“Know yourself” isn't just a quote from Socrates and a song by Drake--it's also our best advice on how to have a great vacation. This is your vacation! You're taking time off work, spending money, and making arrangements for pet care or housesitting, so don't waste that effort on something that will leave you frustrated. Make sure you have a trip that is perfectly suited to you.
Here are three questions to ask yourself when making vacation plans. They aren't meant to be yes or no questions; rather, consider each question a spectrum where you might fall anywhere between the two extremes.
As you make your 2023 travel plans, think about how you would answer each of those three questions. It'll help to ensure your vacation is your vacation, something you'll truly love.
If you haven't joined a group tour before, you might wonder if one would be a good fit for you. Let's talk about that! We'll take Cakes and Coffeehouses, our June 2023 group tour of Budapest and Vienna, as an example.
Worried about doing a group tour for any of these reasons? You don't need to be if you're with Leaping Hound Travel!
You can learn more about what a Leaping Hound Travel group tour is like on our What to Expect page!
How do you do that prep? There are a lot of websites dedicated to sharing gluten free resources, so start with a simple google of "gluten free + CITY NAME" and see what comes up. Whether or not you find info that way, though, the easiest thing to do is locate a nearby grocery store to your hotel. Grocery stores in Europe often have dedicated gluten free sections, and you can get plenty of snacks to supplement--or, make it deliberate and memorable! Buy a bottle of local wine, some delicious spreads, a bunch of grapes, and some gluten-free crackers, and have a charming little picnic in a city park.
What about restaurant dining? While, at least in big cities, you can find all-gluten-free restaurants, you may also find options at more general places. Trust me when I say that many, many restaurants now have gluten free options available. It's often as easy as pausing in your walking and searching "gluten free near me" on your phone, then scrolling through reviews and choosing something nearby. If you're in a smaller town, you may need to spend a bit more time on your advance research, but I'm confident you'll find something--it might be, instead of something like gluten-free focaccia, an authentic dish that simply avoids gluten to begin with (like a perfect, creamy risotto).
Stressed about flying, about going through security at the airport, about dealing with the crowds, about managing things if you have a disability, etc.? We wanted to share a few resources.
The articles and services above are just a few resources out of many. Have a specific concern? If you search online, you will likely find advice or services that can help. Alternatively, reach out to us! We're happy to chat about any travel concerns, and if we don't immediately have an answer, we'll research things till we find one.
It's shaping up to be a pretty chaotic summer for the airline industry. Want to make your travels go as smoothly as possible? Take this advice from our travel agent buddy Angela Richards, owner of ADR Vacations.
Air travel is going to be nuts this Summer! There are pilot shortages, plane shortages, crew shortages, etc. hitting the airline industry hard just as travel enters its busy season. Here are a few tips to help navigate what is gearing up to be a very not fun time in travel.
✅ ALLOW EXTRA TIME AT THE AIRPORT. It's gonna be super busy this summer so give yourself plenty of time. Look, I get it. No one likes spending more time than they have to waiting in an airport but trust me. Making a mad dash to your gate only to arrive just as they've closed the doors to the jet bridge ain't no picnic either.
✅ DON'T BOOK THE LAST FLIGHT OF THE NIGHT. With all of the shortages, flights have been canceling like crazy. You don't want to put yourself in a situation where if your flight cancels you'd have to spend the night on a cold, concrete floor using your backpack as a pillow and your jacket as a blanket. It's not as comfy as it sounds.
✅ BOOK THE FIRST FLIGHT OF THE DAY. If you can stand getting up well before the crack of dawn, I recommend flying out on the first flight of the morning, which is almost guaranteed to be on time.
✅ PREPARE FOR THE WORST. If you are checking your bags, be sure to have a carry-on that contains a change of clothes, a clean pair of underwear, pajamas, and any medications you might need just in case the airline decides to put you and your luggage on different flights.
While of course things can still go wrong, following Angela's advice will give you a much better chance for smooth travels. Another tip from us: make sure you have travel insurance. Travel insurance isn't just useful if you need to cancel due to illness or get care while in-destination. It also typically includes "trip delay" coverage, which gives you money for reimbursement for meals, hotels, and other things when your flight has been delayed by a certain number of hours. One last tip? Use a travel agent. Then if there are issues, you have someone to reach directly, someone on hand and ready to help however they can.
Want help booking your summer travels? Reach out to us (or to Angela 😁, #travelagentssupportingeachother) and we'll get you set up for a great trip in no time!
We wanted to share a little info on a lesser-known English destination today. Whitby, England, is an utterly charming seaside village in North Yorkshire, and it's a favorite spot of ours.
When should you book travel?
