Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Fatherland, part two

Back in November (yes, somehow it's now March), I had the privilege of returning to the Motherland, or in my case, the Fatherland. My father, Abba as he most often referred to, hails from the great state of Israel. While he visits his family a couple of times a year, my trips back are, unfortunately, much less frequent. 

I'll take full ownership of that as I'm selfishly trying to make my way to new destinations, seeing, experiencing as much of the world while my responsibilities are still limited to myself. On the way back from a vacation in Thailand, my Jewish guilt kicked in and I made a pitstop in Tel Aviv, primarily to see my grandmother.

Conveniently, Abba was staying in an apartment in Herzliya, so l cramped his style and made room for myself in the extra bedroom, you know the bomb shelter room that's standard in Israeli homes. It's not often that I get to have dinner with my father, let alone travel with him so to have him as my travel companion, tour guide, translator, I was a certified daddy's girl. 

Herzilya, while lacking the excitement of its cooler neighbor, Tel Aviv, still drew me in. Maybe it was the next-door, newly opened modern Ritz Carlton, clad with Missoni pillows and the quietest lobby, I forgot I was in Israel. Most likely, it was the running path around the marina, flanking the beach highlighting that fitness a part of everyday life there. People, ranging from my age to that of my father's, were taking to the tayelet (a promenade), from sunrise to sunset.

Israel warrants more than one post, even if I was only there for three days and the extent of my sight seeing was hopping from one family brunch to another family dinner. That's the thing about Israel. It is so deeply rooted in family. Everything else is just noise, or less of a priority. Family and love first, falafel, hummus, bread with za'atar next, followed by the beach.

Stay bitten ;)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Travel Tip Tuesday: The Appy Traveler

When I travel, I try to disconnect, take some time away from that attached iPhone of mine. To "be in the moment" as they say but not do. It's a struggle at the very best unless you're in a remote safari camp in Tanzania where the only connection is with nature, the animals and the people around you. These days I find that there are ways my phone can better my time off, even when it's still on. Because as much as the view from the window seat can set your imagination in flight, it's stressful just getting there. Here are a few apps that can make an appy traveler a happier traveler.

Getting Around:
When I was in Newnan, Georgia and I needed to head to an even smaller Southern town, I couldn't click my heels twice because I wasn't in Kansas. This is when Uber can be convenient when the options aren't a plenty. But for the girl who prefers the nerds over the bully, there's other apps to get me where I want to be.

LyftA cheaper, friendlier alternative to Uber and the easiest way to get around San Francisco. It recently cost me $30 to get from LaGuardia to Tribeca using Lyft.

BandwagonThis ride-sharing app that is an environmentally sound option for New Yorkers.

GettUnlike Uber, Gett has no surge pricing. Available in NY, London, Moscow, St. Petersburg, , Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. Best part for New Yorkers, it's $10 anywhere in central Manhattan, no meter, no worries.

ViaA ridesharing app that's just $5 to get around uptown and midtown Manhattan.
(Use the code lauren3e4 and you'll get a free $10 credit)

Calling it a night:
AirbnbWant to stay in an apartment or planning an extended stay? This is a great option to get a true feel of living like the locals do. That is, if you don't have a luxury hotel in mind.

The Currency Converter:
OandaI've been using this one for ages so there might be a better version out there but it has not failed me. Even in airplane mode, I can adjust the price in USD to whatever the currency of that country is and get a rough estimate of what these elephant clad pants would cost back at home. It's a great way to decipher whether I'm getting ripped off or not... and keeps me in line with my spending abroad.

Talk to me:
DuolingoIt's a free (and fun) way to learn a new language in a gaming format.

TinderWhen in Rome? I kid, I kid. But people are using Tinder as a way to meet people, be it for a relationship or a guided tour from an insider. Swipe right or put the phone away and facetime in real time.

