¡HOLA!

top10madrid_0

On Saturday, I landed in Madrid and spent the weekend admiring artistic masterpieces, sampling tapas, and immersing myself in Spanish culture. We begin the swing through Andalusia this morning, stopping in Córdoba, Sevilla, and Granada until we reach the Costa del Sol.

Hasta la próxima semana,

LJ

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5 Days in Maui

5 Days in Maui
Morning rainbow over Wailea

Our trip earlier this month to Maui was our second time visiting Hawaii and it’s safe to say that it’s going to become an annual pilgrimage for us. We briefly flirted with the idea of canceling our trip due to dual hurricanes in the Pacific, but thankfully we didn’t as we only experienced one afternoon of brief showers. We kept our plans to a minimum, opting to spend most of our time by the ocean or at the resort pool. Here’s how we spent our 5 days in Maui.

5 Days in Maui
Sunshine on the Road to Hana

We decided to break up our trip so we could check out Wailea, in the south, as well as Kapalua, on the west coast. We spent the first part of our trip at the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, which is undergoing a major renovation right now (we noticed the construction visually, but the noise didn’t affect us). We especially enjoyed the hotel’s infinity pool overlooking the ocean. Then we drove the hour to Kapalua to spend the rest of our trip at the Ritz-Carlton, which did not disappoint. The property is massive, with three pools, several restaurants, and the most attentive staff.

5 Days in Maui
The Anglophile in me says Hawaii has the best state flag

Sometimes, vacation spots seem disinclined to have excellent restaurant options since you’re captive, but we had great dining experiences while in Maui. (I remember being impressed by all of the food we ate on Oahu and Kauia, too.) While there, we ate at a lot of different restaurants, although we really took advantage of freshly caught seafood:

  • Da Kitchen Cafe (425 Koloa St., Kahului): Casual joint with modern Hawaiian options with heavy Asian influences. Very close to the airport so it’s an excellent place to refuel after landing.
  • Poi by the Pound (385 Hoohana St., Kahului): Hole-in-the wall spot with more traditional Hawaiian fare.
  • Sansei Sushi (1881 S Kihei Rd., Kihei): Popular Japanese restaurant with a few locations in Maui. The crab ramen was excellent!
  • Leoda’s Pie Shop (820 Olawalu Village Road, Lahaina): Adorable restaurant serving up breakfast dishes and sandwiches, not to mention a variety of different pies.
  • Olowalu Juice Stand (Highway 30, Lahaina): The prettiest painted food truck serving fresh juice, smoothies, and fruit for the road.
  • Iron Imu BBQ (5315 Lower Honoapiilani Rd., Lahaina): Surprisingly good Texas-style barbecue right off the beach. Perfect for watching the sunset while enjoying brisket and ribs.
  • Wine Palette (700 Office Rd., Lahaina): Quiet wine bar with a large geographic selection. Patrons are encouraged to play a board game while enjoying their wine.
  • Merriman’s Maui (1 Bay Club Pl., Lahaina): One of the best known seafood restaurants in Hawaii, but we were largely disappointed by our dishes and the service.
  • The Coffee Store (5095 Napilihau St., Lahaina): Local coffee shop and roaster with the best tasting espresso.
  • The Fish Market (3600 Lower Honoapiilani Rd., Lahaina): Popular-with-the-locals fish market and casual restaurant. I really enjoyed the Baja Fish Tacos.
  • Paia Bay Coffee (115 Hana Hwy., Paia): Hippy dippy coffee shop straight out of my SoCal dreams. A must visit before embarking on the three-ish hour drive to Hana.
  • Paia Fish Market (100 Baldwin Ave., Paia): Casual seafood restaurant with the best grilled shrimp plate.
5 Days in Maui
A wild rooster

We also spent a day driving the Road to Hana, which took about 7 hours round trip. While this is on most “must do while in Maui” lists, we were decidedly underwhelmed. Maybe it was the persistent rain showers, overpriced roadside snacks, or the mosquito bites, but we wish we had spent the day at the beach rather than in the car. If you are going to complete the Road to Hana, I’d recommend having 2-3 restaurants in Hana pre-identified (and confirm that they are open!) because there is little to no cell service once you get there and maybe even consider taking a tour to get to Hana.

5 Days in Maui
Vignette on the Road to Hana

Our favorite activity though was snorkeling with Sea Maui Catamaran out of Ka’anapali. We went out for about four and a half hours, spending about an hour at two separate coral reefs. In addition to the many tropical fish inhabiting the reef, we also saw Hawaiian spinner dolphins, white-tipped reef sharks, moray eels, and about two dozen sea turtles! This was definitely the highlight of our trip to Maui.

5 Days in Maui
Chasin’ waterfalls on the Road to Hana
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South America, Finally

South America
Casa Rosada | Buenos Aires, Argentina

My desire to make South America the fourth continent I’ve visited is strong. I recently picked up Lonely Planet’s South American On a Shoestring to get a better sense of what countries I’d like to visit, when to go, etc. It’s safe to say that I think we’re traveling exclusively through South America for the next few years!

After much hemming and hawing of which country to visit first, I decided to stick with the original plan of visiting Argentina, but without a visit to Chile, too. Our trip is shortened a bit (we’ve come to realize that  our saturation point of vacation is about a week) and we’re going to go in the spring (i.e., Argentina’s fall). Since it can be brutally hot in Argentina, this will allow us to enjoy the trip a bit more and plan more outdoors activities. And the tourist season is also waning around this time, so we can expect lower priced hotel accommodations, too. (Our original plans had us going during the high season.)

I’m really looking forward to planning this trip. Between Buenos Aires, Mendoza, and Bariloche, I think we’ll get to see a great deal of Argentina and have a lot of different experiences within a week.

 

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How to Plan Last Minute & Budget-Friendly Trips

Sometimes, you just need to get the hell outta Dodge. Alas, last minute airfare is notoriously expensive. (For domestic flights, I aim to book 6-8 weeks in advance and several months in advance for international flights to get the best prices.) Fortunately, there’s 3 excellent websites that can help you plan last minute and budget-friendly trips!

How to Plan Last Minute & Budget-Friendly Trips

Concorde is a new tool that allows users to submit flight deals (i.e., must cost less than 5 cents/mile). Its minimalist website is easy to sort by departure city and by airline (a great feature if you limit your flights to a particular airline alliance like I do!). When I peeked this weekend, I saw a few offerings from SFO, including to Budapest for $658 RT and to Shanghai for $504 RT.

How to Plan Last Minute & Budget-Friendly Trips

Google Flights is already a wonderful tool for searching for flights in general, but the Explore Map feature is the best. Enter your departure airport and then get imaginative. You can ask Google to search for flights to a specific airport, state, country, even an entire continent! You can customize your budget preferences as well as the length of transit time. If you’re really adventurous, you can even choose ‘I’m feeling lucky’ to see what Google returns to you. (I got a $400 RT flight to Mexico City when I was playing this weekend.)

How to Plan Last Minute & Budget-Friendly Trips

Kayak also has an Explore feature although its filters are a bit more limited than Google’s. It will return flights from your home airport within a give season or month and you can also set your budget and desired length of transit time. It found me <$300 RT tickets to both Panama City and Albuquerque in the fall, two places we’d very much like to visit.

My preference is to plan (months and months) ahead, but that also means we miss out on spontaneous, last-minute and budget-friendly deals. We’re trying to keep some long weekends open in the coming months so we can take advantage of the deals we come across.

Where would you love to go at the last minute and on the cheap?

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