7 Reasons Malta is Your New Favorite European Destination

Do you know where Malta is? It’s ok, neither did I until recently. Living in DC, I had the privilege of attending the European Union’s embassies open house event. Malta’s embassy in DC is a little out of the way, but a friend insisted on going, so I tagged along.

Look cool in Malta without sounding like a tourist – English is an official language there!

What. an. eye. opener. !. Three little islands in the Mediterranean (just south of Sicily) add up to one amazing destination!

I was fortunate enough to meet with a representative from the Malta Tourism Authority who provided me with tons of info on why Malta is THE place to go in Europe. After delving into the destination, I’m inclined to agree!

Here are 7 reasons why Malta is YOUR new favorite destination in Europe:

1. The nonexistent language barrier: As English is an official language in Malta (in addition to Maltese), there’s no language barrier to worry about and street signs are in English. As a former British possession, Malta is actually a destination for English-as-a-second-language learning! So you get all the benefits of Europe without the hassle of a learning how to say, “Do you speak English?” in the local language.
2. 7,000 years of history: The first settlers to Malta arrived around 5000 BC. Since then it’s been variously under rule by the Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Arab, Spanish, the Knights of St. John, French, and British

Temples dating from thousands of years ago – so much history in three tiny islands!

(it became a Republic and 1974 and joined the EU in 2004). Besides the brief history lesson, that means it is a treasure trove of heritage and culture, with three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and more monuments per square kilometer than any other country!
3. Year-Round Destination: Thanks to its location in the Mediterranean, Malta can be visited any time of the year. Beach season runs well into October and the “winter” (only getting into the 50s) is great for hiking and biking around the islands.
4. Sailing Paradise: The crystal-clear waters are a magnet for sailing enthusiasts who visit Malta from all over the world. Malta boasts various harbors and marinas which can accommodate any kind of sea craft. You can also opt to charter a sailing boat for a week or weekend, while day cruises are a favorite for many.

 

Malta is a diver’s paradise!

5. Diver’s Dream: Malta was recently rated #2 worldwide as a diving destination. The mild climate makes it possible to dive all year round and many diving schools offer their services throughout the year. Their tailor-made packages offer all types of educational and escorted day or night dives, including equipment rental for the more experienced unaccompanied divers. You can choose to dive from shore or from a boat. A family diving holiday here can be a magical experience, with many dive schools offering snorkeling and diving courses for young sea-explorers.
6. Night-Life: They know how to par-taaaaaay in Malta with a large selection of bars, restaurants, clubs, and casinos to choose from. Or you can take it easy and sip cocktails or wine at a sea-front establishment and enjoy gentler live music.
7. LGBT Friendly: Although the country is super Catholic (St. Paul is said to have ship-wrecked on the island while fleeing the Romans and thus brought Christianity to the Maltese people), they are also super welcoming and totally down with the LGBT-folk! In fact, the Maltese Islands rose to first place on the ILGA-Europe Rainbow Europe Index in 2016.

Whatcha waiting for?! Malta or bust!!

Happy traveling and Carpe Passportus!

-Chad

5 Reasons to Spend Your Tax Refund on Travel

Yay! Your taxes are done! (Or they’re almost done . . . or at least you’ve filed for an extension, so yay to that too!) According to the IRS, the average taxpayer receives a tax refund of $3,000, which is just the right amount of money for a pretty fantastic overseas trip, flights included!

Thanks to Brexit, the British Pound is down so your money goes a lot further!

You’ve worked very hard all year, probably haven’t used much of your work leave (per usual, tsk tsk), and you’ve got a sweet tax refund coming. Here are 5 reasons why you should spend your tax refund on travel:

  1. You can afford it: Take a look at the sample itineraries on our new FST-Exclusive Sale Page. Notice something? All the sample itineraries are under $3,000! Thanks to your refund you can afford that vacation you’ve been wishing for.
  2. Bang for your buck: According to Kayak.com, flights to Europe from major U.S. cities are WAY down, thanks to the introduction of several transatlantic low cost carriers reintroducing actual competition onto the market. As for destinations, thanks to Brexit and the U.K. officially giving notice to the EU to start exit talks, the British Pound is way down which means your U.S. dollar goes much further. The dollar is also running strong against the Euro, so it’s a great time to visit Europe.

