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6 Travel Resolutions to Keep in 2016


A new year means a fresh start. And what better way to ring in 2016 than with some travel resolutions. Yes, travel resolutions! Instead of creating resolutions that may or may not be realistic (and resolutions you might forget), why not create resolutions that are attainable. And resolutions that are more like rewards, rather than chores, or honey dos.

The very first resolution you should make is to simply travel more. You could just stop there, but why would you? As Dr. Seuss once wrote, “You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!”

Here are 6 attainable travel resolutions for you in 2016.

Save money on accommodations by joining a vacation home exchange. International Vacation Home Exchange has vacation homes all around the world. You will work with a personal coordinator to arrange your vacation home swap. And there are travel researchers available to help with your plans.
Get your passport if you haven’t already. You will be more inclined to travel abroad if you have your passport.
Start a travel fund. Your travel fund can be a simple change jar. My travel fund sits in a savings account. Every paycheck, about $20 goes into this travel account. The money adds up over time with interest. There are also websites that will help you set up a travel fund that others (friends and family) can contribute to in lieu of birthday or Christmas gifts.
Take a road trip. Maybe you can’t afford to take a trip abroad in 2016. So instead, grab a friend and hit the road for a weekend getaway. If you don’t feel like driving for several hours, then you can also take the train.
Check a trip off your bucket list. Maybe you are like me, and you want to travel to Nepal and hike to base camp on Mt. Everest. Or you want a selfie in front of all the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. Whatever your bucket list destinations may be, pick one, and start making plans to cross that destination off your list.
Visit a new city in your own country. Again, you don’t have to spend a fortune to explore the world. Some of the most amazing places might be in your own backyard. Be sure to work with the travel researchers with International Vacation Home Exchange to help come up with an itinerary for your visit.

Your resolutions shouldn’t stop here. You should also set resolutions to go along with your travel resolutions. Make sense? Here’s an example. If you do take a road trip, then you should also set a goal to unplug during your road trip. Or, if you set a resolution to explore a new city, then you should set a goal to try a new dish while you are in that city. Bottom line, set some travel resolutions and have fun.

Thank you to travel blogger Carla Pruitt. You can follow Carla on Twitter at @crobscarla 

Perfect Barbados - beaches, fish, diving


Tropical beaches, underwater adventures, sugar cane fields, colonial buildings and oh the fantastic seafood – Barbados is a wonderful ‘getaway’ destination for adventure or simply relaxing.  The majority of visitors to the island step off a cruise ship, unfortunately for them, they usually only have a day to explore the island which has so much to offer.  We counted ourselves extremely fortunate as we flew in to spend a full week, enjoying every minute.  We like to ‘go local’ and staying in a vacation home exchange is perfect for us. 
If you enjoy fresh fish, the markets in Oistins (open Tuesday to Sunday) are a perfect place to start.  Over the week we enjoyed freshly caught swordfish, mahi mahi and marlin.  I’m sure everything is fantastic.   Add a little seasoning and lime sauce, then grill (we used a George Foreman) – the result is absolutely wonderful.  At our vacation home we enjoyed a balcony with stunning views over the ocean with perfect sunsets, making every dinner an experience to last in our memories.   If you want to treat yourself and not cook, Oistins is full of local beachside restaurants that will prepare the fresh fish pretty much anyway you desire – our choice, grilled.  Friday night in Oistins is the big party night.  There are bands and DJs set up around the area, good fun for all ages, just be careful as the rum punch goes down pretty easy. 
You are sure to find a great beach in Barbados.  The West Coast is famed for its vast selection from popular resort beaches to quiet beaches where you can enjoy the sand and surf all to yourself.  If surfing is your sport, there are several schools on the island to either get you started or enhance your experience on the waves.  The East Coast boasts much stronger surf (beware as there are also strong currents) and several more challenging surfing spots. 
Take advantage of these Caribbean waters and go snorkeling or scuba diving.  Just in the main Bridgetown bay is a lovely Marine Park with several shipwrecks and plenty of underwater life.  Turtles, lobsters, rays, seahorses and a wide variety of both fish and coral can be enjoyed by both snorkelers and scuba divers.  Travel by boat less than 20 minutes from the main port area and scuba divers can explore many more reefs and wrecks.  The local dive community is proactively attacking the incoming Lionfish problem.  Though beautiful, these are very dangerous to the local ecosystem and if not kept in check will destroy much in their path.  We were fortunate to visit during a local Lionfish festival week where the dive community and restaurants join forces to catch as many Lionfish as possible and then feature them on local menus.  With prizes to team with the most caught, larges and smallest, it was good fun – and for a good cause, the protection of the local reefs and ecosystem.   We dived with Barbados Blue (they also run snorkeling trips) and were extremely impressed with their professionalism, safety, guides and equipment. 
Feel like a little night life?  Check out St Lawrence Gap, full of restaurants and bars, all with plenty of smiles to enjoy.  The casual atmosphere of Barbados really makes to all every easy to simply kick back and relax.

