Weekend Wanderlust: Colorful Cities

Photo by Pedro Szekely

Currently planning our family trip next year but we can’t seem to decide on a destination. We’re torn between going on a grand tour of Italy or discovering a more offbeat city in Central or South America. Personally, I’d rather be exploring the cities of Havana and Cartagena. I’ve had my share of beaches and beach resorts in the last few months, and I’m kind of on a city kick right now, especially those with splashes of colors; winding, cobblestone streets; beautiful markets with great artisanal finds; amazing cuisine; and a terrific blend of old and modern design and architecture.

At the moment, I’m obsessed with these five cities. They are currently at the top of my travel list.

Havanna / Musik

Havana, Cuba (Courtesy Spiegel Online)

91496203bfb475dbdfb2745cc800192bCartagena, Columbia (Courtesy TextbookTravel)


Mexico City (Courtesy DesignLoveFest)


Granada, Nicaragua (Courtesy Travel-Lusting)


Istanbul, Turkey (Courtesy Anna)

What about you? Which cities are you itching to visit? Which destinations are at the top of your list right now?

Vignettes of Samana (Dominican Republic), Part One

I have a soft spot for the Dominican Republic. Not only was it the very first Caribbean island I ever visited, I also adore its people—they’re so welcoming and friendly—and love its shallow, sandy beaches full of beautiful sand dollars and shells.

Before my epic United Kingdom/Marrakesh trip in July, I was invited by Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts to come out to Samana to check out their gorgeous all-inclusive properties there and experience some of the European-popular province’s attractions. It was a fantastic experience: one brimming with adventure, delicious dips in the water, amazing seafood and wonderful people.

Here’s the first set of photos from my trip.

Be sure to check out my stories from the trip on Huffington Post as well as on Travel Pulse


Our first stop was the lovely, beach house style resort of Grand Bahia Principe El Portillo and the nearby town of Las Terrenas.








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We also spent some time visiting small villages and farms, meeting with the locals, and doing some snorkeling and swimming at the gorgeous Playa Rincon, which doesn’t see a lot of tourists because it’s a bit hard to get to and the dirt road that leads to it is kind of rough. The beach is definitely worth the trek though, and it’s probably my favorite on the island.







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Enjoyed these photos? Keep an eye out for the second set, to follow soon…


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Eye Masks for Midair Slumber

I’m amazed that some people can pass out on a plane without a problem. Not all of us have that talent, which means that people like me need a lot assistance just to get comfortable and squeeze in even an hour of shut-eye. A fluffy pillow, a warm blanket, a comfy outfit, a mild sleeping pill and/or alcohol… every little thing helps.

I think one of my biggest in-flight sleep deterrents is the fact that planes are almost always too bright. Even when they dim the lights and it’s dark outside, there’s still too much light, which is why eye masks come in handy for me. Still, many eye masks out there are unflattering. It’s bad enough that your hair’s all messy from the head rest, your skin’s all dehydrated from the lack of humidity, and your mouth’s probably hanging open as you’re slumped in your seat after dozing off. Not to worry; there are some super cute masks out there that give you a touch of sophistication, even if you are slightly drooling on the side of your mouth.



breakfast at tiffany’s inspired eye mask from TheSleepyCottage

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pretty pink silk sleep mask from The Snoozery

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 2.55.26 PMmary green sleeping eye mask from Shopbop


french lavender aromatherapy cat eye mask from Naomilingerie


lavander eye mask from Holistic Silk


lacey lids sleep mask from Morgan Lane


silk eye mask from Net-A-Porter


floral print linen eye mask from Zara Home


starry eyed sleeping mask from Morgan Lane

Comfy Tees for Flying

It’s no secret that I absolutely hate flying. It’s the one part of traveling I admit I cannot quit enjoy or even just get used to. I hate being stuck a small space for hours, not being able to move freely and get comfortable. While the window views, in-flight movies and sleeping aids are good distractions and make flights easier for me, I still end up with getting restless and fidgeting and wishing the flight would end already. So I do everything that will help me feel as comfortable as possible.

One of the many things I try to do is to dress super comfortably. This means that my travel style is simple: soft, loose tees, loose-fitting pants, and flats or sneakers—plus a warm sweater or jacket to match. This combo always guarantees comfort and warmth for me without looking sloppy. The tees are especially important. I prefer graphic ones made of soft, airy material and fit well without being too constricting.

Here are some flight-perfect tees I found online:


c!ao graphic tee from Madewell


rocky horror picture show tee from UO


naf shirt from The Deep End Club


i’m pineapple graphic tee from Forever 21


fun icons tee from Truly, Madly, Deeply


good vibes tee from Sub Urban Riot

Clever Ways to Save Money When Traveling

If money is no issue, we’d probably find ourselves swimming in infinity pools overlooking epic panoramas, dining at the most expensive Michelin star restaurants, de-stressing at the most luxurious resorts, and going on the most epic adventures. But the hard truth is money is almost always an issue… unless you’re in the 1% of the population.

