Italy: Yes, Please!

Italy… I don’t know where to even start!

It was an amazing experience. Unlike anything or anywhere I’d ever been. Would I go again? In a heartbeat.

And I would definitely go in February, March, October or November. As a Canadian, I like my space. I don’t like crowds and I’m simply not accustomed to waiting more than 15 minutes in any line.

Even the locals in Florence told me, that they flee the cities in July and August. The cities are too hot and far too crowded. The place to be is by the sea. And I got the impression that tourists are not completely welcome at their seaside hideaways, some of the last undeveloped tourist areas.

September is a lovely month, for weather. But, it’s also harvest. Their agricultural economy depends on the grape harvest, which is then followed by the olive harvest late September, early October. Their culture and livelihood are so intertwined with this annual ritual that I wouldn’t want to get in the way as a tourist wanting to tour wineries.

In late February, we had lovely weather, about 15C most days. I was comfortable in a light jacket, and with a scarf in the mornings.

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As far as tourist sites, like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the wait was less than 15 minutes and you could just walk up and purchase a ticket at the desk. In tourist season (April-Sept) you would need to buy tickets on-line, in advance and attend at your scheduled date and time to avoid waiting 2-3 hours in the walk up line. You have likely read this several places if you are already researching a trip to Italy or Europe

Flight deals can be had, especially in the low season. If you choose to go to Italy in October through February, you can watch for airfares as low as $650 on sale. High season, you would budget for $900 or more per ticket. (Taxes in, return trip from YWG)

Should I take a camera?

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Should I take a real camera on my vacation? Is it worth the hassle, the effort and the expense of having a second device when my iPhone is always in my hand?

In my opinion, yes. For three reasons:

1) if it’s a once in a lifetime vacation, photos of your kids or your parents, you need quality prints of these treasures.

2) iPhone cameras, even the latest generation, do not take a photo that can print greater than 4×6.

3) Have you ever known anyone who lost their phone? And it wasn’t backed up. Yeah, that.

 

 

Travel light, but travel right!

Though I was never actually at risk of packing Crocs, a fanny pack or tube top, I do think it’s important to review your packing list for trends, local customs and potentially embarrassing faux pas for every single trip.

For example, you will not be permitted in churches, for service or tourism, if you have bare knees or shoScreen Shot 2016-02-15 at 10.25.07 PMulders in Italy. Similarly modest attire is expected in Dubai, and extends beyond mosques to include public spaces such as shopping malls.

Pinterest is a great resource for visual packing lists. Perfect for pulling together whole outfits and seeing the latest fashions. And travel blogs for notes on the local customs and real-life experiences.

Of course, make sure you have seasonally appropriate clothing in your luggage. You don’t want to get caught without a raincoat if it’s rainy season on the coast.

Regardless of destination, I won’t leave home without a hat, slippers and good walking shoes.

The hat for hair emergencies, weather issues, and a chic look.

The slippers for my tired tourist feet when I get back to the hotel. Even soft little ballet slippers do the trick and take up no luggage space. Oh, and because…hotel carpet.

Walking shoes. I walk and walk and walk on vacation. I feel that it’s one of the most effective ways to explore a destination and really see things. No one likes blisters from silly trendy shoes that look good but are not practical.

What’s the one thing I tend to forget? Believe it or not…. sunglasses! This is my blind spot, my forgotten amenity. I typically leave them in the car when I reach the airport. And as a result, I’ve had to buy replacements on the road a few times.  I have the funny yellow ones from Bermuda, the glitter crusted ones from Vegas and the cheap ones that broke after an hour in California.

And when it comes to volume, pack less than you think you need. Infact, just pack half, if your hotel has a guest laundry room on site. Truly, I’d much rather spend 1 hour doing laundry while on vacation, than drag around twice the wardrobe and pay a checked bag fee.

Do you overpack? What are your tips for travelling light and travelling right?

 

Cash Back from North Dakota

When was the last time you were in North Dakota? Do you still have your receipts?

Did you know that Canadians are eligible to claim their sales tax back on purchases made in North Dakota? You can even file your paperwork on-line.

Simply go to the North Dakota government page and select the “Canadian Refund Online Application.”

Purchases of food, lodging and gas are not eligible for a tax refund, however take-home goods like electronics, clothing and toys are.

You have up to 3 years to submit receipts and claim your refund.

Links:

North Dakota Government

Eligibility 

Canadian $$ At Par!

Acting swiftly to address a downturn in Canadian tourists, Myrtle Beach South Carolina has announced a plethora of deals for Canadians.

I can tell you that I was quickly and suitably impressed with their presentation and offers at VisitMyrtleBeach.com. Specifically, their Can Am Days event, and their ease of research. What a great site!

Following the links through to some of the Can Am Hotel deals, I easily searched dates and found prices around $50 a night. (There were no special promo codes or such needed.)  Prices are shown in US funds, but reflect the substantial discount to Canadians.

While it appears that hotels and restaurants aren’t able to receive payment in Canadian funds, their discounts do reflect a savings of 25% or greater, with presentation of Canadian identification, thus levelling the value to ‘par.’

 

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The available promotion dates are now through the end of April, though some hotels are offering booking dates to May 18th, 2016.

Restaurants are in on it too. Here’s a sample coupon from House of Blues. Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 1.05.32 AM

 

The international airport in Myrtle Beach is coded as MYR. Delta Airlines will fly you there for about $420 from Winnipeg (YWG), however both Westjet and Air Canada also fly into Myrtle Beach. Be advised, there are typically 2 connecting flights. Westjet advertises non-stop flights from Toronto, but frankly I can’t see them on my searches.

I love this initiative by the Myrtle Beach tourist board and I expect that numerous other cities will follow suit in the upcoming months. Props to them for taking this bold move and reaching out to Canadians.

If I was looking to pursue a spring trip, and especially a golf vacation, I would certainly consider Myrtle Beach.

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Web page:  www.visitmyrtlebeach.com

Twitter: @mymyrtlebeach

Instagram: @mymyrtlebeach

 

Disney Cruise Twitter Party

If you’d like to learn more about a Disney Cruise, their home ports and destinations, there’s a Twitter Party taking place February 3rd, 8pm Eastern/7pm Central.

What’s a Twitter Party? It’s an on-line event hosted by a moderator(s) and focuses on one company or activity. It is an audience participation event. You can follow along on Twitter using the designated hashtag and following the moderators’ accounts. Typically there are prizes to win for participation. The event lasts just one hour, so mark the date and time on your calendar.

The hashtag for this party, which is open to Canadians only, is #Disneyfamilytravel.

The host is @listentolena

The Disney Cruise Line official account is @disneycruise

There are $1200 in prizes available to be won!

Did you know that the Disney Wonder sails a Vancouver to Alaska route each summer? They have been since 2011. If you’d like to know more about that specific route, do ask me. I quite enjoyed that cruise and so did my kids.

See you at the #disneyfamilytravel Twitter party this Wednesday!