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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Packing Tips

Friday, December 18th, 2015

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Whether your goal is to avoid checked or excess bag fees by packing light or simply make sure you take everything you need on your next vacation, here are our top 10 tips for packing for a cruise.

Tip 1: Pack your carry-on bags wisely.

Pack a change of clothes and important meds or toiletries in the bags you will take on the plane and personally transport onboard. This is important for two reasons: First, if your luggage gets lost by the airline on the way to your cruise, at least you’ll have some essentials with you. It can take a while for your luggage to be found and then shipped to the next port of call. Second, in case your suitcases are delayed in being delivered to your cabin, you’ll have a bathing suit or dinner attire on hand and can enjoy all the onboard activities right away, rather than waiting for your bags to show up.

Tip 2: Pack your checked luggage wisely.

Be smart about your checked bags, too. If you tend to overpack, lay out all the clothes you think you’ll need, then only pack half the clothing and three-quarters of the shoes. To save space, roll your clothes rather than fold them. Finally, never pack valuables in your checked bags, as they could be stolen. Carry all cameras, electronic games, jewelry and prescription medicine in your carry-on.

Tip 3: Know the dress codes.

While some folks still dress to the nines (formal gowns and tuxedos) for ships’ formal nights, most people dress more informally (suits for men and cocktail garb – flowing pantsuits or little black dresses – for women). “Resort casual” is now the ubiquitous evening dress; think date night, with men in slacks and buttoned shirts (no jackets) and women in everything from sundresses to skirts or slacks with cute tops. Even jeans are now a staple in many cruise ship dining rooms.

Tip 4: Consider doing laundry onboard.

If you want to pack light, consider having your laundry done onboard.  Cruises usually offer laundry services for a reasonable cost, and if this helps keep your checked bag cost down, you may end up saving even more. You can always save on laundry costs by bringing travel detergent and rinsing out underwear and shirts in your cabin’s bathroom, or packing a bottle of travel-sized Febreze to get one more day’s use out of a gently worn outfit.

Tip 5: Don’t assume your favorite toiletries will be in your cabin.

You’ll uaually find basic toiletries onboard, such as soap and shampoo. In main cabins on some cruise lines, toiletries offered are limited (in some cases to pump bottles of mystery soap affixed to the shower wall). You might want to make room in your luggage for your favorite brands. Same goes for hair dryers. Most staterooms come with weak dryers, so if you’re picky, pack your own. Another tip: Never unpack your toiletry kit. Leave it filled with travel-sized bottles and an extra toothbrush or razor. When it’s time for your next cruise, all you need to do is top off or replace the bottles – rather than wasting time collecting items and possibly forgetting something.

Tip 6: Dress for your destination.

Simply put, some places are more formal than others. Expect to pack more resort-casual wear if traveling to Europe or Bermuda. Other cruise itineraries, such as Hawaii, the Mexican Riviera, the Caribbean and French Polynesia, are more casual than the norm. And don’t forget to think about your in-port activities. Flip-flops are fine for a beach day, but you’ll want more comfortable shoes for long days of sightseeing or active excursions like hiking or biking. If you’re visiting religious sites, you’ll want modest clothing that covers your shoulders and knees, even if it’s quite hot.

Tip 7: Save some room in your suitcase.

You’ll likely pick up at least a few souvenirs during your cruise, so you’ll need room in your luggage to bring them home. Whether you’re picking up leather goods in Italy, Aloha-wear in Hawaii or duty-free goods in the Caribbean, consider packing a foldable duffle. It won’t take up much space in your suitcase, and you can fill it up and check it for the flight home.

Tip 8: Mix and match.

If you can make your clothes do double duty, you won’t be hit with excess bag fees or find yourself fighting for the last hanger in the cabin’s small closet. Stick with one color theme so you can re-wear bottoms with different tops, or bring shirts that can be dressed up for dinner on one night and worn sightseeing the next. Opt for the layered look to handle differing temperatures in the various cruise ports. Change up the look of one formal outfit with different accessories (jewelry, ties, scarves), rather than bring two suits or cocktail dresses. Your shipmates won’t know (or care) if you wear the same outfit twice.

Tip 9: Remember the basics.

Most cruise ship cabins don’t come with alarm clocks, so bring your own. If you’re using your cell phone for this job, put it in airplane mode so you don’t incur roaming charges in foreign waters. Other items you might want to pack because they’re not provided or super-expensive to buy onboard include: over-the-counter meds, batteries, camera memory cards, sunscreen, ear plugs, plastic bags for transporting liquids or wet things (or keeping water out of your gear on water-based tours) and power strips to charge all your electronics.

