Choice Hotels’ Ultimate People Person Contest

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Here’s another quirky travel contest. Choice Hotels is inviting people to apply for a newly created summer position – the Ultimate People Person.

Upon being hired, the Ultimate People Person will travel across the United States this summer, with the task of capturing and sharing the stories of thousands of people through Choice Hotels’ blog and social media channels. And, yes, the winner gets paid.

Job applications are being accepted now through May 29, 2015. More information is available through this link.

To apply, you start off by putting together a 30-second video “cover letter” and upload it on YouTube. Then do some self-promotion of your video on Facebook and Twitter, mentioning @ChoiceHotels and #choicepeopleperson.

And then, draw on your connections to help raise your profile level by endorsing your candidacy via commenting, RTing or sharing your video (It’s all about your marketing skills.) See the link for all the paperwork (screenshots, links, and three references) you have to email in.

If I didn’t already have summer plans, I would consider applying for the job. But hey Choice Hotels: need a fall/winter intern?

10 Travel Goals For Turning 40

Photo by Billie Ward via Flickr

Photo by Billie Ward via Flickr

I turn 40 this week. As this age might make you reflect a bit on life, I decided to think about some travel goals I would like to reach at some point. Or at least before I reach 50. So here’s a list of my 10 future travel goals, maybe to accomplish before I hit 50.

1) Get better at swimming. I can swim, but just not that great. Or not that far out. So I need to build up my stamina. And because I want to try snorkeling at some point.

2) Master a language. When I travel overseas, I make it a point to learn words like “hello,” “please,” “thank you,” “how much” and “where is ___.” And with my trip to Japan later this year, I would like to grasp a few phrases that I can speak as well as understand with ease.

3) Pack a carry-on at least once. With airlines charging bag fees like $25 each way, a carry-on probably could save me money and time. It also might make me better with packing and have me go directly from the plane to the airport exit.

4) Practice slow travel. Slow travel means spending more time in one place – instead of rushing around from venue to venue or city to city. I’ll probably struggle with slow travel, but some day in the future I’m going to try and focus on spending time in one area or doing or seeing one or two things daily. Or maybe three.

5) Attend one major sporting event. I was lucky to have been in Paris the night of the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final between France and Italy, and, after the match was over, walked amid the parade of soccer fans along the Champs-Élysées. I would love to get to the Winter or Summer Olympics, but even going to the Super Bowl would be awesome.

6) Participate in a major cultural festival. Like sports, going to a major cultural festival like Carnevale in Venice or Rio de Janeiro or the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona would be pretty cool. I was in Barcelona for a music festival called La Merce, but there are others that are equally if not greater fun.

7) See Machu Picchu or the Galapagos. I’ve yet to get to Central or South America and if I could only visit one place/country, I could get to it either to Peru or Ecuador. For some reason, I’m captivated by the ruins of Machu Picchu and the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands. Maybe 2016 will bring me to one of them.

8) Improve my photography skills. Lately for photos, I’ve been using my iPhone 5S as a camera. My shots come out great, but I also want to have a camera for taking a variety of close-ups, panoramics, and nighttime images.

9) Get to all 50 states. There’s a lot to see in America. So far this year, I got to visit Montana for the first time. Next month, I’m heading to Michigan, also for the first time. Roughly, I’ve been to about 25 states and I would rush to get to Oregon, Hawaii and Alaska. Even seeing the Heartland or Southwest would be cool.

10) Learn more about food and drink. I’ve gotten over being a picky eater, and I’ll try almost any type of food now. But I like to have some culinary savvy. With eating and drinking, I know what I like, and what I don’t, but I wish I can know more about the terminology behind a dish or a cocktail. What makes the flavors work together? Usually, I say it’s good, but that’s where I reach my limit with descriptions.

What travel goals do you have before turning 40?

A Guide to Carmel-by-the Sea

DSCN4612Carmel-by-the-Sea is just one square mile but there’s a lot to do here. On a recent press trip to this bay village, I dined at fine restaurants, looked around in specialty shops, followed a wine walk, and hit the beach!

