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Rota Vicentina, Portugal

Hike Portugal on The Rota Vicentina

It goes without saying that the European continent has a lot to offer a traveler. Portugal, in particular, though one of the smaller countries, has a vast array of tourist attractions. Sometimes lovingly labeled as the California of Europe, the west coast similarities can be striking. Lisbon, for example, is built on hills and touts a big red bridge, much like the famous Golden Gate of San Francisco. Meanwhile the surrounding beaches, and the people who flock to them, are as colorful as they are beautiful.

Portuguese Coast along the Rota Vicentina

Portuguese Coast while hiking along the Rota Vicentina

Hike Portugal

Since one could argue that all cities are alike in some ways, touring rural locales, like by hiking the Rota Vicentina, is an ideal way to explore the country’s true beauty. A relatively new trail, the Rota Vicentina snakes its way along the southwestern coast of Portugal, where you’ll find preserved wildlife and a number of endemic species. It begins about two hours south of Lisbon, near Sines, and, depending on your level of persistence, continues almost all the way to the end of the world, or Cape Sagres as it’s also known.

Included within the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentina Coast Natural Park, it is 350 kilometers, or approximately 217 miles, in total and there are two routes by which you can trek the two-year-old trail. One path, The Fishermen’s Trail, winds its way along the coast, while The Historical Way carves its own path inland. Should indecision strike, you can take comfort in knowing that the paths cross and merge on occasion. This way you can pick and choose as you go, much like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, but with more sand.

A farm on the Rota Vicentina in Portugal

A farm on the Rota Vicentina hike in Portugal

In addition to the natural wonders that sprout along the way, the beauty of this hike lies in its structure. Unlike other week-long treks, the Rota Vicentina trails are split between small villages sprinkled throughout the region. At most, you hike around 25 kilometers (15 miles) per day but even that isn’t entirely necessary. If you can stomach the weight of camping gear, there are also designated camping parks where you can rest your soles – and souls –  along the way.

The towns, which give you a quaint look into the mosaic of Portuguese life, also make the trek more appealing by breaking it up. Because you can find accommodation and nourishment at the mapped locations, you’re not forced to carry as much food, water, or gear as you would on other hikes of this length. The website has helpful recommendations for planners, though it can be pricey, and the trail itself is littered with friendly folks who are otherwise happy to lend a hand.

A town along the Rota Vicentina

Whichever way you decide to go, you will be widely rewarded with breathtaking views, ever-changing landscapes, and long-lasting memories. Ultimately, if you enjoy long, romantic walks on the beach, this trail was made for you. Only a handful of things could make the trip more enjoyable, if not easier.

Hints for Hiking portugal on the Rota Vicentina

A Backpack
In theory, you could go without one, but carts and covered wagons are a lot harder to get across the sand. The upside is that your backpack doesn’t have to be anything heavy duty, just something to get you through the day. Somewhere you can stash your sweatshirt after the morning chill burns off or store small essentials like chapstick and sunscreen.

Water
Ideally you wouldn’t tackle any trek without one. Most trekkers recommend going in spring, but your rebellious spirit leads you here in the heat of summer, you’ll need to hydrate. To be safe, you want two to three liters per person on average, and it’s best to plan ahead since there aren’t any refill stations between the villages. Besides, ocean water can be salty.

Gummies
Seriously. Gummies are great for hiking because they provide quick energy your body can burn, meaning the excess sugar won’t lead to a weight gain at the end of the day. After lunch, when your legs are heavy and you’re feeling sluggish, a few sweets will give your body the push it needs to get going again and power through. Chocolate is also a great option here, as long as you note that it gets messy when it melts.

Hike Portugal A Camera
Even if it’s only your phone, because it’s too beautiful not to show off. If or when you finally return home, pictures will help elevate your reputation as an awesome traveler. The combination of cliffs and sand, farms and lighthouses, land and sea will leave even you wondering if you’ve ever seen anything like it. Bring a camera if only to go back and check.

A Headlamp
A headlamp isn’t as necessary as it is complementary. On some of the longer days, it’s best to get started early. As in before dawn early. A headlamp frees your hands for climbing and catching yourself while still being able to spot the toads that serve as the soundtrack for your stroll. While I know that dark and early doesn’t appeal to everyone, a majestic beach sunrise in front of an island fortress definitely does.