    Experiences, like travel, make you happier than just “stuff.”
  3. Experiences make you happier than stuff: Studies have shown that the happiness derived from purchasing stuff like clothes or TVs fades pretty quickly but travel becomes a special experience we carry forever and is ingrained as a lasting part of our identities. So take that tax refund and go experience a new part of the globe! Just remember to actually experience the destination directly and not through your smartphone.
  4. Save for that BIG trip: You’ve been itching to go to Australia or Asia but you really need 2 weeks to enjoy it and there’s no way you’re sitting in coach . . . you’re right, $3,000 isn’t going to cut it. Who says you have to spend your tax refund right away? Create a travel savings account and start saving! I recommend Ally Bank – no they’re not paying me to say this, I just personally use them, really like their online savings account, and they actually give you an interest rate that makes some money.
  5. You have a travel agent to help you: If you have no idea where to start in planning your tax refund-fueled escape, or are overwhelmed by the options, you have FST to help you out! We’ll do all the planning and research for you and find you the deals to keep you on budget. Send us a request and we’ll get started right away.

Here’s hoping you get a big ‘ole tax refund this year!

Happy traveling and carpe passportus!

-Chad

Don’t Go Chasing Icelandic Northern Lights (or at least don’t pre-pay for it)

Lots of people visit Iceland in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights (aka the “Aurora Borealis”).  And who can blame them?!  They’re breathtaking!  To that end, many tour companies offer “Northern Lights Chasing Tours” or something similarly titled that promises to take you out and about in search of this fabled atmospheric phenomenon.  But what they don’t promise is that you’ll actually see the Northern Lights . . .

You need 3 things in order to see the Northern Lights: (1) solar activity; (2) darkness; and (3) clear skies.

Iceland in the winter is actually pretty fantastic. I speak from experience!

Solar Activity
This is the meat and potatoes and what actually causes the Norther Lights: no solar activity, no deal.  Our sun will sometimes throw off various particles, known as a solar wind, and send them hurtling out into space.  It takes these winds about 40 hours to reach Earth.  If the Earth is in the path of a solar wind, its magnetic fields concentrate the particles at its poles.  As the particles move towards the poles and begin to concentrate in the higher latitudes, such as Iceland, they interact with various gases in the atmosphere to create the awe-inspiring light display we refer to as the Northern Lights.

Darkness
It means just that – it needs to be dark.  This also means that a summer trip to Iceland won’t result in the needed night time darkness.  As early as May through as late as August, due to the Earth’s tilt towards the sun, some degree of sunlight persists around the clock in Iceland and prevents the necessary darkness to view Northern Lights activity.  So consider a trip to Iceland in the winter – the nights are sufficiently dark to see the Lights and it’s not as cold as you’d think thanks to Iceland’s location in the Gulf Stream (trust me, I’ve been there in February and it was fantastic!).

Clear Skies
Just like an overcast day casts only a gray light or a cloudy night masks the moon, cloudy skies will prevent you from seeing Northern Lights activity.  As with any weather, this is up to Mother Nature so with a little luck there will be at least one night on your trip with clear skies to view any Northern Lights activity.

Consider renting a car and doing some Northern Lights chasing on your own.

Unless these three requirements are all present, that “Northern Lights Chasing Tour” you pre-booked months ago simply can’t deliver.  This is not to say you shouldn’t try once you get to Iceland!  Darkness and clear skies are easy to figure out on your own by simply traveling to Iceland at the appropriate time of year and checking the weather app on your phone.  Fortunately, there is also a way for us non-scientist folks to see an “Aurora forecast” by visiting the Icelandic Meteorological Office.  Consider renting a car and doing some chasing on your own if the predictions look good.  Or, if you really want a tour, wait to book it until you’re actually in Iceland and have an opportunity to check out the necessary forecasts.

The Northern Lights are absolutely worth chasing – just be sure to chase them knowing there’s a good chance you’ll catch them.