Founded as an artist’s colony, Carmel-by-the-Sea has its charm and quirks. For one thing, there are no street lights or street numbers. It’s also against the law to wear high heels in public. But this village by the bay is pretty pet-friendly and has had poets and actors like Clint Eastwood as mayor, so it evens out. photo(3) photo 1(17) photo 2(19) You can spend a day or a few days in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Here is my list of what to do and see here. photo 2(18)
Head to Carmel Beach.
At the base of Ocean Avenue, Carmel Beach can be a bit of a walk depending upon where you’re coming from. You head all the down the street to get to this off-white sandy beach, but the trek is worth it. I was there on a cooler day so I just dipped my feet in the water and took a good leisurely stroll. As with around town, Carmel Beach is a pet-friendly place, so you’ll run into dog owners on the sand. photo(4)
Get a permit to wear high heels.
Why no heels? This ordinance was enacted because of uneven roads and concern over possible liability lawsuits. But you can get around this ban by applying for a permit. It makes for a fun souvenir. Head to Town Hall and fill out an application from the Clerk’s office. Pull out your ID and the staff will authorize your permit and keep a record of it on file. photo 1(18)


See the fairy-tale Comstock Homes.
Back in the 1920s, architect Hugh Comstock designed a number of English-style country homes for people, which looked like something out of a storybook. Twenty-one of them are still around, but they’re mostly private residences. You can see them only from the outside. The bulk of them are mainly on Torres Street and Sixth Avenue and then on Ocean Avenue near Santa Fe and Saint Rita streets. These homes can be tricky to get to on your own, so you might want to see the two now being used commercially on Dolores Street instead. photo 2(21)


Take a walking tour
. Learn more about this Carmel-by-the-Sea’s history through Carmel Walks. The tour company’s guides will take you around the village and might make stops at Town Hall, one of the Comstock houses or even an alleyway where a scene from Eastwood’s “Play Misty for Me” was filmed. photo 3(15)
Go on a wine tasting walk.
Carmel-by-the-Sea’s “Wine Walk” consists of 14 tasting rooms that can be visited at your own pace. They also belong to a Wine Walk Passport program, which you can pick up a pass from the Chamber of Commerce. Tasting rooms include Wrath, whose wines come from the Santa Lucia Highlands; Scheid Vineyard, with its main location in Salinas Valley; or Figge Cellars, a boutique winery based inside an art gallery. photo 4(16)
Have dinner and drinks at Cypress Inn.
This pet-friendly boutique hotel is jointly owned by actress and resident Doris Day, so you’ll see a lot of Day’s movie memorabilia near Terry’s Restaurant and Lounge. And spot some four-legged guests. While you’re here, order a cocktail from the bar. The menu reflects Hollywood’s Golden Age — and the drinks flowing during that period. Orders include Mai Tais, Moscow Mules and Pisco Sours plus a selection of fine rum, gin, brandy, and cognac. Stay for a meal as well.

Visit Carmel Mission. This Spanish style mission church from the late 1700s is a heritage site with an active parish. You can visit the Basilica church, which is a National Historic Landmark, and the museum.

For other dining or shopping options, here are my suggestions:

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Carmel Bakery. Just looking at the goodies in the display window of this quaint bakeshop makes you want to step inside this place. In business since 1906, this bakery/coffee shop offers well-sized European style pastries such as cannolis and eclairs and their best-seller chocolate macaroons. photo 1(19) Casanova Restaurant. This romantic restaurant was once a private home for Aunt Fairy Bird, who was Charlie Chaplin’s cook. Drawing from the French and Italian countryside, the menu features various croques, pasta, seafood and meat dishes plus some Belgian ones like pomme and moules frites. Take a look at the room built to house “Van Gogh’s Table.” The painter ate his daily meals at this table while living at a boarding house in Auvers Sur-Oise, France. photo 1(14)La Bicyclette Restaurant. This place uses Old World techniques to craft a daily-changing menu. Breakfast, lunch and dinner options are available. Their thin crust pizzas are made in a wood-fired Mugnaini oven and the flavors blend nicely. Order the Butternut Squash one that is also graced with arugula, sage, gruyere, and speck ham. The Local Champignon gets topped with portabellas, oyster mushrooms, mozzarella, thyme and a caramelized onion puree. photo 3(16)Little Napoli. This Italian bistro has cozy quarters for serving rustic dishes such as antipasti, pizza, pasta and risotto based on the owner’s family recipes. Even the garlic bread is made from a century-old method. For starters, find lollipop twists on arancini, meatballs and fried artichokes. Consider their baked truffle gnocchi or try the “Hobo Stew.” Lunch, dinner, and children’s menus are available. photo 1(15)Trio Carmel. This specialty shop carries premium olive oils and infused olive oils with flavors such as Persian lime, blood orange, wild mushroom and sage, and garlic. Find traditional and flavored white and dark balsamics sourced from Modena, Italy as well. The shop also holds wine tastings featuring Monterey County vintners. Olive oil tastings are also offered. photo 2(22)Lula’s Chocolates. This sweet store features handmade caramels and chocolates made at its production factory in Monterey. Find toffees, buttercreams, nut clusters, sea-salted caramels, truffles, and boxes of assorted chocolates.

