Wanderlust Blog

Here at Amazing Journeys, we’re lucky to have the best jobs in the world—and we think our good fortune is worth sharing. So, when your next journey seems like a distant dream, take a few minutes to explore our WANDERLUST blog—it’s chock-full of engaging tales and helpful tips from our travels around the world.

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The perfect day in Hawaii

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

-by Erin

Hawaii-10
Imagine this…

You wake up to the sounds of waves crashing outside your window and you walk bleary eyed down to the lobby where you grab a fresh cup of local Hawaiian coffee which instantly wakes you up and energizes you for the incredible day ahead.  With your sunglasses on your head and your camera on your shoulder, you walk down to the beach where the warm sand tickles your toes and you lay out your blanket and watch one of the most impressive sunrises that you will ever see in your life.  You see locals showing off their surfing skills and smell authentic Hawaiian cuisine as you walk down the long stretches of sandy beaches.

Hawaii-40

After a delicious breakfast of fresh local fruit and homemade pastries, you pack your day bag and make your way down the beach to Diamond Head.  As you hike to the top of the dormant volcono, the warm sun makes you smile while the cool sea breeze reminds you where you are.  At the overlook, you gather with your friends and take pictures of the island with breathtaking 360-degree views.

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After an active morning, it’s time to relax so with a strawberry daiquiri in one hand and a good magazine in the other, you head down to the pool.  With the sounds of the ukulele strumming and waves lulling you to sleep, you take a nap soaking in the laid-back Hawaiian lifestyle and dreaming of tomorrow’s adventure.  After a relaxing hour or two poolside, you head back to your room and don your most festive and colorful outfit because tonight, you are going to a luau!  You are taught to dance the hula, learn about the Hawaiian culture and watch an impressive show of dancers and fire breathers.

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As the sun sets and the sky becomes a wash of indigo’s and violet’s, you think of all the fabulous experiences that you will get to share with your family, the friends that you have made and the warm Hawaiian rays of sun that will keep you warm when you are back home and digging your car out of a pile of snow.

Sound like something you’d want to experience?  Join us in Hawaii this November and learn the true meaning of Aloha!  Click here for a preview video of Aloha Hawaii.

Getting Excited to Hike the Inca Trail

Monday, March 31st, 2014

-by Stacey

peru inca trail tents

Okay, I’m going to be totally honest here. I’ve never been camping. Well that’s not entirely true – one time I camped out in a tent in our living room, and one time I camped in the woods behind my friend’s house in Maine. Do those count? Maybe. Okay, probably not.

So why not make my first time really camping absolutely stellar? That’s right, I will be camping for 3 nights on the Inca Trail in Peru during our 4-day trek to the top of Machu Picchu. This is a Bucket List trip. It’s one that not many people get to do in their lifetime, and I have the opportunity to escort our group of Young Adventurers on what’s sure to be a trip of a lifetime for them as well as for myself.

inca trail peru group

What am I most looking forward to for this group? This is a tricky trip to plan – obtaining Inca Trail permits, getting intra-Peruvian flights, coordinating porters and cooks to climb with us, making sure we have all of the right equipment – I love the fact that when we’ve coordinated all of the details, those on our trip can just sit back, relax, hike a lot, and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Since this is a small group with a maximum group size of 15, everyone is going to have this amazingly unique shared experience. From a bike tour around Lima to enjoying Pisco sours in Cuzco and camping on the Inca Trail, this is going to be an experience to remember forever.

peru main 5As if that wasn’t enough. I’m doing it again! But this time we’re going to take it a little easier. The day after I finish with the active group, I begin again! This time, we will be staying in hotels every night (phew!). This trip is going to have the same highlights but with a totally different feel. We will be staying at local hotel properties throughout Peru, filled with activities each day and enjoying the nightlife, and the highlight of the journey, seeing that amazing view when we hike to the top of the Inca Trail and set our eyes on Maccu Picchu for the first time.

I can’t wait to meet the local people, see their amazing textiles, taste the food (and drinks), get our hike on, and breath the fresh – albeit much thinner – air.

Peru, here we come!

