10 Reasons to Visit Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon had been on my radar for quite some time, but more from a place of intrigue about Portugal as a whole --- the lesser popular country on the Iberian Peninsula. I didn’t know much about Portugal, other than many Portuguese settlers had once immigrated to San Diego, and drove much of America’s Finest City’s major fishing trade. 

Then, one day, a $200 RT error fare popped up from New York to Lisbon, with a 13 hour layover in Amsterdam. It was only for 5 days total, and in early August when many warn not to travel to Europe, but $200! To Portugal!  I had to jump on the deal.  It took some convincing (ok, begging) of the Mister, but he finally agreed.

And then the error fare got cancelled.  That’s always one of the stipulations of booking travel plans around error fares, but I felt like my dreams were shattered. It was that moment that Lisbon shot to the top of my travel list and I was determined to get to Portugal.

Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long.  Another crazy open jaw deal popped up – this time from Boston to Lisbon, then Lisbon on to Argentina. This time it took a little less convincing of the Mister, and then we officially booked.

We ended up spending 5 days in Lisbon and the Algarve and absolutely fell in love. I was ready to send for my things - and pets - and stay forever. Not kidding. It took about one day into the trip until we were dreaming  - and then scheming - to buy a flat in Lisbon, rent it out most of the year, and use it as our vacation home. By the end, we were considering straight up selling our house and moving to the Algarve for a few years.

Those dreams have stayed with me to this day…as well as an urge to return to Lisbon and explore more of this beautiful country (namely, Porto, and the Azores). Portugal has been gaining in popularity lately, and I completely understand why. The weather is just about San Diego perfect, the food is to die for, it’s full of history, culture, and amazing views – so something for everyone, and, it’s a pretty cheap destination for still being on the Euro. Although I would love to keep this place all to myself, it deserves attention from travelers far and wide, so I’ve compiled a list of 10 reasons why Lisbon should be your next trip.

1. Enjoy Sundowners From Castelo de São Jorge

Head up the hills of Alfama to check out amazing 360 degree views of Lisbon at this 11th Century Moorish Castle.  Stroll along the Castle ruins, walk around the entire property, or hit one of the beverage stands and score a cheap bottle of Vinho Verde (Portuguese white wine) and enjoy a breathtaking sunset.

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2. Eat All The Food At The Timeout Market/Mercado de Ribeira

Food markets are having a moment right now with many popping up around the world’s largest cities, and a trend that I love as a way to get to know a new city. Lisbon’s Timeout Market features stalls from some of the hottest restaurateurs around the city. 

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3. Stand Watch At An Old Defense Tower

Make the trip to see Tower of Belém -  an old fortified tower that used to be a critical part of Lisbon’s defense system during the Age of Discoveries. Changes in the Tagus River now put the tower right by the edge of the river, so you can cross a foot bridge and go inside. Dolce Does Travel (DDT) Tip: speaking from experience here – if you sit on the steps along the water beware that you may be in the splash zone.

Bonus: Also stop at the Discoveries Monument and Jerónimo’s Monastery and DEFINITELY don’t miss…..

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4. Gorge Out On The Best Egg Tart In The World

If heaven was packaged up in the form of little pockets of egg tart, it would be called Pastéis de Belém. These egg custard tarts – called Pastéis de Nata – can be found throughout Portugal, as well as other countries with past Portuguese influence – but the best in the world is found in Belém and not to be missed. DDT Tip: don’t wait in the neverending to go line. Wait in the much shorter line for a table, enjoy a few along with a coffee, and pick up a few (dozen) to go from your table. You won’t regret it.

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5. Take A Walk On The Wild Side…of Lisbon’s Pink Street

On Wednesdays we may wear pink, but in Lisbon, the street wears it everyday. Head to Rua Nova do Carvalho during the day (not far from Time Out Market) and snag that insta-worthy shot of you following the bright pink-paved street that was once the Red Light District. Come nightfall, the streets are filled with people looking to have a good time.