Disclaimer: Though I was a guest of Visit Carmel, every suggestion in this story is based on my opinion.

Budget Travel and Go RVing ‘Get AWAY to Get Closer’ Contest

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Though I might not write about family travel, I definitely know that families deserve a memorable vacation. Recently I received a notice about the ‘Get AWAY to Get Closer’ contest presented by Budget Travel and Go RVing and thought it would be neat to share.

‘Get AWAY to Get Closer’ will give away the use of an RV for one week, a GoPro camera for recording your trip, $750 for spending money, and a custom itinerary put together by Budget Travel’s expert staff. You and your family also might get a plug or two on Budget Travel as your adventure will be featured in blog posts.

Now here’s what you have to do. To enter the contest, visit www.budgettravel.com/contest and submit a video of 2 minutes or less by 11:59 p.m. by May 29, 2015. In your video, share your idea of a great American RV road trip adventure and why you and your family deserve to win one. On June 8, 2015, Budget Travel will announce the top 5 video submissions and post them on their website, where the public will be able to vote for their favorite video. The entry with the most votes cast by June 29, 2015 will be chosen as the winner. Complete rules and regulations can be read here.

Follow the contest on social channels by using the #BTGetAway hashtag. Good luck.

A Weekend in Port Jefferson Village

Photo courtesy of Port Jefferson

Photo courtesy of Port Jefferson Village

I’ve been to Port Jefferson twice, having taken the ferry from Bridgeport, Connecticut. For a day trip or a weekend stay, this spot on Long Island’s North Shore – about sixty miles from New York City – offers activities from dining to shopping to outdoor exploring that suit any visitor. Upon arriving in Port Jeff, your feet will become your best mode of transportation. Many attractions are within walking distance from the harbor, particularly along the village’s Main and East Main streets.

Upon arrival, your feet will become your best mode of transportation. Port Jeff has a number of activities and options ranging from shopping and dining around the Village Center to even exploring the park and harbor facing Long Island Sound. Chandler Square walking has a mixture of boutiques and stores that sell everything from clothing to gift items to even some quirky tokens.

Here are some ideas for a day trip or weekend getaway:

Toast Coffeehouse 2

Grab lunch at Toast Coffeehouse. If you’re hungry for a fun and filling meal, head right to this eclectic eclectic eatery with an artistic vibe on East Main Street. While its walls serve as a rotating gallery display of local works, its inventive menus provide a canvas for well-portioned meals. Morning choices include assortment of omelets, burritos, French toast, and scrambled eggs. For lunch, find wraps, salads, and burgers alongside in-house originals like The Bad Larry, a grilled turkey/avocado combo on toasted flat bread. Dinnertime is still fun with fondue, taps, and other evening meals.

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Go for a beer tasting at Port Jefferson Brewery. Within the Chandler Square Walking Mall, this small-batch brewery uses a seven-barrel nano system to produce seasonal suds like its malty Starboard Oatmeal stout. Year-round porters and IPAs round out the list. Its tasting room serves up five flights of beers or a taste them all flight option, which can include as many as 12 beers. Tours are conducted on Saturday afternoons; call to confirm availability.

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Try pairings at C’est Cheese. This artisanal cheese shop on Main Street puts together an assortment of cheese tastings in more than one type of whey. Find a varied sampling of seven staff-selected cheeses or opt to have three small portions ‑ paired with beer or wine – with a mild, moderate or intense flavor.