Just because we’re on a budget though, it doesn’t mean we can’t still have an amazing vacation. It just means we have to skip or cut back on the not so important things so we can splurge a little on the important ones when we’re traveling. Here are some tips on how you can save money and stay on your budget when traveling:


Pack a sandwich. Eating out while traveling is one of the biggest money drainers, but you don’t have to do it all the time. Stay at B&Bs, hostels and hotels that offer free breakfast. Pack a sandwich for lunch as well as some snacks—I spent several days in London having only a sandwich and a bottle of water for lunch, which actually turned out nicely because I got to enjoy them while people watching and relaxing along the Thames. Use your dine out funds mostly for dinner. And if you really have to eat out for lunch—there are, after all, some local fares that are only meant for daytime consumption—then find places that are cheap. There are a lot of food spots out there that serve amazing food at very affordable prices.

Take the public transportation. If you’re visiting a big city, chances are you can easily get around just taking the public transportation. Yeah, you need to do a bit of research and it’ll take some time to figure out the system, but it’ll be totally worth it, especially considering the money you’ll save not paying for cab rides. In busier cities like New York and London, taking the trains will even save you a lot of time. I’ve once spent an hour in a car trying to get to a restaurant in London due to heavy traffic… it would have only taken me half that time or less in the Tube.

Souk owner presenting his wares in Marrakesh (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Haggle when you can. I was one of those people who couldn’t bring themselves to haggle because I felt like I was cheating vendors out of their hard earned money. I’ve since realized that these vendors can usually afford to sell their wares at much cheaper prices than initially advertised. Proof: a merchant at a souk in Marrakesh once sold me a pouf for 40 MAD cheaper than we initially agreed because he didn’t have enough change to break my 200. In fact, in many places vendors actually expect their customers to haggle. So don’t be afraid to haggle—start at one third of the original price and work your way from there—and don’t hesitate to walk away if you can’t get it for the price you’re willing to pay.

Take advantage of free tours. Many hostels and hotels offer complimentary walking or bike tours that you must take advantage of when you’re on a tight budget. They might not be as comprehensive as those tours run by actual tour companies, but they’re usually informative and very useful for familiarizing yourself with the destination you’re visiting. It’s also a great way to meet fellow travelers and a perfect chance to ask a local—your tour guide—some questions you might have about the area.

Stay at hostels. Nothing beats the deliciousness of a luxurious hotel room and a plush queen sized bed that you have all to yourself. I personally prefer private hotel rooms myself, and if you can afford it, I would tell you to go for it. But if you’re on a tight budget, paying for a hotel room that will cost you $100 or more a day is simply impossible. Opt to stay at a hostel instead, where a comfortable bed will cost you anywhere from $15 to $75, if it’s really busy. Just make sure to do your research, as there are a number of crappy ones out there. The amazing ones—like Smart City Hostels by Safestay in Edinburgh, which has really good amenities like free reliable WiFi, complimentary hot breakfast and free walking tours; a cool pub; and very friendly staff—are worth every single penny.

Buy a pay as you go SIM card. You’re better off getting a pay as you go SIM card at your destination than paying for a 30-day international data plan from your service provider. When you get your SIM, simply purchase a cheap bundle that meets your minutes, text and data needs during your trip. You’ll save a lot of money and still enjoy good enough mobile privileges.

Travel with someone. Traveling alone can be such a liberating and unforgettable experience, but traveling with someone has its perks as well. Going on a vacation with your partner or a couple of your friends will let you split some of the bills and expenses on hotel rooms, meals, tips and even toiletries, saving you money that you can later use for some souvenir shopping.

Buy a city pass. Some of the bigger cities offer city passes that will give you free access to some or most of their main attractions. Some, like the London Pass and the Paris Pass, even include huge discounts to other sights as well as offer fast track entries. These city passes are usually very affordable and cheaper than paying for all those attractions individually. And they’re very convenient too.

Eat your leftovers. If you’re anything like me, you’re likely going to end up with plenty of leftovers when dining out. Take leftovers with you if you have any; they’re another meal or snack that you won’t have to pay for, saving you some cash. In some countries, it’s not customary to take your leftovers home. In fact, many restaurants in these countries like the UK don’t even carry leftover containers. Don’t sweat it; just carry around an empty container with you!

Pack light. These days, airlines will try and charge you for everything. That includes things that you think should be like choosing your seat and checking in your luggage. Check-in baggage usually costs anywhere from $25 to $100 depending on the weight. Save some money with careful planning, packing only the clothes that you’re going to need with just a couple of just-in-case pieces. This way, you can pack everything in a carry-on and you won’t have to pay for checked bags. Just make sure you have space in there for souvenirs.

Rack up the miles. Racking up travel miles in your airline or regular credit card, simply by making necessary, everyday purchases, is one of the best ways you can save money while traveling. You can use the miles you’ve earned to pay for travel-related expenses like airline tickets, hotel rooms, room service, some purchases and even cab rides. My favorite is Discover it as it doesn’t have an annual fee and it doubles your earned miles in the first year.


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All About England: 10 Things You Need to Know Before You Go


Since England is an English-speaking country, first time travelers to the country tend to drop their guards. But during my first visit there, I was not only surprised by the many dissimilarities, I also ended up committing a few faux pas. The fact is there are many things about the country that are completely different from what we are used to. Here are some of them:

Millennium Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

1. People are, in fact, pleasant and very helpful. And they say actually apologize for things like accidentally bumping into you on the street.

2. The usually have separate faucets for hot and cold water. Careful not to turn the hot water faucet too far or you WILL get burned.

3. Your servers at restaurants will ring you up at the table, and not many of them will be pleased if you asked for wine recommendations.

