Tulum, Mexico: Traveling During A Pandemic To A Boho Chic Paradise.

It has been a dream of mine to take a vacation in Tulum, Mexico for some time.  I have spent time in Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, but had only visited Tulum for the day on past trips.  I loved it so much that after spending time there on a couple of day trips, I dedicated months researching condos for sale, coming very close to purchasing one.  If you look in my “About Me” section of this blog, one of my goals was to retire in Tulum.  Quite a statement after only taking a couple of day trips there.  I guess it’s safe to say I fell in love on my day trip visits, so you can imagine my excitement to plan a two week trip!

Tulum is located about a two hour drive south of Cancun, and close to the border of Belize.  It has a very boho chic vibe with crystal clear Caribbean waters, and white powder sand beaches.  It’s paradise!

Mexico has always held a very special place in my heart.  I got married in Zihuatanejo, renewed my vows in Puerto Vallarta, celebrated my husband’s 40th in Cabo San Lucas, and have spent time in a total of eight different locations in Mexico.

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After several cancelled and postponed trips since the pandemic hit, I was thrilled to hear that Tulum had opened up for tourism.  Yes, I was nervous to travel.  Yes, I was very nervous to fly.  And yes, I was nervous to be out of my own country while the positive cases around the world were present.  That being said, I was also VERY itchy to take a trip!  After months of shelter in place (aka quarantine), I had made a choice that (for me) it was time to get back to enjoying life.  It was time to start living with the virus, and not hiding from it.  Certainly not questioning the seriousness of this issue.  I find it to be very serious!  However, fear had been controlling my mind set, and physical actions for months.  I don’t feel that the fear completely left me until I arrived at my hotel in Tulum.  I was overtaken by the peaceful paradise on the beautiful beach.

Accomodations

I chose to stay at the Diamante K.  And let me tell you, this is not your average hotel!  It fits right in with the vibe of Tulum, and delivers very boho chic accommodations.  It is a beachfront hotel located in a National Park, and is just 2.5 kilometres from the ruins.  It offers cabana style rooms with thatch roofs, beach club, restaurant, bar, and spa.  We enjoyed a very relaxing oceanfront couples massage that was much needed after a long flight.  Upon arriving, my husband and I were checked in to the most beautiful suite!  Our room looked directly at the ocean.  We were so close to the ocean that I could throw a rock into the water from our room.  Of course my first order of business was to get a fresh squeezed spicy margarita.  As I was ordering “fresh squeezed”, the bartender giggled and said that I didn’t need to order it that way as all the drinks were fresh squeezed.  Ahhhh….jackpot!  The food was amazing too.  I ate breakfast there almost every day, and switched between the huevos divorciados (divorced eggs) and huevos rancheros.  So good!  Lunch and dinner were just as delicious.  I had my fair share of fresh fish, ceviche, and guacamole.  The food and drinks were superb, and very reasonable.

Back to our room…we had a bathroom that was completely outdoors.  Outdoor showers in the jungle make me happy!  I never sleep well on my first few nights of being somewhere new.  So, I enjoyed the most picturesque sunrises right from my room, or I would take a few steps outside and sit oceanfront to watch the show.  I’m not a morning person at home, so this was really refreshing to enjoy this time of day.  The birds seem to come alive at sunrise, and are peacefully loud.  It’s really nothing less than paradise.  One huge bonus about this hotel is that there are no TV’s on the property.  This couldn’t have come at a better time in my life.  Just what the doctor ordered to take a mental break from the chaotic news going on at home in the USA.

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My beautiful suite at the Diamante K.
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Beach Club at Diamante K.
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We should have had our names engraved in these exact seats!  Aside from eating and drinking here, we finished off almost every evening with a night cap while staring at the moon.
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Grounds of Diamante K.
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My outdoor bathroom at the Diamante K.  Outdoor showers make me happy!  🙂

Transportation

The Diamante K is pretty close to the Hotel Zone, and downtown Tulum, however it is not walkable.  We tried our hand at the cute beach bikes, but it was just too hot to get around this way for our liking.  We then rented a little jeep that looked like a toddler toy, and broke down twice.  Lastly we tried a motor bike/scooter.  There are not many people that I would trust to ride on a scooter with, but my husband happens to be one I do.  We rented from Tours R Us, who gave us a great deal.  They had the best selection of vehicles that we had seen in our entire two week stay.  They are located in the heart of the Hotel Zone, and offer much more than scooters.  I highly recommend!

