Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Why You Should Renew Your Passport Now


I just sent my passport off to be renewed.
I don't believe in not having a valid passport, because I believe you have to be ready to jump on a plane whenever an opportunity shows up. Over the years I have known many people who have missed a work trip to Paris, a shoot in the Maldives, a chance to go to the Greek Islands, all because they didn't have a passport.

If you have 6 months left on your current passport you need to renew it now. If you have less then 6 months you needed to renew it yesterday. If you don't have a passport, go get one now.
You never know when you will need it.

Here is an article I found on Smarter, written by Shannon McMahon

U.S. Passport Changes Are Coming: Here’s What You Need to Know

Passport changes are coming, and if you plan on traveling in the future—especially if you’re among the 49 million Americans whose passports will expire in the next few years—you need to know what passport changes are in store.
While it may seem easy enough to acquire or renew a passport if and when you plan a trip, the State Department says there’s about to be a massive backlog of passport applications. (More on that in a minute.) Plus, passports themselves are going to change. Here’s what you should know about both the expected passport application delays and the passport changes coming in the years ahead.

U.S. Passport Changes

Passport application

You Should Renew Your Passport Now

A decade ago, an important piece of travel legislation made American passports much more in-demand. The State Department saw an "unprecedented surge" in applications when a 2007 law enacted by the 9/11 Commission established passports as necessary for all travel to and from Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Millions of travelers acquired 10-year passports that year as a result, and now they're all about to expire. It's safe to assume many of those passport holders will need to renew, which means that passport applications will jump significantly once again.
Concerned about wait times yet? Passport renewal already takes about six weeks, and many destinations require foreign passports to be valid for months after your trip. Factor in unknown delays, and you might have a lot less time to renew than you thought.

Colorado driver's license

REAL ID Changes Aren’t Helping

A newer federal law, the REAL ID Act, will soon enforce updates to all state-level identification in the form of security features like machine-readable data. Now people in some states that are lagging behind in the technology are realizing that their licenses might soon be invalid for air travel—even on domestic trips. That could mean a rise in passport applications as well.
Travelers using IDs issued by certain states—for example, Maine and Missouri—could be turned away at the gate starting in 2018 if their state doesn't adjust to the new standards in time. Some states are under review and have been given a deadline extension, but all licenses must comply with the standards by 2020. Frequent travelers worried that their state won't comply in time may go ahead and renew or acquire a passport instead. Find out if your state has complied or been given an extension here.

Security scanning passport

Expect New Security Features

Like state IDs, passports will now include added technology to ensure security and decrease fraud. Catching up with many other countries, U.S. passports changes mean that new passports will include a data chip that can provide all your personal info upon scanning it onto a computer. You can also expect your new passport to be lighter—rather than the 52-page passports of the past, only 28 pages will be included unless you opt to get more.

Child holding a passport

Double Check Children’s Passports

If you've lost track of when your own passport needs renewing and you travel with children, double-check your child's passport as well. Child passports are only valid for five years, and they're subject to more paperwork, like parental consent forms and proof of a parent-child relationship.
Passport on world map

How to Renew Your Passport

You can apply for or renew a passport online through the State Department, or in person at an eligible local agency like the post office. Make sure you follow instructions carefully and meet all the requirements, like the new rule against wearing glasses in your passport photo. Doing so could further delay the process.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated wearing glasses in a passport photo could mean re-applying and again paying the application fee. According to the Department of State, photos can be re-submitted without again paying the fee.

Friday, January 20, 2017

10 Things To Do In San Gimignano


San Gimignano, the magical hilltop Tuscan town famous for its towers is my second home. With all my travels in Italy San Gimi is always home base. Arriving back there heals me, leaving there makes me a bit tearful, every time. Perched on a hill between Florence and Siena, watching over the fields  and vineyards, it is the perfect medieval town.


If you find your way to beautiful San Gimignano, here are 10 things you need to do:

1. Visit the Duomo. 

the view from my apartment window, looking over the Duomo

The fresco cycles are spectacular and date back to the 13th century.
The Duomo is in the heart of town, so you can't miss it.

2. Eat an artisanal gelato. 

Late night gelato in Piazza Cisterna, San Gimignano

The gelato store in the neighboring Piazza Cisterna makes fresh gelato each day in a variety of sensational flavors. Try raspberry with rosemary, or any flavor with lavender. Actually, it's probably impossible to find a flavor that isn't fantastic. Sometimes there are lines across the piazza with locals waiting to get a scoop or two of this delicious homemade gelato.
Wander back through to Piazza Duomo and sit on the steps while you eat your gelato. Look up and you will see my apartment looking right back at you!

