A Siesta on the Mayan Riviera

Can you think of a better way to get some much needed rest and relaxation than to stay at a luxury all-inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico?

Given my history of budget travel, this particular luxury all-inclusive resort did wander far beyond my usual travel budget, so in the interests of full disclosure, this trip was not sponsored by the resort company.  This was a work related bonus and I’m not about to refuse an all expense paid vacation to the tropics. The best part, no other co-workers were in attendance. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good people, but they happen to be at the top of my “People I Don’t Want to See While on Vacation” list.

If you don’t know, the Mayan Riviera and Playa del Carmen is on the Yucatan Peninsula, 45 minutes south of Cancun, along the Caribbean  coast of Mexico. Okay, enough of the geography lesson, let’s get to the resort now.

DSC01017 1024x680 A Siesta on the Mayan Riviera

We stayed at the Occidental Royal Hideaway Playacar. This is an adults only, luxury all-inclusive resort where the five star service starts the moment you enter the property. We were given a warm welcome from the valets who escorted us to the reception area, where we were greeted with a glass of champagne, to make the check-in process more comfortable, of course.

At 200 rooms, the Royal Hideaway is a small resort, which affords guests more privacy and peace & quiet. Our room was spacious and very well appointed. The bed was super comfortable. I liked how the rooms were configured into villas. There were 11 villas with a small number of rooms in each – some villas were all suites, so they had even less rooms. Each villa has a “Private Villa Concierge” to assist you with restaurant reservations, excursions, etc., which was awesome (like the service wasn’t fantastic enough already).

The resort has all the amenities you’d expect from a luxury all-inclusive like a spa, fitness center, tennis courts, several different water sports, and 6 pools, just to name a few. The Royal Hideaway also has a weekly dinner theater show and live music every night at Bar Allegria.

There are 6 specialty restaurants and afternoon tea ranging from authentic Mexican to Italian cuisine – all of them were great, but we liked Azia the best. They specialized in Japanese and Thai food. Who knew you could get sushi that good on the Yucatan Peninsula?

With all of this at your disposal, they make it pretty easy not leave the property at all during your vacation. I recommend getting  outside the walls of the resort and check out Playa del Carmen. There’s great shops, restaurants, street markets and nightlife around 5th Avenue. The local beach is nice and you can catch a ferry to Cozumel the pier.

DSC01066 1024x764 A Siesta on the Mayan Riviera

While on the Mayan Riviera, you need to go to the ancient Mayan ruins of  Chichen Itza. I like history and I’m a sucker for some good ancient ruins so it was on the must-do list. Our “villa concierge” helped us arrange the excursion with a local tour representative who met us at the hotel. It was a full day tour that included lunch and stops at Chichen Itza and a large Cenote for swimming. If you don’t know what a Cenote is, it’s like a big sink hole full of ground water. The ancient Mayans would use them for sacrifices too.

We made it back to the hotel in time to catch the last of afternoon tea and a splash in our favorite relaxation pool before dinner.

This vacation getaway got me to rethink my travel budget. As much as I enjoy our budget travel adventures, why not set aside some extra funds for a taste of the good life? From time to time, it’s okay to be good to yourself and splurge on a nice meal or a luxury resort while traveling.

Mayan Riviera Travel Resources:

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Riviera Maya Tourism

 A Siesta on the Mayan Riviera

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How to Save Money and Travel More

Save Money Travel More 300x225 How to Save Money and Travel MoreBefore I got serious about travel, I would find great travel deals to exciting and exotic places. The problem was, I never had the money to pay for these great deals.

As I looked at ways to get more money for traveling, I found that, things that bring comfort and convenience to our lives can empty your wallet fast.  So, I’ll be focusing on steps you can take to save more money for your travels, by making some simple adjustments to your monthly expenses and habits, that could put thousands of dollars into your travel fund.

It’s important to know how much money you have coming in and how much going out. Most people know exactly how much their take home pay is, but when it comes to the money going out the door, that’s a different story.

