Category Archives: Travel

Getting Real about black sand between your toes, Swiss chalets and Frette sheets

You’ve watched every episode of Millionaire Matchmaker on-demand, your liquid jacket isn’t as windproof as it was in college and your Totes Toasties have been worn so often that the grippers on the bottom are starting to come off. Basically, you’ve got a bad case of “winter” that you need to escape.

Thankfully, in the last year, the interwebs have given birth to a crop of discount luxury travel sites that allow you to flee your humdrum life and take a fabulous journey to an exotic locale. Since I travel almost as much as George Clooney in “Up In the Air,” and can’t resist a good deal, here’s a rundown of some of my faves.

Jetsetter

Jetsetter, a spawn of the addictive fashion site Gilt, offers “flash sales” on luxury hotels at unbeatable prices.

The Upside: While some of their picks may not seem cheap, when you look at the sticker price, you realize what a good deal you’re getting. Also, each hotel they feature gets the “Jetsetter Verified” stamp, which means that it’s going to be a damn good hotel.

The Downside: Jetsetter flash sales only last for a few days max and the best dates (weekends, holidays, etc) get eaten up quickly. If you want the best deal on the best date, you need to act fast. Jetsetter just introduced a new feature where you can book any hotel at any time but this blogger only recommends that if you have Oprah’s bankroll.

Trips I’ve booked on this site: Our recent blogger’s retreat took place at a hotel (Villagio in Yountville) that we booked on Jetsetter. While the price of over $250 a night was steep, since it was split between the four of us, it wasn’t bad. And all four of us were able to use the spa facilities, enjoy an opulent afternoon tea (yup, crustless sandwiches and pine nut scones), and a breakfast with omelets on demand, for free. Last summer, I also booked the Fairmont Sonoma (also very snazzy) for under $100 on Jetsetter.

Hot deals they have going on now: Bestill my Sperry-loving heart – the c/o Maidstone in the Hamptons is like a preppy girl’s dream come true. I would advise booking a weekend in March when it’s a bit warmer but the prices have yet to completely shoot through the roof. Or if you want to get a little “wild,” there’s also a stay at the Vuyani Lodge in South Africa, which promises up close visits with Simba, Timon and Pumba. The $390 per night pricetag isn’t cheap but the rate includes three meals a day, safari drives, and airport transfers. MEE-OW.

If you’re thinking about booking, please do use this link – you’ll get $25 in free credit and so will this starving blogger.


Tablet Hotels

Tablet focuses a bit more on “hotels on demand,” which is to say that you can easily search their site by preferred destination, type of trip or hotel name. Tablet will turn up a list of “approved” hotels that they recommend. They also have “Private Sales” which have steeper discounts, but these aren’t promoted as well.

The Upside: In addition to surfacing great hotels that match your search criteria, Tablet also posts “Top 10” lists that can help you pick a hotel. From “Best Unusual Hotels” to “Best Beach Hotels,” there’s a list you’ll want to look at.

The Downside: Sometimes when you search for a specific destination, the list of hotels that Tablet turns up is sparse. This is likely because these hotels are already booked for the days you want them but it can be an unsatisfying experience.

Hotels I’ve Booked on This Site: When I was booking hotels for my recent trip to Argentina, I wanted to find places that were a bit unusual and exciting. When I searched for hotels in Mendoza, Tablet turned up Club Tapiz, which is set on a vineyard in Argentinian wine country. It was the perfect place to stay. Also, I recently booked a stay at Donovan House in Washington, DC for work. Donovan House is one of my favorite hotels in DC – it’s located right in the neighborhood where I used to live, has an amazing pool and a glorious rainfall shower that makes you feel like you’re in a time machine. Tablet had a MUCH cheaper rate than the one the Donovan House website published.

Hot deals they have going on now: Channel your inner Gordon Gecko with a stay at Andaz Wall Street, with rates from $150 in the Tablet Private Sale section. New York doesn’t come cheaper than this…unless the hotel charges by the hour. Otherwise, jet down to Buenos Aires for the weekend – Tablet has last-minute deals starting for only $100 a night in Palermo, BA’s trendiest neighborhood. And if you need a good steakhouse recommendation, I’ve got you covered.