Dawn on the Rota Vicentina

Sunrise on the fortress hiking along the Rota Vicentina

A Towel
You might think towels are bulky, but travel towels come quite compact and the beaches are as frequent as they are irresistible. Since some of them are nude, your towel can take up whatever space you saved for your swimsuit. Don’t worry about keeping your secret safe, the locals will get rowdy if anyone stops for a photo opp. So, go ahead, do as the Romans did.

A Knife
For lunch, après-lunch, and maybe even supper. Some of the best local hiking eats include meats and cheeses. Cured meat enthusiasts in particular will find themselves in chorizo heaven on this hike. With a new selection to choose from every day in town, you’ll always have something to open and your picnic will look indescribably more appealing if you bring a small knife to slice and dice.

BodyGlide
“What’s that,” you ask? Oh, just your saving grace. Bodyglide is essentially a personal lubricant, but not the kind that may come to mind. It comes in the shape of a deodorant stick, and, when applied to the body, can reduce friction and chaffing in areas that tend to rub. Even if you sport a thigh gap, I highly recommend it for your feet, chest, or any place your pack may wear. It beats a blister any day.

Ahoy Hostel Porto Covo

Outside Ahoy Hostel in Porto Covo

A Book
Mostly for entertainment. While most hostels have wifi, some of the places you’ll stay will not be all that modern, especially if you camp. A book is always good company on the beach, and if you bring a writing utensil it doubles as a place to take notes. You can jot down the places you loved and the people you met, or write yourself a reminder to review Ahoy Hostel and thank Nick for all his help.

Vinho Verde
Okay, so maybe don’t bring the Vinho Verde in your backpack, but definitely get it at one of your stops. Although the literal translations would call it a green wine, it’s not a thing of Dr. Seuss stories. Instead it’s white, slightly effervescent, inexpensive, and it pairs well with your well-deserved dessert. Sort of like a sparkly Moscato that’s as sweet and refreshing as your adventure.

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Cat Napping

The Three Best Travel Pillows to Try Before Your Next Trip

It goes without saying that traveling is exceptionally fun, but sometimes it can also be a real pain in the neck… especially if you don’t have the right travel pillow! Travel pillows are one of the smallest luxuries that can make the biggest difference on any trip you take – whether it’s by plane, train or automobile. Having somewhere to rest your weary head can mean arriving fresh and somewhat rested instead of groggy and jet-lagged.

Unfortunately, wading through the wide array of travel pillows available, on top of everything else you have to check off before take-off, can take more time than it might seem to be worth. In an effort to help put your tense muscles at ease, we put together a little list that should help alleviate your travel pillow blues and hopefully give you the greatest sleep you’ve had away from home!

Here’s what we found to be the three best travel pillows:

The Travelrest

The Travelrest was made specifically for cuddle bugs. If you’re having separation anxiety from your body pillow and looking for a hug away from home, this inflatable pillow may well be the best travel alternative. Its especially unique in its ability to offer full lateral support. This much cushion is a rare find in a travel treat. You have to first inflate it manually, and then you can place it over your shoulder and enjoy the comfort that comes as a cozy embrace from a pillow. For safe-keeping, you can wear it like a messenger bag or tether it to an airplane seat. Or if you’re into the hands-free thing, you can easily loop it over the headrest in a car or vehicle and dream of shouting, “Look, ma, no hands!”

World’s Best Air Soft Microbeads Tube Pillow

If the sensation of sleeping on a beach is more your style, you might prefer this tube variation. The World’s Best Air Soft Microbeads cradle your head in a flexible, squishy softness that is so light it can be piled on top of the heaviest piece of luggage without tipping the scales. It’s also an ideal size for the little nooks and crannies that keep conventional pillows at bay. Rumors are it can make a 16-hour flight feel more like a cat nap. Even better, the tube also doubles as a lumbar support when it’s your turn to take the wheel or fits comfortably under your knees when you’re ready to put your feet up in the hostel bed.