You can find some great articles, pictures, and information on the following sites:
Click around here, there are a number of short personal insights and beautiful pictures.
An avid hiker takes on the 4-day hike. Here she gives her advice for what to bring with you
Click here for tips from an experienced Inca Trail hiker

1300 Jews in NOLA

Monday, March 24th, 2014

-by Erin

What happens when 1300 Jewish young adults converge on New Orleans?  #TribeFest!

cafe du monde tribefest

Last week, Stacey and I hopped on a plane headed south to participate in TribeFest – a social, educational and interactive conference of Jewish young adults from all across the country.  I was really excited to meet new people and introduce them to Amazing Journeys and vacations that will change their life.  We spotted some familiar faces amid the black and white themed Purim Party, made new acquaintances in line for the bar and ran into them again in the bar line the next night, and even convinced some AJ alumni to join us for midnight beignets at the famed Cafe du Monde!

parade tribefest
Between the pop-up parades down the French Quarter and the interesting information sessions on a wide range of topics from Shabbat to Jewish genetics to entrepreneurship, there was something for everyone in this 4 day adventure.  We sipped on hurricanes, tasted (vegetarian) muffulettas, danced to the music of New Orleans jazz bands and soaked in the TribeFest experience.  We were motivated by Jewish speakers like Joshua Malina (actor on Scandal), Ethan Zohn (Survivor winner and Co-Founder of Grassroot Soccer) and Doug Ulman (President & CEO of LiveStrong Foundation) and were encouraged to lead a Jewish life that makes a difference.  There were so many amazing people with interesting stories to tell and we were thrilled to be surrounded by such a fun, energetic, inspirational and like-minded group.

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We had a lot of mingling and learning time but we had the most fun at our very own Amazing Journeys booth where we got to tell people all about the trips that we have coming up and what makes Amazing Journeys just so darn amazing!  With each new person that walked over to our table, our enthusiasm grew more and more as we shared our travel stories, heard where others have on their travel bucket list and shared fun AJ swag.  It was such a unique experience and were so happy to experience for ourselves why TribeFest is so popular!

A Guide to Tipping

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

-by Erin

You’ve enjoyed a lovely meal: The ambiance is perfect from beside the Vltava River, the River Thames or the Bosporus Strait, the food seemed to transport you further into the exciting city, and you feel a delicious sense of wonder about the world. Then the bill comes – how does one tip for such an experience? How do you keep yourself from being marked a tourist or worse – a cheap tourist? Never fear: We’ve researched the rules of conduct in 10 popular cities around the world, and here they are in plain English.

London

london changing of the guards

Across the pond in foggy Londontown, tipping etiquette is only slightly different than it is in the States. When you’ve enjoyed a nice meal out at a restaurant, it’s customary to leave anywhere from a 10 to 15 percent tip. But before you leave your extra coins on the table, take a good look at your check: Some restaurants automatically add 12.5 percent, especially on bills for larger parties. It’s not routine to tip at fast food joints or if you’re picking up take-out. When you’re at the bar or pub, tips aren’t customary either — though feel free to leave one if your American reflexes get the best of you. It’s also good manners to leave your taxi driver a 10 to 15 percent tip, though many locals will round to the nearest £1 GBP (about $1.65 USD). Still, if you’ve traveled a longer distance, say from London Heathrow Airport all the way to Buckingham Palace, you might want to leave a bit of a larger gratuity (up to 5 quid or about $8 USD).

Barcelona

After stuffing yourself full of the divine tapas that were delivered by a super attentive waiter or waitress in a Barcelona restaurant, you should consider tipping anywhere from 7 to 13 percent of the total bill. But if the food was subpar and service just so-so, feel free to make your displeasure known by tipping nothing. Tipping in Spain is supposed to be a prize for superior food and service; it’s not an assumption like it is in the U.S. Meanwhile, when it comes to local taxi rides, it’s customary to leave €0.50 EUR (about $0.70 USD), though if you’re traveling farther afield, you may want to tip your cabbie a couple euros.

Paris

paris eiffel tower

You’ve had a marvelous time pretending you are Parisian as you sip your vin and watch the River Seine at a cafe, but you turn into the befuddled American when you receive the bill. It’s a common plight, so here are the rules: A service compris (service charge included) of 15 percent is usually already included in your cafe or restaurant bill. The service charge is probably even included in the price you saw listed on the menu. But rest assured that you wouldn’t be committing a faux pas by adding a few more euros for extraordinary service. When it comes to tipping a taxi driver, it’s customary to tip 5 to 10 percent of the total charge.

Sydney

Down under, the tipping customs aren’t too different from the United States. But one reason for that might be because Americans have influenced the tipping practices in Aussie Land. All you need to remember is the number 10: Whether you’re in a taxi or dining at a restaurant, it’s now customary to tip 10 percent. However, if you only incur a small bill, leaving your extra change should be sufficient.

Prague

prague

When you’re dining on Czech dumplings or beef goulas at a Prague restaurant, you’ll see that a service charge is sometimes included. However, just to be on the safe side, you might want to tip 10 percent of the total bill. When you’re departing a taxi, you should round up the fare to the nearest 20 Czech koruna (the equivalent of $1 USD), or 50 CZK (the equivalent of $2.50 USD) if you’re feeling generous.