Keep every receipt and track all of your spending for one month. Usually, one week of expense tracking is shocking enough. By doing this, you can see where all your hard earned cash is going and begin to recognize opportunities for savings.

Here’s seven tips to save big money on your monthly bills and expenses so you can travel more.

Electricity - Turn out the lights. If you aren’t occupying a room in your home, don’t leave the lights on. When the weather gets colder, turn down the heat a few degrees and wear an extra sweater around the house. The same goes for the summer heat, turn down the air conditioning and go commando if you have to, just remember to close the curtains for your neighbors sake.

Power down all electronics and unplug them, or turn off the surge protector when they’re not in use – they keep using electricity if you leave them plugged in. I’ve made a habit of doing this every evening, before I sleep; shut off the home theater, the computer, etc.

If you haven’t already, replace your light bulbs with energy efficient CFD’s or LED’s, they cost a bit more than conventional bulbs but they will save you money on your electric bill and last longer.

Mobile Phone - Shop around and find a reasonable plan that fits your lifestyle, preferably with as much unlimited talk and data for a low, flat rate.  The mobile carrier I use, has a rewards program to reduce or eliminate the cost of handset upgrades.

Use apps like Whats App, Viber and Skype, to avoid roaming charges and get free international texts and long distance calls. If you live in Canada like I do, you know what I’m talking about. Mobile phone rates are high in Canada, so we need to save wherever we can.

Get rid of your land line – seriously, how often do people use land lines anymore? I haven’t had a land line for over 10 years and I don’t miss it at all.

Cable TV - Bruce Springsteen had a song in the early 1990′s called “57 Channels and Nothin’ On”. Now, it’s more like 257 channels and nothing on. Get rid of your DVR and your premium cable package, it’s chalked full of TV shows and channels you don’t watch anyway.

I cut my cable, bought an Apple TV, got a Netflix subscription and it saves me about $660 a year.  That right there could pay for a 2 week hotel stay in Thailand.

Cars - If you can get by without a car and use alternative transit, do it, cars suck serious cash from your wallet. For most of us, that’s not a realistic solution, given the fact that many North American cities were designed around the automobile. “Downsizing” your car, is another option that can save you thousands per year.

It’s easy to get caught up in the ego and status of having a nicer car than your neighbor or co-worker, but all you really need is a reliable ride that gets you where you need to go. I traded my Acura for a Mazda 3 and it saved me well over $5,000 a year in car payments, insurance, gas and maintenance.

Coffee - If you buy coffee at a place like Starbucks all the time, stop it. Let’s say, for example, you spend $5 a day, everyday for your caffeine fix. That adds up to about $1,800 per year. You could fly a long way for $1,800, like a round-trip flight from New York to Sydney, Australia.

Make coffee at home instead. When I say make coffee at home, I don’t mean those K-Cup things that go into Tassimo machines. You pay a huge premium for the convenience of single servings. Buy some ground coffee, or grind your own whole beans and buy a Bodum knock-off at IKEA for ten bucks and start saving.

Home Cooking - Dining out, the drive-thru, packaged foods like frozen dinners and potato chips, cost big money. Again, you’re paying a huge premium for the convenience. Spending $100 a week eating out – a conservative number for many people I know; would add up to over $5,000 in savings by cooking at home and packing a lunch for work. If you don’t know how to cook, learn. There’s an App for that. Better yet, take a trip to a place that has awesome food and take a cooking class, it will change your life.

Travel Rewards Credit Card - Accumulating travel rewards points that can be redeemed for free flights and hotel rooms should be considered a form of savings and they do help to reduce your travel expenses. Do your homework and find a card with agreeable terms – not all cards are created equally. Look for cards that offer bonus points for signing up and pay attention to the fine print; there may be restrictions and annual fees.

Now, I was hesitant with this one at first, given the rampant abuse of consumer credit in our society. Credit cards are unsecured debt, meaning they are high risk and that’s why they charge 20 – 30% interest on unpaid balances. It’s easy to get carried away and go on a spending spree for the sake of getting more points, but that will turn your travel points card in a liability very quickly. The point is to save, not get into debt.