The short, not especially helpful, answer is "it depends!" There's no magic formula, and it depends a lot on personal preference. We've had people book trips a year and a half in advance, and we've had people book trips a week and a half in advance. But, that said, here are some things to consider:
What about last-minute deals? A common misconception is that, due to the disruptiveness of the pandemic, airlines and hotels will be desperate to fill space at the last minute and will charge less. I wish this was true, but it tends not to be. That doesn't mean you can't find a perfectly good price when you're close to your travel date (ask me about the time I booked a trip to Mexico with two days notice!), but it's unfortunately not a strategy to get unusually good deals you couldn't get earlier.
The main takeaway: There's no magic time frame to find the best pricing. Once you know what you want to do, if the price looks acceptable to you, go ahead and book it, and make sure you have good travel insurance.
Do you have a trip in mind that you're considering? Want to talk about the best time to book that specific itinerary? Just email us and we'll get right back to you!
Back in November, Adam and I stayed at the Crown Paradise Golden, an adults-only all-inclusive resort (with a sister property next door that is geared towards families) in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It was a very budget property, very very affordable. Which I like--those views, that beauty, shouldn't only be accessible to people with money! But there were some downsides. The rooms were not fancy. The shower head hit me in between the shoulder blades (I'm tall, but I'm not THAT tall). Things were clearly kind of worn out.
The nice thing about the buffet, though, is that we were essentially eating outside. The breeze would come through from the beach, and we could look at the ocean, but there was a ceiling for some shade (and ceiling fans). It was beautiful.
I was a little nervous about eating at a buffet during a pandemic, but again, it was kind of outside, everyone was required to wear masks when away from their tables, and everyone was also required to wear a plastic glove when serving themselves.
Breakfast was the best of the meals. We sat there each morning for a solid hour, eating things (toast with jam, cereal, fruit, some things are hard to screw up), enjoying the view, and drinking cup after cup of tea. (Plain Lipton black, but after having literally no tea our first travel day, given what tea--and caffeine--addicts we are, nothing had ever tasted better.) We also enjoyed wondering about the other guests: I made up the whole plot of a novel about these three sisters, we wondered why a woman came to breakfast by herself but carrying an enormous bucket, we named a pigeon, I felt a kinship with a blue-haired woman who had no idea I was also blue-haired until recently.
There was a bar right on the beach, and a swim-up bar at the rooftop pool, and we ordered lots of cocktails. They were pretty weak, which was something we'd seen complaints about in reviews, but actually we appreciated it. We wanted to be able to drink plenty of them, but not get wasted.
We found that it was better to think of the resort as a partially inclusive instead of all inclusive. We dealt with the food there better when we knew we'd be going out for dinner or lunch. And indeed, two of the places we had meals at (Pipi's and Margarita Grill) were absolutely amazing.
Masks were required inside the resort, but really we were outside nearly all the time. We opted to wear them in the spaces that were sort of unclear if they were inside or outside, but not everyone did. We didn't feel especially angry at these people, as it seemed reasonable either way.
The resort also had activities (we walked past a pool Zumba class one day) and nightly shows, but we weren't interested and didn't partake. But those are also included in the price, FYI.
The town: Our resort was north of the city center. We took cabs down into the center (the zona romantica)--they were about $5 each way, and easy to find. It was so pretty in the zona romantica. We loved seeing all the shops and market stalls and art galleries. I ate the best guacamole of my life, and we drank the best margaritas of our lives. Next time we visit, we want to spend more time in Puerto Vallarta itself, not just on the resort, because we were so charmed by it.
The excursion: I went on a tour led by biologists to swim with wild dolphins. It was INCREDIBLE. There are a few pods of wild dolphins that live in Banderas Bay year-round, and we went out in a boat, and got in the water with them! I'd expected the dolphins to be like golden retrievers, delighted to meet us, but in reality they were totally indifferent to us, which honestly I respected. They were like "OK, cool, man, I'll swim past you, I've got stuff to do, I'm on my way now." They are also so, so, so fast. I'd swim as fast as I could toward them, and it felt like I was just swimming in place. Life jackets were offered, but the biologists recommended against them for decent swimmers, since they make it hard to maneuver. I opted not to wear one, and felt totally fine (plus, the salt water makes it easier to float--physics!).
Dolphins are huge, btw! One swam right under me, so close that a woman on the boat said she thought I was going to pop out of the water riding it.
It wasn't intended to be a whale watching tour, but we were approaching the time of year when humpback whales head back into the bay (they spent the summer off the coast of Oregon), and when our guide spotted some, we were all eager to go see them. They are EVEN BIGGER! We weren't allowed to get in the water with them, because they could accidentally hurt us. They're like 40 feet long. Amazing! We saw a group of five of them. The guide recognized one of them with a weird tail and said he comes down every year, an old friend.