6. Party In The Streets

While planning our trip, I kept receiving recommendations to definitely go out in the neighborhood of Bairro Alto – but I didn’t get much more than that. Where in Bairro Alto? Which bar? Ha ha ha. Silly, rookie, me. Enter any of the narrow streets or alleys of Bairro Alto, and you will find a place to imbibe. The bars are small, and the drinks are cheap – real cheap – and the patrons end up spilling out into the street to enjoy their bevvies. Get your drink to go, and cruise from bar to bar, and take in some of the street performers along the way.  DDT Tip: When I say cheap, I mean it. Like €1.50 draft beers. Or 40 shots for €9.

7. Awaken Your Soul By Soaking Up The Sun

I am not a morning person. Never have been, never will be. But something I started doing on trips, is waking up early one morning to catch a sunrise at some epic locale. And hands down, most soul-awakening experience was at the Miradouro Portas do Sol, in the Alfama district, is a popular spot, but by some miracle, it was completely dead the morning I went and I had the viewpoint – and the city – to myself.

Bonus: Check out any of the Miradouros – or viewpoints – around Lisbon for an awe-inspiring sunset or sunrise. Portas do Sol is located right off the infamous Tram #28, or was just a short walk up from the Airbnb we stayed at – which I definitely recommend. First timer with Airbnb? Don’t miss $40 off your first stay.

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8. Do As Lisboans Do

The two alcohols you must try are 1: Ginjinha or Ginja (Jeen-jah) liqueur and 2: Vinho Verde wine. Ginja is made with infused Ginja berries – or sour cherries – and you must try a shot, especially in a chocolate cup. You can find different stores that sell the liqueur, or do a tasting at the Time Out Market. Vinho verde translates to green wine to describe its more youthful grapes – and is a native wine to northern Portugal. The wine is a bit fizzy and effervescent, reminiscent of a light bubbly. It is refreshing, especially in the summer, and very cheap.

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9. Take In A Live Fado Show Over Dinner

Fado is a form of Portuguese singing that dates back to the 1820s, typically performed in a restaurant, pub, or café during dinner.  It's known for its sad and melancholy tone. An evening at a Fado restaurant in Alfama is a must - but definitely make a reservation. We lucked out in snagging a table the first night, but had to share with another couple from Turkey. There are a number of places that come highly recommended, but we ate at Clube de Fado. The singing was fantastic, as was the food.

10. Experience A Day In A Real Life Fairy Tale

You have likely seen the pictures, but Sintra, a Unesco World Heritage sight, is a must for a day trip from Lisbon. Typically people will add a stop to Cascais, a beach town nearby that comes highly recommended, but with our limited time plus planned stay in the Algarve, we skipped. Sintra's main sights are the Pena Palace, a Moorish Castle, and an unreal mansion with gorgeous gardens, the Quinta da Regaleira. You'll feel like you're living a real life fairytale, from the bright colors and unique architecture of Pena Palace, to the inverted tower at Quinta da Regaleira. It's easy to lose track of time finding all the hidden treasures within Sintra and its various castles and palaces. 

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TRAVEL TIPS: See And Stay Guide To Cinque Terre

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Don't miss my 3-day itinerary for Cinque Terre.

So, you've found all of the instagram shots of Cinque Terre and all the blogs tell you what to do -- but what about planning all of the logistics?  I watched so many vlogs, pinned so many pins, read so many blogs, and googled so many pictures, but, like, figuring out where to stay? What village? How to get around? That information was not as available.

So, glad you're here. Consider this you Crash Course to Cinque Terre.


So Tell Me About These 5 Lands?

The Cinque Terre makes up 5 seaside villages. It’s also often referred to as 5terre. From East to West, you’ve got Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. Each has its own charm.

And….Where Should I Stay?

If you’re totally lost and confused– you are not alone. I really struggled with figuring out where to stay. Which village was the best? The worst? The most touristy? And why can’t I find Cinque Terre (or 5terre) on Airbnb or hotels.com? (Hint – search by village name).