Tip 10: Keep all important documents with you.

Always make sure you bring your necessary IDs and documents – and never pack them in your checked luggage. You’ll want your photo ID and cruise ship boarding pass on hand, so even if your suitcase misses the boat, you can get onboard. Make sure you have the correct type of identification for your cruise destination, whether it’s a passport or birth certificate and photo ID. Wannabe cruisers have been turned away from the pier for having just a copy of their birth certificate (and not the required original) or a passport with a name that doesn’t match the one on the ship’s manifest. If you need visas or immunizations for your cruising region, carry those documents with you, as well.

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Edited from Cruise Critic

AJ Staff Picks – Food Edition

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

 

At Amazing Journeys, we think travel is seriously fun!  Over the years, we have clocked thousands of miles traveling by trains, planes and automobiles and now we want to share some “insider information” from our travels around the world.

In this second edition of Staff Picks, we’re sharing our favorite new foods from the road.  With so many delicious options to choose from, we each narrowed it down to our favorite food and explain why it is at the top of our list!

 

Stacey: I am obsessed with these ENORMOUS dried lima beans from Peru.  I brought back a huge stash of them and ate them all in about no time flat.

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Malori: The freshest fish you can imagine is in Ketchikan, Alaska.  When I’m there in June, I go to this small diner alongside the bay and get fresh halibut and in July and August, it’s fresh salmon.  Yumm!  Then I mosey over to Ketchi-Candies for some homemade chocolates!

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Erin: Dumpling banquet in China – they kept bringing over basket after basket of amazing dumplings shaped beautifully like what they were filled with.  My favorites were walnut and red bean dumplings!

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Michele: Fried bread made by Native Americans in the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico.  It is simple, light and airy, sweet and absolutely delicious… oh and addicting!

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Hanukkah Shopping Guide: Travelers Edition 2015

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

With Hanukkah right around the corner, we’re all racking our brains, trying to find that perfect gift for friends, family, or what to tell others we want… Amazing Journeys to the rescue! Here is our 8 Nights of Hanukkah Travel Gift Idea list! Buy for others or share the list to hint at what you want!

Anti-Theft Cross Body Bag

A new addition to the AJ staff wardrobe, this travel bag is perfect for travel with its slash-proof locking pockets, cut-proof shoulder strap that attaches to chair and RFID blocking card slots. Available here.


Foldable Carry-On

This carry-on weighs less than 5 pounds and when you are done wheeling it around the airport, collapses into a much smaller, space-saving pouch. Available here.


2-in-1 Backpack

Use it as a mid-sized backpack or tuck it into a space-saving fanny pack. It’s a lightweight quick-change artist that’s great to have on the road. Available here.


Mini Umbrella

This is the perfect “just in case” umbrella. Measuring less than 7 inches when closed, this pocket-sized protection makes sure you are never caught without an umbrella again.  Available here.


Packable Rain Boots

Constructed in a lightweight rubber, the leg of the boot folds down, wrapping around the shoe for easier packing and transportation. Available here.


Shoe Sleeves

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Protect shoes and clothing from dirt and debris as you explore the great outdoors. Available here.


Travel Pillow

Make sure you are comfortable on planes, trains and buses with this lightweight travel pillow. Available here.

Compression Socks

Keep your legs comfortable and ready to hit the ground running after sitting for hours on exhausting flights. Available here.

Looking for more ideas?  Click here to see last years list of gift suggestions.

Enjoy your holiday shopping, happy Hanukkah and hope to travel with you soon!

AJ Staff Picks – Hotel Edition

Monday, November 16th, 2015

 

At Amazing Journeys, we think travel is seriously fun!  Over the years, we have clocked thousands of miles traveling by trains, planes and automobiles and now we want to share some “insider information” from our travels around the world.  In this first edition of Staff Picks, we will be focusing on our favorite hotels.  With so many fun options to choose from, we each narrowed it down to our favorite hotel and explain why it is at the top of our list!

Malori: Without a doubt, the W Barcelona. Perched along the beach in the newly revitalized area of Barceloneta, this chic and modern hotel had everything we wanted from a free day in Barcelona after a busy trip.  Big comfortable loungers poolside with a never ending supply of iced tea and marcona almonds – check.  Seaside views – check.  Fun décor – check.  Stellar service – check.  Rooftop bar – check.  Trendy party by the pool that went on until 5am – check.  We didn’t want to leave!

