I was thrilled when I received an email a couple of weeks ago inviting me to become a Travel Secrets Author on Tripbase, publisher of the free Travel Secrets e-book.
The eBook series is the result of a unique collaborative project, the first of its kind to take place on the Internet. Starting with just one blog post back in November 2009, the Travel Secrets project spread quickly with 200 travel bloggers revealing their most closely guarded travel secrets. The secrets were too good not to share! So all 500 of them were compiled into a series of inspirational travel eBooks, available for free download here. A new edition will be coming out in the next few months. For every person who downloads a Travel Secrets eBook, Tripbase will make a $1 donation* to the fantastic cause, Charity: Water whose mission is to help bring clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. Their campaign target is to build 4 freshwater wells, providing clean water for an entire school for the next 20 years.
(*$1 Donation per download up to $5,000, half a dollar to $10,000, and 25 cents to $15,000. Total donation cap is $15,000)
It was difficult to decide what three tips to choose. When I travel, I like to seek out authentic (as much as possible) experiences and my first two tips speak to that:
1. Rent a house or apartment
Yes, unless you are by yourself (and sometimes even when you are!), renting an apartment or a house is a much cheaper way to stay in a foreign country. We’ve rented places in Hawai’i, France and Italy and each time, it has allowed us to really experience the local culture (shopping at markets and supermarkets and cooking with local incredients) in much more depth than a hotel stay would have afforded.
Not your typical hotel apéritif in Umbria, Italy?
Genuine “poutres apparantes” (exposed beams) to lull you to sleep in Paris, France.
You can’t get much cuter than that in Dinan, France.
All these rental properties usually work out to much cheaper than a hotel because they afford you the luxury of a “day off” constantly eating out – which can be fun but sometimes you just want a home-cooked meal, right? And all those meals out add up. Splitting the rental costs between a few people also means you might be able to afford a trip you otherwise might not have. How much I appreciate travelling in this fashion really hit home when I was in Philadelphia recently – after 6 nights of hotels I was going stir crazy. I just wanted my own food! Not to mention the cost. Nearly twice what I paid for two weeks rental properties in France at Christmas. Concerned you might not be able to find a reputable agency? VRBO and Great Rentals are good places to start and were where we rented our first properties from. Go ahead – try it – once you’ve tried it you won’t look back.
2. Take a class
I can’t stress how much I enjoy taking (cooking) classes when I am travelling. Because one of my favourite things to to is bring a little piece of my travels home with me in the form of food when I return from vacation (now there’s an idea for a great cookbook, don’t you think?), I love to learn new and authentic recipes when I travel. We usually buy cookbooks and or magazines to bring back but there is no substitute for learning from the locals.
Joy at the Tamarind Riverside Cooking School in Luang Prabang, Laos.
Which we replicated when we came back by teaching our friends all the recipes we learned!
Getting the lowdown from Anne at the New Orleans School of Cooking.
Learning all about les macarons from the masters at Lenôtre in Paris.
A tour of France in wine and cheese at Ô Chateau, Paris, France.
All these experiences have given me great ideas and recipes to use in the kitchen upon returning from my trips and it’s my little way of making sure I keep the memories of my trips alive just that little bit longer! Neil and I like to host themed dinner parties on a fairly elaborate scale and part of the the fun is introducing our friends to cuisines they might not have tried before. Classes are a great way to learn culture-specific techniques that feature in foreign recipes. Everywhere we go now, we always seek cooking demos or classes to attend as part of our regular routine on vacation!
My third tip might seem a little touristy but don’t write it off -
3. Get the lay of the land – take a tour!
I am not kidding – when time is of the essence and you find yourself in a big city, sometimes those cheesy double-decker bus tours are just what the doctor ordered. Or perhaps a walking tour is more your speed. Don’t be embarrassed – they can be so useful to help you find your feet and get your bearings, in short, be able to find your way around without looking like a tourist!
All aboard the Big Bus Company in Philadelphia!
Checking out Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith’s Shop in New Orleans, Louisiana on a Haunted History walking tour.
Whilst some people might pooh-pooh this and say it’s too touristy, taking a bus tour can really help you find your way and see many important sights in limited time.
In another lifetime, I found myself in London, England, with 22 ten old Parisian school boys who were on exchange with a school in Kent. They had one day to “see London”. I convinced the school that the cost of the double-decker tour was worth it (at the time, it was not insignificant!), and thankfully, they agreed. For four and a half very happy hours, the little guys sat up top, took hundreds of photos, ate their packed lunches and had a ball. Me? I was pleased because at any given time I knew where they were. All of them. When we got off the bus in Piccadilly Circus, the boys stood against the window of the nearest souvenir store and took it in turns to go inside in groups of 4 to buy whatever they liked. On the train on the way back to Kent that night, they were ecstatic that they had “seen” London. And they pretty much had. That’s what I am talking about – great value for money and limited time.
Recently in Philadelphia, my friend and I had a ball on the Big Bus tour – there’s noone better to tell you all about their city than a local. And there were even locals on our bus, taking out of town visitors for a spin. If the locals are doing it, it can’t be half bad!
Go ahead – rent an apartment, take a cooking class and hop on a bus. Your trip experience will be so much richer for it!
Oh and the photo at the top of the post? That’s Cleo’s travel secret: Always pack a big black cat in your carry on.