Morph Pillow of the gods

This newbie is named after the Greek god of dreams, Morpheus, and is designed to make you feel like you’re sleeping on the clouds of Mt. Olympus. It’s made from a simple and straightforward memory foam sphere that goes places easily. Wherever you go, you can stuff it against a window or desk, on your shoulder or under your chin. Despite a machine-washable cover, the Morph compresses into a small plastic case that fits into both overstuffed luggage compartments and your carry-on. If space-saving is your priority, the Morph is a gift from the Gods.

Whatever your pillow preferences, traveling is a marvelous adventure that should not only be entertaining, but comfortable as well! Taking time to satisfy your travel needs and invest in the right pillow will at least give your more time to dream comfortably about your next destination!

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things to do on oahu with kids

4 Cheap Things to do in Oahu with Kids

There’s lots to do in Oahu… but what about things to do in Oahu with kids?

The fall season is a great time to escape to the beaches of Hawaii with your family. With the exception of the week around Thanksgiving, a big holiday and travel week for us here in the United States, hotels and flights to Hawaii are least expensive between mid-September and December 10th.

If you’re considering a family vacation to Hawaii, this fall is a great time to book the getaway.

Furthermore, the very best weather in Hawaii is during the fall months. While the temperature doesn’t vary too much throughout the year, the rainfall can fluctuate depending on the season.

Pro tip: Each island has a leeward side (the side sheltered from the wind) and a windward side (the side that gets the wind’s full force). The leeward sides (the west and south) are usually hot and dry, while the windward sides (east and north) are generally cooler and moist. When you want arid, sunbaked, desert-like weather, go leeward. When you want lush, wet, jungle-like weather, go windward.

Families love the island of Oahu, and for good reason! From playing in the clear blue waters of Kailua Beach to exploring the metropolitan city of Honolulu, there is so much to do here.

Here are the best things to do in Oahu with kids:

Oahu Grand Circle Island Tour

Kids love the fast-paced tour of  Oahu’s landmarks and destinations, including the world-famous Hanauma Bay, the spouting “Blow Hole,” Pali Lookout and the sacred Kualoa Ranch nestled against the stunning Koolau Mountains.

The narrated Oahu circle tour begins at Diamond Head, then heads past the lavish beachfront residences of celebrities and moguls in Kahala. (If you don’t have a good pair of binoculars, this might be a good time to invest.)

Image of mountains in Oahu

The trip continues east to Hanauma Bay, then stops at the Halona “Blow Hole,” where a natural volcanic lava tube shoots water to dramatic heights. A stop in Waimanalo will allow you to experience the small-town side of Oahu, then it’s time to be whisked off to enjoy sweeping views from the Pali Lookout. At the Byodo-In Temple, tucked in the Valley of the Temples, you will see a half-sized replica of Japan’s 450-year-old place of worship, then travel to the sacred Kualoa Ranch for a tram tour to the lush Kualoa Mountains.

Pearl Harbor Tour

It is absolutely OK to bring kids to Pearl Harbor. In fact, it is one of the best things that you can do with your kids in Hawaii. Why? Pearl Harbor is a living history lesson. Adults and kids learn more by visiting Pearl Harbor in a couple of hours than they do in a year of history class.

Makani Catamaran

Makani is Hawaii’s most luxurious sailing adventure! “Feel the Thrill” as you sail upon the Hawaiian waters with us. Enjoy the spirit of the ocean and the breathtaking views of the island as the Polynesians did many years ago.

Makani Catamaran sailing in Waikiki

Enjoy Hawaii sunset cruises aboard this luxurious catamaran and see why sailing Waikiki has become so rewarding on Makani. And maybe bring something for motion sickness just in case!

Don’t Miss Germaine’s Luau 

Experiencing a traditional luau that tells the tale of Hawaiin culture is one of the best things to do in Oahu with kids. Enjoy traditional Polynesian food, lively music and great entertainment for the whole family.

Women dancing the hula at a luau in Oahu

Pro tip: If you’re staying on Ohau or Maui, you should consider picking up a Vacation Pass. Essentially you pay one price for entrance to all the attractions and tours listed here. For example, for a 3-day Go Oahu Card, getting you access to a long list of activities and events, you’ll pay only $179 per adult and $149 per kids. This is by far the most cost effective way to build in the most things to do in Oahu with kids!