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Thank you Tours R US!
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Tours R Us for all your transportation needs.  Located in the heart of the Hotel Zone.

Hotel Zone/Downtown Tulum

A boho chic vibe is my favorite kind of vibe, which is why I probably love it so much here.  Tulum is sort of a Miami-meets-jungle kind of place.  There are amazing restaurants, beach clubs, and bars.

Favorite Restaurants:  It is so hard to share my favorite restaurant.  I literally did not have one bad meal in my entire two weeks.  If f I have to choose, it would be Hartwood.  We ate at so many great places but this was my favorite meal.  I had tuna tostadas, a whole fish, and passion fruit spicy margaritas.  Very cool ambiance and thumping chill music. If you are looking for a more casual meal, my favorite cheap eat in the Hotel Zone is the outdoor food truck bar named Tulumunchies.  It has several food trucks that offer tacos, burgers, pizza, and poke bowls.  We opted to eat here several times throughout the trip.

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Tulumunchies surrounded by food trucks for the cheap eat win!

Favorite Bar:  Hands down Clan-Destino!  This is a very casual bar with a DJ, and a cenote in the middle.  It tripped me out when we walked in to find people swimming in the little cenote at night.  Very fun place!

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Clan-Destino.  My favorite bar with a cenote in the middle.

Favorite Beach Club:  Papaya Playa Project.  This place is absolutely awesome!  We came here for the day, and reserved a bed on the beach.  The club has a DJ with sand as a dance floor, pool, and awesome restaurant and bar.  It wasn’t the cheapest stop, but it was one of our favorite days spent in Tulum.

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Papaya Playa Project.  My favorite beach club!

Downtown Tulum:  On nights where we felt like changing it up a bit, and spending a little less money, we would head to downtown Tulum.  My favorite dinner here was at Burrito Amor.  The burritos come wrapped in banana leaves, and they pride themselves on clean ingredients.  Delish!  This area is also where we scored all of our souvenirs to bring home.

Activities & Tours 

After days of unwinding and getting to know Tulum, we were ready to do some exploring.  I took a friend’s suggestion, and booked a tour to the Sian Ka’an Bioreserve.  This tour was booked by our hotel, through a company called Mayikal Experiences, and boy did we luck out!  We had the most knowledgeable guide, who not only was a great deal, but was also a blast to spend the day with.  He made sure we saw dolphins, huge turtles, and 1,000 pound bird nests.  He led us snorkeling to swim with sting rays, huge schools of fish, and lobsters.  The water was some of the most beautiful water I have ever seen in my life.  I’m sure I have written this in past posts, but this time I mean it.  Haha.  It was truly crystal clear!  My hubby did back flips off the back of the boat as we enjoyed our day frolicking.  We finished it off with an ocean front fresh lobster lunch.  Absolutely perfect day!  I can not recommend this tour, and the tour company enough!  Because of Covid, Sian Ka’an would not allow tours with people who were not from the same family, so we got private!  Such a great day!

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Perfect day at Sian Ka’an.
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Can’t take a vacay without getting in the backflips.

My second choice for exploring Tulum would be to visit the cenotes.  There are over 6,000 cenotes in the area available for endless exploring.  We had planned to do the cenotes at the end of our trip.  Don’t ask me how two weeks came and went so quickly, but all of a sudden the end of the trip had shown it’s face (to our disappointment).  We ended up not wanting to trade one of our very last days of relaxation for the cenotes because we had visited them on our last trip.  So we skipped it this time.  If you are new to this area, exploring the centoes are a must!

