Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Three Best Kept Travel Secrets

TripBase, a very popular travel blog, recently started a tag-you’re-it game across the travel blogosphere. The idea is to collect a cool list of across-the-globe travel secrets from as many travel bloggers as possible. At some point, this list will be a Creative Commons roundup that I’ll be able to share with you once it's available.

I’ve just been tagged by two of my favorite travel bloggers, Melanie of TravelswithTwo and Robin of MyMelange to contribute my top three travel secrets.

Here they are:

1. Florida's Panhandle sometimes gets a bad rap, often because overdeveloped Panama City gets so much attention as a haven for spring break revelers. But there's that other Florida Panhandle, the authentic one that presents so many opportunities to explore some pristine beaches you might have difficulty choosing which ones to lay down your beach towel. In fact, over the past many years, some of these beaches have made it on to Dr. Beach's Best Beaches in America list -- a list with some 50 key criteria, including water color, scenery, urban development, sand quality and more.

Here are some of my favorite picks where blinding white sandy beaches are the rule and where, depending on the time of the year, I've found sections with more shorebird tracks than footprints.
Nine miles of dunes make St. Joseph Peninsula State Park particularly appealing. Shallow waters make also make it ideal for novice kayakers and a haven for migratory song birds, though it's also possible to spy hawks soaring overhead. St. George Island State Park is blessed with miles of sugar-white sands bordered by salt marches and oak and pine forests. Off the beach there's also good fishing for red snapper, mackerel and pompano. At Grayton Beach State Park, you can swim in emerald green water, gaze at sea-oat covered dunes, and hike through a lovely pine forest. St. Andrews State Park gives you the choice of swimming in the gulf or in a quiet tidal pool. From the beach, snorkelers are treated to multi-colored fish among the granite boulders of the jetty.

2. Surrounded on three sides by the sea and ringed by defensive Genoese watchtowers, Alghero makes for a picturesque town, especially given its fortified ancient quarter. Yet, many of those who visit Alghero with its fortified quarter never seem to leave their beach blanket. Set along the less developed west coast, Alghero has so much more to offer than swaths of sand and aquamarine waters that are perfect for boating. A sense of history pervades the old quarter that's still surrounded by Genoese watchtowers. On a self-guided audio tour, I climbed to the 20-meter-high terrace of the 16th century Porto Terra Tower for the panoramic views.
Though the beaches lining the coast of this resort town as well as those in nearby Fertilia get all the tourist attention, there are an array of day trips (many within cycling distance) sure to delight those who care little about sunning on Sardinia's sands. For example, I picked up an audio-guide at the Palmavera Nuraghe and meandered these ruins in this prehistoric village, one of the most complete of these Bronze Age complexes. Drive or bicycle through the little-visited Regional Forest of Porto Conte and you'll quickly understand why the protected land of oaks and pines is dubbed Noah's Ark. Unique white donkeys, small horses and Tibetan goats are just a few of the curious creatures wandering about. Though most visitors sign up for a boat tour to reach the famous Grotto di Nettuno with its cave network, a more memorable journey is to take the 654 steps of the Goat's Stairway down the cliff face. Not far away at Porto Ferro, three Genoese watchtowers guard Sardinia's longest beach where surfers flock to take on the crashing waves. Bird watchers often drive or bike to nearby pine-fringed Lake Baratz, Sardinia's only natural lake, where you may spot grebes and mallards.

3. Barcelona, Madrid and Andalusia get so much tourist traffic but it's the little visited Extremadura region -- one of Spain's least visited regions and the birthplace of Cortez, Pizarro and other Spanish conquistadors that provides so much inspiration for me with its rural landscapes of olive trees and Holm oaks, craggy mountainsides coated with pines and chestnuts trees and historic towns, Guadalupe, Merida, Trujillo, Zafra and Caceres, laced with labyrinthine streets. Each has a distinct character and is worth a visit: Trujillo for its palaces bearing the coats of arms of prominent families; Guadalupe for its massive monastery that's a UNESCO World Heritage site and one that houses a wealth of museums with elaborate embroidered vestments, reliquaries, ancient books of Gregorian chants; Merida that has some of the most complete set of Roman ruins around - so much so that I was able to jog along the periphery of the Roman Circus where chariot rides once took place; and, every June in Caceres, the capital of the province and another UNESCO World Heritage site, hosts the Classic Theater Festival where the works of the gold age artists can be experienced.
In whitewashed Zafra, though I didn't stay in one of Spain's most impressive paradors that's housed in a 15th century fortress-palace, I enjoyed the property's best feature: it's white marble Renaissance patio where I dined one evening on guinea hen in puff pastry. Instead, I stayed at Hotel Huerta Honda, the next-door property that was once the site of the castle's farm. In fact, the hotel's restaurant retains the original brick archway that was part of the fortress in the late 1400s. I also was lucky enough to visit during an annual event, De La Luna Al Fuego, when I took a historic tour of the fortress' impressive ramparts. I would've hung around longer to watch the sun set when an unexpected lightening storm cut our explorations short.

Now, I'm tagging 5 other travel blogs to share their top 3 best-kept travel secrets:

EllenBarone: Ellen's website and blogs have something for everyone. I've had the pleasure to travel with her and find that she's a real Renaissance woman who always gives me great tips and something new to think about.

JourneyWoman: Evelyn is a supreme resource for all things any woman will need when she's on the road, whether it's staying well or wondering what's appropriate to wear in different international destinations.

CiaoBambino: Ami provides a wealth of family-friendly travel advice. I don't have kids but, if I did, this would be one serious resource.

EuropeUpClose: Terri's just got so many fab tips, deals, news items and advice on so many European destinations. I'm in Europe frequently and I always find something here I didn't know.

Italylogue: Jessica rounds up an amazing array of everything you need to know about traveling to and enjoying Italy.
continue reading "My Three Best Kept Travel Secrets"

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Two Cool Healthy Travel Devices

Two problems have always plagued my travels: my ears bother me when the plane is descending and I'm prone to motion sickness when I'm in small planes flying under turbulent conditions or I'm in a boat. And, because I love gadgets, of course I've found two devices that have basically taken care of these two problems.