If you are fortunate enough to have a luxury vacation home exchange as a base for your Barbados holiday, you might simply choose to spend time relaxing with a great book by the pool or sea.  That is one of the great attractions of Barbados, the extremely warm and friendly people combined with a relaxed atmosphere.  Overall a great location for both recharging your system or exploring some great sites and culture.  Enjoy Barbados.  

Hawaii - Lives Up to the Hype


I, like everyone else in the United States, had heard about Hawaii my whole life.  For some reason, I was not driven to go there the way most people are.  “I’ll be disappointed,” I thought.  “It just really can’t be that great.”  I was wrong; it really is that great.  A little, remote paradise exists right in the middle of the Pacific—uprooted and set free “from the boundless deep” as James Michener so beautifully stated.
With an average daytime temperature of 85° F (29.4° C) at sea level in the summer, and 78° (25.6° C) in the winter, balmy breezes, and mornings which whisper one into wakening, Hawaii is somewhere everyone should visit at least once.
Oahu – The North Shore
A great place to start is the island of Oahu.  On the beautiful North Shore which President Obama favors when he vacations in Hawaii, one can find gorgeous golf courses, stunning beaches, both private and public, and the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie amongst other countless destinations.  Part of the Mission Statement of the Polynesian Cultural Center is to “preserve and portray the cultures, arts and crafts of Polynesia.”  At the center, one can explore representative “villages” of Tonga, Tahiti, Marquesas, Hawaii, Fiji, Aotearoa, and Samoa.  There is a luau buffet available, and the highly-acclaimed evening show will leave you breathless when “blazing fireknives” fly through the air from the skilled hands of the performers.
If you would like to stay on The North Shore, IVHE has a stunning property which looks a bit like Robin Masters’ estate on the 1980’s television show, Magnum P.I.; see this exclusive home swap.
Oahu – The South Shore
For a change of pace, head down to The South Shore where Honolulu, the famous Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head, and the exclusive Waialae Country Club.  While in Honolulu, a visit to the Ala Moana Mall is in order.  The largest outdoor mall in the world, it features such exclusive shops as Chanel and Salvatore Ferragamo along with eclectic, foreign-based shops.  Also in Honolulu, dinner at Michel’s is a culinary pleasure; the pineapple panna cotta is delectable—savor it slowly to take back a pleasant memory of the islands.   While overlooking Waikiki Beach, there are picture-perfect moments at Michel’s like seeing children playing pleasantly until sunset.
The hike to iconic Diamond Head crater looming above Honolulu is well worth the somewhat steep hike; spectacular views wait at the top.
Hawaii is interesting—along with exclusivity, there is also an “of the people” feel to it.  For instance, right next to elegant Waialae Country Club is a public beach; the state of Hawaii works very hard to be inclusive as well as exclusive.  Perhaps it is the potpourri of people which inspires such a combination.  The many cultures in Hawaii add to its richness; there is no other state like it in America.
If your tastes run toward the more exclusive in Hawaii, IVHE has several beautiful luxury exchange homes available.  See how it works, and read testimonials.
Learn as I did that Hawaii really does live up to the hype—visit at least once.

