OUR NEW NORMAL… MY THOUGHTS ON COVID-19 AND A BIT OF HOPE

I first heard about the coronavirus in early January, when news started emerging from China about a highly contagious virus that we knew little about. It felt like the next Ebola/Zika/SARS scare – while frightening, it was far from home and easy to avoid. I quietly thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t have any clients traveling to China within the next few months and went on my merry way.

Fast forward a few weeks and the virus had started spreading throughout Asia. Travelers planning to visit Asia over the next several months were uncertain… the infection rate outside of China was so low and there were no travel warnings for other Asian countries; it felt like the media was over-emphasizing the threat to capitalize on our own fear and tendency to panic. Fast forward another few weeks and Italy became a second hotbed for the disease. Suddenly all my clients traveling to Italy over the next few months (a lot more people given the popularity of Italy for spring break and summer vacations!) felt concerned… should they still go? Was it safe? Was the virus contained to just northern Italy? What would happen over the next few months?

I continued to walk my clients through the facts – sharing CDC travel warnings, WHO advisories, news and updates from suppliers on the ground – as well as options on how we could postpone or cancel trips and by what date in order to minimize financial penalties. This stage was challenging for two reasons: (1) the future was so uncertain – we were getting new information daily, and often the hysterical coverage in the media was in direct contrast to the calm and matter-of-fact updates and policies we were receiving from partners and companies in impacted countries and (2) insurance was no help… This latter part was perhaps hardest for clients to hear yet also understandable especially in light of the current situation we’re in now. Most travel insurance (unless premium Cancel For Any Reason coverage is purchased) does not allow cancellation of a trip for fear of a viral outbreak – this is excluded under the force majeure clause. Of course, this type of unprecedented and unexpected situation is exactly why travelers want to purchase insurance to protect their trip, but if it were a covered reason to cancel, the insurance companies would likely now be bankrupt. This post isn’t meant to delve into the ins and outs of insurance though so I won’t go into too much more detail here.

Every morning for the past several weeks, I have woken up and hoped to see better news, to feel a turning point coming – the uncertainty and anxiety among so many travelers was palpable and it was turning my fun job into an incredible stressful one. Every time there was a further restriction, I kept thinking… “This is it, this is the bottom, it can’t get any worse.” When Trump instituted the European traveler ban and the sports leagues cancelled all major events, I honestly didn’t think there was anything left to cancel. But apparently I was wrong…

Now here we are and most of us have had our lives completely upended. In the beginning, the travel industry felt disproportionately impacted by this global health crisis – there was fear of the virus itself and then fear of quarantine and being unable to get home that had a lot of people reconsidering their trips. But now, we’re all in the same boat. I don’t think there is a single person or business I know of that hasn’t been severely impacted by the virus we’ve come to know as COVID-19. We’re told to stay at home, restaurants are closed, bars are closed, travel plans months in the making are put on hold… and we have no idea when this is going to end. It feels unbelievable – not only because none of us have been here before, but because the enemy is invisible. We look outside and we see sunshine and a beautiful day; we step outside and everything is closed and eerily silent and empty. The panic now has spread from fear of dying to fear of quarantine to fear of unknowingly spreading the virus to someone we love (someone who is older or immune-compromised and may actually die from it, or at least be extremely ill) and now to fear that we are not prepared medically for an appropriate response. There is talk of a shortage of hospital beds and ventilators… we’re hoarding toilet paper of all things!

On September 11, 2001, I was in high school on Long Island. I had friends with parents working in the city, some in the Twin Towers. The terrorist attack felt like it happened in my backyard. We all left school early. We tried to donate blood but the blood banks were full. Soccer practice was cancelled for a week due to the smoke and dust blowing out from Manhattan. It felt incredibly scary… and as if everything else we had been worried about before (that upcoming English test, whether your crush liked you back) was all inconsequential. But a few weeks later, after the funerals and complete shock of the incident started to subside, we went back to our daily lives. Planes took off again, we returned to work and school. For a lot of us, life was put into perspective, but slowly we got back to “normal.” This situation is different…. we have no idea when we’ll be able to go back to work, or go out to eat, or hop on a plane to see our family, let alone reschedule that bucket-list trip we were planning for the better part of a year. For those that rely on variable income – there is fear over making ends meet and when the next paycheck will come in. For those that have a stable income, there is still fear over the stock market and how the volatility over the past weeks will impact retirement plans or even job security. No one is immune to the pandemic evolving in front of us – whether a wedding had to be postponed, income is lost, a family member gets sick, or a myriad of other things – we all had life going on and now we have to put it all on hold.

While the situation has left me with a lot of anxiety and stress, I can see a sliver of a silver lining. In a society where we are constantly connected and on the brink of burnout, grasping at every new wellness trend for a break, the universe has now forced us to take one. We officially have permission to stay at home, read a book, cuddle up with our loved ones, and feel grateful for the little things in life that we have. I also hope that when we come out the other side of this situation, we’ll be stronger for it. Like 9/11 – we came together, there were stories of incredible heroes and sacrifices of humanity… we can do that now.

Once I have the last of my client and personal trips cancelled through early May, I’ll be ready for a break myself – to read a book, binge watch a good show, take my dog to the beach and just spend some quality time with my husband. And when things start to return to normal, I’ll be itching to get back on a plane and explore the world, as I’m sure will so many of you. I pray that the extreme measures we’re taking as a society will help us to move swiftly through this frightening time.

Virtual hugs to you all!

Jenny

TRAVEL INSURANCE 101

Imagine you have planned the trip of a lifetime – a family cruise to Antarctica. You booked the trip months in advance; you have every detail memorized and you’ve looked at the cruise line’s instagram a thousand times, picturing yourself in each and every photo (OK maybe that’s just me!). But seriously, you have all the gear including that extra telephoto camera lens, you’ve learned every type of penguin… and then, a day before your flight, your son gets the flu, or you break your leg… and you can’t go on the trip… your bucketlist adventure that you’ve been saving up for and planning for years! 

This is where travel insurance comes into play. It’s not a fun topic – it’s complex, there’s a lot of fine print and it only helps you in [insert crises here] scenarios that you don’t even want to think about in the first place. But insurance is a necessary evil – it’s there for our own protection. We know this and understand it when it comes to our health, our homes, our cars… so why are we so reluctant to protect our investment in our precious vacations, our time off?

