Traveling is an adventure, of course, but it should also be a time to give back to the community in which you’re visiting. We’ve got tips and resources from Traverse Journeys to support upping your ethical travel game.Read More
I’m asked fairly often about the most budget friendly ways to travel. I was scrolling through Travel & Leisure this week and came across this quote: “Nothing breeds ingenuity like a tight budget.” Gosh, did this resonate with me. As long as I can remember I’ve been the girl in my friend group that “finds” the deals. I’ve gotten reaalllly good and setting alerts with all the airlines and monitoring a variety of destinations. I’m constantly digging through google flights, I follow flight deal twitter accounts and even keep an eye out for the occasional glitch-priced flights. If I already have a destination in mind, I search each leg of potential flights - for example: going to Maui? I’ll search every single airport that connects into Maui and then reverse search back to my home airport from those connecting airports.
Exhausted yet? Yeah. It can be.
There’s got to be a better way right? There is, and I’m going to let you in on that little secret shortly.
But first a little backstory.
I decided to take on this life as a traveler back in 2014.
If you’re a long time reader you may know a bit about my story - I grew up in a family of frequent travelers. My favorite gifts at holidays and birthdays? Maps, globes, atlases and books about exotic places. I decided as soon as I was old enough, I’d take off to travel gypsy style around the world.
So that was my dream as a ten year old girl - but here’s what happened next: I graduated from high school and went to college. I took out student loans, I spent four years considering my dream job, and I can tell you - this job, the one I have now: writing, creative directing and traveling along the way - that wasn’t even kind of a “job” that existed when I was picking a major. The short version of what happened next is this: I got an amazing job after college, spent many years working my way up the corporate ladder and I can distinctly remember, with crystal clarity this one specific day. I was sitting at my desk - maybe 55 hours into the work week - and I called home to tell my family I wouldn’t be able to go on the trip to Paris they were planning.
I had two reasons: the first - there was no way I could even fathom asking for vacation time (I’d created a lifestyle in which the social acceptance of my working world was that the more time you put in the more validated you were). And the second reason: the budget. I’d bought a new house, invested in expensive clothing, enjoyed going out to nice restaurants, and even if I could ask for time off, a ticket to Paris would run me upwards of $1200 right?
Fastforwarding a bit - I didn’t go on that trip.
Or the next one, and didn’t make my way across the ocean for quite a few years after that. After years of that lifestyle I was (surprise!) missing a connection to myself and a higher purpose. In 2014 I left my corporate job - packing up my camera, books and journals I booked a one way flight to the Mediterranean. I’d spend the next season of life traveling. I found a deep adoration for the world at large and I committed to making up for lost time.
Here’s where my skill set as a budget traveler took root.
The way I plan my travel now is basically like this:
1. I dream up the feeling of the next places I want to go - you know - peaceful vibes in the wilderness, relaxation on an island in a seaside village, energy lifting in a bustling city…
2. I dream up what I want to happen when I get to whatever that place might be: horseback riding in an old forest, meandering through local markets and old cafes, catching concerts in divey rock clubs - you get the gist of what the dream looks like.
And then, the next step?
3. I wait.
Whaaaa, Tell Me About Next Vacay!
Next Vacay is a family run business from founders Naveen & Shaylee Dittakavi. They are entrepreneurs who like me, have been short on time and tight on budget (Shaylee went straight from undergrad to med school to residency and Naveen worked as a software developer). A few years ago Naveen wanted to give his wife the opportunity to travel to see family in India. Besides a honeymoon trip to Cambodia they hadn’t really had an opportunity to travel very often.
They were facing the same challenges I had: it was hard to get away and the type of trips they wanted to take were expensive! By a stroke of luck Naveen stumbled across a flight deal on a friends Facebook page on Christmas Day of 2014. With that deal the two of them - and several family members too - were able to travel to India round trip for $300. Of course, after that Naveen was hooked, and that’s where the idea for Next Vacay began.
I spoke to him recently and asked him a little more about how it all got started, here’s what he told me:
“We started this at our own house, on the dining table, and every single thing was hand assembled. I was copying and pasting …
all these people live in Atlanta... copy, paste, and dispatch.
These all live in Los Angeles... copy, paste, dispatch. “
Eventually they built a formal system around the whole process. It's still the same approach in that the Next Vacay team finds the deals, they hand verify them, and they go through the booking process to confirm that the flights can actually be booked - because, hey! they’re committed to making sure it all works and is easy!
So how does it work?
Sign up for the month free trial.
Input the airport nearest to you.
Check your email. You’ll receive emails that only relate to your chosen airport, airports nearby and flights that are truly deals.
Click on the deals you’re interested in, and move forward in booking your flight from there.
If you like it, you pay the $25 annual fee… which is wayyyy beyond what you’ll save. Don’t find a deal you like in 6 months? You can cancel and receive a refund.
