O (Lawd), Canada

Next week, I’m heading to Canada on a road trip with my friend from college, Donald, who is also a prolific traveler (this guy went on two cruises in the same month!).

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This is my first time in Canada, but I already have a short list of things to do and see:

  • Attend the Montreal Jazz Festival. We’ve already gotten our tickets to see Jordan Officer, and as Louisianans, we’ll be wholly prepared for this world renown jazz and blues experience.
  • Try poutine. I had it in New York City a few weeks ago and enjoyed it, but I’m ready for the real deal in Canada.
  • Visit the CN Tower in Toronto, though neither of us are planning on scaling it.
  • Check out the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa.
  • Determine which side of Niagara is better — American or Canadian?
  • Travel the St. Lawrence River and take a walking tour of Quebec City (I always try to maximize the amount of time I spend on the water).

If you’ve been to Canada before, please send me some suggestions! We’ll try to incorporate them as much as possible in our trip, and I’ll blog along the way.

À bientôt, mes amis!

 

 

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On Brazil

brazil-world-cup

In light of Brazil hosting the world cup, I wanted to post some interesting facts about the country:

  • First, let’s all just accept that Shakira has cornered the market on World Cup theme songs (even though her hips don’t lie, she still can’t top the way Ricky moves).
  • The name Brazil comes from the brazilwood tree.
  • The largest country in South America, Brazil is also home to approximately 2,500 airports.
  • Brazil takes up 47 percent of the continent of South America.
  • The Christ Redeemer in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, is one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
  • Scientists believe the first settlers in Brazil arrived 32,000 years ago.
  • The Portuguese began settling Brazil in 1500 A.D. Today, it is the largest Portuguese-speaking nation in the world, nearly 19 times the population of Portugal.
  • There are 13 cities in Brazil whose populations exceed 1 million people. 43 percent of all Brazilians live in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
  • More than half of all Brazilians consider themselves to be of European origin (Portugal, Italy, Spain, Germany and Eastern Europe). More than 44 percent are black or of mixed-race (National Geographic).
  • The Nazis planned to establish a South American outpost in Brazil prior to World War II.
  • Brazil is the most Catholic country in the world with more than 123 million self-described believers (followed by Mexico, the U.S. and the Philippines).

Oh, and you probably figured it would be expensive to go to Brazil for the games. But, did you think it would be this expensive?

The Perfect Weekender Bag

Although I consider myself to be somewhat of an expert traveler for both business and pleasure, I’m admittedly guilty of not being the best packer. On a recent European jaunt, I visited two different countries with two entirely different climates. At my mother’s recommendation (she was once a travel agent, so I happily defer to her on such matters), I purchased vacuum-sealed travel bags, so I could cram as much as possible into my checked luggage. It was a great idea, except I didn’t have a vacuum with which I could seal the bags for my return to the States, so rushing to throw everything together the morning of my departure from London was quite stressful.

I had also accumulated a lot of things over the course of my journey, from books to shoes. Upon my arrival at the baggage drop at Gatwick, the IcelandAir representative alerted me to the fact that my bag was way over the weight. By how much, I’ll never know, as it was in kilos and, quite frankly, they might as well have been gazintas. The nice Icelandic lady attempted to explain to me that I could move some things to my carry-on so I wouldn’t have to pay a fee, but my carry-on was a small backpack, so nothing more would fit. I was stuck paying more than $100 in fees on an airline that promises a free checked bag.

So, in order to avoid this headache on a future flight and to prevent cramming everything into a giant suitcase for a Canadian excursion in two weeks, I conducted a bit of crowd-sourcing. I asked my friends on Facebook, “Where can I buy a weekender/duffel bag for women that is NOT Vera Bradley? ” For those curious about the gender caveat, I don’t care for Vera Bradley’s bags and most of the carry-ons I see are designed with men in mind.

I got some great responses, so I’ll share with you the best ideas friends offered (after I filter out the sarcastic replies from my pals who see social media as their stage at improv night):

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The Truth About Discount Travel Deals

If you live in a city of more than 5, chances are you’re subscribed to LivingSocial or Groupon emails. If you’re unfamiliar, these are websites that sell vouchers for products, services and events (vacations, concerts and such) at highly discounted rates. You could get a pedicure for $14, a flight and four-night stay in the Bahamas for $599, a ticket to a James Taylor concert for $20 (I snagged that deal!) or yoga classes for $40. Obviously, these seem like great deals.