Now I’ll admit to you, before becoming a travel professional, I didn’t always purchase travel insurance. But now, with the stories I’ve heard and instances I’ve dealt with for clients personally, I always, always recommend that clients consider travel insurance for every trip and in fact, more often than not, I purchase a policy for my own travel as well. 

Here’s a true story to give you an example of something that actually happened to clients of mine that you probably never thought might happen to you. My clients were headed to Africa for their honeymoon – a trip of a lifetime – Cape Town, safari, the coast – 2.5 weeks to kick off a lifetime of marital bliss. We had every detail planned down to their dinner every night. Then, two days before their departure date, the airline they were flying announced a strike… and cancelled their flight to Africa – the only direct flight option available from their departure city. Now, in order to avoid losing the first few days of their honeymoon (or cancelling all together!), our best bet was to get a refund from Airline A and rebook them on Airline B – this time a connecting flight through Europe. The good news was that they could still leave everything as planned for their honeymoon. The bad news was that the new tickets (purchased 2 days before departure) were double the cost. As you can imagine for a honeymoon, this was already a pricey trip and this huge last minute flight cost was causing a lot of stress and anxiety. Enter our preferred insurance partner, Travelex, with whom my clients had purchased a full coverage policy. By the time they returned from their honeymoon, they had a check for $12,000 waiting for them in the mail – fully covering the incremental cost of the last minute flights. Now if they hadn’t had this policy, they wouldn’t have seen a dime of this money, and perhaps, if money was really tight, would not have even been able to move forward with this alternative plan and would have been forced to delay or cancel their honeymoon with no recoup on the costs. Now this is not a situation we think of often, maybe ever. But the reality is, these things happen!! Even if insurance only comes into play on 1 out of every 10 trips, that’s still worth it in my opinion. 

Now, hopefully I’ve convinced you that insurance is important and should be considered with every trip. The next step is to evaluate your options and to fully understand what’s covered and what’s not. Here’s what you should consider when evaluating travel insurance:

1 – Where are you going? Are you staying local or traveling far abroad? Is this a safe country or one that’s prone to unrest?

2 – How much did you spend on the trip? Are you prepared to sacrifice that money if something happens? 

3 – What’s the fine print? Look at everything you’ve booked for your trip – flights, rental car, hotels – what is the cancellation policy on each item? What penalty will you incur if you cancel or change your booking last minute? Again, are you prepared to sacrifice that money?

4 – Do you have cancellation coverage on your credit card? Many premium credit cards have some level of trip cancellation coverage included with your annual fee. Check the fine print on this – what is covered and for what reasons? How does this compare to a third party insurance provider? It’s also important to note that even if you do have a cancellation coverage clause under your credit card plan, your credit card typically does not include protection for other unexpected travel expenses – lost baggage, medical expenses abroad, trip interruption, etc. – all things that are covered under a traditional travel insurance policy. So it may make sense to purchase a smaller travel insurance policy for coverage in these areas with cancellation covered under your credit card company. 

There are many great travel insurance companies to consider, but our preferred partner is Travelex and I’ve been really pleased with their offering. You can review their full policy with a quote from me, but there are a few things I’d like to call out here:

  • The insurance premiums for Travelex are a function of travelers’ age and trip cost. So in order to pull an accurate quote I need to know your birthday. Travelex offers all Travel Edge (ATLAS + VALISE) clients their advanced policy for the cost of their basic policy. Another great value, is that children (under 18) are covered completely for free when traveling with a parent (one free child per paying adult), which is amazing for families!
  • It is really important to read the fine print when it comes to cancellation coverage. If there is an illness of someone in the traveling part and they have a Doctor’s note preventing them from travel, or death of an immediate family member, you can cancel your trip for a full refund. If you simply decide not to go due to a minor issue or inconvenience, that would not be a covered reason unless you purchase the “Cancel for Any Reason” add-on. This comes at a premium cost and allows you to cancel your trip for any reason up until departure date for a percentage back on all non-refundable costs (Note that the percentage refund varies by state). In order to include this add-on you must purchase your policy within 21 days of making the deposit on your trip. As of writing this post, the CFAR add-on is no longer available from Travelex for NY residents.
  • You can really purchase travel insurance at any point prior to departing for your trip, the only instances where timing comes into play are if: (1) you want to purchase the ‘Cancel for Any Reason’ premium, (2) you have a pre-existing medical condition that needs to be covered for cancellation reasons or (3) you want to be covered in case of supplier bankruptcy. In all three cases, the policy must be purchased within 21 days of making the deposit payment on your trip
  • Regardless of what level of coverage you purchase for cancellation, the advanced policy covers up to $50,000 worth of medical expenses incurred abroad (over 100 miles from your primary residence) during your travel window. This is a huge safety net and peace of mind if anything unexpected does come up while you’re traveling.
  • When purchasing the insurance, you also have the option to add additional rental car coverage (some countries excluded) and to add an “Adventure Sports” option which would cover accidents from many adventurous activities you may enjoy on a luxury vacation (example: ziplining in Costa Rica, whitewater rafting in Canada or bungee jumping in New Zealand). Depending on your trip, you may consider adding these options. 
  • As I said, credit card coverage typically does not cover much beyond some level of cancellation protection. With a traditional third party travel insurance provider, you’ll be covered for trip interruption, lost baggage and many other unexpected things that can happen on a trip. For instance, if your bag is lost and you need to purchase new clothes and toiletries for a few days… or if you miss a connecting flight and have to pay for an extra night at a hotel in some city you didn’t expect to spend the night in – those would all be reimbursable expenses through your policy.