When planning, I took to every forum, travel Facebook group, and friend I knew who had visited to ask where to stay.  I really stressed over not wanting to choose the “wrong” or “bad” village. Spoiler alert –there is no wrong or bad village! They just all have something different to offer.

RIOMAGGIORE: You’ve definitely seen pictures of Riomaggiore. First village stop when coming in from La Spezia/Pisa/Florence. It is small, and also the busiest. Definitely livelier than Manarola and Corniglia. Decent number of restaurants and bars that stay open, and has a dock. 

MANAROLA: This is where we stayed, only because our #1 priority was an Airbnb with the best views. We took too long deciding where to go and stay, almost everything with a view was booked. And then we found this AMAZING apartment with the most gorgeous views and we were sold.

We were SO happy with our choice.  Manarola ended up being my favorite village.  Quiet while having enough restaurants to enjoy an evening out. Our goal was relaxation after busy and long days of sightseeing the rest of the trip and Manarola served up exactly what we were looking for.

If you want something more lively with more nightlife, look at another village, but if you’re good with fantastic restaurants then retreating to your hotel or apartment, then I highly recommend Manarola --- and 100% recommend our apartment. It’s worth every Euro, especially if you’re on a romantic honeymoon or anniversary getaway. 

CORNIGLIA: All we kept hearing was Corniglia was the only village not right on the water or with any direct access to water. So, in my head I took that to mean it was waaaay up high on the mountain. While it is high from the water (i.e. no boat/dock access) it’s not as crazy high as I expected. Corniglia came very highly recommended as the most underrated village to stay in.

While all the towns are steep once you get off the train (with the exception of parts of Monterosso al Mare), Corniglia requires a trek up 200 stairs, or in a bus to get from train station to main part of the village. So, if you or a travel companion have some mobility issues, you’re better off staying in Monterosso al Mare.  If mobility is not a problem, and you’re looking for an even more quiet village than Manarola, Corniglia is the gem you’ve been looking for.

VERNAZZA: Ah Vernazza.  This was the village recommended over and over and over again to us. It’s really gained in popularity as it is the village always suggested by Rick Steves. This was our first choice in part due to Rick Steves, and in part because it had some “nightlife” (aka few bars) and solid restaurant options, especially right by the water. But, in the end, views from our Airbnb ended up top priority and we missed all the best apartments.

MONTEROSSO: If mobility issues are highest concerns, then Monterosso al Mare is the right spot for you.  This village is broken up in two parts – Monterosso al Mare is newer and the only part of the villages to have an actual beach. Follow the coast and go through a tunnel and you’ve found the old town of Monterosso.  Lots of restaurants and the only place you’ll find a more traditional “hotel” or “resort” feel accommodation.  Monterosso is the largest and one of the busiest villages.

Now, some logistics…

HOW DO I GET TO THE CINQUE TERRE?  By train you’ll arrive at La Spezia train station and transfer to the Cinque Terre express train to access each of the villages.  I highly recommend getting the Cinque Terre pass (you can purchase at the tourist office in the La Spezia train station, or at any of the other village train stations). This allows unlimited train rides between La Spezia and Levante, including stops in each of the five villages. It also includes free wi-fi at the train stations (although not the best), access to public restrooms, and entry into the Cinque Terre National Park – which you’ll need if you plan on doing any hiking.  You can get the pass for either 24, 48, or 72 hours.

FROM FLORENCE: We arrived in the Cinque Terre by train from Florence bright and early. The quickest and shortest train ride in is once a day departing Firenze Campo Di Marte train station at 7:38 am, arriving in La Spezia at 9:11 am (double check train schedules!).  Other trains have a transfer in Pisa and take longer. This made for an easier trek and maximized our time in Cinque Terre.

FROM ROME OR MILAN: You may want to come in a night earlier to make the most of your time. Recommended train from Rome (with transfer in Pisa) or Milan to La Spezia. 

FROM OTHER RIVIERA TOWNS: Find a regional train that takes you into Monterosso or Riomaggiore. To access other towns you’ll need to transfer at either of those stations via Cinque Terre Express train.