But, caveat emptor if you are considering purchasing your next vacation with one of these discount sites. Christopher Elliot, Washington Post writer and travel blogger, says you should think twice before clicking “buy.” LivingSocial has faced its own set of challenges, including plummeting profits and a dwindling staff, and reviews from unsatisfied customers probably won’t help.

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My Home State Takes Center Stage

Map courtesy of Louisiana Office of Tourism.

Map courtesy of Louisiana Office of Tourism.

Tonight, my home state of Louisiana is hosting the Miss USA competition, thanks in part to a motion picture tax credit that has made the Pelican State the #1 place to film in the U.S. While Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on our home, it also brought a renewed interest for the land of Mardi Gras, those boys in black and gold, alligators, winding oak-lined roads, tasty food, plantation homes and a people whose joie de vivre is the envy of the world.

As a result, Louisiana’s tourism industry has enjoyed record-breaking growth. Last year alone, 27.3 million people — nearly seven times the state’s population — visited La Louisiane. Whether for work or for fun, there are a lot of reasons to visit.

Here are my top 25 ways to “pass a good time” in Louisiana:

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How a $458 International Fare Becomes $1,165

I’m planning to visit the U.K. in a few months, so I’ve been looking through flight schedules to see what my options might be. Although I’ll likely pay with miles, I took a look at how the fare broke down. Now, I’ve always been aware that the fare itself is often significantly cheaper than the taxes and fees on an international flight, but I was still a bit surprised by what I learned.

As some background on the flight I chose, I searched Delta.com for an eight-day roundtrip fare from Washington – Dulles International Airport (IAD) to London, Great Britain (LON). Delta assigned its partner airline, Virgin Atlantic, and set me up for an arrival at London – Heathrow Airport (LHR). I didn’t select any upgrades, and I didn’t opt for a “Pay with Miles” eligible trip.

Here’s how a $458 airfare becomes $1,165:

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Washingtonians, Time to Try IcelandAir

A few months ago, I organized an incredible trip with seven friends to Iceland (much, much more on that later), and we flew IcelandAir from Washington – Dulles International Airport (IAD) to Keflavik International Airport (KEF) outside of Reykjavik, Iceland. The price of our ticket? A whopping $580 (which is actually quite pricey for that flight in the winter). Our trip from D.C. to Reykjavik took less than five hours and we landed just as the sun appeared from behind the moss-covered cliffs of the Icelandic countryside.

If you can get past its staggeringly antiquated website, flying with IcelandAir is a great experience. There was WiFi available for the entire flight, and the seats were pretty comfortable. You have your choice of English language in-flight entertainment, both British and American, as well as Icelandic programming. IcelandAir also shows videos on Icelandic tourism on-board, which are both hilarious and informative. Even their safety video has garnered international attention for being, well, utterly Icelandic. Also, be sure to try the Icelandic Water they offer upon boarding the plane — it’s delicious.

I emphatically recommend visiting Iceland because it truly exceeded every expectation I had. After its economic collapse in 2008, the country sought to attract more Americans (and it worked — we saw Americans everywhere). The jaw-dropping flight deals are even sweeter when coupled with super low hotel rates. Now, it’s quite expensive once you actually arrive in Reykjavik, but getting there and staying there can be done quite cheaply.

But, you don’t have to be heading to the land of elves to fly IcelandAir. In fact, IcelandAir is known for its cheap flights from the U.S. to Europe. Since all of their flights to the rest of Europe stop in Reykjavik for a layover anyway, IcelandAir has a pretty savvy idea to attract tourists: you can enjoy a stay in Iceland en route to your final destination for no additional airfare. So, if you’re heading from New York City to, say, Copenhagen, you’d simply book your fare to Copenhagen using their special search engine and add a stay in Iceland (I’d recommend three days/two nights to see Golden Circle, Reykjavik and Blue Lagoon).

And if you live in D.C., there’s never been a better time to try out IcelandAir. The airline is celebrating year-round service from the capital city with a contest – #icelanDChase – that includes free plane tickets.

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