4. Don’t believe the myth. The food is actually good and hearty. Definitely try the Full English for breakfast.

Sosharu (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Sosharu (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Nando’s (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Preserves and cheese, Borough Market (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Brindisa Tapas (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Brindisa Tapas (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
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Q Grill (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

5. They won’t let you order food at pubs unless you secure a table first, and not many do takeaways (that’s British for take out).

6. Speaking of pubs, many of them close early. Like 11pm early. Even in London.

7. The public transportation will get you literally anywhere. While planning for my trip in the Cotswolds, I was terrified that I’d get stuck somewhere in the middle of the country if I missed a bus. My fear was quickly dispelled as soon as I realized that even in the countryside, buses and trains run pretty regularly.

Bibury (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Chipping Camden (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Chipping Camden (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Burford (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
House in the Cotswolds (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

8. You need to keep up the pace during rush hour in London. That’s usually between 7:30 and 9:30 in the morning, and from 5 to 7 in the evening.

9. Some hotels, especially the cheaper ones, may not have in-room air conditioning. This may not seem so bad during the cooler months, but in the summer time, it CAN be torture.

10. They actually have good coffee and nice coffee shops. The afternoon tea, however, is a lovely affair that you must partake in at least once. I very much enjoyed the one at sketch in London.

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sketch in London (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
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sketch in London (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)


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Marvelous Magnets in Alluring Marrakesh

Spend a couple of days in Marrakesh, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the small yet vibrant city, and you’ll understand what attracts thousands of travelers to this tiny part of Morocco. Visit the former imperial city, and revel in its lively culture and these five unforgettable family-friendly attractions.

Riad Si Said (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Stay: Enjoy traditional Moroccan accommodations in one of the many riads in Old Medina, where many of the city’s attractions are located or within walking distance. Some, however, are better than others. Book a stay with the super affordable and highly rated Angsana Riads Collection Marrakesh. The brand owns a number of riads located within the old city, including Riad Si Said, which offers complimentary breakfast, a pool and spacious suites dressed in traditional Moroccan furnishings.


Central Souqs

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Marrakesh’s Central Souqs (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

What is Marrakesh without its bustling marketplace that offers families endless shopping opportunities? Right in the center of Old Medina are the city’s Central Souqs, whose maze-like streets and alleys are teeming with shops that sell everything from Argan oil, local spices and ingredients for that night’s dinner to beautiful clothing, Moroccan poufs, gorgeous rugs, colorful footwear, metalworks, ceramics, musical instruments and lanterns. You can spend hours simply getting lost and bargaining for goods to take home.

Koutoubia Mosque

Koutoubia Mosque
Koutoubia Mosque (Flickr: Adam Axon)

The mosque’s minaret, which has stood guard over the city since the 12th century, is the first thing you’ll see as you enter the city from the airport. Koutoubia Mosque remains a holy place of worship and may not welcome non-Muslims through its doors, but it’s still one of Marrakesh’s biggest attractions. Visit in the early morning when it’s a tad cooler, walk its beautiful grounds and take that opportunity to get some photos in. Later, grab some pastries at Patisserie des Princes.

Djemaa el-Fna

Djemaa El Fna (Flickr: Tom Walk)

Marrakesh’s main square, Djemaa el-Fna, is one of the city’s best and most vibrant attractions. It’s worth of a visit in the daytime when local sellers of juices, potions and food are starting to set up shop, but it’s best to visit when the sun goes down and the whole place transforms into a venue for many street performances. Djemaa el-Fna boasts musicians, bellydancers, circus performers and even the last remaining storytellers. The food and juices look enticing, but make sure to do your research first and watch the vendors as they prepare that orange juice for you.

Koutoubia Gardens

Energetic may be Marrakesh’s core personality but that can be overwhelming to new visitors. Take refuge in the Koutoubia Gardens, nestled behind Koutoubia Mosque, where palm trees and orange trees offer a much-needed quiet break. Have a lovely stroll here, or grab coffee and quick bites from Café L’Arome and enjoy them at one of the park benches. The gardens also offer great views of the minaret so remember to bring your camera with you.


Also in the center of Old Medina, Mouassine is much like the Central Souqs in that it offers plenty of shopping opportunities for local goods and products. The difference is Mouassine has brought in new sorts of sellers, shops and cafes, fusing the old with the new, cool and chic. Visit souqs that sell beautiful leather goods and textiles and shops that sell stylish clothing. Later, take a stroll around Bab Doukkala and walk around the Bab Doukkala Mosque complex.


(Originally published on MiniTime.com)

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Exploring One of London’s Oldest Neighborhoods

Compared to New York, Tokyo or Los Angeles, London is a small metropolitan. But within its city limits are several neighborhoods—a just little over 40, in fact—and each of them possesses a plethora of sights and diversions that could easily fill up your day of exploration.

Within the City of London, one of the oldest neighborhoods, for example, historical attractions, bustling markets and awe-inspiring architecture abound. Here are some of the best ones you can visit and explore in one day.


Where to Stay: Experience the best of both worlds at the newly opened Batty Langley’s Hotel. The beautifully furnished hotel boasts rooms and suites with Victorian flourishes and antique furniture like gorgeous four-poster beds and exquisite old-fashioned ceramic bathtubs as well as modern conveniences such as Bluetooth and Apple TV connectivity and complimentary high speed WiFi. Best of all, they offer breakfast in bed so you can lounge in bed a little longer the next day!

