Comparing Affordable Cruise Lines: Which One is Right for You?

When it comes to sailing the high seas, there are plenty of affordable cruise lines.

If you think you don’t have the budget to take a cruise, think again. Nowadays, there are so many different affordable cruise lines sailing to such a vast variety of destinations that there is something for every budget. In fact, you can take a seven-day Caribbean cruise for just a few hundred dollars. And the best part is that it includes everything you need to have a fantastic cruise vacation—food, entertainment, games, dancing, swimming pools, and more! If you’ve got your sights on something a little more romantic, you can sail the Mediterranean Sea for just a few hundred dollars more. With so much competition for business, there are always sales and specials designed to grab your attention.

From river cruises to tall ships and ocean liners, there are so many options to choose from. So how do you know where to start looking for the most affordable cruises? It’s easy—Carnival, NCL, and Royal Caribbean tend to offer some of the best rates. They also offer a lot of value for your money. Just because you’re traveling on a budget doesn’t mean you’ll be treated like you are. Even these affordable cruise lines spare no expense to make sure your vacation is one you’ll remember for years to come.
So, how do these four affordable cruise lines compare? Each one caters to a different audience, so you’ll want to be sure you pick the one that’s right for you.

Carnival

affordable cruise lines
If you’re pinching pennies but want to get away for a few days, Carnival typically offers the most budget-friendly rates. While the cruise line features a few other itineraries, it mainly focuses on Caribbean vacations. So, how does Carnival compare to the competition? Carnival caters to a younger crowd than NCL or Royal Caribbean. With music that ranges from Bon Jovi to Rihanna, most 30- and 40-something guests will feel right at home. Dr. Seuss-themed kids activities, Hasbro game nights, and Build-A-Bear workshops make Carnival the ideal cruise line for a fun family vacation. And just because you didn’t break the bank, doesn’t mean you won’t still get all the bells and whistles.

On sea days, Carnival puts on a delicious brunch featuring treats like French toast covered in your favorite cereal, as well as an afternoon tea. There are lots of other tasty treats, too, like Guy Fieri’s Burger Joint on the Lido deck. While the quality of the theatrical performances isn’t typically as good as the other cruise lines, there’s still loads of live entertainment to keep you entertained, including late-night dance parties where the fun never seems to stop.

NCL

affordable cruise lines
NCL is like a well-balanced meal. It’s got a great mix of itineraries throughout North and South America, as well as Europe and Asia, and it offers them at truly affordable rates. Like Carnival, NCL tends to cater to a younger crowd. There are lots of lively dance parties every night and live bands that play throughout the ship. And while NCL DJs are known for spinning the latest tunes, you’ll find a mix of oldies, too. Since there are also a lot of guests in their 50s and 60s, there’s usually a lot of disco on the dancefloor. Who doesn’t like the Bee Gees and Donna Summer after all?

While there is a great kids’ program, NCL isn’t quite as family oriented as Carnival. However, the adult-only areas tend to be a little more exclusive and relaxing on NCL—Carnival feels a bit like a party all of the time. NCL’s Broadway-style shows are second to none. From the detailed sets to the flamboyant costumes and top-notch talent, shows like “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” are bound to knock your socks off. Looking for a good time? You’ll find it at the highly anticipated White Hot Party and Norwegian Night Out events, where the cast and crew join guests for a good time out on the deck.

On newer ships, NCL has started offering solo cabins. This means guests traveling alone don’t need to shell out the big bucks to cover the cost of an entire cabin. The bite-sized cabins offer everything you need for a good night sleep, and there’s even a special common area where solo travelers can meet up and make friends. It’s a massive money saver!

Royal Caribbean

affordable cruise lines
Of all the affordable cruise lines, Royal Caribbean is best-known for catering to an older crowd. While the rates are on the lower end when compared to Holland America or Celebrity, Royal Caribbean is has a bit of a higher price tag than Carnival or NCL, making it more attractive to travelers who have a bit more money to spare. However, it also has the best range of international itineraries and some of the largest most extravagant ships at sea.

Royal Caribbean has built its business on being the cruise line with the most onboard activities at sea. Forget about all of the places they travel—the ships are a destination on their own. From promenade shopping to ice skating and zip lining to surfing simulators, Royal Caribbean takes cruising to a whole new level. Even though the average age tends to be a little older—like grandma and grandpa range—families will have a blast.

At night, the vibe is a little more low-key on Royal Caribbean ships. Like NCL, you’ll find high-end Broadway-style shows, but the other entertainment is a bit more relaxed. The bands play a lot more of the golden oldies than top-40 hits, so don’t expect to dance the night away.