Happy traveling and Carpe Passportus!

-Chad

P.S. FUN FACT: Towards the South Pole, this same phenomenon is called the “Aurora Australis.”

Live a Little: 3 Small Ways to be a Travel Dare Devil

International travel is all about new experiences.  But if you don’t step outside your comfort zone then you aren’t really experiencing your destination.  When I say “dare devil” I don’t mean you need to bungie jump or sky dive your way in new experiences.  You simply need to embrace something that might scare you a little and go all-in.

Here are 3 ways to be a travel dare devil that will better immerse you in your chosen destination:

1. Rent a car and drive: This is an option I’ve been recommending to a lot of clients lately and, although they’re a bit dubious about it and recognize the need for a sense of adventure, they’ve found the freedom and access it grants them far outweighs any fears they had about driving in a foreign country.  Sure, signs may be

Driving on the left may take some getting used to, but the freedom to go where you want when you want is well worth it.

in a different language or you may be driving on the left side of the road; but, you’ll also have the freedom to reach those sightseeing gems that don’t have a train station or bus stop nearby.  Plus, if you bring the kids, you’ll be free to stop for the inevitable bathroom breaks.

2. Get lost and find your way WITHOUT your smartphone: In addition to being able to digitally detox, leave your smart phone in the hotel for a day, take a walk, and get lost in the city you’re visiting.  Rather than being tethered to your phone and all the distractions it brings, you’ll be free to take in the sites and interact with the locals when you need to ask for directions or a recommendation for lunch.  Allow yourself to be in your chosen destination without the crutch of your smart phone putting up an e-wall so you can truly experience some place new.

Try a different continent, like South America.

3. Up your destination game:  You’ve been to the great cities of western Europe?  Try eastern Europe or a river cruise.  Or try a new continent like South America.  If you’ve already done the “standard” international travel, then that has become your new normal and it’s time to push the envelope.  Try something truly unique like living for a week in a yurt in Mongolia, hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, or visiting ancient cities of the Silk Road in Uzbekistan.

What’s your next great adventure?  Let FST help you find it!

Happy traveling and Carpe Passportus!

-Chad

How to Digitally Detox on Your Vacation in 3 Easy Steps

If you’re reading this on your phone right now then stop, look up, and take note of the kink in your neck.  Yeah we need to work on that.  Our smartphones are indispensable parts of our lives but they’re also preventing us from living.  We experience less first hand in real time for ourselves in favor of second hand on a tiny screen.

Use a real camera rather than your phone to take pictures without social media distractions. Just be sure to look up from the camera as well and really enjoy your surroundings.

This will simply not do when on your vacation.  So let’s digitally detox you in preparation to live, experience, and enjoy your vacation (yes you can still Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram it later).

Step One: Use an actual camera to take pictures.  True this is substituting one digital device for another; however, the camera serves only one function – to take pictures/video – which greatly decreases its distraction value.  Focusing on capturing the moment, rather than snap – tag – upload, snap – tag – upload, will allow you to be in the moment and experience it with your travel companions in real time and make actual memories of seeing it first-hand rather than on a screen.  Just remember, in between taking pictures, to put the camera down and simply look at the scenerary around you.  Take in the architecture, breath in the history that surrounds you, run your hands over the ancient façade and actually BE there.

Step Two: When heading out for the day, all but one of you leaves the smart phone in the hotel.  Smart phones and their connectivity are extremely helpful while traveling – the GPS alone is a life saver.  But not everyone needs to bring their phone.  Have a designated navigator who uses her phone for ONLY that reason – not social media!  You’re on vacation with your friends or family, so be with them and share the experience.

Each day have only one person bring their phone for any navigational issues or in case of emergency. NO social media time!

Step Three: Hair of the dog.  You’ve been away from social media all day long and your jonesin’ for it, I totally get it!  So do your social media posting in the evening.  Upload the camera pics to your laptop, ruminate on the perfect hashtag, and induce major jealousy back home.  You’re probably about 6 or 7 hours ahead of them which means all your posts will hit during social media prime time back home with plenty of opportunities for your peeps to share, retweet, like, and comment.