3. Walk down to the medieval font.

one of my travelers in June 2016 exploring the font on a rainy day

The history of this idyllic mountain town is just wonderful, and there is just so much to see. Most people don't make it down to the font. Every time I've been we are the only people down there having a look.


4. Take a stroll.


You can walk around San Gimi forever and not get bored. The light hits the walls and the towers differently every minute of the day, so it always looks new. Wander through the medieval arches and alleyways, explore the little piazze, window shop and walk from one end of town to the other. Wander off the main shopping street and explore all the little neighborhoods. This little town is magical!

wander around in the evening for a different view of the town.

Allianz Travel Insurance

5. Walk the wall.

walking along the wall in San Gimignano, summer 2016

The views from the walls of San Gimi are absolutely breathtaking. A glass of local Sangiovese in the late afternoon at one of the little restaurants along the wall, with a view of endless vineyards, olive groves and fields that have been farmed for centuries. The view is so lovely it will haunt you forever...

late afternoon glass of wine along the wall, taking in the view in San Gimignano

6. Visit iSculpture San Gimignano

This one is a fantastic find in a region full of historical sculpture my friends Francesca and Patrick have built a tremendous business and a wonderful gallery featuring only contemporary art created by Italian artists.
The works are fresh and exciting and new, and make for an all encompassing experience housed in an ancient, historical building. The gallery is deceptively huge, and is the perfect showcase for both small and gigantic pieces. It's one of those places that keeps drawing you back in.

7. Climb the rock at sunset.


The highest point of town at the San Matteo end affords you the craziest, most sensational views as the sun goes down.


8. Eat Pizza at Il Trovatore

Summer evenings spent on the patio at Il Trovatore with pizzas cooked in their giant wood burning oven and jugs of local wine just cannot be beaten.
Tuscan pizza is nothing like pizza stateside. It's fresh and light and explodes win flavor. Don't expect it to be drenched in tomato sauce and wallowing in melted cheese like it is here - this is pizza the way it was meant to be eaten.

Allianz Travel Insurance

9. Enjoy Prosecco in the Piazza

late afternoon spritz and prosecco in the Piazza Cisterna, San Gimignano

My favorite time of day is Prosecco o'clock in the piazza. That late afternoon /early evening glass of prosecco siting at one of the outdoor restaurants that line the piazza Cisterna watching the early evening light hit the walls of the palazzi, people watching as the tourists leave for the day and the locals come out.
It's absolute magic.

10. Be there for market day

buying fresh local cheeses and prosciutto at the San Gimignano market

Every Thursday San Gimi wakes up to market day. The market takes up all of the Piazza Duomo and most of Piazza Cisterna. 

the local ladies buying their fruit and vegetables at the weekly market

From local cheeses and meats to fruits and vegetables, from Italian leather handbags and belts to clothes and shoes, from housewares to fabulous Italian tablecloths and napkins, there is so much to look at and buy!


Plan on buying lunch from one of the food trucks and eating it sitting on the Duomo steps.


(The leather handbags are the same as the ones you will find in San Lorenzo market in Florence. I have always found them to be cheaper at the San Gimi market. Expect to pay between 40 and 50 euros for an incredible handbag that will last a lifetime.)


I hope you take time to visit San Gimignano - it is so lovely!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

6 Ways To Humiliate Yourself In Europe

Europe is my favorite place to travel. I adore it.
But I'm constantly cringing at things I see other tourists do while away. 
I hope you will read and remember this article from Smarter Travel for two reasons. One is that you can unwittingly be offending the locals, and the second reason is that when you make yourself look like an unsuspecting tourist you draw pickpockets and thieves to both yourself and everyone around you. And maybe I will be standing somewhere near you...

6 Ways to Humiliate Yourself in Europe

by Caroline Costello

The consequences of looking like a tourist in a foreign place can range from serious (becoming a target for theft and scams) to humorous (awkwardness, frustration, public embarrassment). Here are a few of the most blatant ways that your lack of familiarity with local culture in Europe can bring you public shame and humiliation, plus advice on keeping it cool while abroad.

