Monthly Archives: December 2014

Year In Review: Travel Highs and Lows in 2014


In getting ready to unplug for Christmas and other holiday fun, my last post for 2014 is about this year’s top travel moments. Here is a list of both my high points and low points with some takeaways.


  • Traveling across country by rail. In late August, I went to Germany with my cousin and we decided to use the Deutsche Bahn railroad system to get around. We started from Berlin to Hamburg, then on to Heidelberg, Cologne and Munich and then ended our trip in Lucerne, Switzerland. The overall experience was great and a money saver. Months before we went, I bought each advanced ticket online (my cousin gave me all the dates, times and destinations I needed to select) and printed out all of them to bring along with me. By doing this, I paid maybe between 35-55 Euros (roughly 40-60 in US dollars) per ticket. If I had waited longer, the prices would have gone higher. The D-Bahn is a very reliable service and it’s nice to be able to stare out the window while en route from one city to the other. I definitely recommend taking the train when traveling, especially abroad.
  • Going to my first TBEX. TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) is an annual conference season for travel bloggers of all types and levels that happens usually at destinations in both North America and Europe. This year marked my first time going. In September, I was at its North American conference in Cancun and overall I had a nice time. Many friends went, and some even spoke, and I got to meet well-known travel media pros like Johnny Jet and The Planet D. Next year’s TBEX Europe is in Costa Brava, Spain and there is also going to be a first-ever TBEX Asia in Bangkok. Some might debate about whether TBEX is worth going to or not but there are perks like vendor discounts and good networking ops. Plus, if you’ve wanted to go to the destination TBEX is being held in, now’s your chance.
  • Visiting Jamaica. Another travel first this year was going to the Caribbean. I got picked by Visit Jamaica’s tourism board to go on a Bucket list themed press trip in four quick but fun days. My media group ventured along Jamaica’s north coast and spent time in Kingston, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. I’ll be writing about each part of it soon but overall our trip involved cultural, culinary and thrill-seeking activities. Like going on a bobsled ride.


  • Getting pick-pocketed in Cologne. I’m usually pretty good with nervously keeping an eye on my stuff. I messed up in Cologne when I kept leaving my purse open when I took out my camera or iPhone to take photos inside the Cologne Cathedral. I can’t remember how long it took before I realized that my wallet had been stolen. I probably was distracted or maybe it was a bump and grab move. Still, it sucked to lose my credit card, driver’s license and insurance card. Thankfully, my passport and extra Euros were still on me. I wrote about it here if you want to learn more.
  • Running out of money in Lucerne. Another thing I think I’m decent with is travel spending money and bringing enough with me. But I really misjudged prices in Switzerland. The Swiss Franc is higher than the Euro, so something as simple as a fast food combo order can equal out to 12 Francs. Or even an over-the-counter bottle of ibuprofen can cost 9 (And that was for the smallest size I could find). My cash stash ran out two days before I was to head home and I had no cards on me (I didn’t bring my debit card). My cousin gave me some money, which made me feel bad, but thanks to him I didn’t go hungry.
  • Discovering how (not so) far my dollars go. Being a freelancer for the past four years has opened up some cool travel media invites and opportunities for me. At the same, I’ve been spending more this year than I should without balancing out the difference. For 2015, I’m also looking more at closer destinations with shorter stays. As of now, my set plans start in May, as I’ll be heading up to Toronto for a weekend getaway. My goal is to get to Asia next fall (hopefully for TBEX), so in order to afford to do that I’m planning in advance now by cutting spending and cutting down on debt. And getting more work going.

Hope this year was a good one for you and that 2015 will be even better. Happy Holidays and safe travels!

Seeing Dyker Heights Christmas Lights


photo 4photo 1-2Manhattan is not the only part of New York City that gets lit up during the holidays. Brooklyn does too, and the best place to see them is in Dyker Heights!

Residents in Dyker Heights really go all out with decorations: inflatable characters, Santas, robotic figurines and lots and lots of lights. Many of these folks in this neighborhood hire professional decorators to give their homes a holiday look. As though no expense is overlooked, these houses seem as though they’re involved in some “friendly” curb appeal competition. And a financial boost to Con Edison. You can view a video of one of these homes here:

photo 1-1photo 1photo 3-1The over-the-top outdoor decor is so much that visitors trek to here each year to view their homes. For viewing, the best spot to see “Dyker Lights” is to head to the high 80s (83rd through 86th mostly) about between 11th through 13th Avenues. As for getting here, it’s better to go by car or on a bus tour.

photo 3-2If you’re tempted to take the subway, please note you’ll have a good bit of walking ahead of you. And that’s just to get to the houses. If you must, the subway directions I found involving taking either the R train to 86th St. stop (the last one) or the D or M train to 18th Avenue. Also please note that this neighborhood section is not really that lit — in terms of street lamps.