Photo Ops

Tulum has some very famous photo ops.  My favorite was Daniel Popper’s towering wooden sculpture Ven A La Luz, which stands at the entrance to the Ahau Hotel .  Be prepared to wait in line to get this photo.  Also, don’t visit in the middle of the day because the sun is right above you, and the lighting is much too bright.  Go in the morning or evening.  A trip to Casa Malca is sure to give you some great pics as well!  This was Pablo Escobar’s mansion that was turned into an artsy hotel.  Very beautiful property!  I was so bummed to see that Azulik was closed.  I was hoping to explore that beautiful property as well, and enjoy a sunset dinner above the trees in one of their dining nests.  Next time!

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Ven A La Luz
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Casa Malca.  Pablo Escobar’s mansion in a previous life.

 

What It Was Like In Tulum During The Pandemic

I felt very safe in Tulum with the Pandemic going on.  Besides the fact that being surrounded by paradise made me forget about it completely, Tulum did take lots of precautions to keep the virus at bay.  All hotels, restaurants, and bars were limited to a 30% occupancy.  We were required to temperature check, and wash/sanitize hands before entering most places.  All of the staff we encountered in the Hotel Zone wore a mask, however tourists were not required unless entering a store-like establishment.  We were required to wear a mask entering places of business in downtown Tulum.  Most of the tours surrounding Tulum were open, some cenotes were open, however the ruins were closed.  Because our hotel was located in a National Park (which was also closed), the only people that could come near our hotel were guests that were staying there or people who had made reservations to enjoy the facilities.

As we all know, we are living in a world that is changing by the day.  What I experienced could be different by the time you read this.  The best bet is to contact the hotel you are considering prior to travel to ask how the current Covid situation is in Tulum.

Tips

Here are the items I did not use on my trip:  1)  High heels.  Although I saw many gals very glammed up at the higher end places, I opted to stay in sandal flats.  I did a lot of walking, with a lot of time spent at the beach, so heels just didn’t work for this trip.  I was either barefoot or in sandals the entire time.  2)  Curling iron.  Save the weight in your bag and leave it at home.    It’s absolutely pointless with the humidity and heat.  3) Workout bands and shoes.  OOPS!  I was having too much fun to workout, although yoga classes are huge in the area.  3)  Really dressy clothes.  I couldn’t get out of my bathing suit and cover ups.  LOL!  For the guys…my husband also didn’t wear anything dressy.  He lived in shorts, tank tops, and flip flops.

Make sure to bring cash with you everywhere!  Many businesses only accept cash.

Final Thoughts

All in all, I came to find out that although I have LOVED all of my travels in Mexico, Tulum takes the cake as my favorite.  It is definitely a place that I will visit again and again.  That’s saying a lot because I don’t usually like to repeat destinations.

One thing this trip deeply reminded me of was that I travel to have balance in my life.  It’s important to feed your soul with what makes you happy, and for me that is traveling.  I need to escape reality sometimes!  With the pandemic, I was neglected balance in my life.  I had been glued to the scary news every day.  I was also getting way too emotionally involved in the chaos going on in the USA.  This trip gave me back my balance.  With no TV’s available, I was forced to listen to crashing waves in lieu of the news.  And guess what???  As I’m sitting here writing this blog from back home, I have yet to turn on the news this entire week.  I think I’m avoiding it at this point, as I’m still riding the mental high from this trip.  Tulum gave me back my balance when I needed it most, and reminded me to enjoy my life no matter what is going on around me.

PS…YouTube video is on the way!

 

 

Panama City, Panama: Old World Charm Meets Modern Day.

I flew into Panama City on a red eye and was lucky to be picked up by business associates of my husband, who gave us a tour of the city.  I learned a lot in those three hours, along with having the best empanada of my life.  Street food is safe to eat in Panama, and delicious!  There are also fresh juice stands which are quite common, and so refreshing.  I had two large fresh juices, which didn’t quite sit well with my three hour car ride.  Best to always have quarters on you in Panama City as the bathrooms are public, but cost 25 cents.  I learned interesting facts along this tour, such as the tap water is safe to drink, everything is negotiable in Panama (even the high end retail stores), and I got a detailed explanation of the definition of a Push Button.  A “Push Button” in Panama is a very private motel (aka a love motel).  Complete discretion and privacy is the main goal of these establishments.  They are called “Push Button” because typically you can pull up to a window, push a button, slide some money through a slot, get a key, and head to a room all without actually seeing a person.  Being that prostitution is legal in Panama, I’m sure these motels come in quite handy for those in need of privacy.  This was personally not the most useful information to me, however it made for a very comical conversation.  Our final stop along the tour was at the Fish Market for some ridiculously delicious, fresh, and cheap ceviche.  After a red eye flight and a three hour tour, I was ready to relax at my hotel.

