Posts Tagged ‘travel’


If you love travel then you likely get excited about upcoming trips, whether they’re two weeks abroad or a long weekend at the beach. But not everyone feels the same way when they’re forced to take shorter breaks or settle for a local locale (otherwise known as the dreaded “staycation”), which many people are doing these days as much for economic reasons as because of time constraints.


Whether traveling near or far, enjoy where you are. Photo: laudu

But fear not! Spending time somewhere within driving distance can be just as enjoyable as vacationing thousands of miles away—and you don’t have to worry about airport hassles to boot.

1. Pick a nearby place you’ve never been to but always wanted to visit. Often we overlook what’s practically in our backyard because we figure it will always be there or it’s too close to home to count as a vacation. Make it special by staying at a top hotel or resort, add spa time, and definitely book at least one romantic dinner during your stay.

2. If you’re returning to a destination, create a theme for your travels. On a recent trip to Philadelphia—a place my better half and I have visited many times—we decided to make it our mission to find the best Philly cheese steak in the city. (I’m writing this up for another publication so you’ll have to wait for the results.) We interviewed locals for their picks, and it was fun to compare notes and explore new neighborhoods we never would have otherwise. You can do this for food, museums, sporting events, the arts, architecture, just about anything.

3. Add a volunteer activity. Voluntourism is a hot travel trend that adds a memorable element to your trip, whether you’re helping with sea-turtle conservation, planting trees or working the line at a soup kitchen. Check with local resources, such as churches, environmental organizations and animal shelters for needs. Other resources: Habitat for Humanity and

4. Use technology. For online research, start with tourism bureau Web sites, which often have the latest news on attractions, events and hotel deals. Other sites and blogs that can help make planning easier include the new, making search more targeted;, navigating major U.S. transportation systems; and I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this blog’s parent, TravelMuse, which has POIs, articles, hotels and Web search to aid in research, and offers social networks for planning and itinerary building. Of course smart phones are all the rage for info at your fingertips, and GPS devices come in handy on road trips.

5. Stop calling it a staycation! If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then I say the same applies to travel. Embrace your break and make it a vacation to remember.

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Who says you have to be a geek to appreciate museum events? At the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, Thursday nights from 6 to 10 p.m. (through Oct. 29, 2009) are now dedicated to NightLife, with music, food, cocktails and science presentations for adults 21 years and older.

For only $10 ($8 for members), you can shake your groove thang to hot DJ-supplied tunes or learn something scientific with your drink in hand. Each week, a different part of the Academy hosts the party, but you can still walk through the exhibits to your heart’s content (although some, like the Rainforest and Penguin exhibits, close early).

NightLife is the perfect event for those of us who love seeing kids excited about science, and who also prefer to get in close to see that cool-looking stingray, thankyouverymuch.

So, on your next San Francisco vacation, go to the Academy of Sciences at night—and you can check “spectacular new science museum” and “cool San Francisco nightlife” off your itinerary at once! For more information, visit

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TravelMuse is excited to take part in the EyeforTravel, Social Media Strategies for Travel USA 2009 conference to be held in San Francisco, March 10 to 11 at the Hotel Nikko.

We’ll be making a short presentation and participating on a panel focusing on Social Media Marketing: Why a Holistic Approach Pays Dividends, alongside Jeff Hanson (Marriott International), Jeremy Jameson (Southwest Airlines) and Juston Parker (Parker Hospitality Group).

Last year we attended the conference and came away armed with lots of ideas, so we’re looking forward to this year. The conference is aimed at travel marketers who want to learn more about social media and how to generate leads, drive traffic, boost conversions and ultimately grow sales.

•    Learn how to measure and monetize your social media campaigns

•    Discover how to profit from mega-sites like YouTube, Facebook and Bebo

•    Create a social media strategy that leverages your marketing spend

•    Align your search strategy with your social media campaigns

•    Find out how the semantic Web will impact your business

•    Reach out to specific audiences on niche social media sites

•    Target the business traveler through social networks

•    Appeal to the next generation by utilizing online networks and mobile technology

There’s a wide range of leading industry experts from new and established companies presenting, including OTAs (Orbitz and Priceline), social networks (LinkedIn and Bebo), hotels (InterContinental Hotels and Joie de Vivre) and more (Disney, Lonely Planet, Mobissimo, UpTake etc.).