Happy traveling and Carpe Passportus!

-Chad

Spring Break for Families – 2 Ideas That Benefit Parents and Kids

Spring break is coming up and you need to figure out what to do with the kids.  The typical choices are either A.) take time off from your job to babysit them yourself, or B.) pay someone else to babysit them for you.  As much as you like at-home family time, that’s either burning precious work leave or shelling out $$ for a babysitter.  Since either option has you taking leave time and spending money, I present to you option C.) take a family vacation where everyone gets to have fun!

The next issue is how to have a family vacation where the parentals actually get to have some fun AND find a little time to rest.  Fear not, I have the solutions!

A family all-inclusive beach vacation is the way to go to maximize fun and value.

Solution 1 – All-Inclusive Beach Vacation:  Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica have some amazing beaches, amenity-filled all-inclusive resorts, and value-for-your-money that can’t be beat!  Add to that regular charted flights from major U.S. gateways like Baltimore-Washington, Denver, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas, and the package savings and value are incredible.  There are a ton of family-friendly all-inclusive resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean that include activities for the kids so parents can spend time on their own to unwind and soak up some sun.  Everyone wins!

River cruises with Adventures By Disney take all the planning and guess work out of your overseas family vacation.

Solution 2 – Vacation Overseas with Adventures by Disney: Disney vacation options are so much more than Walt Disney World Resort in Florida or Disneyland in California.  And, let’s be honest, you don’t want to do the Disney parks scene during a major spring break when everyone and their cousin is there too.  Instead, take the family vacation overseas that you’ve always wanted but with none of the hassle.  Adventures by Disney include family-focused escorted tours all over the world and on the rivers of Europe.  Adventures by Disney takes care of all the details so the parentals can do their own thing and relax, the kids get some amazing culturally immersive activities, and the whole family will experience an international destination that will keep everyone smiling!

How are you going to spice up your family’s spring break?

Happy traveling and carpe passportus!

-Chad

P.S. For more information on what’s available from FST and Adventures by Disney, click here.

Top 3 Travel Safety Precautions to Save Your Life, Wallet, and Sanity

We seem to have our safety priorities turned around.  We choose a destination that seems “safe” these days – safe from terrorist attacks, natural disasters, etc.  Although the statistical likelihood of any of those happening on the trip we’re planning is SUPER low, we fixate on them and then ignore the safety precautions that will save us from all the things that are statically likely to happen.

To aid you in your travel savviness AND to keep you safe and traveling often, here are my top 3 super simple safety precautions that may just save your life, your wallet, and definitely your sanity:

  1. Learn the Local 911 Equivalent: We’ve all been taught to pick up the phone and dial 911 in an emergency – it’s one of the few numbers we’ve committed to memory. But you need to learn the emergency number for your destination AND keep in mind there may be different numbers based on whether you need police, fire, or ambulance.  Learn the numbers before you depart and store them in your phone.
  2. Don’t Always Have Your Phone Out – For one, you should be looking at the amazing destination you find yourself in rather than staring at your phone. But also, staring aimlessly at your phone tells pickpockets you are not paying attention to your surroundings and that you’re easy prey – you may have your phone snatched out of your hands or soon realize your wallet is no longer in your possession.
  3. Make a Copy of Your Passport – A U.S. passport is considered the highest form of identification in the land; overseas it’s your ONLY form of identification. If your passport is lost or stolen, proving your identity is not an easy task and you certainly won’t be allowed to board any planes home.Having a copy of your passport will help speed up the process for getting a new passport at a U.S. embassy or consulate.  Leave a copy at home and pack a copy to bring on your trip.  You can even scan your passport and email it to yourself.

Be smart, stay safe, but most importantly, have fun!

Happy traveling and carpe passportus!

-Chad

5 Tips and Reasons for Giving the Gift of Travel

Adults giving gifts for other adults is difficult.  Once we grow up and move outside the easily cornered realm of toys, the categorical choices for gift giving are daunting.