I decided to stay in the Casco Viejo area of Panama City.  Casco Viejo (Spanish for Old Quarter) is the historic district of Panama City.  It was built following the near total destruction of the original Panama City, which was attacked by pirates in 1671.  I guess you can say it is the new old Panama City.  After reading blog after blog about how this neighborhood is the hip and trendy area of the city, it sounded like a good fit.  In the Casco Viejo neighborhood, you will find a huge difference from the busy metropolis of Panama City.  This area is filled with old world charm of Spanish colonial buildings, boutique hotels, rooftop bars, and amazing restaurants.  You won’t find any chain hotels or restaurants here.  Everything is mom and pop.

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Chasing sunsets on the rooftops of Casco Viejo.
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Casco Viejo at night.
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Panama City metropolis vs Casco Veijo neighborhood.

I booked a room at the absolutely stunning American Trade Hotel.  It is located in the heart of Casco Viejo, and everything you would want to see in this area is within walking distance.  This hotel is the epitome of mixing old world charm with modern day luxury.  This is one of the only hotels in the area with a pool.  Let me tell you…it is necessary.  Panama is hot and humid and I did not accomplish to have even one good hair day during my stay.  Back to the hotel….Did I mention it was stunning?  From the beautiful balcony room, food, ambiance, location, pool, grounds, service, adjacent jazz club, bar….I could go on and on.  I spent a lot of time at the hotel on this trip, and it truly made my vacation unforgettable.

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Old world charm meets modern day luxury in the lobby of the American Trade Hotel.
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Having some vino on my beautiful balcony.
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American Trade Hotel.
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Headed in for some smokey scotch, cigar, and smooth jazz at Danilo Perez’s Jazz Club, which is part of the American Trade Hotel.

The food in Panama was phenomenal!  I love to eat, and some of the dishes I had here completely blew my mind….dishes I had never heard of or tasted before.  The cocktails are also superb.  Rum is Panama’s alcohol of choice, however those that read my blogs know that I am a spicy margarita kind of gal.  Panama did not disappoint!  Every cocktail I had was fresh squeezed, and delicious.  As you take the first sip of these drinks, you already want a second one.

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Enjoying some fresh squeezed spicy margaritas at the rooftop bar Casa Casco.

I was only in Panama City for six days.  I can officially say that I ate and drank my way through Casco Viejo.  My favorite dining experience for traditional Panamanian food was Diablicos.  They put on a show while you eat, and it was very lively, and fun.  It is located directly in front of the President’s Palace, so you get to check that out during your walk to/from.  My favorite Rooftop Bar?  Well, I have two!  Casa Casco, which is directly across the street from the American Trade Hotel, is a super chill spot with great drinks and postcard perfect views of Panama City.  If you want a more lively rooftop scene, the best place to go (hands down) is the Tantalo.  It is the closest you will get to a nightclub experience in this area.  It is all outdoor on the rooftop with great music to dance to and a VIP area.  BTW, the restaurant at this hotel is also amazing!  I had my favorite meal of the trip at the Tantalo Kitchen.  It was a clay pot of tamale mash on top of a bed of slow roasted pork.  YUMMMY!

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Eating traditional Panamanian food and enjoying the show at Diablicos.
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Tantalo Rooftop Bar at night.

Ok, I think I have beaten in how great the food and cocktails were in this old world Spanish neighborhood.  On to the Panama Canal!  If you go to Panama City, you simply can’t miss out on visiting the Panama Canal.  It is the number one visited site in Panama.  The Panama Canal is a waterway that has created a shortcut between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans.  It takes ships (on average 8-10) hours to travel the Panama Canal. This compares to 2 weeks if a ship tried to bypass the canal, and travel around South America.  The best place near Panama City to see the ships go through the lock system is Miraflores Visitor Center.  The viewing center is directly in front of the locks, so you get a front row seat to watching these huge ships pass through.  They also have a restaurant buffet where you can eat lunch, and have wine while taking in all the action.  You can visit the museum, and watch a film in both Spanish and English about the history of the Panama Canal.  The best time to visit the Panama Canal changes daily, depending on when ships are scheduled to go through.