Whether you’re looking to party the night away, relax on your own, or enjoy onboard activities, these three affordable cruise lines have something for everyone. Everything you need is included in the price, but if you have a few extra dollars to spare, there are plenty of great ways to make your cruise even more special.

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affordable cruise lines

3 OCD Travel Tips for Your Next Trip

I have OCD and not in that fad way that people say they have it.

 

I have severe OCD and have since I was a child. This is a huge challenge when it comes to traveling. I have to overcome a lot of obstacles when it comes to packing, flying, and safety, to name a few. But I’ve persevered and have a number of travel tips to share as a result. These are my top three OCD travel tips.

1. Touch Nothing

Airports, cruise ports, bus depots, and train stations are some of the worst places to pick up a bug. If you want to avoid a virus on your vacation, steer clear of touching handrails, door handles, pin pads, and pretty much anything else. I know this is practically impossible, but it can be done. I have no shame, so I wear gloves everywhere. Once I’m comfortably seated in my personal space, I clean the entire area with wipes or Lysol spray before removing my gloves. But I’m pretty bold and realize that’s not the most practical solution for most people. For a more reasonable option, carry a bottle of hand sanitizer in your pocket and splash a little on your hands every time you touch something that could carry germs. You’ll be glad you did.

2. Organize Your Affairs

If you’re anything like me, triple checking you have your passport, money, and other paperwork in order simply isn’t enough. Print off all your trip vouchers, tickets, and confirmation details and sort them by date in a small, plastic organizer envelope. Toss your passport and currency into the front pocket so that you have everything in one easy-to-access place. This envelope is the only thing that matters for your entire vacation. As long as you have it, you have everything you need. As you tick flights, tours, and other events off the list, toss out the paperwork for those items on your itinerary to make your load a little lighter.

3. Take a Picture

Are you one of those people who can never remember if you’ve locked the door or turned off the oven? For someone with OCD, worry over whether or not you unplugged the iron can ruin an entire trip. Do yourself a favor and snap a few pics just before you leave the house. Take one of the oven, the front and back doors, electrical sockets, or anything else that might otherwise cause you concern. A quick peek at the pictures is the perfect reminder that you did, in fact, turn off the TV.

Pro tip: Try to get a part of your travel outfit in the picture. That way, you’ll know for sure it was taken the day you left the house on your vacation.

As a bonus, a few years ago, a dear friend of mine took three months off work to travel through Asia. Before she left, I made her the ultimate OCD travel kit. She used every single item in it and has often encouraged me to share its contents with the world. So, here goes…I hope you find it as useful as she did.

  • Tissues – for drying tears after a sad farewell, blowing a congested nose due to poor airplane ventilation, or opening doors without touching germy handles
  • Gloves – to wear while boarding the plane so you don’t catch a virus touching all the seats, overhead bins, and trays with your bare hands
  • Hand sanitizer – to clean your hands before every meal
  • Wet wipes – to clean off your tray and other surfaces or wipe off your hands after eating
  • Toilet seat covers – need I say more?
  • Tide to Go – for accidental spills
  • Laundry detergent packets – to rinse undies, tees, and socks
  • A book – to pass the time on public transit or if your in-flight entertainment is out of service (a great distraction from turbulence, especially if your MP4 player/eReader/phone is dead)
  • Mini Lysol spray – for disinfecting surfaces, such as airport chairs that double as a bed (you may not be allowed to carry this through security if it’s in am aerosol spray can)
  • Expanding towel tablets – for drying up unexpected spills
  • Travel toilet paper roll – for when there’s no other choice

These are some of the things I always have in my carry-on. What other items would you add to my ultimate OCD travel checklist? Share them with the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group, along with any other OCD travel tips you might have.

New Year’s Eve in Paris: A Wanderlust Experience

What could be better than New Year’s Eve in Paris? It is the City of Lights after all.

 

Paris is one of the most beautiful, romantic, decadent cities in the world, so it’s a real treat to ring in the new year in this amazing place. Throughout the holiday season, the city is filled with festive lights and holiday cheer. There’s are even Christmas markets all about town, including one that runs along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, where you can grab a cup of steaming gluhwein or a sweet boules de Noel to enjoy as you shop.

If you’re heading to Paris for New Year’s Eve, here are the top three things you need to know.

1. No Official Events

Believe it or not, there are no official New Year’s Eve events in Paris. The city does not put on a fireworks show or anything of that nature. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of fun things to do around town. Like any other big city, parties take place at most restaurants and bars—it all comes down to how much you money you want to spend and what you feel like doing.

