Monday, January 22, 2007

Maui Hawaii Vacations

Maui's my favorite of the Hawaiian islands and home to some of the most amazing beaches. Some beaches offer swimming all year round, while others are best for surfing or snorkeling during certain times of the year. Depending on where you choose to stay, there are always some famous beaches nearby.

West Maui beaches If you drive along the west coast of Maui from Lahaina to Kapalua, you'll see many breathtaking beaches along the coast. Kaanapali Beach will offer you over three miles of white sand with a variety of watersports, including surfing, sailboating, and even catamaran rides. On the north end of the beach is Black Rock, which is where you can get in some awesome snorkeling.

Most people like the sandy beach at Napili Bay, because there are no high rise buildings around, and the bay is well protected from waves. The Kapalua Resort in west Maui is home to Kapalua Beach, Oneloa Bay Beach, and the D.T. Fleming Beach.

South Maui Beaches The rule with Hawaii and is that the further south you travel, the less crowded the beaches will be. I've seen that with Kauai and it's certainly true with Maui.

Kihei offers you a series of beaches along the six mile coastline, some even offering lifeguards, restrooms, and picnic areas. Polo Beach and Wailea Beach offer both restrooms and equipment rentals. Or, if you prefer a more secluded beach, you should visit Maluaka Beach at the Maui Prince Hotel - where you may even come across some green sea turtles.

A few miles past the Maui Prince Hotel is the Big Beach of Makena, which, in my opinion, is one of the best beaches on Maui. It's not called Big Beach for nothing! It's big, and, and best of all, empty. It offers white sand, picnic facilities, and even restrooms.

East Maui Beaches The beaches of East Maui are unlike others in Hawaii. Surround by lush scenery, the beaches are secluded, scenic, and very colorful.

You can't leave East Maui without visiting Hamoa Beach. As you approach the beach from the main road, you'll walk past colorful plants and palm trees surrounding Hamoa Beach. Just off Hana Highway is Hana Bay Beach, which offers blackvolcanic sand.

The Red Sand Beach is difficult to get to, you'll need to find a narrow path along the coast. The beach offers plenty of swimming and snorkeling, and you should be the only one there - which is great for those looking for privacy. Even though it is hard to get to, Red Sand Beach is truly one of a kind. Although great for swimming, you'll want to bring a book, sit awhile and relax.

For more Hawaii trip ideas, go to

Sunday, January 21, 2007

European Vacation Getaway - 7 Travel Tips

Europe has always been a popular travel destination. Whether you're a seasoned traveler or planning your first trip, there are several important things to keep in mind before calling your travel agent and booking your next vacation:

1. Time of year: While "Paris in the Springtime" sounds very romantic, the truth is that you're liable to spend many days indoors, because the weather can be cold and rainy. Why not try the French Riviera instead? The French Riviera in the springtime boasts warm temperatures, sunshine and beautiful places to visit. If you're not sure of weather patterns, check with your travel agent who can advise you on rainy seasons or other weather-related issues for traveling to a specific spot.

2. Your Budget: Decide how much you've got to spend, and don't forget to include extras like tourist attractions, getting around, souvenirs and meals (which are typically more expensive in Europe than in the states -- dinner can cost upwards of 50 Euros per person, especially in metropolitan cities). If your budget is smaller, consider visiting Eastern Europe, looking for packaged tours, or, if you're flexible, book a "last-minute" trip, which can often save you 30% or more. Check out the current exchange rate between your currency and that of the country you'll be visiting, to have a better idea of what your vacation is going to actually cost you. You’ll have more fun if you’ve budgeted for a reasonable amount, rather than run out of money on your trip and have to miss out on some sights.

3. Political Climate: While most countries that rely on tourism make every effort to ensure the safety of tourists, these days it's always a good idea to keep up on the current political climate of the country you're planning to visit, especially if there have been problems in the past.