Thank you to Sona Schmidt-Harris – Follow me on Twitter @Sonag2000

Golfing in Portugal with Byron Easterling


What better place to experience captivating golf courses and an IVHE luxury home exchange than Portugal.
I was fortunate to interview professional golfer and former tour player, Byron Easterling, who frequented Portugal while pursuing the European SPGA tour.  The qualifying school for the senior tour was held at Pestana Resort courses: Vila Sol Golf, Pinta Golf, Silves Golf. Quinta do Lago and Pinheiros Altos Golf Resort.
Byron enthusiastically shared with me his fondness for the golf community in the Faro district in southern Portugal.  He says, “Faro is the main city.  You can see Algarve on the map, there’s a lot of golf courses in there.  People from all over Europe come to play.  It’s a hot spot for golfers, especially in the winter.”
Doesn’t surprise me that Byron has a liking for Portugal since there are some similarities between Faro and his hometown, Santa Barbara, California.  He explains, “It’s very temperate.  Same temperature all year.  Not a lot of fluctuation.”
The southern part of Portugal is adorned with breathtaking countryside, countless foothills, lots of palm trees and you’re continually close to the water. 
Byron shares, “There’s that ocean feel on the golf courses, not necessarily links, it’s that you’re never more than 20 minutes from the water. Portugal has exquisite sunsets, thanks to its ocean surroundings.  I’d catch them in the evenings when I’d be at the range practicing.”
Southern Portugal is known for their community vibe, warmly welcoming visitors.  With the added bonus of the senior tour qualifying rounds being held in the area, the Portuguese communities embrace these golf tournaments as part of their cultural society.  “I made great relationships with non-participants”, reminisces Byron.
Quaint streets uphold the famous small town European cobblestone flare, with pedestrians and bicyclists enjoying leisurely promenades. 
Yah but ,what about food? Ok ok, I’ll get to the yummy part!
Byron shares, “My favourite choice of beverage is wine which they have both local and international wines available. And of course Port, a great way to finish a meal.  Their port wines are very good.” 
The restaurants are a collection of diverse culture, a flavor of European cuisine.  Inviting patios and stunning marinas contribute to an irresistible atmosphere.  Right off the bay area, close to the boats and docks, are numerous restaurants and pubs to choose from. 
“I enjoyed going to a British pub to watch the soccer game, have a good beer and eat fish and chips.  My caddy and I also found an Italian restaurant where their wines and food were marvelous!” Byron adds, “You’d sit in these places and sure enough people from various different countries would show up, coming down for golf tours to play together with friends and families. We’d end up enjoying festive evenings with great people; people from all over the world!” 
Of course, we must not forget the friendly cafés and delicious specialty coffees.  Byron had a routine: “I had a café after every round.  I’d hang by myself.  They got to know me on the waterfront.  I’d have a coffee and a pastry and sit and do emails and catch up and chat with the locals.”
I asked Byron why he’d encourage people to vacation in Southern Portugal.  He says, “The culture and the atmosphere are so inviting and the people are very warm and of course the courses are great.  Really good golf courses.  People need to go just to experience the atmosphere.”
And which golf courses do you recommend, Byron?  “Karen, I’d promote all the golf courses”, he states confidently.
He adds, “There’s a real honour there amongst the golfers.  And they really do honour good golf.  They welcome everyone and anybody to play.  They make it fun.  They really do make it fun there.”

Thanks Byron for the inspiration.  I think Portugal is calling my name…
Karen Thrall   Business Coach | Golf Fanatic | www.karenthrall.com

For more information on how Home Exchange and Home swapping works for you, download a Free Home Exchange Guide.  

3 Easy Steps to Leaving Your Vacation Home in Good Shape



When you take a vacation, you hope for a truly relaxing experience. Chances are, cleaning is probably not foremost on your mind. However, if you’re taking your next holiday in a home exchange property, making sure that you return the home in good condition should be on your list of to-dos. Just as you’d expect the home you are going to call your own for your stay to be in tip top shape, you are expected to leave your vacation home in good order. Not only is it polite, but it will make sure you stay in good standing with the home exchange provider and the individuals who opened their home to you. Home exchange is a fantastic way to see the world and enjoy a holiday from the comforts of a real home, but because it is a relatively new industry, it can be difficult to discern what the standard operating procedures and appropriate vacation etiquette should be. Knowing the ropes before you prepare for your next home exchange will make sure you’re ready to enjoy the vacation of your dreams, without wondering what you’re supposed to do when you’re ready to pack up your things and say goodbye. With this in mind, here are a few of the key things you should focus on when you’re preparing to disembark:
Take Only Memories
This first item should be pretty self-evident; don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to you when you leave! If the hosts were nice enough to leave you with pantry staples or other items to use during your stay, you should be nice enough to leave them for the next guests to use.  Even if you really, really love that throw pillow or comfy blanket, you’re going to have to resign yourself to leaving it where it is.
Don’t Be a Litter Bug
Everyone occasionally forgets things, it’s just an unfortunate symptom of being a human being. However, you should make sure to do a thorough run through of the home from top to bottom, to ensure you’re not leaving anything behind. Even if you’ve grabbed everything you need, you are still expected to make sure that you’re not leaving behind things that nobody needs, like trash or unwanted items. Make sure you clean out all drawers and do not leave any perishable food items in the fridge. Before you leave, place all trash or used items in the garbage and take out anything that you brought in.
Practice Climate Control
Make sure you don’t leave any unpleasant surprises for your home exchange partners when they return. If they have left you any specific instructions, of course follow them to the letter, but you should also use your own common sense and good judgement to make sure things remain as you found them. Make sure that all exterior doors and windows are shut tightly and locked. Don’t leave the air conditioning at sub-zero, nor the heat up all of the way. Be sure any fire hazards, such as coffee pots and ovens, are safely off.

Taking these extra precautions is not only the right thing to do as a good guest, it will protect you from any potential liability and make sure that you can continue to enjoy the benefits of home exchange. Learning the ins and outs of vacation home exchange ensures that you and your exchange partner both have the best possible experience. To get started, IVHE.com has written a home exchange guide to help you with the basics of how things work, or you may want to browse through their FAQ section to answer more detailed questions on home exchange. Reading up on good etiquette is always a great start, too (for instance, Diane Gottsman’s guide to good hotel etiquette), but since a home exchange is such a wonderfully unique experience, you should prepare yourself for its particular set of rules (both written and unwritten) as well.

Thank you to travel writer Emma Sledge.  