Pack Too Much

Pack Too Much

Less is more in Europe, where you'll definitely have some difficulty maneuvering a 33-inch spinner onto public transit and through busy city streets. Mortification and frustration are common side effects that occur when you cart an extra-large suitcase onto the Paris metro or lug an enormous wheeled bag up narrow flights of stairs in a Dutch canal house. Don't be that guy.
Solution: Let us help. Use our packing list to create a tally of exactly what you'll need—and nothing extra.
Additionally, and I can't stress this enough, do laundry on longer trips. Try it. You'll like it. Pack a travel-sized detergent pack and a rubber clothesline or a product like the Scrubba Wash Bag.
Dress Like You're Attending a Ball Game

Dress Like You’re Attending a Ball Game

"Don't wear sneakers in Europe" is an age-old travel-advice nugget spoken by experts everywhere. But now that the normcore fashion movement has arrived, the anti-athletic-shoe mantra is out like chunky highlights. White sneakers graced the Chanel runway last year, establishing casual kicks as chic street wear in even the most fashionable arrondissements. Simple tennis shoes are cool for now. Don't go overboard, though. House slippers and Crocs continue to guarantee you'll be presented with the tourist menu at every restaurant. Furthermore, generally speaking, baseball hats, fanny packs, American-sports-team logo apparel, and poorly fitted jeans tell locals, "I am not from here. You can take advantage of me."
Solution: Normcore or not, Europeans continue to dress a little more formally than Americans. Pair your Supergas with something slightly business casual. Do what you can.


I know that an 18 or 20 percent tip at dining establishments in Europe isn't standard the way it is in the States. Still, I feel mean leaving just a euro or two on the table when eating across the pond. Tipping is firmly ingrained in the American culture, and it can be challenging to remember to tip sparingly in other countries.
European waiters are typically pretty relaxed about tips. And if you're in a busy tourist center, the wait staff is likely used to receiving varying amounts of gratuities from foreigners. So in this case, you're not so much embarrassing yourself as you are inflicting unneeded damages on your vacation budget. You might feel a bit foolish when you peek at your credit card statement after you've returned home.
Solution: Remember tips (and taxes) are included in Europe, and tips are sometimes parsed out on the bill as designated service charges. A good guidebook will include standard tipping practices for your destination. If you're in a pinch, just ask.
Be Really Loud

Be Really Loud

Let's admit it. The loud-American stereotype just might have some truth to it. Lots of people around the world seem to think so. Last summer, in fact, a cafe in Ireland displayed a sign prohibiting "Bus/Coach Loud Americans." (In opposition, some pro-American locals took to the street carrying U.S. flags. Fist bumps to those guys.)
Solution: Try to be a little more conscious of the volume of your voice, especially in tight spaces like public transit or crowded cafes. The upside? At night, in the pub or on the dance floor, you can really let loose.
Complain About Dining Dissimilarities

Complain About Dining Dissimilarities

If you expect a sanitized American dining experience that includes decaf coffee and plenty of ice in your soda, you'll look silly on the Continent. Many dining practices that are customary in the U.S., from sneeze guards at the buffet to Splenda on the table to bucket-sized portions, are absent in Europe. Taxes are usually included in the price of a meal. And you might experience cultural differences regarding wait-staff behavior, too. For example, wait staff won't bring you the check right after you've finished eating, unless you ask for it. Europeans tend to linger when they eat out.
Solution: Familiarize yourself with local food customs. Just go with it. And focus on the positive: No matter where you are in Europe, you're likely not too far from some smoky paella, Liege waffles, or deep-fried zeppole; that's a very good thing.
Freak Out About Paid Toilets

Freak Out About Paid Toilets

It may seem like a violation of basic human rights when a bathroom porter calls for payment as you're struggling not to pee your pants. I've been there. And I've been nearly traumatized by the crabby lady standing between me and the loo. But paid toilets—and sometimes even for-fee toilet paper—in busy tourist centers are a common European custom that isn't going away anytime soon. Look at it this way: Someone has to pay to keep the toilets clean and working.
Solution: Keep your cool, and keep some coins on hand for emergency bathroom situations.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

What To Do If You Get Sick While Traveling


It's a nightmare.
You've finally made it - you've traveled across the world or across the country to the vacation you have been saving up for, and out of nowhere you get sick.

It happened to me years ago, thankfully in Australia where medical care is amazing and affordable, and where I speak the language.
3 days into a dream vacation with my family in beautiful Noosa, I came down crazy sick. Frighteningly sick. The am-I-going-to-die kind of sick.
The kind of sick that can nearly bankrupt you in America kind of sick.