Have you been to Oahu with kids? What was your favorite thing to do there?

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best beaches in central america

5 Best Beaches in Central America that are Better (and cheaper!) than the Caribbean

The best beaches in Central America are closer than you think.

With summer travel plans firmly in place, this is the time of year I begin thinking about holiday travel. The week between Christmas and New Years is notoriously the most expensive and crowded week of the year in beach destinations around the world. Accommodations, flights and even activities all come with “festive season” price tags.

If you’re looking to get away over the holidays, check out some of these destinations in Central America where you can enjoy warm weather, clear Caribbean water, and time to relax with your family all at a fraction of the cost of a Caribbean island vacation. Plus, it’s becoming easier and cheaper than ever to book direct flights into hub cities like Panama City, Panama, San Jose, Costa Rica and Managua, Nicaragua. (And make sure you avoid baggage fees by packing a good carry-on.)

Here are a few of the best beaches in Central America:

Bocas del Toro Panama

Thanks to its remote location, Bocas del Toro is still relatively undeveloped when compared to other areas in Central America. While it may be a little rough around the edges, this also means that travel to Bocas del Toro is still relatively inexpensive– making it easily one of the best beaches in Central America.

bocas del toro with kids

Here are a few great family-friendly hotels in Bocas del Toro. Prices at the Red Frog Lodge, for example, start at only $53 per person per night. So all you need is good beach towel.

The Corn Islands Nicaragua

Located about 70km offshore in the Caribbean waters of Nicaragua, the Corn Islands feature beautifully remote horseshoe bays. Here you’ll find a Creole population living in colorful wooden houses and a thriving lobster fishing industry.

best beaches in central america

You can find rooms on Little Corn island for a low as $20 per night or a casita at the Casa Iguana for only $75 per night.

For more on the Corn Islands, check our this comprehensive Little Corn Islands Travel Guide.

Puerto Viejo Costa Rica 

Not too long ago, the only travelers to the sleepy seaside settlement of Puerto Viejo were avid surfers. While this is no longer the case, Puerto Viejo has retained it’s charm and laid-back attitude.

best beaches in central america

A string of Caribbean beaches, rainforest fruit farms and even a jaguar rescue center keep the entire family happy entertained during your stay.

At Pachamama, one of the jungle eco-lodges in Puerto Viejo, you can book a villa for a family of for less than $200 per night even in peak season.

Punta Gorda Belize

While Placencia and the Caribbean coast of Belize most certainly do get crowded, particularly doing holiday seasons, the unpretentious southern town of Punta Gorda remains blissfully low key year round.

Though it lacks the beaches of Placencia, there are plenty of docks from which to take a dip with your snorkel gear in the Gulf of Honduras’ blue waters. Becoming increasingly popular for expats looking to live internationally, PG also boasts a good variety of mid-priced guesthouses, hotels and B&Bs.

best beaches in central america

Head to the town center’s park on Wednesday, Saturday and, to a lesser extent, Monday and Friday to enjoy market mornings, when villagers from the mostly Maya settlements of southern Toledo come to town to buy, sell and barbecue around the central park. (You’ll want to bring a compact reusable bag to carry your goodies.)

Book a stay at the Belcampo Lodge, also a working farm with suites large enough for the entire family to spread out. Rates for the suites start at $380 per night.

Lake Atitlan Guatemala

Lake Atitlán is widely considered as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Aldous Huxley famously compared it to Italy’s Lake Como… “Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing.

If you’re looking to get off the beaten path, and explore beyond a traditional Caribbean experience, consider Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. It may be lesser known, but it’s still one of the best beaches in Central America!

best beaches in central america

Inspired by nature and created from volcanic stone, adobe and palm our spacious lakeside suites are individually appointed with comfortable hand hewn king beds, fine linens, intricate woven textiles and indigenous antiques, Laguna Lodge offers excellent value for money at $345 per night for a family of four (kids must be 13 or older).

What other amazing, and inexpensive, Central American beaches would you add to the list?

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yoga in costa rica

Vacations with Kids: The Five Best Destinations from the U.S.

It’s no secret that I think travel should be a pillar of every child’s education. Taking vacations with kids exposes them to the world’s classroom. By traveling, children learn everything from history and geology to modesty and gratitude.