Got any apps that save you time or eliminate stress why traveling? Leave a comment and share the love. Stay bitten ;)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Wanderlust Wednesday: Serenbe

Sometimes your work will take you to expected places, metropolitan cities from Dubai to London to San Francisco. And then there's the unexpected. It will bring you somewhere you've never been, introduce you to new people and open your eyes to a landscape vastly different from your everyday terrain. For me, it's the skyscrapers, taxi cabs and that wintery slush.

Just last week, I had the privilege of staying in a town just 45 minutes south of Atlanta for a photo shoot for Zola registry with the talented women behind Once Wed. To most Southerners, Serenbe is a popular wedding venue, an idyllic place for a corporate retreat or an easy weekend getaway to unwind. Given the pouring rain, I will be sure to return to Serenbe as not only was I taken by the kindness and hospitality of the people but that the charm of the place was not washed away during the storm. 

The talk is not slow but not cheap. Y'all, please and thank you are sprinkled in every other sentence. The accents are thick as gravy and I found myself adopting it as if it were another helping of mashed potatoes. The pulled pork sandwich from Blue Eyed Daisy warrants a second serving. As does the waffle dessert from the Hil (one of the two restaurants in town). Making space for dessert is also a necessity as it's a true farm to table experience. Horses, goats and friends wander the grounds, an expansive property at The Inn at Serenbe.

Even though we were having a photo shoot at a private home, just outside the front door, time seemed to go by just a little bit slower. And I began to question whether every country song I listen to is a true love letter to life in the south.

Stay bitten y'all ;)
photos courtesy of The Inn at Serenbe

Vermont for Valentine's

Oops, it's March and I somehow seemed to skip right over February. I joked that this previous month was a Tour d'America as every weekend was filled visiting various destinations: Miami, Vermont, Little Rock, and Atlanta. And with each place, I managed to fall in love all over again.

This past weekend, the NYTimes travel section had a feature on skiing on the East Coast, with claims that it is currently the best place to ski right now in the country given the winter we've had this year. People are taking to the slopes and flocking to New England. 

I discovered there's more to love than fresh powder in Vermont. We arrived in Burlington via JetBlue (the quick flight outweighed the decision to forgo the usual seven hour drive in the dark after work). We made a pit stop to visit one of my favorite Zola registry vendors, Vermont Farm Table. To read more about our behind-the-scenes tour of their wood shop, click here.

With our beautiful hand-crafted muddlers in hand, we made our way to our winter weekend in Sugarbush. As soon as we got to the ski house, Dan and Brady told us to drop our bags as we had to be at the lodge for a surprise. There at the base of the mountain, we greeted Mary and Nick, one of the best couples I know, with champagne (and beer). On their last run, Nick made it an uphill one for Mary and proposed right there on the slopes.

The recently engaged joined an overly giddy group of apres skiers to kickoff one truly memorable weekend (no matter how many shotskis were taken). With our onesies on, we celebrated #whenttwobecomesonesie.

Stay bitten ;)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Travel Tip Tuesday: Partner Up

When I left New York, it was 12 degrees. A few hours later, I arrived in Miami and it was just shy of 73 degrees. I'm not good with math but boy, did I feel that difference. So when my return flight home got canceled due to the impending winter storm, it was hard not to justify camping out by the pool for an extended period of time.

But life beckons. And every vacation comes to an end, even the long weekend getaways. My travel tip for you is a lesson learned from yesterday morning's canceled flight. 

I played a game of musical flights trying my best to get on the earliest (and most promising) one out. After an extensive time on hold, all the while direct message tweeting (the fastest way to get a response) with Virgin America's customer support team, I realized that a refund and an inexpensive flight on another airline like Frontier or Southwest would not be the cheapest, easiest fix. A flight out the following day with them was also not a guarantee that I would make it back to the office in time.

My best bet was to partner up with an airline that has flights every other hour. Before you fly, know who your airline's friends are because as true to real life, friends will help you get to where you want to go. With Virgin having only flight a day out of FLL, I was able to transfer over to JetBlue, free of charge and secure a spot on their earliest flight out. Once I got to the gate, I charmed the flight attendant into a better seat. Be kind to the airline staff, they are customer service without the buffer of a phone and have a constant cast of characters to deal with. A smile and a genuine thank you really goes the distance.