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Michele: Baldi Hot Springs Hotel in Costa Rica.  Imagine going inside the hotel but you are still outside in nature… in the hot springs, no less.  The ambiance is like no other.  You can experience over 20 thermo mineral hot water pools flowing naturally from the base of Arenal Volcano.  Each “pool” is magnificently lit and surrounded by magnificent landscape.  If you are lucky, as you continue traveling up to the top of the hotel where you find the hottest water temperature, you will also have the amazing view of the volcano.   An amazing experience for the soul!

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Stacey: The Leela Palace in Udaipur, India.  It is the most gorgeous hotel, has stellar sunset views over a lake, amazing grounds that you could spend hours exploring, and the staff is some of the best I’ve ever worked with.  And when you step off of the ferry and enter the hotel, they shower you with rose pedals from above.  I could not make this up.  Oh yeah, and they give you freshly baked gourmet cookies in your room and they are magically replaced every time you eat them!

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Erin: The Grand Wailea Resort in Maui – the rooms have amazing balcony views of the incredible grounds, beautiful gardens, an incredible world-class spa and included classes like sunrise yoga on the beach and scuba lessons in the tiled pool.

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Top Reasons to Visit China

Friday, November 6th, 2015

 

China is one of the world’s most fascinating travel destinations, both for a look into its past and for a chance to ponder its future. China’s evolution from the oppressive Mao years to the current rampant consumerism may be one of the most amazing transitions in human history. This country is changing faster than any place on earth, so it’s important to go now before any more of its history disappears.

Here are the top reasons to visit China now:

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Beijing

Beijing is the historic heart of China where courtyard homes still line old, narrow alleyways called hutongs and a traditional way of life continues despite the constant threat of redevelopment. The capital city also contains many sites essential to understanding this sometimes baffling country.

Begin at the Forbidden City, an impressive palace complex built in the early 1400’s where twenty-four emperors ruled for 500 years. Hidden from view behind imposing walls and a deep moat lies a totally different world of marble bridges, tranquil gardens, and thousands of rooms once used to house the emperors and their households. The Forbidden City was designed according to feng shui principles with red buildings (for luck) topped with yellow roofs (for power). Common people were not permitted to enter, and many of the royals rarely ventured out. Why would they have any desire to leave? After all, of the 10,000 people who once lived here, 3,000 were concubines.

Tiananmen Square fulfilled Chairman Mao’s dream of creating the largest and most spectacular square in the world. Designed to hold 500,000 people, it’s easy to envision the intimidating military displays regularly performed here during the days of the Cultural Revolution. The site also evokes memories of the hundreds killed by government troops during the 1989 student protests. But today, the most common sight is the street vendors hawking cheap Mao wristwatches, with the Chairman pounding out the seconds with his fist. If you want one, be sure to bargain hard!

The Summer Palace is a gorgeous spot outside the city where the royals went to escape the summer heat. While The Forbidden City was all about power and impressing visitors, this summer retreat was a pure pleasure palace. Don’t miss the Marble Boat down by the lake. This “boat” that looks more like a boat-shaped marble pier, was built by the crazy Empress Cixi with funds supposed to be used to modernize the Navy.

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The Great Wall

Reputedly 5500 miles long, The Great Wall is considered one of the wonders of the world and is China’s number one tourist attraction. The Chinese have a saying, “You are not a real man until you have climbed the Great Wall.”

The Great Wall is simply awesome, a truly unbelievable engineering feat. The 12-foot wide wall has crenellated sides like the edges of a huge castle, a height that varies between 20 to 30 feet depending on the terrain, with scenic watchtowers strategically placed all along the route. The wall itself is impressive enough, but to build it in this unforgiving terrain seems insane. At least one million slaves and prisoners of war worked on the project. Walking from watchtower to watchtower is an incredible way to see the beauty of the country while participating in an activity that you can brag to your friends about for years!

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Xi’an

Discovered in 1974 by Chinese farmers drilling for a well, The Terracotta Warriors are one of the most significant archaeological excavations of the 20th century and the highlight of any visit to Xi’an. Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor, was obsessed with the hereafter. To ensure that he would continue the sweet life of commander-in-chief even after his death, he had his minions create a terracotta army made from local clay baked in a kiln. This effort resulted in thousands of warlike, life-sized soldiers with weapons in hand, decked out in full battle armor, and positioned in military formation.