Gone to the Pub - Best of Britain


The iconic British Pub, short for “Public House” is as much a part of British life as Fish and Chips, the Royal Family and the Union Jack.  Considered to be much more than a local watering hole, the village pub is thought to be a meeting place, a place of entertainment and an extension of one’s own home.  No need for locals to leave their dog behind as it’s commonplace for dog owners to bring their pooch to the pub with them.  You’ll often find folks engaged in a card game with a table of friends while they warm up by the roaring fire.  Make no mistake, though, the beer is definitely the main attraction.  After returning to America after 5 years of living in the UK, the cozy pubs of England are what I miss most about the British culture I left behind.  It’s a pastime nearly impossible to duplicate on this side of the Atlantic. 

There are certain unwritten rules associated with frequenting local pubs.  For starters, know that table service is nonexistent.  Customers need to place their orders at the bar.  I’ve had countless friends tell the tale of overseas visitors who popped into the local pub and stormed out after experiencing what they considered “the worst service ever.”  Those stories were always amusing to me so I can only image the pleasure the bar staff takes when foreigners unfamiliar with the protocol visit their establishment.  When it comes to tipping the bar staff, it is not only not expected but it’s simply not done.  You may offer to buy the barman or barmaid a drink but even that’s not considered common practice. 

There are an abundance of choices available when ordering in a pub so they prefer you don’t show up asking for “a beer.”  Among the top picks are Bitters, Pale Ales, Mild/Brown Ales and Porter/Stouts to name a few.  Ciders are very popular particularly in the southwestern part of the country and are usually made from fermented apple juice.  Wines and spirits are also available to order, along with soft drinks, coffee and, needless to say, tea.  My mother came to visit once and ordered a martini at our local pub.  She was served vodka in a spotted water glass with a few drops of lemon juice.  Martinis are not in their wheelhouse.  Stick with what they know.

If you enjoy something to nibble on with your pint then you’re in luck. In recent years the trend has been to offer pub goers more than the traditional bar snacks offered from years gone by.  Some pubs will offer a menu of British classics while many are now offering a large menu selection of higher quality dishes.  There has also been a trend in recent years towards “Gastropubs.”  These pubs are a more formal dining experience offering a variety of higher-end entrees.

Pub names add to the charm of the experience.  One of the most popular pub names is “The Swan”, a symbol used commonly in coats of arms.  Swans are commonly spotted in the UK.  Each one is owned by the Queen and therefore protected by British law.  Some pubs are named to reflect an experience that is believed to have occurred at the establishment.  Among my favorites is the historic tale of the landlady of a pub who one day found all her ducks dead in the garden.  She didn’t want to waste them so she quickly plucked them to prepare them for cooking.  While finishing up, she noticed the ducks appeared to be coming back to life.  She later discovered a leaking beer barrel surrounded by webbed footprints.  As the story goes, she was so remorseful about plucking their feathers that she knit little jackets for them to wear until their feathers grew back.  The pub is appropriately named “The Drunken Duck.”

I couldn’t leave England without having a pint in the country’s oldest pub.  There is a fair amount of controversy surrounding who is the actual bearer of that title.  There is nothing more prestigious to a bar owner than to be known as “Britain’s Oldest Pub.”  I decided to use Guinness World Records as my tie-breaker and went with “Ye Olde Fighting Cocks”, known by the locals as “The Cocks”…true story.  Located in Hertfordshire, this octagonal-shaped pub was once a pigeon house.  It claims to date back to 973 and has the incredibly low ceilings to prove it.  The name is a reference to the sport of cockfighting which at one time had taken place there.  You won’t be able to catch a show there these days but it’s certainly well worth the field trip.

International Vacation Home Exchange has luxury properties around the world including several charming, character homes all across England.  No matter which one you choose there is sure to be a village pub nearby which  you  can call your local.  Order a pint up at the bar like a local before finding a cozy nook by the crackling fire and know that hundreds of years’ worth of thirsty patrons before you have done just that, right in that very spot. 


Thank you to Travel Blogger Lisa Medeiros, follow her on twitter at @lisamedeiros_

Hiking Trails for People with Disabilities


Hiking is considered one of the world’s most loved pastimes. America has a lot to offer hikers, from the Appalachian Trail to the Big Santa Anita Canyon Trail, there are fantastic hikes to be had all throughout the country. Whether you’re on the east coast or the west, in the wetlands of the south or the mountains of the north, you’ll find a beautiful place to hike. There are sights to behold across the country and a hiking trail can provide the perfect vantage point to take it all in. For the millions of people with disabilities, hiking can seem like a difficult undertaking. However, America has taken big steps to make hiking accessible for all. Legislation passed under the Americans with Disabilities Act has changed the requirements for many parks in order to make them more accessible. There are plenty of resources and guides for those with disabilities who are interested in hiking. Hiking is a worthwhile pastime for anyone, but can be a particularly useful source of exercise and relaxation for those with a disability. With the increasing prevalence of accessible hiking trails, the world truly opens up to those who may have previously had limited access.

