Monday, September 23, 2013


The Colosseum, Rome, Italy

So you have decided to take that dream vacation to Europe.  Just like many people, your excitement may not supersede your nervousness.  You clearly want to see all those historic sites like:

  • The Roman Colosseum
  • The Leaning Tower of Pisa
  • The Eiffel Tower
  • Buckingham Palace 
You are surely going to want to take a gondola ride on the Main Canal in Venice.  But like most people who have never been to a place before, you are unsure about where to stay, where to fly into and out of, what procedures and rules are in place for each country you expect to visit and how long you should to stay in each place. 

My best advice to people traveling to Europe for their first time is to think about using a travel tour company.  There are many to choose from and each offers different types of vacations depending on what you are looking for.  Most will offer an itinerary of exactly what place you will visit and how long your stay will be.  Some offer 3 different options, a budget option, mid-level option and a high-level option.  The only difference between them is the quality and location of hotels that you will be staying at during your trip.  For instance in June of 2011 I traveled on a 10 day trip starting in Rome and finishing in London using a mid-level option.  I could’ve paid less for the budget option but I knew that hotel rooms in Europe tend to be a bit small for American standards.  The other options had the same itinerary as mine as far as places to visit and offered tours. 

Before I decided on using a travel tour company, I was looking into booking my travel completely on my own.  I discovered that I had a few concerns:

  • First, I would be traveling to multiple cities and staying in different hotels.  I was concerned about check-in and check-out times.  Most have check-out times of 11am while I would not be able to check-in to my next hotel until after 3 or 4pm. 
  • What do I do with my luggage? 
  • How do I arrange travel at certain times that are convenient to me?
  • Am I going to have to spend most of my time filling out paper work at each hotel on my trip
  • What airport should I fly into?  Where should I stay?  What if I can’t find someone who speaks my language?

In addition to my concerns, I had 4 main cities that I absolutely wanted to visit…London, Rome, Paris and Venice.  When I was pricing these options, I was surprised at the cost.  The price tag was high.  Then I had to arrange my own transportation and tours.  That’s when I started looking into travel companies. 

After doing my research, I found a company called Cosmos.  This company had my 4 main cities on its tour plus a few others.  What I found to be the best part of using this company was the fact that I didn’t have to worry about check-in or out during my trip.  My luggage was at my hotel room door at every hotel upon arrival.  There were 45 people on this tour and we got to know each other pretty well.  On the morning of traveling to a new city, we simply left our luggage outside our hotel room door at a specific time and the luggage was taken to the bus.  We traveled to the new city.  Upon arrival in the new city, we either went directly to the hotel first or took a small tour while our luggage was being put in our new rooms. 

I choose this tour partly because I offered a short tour or excursion in each city allowing me time to explore some of the area on my own.  It spent 2-3 days in each city so I got a good taste of what each city offered.  Cosmos offered extra tours and excursions at additional costs if I wanted to partake.  I choose a few extras like the welcome dinner in Rome, the Vatican and colosseum tour and Mt. Titlis tour in Lake Lucern, Switzerland.  The best part of visiting these sites with the tour group is that we got to skip the lines.  Others were waiting outside the Vatican for hours and our wait was about 15 minutes.  This was true for the colosseum as well. 

A happy surprise for me was Lake Lucern, Switzerland.  I would have never booked a trip here on my own but since it was offered on this tour, I got to experience a truly beautiful place.  You never know what happy surprise your trip will offer. 

I have to admit that I was very nervous about my trip.  Since I traveled solo, I was worried that I would not get along with the people in my travel group.  This wasn’t the case at all.  It worked out well for me because I had people I could trust to take pictures of me and I could take pictures for them too.  The tour guide that guided us along our trip was fluent in Italian.  She knew some Germany and French and she handled everything as far as check-in and out, scheduling and anything that came up.  She even gave out her cell phone number so that if we got lost or needed anything we could contact her. 

Overall, I was impressed with the travel tour company and I was so happy I didn’t try to book this trip by making my own itinerary.  I saved some money, didn’t waste the small amount of time that I had and got to experience things I never thought I would.  I recommend taking your first European trip with the help of a travel tour company.  Learn from this experience then go back to those places you really love and spend more time there on your next trip. 

Have you traveled to Europe before?  If so, what is your favorite city in Europe?

Here are some video's to show of the best parts of Europe:

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


My travel tip to everyone is:  Explore your own backyard!

Often we overlook the very places that we know best.  Many people don't envision their hometowns as tourist attractions.  Regardless of where you call home...Somebody would like to visit it.  So the next time you have idol time on your hands, I suggest getting out and explore your hometown as if you were a tourist.  You may actually learn something new or at least get a different perspective of your hometown. 

Now, I am probably one of the biggest culprits of not exploring my hometown.  I live just outside of Washington D.C.  I rarely travel into the city.  I avoid it like the plague.  All the traffic, the chaos of lost tourist and vendors pushing cheap trinkets. 

I have decided to change my ways and commit to exploring my hometown more often.  I challenge you to do the same. 

Please share what makes your hometown special.  What city would you like to visit?  Share in the comment section.  Thanks for reading!