EarPlanes is an inexpensive, disposable set of silicon/ceramic ear plugs that I put in my ears before the plane changes altitude and I keep them in until we land and the cabin doors open. Sure, I may look a little weird with these odd-shaped plugs sticking out of my ears. But, they've banished my ear pain so appearances don't matter. It may take a bit of getting used to them, but they have the added advantage of blocking out some noise as well. I find it's best to use a new set with each flight.

The other device is ReliefBand, a watch-like gadget that I wear on the inside of my wrist. This is a very sophisticated device and shouldn't be compared with the inexpensive elastic bands that drug stores sell. Once you turn on this battery-powered device, it delivers a mild electric shock to the acupressure point that has an anti-nausea effect. Interestingly, ReliefBand is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to relieve the nausea associated with surgery, pregnancy and chemotherapy. It also happens to work with motion sickness. I've worn it under some very unpleasant conditions on the sea, and I'd say I was significantly more comfortable with it than I had been without it. In fact, last summer when I was in Croatia, almost everyone on my yacht became quite ill when we sailed to a particular island. Those who weren't ill were taking drugs that put them to sleep. I sat on deck comfortably reading while wearing my ReliefBand. But you have to wear the band tightly on your wrist, you have to position it so you feel the tingling in your fingers, and you have to crank it up to a level that relieves the nausea. Do all that and you should be pretty OK.

Don't miss the Travel Bloggers'

Caravan & Giveaway!
Win Cool Travel Prizes!

Today's stop: Visit the blog and comment on today's post for a chance to win folding noise-cancelling headphones courtesy of Magellan's Travel Supplies.
continue reading "Two Cool Healthy Travel Devices"

Monday, December 14, 2009

More Travel Tips For Savvy Packing

Because I tend to travel frequently and sometimes for long stretches, I need to be super organized when I'm packing. And Eagle Creek is a company that sells a myriad of cool sacs, folders and kits that help me easily navigate through airport security, deal with wet bathing suits, organize all my documents and manage all my toiletries and small items so that nothing gets lost.

The items I'm most fond of include their Pac-It Sac (I use the small black one for documents), the Custom Travel Bottle Set (this is the way to deal with the "liquid issue" when flying), the Pac It Folder (perfect for keeping shirts from getting wrinkled) and the Compression Sac (there's no better way to cram a down jacket into your bag and still have plenty of room).

Don't miss the Travel Bloggers'

Caravan & Giveaway!
Win Cool Travel Prizes!

Today's stop: Visit the blog and comment on today's post for a chance to win a Fujifilm FinePix J28 10MP digital camera with 3x optical zoom.
continue reading "More Travel Tips For Savvy Packing"

Sunday, December 13, 2009

More Travel Gear I Recommend

First I want to congratulate luckysunset for winning the Mountainsmith camera bag. Luckysunset, whose name was picked at random from the many comments left on my blog post on December 10th, will be receiving the camera bag shortly.
Over the years, I've purchased many supposed waterproof jackets that never seemed to really do the job. And, when they did, they were bulky, hot and didn't pack well. So, when I need to stay dry, I wear a Mountain Hardwear jacket. I like the bold lime color which stands out well in forest -- no mistaking me for an elk. (Though they've got other functional waterproof jackets in more mundane colors.) Plus, it's got plenty of zippers for ventilation, it's lightweight and packs reasonably small in my carry-on luggage. And, of course, when I'm bicycling or hiking in a drenching storm, Mountain Hardwear keeps the rain out.

Don't miss the Travel Bloggers'

Caravan & Giveaway!
Win Cool Travel Prizes!

Today's stop: Visit the blog and comment on today's post for a chance to win two great prizes: a $50 Barnes & Noble gift card, which may be redeemed at all Barnes & Noble stories and online at, and a "Library Edition" of the most recent season of "Rudy Maxa's World,"including six DVDs containing 13 shows on destinations in India, Turkey, Japan, Thailand, St. Petersburg, Estonia, and Argentina ($112 value)
continue reading "More Travel Gear I Recommend"

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Another Great Piece of Travel Gear

Packing everything in a carry-on bag certainly requires a lot of planning. It also means making decisions as to what items are better left home, such as special night wear. Generally I just bring along a long t-shirt that can also be used in the gym or as a pool cover up. But I just received a cool nightwear product to test out and it fits perfect with my packing scheme.

Made by Cocoon, the Adventure Nightwear is made of comfy Egyptian cotton. I never expected to find something quite so light. And, the short sleeve top and shorts roll up into an ultra-tiny sac. (They have a men's and women's version.) Since I travel to many hot, humid environs all around the world, this product will get a lot of use. I just took it on my trip to Panama and promptly retired my old t-shirt.

Don't miss the Travel Bloggers'

Caravan & Giveaway!
Win Cool Travel Prizes!

Today's stop: Visit the blog and comment on today's post for a chance to win a day pack from First Ascent, a new extreme adventure line of gear and clothing form Eddie Bauer and partners.
continue reading "Another Great Piece of Travel Gear"

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Possible Life-Saving Cool Product

You probably know by now that I write a lot about healthy travel. Whether you're traveling or hanging out on your home turf, accidents can happen. I know I've been at home and had friends or their children fall of bicycles, cut themselves while cutting vegetables in the kitchen, or suffer a laceration in the backyard while weeding.

Then, again, I'm often in the backcountry where it's easy to fall and get cut while on the trail or in the campground. And, given that so many people are taking aspirin to protect their heart, or they may be on anti-clotting medication for other conditions, being able to stop bleeding fast is important.

That's why I recommend a unique bandage called KytoStat. It's so small you can place it in your pocket, or carry it in your purse so it's always available. The same technology that makes this bandage able to stop bleeding quickly and efficiently (by pressing it to the wound for 2 to 5 minutes) has been long used by the U.S. military and emergency medical technicians.

KytoStat is such a small product that's easy to use that I think everyone should think about carrying it, whether you're into cycling, hiking, skiing or any other sports or you're a parent who wants a product that's a must-have in the home first-aid kit.

Don't miss the Travel Bloggers'

Caravan & Giveaway!
Win Cool Travel Prizes!