If you’ve got a lean budget, you can make your way to the Eiffel Tower at midnight. Sacre Coeur is also a great place to take in a beautiful panoramic of Paris. for Many people head down to the Champs-Élysées, have a meal at one of the many restaurants there, and then watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle as the clock strikes 12. If you’re prepared to shell out the big bucks, the infamous Moulin Rouge. A table for two in the cheap seats will run you a cool 800 Euros. Alternatively, you could check out the show at the Lido, which also comes with a lofty price tag. On the low end, tickets for two come in around 600 Euro.

2. Book a Boat Cruise

If you’re looking for something special that won’t break the bank, a late-night sailing on the Bateaux Parisiens is a lovely idea. For as little as 65 Euros, you can take a quiet cruise along the Seine for a view of the city lights. The tour departs from the dock just below the Eiffel Tower or near Notre Dame Cathedral and includes a half-bottle of champagne, a packet of macarons, and party favors, such as a hat and horn. This is how I spent New Year’s Eve in Paris, and it was wonderful. Even if it’s cold outside, you’ll be toasty warm sailing along the Seine. We chose to depart from the Eiffel Tower, which is also where we docked at the end of the cruise. We returned just in time to see the tower twinkling in all its glory, and though I had seen it many times before, it seemed just a little more special this time round.

3. Midnight Kisses

Whether or not you’re looking for a midnight kiss, be prepared to get one. Strangers will walk up to you on the street and plant a peck on your lips or cheek. They don’t mean any harm—they’re just a little drunk and a whole lot excited. No one seemed to understand what I was saying—or maybe they simply didn’t care. I’m a happily married woman, but it seemed a lot easier to go with the flow than to cause a ruckus. It’s all in the name of fun after all.

These are just a few things to keep in mind if you’re planning to spend New Year’s Eve in Paris. Have other tips you’d like to share? Head on over to the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.

Ice Skating at Rockefeller Center in New York: A Wanderlust Experience

There’s something dreamy about gliding across the ice with the Manhattan skyline as your backdrop.

 

Each year from Columbus Day weekend through April, an enormous ice rink pops up in the middle of the infamous Rockefeller Center complex between 47th and 50th Streets and 5th and 7th Avenues in Manhattan. This likely isn’t news to you—you’ve probably seen the annual Rockefeller Center Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony on TV at least once or twice in your lifetime. The ice rink typically features prominently as part of the production.

As a little girl, I would dream about lacing up a pair of skates and going for a whirl around the ice rink at Rockefeller Center. Finally, a few years ago, my dream came true. And it was worth the wait. If you’re one of the privileged travelers who will be spending some time in New York this holiday season, this wanderlust experience should be high on your list of things to do.

rockefeller

Here are a few things you need to know about ice skating at Rockefeller Center in New York City.

1. Be Prepared to Wait

Believe it or not, you’re not the only visitor to New York who wants to skate at Rockefeller. Shocking, I know. Entry to the rink is on a first come, first serve basis. And it’s almost inevitable that there will be a line up to get into the rink. Expect especially long lines over the holidays, which run from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. I was there on January 1, and the line was at least a full city block long when I arrived. But it moved fairly quickly—we only had to wait about 45 minutes.

2. It’ll Cost You

You’ll have to fork out the big bucks for this premium experience. Admission is $25 per adult for a 90-minute session. But that’s not all, unless you managed to pack a pair of skates in your suitcase, you’ll need to rent them. That’ll set you back another $12. But you’re in New York and on vacation, so who cares about the cost. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, after all.

3. Get the VIP Experience

Truth be told, I didn’t know mere mortals like myself could actually go skating at Rockefeller Center. I thought it was only open to the elite. It wasn’t until my friend and I were on our flight to New York that I learned otherwise. Had I known in advance, I would have done more research and learned about the slew of VIP experiences available at the ice rink. Not only do you get to reserve your skating session in advance so you can skip the line, you can pair it with some sort of awesome extra, like breakfast with Santa, afternoon tea, or even an engagement celebration.

4. It’s Magical

I come from a cold part of the country and grew up on a pair of skates. But no rink I’ve ever skated on felt quite as special as the one at Rockefeller Center. When I put my first blade down on the ice, it was like I stepped out of reality and into another dimension.

Sure, it was crowded and cold, but all of that melted away as I looked up at the Manhattan skyline enveloping the ice like a cashmere sweater. My bff and I have been friends a long time—forever, in fact—and this was by far one of the most special experiences we’ve ever shared…and we’ve done a lot of cool things over the years. We laughed so hard we nearly cried as we stumbled awkwardly around the rink for our first few laps. We enjoyed every second of our 90-minute session, soaking in the atmosphere of that majestic place at the most magical time of year.