BetterBidding.com

While Betterbidding.com isn’t a luxury hotel site, as a savvy traveler I would be remiss not to include it, because it has really helped me over the years. I am not ashamed to admit that I love getting great deals on Hotwire and Priceline. I mean, sometimes you just want a place to sleep that you know is going to be decent like a Westin or a Hilton, and Hotwire/Priceline deliver these at a great price. What I hate, is ending up at a hotel that sucks because Hotwire/Priceline didn’t tell me the name of it before I hit confirm.

Betterbooking.com takes the guesswork out of these sites by creating user-generated lists that match the listed amenities (pool, gym, business center) with the names of the hotels that it is most likely to be.

The Upside: There is no other site like it. Thousands of users work together to tell you which hotel you’re going to be booking, before you actually book. A beautiful demonstration of crowd-sourcing.

The Downside: The user experience and overall design of the site is in a word, heinous. You aren’t going to get the slick black background and easily navigable tabs that you will with the first two mentioned sites.

Hotels I’ve Booked: I’ve booked too many hotels to count on this site. It’s been most beneficial when I’m trying to figure out whether a hotel is a Starwood Hotel or not, since I am a Starwood Preferred Guest and adore that Heavenly Bed.

Hot deals they have now: There are always deals to be had on Priceline and Hotwire. First search there. Then cross-reference Betterbidding before you book your hotel.
And with that, happy trails to you! May your hotel closets by filled with plush robes and your days be filled with scuba adventures!

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Filed under internets, Ramya, Tech, Travel

Getting Real about traveling smart

I must say, I consider myself a pretty savvy traveler, but after a recent international trip I found that I still have some things to learn. So I thought I’d share some of the lessons I learned the hard way — I’m talking blood, sweat and tears went into learning these lessons. (Mostly sweat and tears, the blood could’ve been avoided if I wasn’t so clumsy, but that’s another story.) And they just might be useful for all you holiday travelers.

1. Plan for the worst case scenario. Lost luggage? Who me? No way, that never happens to me. Except when it does and all you have to get through the next 3 days is your iPod, a copy of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and that industrial size Toblerone bar you bought at the duty free shop. Pack an extra set of clothes in your carry-on. It’s really fun to play dress up from your mom’s closet when you are 6, not as much when you are 26.

I only buy chocolate in one size

2. Make sure you have all the contact info on hand for whoever is picking you up. Especially important for international travel. Maybe your phone won’t turn on, maybe you don’t know the proper country code. Figure it out ahead of time and write it on a piece of paper. So low-tech, so clutch when you miss your flight. Also if you can avoid it, don’t use your credit card at the pay phones unless you are cool with paying $30 for a 5 minute phone call. Ask for a calling card at your airlines’s help desk.

3. Pick carry-on luggage that can be manipulated into a pillow or can accommodate some sort of comfortable sleeping situation. Naps during layovers are the best. Just make sure you wake up in time for your flight.

pretty but poor pillow material

4. Do not fly with Air France. In fact unless your destination is Paris, avoid Charles de Gaulle altogether.

Problem number one: it’s like pulling teeth trying to get anyone to speak english with you. Even on the flight over, which boarded in the U.S. the flight attendant directed me to my seat in french. Luckily I can count to 36 and am pretty familiar with the alphabet, otherwise I would’ve been wandering up and down the aisle for ages. Throughout the flight, every time the attendant asked me a question she would start in french and I would have to ask her to speak english. I’m sorry I did not learn how to speak french in the 25 minutes since you last spoke to me. Then I asked her where I can get the boarding pass for my next flight issued and she looked absolutely confused and kept asking me where my ticket was. “How do you fly with no documents?” It’s called an e-ticket. Welcome to 2010.

if the rare case that the cabin looses pressure, you are all screwed.

Problem number two: they allow you to book flights with layovers that are so short it is physically impossible (like even when running through the airport at top speed) to make your connecting flight and when you do miss said flight they both scold you and shrug their shoulders when you ask them for help. I think I got more scoldings in the 3 hours I was in that airport than I did throughout my whole childhood. When I wasn’t being scolded, I was being dismissed. Pretty much each time I asked someone for help navigating the airport I got some vague answer and when I asked for further clarification, I got the shoulder shrug. One man never even looked up from his magazine the whole time he spoke to me. I guess that would have been too much effort and he was feeling le tired. Now this is in no way meant to be a Frenchie hatefest. I am sure there are a lot of wonderful, kind, helpful people in France. It’s just that none of them work at Charles de Gualle.