On the super long flight from Los Angeles to Brisbane I contracted an incredibly vicious and aggressive upper respiratory infection. 
At first I attributed it to jet lag or a slight cold that days lying on Aussie beaches, under the perfect Aussie sun, breathing pure Aussie air would heal. But no such luck. I woke up on day 3 thinking that short of an ambulance arriving in about 2 minutes I would be dead. (Dramatic, I know, but terrifying too)

Luckily I was in Australia, got immediate help and it cost next to nothing. In America the same illness would have been financially
I always, always, always travel with travel insurance that has a strong medical policy, (and in fact I make all my Glam Italia Tour travelers buy travel insurance before leaving), and now I always get a super immune vitamin IV prior to international trips to boost my immune system and make it fight off infections that I may come in contact with. I've never been sick traveling since. But I always know anything could happen.

I also got very sick while spending a month in Egypt many years ago, and again just a few years back in Mexico while on a workout video shoot. Lying on the floor of a Mexican airport, too sick to sit up and not knowing how you will survive a flight home is no fun.
If you travel frequently it's bound to get you at some point.

Smarter Travel did a great article on what to do should you get sick while traveling. Check it out below. (all text and images in the following article are via

What to Do When You Get Sick While Traveling

by Shannon McMahon

The worst thing that can happen on a long-awaited adventure isn’t missing a flight or losing your luggage—it’s getting sick. Flights can be rebooked and personal items replaced, but your wellbeing can’t. Even if you’ve attended your pre-travel clinic appointments and packed all the preventative sanitizers and medications in the world, the flu or infectious diseases can still make you miss a lot of your vacation.
The good news is there’s plenty you can do to make that misfortune less disruptive, especially if you have travel insurance and a game plan. Here are some tips—including the advice of a travel-clinic doctor—to keep in mind for those times you become sick while traveling, especially abroad.
travel insurance and passport

Know Your Travel-Insurance Policy

The moment that symptoms of an illness set in is the moment you'll either be relieved you purchased medical travel insurance or promising yourself you'll never skip it again. Having a travel insurance policy that includes medical coverage is especially important if you're traveling abroad where your health insurance may not cover you. You can get an insurance policy in just a few minutes and for as little as a few dollars a day—it could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Out-of-pocket medical care isn't cheap.

Once you have travel insurance, know its terms. Some policies cover extensive medical-related costs like body casts and flights home, while others might only cover emergency-room care. Know what your options are so you can assess what's necessary and what will cost you.
sick in public

Don’t ‘Wait and See’ on Flu Symptoms

Traveling during flu season makes you more prone to debilitating sickness in already germy areas like planes, but many infectious diseases (Zika, Dengue, Chikungunya) also start out with flu symptoms like fever and nausea. It's important to get to a doctor for a diagnosis as early as you can if you have debilitating symptoms—waiting to see if you'll feel better could mean missing the window for treatment, so it's better to be safe than sorry.
"If it really is the flu, medication can be given early in the course of illness to reduce duration of symptoms," Dr. Natasha Hochberg, co-director of Boston Medical Center's Travel Clinic, told me. "Many other illnesses such as malaria and dengue can manifest with fever and aches too; these often require medical attention, so I would urge travelers with these symptoms to seek medical care."

doctor writing prescription

Find the Right Clinic

Finding a doctor abroad doesn't have to be a shot in the dark. Dr. Hochberg recommends the International Society of Travel Medicine's website, which is home to a Global Travel Clinic Directory that lists clinics by country based on the type of care they provide, the languages their doctors speak, and where they're located.  Travelers without Internet access can also call the destination's U.S. embassy for that information—so don't forget to save the necessary Department of State phone numbers in your phone before you travel.

man sick in bed

Listen to Your Body

Once you've been diagnosed, it's important to heed the doctor's advice and to listen to your body. You might be tempted to try to keep up with your travel plans, especially if you made arrangements for exciting new experiences—but your immune system is down and recuperating is important. Avoid potentially risky food situations like street food, and get plenty of sleep and fluids. "Hydration and rest are helpful," Dr. Hochberg says. Getting enough of both might help you recuperate in time to finish out your trip in good spirits.


Let Your Doctor Know

It's important to keep your primary doctor back at home in the loop. There's no need to be calling him or her with updates, but sending an email or calling once you've returned to let them know is important. They'll want to know your condition in case of any lasting effects or complications related to other conditions or medications you might have.
"Importantly, anyone returning home ill should reach out to a travel care provider or their primary care doctor as quickly as possible," Dr. Hochberg says.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

9 Reasons Why You Should Visit Florence In December


I absolutely love Florence. 
I spend time there every year, and every time I'm there it's as though it was the first time - it never loses its magic.
Last year I was there twice leading private tours (The Glam Italia Tours), but then I snuck back by myself for a little vacation in December and fell in love with the city all over again.