If you’re traveling to New York, take a few hours out of your day to enjoy this special seasonal experience. I promise you won’t regret it. Be sure to share your pictures on Instagram using the hashtag #wanderlustwayfarer.

rockefeller

 

 

3 Tips for Choosing a Vacation Destination

With so much world to see, how do you choose a vacation destination?

 

My bucket list is at least a mile long. Israel, Bali, Myanmar, Peru, Portugal, Russia…these are just a few of the places I’m dying to visit. But I’m open to traveling just about anyplace, which means I have a terrible time choosing where to go. Each year, I can only get to three—maybe four—countries. So how do I decide which ones to visit?

Here are three tips to help you choose the perfect vacation destination when you’re not sure where you want to go.

Decide What’s Most Important: Date, Budget, Destination

When you’re searching travel sites for vacations, there are a few different ways you can filter the results: date, price, and place. So before you even begin your search, decide which of these is most important to you. Are you a sun seeker or a skiier? Do you like farms or cities? If you have a specific type of activity you like to do or part of the world you want to see, narrow your search using those details. Otherwise, if you’re open to any destination, your best bet is to base your decision on date and price.

Perhaps, you can travel any time of year, but you only have $1,500. Sort your search by lowest to highest price. This way you won’t end up flipping for something with a hefty price tag that’s out of your budget. You may be surprised by what you find. There are plenty of times I’ve booked a trip someplace I didn’t know I wanted to go because I found a smokin’ deal. But beware…You know how they say not to try on a wedding dress that’s out of your budget because you’ll fall in love and nothing will compare? Well, vacations work the same way. Don’t look at river cruises if you’ve got a Carnival cruise budget—no offence to Carnival. It’s just a lot cheaper than other options.

If you know you only have four days of vacation time, and you can only take days off in September, filter your search by date and number of days. You’ll weed out a bunch of options that don’t apply to you, making your choice for a vacation destination easier. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found the right place for the right price but then realized it was at a time of year that simply wouldn’t work for me. Talk about disappointing.

Who is Your Travel Companion?

Even though you may be open to all sorts of different places, your travel companion may not be. Consider the types of things the person you’re traveling with likes to do. Does this person like to shop? Then New York City might be the perfect escape. Or maybe your companion really likes animals. You might decide to take a safari together.

There are three people I typically travel with: my mother, my husband, and my best friend. Each one has completely different tastes. So when I look at my bucket list, I think about which vacation destination is right for each person. For example, my mom loves charming seaside villages. A river cruise through France is perfect for her. My best friend? She’s all about the shopping. Vegas or LA are the best types of places for us to hit up together. My husband is a bit more adventurous. For our next trip together, we’re thinking an ATV drive through Machu Picchu, for example.

There are many items on my bucket list that don’t interest my regular travel companions. For these places, I’ll either convince one of them to cave in and go with me, or I’ll look for other options. I might join a tour group, or I’ll simply hop on a place all by myself.

How Do You Like to Travel?

Do you like to create your own schedule while you drive along vast highways? Or do you prefer to let someone else do the driving? Maybe you like a mix of both. These are important factors that can help you narrow down your vacation destination.

If you like to be part of a large group, start your destination search with a look at what tour companies have to offer. If you like being on the open ocean, then look at different cruise lines to see what they have available that interests you. Don’t bother looking at dates and rates for tour or cruise vacations if they’re not your style, but you might want to use them as a jumping off point for planning your own vacation.

There are times when I like to plan every part of a trip—train tickets between towns, bed and breakfasts in little villages, entry fees for attractions. And then there are times when I’m super busy and like to let someone else do all the work. Get a stack of vacation magazines and brochures, and simply start leafing through the pages. See what’s out there that catches your eye. You’ll likely be inspired by a few different itineraries or images. You can either book directly with the company that made the brochure or start booking your own plans based on the itinerary you found.

Want more great ideas for the perfect vacation destination? Follow Wanderlust Wayfarer on Twitter, where we’re constantly sharing cool places to go and things to do around the world.

5 Tips for Finding the Perfect Souvenir

Everyone wants a souvenir that will remind them of the fantastic time they had on vacation.

 

But finding the perfect token to represent your travels is harder than it sounds. You want a keepsake that brings a smile to your face every time you see it. But I bet more often than not you end up with something you found in the hotel lobby as you were rushing to flag down a taxi to the airport. When we don’t find the right thing, we tend to settle for anything. And when we get home, we toss it aside and forget about it all together.