Tip: If you’re planning on maximizing your time in London and visiting many of its popular attractions, the London Pass is a convenient and money-saving tool to have. It gives you access to over 60 of the city’s attractions at no further cost as well as skip-the-lines privilege to some of the most famous ones. Plus, you won’t have to keep standing in line for tickets, it’s so easy to use (show to scan and you’re in!) and you get an attractions guide book for free. Purchase the London Pass before you start your day of exploration in the City.


St. Paul’s Cathedral

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St. Paul’s Cathedral is a must visit sight in the City of London. (Photo: Michelle Uy)

Start your day early at St. Paul’s Cathedral, which opens to visitors at 8:30 am except on Sundays. While not included in the London Pass, tickets are affordable and can be purchased online.

One of London’s most famous attractions, the cathedral is a sight to behold both inside and out. It’s the site of several important events in British history, including the funeral of Winston Churchill and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, as well as the final resting place for several people of great significance like Alexander Fleming and its own architect Christopher Wren.

While its history is impressive, it is a far cry from the architecture and design of the cathedral, both of which are lavish and spectacular. While photos are not permitted inside perhaps to preserve its sanctity, the stunning mosaics and paintings, intricately designed arches, columns and ceilings, and incredible high altar will forever be etched in your memories. Borrow the complimentary audio guides, as they’ll offer interesting facts and insights you wouldn’t otherwise know, and conquer your fear of heights and climb the steep steps up to the Whispering, Stone and Golden Galleries for awe-inspiring views.

Tower of London

Visit the Tower of London and learn about its role in history. (Photo: Michelle Uy)

After a couple of hours in St. Paul’s Cathedral, walk about 20 minutes southeast to the Tower of London. Or save time and take the Circle or the District Line from Mansion House Station to Tower Hill. When there, head straight to the entrance and bypass the line with your London Pass.

The Tower of London is one of London’s most historic and most important sites, with a grim history that only adds to its appeal. Today, it is home to the magnificent Crown Jewels as well as the imposing Royal Armouries in the White Tower, both of which you must visit early on as they draw the most crowds. Take your time in both areas as there’s so much to see and connect to history. Later, visit the Tower Green Scaffold Site, where Anne Boleyn was executed; the Bloody Tower, which harbors a harrowing secret and where Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned; and Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula, burial place of Anne Boleyn.

While they can draw such large crowds, the 60-minute Yeoman Warders tours that starts every 30 minutes from the Middle Tower, are certainly worth going on as they are very informative and also fairly entertaining.

Tower Bridge

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The Tower Bridge is one of London’s most beautiful bridges. (Photo: Michelle Uy)

Grab a quick bite at New Armouries within the tower grounds and then head straight to Tower Bridge mere steps away. Again, bypass the line with your London Pass and spend around 30 minutes or so exploring it. But before you do, make sure to take photos of the bridge, which is picture perfect especially when it’s bright and sunny in London.

The Tower Bridge Exhibition is worthy of a visit, even if you only have an hour or less to spare in your day. You’ll get a chance to see its interiors, learn about its construction as well as bridge engineering, see its Victorian engine rooms, walk over the Thames over transparent glass floors, and even witness fascinating bridge lifts (check the schedule here).

After your visit, visit the Girl with a Dolphin Fountain along St. Katharine’s Way for a great photo opportunity.

Leadenhall Market

Walk about 16 minutes to Leadenhall Market where lunch options are aplenty.

The covered market is one of the city’s most famous, thanks to its beautiful Victorian roof and the fact that the Diagon Alley scenes from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone were filmed here. However, it’s also known for its food stalls, shopping opportunities, restaurants and pubs. Take your hungry troop here for a much needed refueling and break.

Don’t be shy and take photos of the market. Everybody’s doing it!

London Bridge Experience

Take the older kids to see the London Bridge Experience. (Photo: Michelle Uy)

While you can take the bus from Leadenhall Market to the London Bridge Experience, which is also included in your London Pass, walking over London Bridge is much more scenic and will only take 13 minutes of your time.

The London Bridge Experience welcomes kids of all ages (except perhaps infants) but may be disturbing for the little ones. The older kids will certainly get a kick out of it however, especially if they are into scary mazes. Comprised of two parts that altogether takes about an hour, the tour starts with a themed, story-telling narration of the bridge’s fascinating and at times dark past as well as a small exhibition that depicts its history, and then takes visitors to a dark and at times scary maze that they have to pass through.

The staff will give you a chance to skip the maze, so you will have the option to experience only the first part that offers quite an insight to the bridge’s history.

Museum of London

Take the Northern Line from the London Bridge Station to Moorgate and walk less than 10 minutes to the Museum of London since you’ll have plenty of time to spare.

Continue your day immersing in London history and visit the kid-friendly Museum of London. Here, you and the kids will be transported to the city’s different yet equally intriguing eras—from London before it became London through Roman and Medieval London as well as the time of the Plague to the modern city we’ve come to know and love—through several galleries and recreations. There are interactive displays as well, which are perfect for teaching the kids, and temporary exhibits that London Pass holders can visit for free.


(Originally published on MiniTime.com)

all rights reserved. no part of this blog post may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.