Rome

Even though Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg supposedly didn’t tip a couple of Roman waiters while on his honeymoon in 2012, we suggest that you do. In Zuckerberg’s defense, the tipping tradition here is a bit murky. Make it easy on yourself and live by this general rule: Tip up to 10 percent (but no more) of the total bill. However, if you see the words “servizio incluso,” you don’t have to leave your server an additional gratuity, as the service is already included. For taxi drivers, you may want to round up the bill, saying, “tenga pure il resto” or “keep the change.”

Rio de Janeiro

rio

Although Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival celebration is anything but discreet, its tipping practices are. So when you’re handing out a tip, try to be inconspicuous about it — Brazilians are a modest people when it comes to receiving gratuities. At restaurants, however, you don’t need to tip, as a servico (or service) charge of 10 percent is usually included. For taxi drivers, rounding up to the nearest Brazilian real (about $0.40 USD) is usually sufficient.

Istanbul

When you’re dining in Istanbul, you should always try to tip in lira (for reference, 1 Turkish lira is approximately $0.45 USD). For mid-price restaurants, anywhere between a 5 to 10 percent tip would be adequate. However, if you’re enjoying a fine dining experience, you should bump that ratio up to 10 to 15 percent. As for taxi drivers, simply rounding up the taxi fare to the nearest 50 kuru (one hundredth of a lira) is adequate. And if you enjoy one of those quintessential Turkish experiences — like bathing in a hamam — anywhere between a 10 and 20 percent tip is appreciated.

Bangkok

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Even though you may have some trouble adjusting to Bangkok’s language and landscape, you can rest assured that at least the tipping customs are rather easy to remember. When you’re dining on some delicious Tom Yum Goong (spicy shrimp soup) or Som Tum (spicy green papaya salad) or any other menu specialty at a Bangkok restaurant, you won’t be expected to tip, however you can leave small gratuities for decent service or up to 10 percent of the bill for exceptional service. With taxi drivers, it’s customary to round up the fare. (The currency used is the Thai baht and 1 baht equals about $0.03 USD.)

Cape Town

If we were to generalize about Africa as a whole, we’d say that western generosity is very much appreciated. In Cape Town, in particular, you’d probably want to tip restaurant servers 10 to 15 percent of the total bill (sometimes it is already included in your total). Cab drivers are accustomed to receiving about 10 percent of the total taxi fare. And if you’re traveling from Cape Town International Airport (CPT), you might notice porters mingling about. For their help with your luggage, you might want to hand over 20 to 30 South African rand (ZAR), the equivalent of about $1.80 to $2.70 USD. If you’re traveling by rental car, you may run into “car guards” or valets. When you’re coming back to retrieve your car, an appropriate tip is anywhere from 15 to 20 rand, the equivalent of about $1.35 to $1.80 USD.

Original source: Huffington Post

How to Make the Most of Your Airport Layover

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

-by Erin

Flights with layovers are often cheaper than direct flights, but despite the savings, many travelers will pay more to avoid the extra time in the airport. Can we blame them? The thought of sitting around in an airport for six hours is only vaguely more enticing than a dental appointment. And who would want to prolong their travel time more than necessary, especially when beach side hotel in Hawaii or a South American New Years cruise awaits at the end of the journey?

But despite their reputation as a necessary evil, layovers don’t have to mean endless hours of watching the clock and waiting for your Amazing Journey to start. In fact, a layover can be a memorable part of your trip and, dare we say it, fun. Instead of killing time filling out crossword puzzles and browsing the bookstore (there are only so many hours you can spend flipping through magazines you haven’t purchased before you’re asked to leave), why not dine on dishes created by celebrity chefs, take a mini-excursion to a local city or burn some calories in a fitness center?

Leave the Airport, See the SightsphpThumb-6

Airports that offer fast and affordable transportation to the cities they serve are the best places for an airport layover adventure. In cities like Amsterdam, Sydney, Washington D.C., Chicago and London, travelers can easily take public transportation from the airport to the city center and spend a half-day exploring.

For best results, sketch out a rough itinerary ahead of time. Find out what kind of transportation you’ll need to take to and from the airport (most airport Web sites list this information) and research the locations of attractions you want to visit. You may want to focus on a single attraction or neighborhood to save travel time. Allow plenty of wiggle room for traffic, long airport security lines and other variables.

Work Out

If you’re not shy about folding into downward dog in public, pack a yoga mat and work on your positions at the airport. A few minutes of deep breathing and stretching is a fantastic way to get your blood flowing after a flight. Check your airport’s Web site to see if it offers a yoga or fitness area. Singapore’s Changi Airport has a gymnasium where you can do a few stretches (for a fee), while Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport has a meditation center that’s available to travelers at no cost. The quiet corner of an airport lounge also works as a suitable place to do some yoga if your airport doesn’t offer an appropriate facility.

