Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Viator Provides Affordable, Enjoyable Sightseeing Tours

Explore with Viator

When traveling to a new location I love to take tours. It's the easiest way to see the maximum amount with limited time and/or no car. From hop on and offs, to ghost and bus tours, they all provide a great way to explore the region you are visiting. Plus, with solo travel like I did, it occupies your time so you're not just wandering aimlessly.

Last week I went on a trip to Boston and decided to plan bus tours so I could also get outside of the city to see fall foliage. When doing research, Viator seemed to provide the most options at the best prices so I found and booked two tours with the company: New England Coastal Tour from Boston and Fall Foliage Sightseeing Tour from Boston. Both were priced at about $68 which included hotel pick up and drop off, plus seven to eight hour-long tours. Very reasonable. Renting a car probably would've been the same price once you factor in gas, but it was so much easier to let someone else do the driving who knows the spots to go and provides narration along the way.

I stayed outside the city so I selected a hotel to travel to where I could get on the bus (if you stay within a city the bus usually picks you up right out front your hotel). Once on, I was able to enjoy a comfy seat, big windows to gaze out, and a tour guide illustrating points of interest. On both tours we made multiple stops for snacks, lunch, photo opps, and when time permitted, exploration.

I'll have detailed posts about each tour next week so be sure to come back for more on New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maine! But in the meantime, here are some photos from the two tours.

Nubble Lighthouse
Ashby, Massachusetts
Contoocook River Fall Foliage

In exchange for a review, I was provided with a comped Viator tour. All thoughts are truthful and my own.

Monday, October 17, 2016

5 Tips for Solo Travel

5 Tips for Solo Travel

Traveling alone can be a little intimidating, and let's be honest, a little scary if you're a woman. But don't let your fears hold you back from seeing the world! I've had the opportunity to travel solo to a few countries and states within the US and I'm so glad I pushed past my fears. Here are a few tips:

1. Plan Ahead - some people will disagree with me and suggest you go with the flow and not have any set plans, but if you're visiting some place new, you want to have an idea of your surroundings. I'm an over-planner when it comes to travel. I like everything set to the minute. I'm definitely not suggesting that because I'm fully aware I'm crazy. I am, however, suggesting you have a loose idea of what you want to do and see ahead of time. You don't want to waste your time figuring it out while you could be exploring. Familiarize yourself with train locations and schedules, look up hours of operation, and so forth. If you want to do x, y, and z and they're located near each other you can save time and money by hitting them together.

2. Look for Ways to Save - Groupon and Living Social are your friends. I just went to Boston and took advantage of a hop-on-and-off tour deal. The tour company was selling tickets for $40 but I paid $15 with Groupon (plus used ebates for extra cash back). This also saved me money on transportation because I could ride the bus to different neighborhoods cheaper than messing with Uber. And speaking of transportation, ask your hotel about shuttles. They don't always advertise but sometimes have free or cheaper services to help you get around. Lastly, if you're a blogger, check with local companies to see if they'll comp you in exchange for a review. Every little bit you can save helps!

3. Take Tours - I'm a huge fan of tours! Some think they're cheesy, and they kind of are, but it's the best way to see the maximum amount with little time. I always do a bus, hop on and off, or ghost tour. Bus tours are a great way to see places outside the city at a reasonable price and many companies pick up and drop off at your hotel. The shorter tours are great for learning about local history and getting a feel for the layout of the city. As I mentioned in point two, hop-on tours allow you to be escorted to all of the main attractions. I like to ride these around an entire loop, then decide which stops I'd like to visit. Purchase tickets ahead to ensure they don't sell out.

4. Stay Safe - this ties into point one a bit. If you know where you're going and what's around you, you reduce the risk of ending up somewhere sketchy. Don't wander aimlessness without taking note of your location. Also, taking advantage of point two, use the money you've saved elsewhere to opt for a cab if it's late at night. Don't be a hero - you can still be an explorer if you're not on foot the entire time. In your hotel, request to be near the elevator so you're not tucked back in some dark hallway. And carry pepper spray. For my last trip, SABRE sent me pepper sprays, gels, and a personal alarm. Having those on you gives you some comfort. Runner pepper spray bottles come with straps that wrap perfectly around your hand so you can discreetly have a grip on it while in your purse of pocket.

5. Be Prepared - assume inconveniences are going to happen. It's always better to be over than under prepared. Your luggage may get lost. It happened to me last week. You don't want to be stranded without a change of undies! Pack an extra outfit and toiletries in your carry on. And if you can fit them, extra shoes as well. Have cash, especially tipping money for taxis and tours. I was in Mexico once and they charged to use a restroom. You never know when you'll need physical money. Wondering if you should pack that jacket even though it's supposed to be hot? Bring it anyway because if you don't you'll need it.

When traveling alone it can be tough getting used to being alone. For me, eating at a restaurant solo is a bit awkward. But do it anyway! You never know if you'll get to visit that location again and you don't want to miss out on anything. As you do more solo travel you'll get more used to being alone and out of your comfort zone. The first time I went on a trip by myself I was so nervous and felt dumb doing things alone. As soon as that trip was over, though, I was so proud of myself for not needing to rely on anyone but myself.

If you're on the fence about vacationing alone, start small. Pick a town you're familiar with where you know people. You can meet up for meals and get insider tips. You'll still feel accomplished at the end of your journey.