Stay bitten ;)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Princess and the P

For every beach we pulled up to, it wasn't clear as to where exactly we were. Our "guide" Hu would mumble the name of a place and shake it off with laughter. When we approached the next beach, I was pretty sure that we were at Railay Beach, as the sight of Rayavadee's restaurant just perched a few feet above the sand, looked just like the photographs.

Months before the trip, I had seen images of this restaurant nestled in a cave in just about every travel publication. The critics raved, this luxury resort can only be reached by boat and is dubbed one of the top 20 places to stay in Asia. But this couldn't be it... the beach was the equivalent of Times Square. There is no way that this was #5 of the "20 Amazing Hotels You Need to Visit Before You Die." Low and behold, Ashley saw a sign and confirmed that this was in fact the much lauded exclusive hotel. To be fair, I'm sure the overly crowded beach is the only setback.

But what were they all here for? We disembarked from the longboat and took a stroll down the beach, naturally to follow the crowd. To our left, rock climbers scaled limestone cliffs. Straight ahead, at the end of Railay Beach, another cave. Within the cave, the sign read:

It is believed among the villagers here that the spirit of Phranang Princess Goddess resides in this cave. Fisherman, before going out, would pledge Phranang for good luck. When their wishes fulfilled, votive offering would be made at the shrine. Common gifts are flowers and incense sticks, but usually the spirits of goddess shall be offered special gifts, the lingams. However, this has nothing to do with the Thai people's religions, neither Buddhism nor Islam, that the belief of the lingam and holy womb shall create fertility and prosperity to the whole earth and  mankind.

Upon entry, I thought to myself "ooh daily offerings, kind of like the ones I saw in Bali." And then moments later, I realized that I was just a little off. These fisherman were trying to ward off a curse on this lonely princess with phallic objects. I turned around to Jaclyn and Ashley and reverted to a junior high schooler. A cave full of them?! There must be over 100, all different shapes and sizes. 

No wonder Hu was laughing! Stay bitten ;)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Travel Tip Tuesday: Trust Strangers

When we were young, we were told not to talk to strangers. If I listened to that rule, I don't think I would have gotten very far. Cruise around Thailand on the cheap? That would certainly be out of the question if I kept my mouth shut.

More often that not, I'm chatting up a stranger. Shortly thereafter, they've become a new friend. On our first night in Krabi, we ventured to the lobby of the Sofitel for a welcoming happy hour. It is there that I realized I wasn't the only chatty one of my friends. 

We met a sweet Australian woman who gave us the rundown of where to go. She advised us to leave the hotel property in the morning in search for Hu. He should be there across the street, on the side of the road either in a tuk tuk or a longboat. Can't miss Hu. Just ask the locals for him.

So the following morning, we took to her advice and within minutes of asking who's Hu, found ourselves in the company of one smiley, laid back guy. Sporting a Bob Marley shirt and a longboat adorned with Rastafarian colors, we knew everything was going to be alright. He was missing an ear, a teeth or two, but had a sweet demeanor that allowed us to put our trust in a stranger. 

On one rickety longboat, we would ask him what island we would head to next and he would just laugh it off. Hu didn't speak much English and to be fair, I knew even less Thai. Apparently Pad See Ew and Khao Soy won't get you to Ko Phi Phi. But a smile, that will take you pretty far in the Land of Smiles.

Stay bitten ;)

The Beach

Koh Samui? Rainy season.
Phuket? Pronounced f*ck it? Either way, too touristy.
Ao nang? Ko Phi-Phi Don? Ko Lanta? Ko Phi-Phi Leh?

There were a lot of island destinations to sift through and it was tough to decide where we should land from Chiang Mai. Oh, "the struggle is real" as they say it. I knew that at these coordinates, any beach would do the trick. While we couldn't get a room where our friends stayed, at the Nakamanda, we found a nearby resort to unwind at for the remainder of our vacation. Thanks to Jess and Paul, we took their recommendation to reside in Krabi, a smaller scale version of Phuket that would allow us to easily take day trips to the neighboring islands.