Two special cases to discuss:

  • Medjet – Medjet is not insurance, its an annual membership program that offers you hospital-to-hospital medical transfers if illness or injury occurs during travel over 150 miles from home. While travel insurance typically transports you to the “nearest acceptable facility” if “medically necessary,” a Medjet Member is transferred to their home hospital of choice, regardless of medical necessity, for the cost of the membership and nothing more. You may also be surprised to know that Medjet memberships are fairly affordable. A family can purchase a Medjet membership for 1 year for just $399. This gives additional peace of mind that should something happen abroad, you can be transported to your home hospital for no additional cost. Please contact me to inquire about applying for Medjet membership at special rates. 
  • Coronavirus – I’ve been meaning to write this blog post about insurance for a while and it wasn’t meant to cover coronavirus at all. But with the recent “crisis” going on, I know there is a lot of confusion out there and so I wanted to mention how travel insurance comes into play specifically with coronavirus. The fact of the matter is that fear of a viral outbreak is not a covered reason to cancel your trip. This is covered under the force majeure clause that is typical in most insurance policies. If you purchase the “Cancel for Any Reason” premium coverage (within 21 days of your deposit) then you could cancel and receive a percentage refund on the cost of your trip (again varying by state). In general, I am seeing that tour operators and suppliers truly step up in situations such as this, waiving change fees to the extent possible for any concerned travelers that want to postpone their trip. Were you to travel and become sick or hospitalized on your trip, then your travel insurance policy would still help with the associated medical expenses.

Now I must remind you that I’m not an insurance expert! The above is what I’ve learned from working with travel insurance in my professional capacity and is meant to be a helpful, yet not comprehensive guide. Please do contact me with any questions about travel insurance or if you’d like to see a quote for your trip. Or you can feel free to reach out to any travel insurance provider for more information.

20 TRIPS TO TAKE IN 2020

Welcome to the roaring 20s! But seriously, I have a feeling this new decade is going to be a good one. Kick it off right by starting with some epic trips in 2020. Here’s a quick guide to 20 places that are on my radar right now.

  • Austria – I just went to Austria this past October and absolutely fell in love with the country. The cities are so opulent and fabulous (hello champagne for breakfast!) and the countryside is just jaw-dropping. This summer marks the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth and the 100th year of the famed Salzburg Festival. Any classical music enthusiasts or lovers of the arts? This is your year to go to Austria!
  • The Arctic – Expedition cruising is the new black and major cruise lines are launching luxury expedition ships left and right. What that means is that the polar regions are getting more and more crowded; and since many of these areas are tightly regulated in terms of traffic, now is the time to go before it gets busier. While Antarctica is an epic trip, the Arctic is a bit more accessible with 7-10 day itineraries offered out of Oslo, Norway. I am actually going myself this summer with Silversea and could not be more excited!
  • Costa Palmas – Never heard of it? I don’t blame you. Costa Palmas is the new hot spot on the Baja Peninsula – just north up the eastern coast from Cabo San Lucas. Think swimmable beaches, beautiful marinas, fewer crowds, and some brand spankin’ new resorts, including the recently opened Four Seasons Los Cabos at Costa Palmas and the (coming soon) Amanvari.
  • Hawaii (Big Island) – One of the most exciting hotel (re) openings of 2020 is the beloved Mauna Lani on Hawaii’s Big Island. After its acquisition by Auberge Resorts, the property underwent an extensive $200 Million renovation. 90% of the resorts’ rooms have an ocean view and private terrace so you’re pretty much guaranteed a good room. After the volcanic eruption in 2018, tourism to the island is still on the rebound and the reboot of this beloved and iconic hotel is sure to help.
Image result for mauna lani
  • New Zealand – I’ve planned several trips to New Zealand in the past few months and I’m loving re-living our honeymoon. Seriously though New Zealand was one of the most spectacular and special places I’ve ever been and I cannot wait to go back. Everything from the scenery, to the food, to the people to the wine – it’s just perfect! And to make things even better, there is now more non-stop service to New Zealand from LA (on American) and a new non-stop flight from New York launching in October 2020!
  • Paros, Greece – Of course you can’t go wrong with a trip to the Greek Isles but some of the hotspots (*cough* Santorini *cough*) have gotten so crowded, especially during the peak summer months. In 2019, Paros hit the map as one of the newer must see islands in the archipelago and that’s in large part due to the opening of Parilio this past July. Part of the Design Hotels portfolio, this 33-suite gem has a lovely pool and beautiful beaches. Plus the island is full of locals, not tourists, giving you a more authentic feel.
Image result for parilio beach
  • Bhutan – Bhutan has been on the top of my list forever. It’s just a bit hard to get to, but one of these days I’ll be there!! 2020 is a great time to get to this tiny mountain country now that Six Senses has made its debut. Four Six Senses lodges opened in 2019 with a 5th set to open in 2020. A perfect trip would involve a circuit of these lodges, coupling wellness with adventure in the world’s happiest country.
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  • Canyon Ranch, Woodside – Speaking of wellness, the Queen Bee of wellness resorts, Canyon Ranch, opened its latest property, Canyon Ranch Woodside, just a few months back. Located south of San Francisco, this latest venture takes a “retreat” approach to Canyon Ranch’s tried and true methods, with nutritionist approved meals, daily activities, a state of the art spa and plenty of time to relax & disconnect. Plus I love the look of their treehouse style suites!
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  • Namibia – This country is like the new cool kid on the block when it comes to Africa. While I wouldn’t necessarily choose it for a first time trip, this is the perfect destination for a second or third visit to the continent. You can easily combine safari with sand dunes for a truly unique vacation. One of the most interesting hotels is the Shipwreck Lodge on the Skeleton Coast – the rooms look like old ships that wrecked in the desert!
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  • Australia – Australia is all over the news right now and its heartbreaking to see what has happened to the landscape and wildlife there with the recent bush fires over the past couple of weeks. That said, Australia is an extremely large continent and the majority of its iconic tourism destinations (Uluru, The Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Rainforest, etc.) were unaffected by the recent fires. In 2020, I think that Australia will need tourism support more than ever to help fund the restoration and rebuilding of the impacted areas.
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  • South Africa – South Africa is such a diverse destination and you can fit several totally different experiences into one trip. Of course there is the art and history of Cape Town, and the iconic safari in the Sabi Sands or Kruger… but you may also consider spending a few days in the stunning winelands of Franschhoek or even escaping to the De Hoop Nature Reserve along the southern coast.
Image result for de hoop nature reserve
  • Virgin Gorda – Another returning gem, Rosewood Little Dix Bay has officially reopened in Virgin Gorda after an extensive 4-year renovation. Dating to 1964, the resort was originally opened by conservationist Laurence Rockefeller and was purchased by Rosewood in the early 1990s.
Image result for rosewood little dix bay reopening
  • Mendoza – South America’s wine country is perfect for a combination of adventure, relaxation and good food & wine. Plus there are some incredible hotels in the region. Last year, I wrote a guest blog with my tips for visiting Mendoza on my friend La Matera’s site.
  • Belize – Costa Rica has been hot for years and years, but people are finally starting to talk about one of its lesser known neighbors, Belize. While a very small country, Belize packs a punch with jungle experiences, diverse wildlife, beautiful beaches, Mayan ruins and, of course, some fabulous hotels. Most notably, Leonard DiCaprio’s much anticipated eco-resort, Blackadore Cay, is set to open this year.
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  • Egypt – Tourism in Egypt really slowed since the 2011 revolutions, but in 2019, we started to hear some buzz on this destination again. In 2020, the Grand Egyptian Museum will open in Giza, becoming the largest archaeological museum in the world. The museum will house a complete and permanent collection on the renowned King Tut. History and archaeological buffs – there has never been a better time to visit this incredible country.
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  • Kyoto, Japan – Japan has been all the rage for several years now and 2020 will be even hotter with the summer olympics coming to Tokyo! But Kyoto is really stealing the scene with several new hotel openings (ahem Ace Hotel Kyoto, Park Hyatt Kyoto & Aman Kyoto) either in recent months or coming soon.
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  • Indonesia – Aqua Expeditions has been running luxury boutique river cruises in off-the-beaten path destinations like The Amazon and The Mekong rivers for years. With luxury, all suite accommodations, incredible food, and truly adventurous locales, this isn’t your typical river cruise. Their latest product, Aqua Blu, expands beyond the rivers to the seas of Eastern Indonesia. This explorer yacht is perfect for visiting some of those remote locations like Bali, Komodo Island, Raja Ampat and the Spice Islands. It’s particularly great for scuba divers as the ship is equipped with gear, but non-divers will also enjoy kayaking, snorkeling and stand-up paddle boarding.
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  • English Countryside – European cities are wonderful but in my opinion the countrysides are underrated. Though a bit more complex to plan (you’ll need to rent a car or hire a driver-guide), the quaint towns and boutique hotels found in the countryside of England are the perfect place to escape. We just spent an incredible week in the Cotswolds and it was every bit as romantic and relaxing as we’d hoped!
  • Montana The Resort at Paws Up has been on my travel list forever and for good reason: they have an unbelievable property in the heart of Montana, with rustic luxury style accommodations, delicious food and tons and tons of activities. But we have a new excuse to head to Greenough, Montana coming this summer, and it is Paws Up’s new venture – The Green O, set to open in August 2020. This adults only all-inclusive property shares the same incredible food and activities as Paws Up but is set in a remote woodsy setting – perfect for couples looking for a true escape and some time in nature.
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  • California Wine Country – Ok this is a bit of a biased one as I’m currently sitting in my gorgeously appointed suite at The Farmhouse Inn in Sonoma county and tomorrow, I set off to Meadowood in Napa Valley. However, California wine country is such a perfect (and easy!) escape within the US – and not just for wine lovers. Aside from stunning hotels, beautiful countryside and incredible food & wine, you will also find plenty of opportunities here to hike, bike, whale watch from the coast, and of course, relax at the spa or pool.
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I’d love to help you plan some incredible adventures in 2020! Please contact us today to get started!