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Enjoy fine dining at Graceful Rose. Named for this family-owned restaurant’s two culinary matriarchs, this West Broadway establishment has a lovely harbor front view with table and bar menus to match, featuring prime Italian, meat and seafood dishes. The wine list is quite extensive as well. From Tuesday through Friday evenings, there is a $19.99 pre-fixe Sunset Menu featuring two courses and dessert.

Take a stroll around Harborfront Park. Built on the site of a former shipyard, this ongoing construction project is creating a multi-purpose park designed to give public access to the waterfront. Visitors can walk on a 350-feet pier or a promenade graced with a sea-grass landscape. At the western end of the park, there is a playground/picnic area where families can sit and enjoy a meal and the younger set can have a good time.

Want to spend the night or stay the weekend? Danfords Hotel & Marina on East Broadway has the best spot in being right next Long Island Sound. This luxury, 86-room boutique property contains high-end amenities with features including spa-inspired showers. The waterfront hotel also has an on-site spa and salon, gift shop and a 24-hour business service and fitness center. With dining, its signature restaurant Wave Seafood Kitchen highlights New American fare that is driven by a “farm to table” concept with local produce and regional catches from the sea. Every Sunday, their buffet brunch with two seating times (11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.) gets a full house.

Editor’s Note: I was invited on a press trip to Port Jefferson as a guest at Graceful Rose and Danfords. All the places listed in this article are ones that I dined at and do recommend based on my experience.

A Night with Texas Tourism

photo 1(2)Being a native Texan, it was fun to get an invite from Texas Tourism for their media night in New York City earlier this week. At Lightbox Studios, representatives from the tourism offices of Galveston, Houston, El Paso, Midland, Amarillo, San Antonio, and Rio Grande were on hand to share latest news about their destinations.

photo 1(1)Along with them, staff members from Texas’ Wine regions, JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country, Hotel Emma in San Antonio, and restaurants The Granary ‘Cue Brew in San Antonio and Prohibition Supper Club & Bar in Houston.

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Delicious pork sandwich with Vietnamese-style slaw from Houston’s Prohibition Supper Club & Bar.

Here are some highlights from what’s happening with tourism throughout Texas:

In Houston
Downtown Houston’s Historic District and Market Square is experiencing an ongoing major revival that is ushering in new restaurants and bar openings to turn it into a happening area again.
Other news for Houston involves public transportation. An expansion of METRORail includes three rail lines recently completed or under construction to give the city 22.7 miles of rail so that locals and visitors can head by train to neighborhoods including Downtown, Midtown, the Museum District, East End, East Downtown (EaDo), Third Ward and the Texas Medical Center.

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A Texas take on pastrami from the Granary ‘Cue Brew, San Antonio.

In San Antonio
San Antonio’s Spanish colonial missions have been nominated for inclusion as a site on the World Heritage List organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). If you’re not familiar with it, the World Heritage List recognizes the most significant cultural and national sites in the world. If awarded, San Antonio’s Spanish colonial missions would be the first World Heritage Site in Texas and only the 23rd in the U.S.

Another reason to consider a visit to San Antonio are festivals. Especially for foodies, Culinaria – A Culinary Arts & Wine Festival, happens this year from May 13 through May 17. Culinaria will feature internationally renowned vintners, top Texas wine producers and the hottest San Antonio chefs. Another fun one is the Fiesta Noche Del Rio, running May through August, a 50-year musical tradition that features the songs and dances of Mexico, Spain, Argentina and Texas. Performances are at the River Walk’s Arneson River Theatre.

Historic Grapevine
Did you that Texas has a Wine Trail? It’s is the fifth-largest wine-producing state in the U.S., and a way to learn and taste its offerings is to head to Historic Grapevine region, which centrally located between Dallas and Fort Worth. Its Urban Wine Trail contains eight wineries offering different varietals or blends and holding tastings regularly.

As for me, I’m hoping to make a trek back to Texas soon!

Helpful Tips for New Travelers

736221_10203015057150083_7684945168442220415_oWhen I started out traveling more on my own – as part of an escorted tour or now going by myself – I read a lot of guidebooks and sought a ton of personal advice from people I trusted.