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Getting Real about my weekend in SF

So it is officially Wednesday which means I am locking down my plans for the weekend. Unfortunately, the boy from last week has not called/texted so I think it is fair to assume my new phone is not broken and I can proceed with my standard girls weekend. (Don’t worry, I am not too upset since I did get a super-swanky dinner at Spruce and unknowingly ordered a super-swanky, er expensive, glass of  sauvignon blanc. I am just pissed that had I known our romance was going to last all of two days I didn’t go balls to the wall and order the beignets with chocolate dipping sauce for dessert. UGH!)

Anyhow, even with a lack of male loving, this weekend is shaping up quite nicely. I got an email this morning that finally the House of Air Trampoline Park is opening on Chrissy field. Basically, for $14 an hour (and $10 for every hour after that you want to test your stomach) you can jump around on 42 conjoined trampolines and ricochet off padded walls. Even though the thought of this kinda makes me nauseous, I am eagerly excited to test it out.

Next up, I will be heading over to Japantown to experience J-POP (not to be confused with the Jersey Shore‘s J-Woww). J-POP is described as sensory overload of everything Japanese popular culture (anime, ridiculous outfits with bedazzled medical masks and pop music).  Katie has already promised to take in the sights with me and buy something inappropriately stereotypical (that’s why we became friends).

Finally, I will be heading over to Davies Symphony to watch my favorite comedian (don’t judge me) Kathy Griffin. Nothing makes me laugh out loud quite like her  ridiculous celebrity trashing and constant mocking of Oprah, Ryan Seacrest and Paris Hilton.

Hope your weekends are shaping up just as nicely 🙂

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Filed under Fashion, Marisha, Travel

Getting Real about the 50 Best College Bars in America

What statistic is more important to college students heading back to campus right now than their current US News and World Report Ranking?

State Street Brats - Madison WI

Whether or not their local watering hole made it in complex.com’s “50 best college bars in America”

What I am happy to report is that the Big 10 had a very strong showing with 6 schools repped in the top 20.  Madison and Penn State even had 2 shout outs.  Noticeably absent were Michigan State, Purdue, U of Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa.  I guess those schools have little work to do in the drinking dept.

Should I be proud that future Big 10 member Nebraska was listed as having the #1 college bar in America?  I’m going to go ahead and say yes for now.  And speaking as someone who has actually visited Lincoln NE, I will say that I was pleasantly surprised at what a chill college town it turned out to be.

Here’s the important stuff for those of you keeping track…

1.  Duffy’s Tavern – Lincoln, NE

5. Kilroy’s on Kirkwood – Bloomington, IN

9. The Keg – Northwestern

12. Out-R-Inn – Ohio State

14. Good Time Charley’s – Ann Arbor, Michigan

15. All American Rathskeller – Penn State

18. State Street Brats – Madison, WI

34. Phyrst – Penn State

37. Kollege Klub – Madison, WI

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Filed under Beverage, Katie, Travel

Getting Real about the worst traffic jam of your life

is beijing the new la?

i remember i had an interview once in hollywood that was later in the afternoon but i had nothing to do during the day, so i just fucked around and played fifa for like four hours, then i realized my hair looked terrible and i should get some product to keep it in check.   so i went to gelsons and bought this bottle of dove gel that looked like blue jizz (i still have this bottle today) but would make my head look better.  then i put the suit on that my parents bought me when i graduated but whenever i don’t spend my own money on clothes i try to get somethign cooler than i probably should have in which case it goes out of style in two years. three buttons seemed awesome at the time but now i’m well aware that you should just own a two-button suit and be done with it.

anyways, i was super late but my hair looked good even tho i was sweating balls in this suit and then i realized i didn’t actually know where the building was, but i thought i’d driven by it before.  this was b4 i had a super phone and could google pretty much whatever i wanted.  so i ended up on la cienaga and remember thinking i’d blown the job for so many reasons, the worst of which was this fifa season i was playing with wigan athletic.  there’s no reason you should ever play a fifa season with wigan athletic but it became this personal challenge and was realistically as good a use of my time as any and i was basically dominating the premier league with a second tier team with a great name.

the stoplights were absolutely killing me at this point and i was thinking about just pulling a super illegal u-turn and going back and playing fifa because i was already 25 minutes late and it wasn’t like the job was that sweet.  but i heard that a basic traffic violation was like a $400 ticket b/c the state was broke and i didn’t have those kind of skrills so i just went to the interview and got the job the next day.

so apparently china is worse now.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704125604575449173989748704.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_MIDDLETopStories

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