Today's stop: Visit the blog and comment on today's post for a chance to win a copy of Fodor's The Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises and a World Grounding Adaptor Set courtesy of Magellan's Travel Supplies.
continue reading "A Possible Life-Saving Cool Product"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Travel Bloggers' Caravan "Stop of the Day":

With the holidays fast approaching, I've banded together with 14 other travel bloggers to celebrate the season and give all of our readers the chance to win some fun prizes, including hotel gift cards, overnight stays, digital cameras, travel guidebooks, DVDs, luggage and camera bags. This 2009 Travel Bloggers' Caravan has been going on since December 1 and will continue through December 15. And today, the caravan stops here at J the Travel Authority.

Those of you who have been following this blog know that I'm a very big fan of Mountainsmith gear which I've been using for 15+ years. In fact, I travel with one of their small backpacks plus their fanny pack as my only two pieces of luggage -- which I carry on and bring on all my trips. Their gear has never let me down. That's why, because the Caravan stops here today, I'm giving away a Mountainsmith Tour FX Camera Bag (a $99 value).

It's made of recycled plastic bottles. And, as usual, Mountainsmith has thought of everything: there's a place for your airline ticket, a water bottle and plenty of room for additional carry-along items, including your iPod, GPS unit and so forth. The bag is a variation on the fanny pack that I have long been using and adore. This camera bag, like their classic fanny pack, can be worn around your waist or on your shoulder, thanks to a removable strap. It's got compression straps to help you carry the load better. And, you'll be able to carry plenty, thanks to the ultra-spacious interior. Plus, a real benefit is that you can open it up and remove camera gear while the pack is still fastened around your waist.

Win a Mountainsmith Tour FX Camera Bag
One lucky reader will be randomly chosen from all eligible entries to win a Mountainsmith Tour FX Camera Bag. The contest starts at midnight on December 10 and ends the same day at 11:59 pm. You must have a mailing address within the United States in order to be eligible to enter and win.

How to Enter
Comment on this post between 12:00 am (midnight) and 11:59 pm on December 10, 2009. You'll need to include your e-mail address so I can get in contact with you if you're the winner. Good luck!

Win More Prizes This Month!
Don't forget to enter the daily Travel Bloggers' Caravan & Giveaway. The Caravan stops at tomorrow. Visit, comment on the post of the day, and win a copy of Fodor's The Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises and a World Grounding Set (courtesy of Magellan's) See the entire Travel Bloggers' Caravan schedule here.
continue reading "Travel Bloggers' Caravan "Stop of the Day":"

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

More Travel Gear I Love

I love gadgets, particularly those that will make my life easier, more comfortable and safer while I'm traveling. So when I found out about a pen-shaped small device that can purify water in seconds, I bought it. I've been in situations where the tap water is not drinkable and it's the middle of the night and no bottled water in sight. Or I've been hiking and can't find any potable water and I don't want to deal with foul-tasting tabs or the hassle of a pump purifier. SteriPEN is the product I rely on. It uses UV light to purify the water of all manner of disease-causing organisms, including the dreaded Giardia parasite.

It has been extensively tested and it kills more than 99.9% of bacteria, viruses and protozoas, like Giardia. I carry it on many of my trips and, it's so small, it's easy to pack in my sole piece of luggage that I carry-on.

Don't miss the Travel Bloggers'
Caravan & Giveaway!
Win Cool Travel Prizes!

Today's stop:

What a Trip. Visit the blog and comment on today's post for a chance to win an Otterbox cell phone case or a Baseline 20-inch carry-on expandable wide-body upright suitcase.
continue reading "More Travel Gear I Love"

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Some More Fave Travel Gear

I love my clothes to look good and function well. That's why I've been choosing shirts, pants and even underwear made by Ex Officio. I just got back from Panama where there was 100% humidity and I was perfectly comfortable in the jungle wearing my Ex Officio long pants and long sleeve shirt.
And at night when dining out, when there was still high humidity, I wore their sleeveless tops which worked perfectly well with jeans or dress pants. I choose to travel with their wickable fabrics because they don’t absorb and retain moisture easily so you stay dry as you’re racing about town or on the trail. They also dry relatively quickly when you wash them. I hand wash my wickable underwear, pants, shorts and shirt and they dry in no time. They have a great life expectancy, are comfortable, light, perform well and look great.

Don't miss the Travel Bloggers'
Caravan & Giveaway!
Win Cool Travel Prizes!

Today's stop: Visit the blog and comment on today's post for a chance to win Alaska and Seattle Toursaver books and a $50 Magellan's Travel Supplies gift certificate.
continue reading "Some More Fave Travel Gear"

Monday, December 7, 2009

Travel Tips3

I love wearing comfortable, functional clothing, especially if it can be worn both on the trail and at night. (It all helps with being a savvy packer.) That's why I love wearing the marino wool tops made by two companies: SmartWool and Icebreaker. I wear a black SmartWool long-sleeved crewneck and pair it with a black Icebreaker hoodie when I'm on the plane. But these two items work together or separately at night or during the day, winter and summer, when I'm walking, hiking, biking, skiing or going to bars and restaurants in the city when they're paired with a skirt, jeans or dress pants. The great thing about these merino wool products is that they wick away sweat so that you don't feel cold and clammy after a run. I've found both of them to be comfortable, breathable and never itchy. And, another interesting feature is that if I'm in the backcountry and can't do laundry, you could wear these for several days and not worry about any odor. When I travel to Iceland, these are my tops of choice but I also bring them to Spain in the summer.

Don't miss the Travel Bloggers'
Caravan & Giveaway!
Win Cool Travel Prizes!

Today's stop: Visit the blog and comment on today's post for a chance to win a Napa
Valley Getaway with a one-night stay at the Westin Verasa and a gourmet lunch for two aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train.
continue reading "Travel Tips3"

Sunday, December 6, 2009

More Travel Tips

I'm one of those women who's just not into a multitude of shoes, especially when I'm traveling. And, in order to travel for more than a month with only carry-on luggage, clearly shoes have to be kept to a minimum. Basically, except when I'm traveling in the winter, I only carry two pairs of shoes, and both of them are made by a company called Keen. The one I wear on the plane is a Newport model that's a a very rugged and functional sandal. And, once I land, I wear it for long walks and even light day hiking -- though I have also climbed a volcano wearing these sandals -- as well as for long multi-day bicycle trips, kayaking and for days at the beach. When I dress up at night, I wear their Madrid Mary Jane model that looks perfect with a dress or nice pants and it's comfortable for long walks, even on cobblestone paths on the way to hotels or restaurants.