WHAT IF I HAVE A CAR? Driving in any of the Cinque Terre villages is not ideal – cars are prohibited from each of the villages, so you’ll have to find parking above each village at a pricey €20 a night – and it’s pretty limited. Or there’s a parking lot in La Spezia where you can leave your car and then rely on the express train. Trains make it so easy to get from village to village. So unless you can’t get rid of a car for the rest of your trip, I highly recommend train.

GETTING FROM TOWN TO TOWN:  You can hike, train, or even take a ferry. Note that as of press time (January 2018), most of the lower hiking trails – including the Villa Dell’Amore -- are closed to renovations. 2011 brought devastating flooding and landslides to the villages and the hiking trails. You can currently hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, then from Vernazza to Corniglia but that’s about it for the lower trail. You can follow trails through all five towns if you take a tougher network of trails but allocate about 8 hours for that (plus stops in each town). 

How To Spend Three Days in Cinque Terre

File Under: Why Cinque Terre deserves more than a day trip.

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Don't miss the See and Stay Guide to Cinque Terre!

I remember exactly where I was when I first learned about the Cinque Terre and saw photos of the five seaside towns located on the Italian Riviera.  It was oddly enough in a French language class in high school while discussing the French Riviera, which led to the Italian Riveria….and photos of these five majestic towns. 

It was also the moment I realized love at first sight was a real thing.  And the moment I decided that someday, I had to explore this part of the world.

It took about 15 years, but finally, this past May, I made it to the Cinque Terre.  I had the same debate as most others do when planning an Italian adventure – Cinque Terre or Amalfi Coast? The best advice I was given was you can’t go wrong with either. And while Amalfi Coast is definitely at the top of my list for next time, Cinque Terre was everything that 17-year old me had hoped and dreamed it would be.

We opted to end our 10-day Italian adventure (also included Rome, Florence, a day trip to Tuscany, and a pit stop in Pisa) relaxing in the Cinque Terre which was a fantastic way to end the trip --- but also made it that much harder to get on the plane home. I could’ve stayed in our apartment in Manarola forever.

Cinque Terre is advertised as a popular day trip destination whether staying in Florence, Lucca, or elsewhere on the Italian Riviera.  And while I’m usually a big fan of day trips as a way to maximize your time, not all towns are created equal. The “5 lands” are truly as magical as they’re hyped up to be.  They’re also as busy and crowded as they’re hyped up to be. The real magic of the gorgeous waterfront hill villages happens in the early morning and later evening when all the day-trippers have left. 

So, what’s so magical about Cinque Terre?  I’ll let these pictures speak for themselves…..

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A stop in the Cinque Terre could easily be shortened to 1-2 nights as much as it could be lengthened to 5-7 nights.  I spent 2 nights in Cinque Terre, but maximized train schedules to arrive early enough the first day; I essentially had 2 full days and 2 nights. I could’ve easily spent another 2 days to delve deeper into the five villages, more time on a boat, and see more of the Riviera Coast. But, if you’re crunched for time, 2 days is plenty to explore the 5 towns and spend the third venturing out along the Italian Riviera.


First things first….I’m a realist.  What the heck are these 5 lands?
The Cinque Terre is made up of 5 seaside villages. It’s also often referred to as 5terre. From East to West, you’ve got Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. Each has its own charm.

If you’re completely lost about the 5 villages and where to stay – keep reading here!


DAY ONE

Arrival. Arrive by 9 am to maximize day one. See transportation guide. Check into Airbnb/VRBO.

Hit the trailheads. Head to Monterosso via train to start the hike. Walk along the coast from Monterosso al Mare through the tunnel to old town and follow signs for the hike. The hike to Vernazza takes about 2 hours give or take depending on heat, crowds, and your fitness level. Once you get to Vernazza go down through the village and cool off with some lunch al fresco at one of the restaurants right along the water.  Also, you’ve definitely earned a glass of vino.