There’s an unspoken pride any gift-giver seeks: they hope that, after the holidays, they’ll see the gift recipient proudly displaying/wearing/using the gift they purchased.  Unfortunately, a lot of this “stuff” just ends up on a table or in a box somewhere.

Here is the simple solution to the holiday gift giving conundrum: stop giving “stuff;” start giving “experiences.”

Give “experiences” through the gift of travel!

Give someone a passport and you give them the world!
Give someone a passport and you give them the world!

Here are 5 tips and reasons for giving your friends, family, and loved ones the gift of travel this holiday season:

  1. TIP: Open up the world for someone with the gift of a passport. As the precursor to any international trip, it’s a practical gift with literally worldwide possibilities.  A new passport costs $110 for an “adult” (which is anyone age 16 or older) and it’s good for ten years.  No, you can’t actually “give” them a passport.  But you can give them the forms and a check for the expenses.
  2. REASON: “Stuff” fades or is lost over time, but travel memories last a lifetime. In fact, thanks to social media, chances are our travel memories will last beyond our lifetimes!
  3. TIP: Take a family vacation. Parents can come up with the destination and unveil it when the gifts are handed out. But leave some of the travel planning details up to the kids so it becomes a true family affair.
  4. REASON: Start a family tradition of travel. Traveling as a family promotes bonding both as part of the tradition and as part of the
    A family vacation is an excellent gift that benefits parents and kids alike!
    A family vacation is an excellent gift that benefits parents and kids alike!

    shared experience travel provides by seeing the world from a new angle.

  5. TIP: Know your recipient. If you know exactly where and when the gift recipient wants to go and what she likes to do, then go for gold, get her the whole trip, and wrap the tickets in a bow to be put under the tree. More often it’s easier and less commitment/potential embarrassment to simply give them a gift certificate or simply a personal “certificate” with a promise to pay for all or part of their trip.  Either way, you’ve given them an experience that will stay with them much longer than just some stuff you found on Amazon.

The bottom line – gift outside the box this year with the gift of travel! (see what I did there? *wink*)

Happy traveling and carpe passportus!

-Chad

Cancel-For-Any-Reason: 3 Reasons Why this Travel Insurance Option is Your New Best Friend

I’ve learned a lesson recently: in addition to getting travel insurance, always add the “cancel-for-any-reason” option – it’s going to save you time, money, and headache.

In October, during Hurricane Matthew, I had a client whose cruise was still scheduled to depart but the airline canceled her flights.  She purchased travel insurance, but because the cruise was going forward despite the flights being canceled, we had to hope (preferably not to our karmic detriment) that the airline would not operate flights into her destination for 24 consecutive hours in order for the full trip’s cancelation to fall under one of the insurance’s “covered reasons.”

Travel insurance is a necessary component for any vacation to protect your investment and plan for eventualities that hopefully won’t happen but will be darn expensive if they do.  Nevertheless, sifting through the policy to figure out if the unfortunate reason you have to cancel is covered can be a frustrating experience.

Cancel-for-any-reason is an AH-mazing option available as a “rider” on many travel insurance policies and it can really save your bacon when something comes up prior to departing that requires you to cancel your trip, but the reason doesn’t fall neatly into one of the insurance policy’s “cover reasons.”

Here are 3 things we LOVE about a cancel-for-any-reason insurance option:

  1. It’s EASY. “Cancel for any reason” means just that – ANY reason.  You got a bad haircut and don’t want to be ridiculed on the streets of Paris? Done.  Your beach bod wasn’t quite ready for Cancun?  Done.  Your smart phone died so you won’t be able to shamelessly Instagram your entire trip? Done.  You get the picture.  ANY reason.
  2. It covers up to 75% of the trip cost. No, that’s not 100%, which is what you typically get if you cancel for a “covered” reason under a standard travel insurance policy.  But 75% is darn good if the only reason you had to cancel was because of a bad hairdo.
  3. It’s reasonably priced. For the peace of mind to cancel for ANY reason, the additional cost for the option is a great deal.  For example: A full travel insurance policy with a cancel-for-any-reason option for a $4,000 vacation for two people on a week-long trip is about $280 total.

insurance-docThere are some minor prerequisites to cancel-for-any-reason policies.  For example, most require you to purchase it within 21 days of putting the initial deposit on your trip.  Others require your travel dates to take place at a minimum time in the near future, such as 90 days.  Small potatoes considered the huge coverage benefit you receive.