Don't miss the Travel Bloggers'
Caravan & Giveaway!
Win Cool Travel Prizes!

Today's stop:

The Visit the blog and comment on today's post for a chance to
win a copy of Moon Belize accompanied by personal travel advice from the author about your trip.
continue reading "More Travel Tips"

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cool Travel Gear

All of you know that I never check luggage, even when I'm traveling for 7+ weeks. And, to do that, I'm a big fan of gear that serves several functions. So when I'm out at night in a big city, I prefer not to carry a handbag -- which might be a target for purse snatchers -- to carry my hotel keys, credit cards, money, cell phone, and other valuables and necessities. A scarf -- a very special one, at that -- to the rescue. The XUBÁZ is a functional piece of neck wear with a handful of concealed zippered and snap pockets. They're so hidden, or at least at least they're not so obvious, that there's no chance of a pickpocket thinking, of all things, that I've got valuables in my scarf! In the summer, I even wear the World Traveler model in lieu of a jacket to keep me warm at night -- it's made of a special material originally designed for NASA that absorbs and then releases body heat.

Don't miss the Travel Bloggers'
Caravan & Giveaway!
Win Cool Travel Prizes!

Today's stop: Visit the blog and comment on today's post for a chance to win Imagine: A Vagabond Story by Grant Lingel and a $50 Magellan's Travel Supplies gift certificate.
continue reading "Cool Travel Gear"

Friday, December 4, 2009

Portugal's Stylish-Budget Inn

Wouldn't it be great if a budget accommodation didn't suffer from a lack of style. Well, you don't have to make that kind of compromise in Lisbon where I've found some stylish accomodations that could fit into just about anyone's slim travel budget. I recently guest blogged for Michael and Allison at Darn Good Digs that focuses in on cool accommodations under $150. Check out one of my fave budget accommodations in Lisbon that's not short on style.

Don't miss the Travel Bloggers'
Caravan & Giveaway!
Win Cool Travel Prizes!

Today's stop: Visit the blog and comment on today's post for a chance to win
a literary prize pack, including a tote bag, the book Novel Destinations, Bliss travel kit, notecards, tea, bookmarks, and a key chain.
continue reading "Portugal's Stylish-Budget Inn"

Thursday, December 3, 2009

New York City's Hidden Oasis

Even in New York City, it's possible to find peaceful oases that remain almost a secret. At least that's the way I feel about Central Park's only private garden, the Conservatory Garden. It's amazing the number of native New Yorkers who have never heard of this lush haven. I recently guest blogged about the Conservatory Garden for Keith Jenkins at Velvet Escape. Once you read that post, you'll see why I find it a source of inspiration.

Don't miss the Travel Bloggers'

Caravan & Giveaway!
Win Cool Travel Prizes!

Today's stop: Visit the blog and comment on today's post for a chance to win a one-
year online subscription to the Dream of Italy newsletter and a DVD.
continue reading "New York City's Hidden Oasis"

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My Secret Travel Tips

As I mentioned yesterday, until December 15, I'll be doing something a little different here. Each day, I'll have a short post (either highlighting a product I adore and that I bring on most of my trips or mentioning one of my very recent guest posts on hidden treasure travel). In addition, at the end of each of these, you'll find a screen shot of the travel blog that's featured as part of the Travel Bloggers Caravan that I'm participating in. Just remember to click on the Travel Caravan banner on the right or visit the Luxury Cruise Bible blog to find out more about the entire schedule and prizes.

My trips are always full of adventure and discoveries. For example, who knew that an immense garbage dump in Israel is being turned into an eco-center complete with walking and biking trails, or that hiking in Corsica's interior might bring a close encounter with wild boar hunters. Andy Hayes at Sharing Travel Experiences recently interviewed me on some of my favorite authentic spots around the world. I've included tips on visiting, Portugal, Spain, Iceland, Israel, Turkey, Corsica and more. You'll find out why I can't wait to visit Bhutan and what trips I'm planning for the near future.

Don't miss the Travel Bloggers'
Caravan & Giveaway!
Win Cool Travel Prizes!

Today's stop:
. Visit the blog and comment on today's post for a chance to win a $100 Marriott gift card.
continue reading "My Secret Travel Tips"

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Holiday Travel Bloggers Caravan-Win Prizes

Join the 2009 Travel Bloggers' Caravan & Win Cool Prizes

For the next two weeks, I'll be doing something a little different. I want to give you a heads up that I'm participating in the first Travel Blogger's Caravan. Starting today and until December 15, I'd like to invite you to follow 15 top travel bloggers (including myself) for a chance to win a motley array of prizes, perfect for celebrating the holiday season.

Caravan Banner displayed on the right side of my blog for the next 15 days.

The prizes include digital cameras, noise-canceling headphones, hotel gift cards, overnight stays, luggage, camera bags, DVDs and travel guidebooks. Magellan's Travel Supplies is sponsoring this event. So if there's a traveler on your holiday shopping list, check out the array of unique gifts available at Magellan's website.

Each day between December 2-15, a different travel expert's blog will be featured in this round robin even. You'll have a chance to win one of over a dozen prizes by reading and commenting on the daily blog post.

This blog, JtheTravelAuthority, will be featured on December 10. So mark your calendar and be sure to comment on my post that day so that you'll be entered in this giveaway.

Complete Travel Caravan Schedule

December 2: (Andrea M. Rotondo)
$100 Marriott gift card

December 3: (Kathy McCabe)
One-year online subscription to Dream of Italy newsletter & DVD ($79 value)

December 4: (Shannon McKenna Schmidt & Joni Rendon)
Literary Travel Prize Pack
(A tote bag, book, travel kit, note cards, tea, bookmarks, and a keychain.)