Explore the towns. Soak up the sun, hang out by the water, explore the shops, and eat some gelato in Vernazza. Then either continue on the hike to Corniglia….or hop on the train. In Corniglia you can’t miss trying the local white wine – Vin Sante. You’ll see tons of vineyards on the hike to Vernazza and all over the hillsides of Corniglia.

Chill waterside: Take as long or as short as you want exploring the towns before heading back to get ready for dinner. If you wind up with extra time, go back and hit the beach in Monterosso, or lay out along the water in one of the other villages.

Dinner with a view: Get a reservation at Billy’s da Trattoria in Manarola (just minutes away from the Airbnb we stayed at), especially on the patio at sunset. The views are to di(n)e for.

Not feeling it?
Alternative options: arrive the night before if you’re coming from anywhere other than Florence, Pisa, or Genoa to have a full day. 

If it’s hot you’ll want to save the hike for day 2 to get an early start. It gets hot on the trail! In that case, Explore the towns on day 1, then spend day 2 hitting the trails and closing off on the water.

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DAY TWO

Rise and Shine: If you booked the same accommodations, start your morning with some coffee on the gorgeous veranda. No better way to start the day and realize how lucky you are to be in one of the most beautiful places in the world!

Hit the towns – again: If you followed our day one suggestions, you only really saw 3 of the 5 villages. Hop the ferry or train to explore the other two (i.e. Manarola, Riomaggiore).

Rent a boat: Head to Riomaggiore boat dock and hire a boat and captain for the day. Those views of the 5 villages and dramatic hillsides are unbeatable from the water.

Aperitivo: I know, I know. We’re partial to Manarola.  But, you can’t hit the Cinque Terre without a visit to Nessun Dorma – a bar with the best views in the Riviera. The cocktail or rosé menu are the best, and don’t miss a cheese plate or bruschetta. Mmmmm.  We enjoyed it here at sunset.

Dinner and drinks: Venture to another town, or find a solid local restaurant for dinner in your village. If staying in Riomaggiore or Vernazza, hit the local watering hole.

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DAY THREE

Free Day! By now you’ve explored all 5 towns, you’ve hit the trailheads, and you’ve spent time out on the water. You can delve deeper into any of those areas (there are some serious hiking trails in the park) – or…take a day to go explore the rest of the Riviera.

I Found My Love…. in Portofino. Buy a train ticket to Rapallo and head toward the water. Buy a roundtrip ferry ticket that will take you to Santa Margherita Ligure, Portofino, and San Fruttoso. We booked a roundtrip ticket so we could go to Portofino first, then got off in Santa Margherita Ligure to explore and catch a train home from there. Oh, and when in Portofino, definitely sit and get a bottle of wine or bubbly and people watch the yacht parties and the lamborghinis driving down the tiny main road.  Note – if weather and wave conditions are not friendly, the ferry service to San Fruttoso won’t run.

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Not feeling it?
Head east instead to Porto Venere.  Not as well-known as the rest of the towns, a total hidden (for now) gem that fits right in with its sister 5terre and has a few more sights to explore.

Fry Not?
Another gem in the area is Camogli. If you’re in the area the second weekend of May, don’t miss their annual Fish Fry festival. The main festivities run on the Sunday with a giant frying pan on the beach serving up some fresh fish. Events start the night before with giant bonfires on the beach and fireworks. 

3 day itinerary for cinque terre

How To Fly Around the World for Under $200

This blog post could also be titled, How I Afford Travel, or How I Convince My Husband To Travel Internationally Every Year, or How Not To Get Ripped Off by the Airline Industry (just kidding. I love you airline industry).

As you have likely already gathered about me if you know me, if you've read my early posts, or if you've read the "About Me" on this site, I'm a relative newbie in the travel world.  I've always had the desire to travel, but didn't get my first passport until 2013, and didn't leave the continent until 2014 when I went on a trip around the world.

Booking the trip around the world opened my eyes to a new world of travel.  Since that fateful night when I booked flights from New York - Milan, Prague - Paris - Thailand for $177 (yes, total!), I've become obsessed with fare glitches, fare deals, fuel dumping, and insane airfare deals.