As you’re flying, driving, or cruising to your next destination, consider these five tips to help you choose the best souvenir.

souvenir-doll

1. Collectibles

One of the easiest ways to avoid getting bogged down in the search for the perfect souvenir is to start collecting a specific type of object. Key chains, magnets, postcards, spoons, and shot glasses can be found in pretty much any place you visit. They’re small cheap, and easy to pack. My personal favorite: thimbles. That’s right…thimbles. I’ve been collecting them since I was 12, and I have one from just about every place I’ve ever been, which means I have hundreds and hundreds of them. They’re super small, can be found pretty much anyplace, and usually cost less than $2—unless you’re in Norway, where they cost $20. I also love “I ❤” shirts, which you can often snag for only $5 to $10. I plan to make them into a quilt one day…as soon as I make a friend who can sew.

souvenir-magnet

2. Destination

What is the place you’re visiting best known for? Canada is infamous for maple syrup. And let’s not forget about Belgium and its delicious chocolates. Do a quick Google search to find out what people in the area are known for producing and bring that back as a memento. And don’t worry too much about how much you’ll have to spend on your destination-dependent souvenir. You’ll find a range of prices, from cheap knockoffs to handcrafted keepsakes. It all depends on how much you care about authenticity.

When I was in the Black Forest, I shelled out a couple hundred dollars for a traditional cuckoo clock made by a local wood carver. But a few weeks later when I was in Istanbul, I bought a pair of $10 mosaic glass lanterns that were probably made in China. I love them all equally despite their varying levels of authenticity, and I think of happy times whenever the clock strikes the twelve or I flip the switch on one of those lamps.

souvenir-lantern

3. Budget

How much do you want to spend? Give yourself a budget and stick to it. This will help you decide what’s really important to you and what’s not. If you want to put the majority of money toward your actual travels, you may have a more limited budget. A key chain or magnet may be right up your alley. But if you’re all about authentic reminders of the places you’ve been, you’ll want to set aside a loftier budget.

One of my favorite things to do is find an article of clothing made by a local designer. I try to minimize the amount of money I spend on any other items so I can put my money toward one fabulous piece. To aid this endeavor, I avoid chain stores that I can find back home and only venture inside one-off boutiques. In the end, I probably spend less overall because I’m not buying a bunch of stuff I don’t need. I focus on that one item.

souvenir

4. Size

If you’re like me, you don’t have a lot of room in your suitcase to bring things home once you’ve packed all of your gear. So, size matters. Consider how you’re getting your special souvenir home. If you want something you can tuck into the side of your suitcase, a shot glass is perfect. But if you’re open to paying for shipping or are willing to lug around an extra bag for the rest of your trip, it can open up a whole new world.

I can fit two or three thimbles in my change purse, so they are the ultimate keepsake when I’m looking for something small. But remember that cuckoo clock I got in Germany? I was too cheap to pay shipping and duty charges, so I made my husband lug it all over Germany, Switzerland, and Turkey. I won’t be doing that again.

souvenir-eiffel

5. Use

Before you buy that neon fiber-optic Eiffel Tower ask yourself what you’re going to do with it when you get home. I know, you’ve always wanted a pair of wooden clogs from Amsterdam, but maybe a clog key chain will do the trick. A good souvenir is something you will cherish forever. It fits your décor or is a perfect addition to your wardrobe.

I know you’re dying to know what I did with that cuckoo clock. Do I cherish it, or has it been tossed aside? Before I even considered spending a single penny, I knew exactly where I would display it in my house. It’s the first thing you see when you walk in the door. Now that’s money well spent.

souvenir-clog

Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of buyer’s remorse. I just had to have that sailor hat with my name embroidered on the side from Disneyland, even though I only wore it for the three days I was in the park. And don’t even get me started on that olive oil shampoo from Greece that dried out my hair. You win some, you lose some. But nowadays, I try to follow these five tips to make sure I come home with a souvenir that’s right for me.

What types of souvenirs do you look for? Are you someone who buys gaudy knickknacks only to regret it when you get home? Or have you finely honed your souvenir shopping skills? Share your stories with the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.

 

 

3 Flight Tips to Help You Arrive on Time for Your Cruise or Tour

Nothing ruins a vacation like arriving late.

 

The ship ain’t gonna wait because your flight got delayed. But how early should you fly to ensure you arrive on time for your cruise or tour? Follow these three flight tips, and you’ll never have to worry again.

1. Fly Direct

If you’re flying the same day as you cruise or tour starts, if at all possible, book a direct flight. The fewer connections you have to make, the less likely you are to run into trouble. So long as your flight takes off as scheduled, there’s no need to worry that you won’t arrive on time.