Always always ALWAYS get travel insurance – I recommend it to every client I book for.  It not only protects your financial investment if you need to cancel before you depart, but it also covers your personal health and safety for unfortunate events that may occur during your trip.  Part of the fun of travel is the planning phase and getting excited for all the amazing things you will see and do during your vacation.  Travel insurance is small component of that planning that can make a huge difference.

Happy traveling and Carpe Passportus!

-Chad

 

Flying Solo: 7 Tips for Solo Travelers

Inevitably, there’s that place you’ve always wanted to go, but none of your friends or family are interested.  Traveling with friends, family, or your significant other is typically where you find yourself when venturing out to a new corner of the world because there’s a built in comfort zone that travels with you.  But forget what you’ve heard and OWN your solo vacation because it’s all about you and what YOU want to do.  It’s not scary, it’s an adventure, and you should embrace your solo vacation as a personal indulgence.

I know, you think you might be interested but the apprehension is beginning to creep up in the back of your head.  So here are 7 tips to motivate you and get you prepared for that solo trip you need to take.

  1. Plan the trip YOU want: The beauty of traveling solo is you don’t need to find consensus with any travel partners because the trip is a blank canvas and you’re the only one holding the brush. If you want to sleep away an entire day that is perfectly fine!  But if you need a little more structure, then you can always go with . . .
  2. Joining up with other solo travelers: Together but alone time works if you need some structure and want to join in with a group on an escorted tour. We love Cosmos tours because they hit all the highlights for a destination, they don’t break the bank, and they’ll pair you up with another solo traveler roomie (and if they have an odd number of people they’ll waive the single supplement fee so you might even get your own room!).

    Solo Travel 2
    Team up with other solo travelers and make some new friends while sharing adventures!
  3. Upgrade: You have a bunch of airline miles but not quite enough to upgrade yourself and others to business class. Now’s your chance!  A good night sleep on an overnight flight across the pond on a lay-flat seat in business class will certainly reduce some of that apprehension about venturing solo.  If you don’t have the miles, then think of splurging on a Premium Economy cabin seat.
  4. Share your adventures in real time and stay connected: Post those photos and updates to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It will keep family and friends updated that you’re doing just fine on your own.  It will also help to dispel any feelings of loneliness because all the likes, favorites, retweets, comments, and the jealously (*wink*) your posts induce in others will remind you that traveling solo was a fantastic idea!
  5. Be practical: Email a copy of your passport, itinerary, and travel documents/confirmations to yourself and a loved one. Make a hard copy of your passport photo page and pack it with your luggage.  Also pack a hard copy of important phone numbers for friends, family, your credit card companies, and the local embassy in case your phone battery dies.  (Don’t forget to set up your phone for international use.)

    Splurge a little and go for a Premium Economy seat! Photo Credit: Air France
    Splurge a little and go for a Premium Economy seat!
    Photo Credit: Air France
  6. Smile and talk to the locals: This is both the scariest AND the most rewarding part.  If you’re in a non-English speaking country and you have some of the language under your belt, this is the time to use it.  Just remember that people are inherently kind and are willing to help you muddle through the language.  If you’re in an English speaking country (or most of the locals speak English), and you’re still apprehensive about talking to people, remember that you will likely never see these people again and you have nothing to lose by trying to make a new friend or drinking buddy for the evening.  Locals also have the best insight on what to see and do in your destination.
  7. Trust yourself: You are hardcore! You’re going overseas by yourself and you have the strength and courage to do it because you are AWESOME!  Just think of the continual confidence boost you will get for years to come when you tell people you went on this amazing adventure by yourself.  Their response will likely be, “oh, I could never do that!”  Maybe not.  But you did.  And that sets you apart from the rest.  Well done, you!

Happy traveling and Carpe Passportus!

-Chad