Here’s my golden rule for using credit cards:

Always pay your bill in full every month and never, ever carry a balance or opt to pay the minimum payment. 

Charge as much of your everyday expenses on your travel rewards card as you can – like bills, groceries, gas, etc. and use the points as part of your overall travel savings strategy. Remember, only charge things you can afford to pay off completely, when the next bill arrives.

Bonus Tip: Alcohol - Ease up, or eliminate going out for drinks after work and on the weekend. Booze is expensive where I live, especially at restaurants, bars, and pubs. Enjoy an occasional store bought drink with the savory meal you just cooked at home.

Oh yeah, one last thing, open an online savings account and use the automatic savings feature so all the money you’re saving after applying these practical tips will actually get saved – and it will make more interest than the 0.1% you’re checking account is paying.

Don’t think of these money saving tips as a sacrifice or a budget, think of these as practical action steps to achieve your travel goals. Let other people drive expensive cars, drink over priced coffee and dine at the trendiest restaurants every night of the week; because you’ve got some serious traveling to do.

All the tips I presented in this post, I’ve done myself. If they can work for an amateur traveler like me, I know they’ll work for you too. Whether you’re saving for a dream vacation or you’re saving for a long term adventure, travel often and travel well.

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 How to Save Money and Travel More

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Top Travel Destinations in 2014

Top Places to Visit

Passport 300x200 Top Travel Destinations in 2014These are some of the top places to visit for 2014, according to the New York Times. It’s an intriguing list and I admit, places like Ishigaki, Yogyakarta, and Xishuangbanna; I had to find on Google Maps.

Check them out and I hope they inspire some great adventures . . . just in time for Spring Break, Summer Vacation and Christmas Holdiays. But seriously, do you really need an excuse to get there and see the world?

  1. Cape Town, South Africa          
  2. Christchurch, New Zealand
  3. Los Angeles, USA
  4. Taiwan
  5. Ishigaki, Japan
  6. Yogyakarta, Indonesia
  7. Dubai, UAE
  8. Krabi, Thailand
  9. The Seychelles Islands
  10. Xishuangbanna, China

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Top 10 City Destinations in the USA

But wait, there’s more! Here are the top 10 city destinations in the United States. So many great American cities and looking at this list, I see the makings of a Great American Road Trip, or two, or three this summer.

This is what I’m thinking: Chicago to Los Angeles on Route 66; Seattle to San Francisco via the Oregon Coast; New York to Miami via Washington DC and Disney World; and one of my favorites, San Francisco to Los Angeles on the Pacific Coast Highway. Hit the road and see America.

  1. Las Vegas, NV
  2. New York City, NY
  3. Miami, FL
  4. Orlando, FL
  5. Los Angeles, CA
  6. San Francisco, CA
  7. Washington, DC
  8. Honolulu, HI
  9. Chicago, IL
  10. Seattle, WA

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Why Do You Travel?

Passport 300x200 Why Do You Travel?On a recent gloomy winter day, I was thinking about what a bust 2013 was for travel. I didn’t go anywhere and that made me mad because I love to travel, it’s one of the few things in my life that I truly enjoy. 2013 was just one of those years where things didn’t go according to plan and I paid for it with no travel.

It was in this reflective and contemplative mood, I asked myself  the question:

Why do I travel?

Curiosity - Ever since I can remember, I was curious about the world we live in. When I was a young kid growing up, I was fascinated by maps, geography, and I kicked ass at that computer game “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” I would see photos of far away places and daydream about the adventures I would have there. I still do to this day.

My favorite toy race car had a sticker on the bottom that said “Made in Hong Kong”. I would think to myself – where is that? Then, I’d run downstairs to the globe to find Hong Kong. Interestingly enough, my first trip overseas was to Hong Kong. Coincidence, I think not.

Curiosity is a key ingredient that makes traveling so great. So be curious, whether you’re a seasoned traveler, or you’re just beginning your journey; some of the best trips start from simple curiosity.