I learned about the service through another travel writer and decided to give it a go. This past fall Ben and I took off on our real vacation in years. We booked round trip flights to Barcelona for $633 each that we found using the service. From there I found flights to Mallorca. I’d dreamed up the destination I wanted for our experience, dreamed up what we’d do when we got there and here were my requirements:
When I got the email to travel to Barcelona I immediately began looking for island or beach destinations nearby, and that’s how we landed on Mallorca. Our trip was technically in the off-season so we applied the money we’d saved into a gorgeous home we’d spend 10 days in: 3 stories with a rooftop deck, solarium and heated stone floors, a whirlpool bathtub in the bedroom and 3 terraces for dining. We explored different restaurants, wine from local vineyards, visited beaches and island coves and didn’t even kind of break the bank doing it.
Checking for my Next Vacay email had become a daily ritual for me.
Now I’m working on my next book and future travel features for Oui We. I’m constantly dreaming up what those destination might feel like and Next Vacay is basically serving as my personal travel consultant giving me new recommendations every day.
Here’s a few flights that came in this week:
Before I began traveling the world, I realized I’d been stuck. I lived a life many fashion-loving, career-climbing women in their 20s do. And then when I made that decision to travel - the world opened up for me. Now it’s something I crave more than anything in the world, and to make travel happen doesn’t have to be hard.
I’m certainly not advocating that everyone leave their job to explore a new path, however I AM suggesting that you make the time for yourself and time to explore. With Next Vacay you can experience places that you never even considered before. Or maybe places you have considered but thought were out of reach.
I asked Naveen about the most rewarding part of creating a company like this.
One of the most gratifying customers that we have is someone probably in their 40s or 50s. They write to me and say, "I've never been outside of the United States. Neither has my mom. And because you sent me a $400 deal to London, we're going to London. We're getting our passports. I can't believe that this is happening.
That’s what travel is all about you guys.
To sign up for Next Vacay, you can do so through my link here. And, hey! Let me know when you book something! I love hearing stories from you guys, travel truly lights us all up.
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This post was created in collaboration with Next Vacay. Opinions, as always, are my own.
by Oui We contributor: Sam Spahr
There always comes a day when boredom and lack of inspiration strike. Yuck, I know. Crawling out from under the covers is getting harder. You swear someone switched your morning coffee for decaf. Every move you made today was carbon copy of yesterday, and don’t ya feel a little icky just thinking about it?
Me too! Plane, train, or automobile, near or far, sometimes you just gotta get out there and find where your little soul spark ran off to. And it happens to everyone. I promise you. Painter to paralegal, poet to plumber, we need inspiration to get through the day, but where are you heading to look for it?
This question prompted me to reach out to a friend about her experience with runaway sparks and efforts to search for them.
Natalie Phillips @nattiephilphoto is a very much a modern woman (the kick-ass kind killlin’ it 7 days a week). No, really. Monday - Friday she’s an Admin Assistant at a local accounting firm and grows her business, Natalie Phillips Photography, on the weekends covering everything from weddings to lifestyle shoots.
Sam Spahr for Oui We: Natalie, working as much as you do, how do you know when your flame is fizzling? What’s your signal that it’s time to find a little inspiration to get through your jammed schedule?
Natalie: I can never pin point when the spark starts to disappear; I usually realize it after it’s gone. I get grumpy and feel tired, and that’s when I know it is time for a break. I think because I’m either at the office, on location, or turning out client galleries, I feel like I need a trip maybe more often than the the average person. It’s that feeling of being stuck in one place too long that can act as a signal for me.
SS: Tending to that spark can be different for everyone, some need rest, or a relaxing place to tap back in while others need more excitement or adventure. What’s your inspiration style? What kind of things do you look for in your destinations?
NP: I look for a place that gives me a balance between rest/rejuvenation vs. adventure. The destination has to fulfill the deepest parts of my soul, and for me that means it also has to be aesthetically pleasing. In fact, I’ll often check Instagram to see photographs of the places I want to go to make sure they are going to strike me visually. That’s a huge part of the inspiration for me.
SS: It sounds like a place really has to work overtime for you! Where have you been that matched the qualities you describe?
NP: I’ve traveled a good bit in the last couple of years: Mexico, Costa Rica, Europe, Canada and a couple of cross country road trips. But, I found Austria to be a favorite, and particularly Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. I’ve been twice, so I guess it really does the job for me.
SS: What about Banff had you coming back for more?
NP: That place is absolutely timeless. It’s a never ending fountain of rejuvenation, of everything I need. Just standing in the grandness of the landscape can have you feeling like you’re on another planet. I could go there twice a year and still want more - it’s never enough.
SS: Well, I will certainly be adding it to my list. Natalie, thanks so much for this quick share! Before we go, something tells me you already know where you’re headed next.
NP: Yes! I’m hitting Mallorca, Spain in a few short months.