4. Know our own "internal clock" or level of tolerance for structured travel: If you prefer sleeping in in the mornings, and "doing your own thing" then a guided tour is probably not for you. Most guided tours start early in the morning, and you're on the go until evening. You may visit several cities in a country or countries within a specified amount of time, and you're required to stay with the group. Make sure you don’t spend money on something you’re not really going to enjoy.

5. Use the resources that are available to make your trip special and save money: Today's travelers have numerous options when planning their vacation. You can use the Internet to find out more about the cities or countries you want to visit, check out prices; even book your flight or hotel room. On the other hand, don’t assume the internet has the best rates. Double check with the airlines or a travel agent to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

6. Get organized: You can use trip-planning software, or your own favorite organizing system to organize and plan your trip. Don't forget things like making sure your passport and picture ID are up-to-date, finding out if travel insurance is something you need, and how and where to exchange your money. The more organized you are in the beginning, the better vacation you'll have. While on the topic of passport, give yourself plenty of time to get your passport, especially with the new passport regulations taking place. There’s going to be a flood of people seeking passports, so it may take longer than you expect.

7. Pack lightly: When planning your trip, look at your wardrobe and pack as lightly as you can. Most of us take too much on a vacation, and end up lugging heavy suitcases and other bags along filled with items that we either don't use or don't need. Take only what you'll really need, and remember that if you forget or end up needing something, chances are you can get it once you reach your destination.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Mt. Shasta Vacation

Want a trip that will please anyone in the family? Mt. Shasta, California certainly fits that bill, appealing to almost anyone, from golfers to skiers, and yes, to those seeking a more spiritual path.

Mt. Shasta is home to, well… Mt. Shasta, a 14,179-foot volcano, the second-highest peak in the Cascade Range. Yeah, it’s big. And beautiful. And,home to a vortex which attracts “New Age” types. A drive down Mt. Shasta Blvd. in Mt. Shasta City reveals a vast array of spiritual shops and assorted healers. You can buy singing bowls and tuning forks, divination tools, yoga supplies, vibrational sprays and magical jewelry. You find can all types of spiritual healers, such as those offering psychic hypnotherapy, reflexology, Reiki and energy work, vibrational healing and massage. If you’re into mineral baths, you can drive a few minutes north of Mt. Shasta City to Weed, where you’ll find therapeutic mineral baths at Stewart Mineral Springs (530-938-2222). (They also have some cabins and motel rooms. But, unless you want something truly rustic, you might want to stay elsewhere. The cabins, as of summer of 2006, could use some updating and sprucing up.)

Those of you wishing to take vortex tours are definitely in luck, as there are numerous guided tours to choose from, including Shasta Vortex Adventures, which offers Mt. Shasta Guided Tours all year round. You can choose from guided hikes, healing earth journeys, bus tours and winter outings, such as snowshoe, cross country or telemark ski outings. Call them at 530-926-4326 for more information.

For those seeking outdoor activities and adventure, Mt. Shasta does not disappoint, no matter what season in which you’re visiting. During the warmer months you can hike or visit the many lakes which dot the area, including, of course, Lake Shasta, 10 miles north of Redding, the second largest lake in California, after Lake Tahoe. Shasta Lake is a very popular destination for boating, water-skiing, camping, and fishing. They also claim to be the houseboating and wakeboarding Capital of the World. Lake Shasta is also home to the Lake Shasta Caverns, which is open all year round. In order to view the underground caverns, visitors are taken on a 15-minute catamaran cruise across Lake Shasta, where they then board a bus which carries them up a mountainside, more than 800 feet above the lake, where the caves are accessible. All this for only $20; $12 for those 3 to 15. Call 1-800-795-CAVE for more information.