December 5: (Andrew Hickey)
Imagine: A Vagabond Story by Grant Lingel and $50 Magellan's gift certificate

December 6: The Tranquilo Traveler (Joshua Berman)
A copy of Moon Belize, accompanied with personal travel advice from the author about your trip

December 7: (Amie O'Shaughnessy and Kristi Marcelle)
Napa Valley Getaway
(One-night stay at the Westin Verasa in Napa, California,
plus gourmet lunch for two on the Napa Valley Wine Train)

December 8: (John DiScala)
Alaska and Seattle Toursaver books ($198 value) and $50 Magellan's gift certificate

December 9: What a Trip (Nancy D. Brown)
Two Otterbox cell phone cases ($50 value each)
Baseline 20” Carry-On Expandable Wide-Body Upright ($369 value)

December 10: (Jeanine Barone)
Mountainsmith Tour FX Camera Bag ($99 value)

December 11: (Linda Coffman)
Fodor's The Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises and a World Grounding Set (courtesy of Magellan's)

December 12: (Ellen Barone)
Day pack from First Ascent, a new extreme adventure line of gear and clothing
by Eddie Bauer and partners ($79 value)

December 13: (Donna L. Hull)
"Library Edition" of the most recent season of "Rudy Maxa's World",
including six DVDs containing 13 shows on destinations in India, Turkey, Japan, Thailand, St. Petersburg, Estonia, and Argentina ($112 value)

December 14: (Terri Fogarty)
Fujifilm FinePix J28 10MP digital camera with 3x optical zoom

December 15: (Andrea M. Rotondo)
Folding noise-cancelling headphones courtesy of Magellan's Travel Supplies

If you love exploring new destinations and revisiting old favorites, you won't want to miss the Travel Bloggers' Caravan & Giveaway! You just may discover a few new favorite travel blogs to bookmark.

Win a Lingo 16-Language Translator
Help us kick off the Caravan right now! Follow @luxcruisebible on Twitter and then tweet about the Travel Bloggers' Caravan between December 1 and 15. Include a link to this blog post and the #caravan hashtag and you'll be entered to win the Lingo 16-Language Translator, courtesy of Magellan's Travel Supplies. Entrants must have a U.S. mailing address. Entries must be received between December 1–15, 2009. One winner will be randomly chosen from eligible entries on December 21, 2009. Winner will be notified via Twitter DM (direct message).

Just log onto Twitter and tweet something like this: Check out the Travel Bloggers' Caravan. 15 travel bloggers and tons of cool prizes to win. #caravan
continue reading "Holiday Travel Bloggers Caravan-Win Prizes"

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Portugal's Alluring Alentejo Region

You have to give it to those Romans -- they certainly knew how to pick their vacation spots. The Alentejo region in Portugal was considered their favorite. Just an hour from Lisbon, the region has plenty to satisfy my love of everything medieval. But the roads snaking through this region are to be enjoyed as well: rolling and twisting ribbons that wind past lush olive groves, well-tended vineyards and gnarled cork oak groves. Atop the hilltops, I spied many a fortified whitewashed village to explore.

The Alentejo region, Portugal's largest, has never seen the kind of tourist traffic that flocks to the Algarve or other regions. I've visited the Alentejo many times and have written about it in the print media over the past several years. But now we're seeing an increased interest in the Alentejo with features appearing recently in the New York Times and the Boston Globe.

Here I'll take you to some of my favorite spots in this region that I hope will remain relatively unspoiled:

1. In Castelo de Vide, I wandered the narrow streets that are lined with colorful blooming flowers and discovered the old Jewish Quarter with the oldest synagogue in the country.

2. A former Knights Templar fortress provides spectacular views of the countryside from the 13th century keep in Monsaraz. Here, I walked the schist-lined street flanked by centuries old houses to the Sacred Art Museum to view a lovely 15th century fresco.
3. The walled city of Evora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has something for everyone, from foodies to history buffs. Some of the most striking sights include a 16th century aqueduct and a Roman temple that has survived, and my favorite: the macabre Capela dos Ossos, a chapel that's entirely constructed from ceiling to floor of human bones. (An appropriate venue to meditate on the frailty of life.)
4. Marvao has one of the best preserved castles in the country where I wandered the battlements, towers and vast courtyards.
5. It's easy to spend the entire day in Serpa that's noted for its array of museums. The Watch Museum displays more than 1,000 time pieces, an Ethnographic Museum provides exhibits of equipment used in regional occupations, from shoemakers to blacksmiths, and the Archeological Museum has artifacts that date to the Stone Age. Serpa is also well known for its cheese production. In fact, I visited several artisanal producers and tasted the queijao de Serpa.
continue reading "Portugal's Alluring Alentejo Region"

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wandering in Turkey's Cappadocia Region

I've posted quite a bit about my adventures in Turkey, including Istanbul, Bozcaada Island and Kas. Perhaps one of my most atmospheric journeys in Turkey was walking and hiking in the Cappadocia region. Typically, visitors sign up with a tour group that either drives from village to village hopping off at key sites or they take a hike with a large group that wanders through some of the most popular valleys. Still others take to the skies, floating over the land in multi-colored hot air balloons. Others stroll the trails on their own, hoping to soak up the atmosphere with no particular agenda in mind and probably also missing some historically significant but off-the-radar sights. But traveling with Walking Mehmet is perhaps the most authentic way of learning about this area with its cave-carved churches, monasteries and chapels with curious monoliths termed fairy chimneys adding to the exotic aura of this area.
I recently wrote about my day of Zen-like hiking in this area on National Geographic Traveler's Intelligent Travel blog.
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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Birds and Botanicals in Bermuda

I found plenty to keep me active in Bermuda that's known for its pastel-colored houses and tidy hedge-rimmed English gardens. But after walking the narrow streets of St. George's where 17th century buildings and a sense of British colonial history abounds, and then exploring the hidden coves and the soft pink sand of Horseshoe Bay, I sought out more leafy venues for walking, hiking and biking. That way I could learn about Bermuda's flora, including the endemic, as well as check out the bird species, because I heard that Bermuda is a great place for birding, almost year round. In the fall, in particular, Bermuda is the place where migratory birds rest on their way from Canada to South America. In addition, birders delight in spotting the rare petrel that was though to be extinct for hundreds of years.