CALLING ALL WIZARDS

If you don’t already have the “Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter” on your bucket list, now’s the time to add it. This attraction in Leavesden (just outside of London) is where they filmed the majority of the movies. The former studio now houses full sets, costumes, special effects, and so much more. Fans of the franchise will see the wizarding world brought to life, while also learning some of the behind the scenes secrets for creating magic in the films. On my last trip to England, we finally had the chance to visit the studio and it was a dream come true!

Here are a few essential things to know before you go.

Buy your tickets in advance. While the studio is large, only a set number of tickets are sold per day. And with school field trips and tour groups in the mix, tickets do sell out far in advance. Make sure you purchase tickets online here well before your trip.

Ticket types. From individual to family to group tickets, there are a variety of options to choose from. There is also the choice to purchase just a ticket or a package ticket that includes a digital guide and a paperback souvenir guide. Personally, I found the audio guide to be a bit overwhelming during the tour as there was quite a lot to read as well. If you want to purchase the souvenir guide separately (instead of bundled with your ticket), you can pick it up in the gift shop after your visit.

Getting there. If you have a rental car, the easiest option is to drive yourself and park (for free) in the lot just outside the city. If you’re based in London and don’t have a car at your disposal, you can opt to take the train from London to Watford Junction, followed by a 15 minute shuttle bus. Read more about these options here.

Plan for 3+ hours. As mentioned, the space is large! There is so much to see and explore! You will need at least 3 hours to visit the full space. If you would like to take part in any of the simulators or other special videos, you’ll want to allot more time. And as there is so much information, you may want to break in the middle for a rest and lunch or a snack. If coming from London, I’d really plan for this to be a full day excursion.

Look out for special events. We were lucky enough to visit during Christmastime where many of the sets were decked out for the holidays. The studio also has fun events around Valentine’s Day and Halloween so be sure to check the schedules well in advance if you’d like to visit during these times!

Have fun! Entry is timed at regular intervals with an intro and a short movie shown to each group before entering The Great Hall. Due to large numbers of people, this first part can feel a bit too crowded, but after the intro and movie, visitors move through the attraction at their own pace and start to spread out. Be patient and just enjoy yourself!

This was such a fun day and there is really something for everyone! I loved the costumes while my husband loved learning about the special effects and which magic effects were computerized versus physically constructed. Our favorite however, was truly the sets – they really just brought the world of Harry Potter to life before our eyes.

GIFT GUIDE FOR THE SEASONED TRAVELER

You’ll find gift guides these days for every type of person, including avid travelers. But while many of those items seem cool and would make fun gifts, I never quite find myself going through with the purchase – whether I would actually use it always seems to be in question. For this gift guide, I’m sharing the items I actually pack and use on every trip! These gifts will be guaranteed to please the seasoned travelers in your life.

