January 28, 2015

Fabulous Fireplaces in Hotel Rooms

Does anyone else feel like they are living in the tundra? We didn't get the "epic blizzard" they forecast but we are still solidly coated in the white stuff and, with temps expected to stay in the 20's for the foreseeable future, it won't be gone any time soon. Of course, my smart lucky readers who live in parts of the world NOT covered in snow probably dream of spending a few days inside the snow globe that is New England...personally, I dream of being anywhere warm.

Snuggling up by a crackling fire with a good book is the perfect way to spend a winter's day. How about being able to do that in your hotel room after a day of sightseeing? Any one of these gorgeous hotel rooms with working fireplaces will warm you right up!

I have actually stayed in this exact suite at the Taj Boston (back when it was the Ritz Carlton Boston) and it is every bit as pretty as the picture. There is even a "fireplace butler" who will come and light your fire for you. For anyone braving the remains of the blizzard in Boston, this suite would be a great place to shake off the snow for a few days.

I had the opportunity to see this suite when I toured The Lowell in New York City in December. Seriously...I could move right in today. The Lowell is the only hotel in the city with wood burning fireplaces in their rooms - add their delicious afternoon tea in the Pembroke Room and I might never leave (other than to pop over to Madison Avenue a half a block away for a little retail therapy!)

In this stunning room at The Mayflower Grace in Washington, Connecticut, the fireplace plays second fiddle to the glorious canopy bed. But sitting in that chaise by the fire with a good book would be pure heaven on a day like today!

Chicagoans may have been spared this week's storm, but anyone who has ever spent a winter day in the windy city would appreciate returning to this lovely room with a fireplace at the Waldorf Astoria Chicago.

Playing in the snow is half the fun at the Four Seasons Jackson Hole, but relaxing in this suite by the fire afterwards with a nice glass of wine would be the perfect way to end a day on the mountain. 

Ocean winds and fog can make even California feel a bit nippy...enjoy your fireside warmth with a view of the Pacific at Big Sur's Post Ranch Inn

Is there anything better than sitting by a fire on a chilly evening? Yes! Sitting by the fire with room service!! 

Stay warm, my friends!


January 26, 2015

Travel Tip ~ Foreign Currency Exchange

Happy Monday!  I hope you all had a fabulous weekend! Here in the Northeast we are settling in and awaiting the arrival of the Blizzard of '15...cross your fingers that it won't be as bad as they are forecasting!!

Do you ever feel overwhelmed when dealing with foreign currency when you are traveling? If so, you definitely are not alone!

Even the most sophisticated travelers often find themselves perplexed when it comes to exchanging money. Here are a few tips for dealing with foreign currency transactions when traveling abroad:

(for readers outside of the US, I used US dollars as the default currency for this post. You can just substitute your home currency for USD - the same tips apply.)

Consider getting a credit card that does not charge a foreign currency transaction fee  (go here for a listing of options or call your bank). While you are traveling use this card for as many purchases as you can - not only will you not pay a transaction fee, the credit card companies give you a competitive exchange rate. 

Know the current exchange rate. Use a currency conversion site such as XE (my favorite) to familiarize with the local currencyof your destination.  Knowing the prevailing rate allows you to easily calculate what things cost in US dollars and also to steer clear of Forex counters that are with very unfavorable exchange rates.

Do not purchase foreign currency in the US. You will get a better exchange rate at your destination. (But make sure you find an ATM or Forex counter at the airport when you land before hopping in a taxi and realizing you only have US dollars!) 
Use ATM's to get cash in the local currency. Even if your bank charges a fee for non-bank withdrawals, the exchange rate is still better than a Forex counter (which often charge as high as 15% on every transaction). Check with your bank before you leave to make sure your PIN is compatible with machines in your destination. 

Always travel with some US dollars (and leave it in the safe at the hotel). If for some reason your credit card or ATM card does not work (or, god forbid, they are stolen), you will have some cash to convert to the local currency in an emergency.

Don't fall for "no fee" exchange counters. What you save by not paying a fee, you pay in unfavorable exchange rates. 

Always pay in the local currency. Occasionally, you will be asked if you would like to pay for an item in US dollars - do not do this. The exchange rate for these transactions is always unfavorable and there are often additional fees, plus your bank may still charge a foreign transaction fee. 

Plan your daily budget in the local currency. For example, if you know you want to spend 300 USD per day while traveling in Japan, you can calculate that, in Tokyo, you will have roughly 35,000 Yen to spend each day. Thinking in terms of the local currency eliminates the worry of translating every transaction to dollars.

Leave no local currency behind. The goal is to have none of the local currency left in your wallet when you leave. Stuck with a lot of local currency? Pay part of your hotel bill in cash. And remember, you cannot convert coins, so be sure to spend them too.

I hope these tips help take some of the confusion out of exchanging money while traveling in foreign countries. Please feel free to share any tips you may have about currency exchange or anything travel related...I love hearing ideas from readers!

For my American readers, the US Dollar is stronger than it has been in a number of years...NOW is the perfect time to plan a trip abroad!!