Adventure - When we grow up, we’re programmed to get an education, get a good job, get married, get a house in the suburbs, get a family, get a minivan and you’ll live happily ever after. Before long, life can become a 3 hour daily commute, drive-thru for dinner and grocery shopping & laundry on weekends.

Like many of you reading this, I have a day job staring into the corners of my cubicle – the one with “Chairman Mao Grey” fabric adorning the walls, always dreaming about traveling the world and the great adventures I would have. Yes, the utopia of becoming a perpetual traveler is still a work in progress.

Before I bitch and complain too much, we have it pretty good in North America, but this one-size-fits-all approach to life doesn’t fit me. It’s all too comfortable, too status quo, and too boring.

There’s a need to channel that intrepid explorer, that Indiana Jones living inside of us. That guy doesn’t live by other people’s rules, that guy doesn’t live by other people’s terms. That guy lives for adventure and that guy lives by his own rules!

Travel is one of the best ways to get that adventure in your diet. I admit it, I get happy when I’m leaving home and I get excited when I’m pulling up to International Departures, leaving for parts unknown and the next big adventure.

Experience - When traveling it’s important to immerse yourself in the culture, sample the food and interact with the locals. Seeing things you’ve never seen and doing things you wouldn’t normally do in your everyday life provide enriching experiences, no question.

Going beyond that, I believe travel is one of the best educators out there. Travel pushes you out of your comfort zone. Where else can you learn how to think on your feet, sharpen your decision making skills, negotiate, problem solve, and overcome language barriers and cultural differences. You’ll be using these skills dealing with situations like cancelled flights, lost luggage and hotel reservations, getting lost, natural disasters, and ever-changing travel plans.

You’ll experience making mistakes while traveling. Mistakes like losing $300 in air tickets on a discount airline because my travel plans changed and I didn’t bother to buy $10 worth of flight insurance.

Or, the time I ignored my symptoms of jetlag and became so exhausted that I nearly had a public meltdown in the middle of a major airport. The reason; I couldn’t find the ticket machine for the subway train. Here’s what happened; I forgot what city I just landed in and the subway tickets? There were no tickets because the subway wasn’t the subway, it was the free train that transported passengers between airport terminals.  Thankfully, some deep breathing exercises and tall glass of fresh fruit juice was enough to prevent me from making the evening news.

Mistakes are a good thing, the experience of making mistakes is how we learn. When you travel, you learn quickly because you have to deal with it and move on to the next destination.

The real world experiences you gain from travel transfer benefit your personal and professional life; you’ll make better decisions and handle challenges with certainty.

Personal Growth - We were on the BTS in Bangkok and struck up a conversation with some fellow travelers. Being the conversational genius that I am (chalk it up to personal growth), I asked them “So, where are you going?” From this simple question, we found out they were, like us, heading to Chatuchak Market for some shopping and they were a retired couple from Montreal, who had been traveling the world conquering famous mountain peaks for the last 35 years. Now, in their golden years, they needed to slow down and see the world from the ground instead of the clouds. They had just completed their latest trip; navigating the entire country of Myanmar by public bus.

This is what makes travel so awesome; it’s about expanding your horizons and discovering the possibilities that are out there waiting for you. Sure, traveling does build self confidence, it allows you to view the world from a different perspective and it does give you the ability to adapt to your surroundings. But, it would never occur to me to consider doing a trip like that, unless I talked to these intrepid travelers . . . who were almost twice my age by the way. If I didn’t have the confidence and experience I had gained from traveling, I’d bet that conversation would never have happened. Needless to say, Myanmar is now on the To-Do List.

I enjoy satisfying my curiosity and my need for adventure. I enjoy experiencing new cultures and food. I enjoy seeing and doing things I’ve never done before. Above all, traveling makes me feel free; living life on my own terms and seeing the world. These are some of the reasons why I travel, more importantly, why do you travel?