But it doesn’t have to be expensive or long-term. You can start piquing curiosity with a Lonely Planet Kids book. And there’s plenty to see and do in the United States and nearby countries. For many of us, adventure and education through travel can be found very close to home.

If you’re raising kids in America, here are our picks for five of the best vacations with kids under 10. They include a range of travel experiences from relaxation and education to building savvy travelers and street smarts. These five trips will go a long way towards creating enthusiastic travelers and world citizens for life.

The five best vacations with kids:

Experience Native America Culture at Mesa Verde Colorado

Mesa Verde Colorado is perhaps the most inspiring and educational of all the Native American ancient dwellings. In fact, located in the Southwest corner of Colorado, this archaeological area is one of the best-preserved in the world.

mesa verde with kids

Today, Mesa Verde National Park protects over 4,000 known archeological sites, including a staggering 600 cliff dwellings, and most these are open for viewing and exploring by the public. Kids love Mesa Verde because they can wander through the dwellings, climb down wooden ladders for further exploration and generally have a very hands-on experience.

This fun, outdoor experience is a perfect way to educate kids about our ancient history and is very easily accessible. Plus, they make great climbing shoes for kids who are enthusiastic about the sport.

Spend a Week at the Beach Together in Mexico

This concept behind this travel blog was formed after a magical week at the beach with my family.

Like many families across the United States, my family is extremely busy. My husband and I both have careers we love and our kids stay busy with hectic social and extracurricular schedules. Life is fun, but extremely busy.

Family Beach Travel

Taking vacations with kids to the beach, where you can do nothing but relax, is important not just for the health benefits of relaxing, but for your kids to SEE you in that state. Better yet, get them a durable camera to capture those special moments.

It’s important for kids to realize life isn’t only about making it to soccer practice on time. By enjoying time together in a relaxed state, you will model for them a healthy life balance that can be difficult to attain at home.

As regular readers of this blog know, we love Mexico’s Riviera Maya. It’s easily accessible via quick flights from most U.S. destinations, affordable, has amazing beaches and offers so much for families to do. Plus, heading south of the border provides a great opportunity for kids to practice their Spanish and experience a new culture.

Combine U.S. History with a Great American Road Trip

Small towns, wide-open roads and stunning landscapes make up a large portion of the United States. Packing up the car and driving across the country should be a right of passage for every American child.

As I’ve explored quintessential American communities with my kids over the years, these small towns have started to intrigue me as if I was a foreigner. Or a child.

Destinations like Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Yosemite National Park in California offer fun, age-appropriate education for kids under the age of 10. These sites are intriguing and also an opportunity for kids to understand how forward-thinking our past political leaders were in protecting and preserving significant places.

presidents-on-my-rushmore

Other history-packed destinations like Washington DC, Boston and New York City can be experienced when kids are a bit older, but national parks and other outdoor monuments are a great option for vacations with kids because they can learn about our nation’s history while seeing magnificent regions of the United States. And these fun, scratch-off maps will help your kids track their journeys.

Take your kids to Disney World (Sigh) 

For years, I fought this trip kicking and screaming. With so much to see and do in the world, why would we want to “waste” time at a theme park in Florida?

Well, we went to Disney World and of course the kids had an absolute blast. We spent time together as a family and experienced something new together. Particularly with young children, this emotional connection and experience is as important as the destination itself.

disney travel tips

Kids are kids and should be allowed to have fun. So yes, take your kids to Disney World before they turn 10.

Besides, as children mature and reflect on their travels they will come to understand the poignant differences between a manufactured Disney trip and an authentic travel experience.

Introduce Children to Developing Countries in Central America

Flights to destinations across Central America are only a few hours from most cities across the southern United States. This ease of access makes Central America an excellent, easy opportunity to introduce your children to developing countries and Latin culture.

things to do in granada nicaragua

While countries like Costa Rica have a very well developed tourism infrastructure, other Central American destinations like Nicaragua remain relatively undeveloped and have retained authentic culture and charm.

In Central America you can explore everything from colonial history to jungle ecology together with your kids. Just make sure you pack sunscreen and bug spray!

What other destinations would you add to this list of destinations Americans must visit with kids under 10?

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