1 – Briggs & Riley Luggage – I know that everyone is on the AWAY train but I personally prefer soft luggage and Briggs & Riley is my favorite. These durable suitcases have plenty of pockets to stow all your belongings for a trip. And while these bags are an investment, they come with an unconditional lifetime warranty. I have the Spinners (carry-on and checked) and love them!

Photo Source: Briggs & Riley

2 – Packing Cubes – These are inexpensive and would make a great stocking stuffer – Amazon has a ton of options. I use these for every trip. They’re particularly great when you’re headed to two different destinations/climates on one vacation, as it allows you to easily segment your items so you can partially unpack at each place!

Photo Source: Amazon

3 – Passport Case – A must for international travel. So many options out there it’s hard to go wrong, but I love a subtle design such as this or this.

Photo Source: Anthropologie

4 – Inflatable Neck Pillow – Another non-conventional choice! So many people are passionate about their travel neck pillows. I personally like an inflatable option as it takes up less room in your suitcase on the remainder of your trip.

5 – Travel Journal – Ever since I was little, I’ve kept a handwritten journal of all my travels. I love reading these years later to relive the memories – sometimes they evoke even more than a photo. Rifle Paper products are some of my favorite and they have a range of designs to choose from. I’m loving this one!

Photo Source: Rifle Paper Co.

6 – Reusable Water Bottle – They never give you enough water on the plane in those tiny cups so I always bring my own bottle and fill it up at the airport before take-off. My favorite one is by Liquid Hardware – keeps colds cold and hots hot, seriously forever!

Photo Source: Liquid Hardware

7 – Lots of Pouches – I have pouches for literally everything – it helps me stay organized, especially while traveling. Mark & Graham has some great options that can be personalized.

Photo Source: Mark & Graham

8 – A Light Scarf – The plane can be hot, it can be cold – it’s a toss up these days, so I always have a light scarf with me. Keeping your neck warm makes a big difference. My favorite one is from Kate Spade (similar one here).

Photo Source: Kate Spade

9 – Kindle Paperwhite – Obviously a kindle is much more packing friendly than several hardcover books! And the lighting features make this an ideal choice for those who may have trouble with jet lag.

Photo Source: Amazon

10 – Herschel Laptop Sleeve – These Herschel laptop cases protect my computer without taking up too much room. I have the Heritage Sleeve in the Silver Birch Palm design and always get compliments!

Photo Source: Herschel

11 – Portable Phone Charger – My new iPhone’s battery life is incredible, but for those with older phones, a portable charger is a must.

Photo Source: Amazon

12 – Juice Plus – Traveling means you’re interacting with new germs on a daily basis. It also means you may not be eating as healthy as usually do. No one wants to get sick on vacation, so I always pack my Juice Plus. These capsules are made of freeze dried fruits and vegetables. Each daily dose is the nutritional equivalent of 30 different types of produce!

13 – Comfortable Walking Shoes – I always pack my New Balance sneakers, and typically also a pair of Tom’s (loving these since they look like chic loafers!). I recently splurged on a pair of Rothy’s loafers and have to say I’m very happy with these as well.

Photo Source: Rothy’s

14 – Kiehl’s Hydration Essentials – These products are the perfect size for traveling and will keep your skin hydrated on those long flights and varying climates!

Photo Source: Kiehl’s

Happy Gifting!!

TRAVEL WEEK RECAP: MY FAVORITE UNIQUE & SURPRISING HOTEL AMENITIES

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I recently spent 5 days in Las Vegas for Virtuoso Travel Week. Those 5 days included over 220 meetings with partners from around the world. With so much information being thrown at you, things inevitably start to blur together. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “we have XX many rooms and they start at XX square feet”. So what really made the event worthwhile and special was learning about a lot of the surprising and unique amenities that many of my partners are offering guests. Keep reading for a round-up of some of my favorites!

  • Ritz Carlton Vienna – Rooftop Christmas Market. Christmas markets are all over Europe, but this is the only one on the roof of a hotel!
Image result for ritz carlton vienna rooftop christmas market
Source: Ritz Carlton
  • Armani Hotel Milano – 10% Discount at the Armani store. Perfect for fashionistas looking to do some shopping on their trip.
AHM Welcome Area
Source: Virtuoso
  • Thompson Nashville – $5 Oyster & Chambong Happy Hour Special. How Instagram worthy is this happy hour special? And what a deal too!
Source: Thompson Nashville
  • Belmond Cadogan Hotel – Morning Milk Delivery. Remember the good old days when the milk man came to your house every morning? Well it’s still reality at this posh new London address.
Main Entrance
Source: Virtuoso
  • Sunset Key Cottages – Breakfast in a Picnic Basket. Every cottage at this Key West resort has a wrap-around porch and in the morning, guests will step outside to find a “Rise and Dine” breakfast basket of freshly baked breads and fruit waiting for them.
Source: Sunset Key Cottages
  • Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay – Bagpipes at Sunset. Despite its location in Northern California, this resort has a real Scottish feel with its golf heritage and sunset bagpiper.
  • Heckfield Place – In-House Cinema & Popcorn Machine. I love a private cinema but the screening room at Heckfield place is next level! With a regular schedule of films and documentaries, guests can self-serve from the popcorn machine outside and catch a flick almost any time they want.
Source: Heckfield Place
  • Baglioni Hotel Regina – Vintage Fiat City Tours. Car buff? Book a stay at the Baglioni Hotel Regina in Rome and you can tour the city in a vintage Fiat 500.
Fiat 500 tour in Rome
Source: Baglioni Hotel Regina
  • Loews Seattle – Virtual Golf. Seattle can be pretty rainy most months of the year, but you can still practice your swing at the Loews hotel with their indoor virtual golf simulator.
Source: Loews Hotels
  • The Shelbourne – Genealogy Butler. As I noted in my last post, genealogy tourism is on the rise, especially in England, Scotland and Ireland. The Shelbourne hotel in Dublin has hired its very own genealogy butler to meet the demand.
The Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin Amenities
Source: The Shelbourne Hotel
  • Equinox Hotel – Sleep Science. The brand new Equinox Hotel at Hudson Yards in New York is the latest venture from the Equinox team, but they are the first to declare this is not a “gym hotel.” Instead they’re distinguishing themselves with a strong focus on sleep science. Rooms are “Dark. Quiet. Cool.” with “total soundproofing, next-generation blackout blinds, and integrated technology for effortless personalization.” They even have a sleep coach available to consult with guests.
Image result for equinox hotel room
Source: Equinox Hotels
  • Badrutt’s Palace – Snow Polo. You thought polo was only for warm weather? Think again! Badrutt’s Palace in Switzerland showcases snow polo on the frozen lake in front of the hotel every winter.
Source: Badrutt’s Palace
  • Ashford Castle – Lego Butler. This magical castle hotel is on everyone’s bucket list and kids will love it too with plenty of family-friendly touches including their very own lego butler.
lego butler at ashford castle
Source: Ashford Castle
  • Kokomo Private Island – Manta Ray Adoption Program. This past summer, Kokomo Private Island in Fiji launched their manta ray conservation program with a unique adoption angle. Guests can purchase a tag and track their adopted ray throughout the course of its life.
A large manta ray being viewed by divers at Kokomo Private Island Fiji
Source: Kokomo Private Island Fiji