The Warriors are housed in 3 separate buildings (“creatively” named Pits #1, # 2, and #3). Each pit is an unfinished archeological work in progress, with many of the soldiers and other artifacts still in the process of being discovered. It is estimated that 6,000 soldiers will be unearthed in Pit #1 alone. Walk around the periphery of the excavations to observe the details of each soldier and horse. Remarkably, no two soldiers are alike – you’ll see different faces, heights, and statures along with a variety of mustaches and hairstyles. Each soldier’s head is actually a separately molded piece that fits together with the body, like inserting a peg into a hole. The idea was to provide the soldiers with a wider range of motion so they could turn their heads during battles in the afterlife.

Xi’an offers more than just clay warriors, and even if you are not usually into song and dance, you should check out the Tang Dynasty Show. This extravaganza features wildly colorful stage sets and elaborate costumes. Plus a fascinating musical mix of unusual Chinese instruments and dancing that is the definition of graceful, especially when the female dancers wave their long, drooping sleeves like ribbons in the wind.

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Food fit for an emperor

If your knowledge of Chinese food is limited to your neighborhood take-out place, you haven’t begun to appreciate this complex cuisine. Chinese dishes are varied, healthy, always a treat for the senses, and each region glories in its own specialties.

Ancient chestnut trees still grow near The Great Wall, and these wonderfully chewy nuts are the star of savory dishes. Xi’an has a longstanding dumpling tradition and eating a “dumpling dinner” ranks right up there with seeing the Terracotta Warriors as a Xi’an must-do. Wooden steamer bowls are spread out on your table, each one holding several beautifully presented dumplings. The paper-thin wrappings conceal ingredients such as chicken, vegetables, fish, and even walnuts. One of the most loved foods in China, dumplings are delicate works of art often shaped to look like animals or flowers – a delight to the eye and the tummy.  And don’t forget to sample the fragrant Chinese teas. Some of the more elaborate teas even open up like a flower unfolding in your glass.

Beijing is renowned for Peking Duck, a roasted duck dish that was a favorite in the Imperial Court. The lean and crispy duck arrives at your table intact where it is expertly sliced in front of you. Then, you go to work creating the equivalent of a Chinese taco: spread some plum sauce on a steamed pancake and add succulent slices of duck, some scallions, and cucumber slices. Now down it all with a cold Tsingtao beer. Hao chi! (Delicious!)

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Shanghai

Shanghai is a city of contrasts where east meets west, and an historic waterfront faces off with a modern, neon skyline. Shanghai is at its most romantic along The Bund, a sublime riverside walkway and people-watching paradise. This part of Shanghai feels almost European with many buildings unchanged since the 1930’s when Shanghai and The Bund became the chief shipping, trading, and financial district for the colonial powers (Great Britain, France and the U.S.). In those days, Shanghai was considered the Wall Street of Asia. A walk along the 1-mile promenade reveals why The Bund has been called a “museum of international architecture” with a mix of architectural styles including a number of exceptional Art Deco structures.

The architectural delights of The Bund compete with the marvelous modern structures of the area called Pudong, directly across the Huangpu River. While The Bund holds on to its colonial heritage, Pudong is bright and brassy, clearly demonstrating the power and financial might of the new Shanghai. At night , the Pudong skyline is a neon fantasyland from the crystalline rooftop of the Jin Mao Tower to the Chinese Oriental Pearl Tower that looks like it swallowed two giant Christmas balls.

The people of Shanghai are as shockingly modern as the skyscrapers of Pudong. Designer clothes are de rigueur, and shopping seems to be the principal pastime. The tranquil Yu Yuan Gardens provides a peaceful respite from the bustle of the city. And the pearl shops nearby offer an astounding selection of these lustrous gems.

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An unexpected welcome

The best reason to visit China now is because foreigners are still a novelty. At first, you may feel uncomfortable with the way that the Chinese stare at you — like you are the most exotic animal in the zoo. But you need to understand that many Chinese tourists are traveling from their homes in the provinces for the first time, and some have never seen a western face before.

You may find yourself surprisingly popular. When visiting China, you may be amazed when Chinese tourists at breathtaking sites like the Temple of Heaven or The Great Wall want to take pictures of you. Some of your favorite memories of China may be these fun picture-taking interactions.

It is hard to believe that the Cultural Revolution ended just two generations ago. Throughout China, young people seek out foreigners to show-off their fluent English, and little school children jump up and down yelling, “Hallo! Hallo!” whenever they see western tourists. In general, China is much friendlier than you would expect. As new generations emerge, the old antagonism towards the West seems long forgotten, and the deep suspicion of foreigners that Mao encouraged is nowhere in sight.

 

edited from BootsnAll