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For Hotels: You're Home Away From Home Part III: International Travel

When you leave your country for a trip you can experience what sociologists call culture shock. That is you are leaving everything familiar to you and are experiencing new rituals, foods, and even languages. It is an unconscious unnerving your body automatically goes through. If you are a nervous person or traveler in general this can only make you anticipate the worst. This is why research is so important. You will have done everything in your power to plan a trip you can enjoy. I speak from personal experience when I say that I don’t ever want to miss out on a place I am dreaming of because it is unlike where I am from. Even if you aren’t going so far away, maybe to an island for a relaxing vacation, it’s important you have the things around you to make you comfortable enough to explore.

The first time I ever left the country was for Spring Break in college. Yes I went to Cancun, Mexico and no it wasn’t the kind of trip that would have ended up with me on MTV in their heyday. It has the distinction of also being one of the rare instances I was on a trip that I didn’t plan. It was the root of transforming who I am today. The trip went swimmingly and the Sheraton we stayed in was gorgeous. It was to die for and right on the beach on a prime location of the strip. The bars, clubs, and even dolphins I would swim with were only across the street (more of a highway but walkable). I loved every minute of it despite the sun poisoning that led to me getting cut out of my pants after they fused with my melted skin.

After that my next adventures abroad were to the Bahamas and Cozumel, Mexico. By 2007 I was ready to hit the Caribbean in a big way. My friends and I headed to St. Martin. It is one of the best times I have ever had. I can’t think of another block of days that led to more laughter, friendship, and fun. Even now when I think back and reminisce with my friends the same stories crack us up. It was one hell of a good time and the hotel I stayed in taught me a lot about how I want to travel.
Naturally I choose an all-inclusive resort to ensure I would be eating and drinking (back then I was able to) my money’s worth.  In many instances for similar vacations these are the best deals. But buyer be warn that you need to do the math and account for the country’s ways. In some rare instances it may not make a difference.

St. Martin is a relative small but very beautiful island that has GORGEOUS beaches with mountain tops in the distance.  The small island is divided into two sections: Dutch and French. The Dutch side is closest to the airports and is buzzing with activity. This is where the clubs are and the action is. But the French side is filled with visiting Europeans and their ways including a nude beach. As a lover of all things French this is the side I choose for us to stay on. The resort, Le Flamboyant was just as gorgeous in person as it was on the website. The only real downside was that most of the hotel employees didn’t speak English but we made do. It was a great deal, actually more of a steal, for an island that can be pricey but always worth it. A word of caution paying as you go for food and hotels here can more than DOUBLE the price of your trip, so take the time to research your deal and contact a travel agent. Mine was my saving grace for St. Martin.

In 2008 I was off to celebrate life in Turks and Caicos with one of my best friends. We were celebrating her recent battle with a life threatening illness and we wanted someplace incredible to rest and recharge. This island is popular now more than ever especially with celebrities. For this trip I went back to my travel agent who got us a great deal at the Club Med there. Club Med has many pros and cons so it really depends who you are going with and which location to decide if it is right for you.
For me, Club Med worked out great. It too was an all-inclusive place right on the beach. There were plenty of included daily activities and more food than you can hope for. From my previous experience in St. Martin I was not accustomed to having so much food. We had only three meals a day and at the times they said. But here I was able to eat and drink whenever I wanted. Their spread was massive and when the main dining hall was not serving food there were snack bars for pizza, fries, whatever. This was pure bliss. There is nothing like laying in bathing suit watching water aerobics eating pizza from a beach chair. Talk about a good time!!
At night the main lobby, which was open aired, turned into a mini nightclub. There was music, lights flashing, and plenty of dancing. The great thing about Club Med is that most of their employees are living there for months at a time so they already have a party feel. The entire resort seems to be one big community. You can participate or not but either way you have a great time. At least I did.

1n 2010 I was looking to leave the country once again this time for my birthday. Having a December birthday made the idea of going to a tropical location even more appealing. So it was Paradisus Palma Real in Punta Canta, Dominican Republic that I went. Coincidentally with the same friend who accompanied me to Club Med in Turks and Caicos. I knew we were going to have a blast as usual.

This time I was more than blown away by my hotel. My travel agent had brought this resort to my attention and now that I have been there it will always remain my number one favorite place in the Caribbean to go. I would go back there in a heartbeat. I hope that happens sooner than later.

For what I paid I would never have expected this five star treatment. But because I was traveling for my birthday, the week before Christmas, I got a steal and had the place largely to myself, another perk! This place had a separate section for families with children which I always prefer. If I am paying to swim drunk I certainly don’t want some little brat splashing me in the face. But this resort was so huge there could have been thousands of kids and I would have had no idea. You would need a golf cart at the very least to drive around the entire thing. Yet there was such a friendly, helpful attitude among the staff. Even our private concierge was wonderful as he brought congratulatory champagne to our suite. Oh did I forget to mention that? Yeah we had a suite, outside porch, and Jacuzzi in our room! Such is the standard here. I wanted to throw out my passport and move in.