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Having a Titanic moment…waving hello and goodbye to ships passing through the Panama Canal.
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When you look at the Panama Canal on a map you can see why they chose this location to create this shortcut.

With one day left to spare, and being so close to so many beautiful islands, I decided it was time for a change of scenery.  I got up at 6:00am to catch a 1.5 hour ferry ride to Contadora Island.  I felt like I had been transported to another world!  It was a small and jungly island with beautiful white sand beaches, and crystal clear waters.  I purchased a day pass from the Mar y Oro Hotel which included lunch, two welcome drinks, and umbrella/chairs on the beach.  It was absolute paradise, and a really relaxing ending to my trip!  If I had one more day (which I always wish I did on vacay), I would have most definitely visited the San Blas Islands.  Here you can rent private cabanas to spend the night in paradise.  The cabanas don’t have much to them. They have no electricity and sand bottom floors.  But who cares, because you can almost have the entire island to yourself for the night.  Although still in Panama, these islands belong to the Kuna Indians On this excursion you can snorkel with star fish, and see how these indigenous people live.  It wasn’t so bad leaving something behind that I was desperate to do and see because now I am anxious to go back.  Until next time Panama!!

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Mar y Oro Hotel on Contadora Island.
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Beautiful Caribbean Ocean of Contadora Island, Panama.
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Contadora Island is a mix of jungle and beach.
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Until next time Panama!

Italy For A Month: How To Plan From Scratch.

So, let’s start from the very beginning…straight-up from scratch.  Probably the most common question that I am asked is how I plan my trips on my own.  Where do I start? Well it usually involves me staring at the computer scratching my head with a glass (ok a bottle) of vino in hand.  And little by little my trips take form.  I hope to write multiple blogs from this 30 day trip to Italy but for this blog, I’m going start with how to plan it.  I did all of this planning on my own and felt so overwhelmed when I started.  This is my story of how my Italy trip came to life.

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I rarely take big trips in the summer.  I always get my big break right after Christmas.  I’m running out of new places on my bucket list to explore in a bikini at Christmas, so this year I opted for a summer vacation.  I chose Italy.   I didn’t know where the heck to start as I really had never vacationed there.  I went about 20 years ago but I just drove across the boarder, and ate lunch.  Doesn’t count.  As always, I was on a budget for this trip, and I knew one month in Italy isn’t cheap.  Hotels were out!  I went VRBO and Airbnb all the way through, and kept my budget at $200 per night.  If you haven’t traveled through these two sites, you are missing out.  Click on this link to join for free and get a credit for your first reservation:  Airbnb They are awesome!

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I was traveling with my husband and two children (ages 8 and 3).  I knew it would be nice (and less expensive) for us to have a kitchen and cook at our rental vs. being in a hotel.  Having to order room service for every meal gets pricey. When I’m vacationing, I’m usually planning my next trip so the more I save from one trip is more I bank for the next.  Also, hotels in Italy don’t work like they do in the USA.  In the states you can get a “double” room and have two double/queen beds.  It is easy to stay with two small children in one room with that bed setup.  In Italy, a “double” room means two twin beds.  If you have four people, you need to upgrade to a suite, and I quickly found that my budget of $200 per night in the areas I wanted was simply not going to fly.  VRBO and Airbnb was the answer for me!

Step 1:  Plan your route.  When you think of Italy, what do YOU want to see?  Me personally… Venice, Rome, and Positano were at the top of my list.  Then I thought, I’m going to fly all that way and when will I get to Italy again?  Maybe I can do one extra week and see more?   I decided on 30 days to explore but you can do this in three weeks if you are ambitious or just choose a few places and go for two weeks.  There is SO much to see in Italy.  So much history  that you feel guilty sleeping in.  You have to go, go, go, so you don’t miss a thing.  I booked a longer trip to really work in relaxing too.  I wanted one day to explore for every one day of relaxing.