To find out more and register, go to:

To receive a 20 percent discount on your conference pass, send an e-mail to Helen Raff ( and tell her that TravelMuse referred you!

Hope to see you there!

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While I’m a major fan of some of the swanky New Orleans restaurants, like Lüke, Bayona and Commander’s Palace, most often I eat at the small neighborhood joints. Some of my favorites include:

Port of Call. This is the place to go if you have a hankering for hamburgers. Award-winning, half-pound burgers are served along with fat, baked potatoes. Steak and pizza are also available. Wash it all down with a tropical cocktail, like the Neptune’s monsoon or the windjammer. 838 Esplanade Ave., tel. 504-523-0120.

Coop’s Place. One quick glance into this spot on Decatur Street, and you might just pass it by, thinking it’s merely a small watering hole. Venture in, however, and take a gander at the menu on the wall. Coop’s serves up delicious jambalaya, gumbo, pasta dishes and more. To top it off, the chef uses house-smoked tasso (a seasoned, smoked pork) in a few dishes (like the crawfish and tasso pasta), so start with those for sure. 1109 Decatur St., tel. 504-525-9053.

Domilise’s Po’boys. Hit this Uptown bar before the lunch rush to get a seat at the counter. And if you find yourself in line—wait. It’s worth it. Some folks prefer the shrimp po’boy, others dream of the fried oyster, hot smoked sausage or roast beef po’boy—they’re all great. Add a bag of Zapp’s chips to your order, and wash it down with an Abita beer. 5240 Annunciation St., tel. 504-899-9126.

Verti Marte. You’re seated in the perfect bar in the French Quarter or Faubourg Marigny. The only problem: It doesn’t serve food, and you’re hungry. Do you get up to find a meal, or wait a while and savor your great New Orleans moment? Here’s where Verti Marte comes in. With a full menu ranging from breakfast to sandwiches to entrées, they’ll deliver to your perfect bar. You can also walk in and order directly from the counter. My favorite dish? The grilled shrimp po’boy with “wow” sauce (a spicy, creamy sauce). No, it’s not on the menu. Order it anyway. 1201 Royal St., tel. 504-525-4767.

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I just returned from two weeks on Guanaja, one of HondurasBay Islands. Aside from enjoying plenty of hammock time, great views of wildlife (spotted eagle rays, dolphins, ospreys, magnificent frigatebirds), island food, tropical sunny weather (and some spectacular evening thunderstorms), and visiting friends, I had some interesting “beyond tourist” moments that I want to share.

Anyone can have a “beyond tourist” moment on vacation, and it doesn’t even require getting out of the resort (although it’s nice to do so, in order to see how the locals live). Just spend time talking to the people who live in your destination and get to know them a little. Since I’ve been visiting Guanaja for more than 10 years and own property there, I’m regularly doing things like grocery shopping for myself, buying plants from the local nurseryman and chatting up locals in the bank line.


Here’s a glimpse into the island of Guanaja that the guidebooks don’t cover:

•    While I was shopping in Casa Sikaffy, one of the island’s largest grocery stores (that’s smaller than your average 7-Eleven), the lights suddenly went out. First thought: power outage. Nope. The owner’s sister walked up to me and explained, “There’s a funeral, and the body just passed in the street outside, so we turned the lights out for respect.” The street that she was referring to? A pedestrian walkway that’s only 7-feet wide.

•    Guanaja’s a relatively small island with limited infrastructure. Plastic recycling is something it hasn’t been able to tackle in a realistic way, until now. An ex-pat friend, Mike, showed me the island’s new “bottle crusher,” which takes piles of plastic bottles and presses them into large squares—ready to transport to the mainland for recycling. It’s a great way to get trash off the streets and beaches, and money into the pockets of islanders.

•    I had the chance to talk with a gentleman from one of Guanaja’s families that date from English settlement times, in the early 1800s. Mr. Borden is 80, and he told me about all the property throughout the island that he’s owned over the years. While it’s certainly an overstatement to say that he’s owned the entire island, his property holdings have covered a large amount of territory. It was a pleasure to hear about what Guanaja was like in the “old days” when there were few people, no electricity and the fishing “industry” consisted only of families fishing for their dinner.

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