If you are seeking accessible trails in the US, your first stop should probably be a database of accessible hiking trails, such as the WWSDW’s list of accessible hiking trails by state. For more specific accessibility requirements, there are listings that include TrailLink’s database of “wheelchair accessible trails by state.”  If you are looking for a more comprehensive list of all of the trails in your state that have been made to be accessible to those with disabilities, many offer an index of all of the trails in the area that fit the bill. With this many resources available, those with disabilities can get out and enjoy the splendor of nature from wherever they are in the states. There are plenty of online resources dedicated to connecting those with disabilities with accessible hiking trails, parks, and other natural wonders. With these improvements in the accessibility of America’s park systems, it’s now possible for those with disabilities to see the country in a whole new way.
Whether you’re visiting a new city or looking to explore your own backyard, taking a hike is a great way to get exercise and fresh air. If you’re looking for more hiking ideas for your next vacation, IVHE.com has its page for hiking around the world. Once you’ve been bitten with the hiking bug, you’ll find yourself searching for hiking trails every time you take a vacation and even planning holidays around the best hiking spots. IVHE also allows you to search for properties that have nearby hiking/walking trails, so you can continue to explore the great outdoors in America and across the globe. It’s a rewarding hobby that increases self-sufficiency, encourages a healthy lifestyle, inspires a lifelong love of the outdoors, and makes for a lifetime of great stories and even better memories. America bills itself as a land of equal opportunity, so it is only fitting that its national trails be accessible for all to enjoy.

Thank you to travel blogger Emma Sledge. 

Is Travel Insurance worth the Investment?


Whenever I travel abroad, I always wrestle with the decision on whether or not to purchase travel insurance. I can either play it safe and invest the extra money for peace of mind, or simply roll the dice. Travel insurance comes in a few different flavors: trip cancellation or interruption; loss or damage to personal items; and emergency travel medical insurance. The cost of the abovementioned insurances can depend on the length of the trip, the destination, and the number of travelers.

Before you begin to weigh the pros and cons, there are a few things you should research. First, begin with your own health insurance plan. When I went to Brazil, my husband and I were covered if we needed medical treatment. My health insurance would even cover a medical evacuation. Thankfully, we never needed to use our health insurance while in Brazil. Not all health insurance plans cover medical costs while traveling. Be sure to check with your provider. If the provider doesn’t cover medical expenses, you can look into companies that will allow you to purchase travel health insurance.
 
You should also review your homeowners and auto policies to see what is covered when you travel. For example, damage or a loss of your personal property may be covered under your homeowner’s policy. For my trip to Brazil, our policy did in fact cover any damage or loss of personal property while traveling. You can find out what is covered by simply calling your insurance agent.

What you will need to purchase is trip cancellation insurance. I would recommend you purchase travel insurance, especially if you are booking vacation abroad and especially if you are booking the trip several months in advance. Let’s say you booked a trip to Europe to stay at one of our International Vacation Home Exchange properties. Then, a few weeks before you are scheduled to leave, something happens and you need to cancel your trip. Travel insurance can provide reimbursement for ticket costs due to trip cancellation arising from illnesses, injuries, or natural disasters. The reasons for a canceled trip usually have to meet specific definitions before you can obtain a reimbursement. Missing your flight because you overslept is not going to cut it. You may also need a doctor’s note if you claim an illness or injury forced you to cancel your trip. Travel insurance may also cover your expenses in the event of a terrorist attack, political evacuation, and the cost to replace a lost or stolen passport.

Of course everyone has different situations, so considering travel insurance is always a good process.  If you are interested in purchasing travel insurance for you next vacation, you can do so a few different ways. You can purchase travel insurance through travel agents or travel suppliers. You can also purchase insurance from companies directly and online. If you do opt to purchase insurance online, be sure you are working with a reputable company. If you live in the United States, you can check out the US Travel Insurance Association website for additional information. Also, be sure to talk to one of our IVHE travel coordinators about our trip cancellation policies regarding vacation home exchanges.


Thank you to travel guest blogger Carla Pruitt. You can follow Carla on Twitter at @crobscarla.

From Fine Art to the Fetid Funk of Lowbrow Casinos, Vegas Baby!