Travel Tips for Visiting London for the First Time

London is an easy city to familiarize yourself with, so even if you come unprepared and decide to just wing it, you’ll find the city pretty effortless to become acquainted with and accustomed to. Still, it’s nice to be just a little prepared and look like you know what you’re doing. With these ten tried and tested travel tips, you might just even blend in with the locals.


Get an Oyster Card. Everybody in London either walks or uses the public transportation (or realistically, both). The city’s network of public transportation, which consists of buses, the Underground trains, National Railway trains, trams and even boats, is very efficient, very effective and the fastest way to get around (the trains especially). Before you start your London explorations, obtain an Oyster Card that you can “tap up”—meaning add credit to—at every National Rail and Underground station as you go. Oh, and do memorize these symbols below…

bustop – London bus stop symbol

179px-Underground – London Underground symbol

nationalrailicon – National Railway symbol

Get a Pay As You Go SIM Card. Unless you belong to an amazing cellular network, an international data plan might be just a tad too expensive for what you need. As soon as you get to London, visit a local store and get a Pay As You Go SIM Card, which allows you to choose and purchase a bundle that fits your needs best. These bundle are usually cheaper and provide more minute, text and data allowance. Best of all, you can purchase and activate a bundle through your phone.

Get a London Pass. If you’re planning on visiting many of London’s most popular attractions, London Pass will save you a ton of time, money and hassle. Starting at £59 for a 1-day pass, the passport will give you access to over 60 attractions at no extra charge, as well as discounts and extra perks at many others. Additionally, you’ll also get Fast Track access to a select few—the Kensington Palace, the Tower of London and the London Bridge Experience, for example—so you can beat the lines and save even more time.

Tower of London grounds (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Learn the Currency. Much like the rest of the city, the British pound or pound sterling is pretty straightforward but it’s still a pretty good idea to familiarize yourself with them, especially the coins. Londoners are usually very patient, but you still wouldn’t want to be holding up a line while you try to figure out which one’s 20p and which one’s 10p. The banknotes are usually £5, £10, £20 and £50 bills while the coins you’ll come across are usually 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2. And when someone asks you for 5 “pee,” don’t freak out. They only mean 5 “pence”.

Skip the Cabs, Take the Tube Instead. London, like many metropolitan areas, is plagued with really bad traffic. This means that a £15 cab ride can easily turn into a £30 one during rush hour. With your Oster Card tapped up and ready to go, you can easily hop on a train to get to your destination in no time. It’s cheaper, faster and also very easy to figure out as timetables, directionality, connections and stops are displayed at every single station and every single platform. And if you’re still not feeling confident, simply use the Google Maps app on your phone. It’s pretty good at providing idiot-proof instructions on getting from one point to another using public transportation.

Visit by Neighborhood. While London is quite compact, every neighborhood in the city has a number of things to offer. If you have plenty of time in the city—3 weeks perhaps, I would suggest exploring it one neighborhood at a time. This will give you ample time to get to know each one—as they each have their own distinct personality as well as must see sights. Go for a literary walk in Bloomsbury, go shopping in Soho and Mayfair, visit the historical attractions in the City, enjoy arts and culture in Shoreditch, etc.

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Carnaby Street in Soho (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Look Right Then Left. If you come from a country where people drive on the right, which is basically most countries, it’s easy to get confused when navigating the streets on London. The whole United Kingdom drives on the left side of the road. While you might not be doing any driving during your visit there, this is still a very important tidbit to remember as you’ll need to remember which way to look when crossing streets. Always remind yourself to look right first and then look left. Look right then look left. Make this your mantra for the next few days until it’s practically second nature.

Stay on Your Left-Hand Side. Pedestrian traffic is much like vehicular traffic. Everybody walks on the left side, on the streets, up the stairs, at the stations… Or at least they should be. Most people do, but it can get a little confusing since most visitors and tourists don’t follow it. The best thing you can do is keep walking on the left side but pay close attention to oncoming traffic so you can dodge accordingly.

Take Some Day Trips. There’s a lot to see in the city itself and chances are you may not be able to see most of it during your visit. If you’re staying for two or three weeks however, it will be good and a nice change of pace to visit some of the smaller towns and cities outside London. Literally everything is a leisurely train or bus ride away. Take a couple of days or even weekends to visit Oxford, the Cotswolds, Bath, St. Ives, Weymouth, Brighton, Canterbury, or even Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Bibury in the Cotswolds (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Bath Abbey in Bath (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Get Some Clear Plastic Bags for Your Liquids. If you’re planning on visiting other cities in other countries while there—Marrakesh, Madrid or Lisbon, perhaps—it’ll be good to know some of England’s rules for air travel. One clear-cut rule that airport security is firm about is your liquids storage. They prefer that all flyers use a clear, resealable bag that’s about a little bigger than the Ziploc sandwich bags we have in the US to store their liquids. If you use the wrong container—a big Ziploc bag or a clear make-up bag, for example—chances are they’ll make you take them out and repack them in the preferred bag. Don’t worry, though. The airports usually have these bags on hand, whether for free or for purchase, so you can go to the airport and grab a couple before going through security. Also, bear in mind that every passenger has a limit of 2 bags max, so make sure to only bring the necessities.


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Flying Tips for Non Flyers

Visiting unbelievably beautiful places is a privilege that’s often hard to trade or resist; but to some of us, the ‘getting there’ part isn’t quite as enjoyable. If you’re a non-flyer like me—and by that I mean someone who isn’t comfortable with the act in general—flying to your vacation destination may just be the most irksome part of your holiday.