These tips can also be applied to any travel, they're not restricted to solo trips only. Anything I missed? I'd love to hear your tips in the comments below!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Fall Outfit on Repeat

I'm currently in Boston enjoying the fall foliage that we don't get in Southern California! This is a pre-written post, so hopefully Hurricane Matthew didn't spoil my fun. But either way, the one thing that I can count on in New England is being able to embrace autumn outfits. I am all about the boots and scarves, and even a hat that decided to go floppy on me before taking photos. Last week when I was in Carmel, this was the perfect getup for chilly weather and sightseeing so I took it with me on this current trip. You're going to see an outfit repeat, so don't judge!

Best part? I got everything on sale, except the LuLaRoe leggings that I ordered from a friend (here's her LuLaRoe FB group if you're interested). Have you tried them? BEST.LEGGINGS.EVER. and they are only $25.

Outfit details:
vestlong sleeve teejeansbootshatscarf

Friday, October 7, 2016

Carmel, The Perfect Weekend Getaway Destination

A Weekend in Carmel-by-the-Sea

I am officially in love with Carmel! It's the most charming little town complete with art, beaches, wine and dining. And it's full of unique B&B-style hotels that add to the appeal of a retreat destination that welcomes tourists without feeling too cookie-cutter touristy. I have always wanted to visit, but thought it was such a far drive that I'd "do it some other time". Boy, was I wrong! The road trip from the LA/OC area is very pleasant and you can get up there in under six hours. Now that I've been, I can't wait to go back!

I had the pleasure of spending the weekend at Hofsas House Hotel - if you've been to Carmel you may recognize it as the adorable pink hotel. Family owned for more than 60 years, this German-style establishment is welcoming and boasts a central location. In our spacious room we had a king bed, two chairs, a dining area, fireplace, fridge, and microwave. For $30 you can also add a wine package that includes a bottle, two cheeses, and crackers - very reasonable and perfect for enjoying next to the fire. From our balcony we had a view of the ocean and when we walked out the front door we were surrounded with beautiful flowers and trees. The setting was so serene.

In the morning pick up complimentary breakfast that includes local pastries, fruits, juice, and coffee. While you're in the lobby, the knowledgeable staff is happy to help with information and suggestions. We even had the pleasure of meeting with the Hofsas House owner, Carrie. She takes great pride in the hotel that her grandmother built, and knows all about Carmel. We asked her so many questions and were thrilled at how much she helped us sort out our day. Plus we have the same alma matter, so I liked her even more (Go CSUF!). Having such a cheerful start to our day in turn made us excited to explore.

And if all that weren't enough to convey how marvelous Hofsas House is, the hotel is rated four out of five stars on Trip Advisor and has a Certificate of Excellence from the site, earned for consistently great reviews.

Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel

Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel

Hofsas House Hotel King Fireplace Room

Hofsas House Hotel King Fireplace Room

Hofsas House Hotel Wine Package

Hofsas House Hotel Ocen View Room
Carmel Hofsas House Hotel

When venturing out, you won't need to take the car to explore, leave it at the hotel (parking is free!) and walk around the city. You'll feel as if you're in Europe as you stop at restaurants, partake in wine tasting, and admire the many courtyards and secret passageways of Carmel. I am kicking myself for not getting any pictures of the town. I was so in awe of everything that I completely failed on photo taking.

In between exploring Monterey, we spent our time wine tasting. I highly recommend purchasing Wine Walk-by-the-Sea tickets and splitting it between two people. For $65 you'll get nine tastings at 15 different tasting rooms, and if you buy a bottle, some places will let you keep your tasting ticket. The two of us were able to each drink at four tasting rooms and we still have a few tickets left. And the tickets don't expire so they can be used on the next trip! Our favorite location was De Tierra Vineyards. Great staff, good pours, and a wonderful Merlot that my friend purchased. We also got a bottle of Sauvigon Blanc at Wrath that is delicious. It's worth making a stop at Caraccioli Cellars for the Rose Brute, just don't expect good service. Keep in mind that all of the tasting rooms are within walking distance, so you don't have to worry about catching an Uber. Whereas places like Napa are spread out, in Carmel you can easily walk from hotel to all of the locations. And everyone walks, so even at night we felt safe.

De Tierra Tasting Room

Wine Tasting in Carmel

Are you dying to take a trip to Carmel yet? I already want to go back and it hasn't even been a week! I wish I'd extended my stay for an additional day. While we did everything on my travel list, I think having an extra day in Carmel would have been perfect. You can enjoy an entire trip without having to leave the town. On Sunday we checked out with the sunrise and headed to Carmel Beach. This is an absolute must! The pristine white sand, vibrant blue water, Pebble Beach view, and dog-friendly rules made for a memorable morning and finale to our Carmel weekend.

Carmel Beach

Carmel Beach

Carmel highlights:
-The town loves dogs! You can take them with you everywhere including Hofsas House.
-October is a great month to visit. Weather is nice and fog is minimal so you have clear views.
-Clint Eastwood is a resident and was a former mayor. You'll see homage to him throughout the city.
-Take time to explore the 42 passageways and courtyards. You'll feel like you're in a fairy tale.
-The 17-Mile Drive and Monterrey are only minutes away (roughly $10 via Uber to Fisherman's Warf).
-Have Dinner at Dametra Cafe, it's delicious.
-Grab all the fixings for a picnic from 5th Ave. Deli and take it to the beach or on a drive.

Be sure to check out my tips for road tripping to Carmel, plus guide to visiting Monterey in one day.

And check out Hofsas House when you travel to Carmel!

Disclaimer: I was invited a complimentary stay at Hofsas House Hotel and Wine Walk-by-the-Sea tickets in exchange for honest reviews. All thoughts are my own.