Florence is spectacular any time of the year, but December is just sensational.
Here are   Reasons why you should visit Florence in December

1. The Tourists Are Gone.

December mornings in Santa Maria Novella 

I try to avoid Florence during the busy tourist months of July and August, but during the spring and the fall there are still throngs of enthusiasts getting themselves some map time in the middle of the sidewalks, cluttering up the view of the statues, generally getting in the way. 

Piazza della Signoria in December

December gives you a whole new city. The streets are wide open and clear, you can stroll all over town and not have to move to avoid a tour bus full of people walking down the street. You own Florence in December - the city is yours.

Strolling Ponte Vecchio

2. The Prices Go Down.

Take out the tourists and the cost of everything goes down. There are deals to be had in all the stores, restaurant prices go down, accommodation costs less. Even the airfares are reasonable.
It's fantastic.

3. The Lines Evaporate.

Palazzo Vecchio museum in December. Not a tourist in sight!

No matter what you want to see, there are no lines and no crowds. 
In December everywhere I went including the Palazzo Vecchio and the Ufizzi there were no tourists in sight. This meant I had the museums and art galleries all to myself. There was no wall of people to try and see through, everything was there just for me. 

Looking down on David from the Palazzo tower

I was able to view the greatest works of Renaissance art from up close, then step back, take in all the angles, and not have a single soul get in my way.

Looking down at the statues outside the Uffizi from the Palazzo vecchio tower

4. People Are Even More Friendly.

Without mindless throngs of rude tourists being demanding, criticizing, and no doubt just being plain annoying, the locals can focus on you when you are there in December. They have more time to chat, have space to tell you about interesting things to do, can linger over coffee or a glass of wine and give you so much more quality time.

5. Christmas Is Amazing In Florence.

The Corsa at night

Santa doesn't show up in Italy. 
Christmas is about Jesus. 

Precepe outside Santa Maria Dei Fiore

Regardless of your religious beliefs it is so refreshing to walk around at night and see all the gorgeous lights, with no sleigh bells jingle-ing ring-ting-tingle-ing too. 


No elves, no Ho Ho Ho, no candy canes. It feels so authentic and so legitimate. 

Walking in and out of stores you aren't assaulted by looped cheesey Christmas carols or made-for-Christmas wares. The Christmas season runs from around December 8th until January 6th, and the stores start running end of year sales with discounts ranging from 30% to 70% - and who doesn't want amazing Italian clothes and shoes at 70% off??

walking back to my apartment at night
Florence is a gorgeous city to walk around anytime, but the golden evenings with holiday lights are just beautiful.

Palazzo Vecchio by nght

6. The German Market.

Piazza Santa Croce becomes a German market in December. Stalls selling wooden German toys sit next to knick knack stalls, Sicilian marzipan stalls share walls with vendors selling hot German sausages. There are all kinds of European foods available, hot drinks and cold beer. It smells wonderful and it is particularly lovely to stroll around at night.

7. The Sunsets Come Sooner.

Hazy December evening in Florence

As much as I just love those long, soft, summer evenings in Florence, sitting up at Piazzale Michelangelo watching the sun set over the Arno, I also love bundling up for the December chill in the late afternoon and catching the sun setting for the evening at 5 or 6 pm. It's wickedly romantic!

8. The Food.

The food in Italy is pretty fantastic at any time of year, but there is something so divine about spending the afternoon out and about in the cold afternoon air and then wandering into some little restaurant filled with happy, boisterous locals and sitting down to a bowl of Tuscan tomato and basil soup and a big fat glass of local red wine under the gaze of a wall of frescos painted 600 years ago. (much more enjoyable without the crowds of tourists during the summer!)

9. The Hazy Mornings And Afternoons.


I probably wouldn't enjoy the grey spells if I actually lived there, but as a guest I found them completely beguiling. Wandering through Florence and  surrounding Tuscany, looking at the castles rising up through the fog, looking out the train windows at fields bathed in grey mist you discover a whole new Italian romance. It's so beautiful.

Santa Maria dei fiori-december

 Winter cappuccinos in the piazza on a grey morning before the sun breaks
through are sensational.

I'm a little heartbroken that I couldn't be there this year in December, but I'm planning on going back for a pre-Christmas visit next Year. Florence in December is just fabulous. You might just want to add it to your bucket list...