“Everything and anything you want to do, you can do in Las Vegas.” - Drew Carey

One of the wonderful things about Las Vegas is that one can be a spectator (or a voyeur depending upon the context) in numerous settings—both highbrow and lowbrow; there is the glamorous flash and cash element and the gritty underbelly which some people adore.  If you think you’re not a Las Vegas kind of person, think again; it has more to offer than you imagine . . .
Casino Hopping
You don’t need to be staying at a particular hotel/casino to enjoy what Las Vegas has to offer; in fact, most people “casino hop” from one to another on (and off) The Strip (where the main casinos are).  You might enjoy a luxury home exchange through International Vacation Home Exchange even more than a hotel.  This will give you more freedom to “casino hop.”  Each casino has its own character, and after a couple of nights on The Strip, you’ll discover which ones you like best.
The Bellagio
The Bellagio is mine and many others’ favorite casino.  The Bellagio’s fountains, made more famous by the movie, “Ocean’s Eleven,” seem to dance to music and lights; the crowds never get tired of watching, and there is always applause after every show.  The best thing is that it is free! 
Surprising to some is the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art.  Though the gallery is small, the art is first-rate; the current show is “Picasso:  Creatures and Creativity.”  It’s wonderful that world-class art has come to Las Vegas.  There are “Art and Wine:  A Perfect Pairing” events.  What better way to enjoy a glass of wine than looking at great art? 
Don’t miss The Bellagio Arcadia.  Near the hotel lobby, a floral masterpiece looms.  Designed by talented horticulturalists, this elaborate creation celebrates each season; a special display is also meticulously fashioned for the Chinese New Year.
If you want a feast for the eyes, look out over the pool area; it is so elaborate that I could almost feel my blood turning blue gazing upon the opulence.
Another feature of The Bellagio which I love is the pastry shop; the next time I am in Las Vegas, I will definitely revisit and get myself some more delectable treats. 
My very good-looking cousin became part of the charm of The Bellagio; after her first visit there, she chose to live in Las Vegas, and began working at The Bellagio. This place can entrance!  It even smells good—I’m not sure how they do it, as smoking is allowed in most casinos.
The Paris, Las Vegas
The Paris, Las Vegas is, as one might guess, a French-inspired hotel and casino.  A creperie within the hotel, “La Creperie,” is definitely worth a visit; the crepes (what else?) are delicious!
The Venitian®
As one can see, Las Vegas hotels/casinos borrow from the great cities of the world; and though The Venitian® hotel cannot replace the one and only Venice, it does a good job creating an elaborate, Italian-themed hotel.  There is a canal system of sorts set up both inside and outside the hotel, and “gondoliers” sing to casino guests as they row them around.  It was actually quite fun, and the shopping is fantastic.
The Orleans
Off The Strip is The Orleans Hotel & Casino.  A bit gritty, I enjoyed going in there just for the classic Las Vegas experience, and though it may seem incongruent, I received some really great pampering in their spa.  They have also drawn some big names in for entertainment.
Old Las Vegas – Fremont Street
Experiencing old downtown Las Vegas is a little like an American boardwalk amusement park, only more well-lit.  There is a covered mall-type environment with great, tacky Las Vegas treasures; also nearby are old hotels falling to the wayside yet somehow still kicking.  They have added a zip line above the madness below, and people-watching from above is just plain fun.
Sexpresso
My favorite, quintessential Las Vegas idea for a business was Sexpresso. Sexpresso was a way to get your morning coffee and see scantily-clad women at the same time.  The cup sizes were labeled as women’s bra sizes.  Though I never frequented Sexpresso, imagine my disappointment when I learned it had closed.  I’m sure that Las Vegas being Las Vegas has come up with another creative, sensual idea such as Sexpresso—perhaps you’ll find the latest one.
IVHE.com has Several Luxury Home Exchange Options in Las Vegas
There are several exclusive home exchange options in Las Vegas and/or the surrounding area.   An especially lovely home exchange is available in Henderson, Nevada, a suburb of Las Vegas.  Henderson is a residential area and has some lovely desert gardens surrounding big homes.  If you actually want to get some sleep while in Las Vegas, this home is a great choice!
Whether you are going to Las Vegas for gambling, sensual delights, or just out of curiosity, Las Vegas really does have something to offer everyone.

This travel blog entry is dedicated to the late Rod Abbassi, long-time Las Vegas resident and desert dweller. - Sona Schmidt-Harris  sonag_2000@yahoo.com