1. Eighteen miles of rail bed once traversed by the Bermuda railroad (up until the late 1940s) have been converted to the Railway Trail. This path skirts the coastline, passes traditional manor houses and winds through woodlands, fields and a palmetto forest. Walk or bike even part of this secluded trail. You'll be far from any street traffic -- the trail meanders along the coast at times, at other points you'll be under a canopy of foliage and pass old manor houses. Just be aware that it's westernmost part that's the easiest: relatively flat and mostly paved. And, to get the most out of your journey, try to pick up the Bermuda Railway Trail Guide available from the tourism offices on the island.

2. Spittal Pond has 60-some acres of unspoiled wilderness (actually protected wetlands) where you can bird watch - this green space is especially good to catch migratory birds -- or hike on densely canopied trails. (This green space may be the best birding spot in Bermuda). Nature or mystery lovers alike will delight in a trek through this woodland. Aside from herons, flamingos and other waterfowl, on your walk past cedar trees, ponds and along the coast, you'll find a giant stone "checkerboard" believed to be formed by water erosion and a plaque at Spanish Rock with cryptic inscriptions. The latter is said to offer the oldest piece of evidence for the island's habitation: Spanish sailors are said to have landed here in the 16th century.

3. In Paget Marsh you'll find two dozen acres dense with palmetto and cedar forests that exists much as it did before settlers first arrived. Here you can wander the boardwalk that courses past grasslands and mangroves and expect to find plenty of bird life, such as king fishers, warblers and great egrets, and maybe even a giant toad.

4. Hog Bay Park is almost 40 acres of expansive forest, farm land and coastal property that sports undulating trails where you can take in the panoramic scenery from a hilltop -- providing maybe one of the best viewpoints in Bermuda. This park has an amazing array of birding possibilities, with more than 100 different species spotted, including purple finches and olive-sided flycatchers. After all the trail hopping, you can cool off at the shore whether by snorkeling or swimming.

5. Allspice and cedar trees are clustered on the landscape that's home to Warwick Pond, one of the island's largest freshwater ponds and a key site for bird life, both migratory and resident. Here you can meander on trails that wind past fields, marshes and, of course, plenty of woodland.

6. The Bermuda Botanical Gardens is hardly a wild locale but still worth a visit. Set on some 36 acres where the aromas are intoxicating, the garden is home to than 1,000 varieties of plant life, from frangipani to a giant banyan tree.

During your stay in Bermuda, if you'd rather hike with a group, check out the Walking Club of Bermuda that offers six-mile hikes or so with routes that change weekly.
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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

More Packing Tips

I've posted and guest posted quite a bit on my ultra-light packing tips making it possible for me never to check luggage when I'm flying. Whether I'm on the road a week or 7 weeks, everything goes in one Mountainsmith carry-on backpack and a Mountainsmith fanny pack. But, curiously, when I'm in my home turf, my ultra-light packing plans fall by the wayside. Unlike many writers, I don't work at home or in an office. I'm kinda the itinerant journalist, writing, researching and doing interviews in all manner of venues, from cafes and coffee shops to parks, gardens, libraries and other locales that allow for lots of natural light (a key criteria for me).

As a result, I carry around my laptop, and all my notes, notebooks, and research materials in a small but heavy backpack (not a Mountainsmith) and a large shoulder bag plus an addition portfolio (which might be a fed ex pouch) stuffed with more materials. The latter became quite problematic a few months ago when I inadvertently left it near an umbrella stand in a vegetarian restaurant while I ate lunch with friends. It turned out the manager thought it was a bomb -- no joke, that's what he said -- so he placed it outside next to the building's facade in a garbage can! (I was able to retrieve it.)
This all being said, it was time to check out some new baggage options for my jaunts around New York City. Enter Keen, the company that makes my favorite shoes that go on all my trips and are perfect for biking, light hiking, kayaking and walking around town. They sent me a messenger (sling) bag -- the Pearl -- to check out. Here's what I found:

This week, I tested this messenger-type bag because I had a lot of networking and workshop events, some all day and others at night, that required me to walk around a trade show floor and meet and greet a ton of people while collecting their business cards, giving them mine, taking notes of our meetings and then running to the next meeting or cocktail party where I had to transform into the non-itinerant journalist who would be sipping a glass of Chardonnay at, among other places, the Norwegian Consul General's residence here in Manhattan.

The Pearl was perfect. When I slung it across my back, I found a zipper compartment -- great for pens, business cards and small notebooks -- on the left side of the pack (on my back side) but easily accessible while it was still on my back. And, the location prohibited any subway thieves from infiltrating this pocket. Quite an accomplishment. In addition, I stuffed my cell phone into the mesh stretch pocket along the strap, making it also very easy to grab.

On the right back side of the pack was an additional small zipper that afforded access to the pack interior. Perfect for when I needed to remove my digital camera. Again, I didn't even have to remove the pack to accomplish this. The pack itself allowed me to stuff two additional sweaters, and plenty of notes and research materials. Yet, instead of looking overstuffed, the Pearl presented a very slim image. I could easily sit down to meet with clients and feel comfortable with the pack still slung across my back. It felt light as a feather (it weighs just over a pound) -- what a welcome change for me. And the day when I did need my laptop and some additional materials, interestingly the strap on the pack is so adjustable that I could sling it over my backpack and it all fit together perfectly!

The interior of the pack contains two additional mesh zippered pockets, one with a carabiner that was perfect for attaching my keys. (No more searching at the bottom of my overloaded bag for the missing keys.) Additionally, it's eco-friendly: the Pearl is made from recycled materials -- even the rubber is recycled.

I'm not saying this small bag takes the place of the load of luggage I normally tote around the city. But, on those days when I need to look trim for a frenzied set of day activities or for evening cocktail networking events, I'll look to the Pearl. It also makes for a fine overnight or weekend bag for that quick trip out of the city. I'm definitely bringing it as my only bag for the Thanksgiving holidays I'm going to spend with friends in Virginia.

I can't wait to wear it in the summer when I want a breathable bag on my back that won't lead to excess sweating as I run all over the city. The Pearl has a nice mesh and foam back side that looks like it'll be quite comfy in the sweltering August heat.
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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Radio Show: Unexpected Findings in Macau

I've posted and guest posted quite a bit recently on my travels in Macau and all of the unexpected treasures, whether it was a cutting edge art gallery exhibition in a colonial-style building, or a secluded garden or a hiking track that's smack in the middle of the city, but feels quite remote. Recently, Pat Boyle at the Travel Show on KPAM 860 radio in Portland, Oregan interviewed me on Macau.