Pro Tip: There are handy-dandy apps that let you check the accuracy of your flight. They’ll tell you how often your flight takes off as scheduled. Check before you book your flight so you can rest easy knowing you’ll likely arrive on time.

arrive on time

2. Embrace a Long Layover

Sometimes, flight connections are inevitable. You may live in a place that doesn’t have a direct flight to your final destination. Or the cost of a direct flight might be prohibitive. There will be times when you simply can’t avoid taking several flights. If that’s the case, make sure you leave plenty of time between flights. You’re less likely to miss a connection if one flight is delayed if you have several hours to spare. Fewer that two hours between connections could spell disaster if you’re on a tight schedule. And try to book a flight that arrives well before your ship or bus departs. That will give you a bit of wiggle room if you find yourself held up on the runway for any reason.

Pro Tip: If possible, try to connect out of an airport that has regular flights to your final destination. That way, if your flight gets cancelled or severely delayed, there’s a better chance you’ll be able to catch another one.

arrive on time

On a recent cruise out of New York, I decided to take my chances on a same-day flight. The cruise ended on a Saturday, and I wanted to extend my stay at the end of the trip rather than the beginning. But I still took precautions to ensure I would arrive on time. First, I found a red-eye flight that departed just before midnight the night before my cruise set sail. I didn’t have the funds for a direct flight, so I found a connection with a four-hour layover. But I was still sweating bullets right up until we made our connection.

So why not arrive a day early and save myself the heartache? Well, an extra night in New York is a lot of money, so I weighed the pros and cons. The second flight was out of a major airport with plenty of other flights headed to New York should ours be canceled or delayed. I checked the flight history to see how often it arrives on time, and it was nearly perfect. Lastly, I made sure the flight arrived in New York early on the day of the cruise, affording us a bit of time to spare.

As one final precaution, I booked a transfer to the port through the cruise line, even though I could get it elsewhere for a little less money. Why, you ask? Well, you’re supposed to board a cruise no later than two hours before sailing. If something happened, and I arrived with less than the recommended time, I figured the cruise line would likely go the extra mile to help us get on board as quickly as possible.

3. Plan a City Break

Take an extra two or three days off at the start of your trip so you can spend some time in your port of departure. For international flights, you should fly in at least one day to guarantee you’ll arrive on time. It will also give you a chance to adjust your sleep pattern for the change in time zone. Not to mention it’s a great reason to extend your vacation.

arrive on time

When I went on a cruise to the Canary Islands last spring, our ship wasn’t scheduled to set sail until Wednesday. Following my own rules, in order to arrive a day early, I had to take the entire week of work. Since I already had the weekend off, I left after work on the Friday night. I arrived Saturday afternoon and spent three fun-filled days touring Barcelona.

What other tricks do you employ to make sure you arrive on time? Share them with the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.

Photo Tips: Take Great Vacation Pictures with a Smartphone

Think you need to be a pro photographer with lots of gear to get awesome snaps of your travels?

 

You don’t need to have a fancy camera to take great vacation pictures. I’m a photographer by trade, and I used only my phone to capture the memories on my most recent travels. They won’t be winning any awards, but they are pretty awesome nonetheless. Follow these photo tips for using your smartphone to get great shots.

1. Get too close for comfort

It’s human nature to run as far away from a camera as possible. Most people get up close and personal with the attraction instead of cozying up to the lens. You can barely see them in the final photo. Instead, ask the person you’re photographing to stand only a few feet away from the camera lens. Your subject will protest and tell you your crazy, but stick with it. You won’t be disappointed, I promise. The attraction will be in the background with a nice clear picture of the person you’re shooting up front. Think of it like a selfie in reverse.

photo tips

2. Consider the lighting

To flash or not to flash, that is the question. It’s best to use natural lighting whenever possible, only using your flash when that’s not an option or you can’t see the subject in the natural light. Still, most of us set our camera to auto and trust it to do the right thing by us. But if it the ambient light directly in front of the lens is bright, it will not flash. Similarly, it will always flash in a dark space. Neither of these is necessarily a great option.

If, for example, your subject, such as your friend, is sitting in front of a window during daytime, the camera will see the brightness of the daylight and turn off the flash. Your friend will appear dark or in silhouette in the final photo. You need to override your flash, setting in “on” so that it brightens up your friends face in the photo.

photo tips

In darkness, sometimes it’s best to set your flash “off” so you can capture the atmosphere. The flash will only light up the space about 10 feet directly in front of you, leaving everything beyond that in darkness. It gives your photos a less natural look. With the flash off, you’ll capture the ambient glow of everything in the space instead. But you’ll need yo hold your camera really steady.

Pro tip: Use your arms like a tripod. Rest your elbows on something solid, like a table, and tuck your hands up close to your chest. This will help you keep your camera steady in low-light settings.