VIRTUOSO TRAVEL WEEK RECAP: TOP TRENDS IN LUXURY TRAVEL

I just returned from five very full days in Las Vegas for Virtuoso Travel Week. For those not familiar, Virtuoso is an invitation-only network of luxury travel advisors and vetted travel partners (hotels, cruise lines, airlines, and tour operators) that helps facilitate personal relationships among the top players of the travel world. While Virtuoso hosts networking events and conferences throughout the year, Virtuoso Travel Week is the big shebang with over 6,500 global professionals in attendance. During the week, I had approximately 220 meetings and attended 17 events! With such a large volume of information to digest in such a short timespan, it was easy to glean some key trends that I’m seeing for the next level of luxury travel. Here are my top takeaways:

  • The Check-in Process is being Revamped. Luxury hotels are realizing that no one wants to start their vacation doing paperwork and talking about money. Guests want to relax and hotels want them to feel as if they’re coming home. So the boring part of the check-in process is increasingly being handled in advance of arrival with the necessary details and paperwork finalized in the weeks leading up to the trip. The new check-in process involves a glass of champagne, a casual chat in a lounge or even in your room, and a short tour of the hotel.
  • Expedition Cruising isn’t just for Antarctica. When you think of cruising, you may picture hopping around the Caribbean isles in a floating city or leisurely drifting down a European river. But these days, it’s all about expedition cruising. Avid cruisers and non-cruisers alike are looking for ways to reach the most remote areas of the earth without sacrificing for luxury. It seems every major cruise line is now expanding their fleet with expedition liners and adding more adventurous itineraries to their calendars. And it’s not only about Antarctica – you can take expedition ships to cruise the Chilean fjords, to see polar bears in the Arctic and even to temple hop around Japan.
Source: National Geographic
  • Genealogy Tourism is on the Rise. For the past 5 or 6 years, we’ve all been spitting into a tube to learn more about our ancestry. If you’re like me, and can trace the majority of your DNA to the British Isles, you may want to participate in the boom of genealogy tourism in that region. Throughout Ireland, England and Scotland, genealogy is becoming an increasingly popular focus for travelers. Whether it be a full trip or just a half day excursion – hotels and tour operators offer a variety of packages to help you trace your family line and visit sites significant to your heritage.
  • Spas and Wellness Amenities are Now the Norm. I laughed when one hotelier told me she’d been challenged by another advisor not to say the word “spa” in her 4 minute pitch. As a wellness specialist myself, I’m thrilled to see that spas and wellness features are now becoming a standard at hotels around the world. I don’t believe that wellness needs to be the sole focus for a trip, but rather it can easily be incorporated in a small way into any vacation. While many properties may just be capitalizing on this latest trend, they’re still filling an essential need. We go on vacation to relax and unwind from the stress of every day life, and what better way to do that than at a spa?
  • The 3Ps: Private Plunge Pools. If you’re a new island or beach-focused hotel, you better be sure you have private plunge pools in all of your rooms. This amenity is now becoming a signature for many beach resorts. While guests may want to spend a few hours lounging at the beach or a larger resort pool, who doesn’t want to take a quick morning or evening dip from the comfort of their own room?
  • Treehouses Aren’t Just for Kids. Remember how cool it was to have a treehouse in your backyard? These days, adults are reliving their childhood fantasies with treehouse accommodations at resorts around the world. Check out this list from Travel & Leisure for the top treehouses you can stay in.
Source: Virtuoso.com; Photo by Primland Resort
  • Hotels are Standing Out with Unique Amenities. Stay tuned next week for a full list of some of my favorite unique and personalized touches that I learned about at Virtuoso Travel Week. I’m so excited that hotels (and even cruise lines and tour operators) are starting to take it up a notch with surprising amenities and offerings. When it comes to luxury, there are plenty of hotels that can offer a stand-out room, 5-star service and gourmet food, but to me, its the little touches that truly make a stay memorable.

SAN DIEGO GUIDE: WHERE TO STAY

There are plenty of great hotels to enjoy for a stay in San Diego, but I have a few favorites that I think work best for certain vibes and occasions.

TAKE ME TO THE BEACH: Hotel Del Coronado. This National Historic Landmark and San Diego icon dates to the late 1800s. While this is a perfect option for history lovers, the hotel’s biggest appeal is its proximity to the beach. Somewhat surprisingly, there aren’t too many resorts in San Diego with direct beach access, and the beach at the Del is wide and picture perfect. So if you’re after playtime on the sand and gorgeous sunsets over the Pacific, this is the place to be. The hotel also offers plenty of dining options, family-friendly activities and a spa. Don’t miss the famous Sunday brunch in the Crown room. For those willing to splurge a little, I recommend the “Beach Village at the Del” which sits just adjacent to the historic building and offers more spacious, luxury accommodation and a private pool area, concierge and club room. 

ALL ABOUT THOSE CITY VIBES: Pendry San Diego, the first hotel opened under the Pendry name (operated by the Montage Group) is located in the Gaslamp district of downtown San Diego. The Pendry brand is all about hip, urban chic, and caters to a slightly younger crowd than Montage. Yet you’ll find here the same level of service you’d expect from any Montage. The location downtown means you can easily walk to many restaurants and bars, as well as grab a quick Uber to San Diego’s main attractions like the Zoo or Balboa Park. Yet, this urban hotel still has many features of a resort – several different restaurants, as well as a rooftop pool, fitness center and spa. 

