Speaking of wanderlust, I spent some time editing the photographs I took in Paris this past March. (Here’s our Paris itinerary if you missed it last time!) Even on my third visit to the City of Lights, I was still awe-struck with every corner I turned. The architecture of each building lends so much character to the city and I love stopping to appreciate the iron scroll work of each balcony and the adornment of every facade. Paris is an architecture lover’s dream.
As you can see, we didn’t enjoy the best weather on our trip, even forgoing a morning of sightseeing during a particularly rainy day. Nevertheless, despite the grey and cold, Paris is still beautiful. Even in the rain, I’ll take a day in Paris over anywhere else!
I have some fun trips lined up over the next few months: San Diego, Maui, Madrid & southern Spain, and multiple stints in New York City. Nevertheless, it’s always fun to accumulate ideas for the next trip. Here’s a few things that caught my eye recently.
Photographer Jamie Beck just returned from a Royal Caribbean cruise, staying in its new Royal Suite Class. The suites are two stories and feature floor-to-ceiling windows as well as private terraces. Yes, please.
Rishi and I are headed to South America in December and we’re in the early stages of planning our itinerary. This multi-day cruise offered by Marpatag Cruceros through Patagonia’s glaciers, including trekking across the glacier, is on my radar to book.
We’re dying to visit Cuba within the next year. While a bit price-y, this 13-day tour via Abercrombie & Kent takes you across the entire island and seems like it would give you a complete picture of life in Cuba.
Finally, fellow San Francisco blogger, Bon Traveler, stayed at the Chai Lai Orchid in Thailand this past January. Chai Lai offers jungle-set bungalows for its guests as well as the opportunity to ethically interact with elephants. I’m also moved by the work they do with Burmese refugee women, who are victims of human trafficking.
There are certainly times when I want to stay in a hotel like when I’m traveling for work or if there’s a hotel at our destination that I’ve always wanted to stay in. But for most of our trips, particularly international ones, I prefer living like a local via an Airbnb rental. It definitely takes a bit more legwork to find the perfect Airbnb rental, but it’s been worth it every time. Here’s the steps I follow when I’m looking for an Airbnb.
Compile a rough sightseeing itinerary. I like to put together a list of sights that we have to visit in a city and then plot them out on Google Maps. This gives me an idea of what areas of a city we’ll spend time in and if the locations are spread out, I’ll know if renting close to public transportation is required.
Research neighborhoods.Tripadvisor’s forums are a great place to search for the headlines of a city’s neighborhoods. I generally limit my searches to higher-end residential neighborhoods over trendy/hip ones to ensure a good night’s sleep rather than risk being in an apartment facing a bar or a club. (That being said, I always travel with ear plugs just in case!)
Set your non-negotiable features via filters. For me, I always want to rent an apartment with a washer/dryer during long trips so we can do laundry at the midway point and limit what we pack. You can also filter for amenities like free parking, pool access, and even breakfast!
Consider filtering results further using the Super Host feature. The Super Host designation doesn’t necessarily equal hundreds of 5-star reviews, but it does mean that the host has a track record for being super responsive. This can be handy when something goes awry in your Airbnb – we had an issue with our fireplace in Tahoe and our host, a Super User, was on the phone and fixing the issue within 10 minutes of me contacting her.
Read the reviews. I like to see that a posting has nearly 5-stars under accuracy (of description) and cleanliness. And I like to read the written reviews from previous renters to get a sense of their stay and get more insight into the neighborhood.
Ask questions. Airbnb’s messaging system makes it really easy to contact hosts and ask questions. If you’re not quite sure how big a bed is from the pictures, ask! If you want an earlier check-in time, ask! It’ll ensure that there’s no surprises when you arrive for your stay.
Fortunately, with TSA Pre-check, I breeze through security. Even when the line is longer than usual (i.e., 50 people deep), I can still make it through in less than 10 minutes without the indignation of taking off my shoes and outerwear or needing to remove liquids or my laptop.
I’d actually recommend applying for Global Entry, which grants you TSA Pre-check privileges and also fast tracks you through immigration upon returning from another country. (Post-France we were through customs in 2 minutes. Seriously.) Global Entry is $100 to enroll, but it’s valid for 5 years – a steal even for casual travelers.
Interested in enrolling? Visit the Department of Homeland Security here to start the process. (The hardest part of the application was recalling all of the countries I visited recently.) Once approved, you’ll have to go to an enrollment center (usually an airport) to be fingerprinted and photographed.
It can be difficult to find a convenient appointment time at an enrollment center, but San Francisco International is piloting a 24/7 enrollment center this summer in an attempt to clear more applicants.