I find airfare to be the most daunting - and often most expensive - part of travel.  Especially when you're brand new to travel.  Booking an expensive flight, hotels, researching where to go, what to do, what to eat, cultures, potential scams, and everything else with travel can be scary!

But.  The more I travel, the easier and less daunting it has become.  Honestly.  

TRAVEL. IS. AS. EASY. AS. BOOKING. A. FLIGHT.

And guess what?  Booking a flight can be as quick as 5 minutes.

Since the Round-The-World trip in November 2014, my husband and I have returned to Europe the last 2 years, and have another trip booked to Italy come May. That's 4 years in a row traveling to Europe, when I had never been in my life!  And it's all thanks to finding crazy good travel deals.

I'm constantly asked how I find these deals.  So, I'm sharing my favorite sites here for you to browse, follow on social media, and check out for inspiration for your next trip!

TIPS:
1. BE FLEXIBLE. The best deals I've found have been about 6 months in advance of the trips I've taken, but I've been flexible with destination and exact timing. Often amazing deals pop up for the next 1-3 months - with my full-time job I can't usually jump on those, but if you have a more flexible schedule, you're in luck.

2. ACT FAST. You NEVER know how long a deal will be up. Be (somewhat) spontaneous. Deals most likely won't last longer than 24-48 hours after they've first been discovered. (Note - you can cancel airfare within 24 hours, so you may want to book now, ask wife-husband-boss for forgiveness later.)

3. KEEP REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS. Sometimes these deals really are too good to be true and can get cancelled.  I booked a $200 rt flight on Delta to Portugal over a 5 day weekend that ended up getting canceled. I was bummed, yes, but another deal popped up a month later that was honored. 

4. HAVE AN OPEN MIND. And be ready for adventure. When we booked Round the World, we didn't know how we'd spend the time between Milan and Prague. We pulled up a map and Austria was on the way - a country that was not on my radar.  AND WE FELL IN LOVE. Be ready to be surprised and wowed and keep an open mind!

5. THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A NEXT TIME. Found an amazing deal but it's not the right timing, or you don't have the right financials? There will be another deal that will pop up.  This one I still struggle with on a daily basis. :)

Now that we got that out of the way.....are you ready to book your next trip of a lifetime?  

FLIGHT RESOURCES

SecretFlying  posts great flight deals with tips on how and where to book. Easily search by trending deals, latest deals, and deals by continent.  I follow them on  Facebook  and  Instagram  (@secretflying) as well.

SecretFlying posts great flight deals with tips on how and where to book. Easily search by trending deals, latest deals, and deals by continent.  I follow them on Facebook and Instagram (@secretflying) as well.

The Flight Deal : Sign up for the Flight Daily Deal e-newsletter.  They send out a daily email with about 10 flight deals. Also share travel tips.

The Flight Deal: Sign up for the Flight Daily Deal e-newsletter.  They send out a daily email with about 10 flight deals. Also share travel tips.

Google Flights  is my favorite search tool.  Google makes it easy to search by location or date and compare airports for arrival or departure to really find the best fares.    Play with the explore anywhere, or have fun clicking around the map to find the best deals.  You can also narrow search to x number of stops or specific airlines if you want to avoid multiple layovers and really budget airlines.

Google Flights is my favorite search tool.  Google makes it easy to search by location or date and compare airports for arrival or departure to really find the best fares.  

Play with the explore anywhere, or have fun clicking around the map to find the best deals.  You can also narrow search to x number of stops or specific airlines if you want to avoid multiple layovers and really budget airlines.

Skyscanner  is a global travel search website that provides a free flight search service as well as online comparisons for hotels and car hire.  Explore best deals by month or destination.  They have a website and app. 

Skyscanner is a global travel search website that provides a free flight search service as well as online comparisons for hotels and car hire.  Explore best deals by month or destination.  They have a website and app. 

