  Global Entry is for international and domestic travel.  Nexus is for travel between the U.S. and Canada.  And Sentri is for travel by land between the U.S. and Mexico.  

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You can also contact United Military Travel to discuss you current and future travel plans and they can advise you on what they think is the best suit for you.

Monday, December 15, 2014

New Years in Paris

I cannot think of a better place to ring in the New Year than Paris.  The Eiffel Tower on a regular day is spectacular so you can imagine how beautiful the light show is on New Year's Eve.

The colorful and exciting City of Lights offers plenty of ways to say Bonne annee (happy new year)!  Take your pick of clubbing, celebrating over a delicious meal, wandering the Champs-Elysees or the Sacre Coeur Plaza or laying low on your hotel balcony that views the Tower. 

Sacre Coeur Plaza
 These two places are the major celebration areas.  As you can tell from the picture Champs-Elysees is one massive party on the street and if that is what you looking for head there around 9 to meet the other party goers.  Pretty much anywhere along Champs you will have a good view of the Eiffel Tower which will display their light show at the stroke of midnight.  So while you are waiting for that you can entertain yourself by dancing or dining at one of the many establishments in the area.  
A general rule of this area on New Years Eve is this: be constantly aware of your personal belongings as this is a large group of people numbering in the thousands and so pickpocketers will be everywhere!  Also, you will not be allowed to drink while walking around and will be fined if caught doing so.  It is best to pick a restaurant, club or lounge to relax in before heading into the crowds.

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If I were to be in Paris for New Years I would take a river boat dinner cruise along the Seine and take in all the festivities from the comfort of a boat.

Try these companies:
On New Years they will offer musical entertainment, a bottle of Pommery champagne and other treats.  You will need to reserve at least 24 hours in advance!

These cruises last two hours and include aperitif, dessert, and coffee while taking you past the Notre Dame Cathedral, Tuileries Gardens and Concorde.

This company offers two boats with two different options:
A three hour relaxing cruise or a six hour dancing cruise - which every you want you will be out on the water when the light show starts!

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And you may be thinking that just the accommodations alone will break the bank but trust me when I say it is affordable!
Come on, ya'll know me - budget traveler!!

I found on Homeaway multiple studio apartments that range from $150/night to $300/night.  It really all depends on what kind of view you want, proximity to certain things, and the experience you want to have.
If you want to stay in a more young, local, less touristy area of Paris you can research the specific area and then search for it on Homeaway.  
Or if you have to have a view of the Eiffel Tower you can have that too but it comes with a price - especially this time of year.
Personally, I like to stay away from the main thorough fares but no more than a 20 minute commute.  That 20 minutes really takes you away from the hustle bustle and lets you explore the real community minus the tourist traps.
Check out this apartment:
Sleeps 2 at $113/night with a 3 night minimum stay and only 5 minutes away from Metro
Lets talk about hotels....

First, European hotels are very different American ones.  They are smaller and older but if you are willing to pay more money you will get a larger more recently built hotel.  Also, just because they have an elevator does not mean you should or could use it everything.  Why?  Because they are tiny!
As long as you realize those two things you will be fine....besides part of the charm of Paris are the small, quaint and historic hotels and buildings.  
I cannot stress to you the importance of reading reviews: the general public will tell you all the nitty gritty information you need to know before you book.  And you can inquire too for a reference!
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I found a fantastic reference from a fellow blogger, Ma Nouvelle Mode, on the different districts of Paris and which are the best: Check them out!

What areas are best?

where to stay in Paris
These are the areas that Paris is generally divided into and where you can look to book via Let me breakdown the areas on where to stay in Paris for ya here:
  1. Alesia – Orleans – Quite removed the downtown, I would check review for how the area is.
  2. Bastille – Bercy – The hotel I stayed here was close to the Hippodrome and was absolutely awful. Thank goodness it was only for one night. The bathrooms smelled like pee, I could hardly stand it. I think it was due to plumbing, not to uncleanliness, but still, awful. The area isn’t so bad though. It’s removed from Paris central, but like I said, with the subways, it’s not hard to get into the center. I would not recommend driving in Paris.
  3. Batignolles – Clichy – Don’t know much about this area except that it’s removed from the center. I would make sure to check the subway system before booking here.
  4.  – Same thing as #3 – it’s rather removed. Not a problem if you can book close to a metro station and you’re looking to save money.
  5. Champs Elysees – Arc de Triomphe – The richest part of Paris! I’ve never stayed here, you can probably guess why.
  6. Champs Elysees Etoile – Avenue Monceau – A little removed from the richest part of Paris. Never stayed here either, you can probably guess why…
  7. Eiffel Tower – Even though it’s the most famous landmark in Paris, it’s not central. But as you can imagine, it’s easy to get to! You could very well wake up with a pretty amazing view! You can also find some good deals in this area.
  8.  – Gare means train station in French, so as you can imagine, this is in the train station area. Never stayed in this area but honestly, my first thought is that there are so many better options than staying close to a ‘gare.’
  9. La Defense – Neuilly – I have actually stayed here, with a friend one year. It’s completely outside of Paris in the ‘business district.’ The hotels are nicer and newer and we had a lovely time. There is a train/metro that goes into the center so it’s easy to get to. BUT I feel like you miss the whole feeling of Paris by staying out there. If it’s your first time, I wouldn’t do it.
  10. Latin Quarter – Ever heard of the Sorbonne? Shakespeare and Company? The left bank? These are all here. It’s just across the street/river from Notre Dame. There can be some shady areas though – do your research!
  11. Republique –  I have stayed here the most. The Crown Plaza here is really nice and I found some good deals. It’s not super central but there’s a big metro station and you can get anywhere you want to go from here.
  12. Montmarte – Sacre Coeur – Pigalle – Sacre Coeur, another huge landmark of Paris and the Montmarte district. Last time I was there I took the bus and driving through I wasn’t too sure about the area surrounding it. It wouldn’t be my first choice.
  13. Montparnasse – This is another train area where there is a big ‘gare.’ Once again, wouldn’t be my first choice.
  14. Opera Quarter East – Louvre Museum – Kinda self explanatory, close to the Louvre on the right bank of the Seine. It seems like a lovely area, although it could be kinda expensive.
  15. Opera Quarter West – Jardin des Tuileries – Similar to #14, it would be absolutely lovely to stay close to the Jardin des Tuileries which stretches out in front of the Louvre. It makes for a nice, long, beautiful walk.
  16. Place D’Italie – I have stayed in this area and it’s been a favorite. It’s less expensive and close to a larger metro station. It’s also oh so pretty.
  17. Porte de Versailles – The reason this is called “the door to Versailles” is because it’s on the outskirts of the city. You have to take a train to Versailles from Paris, so I suppose it would be closer from here. But still not in Versailles. I’ve never stayed in this part but visited, it didn’t seem very nice to me.
  18. Porte de Montreuil – Another one on the outskirts, this would be a little too far for me. Remember the farther away you get from Paris the less ‘Parisian’ it feels. Just a thought.
  19. St Germain – This is close to the Latin Quarter and would be an absolutely lovely place to stay! Right in the center and close to a lot of great landmarks. Probably a little more on the expensive side.

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Ok so once you decide on Paris for New Years you need to pick which area you want to be in.  That basically tells you what your budget needs to be!  Then from there start planning your activities...

And of course United Military Travel can book everything....I mean everything for you!
Hotel, car rental, flights, river boat cruise, museum name it they can do it!