When traveling through Italy it is best to go top to bottom or bottom to top.

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I decided to go top to bottom because I knew this would be a busy trip, and I wanted to finish it off on the beach relaxing on the Amalfi Coast.

Step 2:  Once you have an idea of your route, you have to check flights to make sure they will work with your itinerary.  At the time of my planning, AirBerlin was the cheapest ticket from San Francisco to Italy.  They were actually $500 cheaper per ticket which is a lot when traveling with four people.  I later found we paid the price for that cheap ticket but we will get into that later.  AirBerlin flew into Milan (top of map) and they flew out of Naples (bottom of the map).  The flight out of Naples only went on one day per week so I had to plan for that. Once I figured out what my flights were, I broke the trip apart leg by leg.  I decided on this route:

Lake Como: 5 nights/ Venice: 4 nights/ Florence: 5 nights/ Cinque Terre: 6 nights/ Rome: 4 nights/ Amalfi Coast: 6 nights.  One month in Italy!!

Step 3:  Find the VRBO/Airbnb to stay at sticking to my budget of $200 per night.  This was the fun part to me.  How did I choose which places to stay at?  I read review after review on the the VRBO/Airbnb sites….like hundreds of reviews.  I hate the reviews that say “it was a nice place…I highly recommend!”.  Ok well thanks for those riveting details, but you didn’t say crap about the property.  I want to know things.  How far to restaurants and bars?  Do you need a car?  How does “this” area compare to “that” area?  I want details people!  If I can’t find exact answers to my questions through the reviews on VRBO/Airbnb, I usually Google the exact question I have with the word “Tripadvisor” after the question.  If I’m between two areas to stay,  I will Google “Positano vs Amalfi, which is better? Tripadvisor”    Most of the answers to my questions come right up on Tripadvisor which is where I read hundreds more reviews.  Tripadvisor, Oh How I love Thee!  None of my trips would come to life with out the reviews on this site.

Step 4:  Plan transportation.  I did not want to rent a car in Italy.  Many people do, and give reviews about their days explored with the freedom of their own schedule in their own car.  Not for me.  First off, the roads are pretty wicked in Italy.  I consider myself to be a very bad driver on the safe roads in California.  We are talking about a girl that totaled her car 3 times during her 16th year of life!  Oopsie!  So, driving on these winding roads that seem like they have one lane, honking as you approach a sharp turn to warn oncoming traffic that you can’t see.  Hmmm, yes I don’t think this blog would have ever come to life because I probably would have died attempting to drive these roads. Another reason?  When I travel, I tend to eat and drink my way through for most of my entertainment.  I wanted the freedom to indulge in lots of great food accompanied but lots of great vino.

I chose all accommodations to be in the heart of the action in each destination so that I could walk everywhere or take a cheap cab ride.  To get through the country we rode the Trentitalia train.  One month of traveling through Italy on this train cost me less than the cabs to/from the airport.  The train system is so easy, so affordable, so comfortable, so reliable, and such a nice way to travel!  You get to see the country as you travel through, which was just lovely.  Each ride was only about two hours with the exception of one four hour train ride.  Tip:  Get to the station early to buy some snacks and wine.  More important tip: Have all the electronics charged for the littles so that you can enjoy those snacks and wine while riding in style.

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Training to Cinque Terre.  Sipping on vino while the kiddos play electronics.

I sprung for three long and pricey cab rides (transfers).  One from the Milan airport to our  first property in Lake Como.  After flying for 13 hours with two small children, we just wanted to get there.  The train from Milan to Lake Como isn’t as convenient as the other legs as the train we needed only left every three hours.  Just didn’t want to hassle with that after a long flight.  The second transfer was taking us to our last leg of the trip, Naples to Positano.  When heading south to the Amalfi Coast, the train won’t take you any further than Naples which is about an hour from Positano/Amalfi (see map).  We got off the train in Naples and took a private transfer (cab) to Positano.  Not very cheap at $130 Euro but it beat getting off the train and walking to the nearest bus stop which was reported to be incredibly crowded.  You may have to stand the entire hour plus ride on the bus and deal with pick pocketers.  It was so worth the private transfer!  Last high priced ride was Positano to the Naples airport.  This flight left once per week, so we could not have anything go wrong and risk missing the flight.  We also had to leave at 4:30AM, so the transfer allowed us to sleep the entire ride to the airport.  And that’s a wrap on transportation!  It was right around $700 for four people to travel through Italy for 30 days.  You certainly can’t rent a car for that.