Momondo  helps you find and compare fares from 700+ travel sites, giving you access to the best rates for airline tickets online. Momondo will also search third party agent sites for the best flight deals.  They have a website and app. 

Momondo helps you find and compare fares from 700+ travel sites, giving you access to the best rates for airline tickets online. Momondo will also search third party agent sites for the best flight deals.  They have a website and app. 

TravelZoo  puts out a weekly  Top 20  list of the best travel deals and packages every Wednesday.  You can access via website or sign up for their email list.

TravelZoo puts out a weekly Top 20 list of the best travel deals and packages every Wednesday.  You can access via website or sign up for their email list.

I've launched TheRoundTrip -- a weekly 5 minute tip sheet on all the top travel news and deals.  I spend hours each week going through each of the above resources, to share the very best deals with you.  You can find each week's newsletter and deals by clicking  TheRoundTrip  in the header, or sign up  here . 

I've launched TheRoundTrip -- a weekly 5 minute tip sheet on all the top travel news and deals.  I spend hours each week going through each of the above resources, to share the very best deals with you.  You can find each week's newsletter and deals by clicking TheRoundTrip in the header, or sign up here


Pin so you can easily access these resources next time you're ready to book a trip!

Pin so you can easily access these resources next time you're ready to book a trip!

Planning Our Trip Around the World in 18 Days Part 2: Thailand

If you haven’t read Part 1, about how we planned our Europe portion of the trip, read here.

Thailand has been at the top of my bucket list for over 10 years since I took a college Geology course on Natural Disasters.  It was the spring 2005 semester  and the TA had spent the previous Christmas in Thailand.  She was in Phuket the day of the major tsunami that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and caused billions of dollars in damage. She had documented the day – even pre-tsunami disaster – via picture,s and shared her experience running for her life with our class one morning.  Like many others, I don’t always remember too much from college, but I definitely remember her story.

Typically learning about a country based on a devastating natural disaster would deter one’s interest from visiting the destination.  But those pictures, and all of the pictures and stories I’d be exposed to over the next 10 years, made me fall in love with the beaches, the food, the culture, and the people.  I knew I had to visit Thailand someday.

In the Trip That Started It All, I mentioned the flight options took us from New York to Milan, and from Prague to one of four Asian cities (via 24-hr stopover in Paris).  Those four Asian cities were Beijing, Singapore, Tokyo, and Bangkok.  Bangkok!  Even better than getting to go to Europe after 2 previously failed planning attempts, I’d also have a chance to get to Thailand!  Choosing which city was easy.  It was choosing how to spend our time in Thailand that was impossible.

Our work and personal lives ended up dictating how long we had to spend in Thailand – which was unfortunately less than a week.  We briefly discussed ditching the flight to Thailand in favor of staying in Europe a full extra week, but I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to not only finally make it to Thailand, but to also complete an RTW trip (round-the-world). So, we accepted the short window and laid out our options.

In a dream world, I would’ve had our 30 days in Europe, and at least 2 weeks devoted to Thailand.  I would spend a night or two in Bangkok, head to Chiang Mai to visit an elephant sanctuary, and then fly down to Phuket and Krabi for some beach time.  But, given our reality, we had to make some tough decisions.  We were already spending so much of the trip traveling – why add in even more traveling at the tail end of the trip, despite how badly we wanted to see ALL of the Land of a Thousand Smiles?

In the end we compromised - we would spend 1 night in Bangkok so the Mister could experience all of the amazing street food the top 10 city in the world has to offer -- and I could hit Sky Bar at Lebua a la Hangover 2 (Hello #bucketlist item) -- and we'd spend the rest of the time parked up at a beach with drink(s) in hand. And we ALL agreed that another trip to Thailand was imminent so we could see the elephants in Chiang Mai.

Thanks to TripAdvisor, we narrowed down our beach options to 3 nights in Khao Lak, an hour or so north of Phuket airport, and the last night at Karon Beach in Phuket. After months of debating, bartering, and googling "best place to go in Thailand," we finally had our destinations set.