FOR FESTIVE OCCASIONS: While there are plenty of reasons to stay at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, the old world luxury and elegance of the property makes it perfect for holidays and special celebrations. In the wintertime, the Fairmont features a winter village of sorts, complete with fire pits and s’mores, champagne bars and even sledding for the kids (with snow!). In the summer, they have weekly fireworks shows and BBQs on Fridays.

FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY: The Park Hyatt Aviara located in North County in Carlsbad has something to offer for everyone in the family. Golf enthusiasts can hit the links while wellness gurus can enjoy the award-winning spa and fitness programs. And kids will love the Camp Hyatt Aviara Kids Academy. In the summers, they have fun extras like movie screenings by the pool and wood-fired pizza nights. The location up North also means it’s ideally located near Legoland and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. 

GOLFING THE DAY AWAY: Any serious golfer is familiar with the famous Torrey Pines golf course and so they would naturally want to stay at The Lodge at Torrey Pines. The original property dates to 1961 but an almost complete renovation in the early 2000s brought it to where it is today. The California Craftsman style architecture has a real “lodge” vibe with dark wood paneling, crackling fireplaces and beautiful stained glass panels. While the golf course is public, guests of the hotel get priority access to the best tee times. 

FOR THE GARDEN LOVER: Ok I’m biased because I got married here, but the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe in Rancho Santa Fe (just East of Del Mar) is one of the most idyllic settings you’ll find. Smaller than some of the other resorts I’ve mentioned, the property’s 80 rooms are spread out on the grounds in different casita-style buildings. There are 3 different decor themes – from country chic to farmhouse glam. Along the meandering paths you’ll find beautiful aged trees, hidden rose gardens, and flowering jasmine. I also love that you can walk just across the street into the quaint little town of Rancho Santa Fe to pop-out for a coffee or a pastry. 

ROMANTIC GETAWAY: Another more boutique resort up in Rancho Santa Fe is Rancho Valencia. While the style of resort is similar to the Inn, this Relais & Chateaux property has a more private and romantic feel. For one, the grounds are tucked away in horse country. For two, the 49 rooms are all hacienda-style suites, with large living areas and private patios – perfect for a romantic sojourn. And as part of the Relais & Chateaux brand, you know you’ll find incredible cuisine.

SAN DIEGO GUIDE: WHERE TO EAT

NORTH COUNTY

  • Veladora Coastal Ranch – Located at Rancho Valencia resort, this fine dining restaurant infuses Mediterranean cuisine with California coastal influences.
  • Jake’s Del Mar – There are a few restaurants located directly on the beach, and Jake’s is one of them. Serving up fresh fish with a Hawaiian flare, save room for the Hula Pie for dessert.
  • Viewpoint Brewing Co. – San Diego is well known for its craft beer scene and newcomer Viewpoint Brewing has a great location in Del Mar, right on the San Dieguito lagoon with a huge open air space. When it comes to beer, go for a flight to try different options, but don’t miss the food either – this isn’t your average brewpub fare. Definitely order the mac & cheese and the pork belly bites.

LA JOLLA

  • Herringbone – This Californai coastal restaurant is perfect for groups who want to share a lot of small plates with interesting flavors and fresh ingredients. I also love the decor at their La Jolla outpost which really brings the outside in.
  • Puesto – This taco hotspot has several locations in San Diego now, but La Jolla is the original. The taco options are extensive and are made from scratch daily, as are the guacamole and margaritas.
  • George’s at the Cove – A mainstay in La Jolla for its Pacific Ocean views, George’s has 3 different levels. Level 1 – California Modern – is the fancier and most expensive option, but the food is divine. Book early to get a table by the window and watch the sunset during dinner.
  • A.R. Valentien – Located at the iconic Lodge at Torrey Pines, this French-inspired restaurant focuses heavily on seasonal fare. It’s perfect for special occasions and even offers outdoor seating with views over the famous golf course.
  • Prep Kitchen – The La Jolla location of Prep Kitchen has only a few tables inside, but I much prefer to dine outside in the small courtyard under the heaters. The menu here is very innovative and changes frequently.
  • Wayfarer Bread & Pastry – Located in Bird Rock, this bread & pastry bakery is perfect for a Saturday morning scone or a gourmet sandwich. And on Wednesdays, they have pizza night which is a must-have.
  • Wheat + Water – Another Bird Rock favorite, Wheat + Water features wood-fired pizzas, salads and small plates to share, along with plenty of local brews on tap.

DOWNTOWN

  • Juniper & Ivy – Founded by Top Chef All-Star Richard Blais, Juniper & Ivy is probably my favorite restaurant in all of San Diego. The dishes are all so unique and playful. Juniper & Ivy’s take on the yodel is legend and the flavors change with the seasons. We’ve dined here a few times, but my favorite was when we sat at the dessert counter and watched the pastry chefs prep their creations while we ate.
  • Herb & Wood – Just down the block from Juniper & Ivy is another Little Italy hotspot featuring an indoor/outdoor space, quality cuisine and market fresh ingredients.
  • Crack Shack – Completely different from the above two options yet in the same neighborhood, the Crack Shack is a casual order-at-the-counter establishment serving fried chicken and egg fare. The outdoor space is fun with corn hole and other lawn games available adjacent to the picnic tables.
  • Kettner Exchange – Featuring Progressive American cuisine, this restaurant in Little Italy has a really cool space, fun for date night or a group outing.
  • Ironside Fish & Oyster – A large selection of raw bar options along with small plates and fresh catches of the day.
  • Cowboy Star – Solid steakhouse fare with a Western flare.
  • Mister A’s – Tucked away at the top of a tall office building, this restaurant has the best views of the San Diego skyline. Dine outside under the heat lamps and watch as planes fly over the city lights. Perfect for a romantic date night.
  • Lionfish – Located in The Pendry Hotel in the gaslamp district, this seafood restaurant has gorgeous design details and an interesting dessert menu that shouldn’t be skipped.