3. What’s your focus

Be sure to focus on the most important thing. Your smartphone camera will automatically decide what it thinks that is, and it might be right. But be sure you agree. If you’re taking a picture of your meal, you might want to hone in on a specific portion, like the garnish on a fish fillet, for example. Play around even. Try focusing on a few different things. You might be surprised with the results.

photo tips

4. Rule of thirds

If you were to draw lines cutting your image into thirds both vertically and horizontally, where would they intersect? That’s where the subject or focus of your photo should be. Easy-peasy. Photographing a lighthouse or a boat on the water? Stand back a bit so that it’s in one of these four focal points in your lens. You’ll have a lot of blank space around it, but it will give it that postcard feel.

photo tips

5. Take a few shots

Take the same shot a few different ways. The great thing about shooting digital photos is that it doesn’t cost you anything to take more pictures. Get down on the ground and shoot low, hold the camera over your head, shift left or right, make a goofy face. Shake things up, and get creative. I never take just one shot. You never know what you’ll get.

photo tips

6. Look behind you

Sometimes, the best shot is behind you or looking back at the attraction once you’ve passed it. For example, while everyone was shooting Paul Revere’s statue from the front in Boston, I was standing behind it. I lined up Paul’s hand with the bell tower on the church in the background, making it look like Paul was giving it a tap. Cool angle and different from what every other tourist was taking. What’s behind you or your subject? A cool fire escape? A setting sun? It doesn’t take much to turn around or walk to the other side.

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7. Flip the angle

For the best shots, consider if your image should be taken with your camera help in the landscape or portrait position. If you’re shooting something long and lean, hold your smartphone upright. But for shorter, wider subjects, flip it sideways. For example, if you’re up close at the Eiffel Tower, it makes the most sense to shoot a portrait layout. But if you’re shooting it from across the street at Trocadero, flip it to landscape for a different perspective. And if you’re just not sure, try both. Heck, I often shoot diagonally just for fun.

photo tips

8. Editing is your friend

It’s hard to shoot the perfect picture. There’s someone’s elbow in the corner (or maybe even your own fingertip). Or it’s overexposed in the background. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Don’t hesitate to finesse your finished product. Open it up in a photo editing program and give it a few enhancements. You can crop out that finger or darken the bright spots, for example. You can even select the focus and blur out the rest.

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9. Don’t view the world through a lens

This is the most important photo tip I can offer. It’s one I don’t follow often enough. Don’t forget to look at the world without a lens in front of it. Sometimes, we get so caught up in taking great vacation pictures that we forget to look at the subject in real life. Put the phone away for a few minutes, and enjoy the moment.

photo tips

Check out the photos on the Wanderlust Wayfarer Instagram page to see how I use these same photo tips to take great vacation photos using a smartphone or a simple point-and-shoot camera. Tag your photos with #wanderlustwayfarer to share your own great smartphone snaps.

 

 

 

Satisfy Your Wanderlust with a Quick Camping Getaway

Tent, trailer, yurt, or teepee, there are so many ways to make a fun weekend out of a camping, or if you prefer, glamping adventure.

I love to travel, but I don’t always have the time and money to go on a big trip. A camping getaway can be a cheap, easy way to satisfy your weekend wanderlust. Here are five ways you can make the most of a few days away on a shoestring budget.

camping getaway

1. Near or Far
Travel doesn’t have to be a big adventure. Look at the world just outside your door to find quick a quick camping getaway. If you play your cards right, you’ll find a handful of places within a 1 or 2 hour radius around your hometown where you can hang your hat for a few days. There’s a sleepy little town about a 45-minute drive from my house where I escape to every few weeks in the warmer months. Nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, it makes me feel like I’m miles from home even though I could almost see my doorstep with a good pair of binoculars. At $20 a night and a few bucks for fuel, it’s a quick, easy getaway when I don’t have the time or money to go someplace more glamorous.

camping getaway

2. Do Cool Stuff
There is so much cool stuff to do in our own backyards, yet we always look to other parts of the world for interesting activities. Check out the tourism websites for nearby cities and towns for fun things to do on your camping getaway. What do they have to offer? Harness the adventure of a white-water raft tour, ride in a hot-air balloon, or take a train trip through the prairies. I bet you’ll find dozens of ideas for day trips, including many that are free or cheap, such as a self-guided hike or relaxing on a beach. I know one place in the middle of nowhere that you can see a world-class dinosaur collection at a state-of the-art museum, for example.

camping getaway

3. Boutique Shopping
Did you know that many quaint towns have adorable boutique shopping? There is usually a main street lined with a handful of one-of-a-kind stores. Some feature local artists, while others bring in designers that you might not find in the big city. Sometimes, they are outrageously overpriced due to their limited purchasing power, but other times, you can find deals you simply wouldn’t get in the city. I know one little place I hit up often carries one of my favorite designers at rates as much as 15 percent lower than in the city.