Now, thanks to travel blogs, community forums and pretty much the World Wide Web, you can find information on just about any travel-related question you have. Yet there are still a few lessons you learn from traveling itself. Here are eight tips that are helpful for new travelers.

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Photo by Jasleen Kaur via Flickr.com

Don’t bring more than you really need.
I’m still a bit guilty of over packing but lugging around my bags has taught me to lighten my load. Depending on where you’re going, chances are that you will at least once have to carry your bags up a flight of stairs. So make it easier on you. With clothes, I bring clothing that are mainly conservative (in the case of going into a sacred place) and can be worn at least twice (think jeans/pants) and can be layered or removed easily. And that one or two pieces that could pass for semi-formal attire. For shoes, I mostly wear flats. With luggage, I prefer using nylon bags since they seem to handle getting tossed around and can also be easier to stack or maneuver into spots.

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Photo by http://www.directline.com via Flickr.com

Get familiar with first aid.
Accidents can happen, and it can be tricky to get to a pharmacy. It’s good to pack a small all-purpose safety kit with you for any small scrapes or cuts you might encounter. Having over the counter medicine like pain relievers or stomach aids is good too. Plus, it saves you money. When I was in Switzerland last summer, I had to buy ibuprofen for a throbbing toothache. The price of the smallest bottle I could find: Nine Francs. That’s roughly $9.30 US Dollars. And teach yourself a thing or two about first aid. I badly banged up my ankle during a trip to New Orleans in 2011 and thankfully I had someone with me who could tie a bandage on it the right way.

photo 1-2Grab a brochure or business card from where you’re staying.
In the excitement of being in your new destination, it can be easily to blank out on where you’re staying. Though you should still print out all of your info like with your accommodations, grab their business card or brochure when you get there. Put it in your pocket or purse. Personally, I’m terrible with names so it helps me to do this. Plus, after I get settled in my room, I often head out the door right away and can forget to take a mental note of where I started from. And as more people are using non-hotel accommodations through sites like AirBnb, keep a Google Maps printout of your digs with you.

photo 1Pace yourself.
There’s a term floating around now called “slow travel” and it means staying in one place longer to enjoy it. If your trip is limited, focus on spending time (perhaps a half or full day) in one particular area of your destination. Maybe it’s a museum or a national park or street market or a people watching public space. Typically, Americans only get a limited amount of vacation time, so it’s understandable to feel the need to “jam-pack” your itinerary or schedule. I’m just as guilty. But then, if you’re rushed to get through a place like a museum, focus on one wing. Or if you have only one day, let’s say in New York City, focus on one district. And adopt a “go with the flow” attitude.

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Photo by gosheshe via Flickr.com

Be mindful of your money.
As a saver or a spender, you should be financially flexible with your money when you travel.  If there’s one thing, you should allow some wiggle room in your budget to not miss out on sudden discoveries like a walking tour or impromptu plan changes. Also, don’t carry all your cash and cards in one place in the case that you might be robbed like I was. I don’t mind using a money belt, but I also try to be creative in using hidden compartments like an empty trial-size bottle for keeping extra bills from getting lost.

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Shop locally.
Another way to delve more into the local culture is to go to the nearest grocery store. If in need of anything like a drink or a snack, it’s also a good source to get an item at a reasonable price. On the last day I was in Jamaica, our guide took us to a nearby supermarket where I was able to get a few items I could bring home (there are some foods you can’t due to US Customs laws) for much less than buying the same items at the airport gift shop. Even just browsing at the different shelves is neat. Food markets are a neat way to see what products are part of the local diet.

270297_423430587766911_1575752810_nLearn Your Way Around.
It’s easy nowadays to pull up your iPhone ask Suri for help or use an app to get directions. But having a good sense of direction is important. Get your bearings by picking a local map from your hotel or even tourist office (which are also great resources). Another way to get better at getting around is to use public transportation. Often you will find ticket options such as daily/weekly/monthly passes, which can also help in getting a layout of your destination – even if it’s underneath or on a set of wheels.  Or brush up before you go by looking up information on sections or neighborhoods.

What tips would you offer a new traveler?