January 23, 2015

Flashback Friday...Dreaming of Paris

I am knee deep in planning trips for clients - the Caribbean for spring break, a mother daughter Paris trip, a fabulous British garden tour and countless Italy trips...it is amazing how planning trips for other people makes me want to pack my suitcase and just GO!  The next best thing is reminiscing about past travels and today I can't stop thinking of my favorite city...Paris.

Who wants to stroll down memory lane with me?

Originally posted in October, 2013

Audrey Hepburn was so right...Paris is always a good idea!

My favorite vantage point of Notre Dame...the gorgeous little garden in the back.
When we were planning our trip to Greece, it just so happened that we were able to score a great deal for flights on Air France...the only "hitch" was that we had to stop over in Paris. In the category of "as long as we are there", we decided, why not spend a few days in Paris?

 My sister-in-law had not been to Paris since she was in high school, so I played the role of tour guide. I showed her all of my favorite places and I also discovered a few new favorites (including the Paris flea market which I am posting about on Wednesday). 

Since there is no shortage of blogs dedicated specifically to Paris (I read many of them myself), rather than telling you every little detail of our trip, I am simply going to share a few of my favorite photos.  I hope you enjoy them...

The Medici Fountain ~ Jardin du Luxembourg
Sunset over the Seine
Saint Chapelle
The Louvre...love the way the light is hitting it here.
La Tour Eiffel
Even in October the Jardin du Luxembourg is filled with gorgeous flowers.
 Musee D'Orsay
Musee Rodin
Grand Palais

Île Saint-Louis

Even the corner florist is a photo op...
My favorite "souvenir" store
We covered A LOT of ground in four days and we had the aching feet to show for it! But, it was well worth the pain. I am already trying to figure out when I can go back again.
Anyone want a personal tour guide?


If you would like me to help you plan a trip to Paris (or anywhere else!), just e-mail me. I can get great deals on hotels ranging from the charming left bank hotel we stayed at on this trip, to one of the five star "palace" hotels, with many added amenities such as upgrades and room credits. I can also book your tours, transfers or day trips.

Bonne week-end, mes amis! xoxo

January 20, 2015

Today's Travel Tip ~ Booking Flights

I hope everyone had a fabulous long weekend! Now it's time to get back to work...and planning our travel for this year!

Last week, we discussed the importance of planning ahead for travel.  What is the #1 thing you must plan in advance? Flights! While getting there is hardly half the fun any more, with a little advance preparation, you can make the process of booking your flights a little less painful.

Here are a few tips for getting the best "bang for your buck" when booking flights:

Use a reliable booking site to research your flight options...

 Many people automatically look at Expedia or Orbitz, both of which are known for not always showing the lowest prices.

Google Flights is my go to site for researching the best prices and schedules - they also allow you to search surrounding dates for better fares and save your searches making it easy to come back to later. It is really fast and very user friendly.

Skyscanner displays smaller international airlines which might not show up on the US booking sites. 

Adioso lets you search a wide variety of possible destinations without focusing in on one airport - for example, you can search "someplace warm" or "ski destinations" and they come up with a grid of destinations offering the best fares. 

Hipmunk searches by best fares but also ranks the flights based on comfort level (they call it the "agony" level).

Also, keep in mind some airlines, such as Southwest, don't show up on any booking engines. If you fly their routes, be aware of that and go to their site directly. 

Finally, I use the sites for research only...I prefer to always book directly with the airline whenever possible.

Plan your schedule wisely...

Flying during the week is almost always less expensive than flying on the weekend.

 Know the 24 hour rule...

With so many non-refundable fares these days,  it feels like hitting "Buy" is signing your life away. By law, you can cancel any ticket booked in the United States (as long as you have booked 7 days prior to travel) within 24 hours of booking for a full refund. 

Sometimes the lowest fare is not always BEST fare...

We all have the tendency to book the least expensive fare. But, sometimes for just a few dollars extra you can get a much better flying experience - better departure or arrival times, non-stop flights vs. one with a layover, or an airline with amenities or lower fees for extras. Consider all your options wisely. If your plans might change, paying a little extra for a flexible fare may end up saving you a lot in change fees. 
Consider alternative airports...
If there is a nearby airport, check that out as well...flights into and out of there may be substantially less expensive. For example, when flying to Los Angeles, I have found much better deals going to Burbank, Long Beach or Orange County rather than LAX.

Reserve the best seats possible...

I am amazed by how often people tell me they didn't reserve their seats upon booking and got stuck in the center seat.  Always reserve a seat assignment the minute you book your flight. Use Seat Guru to find the best seats on the plane. And remember my tip for couples flying together - always book the aisle and window - more often than not the center seat will remain open. If it doesn't, you will make someone's day by offering them your aisle or window seat.  If you are flying an airline that doesn't assign seats, it is well worth it to pay the extra few dollars for early boarding...standing in line board is no fun at all.

I hope these tips are helpful...do you have a favorite travel "hack"? If so let me know and I would love to feature it in an upcoming post. 

Happy travels!!