camping getaway

4. Peace and Quiet
There are times when you just need to get away from it all. A few days offline or away from the ambient buzz of the big city can work wonders for the mind. Camping is one of the few remaining ways you can escape reality and enjoy the silence, as Depeche Mode would say. Find a place that’s out of the way—you may even be able to find a little backcountry hideaway—where it’s just you, the fresh air, and nature. Kick back by a campfire and settle into your little slice of heaven.

camping getaway

5. Fast and Easy
A camping getaway is one of those rare things you can easily make happen at the last-minute. With very little thought and effort, you can put together a nice little weekend away. All you need to do is load up the gear, grab a few groceries, and you’re on your way. No flights to coordinate, hotels to research, or tours to book. Simply get in the car and drive.

camping getaway

Since I only have the time and money for a few big adventures each year, I rely on camping to satisfy a lot of my thirst for travel. I spend at least 15 weekends camping each year, including many in the cooler, winter months. It’s not a penichette in Paris, but at least it gets me out of town for a few days. Share your camping photos at #wanderlustwayfarer on Instagram.

Learn to Have a Relaxing Vacation

I’ve always been the kind of person who can’t sit still. And I found it difficult to have a relaxing vacation. But not anymore.

 

Does the thought of kicking back on a beach scare you? How about the idea of being stuck on a cruise ship with no access to the Internet? if you’re the kind of person who likes to keep busy, you know how hard it is to have a relaxing vacation. Here’s how I learned to overcome my fear of doing absolutely nothing for more than a few hours at a time.

1. Start Small

Don’t try to be something you’re not. Just because a friend tells you how refreshed she feels after a week sunning herself on a beach in Mexico doesn’t mean you have to jump on that train. You like the fast lane, and that’s okay. If you’re used to the kind of vacation that takes you on a whirlwind tour of six countries in seven days, booking a week at a relaxing resort in Cabo San Lucas may be a bit overwhelming to start. It would be a huge departure from what you’re used to. Instead, try booking an overnight stay at a secluded cabin in the woods or a cruise that has one day with no port stops. You’ll get a taste of what it’s like to have no choice but kick back.

relaxing vacation

2. Travel Someplace Remote

If you’re ready for something a bit more extreme, go someplace where you simply can’t do anything but nothing. Take an African safari, an eco tour through Costa Rica, or a river cruise through the Mekong Delta. You’ll be hard pressed to find a good mobile connection or even a television. But you will find amazing scenery that will distract you from the fact that you’re having a relaxing vacation. Take along a good book (or eReader), a deck of cards, a travel board game, or some crossword puzzles. Heck, toss in an adult coloring book for good measure. You’ll be surprised by how quickly you adapt when you have no other choice.

My first foray into forced relaxation was on Tortuguero Island, a remote village on the northern coast of Costa Rica. There were nothing but iguanas, geckos, and torrential downpours to entertain us. I thought I would die of boredom at first, but after a few hours I eased into the slower pace. We were only there one night, so it was a great experiment. Later, I would take a safari where I was out of connect with the rest of the world for seven of nine days. With elephants roaming the savanna right outside my window, it was easy to enjoy myself.

relaxing vacation

3. Leave Your Electronics at Home

The biggest favor your can do for yourself vacation is to leave your electronics behind—specifically your cell phone and tablet. For most of us that’s a bit of a challenge since nowadays we all use our phones to take pictures, set an alarm, and tell time. So a good alternative is to skip buying an international cell phone plan or buy one with fewer minutes. The costs of data roaming are atrocious without want, stopping you from using it to connect with folks back home. Set your cell to airplane mode and tune out. Tell everyone you know not to expect to hear from you for a few days. Plan your work in advance so that you can clear your calendar. If you really must take your work with you, then schedule specific days and times to do it and tell your coworkers they will only hear from your during those times. The rest of the time, you’ll be having a relaxing vacation.

relaxing vacation

4. Treat Yourself

For days when you know you’ll be doing absolutely nothing, treat yourself to a little something special. Get a massage or pedicure, for example. Doing this first thing in the morning can help you get into the spirit of things. Or if you want a break from doing nothing, schedule one for the mid-afternoon. A low-impact workout, like some yoga or a swim, is another great way to unwind. Go for a walk around the area and grab an ice cream, or splurge on a dinner at a fancy restaurant. These are all relaxing ways to enjoy your day.

relaxing vacation

I’m still never going to be the kind of girl who can sit on a beach for days at a time. But over the years, I have come to enjoy a day or two of a relaxing vacation. What are your tips for taking a few days away from it all? Use the #wanderlustwayfarer on a relaxing vacation photo of yourself on Instagram to share your ideas.