Step 5:  Plan to pack.  Please someone tell me how in the heck I am supposed to pack light traveling to Italy with a toddler and 8 year old for one month?  There are things you need when traveling with kids…car seat, stroller, toys, electronics, etc.  I have to share with you the biggest find for packing light if you have a toddler.  It is Care’s Fly Safe safety restraint system. Cares Kids Fly Safe Airplane Safety Harness.  This gem is FDA approved and buckles your toddler into the airplane seat just like a car seat except it’s a just a belt.  Not only does it keep your little one safe but it also keeps them from running all over the plane, all while packing up into a small little carrying bag that fits in your purse.

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Little guy all comfy for his 13 hours of traveling, and I didn’t hit 20 people in the head carrying a huge car seat onto the plane.  Winning!

I then purchased an airplane stroller that is specific to traveling and folding up small for planes and trains.  I bought it off my Facebook for $10!  Tip:  I made $2,700 selling things out of my garage on Facebook that went directly to paying for this trip.  I also allowed my kids to pack a scooter each.  With as much walking as we planned to do in each location, I knew they would get so worn out and our days would be shortened due to exhausted kids.  Instead of walking everywhere, they scooted the days away and we were able to explore as much as we wanted.

scooters

Lastly, I got three pieces of luggage that were the largest we could go without going overweight, and incurring fees on the airline.  There is soooo much debate online about how big of a bag is too big of a bag to travel through Europe with.  It’s really a simple answer…you can pack as large of a bag that YOU can handle.  There is no one to help you up the many many stairs in between changing trains.  There is no one to help you load your bag onto the train.  No one to help you load the bag on ferries or cabs.  And if you plan on walking after getting off the train vs. taking a cab, you will be the one lugging that bag through town.  You get the point.  Luckily, I married a man with big muscles.  My bag was a big one, and I got to pack as many bikinis as I wanted.  I don’t recommend this for everyone but it worked ok for us.

luggage
The scooters were so easy to throw on top of our bags.  Piece of cake!

This brings me to my final plug of the trip.  Remember that great deal I got on my airline tickets that was $500 cheaper per ticket than all the other airlines?  Well, you get what you pay for.  The airline ended up loosing our son’s bag on the way there.  Thank goodness it wasn’t mine!  Ha ha.  I can’t tell you how crazy it was to see how long the lost luggage line was at the airport in Milan.  It took us about 30 mins to get through the process of reporting our lost bag and we were 2nd in line.  Can you imagine how long it took the 20th person in line to get through this process?  What a terrible way to kick off your trip!  We were very hopeful that our bag would arrive any day on our trip, but in fact…it never came.  My kids went all the way through a 30 day trip in Italy with nothing but the clothes on their back.  This lost bag also had all of our liquids, including all of my beauty products.  Of course we bought things along the way but it was such a pain in the butt!  I later heard that this is actually a common problem when traveling to Europe (explains the super long lost luggage line) and in actuality, your bag is just sitting in the airport waiting to be delivered.  Due to under staffing, there is just no one attending to these lost bags.  In fact, no one even answers the phone in that area of the airport.  Trust me I called a million times.  Horrible!  How will I make sure that this never happens again??  GPS in my luggage…DUH!

LugLoc Luggage Tracker – The Worldwide Smart Lost Baggage GSM Locator – Track The Exact Location Of Your Bag Globally (not just bluetooth like others) – Rechargeable battery that lasts 15 days

OMG, what a genius idea!  You never loose track of your bag and you know where it is at all times, even if the airline claims that it is lost.  I will never travel without one again! My kids bag was found and delivered to us two days after we arrived home in California…32 days after it was lost.

lost bag

Loosing the bag was devastating at first but in the end we had so many laughs about my son going all the way through Italy with one pair of underwear and them wearing the same outfits in all our family photos.