15 years after the movie was released, you know the one and in case you've forgotten, it's the one with a young Leonardo DiCaprio on what was once one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Now, it's a bit crowded.

I was more than ready to leave the mainland, hail a longboat around the islands, in search of a more remote beach than "The Beach." Paradise, lost or found, an afternoon at sea with friends is the luckiest of days. 

And me? I still believe in paradise. But now at least I know it's not some place you can look for. Because it's not where you go. It's how you feel for a moment in your life when you're part of something. And if you find that moment... It lasts forever. - The Beach

Stay bitten ;)

Friday, January 16, 2015

Guestblogger: Jaclyn's Tips to Booking Your Elephant Experience

If you do get the chance to book this incredible experience, a few TBB travel tips:

- Pack sneakers only for rain; flip flops that you can easily toss are the best ideas as my Nikes never recovered

- Elephant riding clothes are provided so you won't directly touch the elephant (they are surprisingly hairy), but I did get lots of lashes from Shampoo eating palm leaves. If you're sensitive to a few bumps and scratches then long pants should work.

- Bug spray. That is all.

- Pack a camera, but pass it over to your guide so you can really be present and take the memories with you in your mind above your photo album. A plus, Patara gives all guests a CD of photos and video to take home.

- A change of clothes for your ride back. You will get dirty, you will get wet, but like an elephant... you will never forget.

Stay bitten ;)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Guestblogger: Jaclyn Becoming an Elephant Owner for a Day

What I loved most about the Patara experience, aside from the stylish trainer attire in bright woven colors and getting to overuse the elephant emoji more than we’d care to admit, was being paired with an animal based on your temperament and personality. The trainers pegged each of their pupils and assigned us to our elephant soulmate for the day.  There she was in the field ahead, bouncing from leg to leg and dancing with some pep in her step.  Flapping her ears, in what we’d learn was a signal that she was really enjoying herself.  Shampoo, aptly titled as I work for a beauty company, was mine and with her came Yaya, her one-year-old calf who bumbled at her feet all day. Two for the price of one.  Ashley would pair with our pregnant queen for the day who graciously led the pack (FUN FACT:  Elephants are pregnant for almost TWO years!), and Lauren, not to settle for the ordinary, renamed her fun elephant Moose and quickly took to his trunk to climb aboard.

Approaching each with careful footing and a basket filled with bananas and sugar cane, we would introduce ourselves to these beautiful animals and start to earn their trust for the ride of our lives. We learned about an elephant’s disposition, Thai commands to let them know they were a good girl or boy (di-di), how if their toes are sweating they’re in good shape.  We inspected their droppings - so there’s that.

Before I knew it Shampoo was my friend, trusting that I’d have a ‘good girl’ pat on the back or a snack up my sleeve.  Also, I touched her poop and that’s a true friend right there.  We learned how to ask that they extend their leg or trunk to let us climb on board, and before I knew it, I was seated next to my best friends about 9 feet up and on one of the most incredible animals. 

The group lined up and started down the path, and because I likely would have taken pics the whole time, I was happy to hand my camera off to my trainer so he could snap a few candids. Shampoo, being my elephant and all, quickly jetted to the front of the line and Yaya, still learning her footing and the path, slipped and trotted alongside. With my legs tucked behind her ears and cramping, I quickly forgot about how sore my thighs would be the next day and started to really take it all in. Before long we approached a road, slowed down tour buses and crossed over to the murky waterfall.  Each of us were handed buckets and brushes and bathed our elephants one by one. Yaya, like any child, avoiding having to get clean… but Shampoo enjoyed it for the two of them. Soon they were soaking us down too. It was here I looked beyond Shampoo’s eyes and into her soul. I patted her trunk and connected to the moment realizing how lucky I was to be this close to a majestic animal and to know she trusted me. We had been invited into these elephants’ home and in turn, invited them into our hearts.

Stay bitten ;)