Our concierge made our nightly restaurant reservations at one of the many restaurants on site. One was better than the next. Had I had the desire to leave the hotel for an actual activity he would have been happy to do that too. I had planned on snorkeling but I never made it past the pool. Ok that is not true once a day I did venture on to the private beach. Anything past that I was not interested in, I had no reason to be. While I had a great time here, one of my favorite things had nothing to do with the wonderful accommodations. They begin with a little someone I like to call Freddy the Flamingo.
One day on our stroll back from the beach to our suite we came upon this group of flamingos bathing themselves in a little pond. They were so gorgeous and graceful I couldn’t help but stare at them. As they fluttered around so did my camera lenses. They were more beautiful than any flamingo I had ever seen before. They were like these exotic creatures I had all to myself. Now I know why this hotel has the word paradise in its title.

So far it must sound like I only leave the country to go to a beach, this is not true. My best overseas vacations to date include destinations I have been dreaming to go all of my life. For this trip down memory lane we must return to 2009.

It wasn’t my last but it was my favorite overseas trip, so far, that brought me to London and Paris. Just the thought of it simultaneously fills me with such joy and then heart break that it’s over. Back in 2009 I had planned this trip to celebrate my brother’s college graduation. We were away for ten days, five in each city. Right off the bat I knew we would never get to everything there was to see and do but the first concern was expense. I wanted to be able to stay someplace comfortable, in a great location, for a price that wouldn’t make me have to hook on the corner to pay off when we got back. We went in early June which was the peak season and if you can avoid going to Europe then you can get much better deals in the fall and winter.

To book this trip I used a travel agent, my travel agent. She has been making things happen for me for almost ten years. She is practically like a member of my family. No matter how many months gone by I can always drop a line and pick right back up. She always has the best tips and deals for me. I knew I wanted to book this trip “with a person” so that if something went wrong there was someone I could call for help. Booking online through a website has never felt right to me. I can do an airline for part of my trip but I try to avoid that if I can get a package. I want someone I can ask questions to, usually many, many questions, and have a reliable source looking out for my best interests. Since I was taking my brother away I wanted it to be even more special so all of the little touches had to be taken care of. Needless to say traveling between three countries in ten days takes a lot of planning but in the end it all came together.

In London we stayed at The Grosvenor on Buckingham Palace Road near Victoria Station. I loved saying that address and once I was there and traveling like mad that tube station was so convenient. We took it everywhere and when we arrived we were home. It was a necessary and helpful part of my trip. I was also in walking distance of Buckingham Palace and many other tourist spots. I was able to walk a few feet and hit a pub or two. There was everything I could need or want within reach and the facilities were good. They have just undergone a massive reconstruction project so it is doing even better than when I was there. My room was a little on the small side but that’s the worst thing I can say about my stay there. As words of caution always make sure you request a bathroom with a shower and a room with air conditioner in the summer when traveling in Europe. If not you might end up soaking in a tub in sweltering heat. This is a notorious condition there but I was aware and avoided such problems.

After our five days were up in London, we boarded the train to Paris. Once we arrived we were off to Hotel Claude Bernard in the sixth arrondissement. Paris is divided into twenty arrondissements, essentially neighborhoods that characterize the city. They surround the Left and Right Banks, depending on which side of the River Seine they are located. Each has its own feel and attractive qualities. For instance, the first arrondissement is where you will want to go if you want to take in the Louvre and Eiffel Tower. The fifth arrondissement is known as the Latin Quarter which is popular with the educated crowd as this is where the world renown Sorbonne resides.

I stayed in the sixth arrondissement known locally as Saint Germane des Pres. This is located on the left side of the Seine and near Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Paris, Jardin du Luxembbourg, and infamous restaurants like Les Deux Margots where the literary elite use to adore. It is one of the most fashionable districts but I just liked the hotel and location. Again it was a bargain and a place I was happy I chose.

Hotel Claude Bernard was a boutique like hotel. It was medium sized and despite the hotel elevator being small enough to only fit one of my suitcases (minus me) at a time I really enjoyed staying there. Each morning we went downstairs to breakfast where I had the best coffee and croissants of my life. From there we walked literally everywhere we wanted to go. The neighborhood was safe there was even a police station across the street. I love the way the sirens sound there, sort of like a clown car.

There were many great places to eat and see. Our room was a great size and simple but elegantly styled. The bathroom was very modern. But my favorite touch was the mini balcony from which our floor to ceiling window escaped to. I remember very clearly standing out there on my last night in Paris looking in each direction trying to take it all in. Paris is a city that will always live in my heart and I hope one day to be able to live there sometime as well.

Now that you know every place I have loved staying both inside and outside the U.S. our next discussion will detail how I found these gems and how you can find one too at a great price for your very next excursion.

I hope you are busy planning a vacation here and/or abroad, as I am.

Up next I conclude this series with:

For Hotels: You’re Home Away From Home
Part IV- Lessons Learned


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