I'd like to share with you some of the many curiosities I found, including a museum exhibit of caskets and tombstones reserved for prize-winning crickets (from the heyday of betting on cricket fighting); a hilltop summit that's home to a centuries-old fort, chapel and lighthouse (the oldest on the China coast); and a jogging path where quite a few of the locals jog on a sweltering day barefoot. Listen to this radio interview and you'll see why I fell in love with Macau, a place that has something for everyone, including those gastronomes or oenophiles in your group.

You can listen to my interview on Macau by clicking on the audio player below:

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Portugal Travel Tips

When people find out that I've visited Portugal six times in the past three years, they often wonder what is so enticing about this Western European country. So many people that I know who travel all over the world somehow have missed up on visiting Portugal. And, those who do make it to Portuguese shores, end up just spending a day or so in Lisbon, the capital.
Emily S. Gerson wanted to know what I love about Portugal and how I'd advise others to enjoy one of my favorite countries. Her interview with me appears on her blog Maiden Voyage. There are plenty of tips that can help you plan your itinerary along with hidden treasures galore. Whether you're an oenophile or a gastronome, someone who enjoys hiking in leafy forests or delights in a sense of history, you'll find it in Portugal.
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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wild & Wonderful Jamaica

I'm always on the hunt for authentic experiences and I found it in Jamaica in Port Antonio, a wildly lush land defined by the rugged Blue Mountains in the northeastern sector of the island.

1. Most visitors would probably choose a hotel or inn beside a golden sand beach. Instead, my base was an inn that sat atop a high hill and required driving along narrow winding roads that climbed steeply up the hillside. But it was all worth it. Staying at Jamaica Heights Resort is like bedding down in a botanical garden. The property is littered with red ginger, bougainvillea, wild orchids and hundreds of other botanical delights. It's a low-key, economical establishment where we had panoramic views of the mists coating the tall Blue Mountains. One of the cottages was my favorite: it's got expansive views on all sides so that you look out over Port Antonio right from your bed.

2. We boarded a small boat for nearby Navy Island -- it's officially closed to the public but that didn't stop us -- that was once owned by actor Erroll Flynn who entertained many a celeb guest here. On this little leafy hideaway with the faded ruins of his mansion, we walked through shallow waters from a protected harborside beach where there was some good swimming, to oceanside white sands that were backed with mangrove trees. We had the place to ourselves until a few snorkelers showed up.

3. I'm always up for walking and hiking and found the Swift River Valley provided a perfect venue for scenic treks. Here I found the land thick with cocoa, coffee, grapefruit and guava trees. Walking through the eponymous hamlet beside the trailhead, we spotted freshly-caught crayfish for sale. Further along, locals were fishing for mullet and trout in the adjacent river.
4. Everywhere we ventured in Port Antonio we marveled at the different hued waters. In the case of the Blue Lagoon of Brooke Shields fame, we found jade-colored deep waters. This couldn't be a more perfect place for a placid swim in a amphitheater lush with palms, almond trees and ferns.

5. One of our best lunches was at Winnifred Beach, a swath of sand where shacks sold chicken feet and boiled corn and an old Rastafarian practiced his yoga postures. My fave restaurant was plenty informal. Owned by Cynthia and Painter, this eatery served up large portions of freshly-caught snapper and lobster along with pumpkin and plantains.

6. Another culinary find is Dawn's Bar, a roadside stand in the seaside village of Manchioneal. Their seafood can't be beat -- we ordered the conch soup with crayfish and sweet roasted doctor fish stuffed with okra.
7. You can't leave Port Antonio without walking, hiking and taking a dip at Reach Falls. There are plenty of pools to take a dip. Along the way, we walked barefoot in the shallow river and along the parallel trail half a mile upstream, passing mini-waterfalls and plenty of foliage, including heliconia, and ferns.
8. Another activity that is synonymous with Port Antonio is a river rafting trip down the Rio Grande River. This was no ordinary raft, however. We sat in a 30-foot-long bamboo raft piloted by Captain Bell, a river veteran who once took Errol Flynn's guests rafting. For seven miles, we cruised through a serene landscape with great blue herons, vine-covered trees, shore-side boulders and towering cliffs.
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Monday, October 12, 2009

Radio Show: Adventuring in Israel

Though I've posted extensively on my trips to Israel, Pat Boyle at the Travel Show on KPAM 860 radio in Portland, Oregon recently interviewed me on that country as a venue for cool adventure travel.

And, surprisingly, even savvy travelers don't associate Israel with mountain biking, hiking, skiing and scuba diving. Listen to my take on the subject and I'm sure you'll come away with an entirely new view of this country.

You can listen to my interview on Israel by clicking on the audio player below:

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

More than Mummies in Mexico's Guanajuato

The old colonial town of Guanajuato, Mexico is one unique city, that's for sure. And for someone like myself who has what I terma geographic dyslexia -- no matter where I travel, once I leave my hotel, I'm always a bit lost even when carrying an array of maps -- this town with its narrow cobbled lanes and alleyways that twist and turn in myriad ways presented a challenge. But that's fine, because Guanajuato has plenty of charm and surprises to boot.

Probably the biggest surprise was the
Museo de Los Momias or Mummy Museum. It seems the minerals in the soil and the inherent dry air helped preserve the dead. But these more than 100 mummies that are on full display within glass cases are not all neatly wrapped as you might expect from ancient mummies you've heard about in Egypt. No, these leather-skinned mummies are sometimes naked, sometimes in their now-tattered funeral clothing displaying smiling, somewhat placid or gruesome facial expressions. As someone who gets frightened in Friday the 13th or other horror movies, the exhibit had a high freak factor for me. But that doesn't stop many local parents from bringing their kids who don't seem to have a problem with the displays of mummies of all ages and in all degrees of decomposition. Nonetheless, it was definitely worth the visit, more because how often do you see this sort of display. Plus, you can walk away with a mummy t-shirt or a piece of mummy candy sold outside. It's a great conversation starter.