BEACHES

  • Breakfast Republic – Now with several locations in San Diego, I frequent the one in Pacific Beach which is located just a block from the beach. Entrees here are massive, and they have some delicious pancake and french toast flavors.
  • Sushi Ota – Located in a shopping mall off a main road just outside of PB, it’s difficult to even get a reservation at this traditional Japanese sushi spot. Chef Ota was born and raised in Japan and takes pride in serving the freshest fish you’ll find in San Diego.
  • Baked Bear – Custom-made ice cream sandwiches. No other explanation needed.
  • The Patio on Lamont – Pet-friendly indoor/outdoor restaurant that serves brunch and happy hours daily.
  • JRDN – Pronounced “jordan,” this restaurant is located just across the boardwalk from the beach, in the Tower 23 hotel. The fresh, modern atmosphere matches the food, which includes contemporary takes on steak and seafood.
  • Crushed – Another great brunch spot! This place is always packed so come early and order a mimosa flight.
  • Hammond’s – Gourmet ice cream from Hawaii. You can get a cup or a cone or even a mini cone flight to try several different flavors.

There are so many amazing restaurants in San Diego! So just as with my “What to Do” Guide this is by no means a comprehensive list, but just a few of my top recs for any visitors. Enjoy!

SAN DIEGO GUIDE: WHAT TO DO

About a year and a half ago, I moved across the country from the tall buildings and hustle and bustle of Manhattan to the sandy beaches and chill vibe of San Diego. There was definitely an adjustment period, but I have to say it wasn’t a particularly hard one. San Diego is known for its perfect weather, gorgeous coastline and excellent Mexican food. In the next three blog posts I’m going to share with you my best tips on what to do, where to eat and where to stay in “America’s Finest City.” This is in no means a fully comprehensive guide, but just some of my favorite recommendations!

ALL ABOUT ANIMALS

  • San Diego Zoo – The San Diego Zoo is most well-known for its pandas, who unfortunately just returned to China this past Spring. But there is SO much more to see at this zoo, which houses 3,500 animals of 600+ species. The San Diego Zoo was also a pioneer in open-air exhibits and continues to develop new and exciting ways to showcase and educate about diverse animal species around the globe. Similar to other zoos, proceeds from admission tickets also support conservation efforts on the ground.
  • San Diego Zoo Safari Park – I mentioned the San Diego Zoo’s pioneering approach to open-air exhibits, but the Safari Park takes it to the next level. Located North of the city, visiting this 100-acre park will feel like you took an exotic trip to the African savanna without hopping on a plane.
  • Seaworld – Though Seaworld has been under a lot of scrutiny in recent years, it is still one of the major attractions in San Diego. The orca show is focused on how learnings from captive animals have helped scientists’ understanding of these creatures, allowing us to better support them in the wild. Plus, there are a ton of other aquatic animals to see, as well as some rides.
  • Visiting the La Jolla Seals & Sea Lions – My favorite time to visit the resident population of seals and sea lions in la Jolla is during “pupping season” in the spring. It’s so cute to see those little babies sunbathing on the rocks! La Jolla Mom has a really fantastic guide on the best places to visit these amazing animals.
  • Whale watching cruises – San Diego is a great spot for whale watching! With chances to see migratory and resident pods of Gray whales and Blue whales, as well as Humpbacks, Pilot Whales, Fin Whales and even Killer Whales. Whale watching cruises depart year-round from downtown San Diego. One of the best operators is Hornblower Cruises.

HISTORY

  • USS Midway – This aircraft carrier museum is massive and a must-see for any Top Gun fan!
  • Old Town – Though a bit touristy, Old Town is still worth a visit. Dating to 1769, Old Town San Diego was California’s first settlement and still retains a lot of the historic charm with old buildings featuring Spanish-style architecture. Come here to shop for souvenirs, enjoy some hearty Mexican food, and experience living history programs.
  • Gaslamp Quarter – The Gaslamp Quarter is the heart of downtown San Diego. The Victorian architecture speaks to the history of the area, but today the real attraction is the nightlife – with plentiful bars, clubs and restaurants around, as well as many hotels.
  • Cabrillo National Monument – This monument explores the discovery of San Diego by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. Visitors can learn all about Cabrillo’s life, as well as the 16th century exploration industry. This is also a great spot to whale watch from land.
  • Hotel Del Coronado – While I’ll mention this hotel again in my “Where to Stay” guide, the history of this property is so rich that it’s worth mentioning here as well. Built in 1888, this National Historic Landmark is the second largest wooden structure in the United States. Made famous in the film, Some Like it Hot, the hotel is an icon in San Diego. Even if you don’t stay at “The Del” (as it’s referred to locally), I’d recommend coming for a cocktail by the sea, or for its famed Sunday brunch.

THE ARTS + SPORTS

  • La Jolla Playhouse – One of the things I thought I’d miss most about NYC was the world-class theatre right at my doorstep. However, the Playhouse is a breeding ground for Broadway and features about a half a dozen shows a year (a mix of plays and musicals) with enormous talent. Tip: Don’t miss the chocolate chip cookies at the concession stand!
  • Padres Game – No explanation needed here, but I do love the fact that the stadium is right in the heart of the city.
  • Del Mar Racetrack – Del Mar, in North County, is horse country and going to the race track is a San Diego tradition. The racing season in Del Mar runs from mid-July through Labor Day and then again from early November to early December.

GET OUTDOORS

  • Hike Torrey Pines – This State Reserve is famous for its rugged coastline and Pacific views. There are plenty of hiking trails to choose from and you can even walk down to the beach.
  • Go Surfing – Surfing is California’s favorite pastime and you will find no shortage of enthusiasts in San Diego. There are plenty of surf shops offering classes and lessons but if you’d rather just spectate, head to any ocean pier and you can watch locals take on the waves.
  • Mission Bay Boating – Mission Bay is a man-made saltwater lagoon just south of Pacific Beach. The area is massive and with calm waters, its the perfect playground for water sport rentals – from paddleboarding, to jetskis, pontoons and speedboats – you can find almost everything here!
  • Beaches – This is an obvious one, but the top beaches central to San Diego are: Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla Shores and Coronado.
  • Biking – While everyone is scootering around these days, I’m still partial to my old fashioned beach cruiser. The boardwalks by the beach are perfect for biking!