Flying is, however, an eventuality you can’t avoid if you want to see the world. There are, however, a few things you can do to make the experience as pleasant for you as possible.


Choose a Seat You’re Most Comfortable With

The window seat isn’t necessarily the best seat on an airplane. I find that while I do enjoy sitting next to the window for the view, the makeshift headrest and the control of the window shade, there are days when I prefer sitting in an aisle seat for several reasons including having access to the aisle if I need to stretch my legs or use the toilet and being able to easily get to my carry-on in the overhead bin. Decide whether it’s the aisle, middle or window seat that would fit your needs the most and reserve that seat, as sitting in one you’re most comfortable with will make that flight a lot less painful.

Wear Comfortable Clothes

Sure, it’s a good idea to dress up and look good for a flight, but in the end all that matters is your comfort. As long as you don’t look like you just crawled out of bed or haven’t showered in days, nobody will care how fashionable your in-flight outfit is. Besides, you can look good while still being comfortable. Loose-fitting pants, a pair of shoes that’s easy to slip off and on, and even underwear that won’t ride up are the way to go when you’re stuck in a tight space for a couple of hours or more. Plus, they’re good for your circulation.

Use an Eye Mask

One of several ways you can endure a flight is to actually sleep through it. But it’s not exactly easy, not when there’s always light coming from different sources—whether it’s your seatmate choosing to turn his reading light on when practically the whole cabin is dark or it’s that unshaded window across the aisle from you—keeping you awake. Try an eye mask instead. It doesn’t have to be Breakfast at Tiffany’s fancy, it just has to be effective. You can even purchase one at one of the stores at the airport.

Bring a Security Blanket or Pillow

To some of us, sleeping on a plane—unless of course you’re sitting in first class—can be challenging and frustrating. You can only put your seat back so far and the headrest isn’t exactly nice and fluffy. Some flights do offer complimentary blankets and pillows, but they’re not always available so bring your own just in case. Don’t lug a massive pillow or blanket around, however. A travel pillow or a small blanket will do, something good enough to help you sleep.

Flying over California (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Skip the Nonstop Flights

A two-hour flight isn’t so bad. But if you can’t stand being on a plane for hours at a time, a six-hour flight might be too long for you. I know it is for me, as I start to get antsy after four hours. Opt for a connecting flight instead, if you don’t mind extending your total travel time for a few more hours. Not only are they generally cheaper, they’ll also give you a chance to breathe, stretch your legs and maybe even grab a proper lunch at the airport.

Revel in Your Travel Quirk

We all have our little quirks that we cling on to like a security blanket. If you have a travel quirk—whether it’s tapping the side of the plane three times with your right hand before you board or falling asleep during turbulence because it rocks you to sleep (like me)—don’t hesitate to do it if it helps you feel at ease. Just make sure it doesn’t bother the other passengers.

Download Your Favorite Movies

Watch the free movie or movies the airline offers on your flight. Or if you have extra cash to spend, by all means purchase that in-flight movie you’ve been meaning to watch. Watching a movie is one of the best ways to distract yourself from the tediousness of a flight. Do remember though that some flights, especially the budget ones, do not offer in-flight entertainment so make sure you have your favorite flicks handy on your computer or mobile device. And bring a book or two with you to read as well.

Travel Light

I find that traveling light takes the pressure off a little. Not having bulky and heavy luggage to carry around with you allows you to relax a little and focus on yourself a little more. Plus you won’t have to worry about overhead bin space or having to wait forever for your checked in luggage at the airport.

Drink Plenty of Water

The super low humidity in an airplane cabin can be very dehydrating, and the longer your flight is, the more chance you have of getting dehydrated. If you’re already feeling uncomfortable or apprehensive about flying, being dehydrated can make you feel even worse. Make sure to drink plenty of water and leave the alcohol for when you’re back on land.

Chat with Your Seatmate

It may seem like an awkward situation at first being stuck in the same row as two or three other strangers for a few hours, but you’d be surprised how many people are more than happy to chat with their seatmates. Strike up a conversation with the person next to you. You’ll know immediately if they’re interested or not. If they aren’t, then you can go back to reading your book or watching a movie. If they are, then you’ll have another way of distracting yourself and you’ve also made a connection with someone.


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Hotel Review: The Royal Playa del Carmen, Dressed Down Yet Elegant

A tranquil courtyard, green and decorated here and there with unusual metal sculptures, led arriving guests from The Royal Playa del Carmen‘s enormous lobby to the pools and the beach beyond. Standing there, it’s quite easy to fully appreciate the resort’s allure. Six or so elegantly beautiful Mexican hacienda-style structures, painted white for a more modern flair, rise above you in their modest grandness, their doric columns and intricate iron railing balconies both intimate and inviting.

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The Royal Playa del Carmen

Back in the courtyard, two paths on the opposite sides lead to the pool area, where two big pools sit, busy with guests enjoying their fruity cocktails and flanked with at least two hot tubs, possibly a couple hundred lounge chairs and several curtained cabanas, all arranged in a very appealing way. From here, you can hear the sounds of the waves as they kiss the beach, the famous Playa del Carmen beach, that lay just a few steps beyond.