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A Sunday Drive to Portland, OR

DSCN2855 1024x437 A Sunday Drive to Portland, OR

Something I haven’t done for a long time is a road trip. You know, getting out on the open road, the wind in your hair, no set destination, power napping at rest areas and logging thousands of miles on the odometer. Well, this was not that kind of road trip. This was a spontaneous, last minute sort of a trip that was decided on Saturday night. We needed something different to do on Sunday, so why not go for a drive?

Our day trip to Portland began in Vancouver, BC; a place I’ve written about a couple times recently. Portland is about 5 hours down the I-5 from Vancouver and we could have easily just stopped in Seattle, but no, this was about hitting the road, so we kept driving.

Columbia River Gorge

DSCN2848 1024x610 A Sunday Drive to Portland, OR

If you’re in Portland and need to go for a drive, hit I-84 and do the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Just like the name implies, it’s a scenic and enjoyable drive. While you’re out there, take the Historic Columbia River Highway; this is totally worth the drive on a sunny day. Just take exit 17 off I-84.

The Columbia River Gorge is one big recreation area, famous for the water falls like Multnomah Falls, windsurfing in Hood River, sailing, hiking . . . and the river of course. No hiking to waterfalls or windsurfing lessons for me today, I’m driving here!

Portland Saturday Market

DSCN2853 1024x755 A Sunday Drive to Portland, OR

After several hours of driving at this point, we needed to get out and stretch our legs. We parked the car downtown and took a walk along the riverside to the Portland Saturday Market. There’s lots of local arts & crafts available, live music and street performers; along with a variety of food from Polish to Lebanese.

Don’t let the name fool you, the market is open Saturday & Sundays and it’s located at Waterfront Park & Ankeny Plaza.

Voodoo Doughnut

DSCN2865 1024x770 A Sunday Drive to Portland, OR

A short walk from the Portland Saturday Market, up on SW 3rd is Voodoo Doughnut. Normally, I don’t get excited about doughnut shops, but this place is not your normal doughnut shop, judging by the lineup down the block.

They’ve got some original doughnut creations on the menu like the Maple Bacon Bar, Memphis Mafia and the Old Dirty Bastard. The Maple Bacon was out; I’m Canadian, so I can have maple & bacon anytime. As was the Old Dirty Bastard – if I was a dirty bastard, I would’ve ordered the Cock-N-Balls. I went with the Memphis Mafia, I can vouch for this one.

Voodoo Doughnut is at 22 SW 3rd Ave in Old Town. Old Town reminds me of Vancouver’s Gastown with the historic buildings and similar street “elements”. The difference? There’s more beards and tattoos in Portland.

Besides doughnuts, Portland has a great street food scene. There are food carts clustered all over Downtown Portland. Because it was Sunday, most of the food carts were closed and because I chowed down on Thai food at the Portland Saturday Market, I didn’t get to sample any of them. Pretty lame, I know.

The other thing Portland is recognized for is the Craft Beer. Micro-brews are a big deal here. If you’re fancy yourself a beer connoisseur, have a pint or 2 . . . or 3. It’s good beer. But I didn’t have any. I was driving.

Tax-Free Shopping

DSCN2869 1024x748 A Sunday Drive to Portland, OR

Oregon has no sales tax, so if you need some retail therapy, it’s a good place to be. You’ll have some cash to spare for the craft beer the locals keep telling me about.

In Downtown Portland, around Pioneer Square, there’s Pioneer Place Mall,  The Nike Store, Columbia Sportswear, Macy’s, Nordstrom, and other local shops.

We came, we saw, we drove to Portland. Then, it was time for the long road back to the Canadian border. Road trips may not be for everyone, but we enjoy them. For me, it’s hard to resist the lure of the open road. So, if there’s a place you’re curious about, whether it’s down the highway or across the country, hit the road and check it out, because sometimes you just gotta drive.

PS – When you’re in the area, head out to the Oregon Coast, it’s worth a trip. We did that drive a few years ago on a road trip up the California Coast.

Portland Travel Resources:

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insp 2 300x250 A Sunday Drive to Portland, OR

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