If the size of Lake Shasta is too overwhelming for you, as it was for me during one visit, you might want to visit a smaller lake near Mt. Shasta City, Lake Siskiyou, a 430 acre recreational and sailing lake, which offers some of the best bass and trout fishing in Northern California. You can purchase a cheap day pass and swim, picnic or rent pedal boats, or you can rent RV or camping space, or a cabin at Lake Siskiyou Resort and Camp (1-888-926-2618). The resort is open April 1st - October 31st and is very family friendly, with a great swimming area, sandy beach, and nightly movies in an outdoor amphitheater. The lake is actually closer to Mt. Shasta than Lake Shasta, and you can swim with the beautiful snow-covered mountain looming in the backdrop.

Close to Lake Siskiyou you’ll find Mount Shasta Resort, home to a championship golf course, as well as luxurious cabins and a day spa.

Skiers will delight in skiing Mt. Shasta at the Mt. Shasta Ski Park, where you’ll find 31 trails on 425 acres of skiable terrain. Night skiing is also provided on 14 trails and 3 lifts. The terrain level of difficulty is 20% beginner, 55% intermediate, and 25% advanced. There is also a cross country ski and snowshoe center for those wishing something other than downhill skiing. And for beginners, the ski park offers ski, snowboarding and telemark lessons.

If you want information on summer vacation spots, visit .

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Housing Exchange

House Swapping – the Ultimate in Budget Travel

How would you like to stay in Umbria for two weeks and not have to pay a dime for your accommodations? That would sure save you money on your vacation, wouldn’t it? And, let’s say your accommodation was a 4-bedroom, 3-bath stone building which dates back to the 14th century, with a kitchen with all you need to cook fabulous meals? That would save money on dining out, now, wouldn’t it? Of course, with the house costing nothing, who needs to save money by eating in?

Where can you find such incredible savings? It’s called house exchange or house swap. The recent movie “The Holiday” used the notion of a house swap to help the leading characters find romance. One woman from England swaps houses with a woman from the United States over the Christmas holiday and they both find romance in their new surroundings. Will their new romance become permanent and lasting true love? Who knows, but at least we know they saved money. And, you can too.

Here’s how it works. If you decide you want to exchange homes with someone, you sign up with a house exchange company, which can typically cost around $60 to $80 per year, choose which destination you wish to visit and the dates, and see if there are any potential exchange partners who you match with. If they agree to stay in your house during the time specified, you’re on your way to a vacation in Paris, Florence, San Francisco, or wherever there’s a match. And the cost? Just your membership fees to the exchange company. Your only costs, then, are your airfare, dining out and recreation. Considering that lodging can run about $150 a night and even higher, you stand to save hundreds to thousands on your vacation.

House swapping is nothing new, and many of the exchange companies have been in business for decades, with more popping up all the time.

Aside from the savings, you get the opportunity of living like the locals do. You get the opportunity to try restaurants that aren’t near the tourist hotels, see places you otherwise might pass up.

In addition to the benefits you receive in your “new home,” your old home is being looked after by your exchange partners, which means you don’t have to pay anyone to water your plants or check up on your house. And, if your arrangement with your exchange partner allows for it, your pets will be cared for as well. Some things to consider before posting your request with your chosen company include:

Will you allow for the use of your car? Many times the exchange partners exchange cars as well.

Do you agree to care for the exchange partner’s pets?

How many people do you allow to stay in your house?

Will you allow children?

Will you allow pets?

One question you may have is – is home exchange safe? Obviously there are unscrupulous people out there, so you can increase your safety by making sure you keep your valuables locked up. It’s also a good idea to have your mail held by the post office. Also, you could choose only those homes which have had prior exchanges. If someone’s had 10 successful exchanges you should feel pretty secure. However, if at any time during the process you feel uneasy about the exchange, trust your instincts and stop the process.

House swapping is definitely one option to consider in order to cut down on vacation costs. Who knows, it may open you up to a new way of travel that you’ll return to year after year after year.

Go to for vacation destination suggestions. Who know, maybe a Canary Island holiday is in your future.

(One new housing exchange I was just alerted to in my comments is . Check it out.)

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