Cabanas at The Royal Playa del Carmen
View from my hotel suite at The Royal Playa del Carmen
View from my hotel suite at The Royal Playa del Carmen

I was almost sad to leave the brilliant blue waters of Cancun behind, which was where I was until an hour earlier. But walking onto that serene, cream-colored beach and seeing that familiar turquoise waters of the Riviera Maya again after so many months, I am reminded of why I prefer it over Cancun’s partying ways.

It was here where, a little over a year ago, I fell in love with the Yucatan Peninsula and this unfailingly intriguing country. Having a smaller budget then, I made do with a cheap-ish studio apartment that turned out to be more expensive than its actually worth. Picture rough sheets, no air conditioning to take shelter from the tropical heat, a ceiling fan that sounded as if it was about to fly off its base any minute to shred me to bits in my sleep, and the occasional roach in the tiny bathroom that, judging from their gigantic size, could also possibly murder me during slumber. The only good thing that AirBnB find had going for it, in fact, was that it was just a short stroll from Playa’s main tourist strip.

This time around, I find myself, with incredible relief, surrounded in luxury. With over 500 upscale rooms, the all-inclusive Royal Playa del Carmen is an adults-only, beachfront property whose well-appointed suites boasts a massive bathroom, a Jacuzzi, and at times, a private plunge pool. It comes, undeniably, with palatial elegance, from its architecture down to the excellent service, but that elegance is also somehow charmingly subdued. It is, in other words, posh without being stuffy and superior, upscale but sincerely friendly. It’s one of the many things I love about it.

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Suites with private plunge pools at The Royal Playa del Carmen

I also love its abundance of delightful surprises that you’ll truly be hard-pressed to find in other properties, let alone in an all-inclusive one. Consider, for example, its quiet pool area–a gorgeous hidden gem that you wouldn’t know existed until either somebody told you or you just happened to discover it while getting lost in the resort’s expansive grounds. Consider nearby the onsite coffee shop–an unusual thing for an all-inclusive property–that serves proper lattes and is always ready with plates of cookies and muffins for afternoon indulging.

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The Royal Playa del Carmen
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Consider also the spa, whose bamboo-enclosed outdoor massage area may just be as glorious as those ones on the beach, the 24-hour snack bar where you can grab delicious snacks as well as good wine and cerveza any time of the day, the balcony hammocks that you wouldn’t have to fight anyone for, the pool concierge who is ready to lend a hand when you’ve run out of sunscreen, and even the friendly stray cats the staff has kindly allowed to stay on property for guests to dote on.

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Spa Azul at The Royal Playa del Carmen
Spa Azul at The Royal Playa del Carmen

And I love the food, the delicious fares of Brazilian, Asian Fusion, Spanish, Mediterranean, Caribbean, and French Mexican type cuisines that you can indulge in, guilt-free because you are, after all, on vacation. And because it’s hard to stay at this resort and not indulge. The sheer loveliness of it, whether bathed in sunshine or swathed in dusky blue, will make anyone drop their guard and simply revel in anything and everything.

Though most of all, I love that it’s one of those places where you, without meaning to, just automatically drop your shoulders, straighten your spine and walk as if you’re wearing a thousand dollar dress. But really you know no one will look down their noses at you if you’re sweating through your cheap, Target-bought top after just getting back from exploring the ruins of Tulum under that sweltering, unforgiving midday sun.

Or when, on your last day, you just happen to take a slip on an oversized sandbag while you were walking on a neighboring beach (because why wouldn’t you?), and you’re walking back to your suite all gross, your legs sandy and your bottom algae-covered.

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6 Simple Ways to Stay Healthy When Traveling

A vacation is pretty much synonymous to relaxation as well as indulgence. For many of us, it’s that rare chance in the year when we can leave all our cares behind, avoid the more arduous activities and possibly indulge in things we can’t always have in our daily lives—like heaping piles of food, perhaps.

Just because you’re on vacation, however, it’s no excuse to overlook your health. After all, you wouldn’t want to return from your dream vacation needing another vacation, or worse, nursing a debilitating virus. Here are a few very simple, tried and tested things you can do to stay healthy yet still enjoy your vacation.

Drink plenty of water. It’s easy to neglect drinking water when all those yummy drinks are an order away. The problem with these drinks is they’re so delicious and refreshing that you’ll end up having more than your fair share without noticing the stacking calories. Drinking healthy amounts of water while on vacation is a great way to offset your calorie gain as well as maintain the balance of your body fluids and stay hydrated (few are as dehydrating as that alcohol in your cocktails!). Best of all, drinking water is one of the easiest ways to reenergize.

Stay active. Take some time whether at the start of your day or at the end of it to squeeze in a quick cardio. Many hotels and resorts have a gym onsite with facilities at the guests’ disposal. With all that good food you’ll be sampling—some of them not as healthy as we’d like them to be, it’s easy to gain a bit of weight during your vacation. It only makes sense to balance that out with a little bit of workout and burn those extra calories from that 14oz steak or that large piece of chocolate cake you ordered the night before. And like water, it’s also energizing and a fantastic way to start the day!

Keep a balanced diet. Sure, you don’t get to indulge in amazing steak or lobster every day. It’s more than ok to treat yourself to those hearty lunches and dinners as well as those fruity cocktails. But at the end of the day, it’s still important to eat your fruits and veggies, and control your portions. A good way to keep a balanced diet is to start your meal with the healthier stuff and then leave some room for that hunk of meat or pasta dish you’ve been dreaming about. This way, you can enjoy the “good” stuff without overindulging.