Want to get some cardio in during your layover? AirportGyms.com is a useful Web site where you can search for fitness centers in or around airports in the U.S. and Canada. If there’s no gym in your airport, stuff some sweats into your carry-on bag and go for a jog around the terminals. This is best to do at an airport that offers shower facilities — be considerate of the person who will have to sit inches away from your sweaty armpits on the next flight.

Sleepsleeping

Some travelers think sleeping in the airport is disturbingly analogous to sleeping on the street (especially during an overnight layover), while others have no qualms about catching some Z’s on a terminal bench. One’s comfort level depends on a number of factors, from personal experience to conditions in the airport in which you’re staying. Many airports have designated sleeping sections or special sleep chairs that make for painless napping. Hong Kong International Airport, South Korea’s Incheon International Airport and Vancouver International Airport are a few major hubs that offer comfy lounge chairs and padded benches on which travelers can fully stretch out.

If you’re planning to spend the entire night on an airport bench, you may be awakened by airport security guards who aren’t fond of travelers setting up camp in public, depending on what airport you’re snoozing in. Stay overnight in the airport at your own risk.

Get a Room

Your eyes are heavy after a seven-hour red eye, but you don’t like the idea of dozing off in public. There’s a solution. Consider paying for short-term lodging, even if it’s for a layover that’s only a half-day or so long — it may be cheaper than you think and well worth the cost.

London Heathrow, London Gatwick and Amsterdam Schipol airports all have YOTEL facilities, which are accommodations within the airport terminals inspired by Japanese capsule hotels. A standard cabin can be rented for a minimum of four hours, and comes with a bathroom with shower, a bed, a fold-out desk and a flat-screen TV (all amazingly squeezed into seven square meters).

To get the cheapest rate at an airport hotel, plan ahead as opposed to showing up and requesting a room on the spot. Check rates online for airport hotels before you leave for your trip, and keep an eye out for special rates and other offers. On Hotels.com, we found rates at the Days Inn Airport Best Road, located just 1,600 yards from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, for $47 per night plus taxes, including free shuttle service to and from the airport — which is arguably a reasonable price to pay for a few hours of peace and quiet during a layover.

Play a Gamepoker

Pack one or two board games in your carry-on and get your travel companion or a friendly stranger waiting in your terminal to join in on the fun. Computer solitaire doesn’t count; get your face away from that computer screen for half an hour and engage with a real human being — it’s a great way to pass the time. Some good, packable games include Bananagrams, Travel Scrabble and Yahtzee To Go.

Chat with a Stranger

Chatting it up with an approachable stranger at the airport bar, in the lounge or in a restaurant could lead to a short, dull conversation at worst and a fascinating glimpse into a fellow traveler’s experiences at best. Talk to someone waiting near your gate; odds are you’ll both be heading to the same place. If the person is a local or a repeat visitor to your destination, your chat could yield a wealth of valuable vacation tips.

Eat Like a King

Airport food is notoriously bad, but there are definitely some exceptions to this rule. Select airport eateries offer genuine gourmet cuisine, from locally inspired classics to luxurious dishes. Stranded in JFK? Skip the KFC Express and head to La Vie, a French cafe that serves sophisticated fare like sauteed prawns Provencal and sole meuniere. There’s a popular Legal Sea Foods restaurant at Boston Logan Airport where travelers can get the same fresh fruits de la mer as those served downtown.

On the international front, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay recently set up shop in at London’s Heathrow Airport with a Michelin-starred restaurant cleverly called Plane Food. Travelers in a hurry can pick up a Plane Food “picnic” in a portable shoulder bag and bring their gourmet meal on the plane (warning: may cause jealous seatmates).

Play an Instrumentguitar

The guy who led stranded travelers in a sing-along at Newark Airport became a hero for the moment (and a YouTube sensation) when he saved dozens of passengers from their momentary boredom with his trusty guitar. Entertain yourself and others around you by packing your instrument and playing some tunes. If you’re especially talented, perform next to an upturned hat and use the proceeds to cover your baggage fees.

People Watch

Lots of big cities are famed for their people watching opportunities. In particular, New York comes to mind, and there’s even an amusing Web site, OverheardinNewYork.com, that features snippets of conversation from around the Big Apple. I haven’t found an airport version of this site, but I bet it would be a fabulous read.

With their hodgepodge of interesting characters from every corner of the globe rushing about, airports are the perfect places to conduct casual anthropological research. You’re in a public place, so there’s nothing wrong with eavesdropping on a loud conversation or taking a second look at the 20-something anarchist with tear-drop tattoos on his face. Share the interesting things you see and hear on Facebook (we’d love to read about them).

Original source: Independent Traveler