The traveling details: This was our first time traveling after getting Global Entry, and omg did we love it. Tempted to get TSA Precheck? First of all, yes, it's AWESOME to breeze thru security (on the American side, to be clear--TSA precheck is a U.S. thing) without taking off shoes, without removing our laptops or our bags of liquids. But getting Global Entry made it even better. Going thru customs was unbelievably easy. No form to fill out, you just step up to a machine, lower your mask so it sees your face, it spits out a printout for you, you take it, give it to the airport employee, and proceed. Easy peasy.
Also easy, upon arrival in Puerto Vallarta, grab a taxi to your resort. Do NOT get sucked in by the friendly people offering to help you get a taxi. They want to sell you a timeshare! They will act helpful, lead you to a desk, offer you a welcome shot of tequila, chit chat, then try to get you to sign up for a presentation where as a thank you, you'll get two free massages. (We knew the timeshare people were aggressive and yet still ended up talking to this person before we escaped.)
The resort, once we arrived, also tried to get us to agree to go to a timeshare presentation and receive two free massages. No, thank you. Let us lay on the beach, please. Don't be afraid to cut off anyone trying to sell you a timeshare.
(When I told Adam there was going to be a presentation to learn about dolphins and whales at the start of my excursion, he asked if I'd get offered two free massages after listening to it, lol.)
BTW, at the time we were visiting, the U.S. required a negative covid test within three days of returning home (for vaxxed people--within one day for unvaxxed people. But I'm sure you're vaxxed, right?). Currently, as of writing this, everyone entering the U.S. is required to have a negative covid test within one day. But regulations change all the time, so always double check. We recommend Sherpa as a great resource for pandemic-related travel regulations.
Our resort offered tests onsite, and we signed up for one, got our results within three hours, and uploaded them to American Airlines' Verifly app, which theoretically makes departure easier, because it's linked to your account and they can see that you are all set, without you having to show your negative results at the airport. Other airlines have similar apps or features within their main apps (the Travel Ready Center, for example, is United's version).
Also, had we not stayed somewhere that offered onsite Covid testing, there were plenty of places around to get a test, including at the airport itself.
Overall takeaway: AMAZING. AMAZING. My God, it was gorgeous. The sound of the surf at night! The sand, the sun, the waves, the margaritas--it was everything I needed in the middle of a dreary midwest November. The resort is definitely cheap and budgety, but as long as you go in aware of that, not expecting a four- or five-star experience, it's great. We're not snobs, and we don't need every experience to be fancy. (BTW, if you want actual hard numbers, for a non-travel agent rate, for an oceanfront room like we had, it would have been about $275 a night for 2 people, which includes all the lackluster food and delicious-but-not-very-strong drinks you want, too. Note that pricing is just what it was in November 2021--pricing can change any time.)
OK, all this said, if you want to stay there (or, hey, somewhere with decent food, haha), hit me up! I would love to help you book a similar trip for yourself.
When you think of a romantic vacation, you might envision drinking champagne at a candlelit restaurant, or lounging in hammocks on a secluded beach, or taking in the view from the balcony of a five-star hotel room. Sure, these things can be romantic, but there are truly only two things you need to create an unforgettable getaway for you and your love. It's really simple.
In January, amongst other travels, we spent two days in northern England, somewhere new to both of us. The cliffside ruins of Whitby Abbey stunned us with their stark beauty and fascinating history. Traditional English "cream tea" at a quirky cafe charmed us both. Even a terrible (truly, so terrible! on so many levels!) restaurant quickly became a hilarious memory. Northern England is not thought of as a typical "couples" destination like, say, Paris, but our two days there were wonderful, exactly what we needed.
It doesn't matter whether or not a place is Instagram-famous, with a romantic reputation. You just need to find somewhere new with someone you love, drawing closer as you explore the world together.
We just wanted to give a shout-out to the Black Travel Alliance for the incredibly important work they do. Founded in 2020, they created the Black Travel Scorecard to evaluate destination management organizations and travel brands on not just what they say, but what they do. They recently launched an important website, in partnership with Tourism RESET, on The History of Black Travel. This website functions as a resource for both educators and travel professionals. It's a fantastic project, and worth reading through. It includes profiles of people like Jessica Nabongo, who in 2019 completed her goal of visiting all 195 United Nations member countries and observing states, and Jill Elaine Brown, who in 1978 became the first African American woman hired as a pilot for a major airline.
Also worth a read? This 2021 article by Joah Spearman, "Travel Is So Diverse. Why Is the Travel Industry So White?" Spearman's article examines the myriad effects of white privilege in the travel industry (privilege which, we acknowledge, we absolutely benefit from), and how those effects then influence the experiences of travelers themselves.
Read articles like Spearman's above, or this article by Channon Hodge on the experiences of Black travelers, and it will be abundantly clear (if it wasn't already) that the travel industry has got to do better. We'll be continuing with our pledge to donate 10% of our 2022 profits to Black Lives Matter, and to partner with Black-owned vendors and companies whenever possible. If you have other suggestions on ways we (us specifically, or the travel industry as a whole) can do better, please, reach out and let us know.