Get plenty of sleep. It’s easy to lose track of time especially when you’re having so much fun or when you’ve got a lot of catching up to do with relatives you’re traveling with. Just make sure you don’t do it every night. A vacation is the perfect opportunity to rest and catch up on much needed sleep. Go to bed early, sleep in or even squeeze in siestas—traveler’s choice. Just make sure you get more than enough shuteye so you can start your days and end your vacation well rested.

Do some yoga. Aches and pains are normal when your itinerary is imbued with activities or when you’re participating in more strenuous endeavors like hiking, kayaking/paddle boarding and snorkeling. A fantastic trick to shoo the soreness away is to do some post-activity stretching, or better yet, an energizing yoga sequence. Yoga workouts are a quick and effective way to get rid of most of the soreness. They’re also a lovely way to reboot your body, getting it ready for another day of fun. There are many videos on YouTube that will guide you through a 20 to 30 minute workout; and some hotels offer yoga classes as well.

Squeeze in a massage. A spa treatment may be the best pampering you can give yourself, so shell out a bit of cash and treat yourself to an amazing massage. You’ll come out a more relaxed and happier you. Many hotels and resorts have their own spa onsite, and a combination of a full-body massage and aromatherapy is probably the yummiest and most satisfying. Before or after your treatment, take advantage of the spa facilities. There’s nothing like a good soak in a hot water plunge pool, or a few minutes under a glorious rain shower. Lastly, try to find a spa where they offer treatments right on the beach; the sounds of the waves will make the experience even more soothing.


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Vignettes of Yountville, Day Two

Day two in Yountville didn’t start out well for us. We came out to one of the vineyards up on the hills early Saturday morning with Napa Valley Aloft for a hot air balloon ride (and a champaign breakfast after), but the weather had other plans. We were hoping it would clear up, spending our time taking photos of the fog-covered vineyards and half blown-up balloons while waiting. But the fog just got thicker by the minute.

Our guides were very apologetic though (although it’s hard to blame them, the weather can be unpredictable), and they made up for it by having unbelievably delicious Bouchon chocolate cupcakes waiting for us when we got back. And we still enjoyed the view.

Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Hot Air Ballooning with Napa Valley Aloft (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Bicycle Ride Around Yountville

With our hot air ballon ride canceled and it being too late to go back to bed, we had to find another way to spend our Saturday morning. Luckily our hotel (North Block Hotel) lets guests use their cruiser bikes for free, so we decided to explore the town on them.

We rode our borrowed bicycles along Washington Street past the main strip and the town limit to where the vineyards are, and then on the bike path along St. Helena. The bike ride was a lovely experience, and certainly a good way to see the rest of Yountville.

Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Yountville (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
M(a)isonry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bouchon Bistro (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bouchon Bistro (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
French Laundry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
French Laundry (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Richard Reddington’s Redd Wood

The bike ride was also a fantastic way to work up an appetite. Afterwards, we had a light but super tasty breakfast at Chef Richard Reddington’s Redd Wood, complimentary of North Block Hotel: eggs (sunny side up and an omelet), bacon, roasted rosemary potatoes and toast. And the arugula was amazing and fresh.

Redd Wood at North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood at North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood at North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood at North Block Hotel (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

We also had supper there that evening; and unsurprisingly, the restaurant serves amazing dishes for dinner (much like most of the restaurants in this town… I seriously think they have a ban on bad food and bad chefs in Yountville). For starters, we had the crispy Fritto Misto that I couldn’t get enough of. We followed it up with the super light Prosciutto Crudo Pizza and amazing Shrimp Linquine. And for desert we had their yummy Pot De Creme Coffee Espuma Whip and Biscotti.

Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Redd Wood (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)


Before heading off to the Taste of Yountville festival, which we had tickets for, we simply had to stop by Bardessono, one of the greenest hotels in the country (that’s no exaggeration, mind you! This hotel goes out of their way to be eco-friendly, which gained them the hard-to-acheive LEEDS Platinum certification. I talk more about this in my recently published piece on eco-friendly trip ideas for Earth Day…).

Anyway, the hotel is not only very friendly to the environment, it is also beautifully designed. We had a quick tour of its grounds and buildings that blended modern simplicity with natural touches, which I absolutely loved. And they have a spa onsite too. It was smaller than the spas I’ve been too, but Yountville is all about relaxation so we simply had to squeeze in massages before we joined the festivities.

Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Bardessono (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

After our lovely massages at the Spa at Bardessono, we walked over to Washington Street, which was bustling with people. We were in town on the same weekend as the town’s annual Taste of Yountville and Yountville Live!, and having obtained complimentary tickets to both festivals (thanks to the kind folks at Fuller & Sander and the Yountville Chamber of Commerce) we decided to spend lunchtime sampling wine and food from many of the local restaurants and wineries that were participating. There were out of town participants as well.

It was a fun experience, going from one tent to another. We spent a couple of hours walking up and down the main strip, tasting different wine and samples of delectable food (even the firefighters’ tent served amazing barbecue), and chatting with some the locals.

This is day two of our Yountville adventures. Vignettes from Yountville, Day Three is coming soon. Stay tuned!


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