Brilliant Coastal Holidays


It's that wonderful, magical time of year. Traditionally, we all gather at the family home; enjoy a bit of cheer; over indulge in feasting; and wonder why it all seems to fall short of the expectations created for us by Currier & Ives or the television holiday specials. But, somehow, snow and ice are considerably less magical in the real world. Things tend to pile up and those ‘last minute holiday miracles’ seem to be a lot harder to come by.
So… what if there was a way to work a miracle and bring some new spark to your Holidays? What if you could transport yourself and your loved ones to a magical place to spend those precious days? And better yet, what if it was warm!  
Well, now you can. By taking advantage of a holiday vacation home exchange you can spend the winter holiday in balmy comfort. Take a moment to consider just how wonderful it would be to spend your holiday at the sea shore. Imagine taking the sun on a beach; sipping your favorite holiday beverage; and thinking about all those poor souls up north who are huddled around the Yule log trying to stay warm.
While they might not have the snow associated with the holiday season, folks living in coastal regions know how to celebrate the season. There are many local and regional bazaars for gift shopping, community tree lightings, lighted boat parades and more.
Vacation home exchanges allow you to have the flexibility to arrange a winter getaway for yourself and an intimate partner or for the whole family. Imagine how pleased everyone would be to travel to the Gulf Coast for the  holidays. Talk about a relief for cabin fever! And what a special holiday gift you’ll be giving to your nearest and dearest. A luxury vacation home can have plenty of room for everyone. Plus many of them have loads of desirable  amenities.  Spas, barbecues, fire pits, and exercise rooms are just a few of the desirable extras you’ll find in many exchange homes.
By spending the holidays along the the Atlantic, Gulf, or Mexican Coast you’ll also have the availability of loads of activities which are traditionally enjoyed only in the summertime, even though it’s the dead of winter. Top that off with some real down home coastal cooking and you have holiday magic that surpasses anything found in a greeting card or on film.
If you’re one of those people who enjoys sending out holiday newsletters, can you just picture what your correspondents will say when they read that you spent the holidays eating Cajun shrimp; drinking Mojitos, or that you went deep sea fishing while the kids enjoyed hours of water skiing? You’ll be the envy of everyone you know. And, imagine the rewards you’ll get for referring them to International Vacation Home Exchange so that they can make the same kind of magic for their family next year.
Thank you to the MA Scott writing team for this blog post.

photo credits:
decorated tree and wheel - gotomyrtlebeach.com
lighted boat - southernboating.com


Lovers and Artists Retreat to Carmel, California


Fully and appropriately named Carmel-by-the-Sea, this Shangri-La features exceptional cottages by a stunning coastline.  Truly unique amongst American cities, you’ll be enchanted if you are lucky enough to visit, and may fall in love if you are able to stay.
Wind-worn cypresses with gnarled roots cling to the earth as they face the formidable sea; these cypresses have the appearance of being in motion even when the air is still, imprinting a strange rousing in the soul.  The late landscape painter Francis McComas called it, “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world.”
It’s no wonder that former mayor, Clint Eastwood, was willing to take a nominal fee just for the privilege of presiding over the artistic village.
Even as a child, I knew that Carmel-by-the-Sea was special.  As most children, I was interested in the beach more than the restaurants and shops.  It was a foggy, cool day when I played on Carmel Beach, yet I wanted to linger.  We drove through the middle of town and I listened to my parents ooh and ah at the quaint shops, cottages, and restaurants; it gave me the feeling of being in a land from a fairytale—not a common feeling in the United States.

Artists knew and know that Carmel-by-the-Sea is special as well, and following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, a group of them migrated to Carmel and formed a colony of creative folk devoted to the artistic lifestyle.  Carmel’s roots are apparent throughout the village with beautiful art galleries flavoring the already magnificent, natural setting.
Writer Robert Louis Stevenson reportedly spent some time in Carmel, and poet Robinson Jeffers built a castle-type home, Tor House, facing the ocean.
The climate maintains nearly year-long “sweater weather” (60s Fahrenheit and in the teens Celsius), which has a dreamy, huddling effect both indoors and outdoors.  Don’t resist the sometimes foggy days which only add to the romantic magic—a perfect place for a honeymoon or couples’ getaway.  In fact, Carmel has been voted one of the most romantic cities in America.
For the full Carmel-by-the-Sea experience, try this luxury home exchange cottage, ‘Hob Nob’.  On the historical register, this home is great for snuggling and is authentic Carmel.
Galleries
With approximately 60 galleries in Carmel-by-the-Sea, there is something for virtually every art lover.
Restaurants
One of the delights of Carmel is Clint Eastwood’s, Mission Ranch Hotel & Restaurant.   With a meadow with grazing sheep, the Pacific, and Point Lobos visible, this is truly a unique dining experience.  The piano bar is a lot of fun and pairs well with the featured American cuisine.
Actress, Doris Day has also had an interest in Carmel.  Her love of animals proved contagious, and Carmel is a very dog-friendly community with numerous restaurants where dogs are allowed.
Mission Carmel
When the Spanish settled California, they built 21 missions designed to be a day’s walk apart.  The Carmel mission is an especially beautiful one.  Founded in 1771, the basilica portion of the mission has 5-foot-thick walls.  The bell tower is in beautiful contrast to the Spanish-tiled roof, and Munrá’s courtyard gives one the feeling of sacred contemplation.
Point Lobos
Point Lobos, south of Carmel, looks like something out of an idealized painting.  The rocky coast and the Pacific are one of the most dramatic convergences on earth.  Besides magnificent views, hiking trails interlace the park and welcome exploration of this exceptional place.  Point Lobos not only invigorates the eyes, but also the olfactory pleasures; as my father says, “The smell there is classic California coast.”
Golf
Some of the finest golf courses in the United States are near Carmel-by-the-Sea.  Pebble Beach, which has hosted the U.S. Open, is considered the best public golf course in the United States.  Also nearby is Spyglass Hill Golf Course, which is one of the toughest courses in the world.