I decided to go on a bus tour through A Slice of Brooklyn Tours, which picked my group up near Union Square. It’s called Christmas Lights & Cannoli Tour.  While being on the bus for most of the trip, there are stops to walk nearby and get closer views.

Our trip to Brooklyn also extended to seeing similar holiday homes in the residential areas of Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst. I took both a photo and video of a “very blue” home in Bensonhurst (shown below). Here’s a clip of it:

photo-3Well, there is one in Bensonhurst, owned by a Greek man, that completely goes over the top! This is it below. You can view a video of it here:

photo 2Our bus tour guide also gave us a lot of background info on these neighborhoods and the history behind Dyker Heights’ holiday showcase. If you’re not too familiar with Brooklyn, I would recommend taking this tour instead. Plus, bring a good camera!

Holiday Guide: Travel Gift Box Sets

All good things come in boxes, no doubt. And there are travel-minded gifts that arrive inside them, ready to be opened. Here are three really cool companies that offer ongoing subscription or one-time giving choices that bring parts of the world to your (or your gift receiver’s) front door.


Photo Credit: Hazel Lane

Hazel Lane
Hazel Lane has various box sets that merge the “best of” goodies and products of different major cities across the United States. Set on a “Made in the USA” strategy, their boxes contain produces that are produced or come from small businesses such as local restaurants. The assortments are said to include eco-friendly, sustainable and organic. The boxes vary in size from a mini-city sampler to a full-on size of assortments.


Photo Credit: Try the World (Facebook page)

Try the World
Try the World take an edible approach to introducing travelers of all kinds to new destinations through their respective foods. Celebrity chefs from different countries select local and authentic delicacies from their homelands to be boxed and sent as part of Try the World’s subscription based service. Subscribers receive a box every two months, which contains about seven to 10 curated products.


Photo credit: Little Passports (Facebook page)

Little Passports
For the younger set, roughly from age 3 to 12, Little Passports organizes three types of educational travel packages based on ages and destinations to take kids on a mini-global adventure. Once the subscription is ordered, an introductory kit is said to be mailed that will come with everything these youngsters will need to get their “journeys” started. The packages are destination specific and arrive monthly, containing various items like activity books/sheets, stickers, access to online games and photos.

(Editor’s Note: These selections were based on media pitches and/or recommendations by fellow travel bloggers. I am not receiving any compensation any of their mentions.)

How to Feel Like You’re Traveling… Even When You’re Not


Photo by Matteo Paciotti via

It sucks when you feel like you can’t go anywhere. Or in reality you can’t go anywhere far.

Any traveler can get these blues. For me, as of now, my 2015 plans might have to be vague. Why? Well, the New Year is coming with higher costs (who else here is feeling insurance sticker shock?) and new priorities (like figuring out where I want and can afford to live). So, except for a press trip next week, I’m going to see what happens.

Yet, you can kind of feel like you’re traveling even when you’re not able to. It’s all about perception, right? Here are some ideas on how to act like you’re traveling… even when you’re not:

1) Go to festivals

From foods and seasons to heritages and holidays, just about any type of festival can put you in a temporary setting. And expose you to different people and well places. You might be able to sample new foods, get a bit of culture, learn a fact or two, or just let loose. Before going to your event, do a Google search to try and find possible price breaks or valid admission discounts. Check their Facebook page or Twitter handle as price-chopper offers might be posted. Travel trade shows are nice too – just watch it on your swag and brochure grabbing.

2) Go out to eat

Yes, the cost of eating out can be sketchy. So start slowly with options. Food trucks can be good for artisan or ethnic food finds. Consider lunch specials or wait for upcoming promotions like a restaurant week. Search sites like Yelp or Chowhound or your local sources for in-the-know reviews on reasonably priced but equally good places. YipIt also a good source for daily deals.

I did a post recently on communal dining, which is also another good thing. Scope out food-focused Meetup groups or register with service sites like Feastly and EatWith. Groupon or LivingSocial lists some perk deals but buy them sparingly.

3) Volunteer your time

One often overlooked way to get into travel-related events or similar offerings is to volunteer. Your assigned task can be menial but you get a behind the scenes look—and even better appreciation—of what goes into holding these events.

Back in March, I volunteered at the first Women’s Travel Fest and was delegated to manning the coat checkroom. Once coats were carefully stored, I got to listen in on lectures by some leading ladies in the travel and community sectors. Plus, I got to take Samantha Brown’s coat. Well, I was so nervous that I gave her a hanger instead of grabbing her coat first. But I recovered.

4) Give your location a second look

How often do we live in a place for years and never see everything or even our own state. Whether you’re in a city or rural section, take your car or subway or bus and scope out a different neighborhood. For that museum you’ve never considered going to–or haven’t been to since you were a kid–now’s the time to visit. Bus trips might seem lame but they have their conveniences. Sometimes I’ve been by far the youngest person on a bus trip, but for me it was easier and cheaper for getting to places this way than on my own.

Tell me what you think.