The museum is just outside this vibrant university town which couldn't be more atmospheric. Guanajuato, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a maze of streets lined with dwellings that bear carved wooden doors, handpainted tile walls and wrought iron balconies. Soft pastel- and hot pink-painted houses hug the hillsides in this town that's nestled in a rugged river gorge. No wonder there are so many steep streets, some bearing staircases.

During the day, Guanajuato warrants strolling and relaxing. And my favorite stop was the Jardin de la Union, a tree-shaded plaza surrounded by flowers in the heart of the city that's perfect for people watching, dining in one of the outdoor cafes, listening to a mariachi-type band or sipping a glass of wine.

Another favorite activity of mine was wandering the steep path to the Pipila monument high above the town. At this hillside plaza, I had panoramic views of the boldly-painted houses that dot the terraced hillside as well as views of the rugged Sierra Madre mountains.

With all the miniscule streets, it's only natural that the town boasts an interesting legend behind the Alley of the Kiss, a mere two-foot-wide alley. It's said that two lovers who lived across the alley but were forbidden to meet were able to kiss from their respective houses.

And wandering at night is also a perfect activity when the old-fashioned street lamps are lighted along the winding lanes where you might see troubadours dressed in traditional garb.

I wish I were in Guanajuato over the next couple of weeks when the town plays host to the Cervantino, a festival of art, dance, music, theater, and other performances. It's held every October and this year it focuses in on the 400th anniversary of Galileo.

But of everything I experienced in Guanajuato, my most memorable was staying at La Casa de Los Espiritus Alegras where the Mexican Day of the Dead tradition is alive and well and fun. Everywhere I looked I found something unexpected: hand towels wrapped with a cord decorated with hand-painted skulls, a dresser topped with a ceramic red devil and a sax-playing skeleton hanging above the kitchen stove. This inn is like a museum, thanks to the folk art and other crafts that the owners collected both from every state in Mexico, as well as their journeys to India. For example, the Raj Majal suite with its antiques and embroideries transports guests to India, while Nagual is decorated with animal mask -- appropriate given that the room takes its name from the word for the animal spirit that inhabits all of us.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Not So Laid-Back Hiking in Grenada

Whenever I travel to the Caribbean, it's not the sun-drenched beaches that I long for. Sure, I love to sit on the beach in the early morning or at sunset. But, I much prefer to spend the day exploring, and that often means heading out on one or more hiking trails.

The island of Grenada has several paths that are perfect for strolling. (Such as the trail along the shores of Grand Etang Lake, an extinct volcanic crater that's perpetually bathed in fog.)
Or the lovely Morne La Baye interpretive trail where you'll get an education on the island's distinctive flora, including the ever-present boldly-colored heliconia as well as a fern endemic to this area. And then you'll be treated to a fab viewpoint at the end.

Two other favorite areas for more leisurely walks is the La Sagesse Nature Center and Levera National Park, two good places for bird watching.
But trails for thrill seekers who want a rush of adrenalin around every corner are more the rule. Here's what I found on what's often referred to as the Spice Island, because of its nutmeg production. The island is covered with a network of paths snaking through the jungle-covered terrain, some hugging the cliffs and others scaling the 2,000-some-foot peaks. Since so many of the more advanced trails, including the treks to the Seven Sisters and Camp Fedon, are not well marked, I travel with a guide, such as Henry's Safari Tours.

• It's an easy hike to the first of three falls referred to as Concord Falls in the western part of the island. This is a perfect place to cool off in the pool and either hang out or prepare yourself for the hike to the other two.

But, after that, it can be thought of as a warm up jaunt that requires criss-crossing the wide Black Bay River and jumping onto slick, loosely placed rock piles. The trail snakes through thick brush with yellow and red heliconia flowers growing in abundance.

The rock-hopping has its payoff: Au Coin Falls with its water cascading 40 feet into a clear blue pool. The third set of falls, Fontainbleu, cascades some 60+ feet.

Another trek that's more rigorous wends to the waterfalls known as the Seven Sisters deep in Grenada's rainforest. You'll find the sweet aroma from the fields lush with bananas, cinnamon and nutmeg intoxicating. The flat track quickly gives way to a steep muddy trail along a narrow mountain ridge. Luckily the perfectly placed has roots help hikers climb this slope where you'll find several rushing waterfalls and clear cobalt blue pools -- perfect for swimming. Or, as I did, sitting on a flat rock and listening to monkeys scamper about.
• Grenada's got some heavy-duty all-day treks, including one to Camp Fedon, an outpost where Julian Fedon, a French Grenadian, led a rebellion in the late 1700s against the British. I did this hike from Concord Falls where the trail climbed steeply along the muddy slopes. Again, I made use of the well-placed vines, roots, rocks and shubs to keep my balance. But it's not all about staying upright because there's plenty of flora to appreciate, from the mahogany trees to the giant ferns and teak. All the sweating to get to the top is worth it for the panoramic views of the green rainforest and the cobalt waters in the distance.
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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Surprising Cultural Finds in Macau

Cool contemporary art, ethereal wines, sublime cuisine or curious museum artifacts is not what I expected to find in Macau. And, yet, once I got beyond the much-touted casino scene and wander the many cobbled lanes, I found plenty to tickle the senses. I recently guest blogged on this very topic that puts Macau in an entirely different light. For me, instead of seeing Macau as a quick one day stop-over -- as so many visitors do -- I see it as a many-day destination to enjoy the galleries, museums, restaurants, cafes and the parks and gardens (which I've mentioned before).
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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Staying Healthy On The Road

Some of you may know that aside from writing and consulting on travel and food and an array of other topics, I'm also trained as a nutritionist, exercise physiologist and medical writer. That background has been invaluable in terms of keeping me fit and healthy when I'm traveling. This can mean researching nearby jogging paths, carrying healthy snack items on the plane, selecting a reliable sunscreen and knowing the best ways to prevent the array of traveler's illnesses that could plague any trip.
I just returned from many weeks of traveling where I met people who were either waylaid because they contracted traveler's diarrhea, suffered from motion sickness on a yacht or wished they hadn't gained weight on their business trips. So I thought it was time to turn you on to a guest blog I had written that addresses these and many other questions regarding staying healthy when traveling.
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