If your tastes run toward inward reflection rather than fun-in-the-sun mentality (or even if you are given to inward reflection right now), visit Carmel-by-the-Sea. Like numerous artists and lovers before you, you may never want to leave.

Thank you to travel blogger Sona Schmidt-Harris 

Start Your Travel Traditions


This holiday season, you will likely overhear friends and family talk about holiday traditions. These traditions can be everything from family gift exchanges to reading a holiday book every night leading up to Christmas. These traditions are typically passed down from generation to generation. But traditions don’t have to stop once the holidays are over. If you are planning a trip here soon, you should consider starting your own travel traditions.

Travel traditions come in many shapes and sizes. I know people who travel to different international destinations every year to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Maybe you have a favorite vacation home exchange you want to visit annually with the entire family. There are many fun ways to begin travel traditions. To help you brainstorm, here is a look at some of my own personal travel traditions.

Book an international vacation every other year. My husband and I love to travel. On even years, we will travel abroad. We’ve been to Mexico, Europe, and South America. Once we return from our trip, we begin saving and planning our next trip. Next year, we are eyeing either Spain or Japan. Click on the links to view International Vacation Home Exchange properties in both countries.

Celebrate Mothers Day (or any holiday or occasion) with a road trip. I am a new mom so this is a new travel tradition for us. Every Mothers Day weekend, we will take a road trip somewhere as a family. Earlier this year, we spent the weekend in St. George, Utah. Some of you may travel to grandma’s house for Thanksgiving as your travel tradition. Make the holidays, or special occasions, excuses to travel. (For tips on surviving that trip to your grandmother’s house during the holiday season, check out this IVHE post).

Keep a travel journal. How you opt to document your travels is strictly up to you. Me? I prefer photos as opposed to words for my journal. Pictures, after all, are worth a 1,000 words. This is a great tradition that you can share with friends and family. Technology also makes it easy for you to save your journal digitally.

Purchase keepsakes from your vacation. I have a collection of picture frames from all of my travels. My mom purchases bells from all the places she visits. Maybe you bring back a rock or some sand. Or you buy a postcard from every city you visit. Whatever it may be, begin a travel tradition to collect keepsakes from your travels.

The great thing about traditions is you can always begin new ones whenever and wherever you want. Whatever that tradition may be, make sure it is special and unique to you.

What are some of your favorite travel traditions? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Thanks to travel writer Carla Pruitt. You can follow Carla on Twitter @crobscarla

What does a travel alert mean?


It was unenviable. The US State Department has issued a worldwide travel alert to all U.S. citizens traveling abroad. Those who aren’t from the U.S., but are also traveling abroad, are encouraged to be on high alert. The advisory comes less than 2 weeks after the terrorist attacks in Paris and Mali. This also comes just ahead of the busy travel season. Does this travel alert mean you should cancel your holiday travel plans? Of-course not. Pack your bags and be sure to bring a camera and money for souvenirs. Your trip to your vacation homeexchange will be amazing. I promise! And let me know how your trip went so I can write about it in the future.

Here’s the thing about a travel alert of this nature: it’s common and it is typically not based on credible intelligence regarding any specific threat. Generally in the weeks following an actual attack (such as the one in Paris), surveillance is high and travel alerts are typically issued. In fact, we’ve seen several travel alerts prior to this one. It is honestly a new normal for travelers.

So what does a travel alert mean for you? Here are a few things to consider:

The trip through the security line at the airport will likely take a little longer. Security authorities will be implementing extra security measures, so be sure to arrive at the airport a little early.

You should expect to see more police presence on trains and buses. If you are concerned about using mass transit in a large city, then consider hiring a taxi or renting a car.

If you are traveling overseas, be aware of your surroundings. You may want to avoid large crowds or crowded places, such as stadiums and malls.

Monitor media and other local sources of information for the latest on any threats of terrorism. There are also a number of websites that will have updated information. These websites are listed below.


There is safety in numbers. When I travel, I am not worried about any potential of terrorist attacks. I am, however, worried about pick-pocketers and those who will take advantage of tourists. One-way to not become a victim is to simply travel with a group of people. In other words, don’t walk around the street alone, or at night.

Notify your embassy of your travel plans. It doesn’t hurt to let your embassy know where you are staying and how long you plan to be in the country.

And be sure to utilize the travel coordinators with International Vacation Home Exchange. These individuals will answer any questions or concerns that you may have about security with your vacation home exchange.

Your upcoming vacation will be amazing. Don’t let recent events stand in the way of a memorable trip. If you are really worried, then it is okay to postpone or cancel your trip. Maybe instead of traveling abroad, you travel to a new city in your own country. And if you do, be sure to check out a list of vacation home exchanges that may be nearby.

Happy travels wherever your destination may be!


Thanks to travel writer Carla Pruitt. You can follow Carla on Twitter at @crobscarla

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