Time to burn out the “un” from the “inspired” neon sign in your soul? Let us know where you’ve gone to find that pesky little spark again.
all photos courtesy of Natalie Phillips
Sam Spahr is an artist-educator who gets her kicks sharing the magic of the arts with kids and adults alike. She has a penchant for ancient artworks and helping others find the connections between now and then. When not inside a studio or bookshop, you can find her paddling out somewhere with her hubs and pup. She loves experimenting in the kitchen, but loves eating even more, especially in new cities and cultures.
After spending the last two years traveling America's most beautiful routes I feel confident in saying I've mastered the art of the road trip. How to pack your bags, your car, beauty tips while traveling, how to make it out of sticky situations in one piece and I'm in love with how good it feels to connect with the deeply routed people all over this big badass country.
I ended this year with a trip back to the country that spurred my interest in writing my book Wanderful to begin with - Spain - and here's the short version of how all of that came to be:
I spent the summer of 2014 finishing up my first book New Orleans Style. Here I was, given an opportunity to create something that would become my calling card as an author and in the spirit of my wanderluster Grandmother I studied the constellations, put my luck on a full moon and booked a one-way flight to the Mediterranean coast.
As I took off it occurred to me: every time I’d taken a trip I’d sought out a guide. Usually that came in the form of a book, or a magazine, and lots of google searching for travel blog posts on my intended destination - there were lots of lists of the best restaurants and bars, the museums to visit, and the tours to take - but what I hadn't found was a guide for the fashion loving bohemian types like me! Those interested in slow, experiential travel. So, I set out to make just that. Wanderful became the American road trip version of that, and what I wish for the readers is that they get out and see the wonderment that America has to offer.
2018 Dream Destination List
So now, 3 years later, it's the end of 2017 and I'm thinking where to next.?! I'm starting to brainstorm ideas for next projects and certainly intend to cover more international travel in 2018, and so to end the year Ben and I spent a few weeks in Spain - it's truly a country that sparks my inspiration like no other.
I've been poring through the Expedia blog to get ideas for 2018 travels and here's 5 destinations I'm adding to the list, and some of my magical girlfriends lending to that inspiration.
p.s. even if you're only planning one adventure this year, let these glorious destinations & ladies inspire the wanderlust in you.
My darling friend Keiko (yes the one that's alllll over my book) visited Santorini this year and every photo was a pure dream. I researched a bit and then this article grabbed me - romance? oui, please!
Glamorous seascapes, glittering horizons and white washed hillsides... I don't know what I'd do first: sample the local wines (the vines grow deep into the island’s ancient volcanic soil enhancing the flavors), swim in the Aegean Sea or rent a car to venture out to the blue umbrella-topped Red Beach and Oia.
This particular post on Italy has me wanting to spend weeks exploring the country but MIchaela's photos coupled with her the notes on Florence: a quaint apartment within walking distance of all one’s favorite gelato shops, tucked away restaurants with local fare of house-cured meats, and expertly curated cheeses and wonderfully stylish locals have me wanting to make Florence my first Italian destination.
Krystal is another one of my travel loving friends and my oh my does she ever make traveling look like an ethereal delight. Her blog is one of the most beautiful out there. Between she and Jasmine (my Aussie friend who's currently living life as a New Yorker) these two have given me a serious lust for Australia.
Krystal spent this holiday season traversing Australia, go take a look at her instagram to get some serious Australian summer inspiration, and in her recent post on Byron Bay she describes it like this: A coastal town, Byron Bay is located in the southeastern corner of New South Wales and offers all the sea-faring charm you’d expect it to — think Santa Cruz meets Montauk, with a dash of Venice Beach — where surfers live to surf [and] where families live in the most adorable beach-facing homes, shopping at the local farmer’s markets every Sunday." I want to go for the views (of course), the seaside meet jungle hikes and the bohemian inspired shopping throughout the area.
Amanda, who's gorgeousness graced the cover of my book (and who's also seen on lots of pages in the Pacific Coast Highway chapter), makes living the life of a world traveling photographer look incredibly connecting. This winter & spring she's leading Photo & Art tours and I'm fingers crossed, going to make one of these happen by end of Spring. Her Cuba tour includes balcony breakfasts, ocean swims, visits to artists collectives, and convertible rides. Si, si si!
Ana has been on a world traveling whirlwind this year. Go scroll through her 'gram for just a sec and you'll be hard pressed to actually decide which destination she makes look the best.
She visited Lisbon this year after discovering her grandmother's family originated there, and she shared her experience on "meadering" through Lisbon in this post. I researched a bit more, found this 48 hour guide to Lisbon, and coupled with the inspiration from Ana's photos - Lisbon climbed (easily) onto this list.
I can't wait to get the planning underway. I've got some good tools I've been using for booking too - so I'll be back to share those soon! In the meantime, any places you think I need to add to the list? Tell me, tell me, tell me!
SHOP OUI WE'S TRAVEL STYLE
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Hello from New Orleans!
Every year for the last 3 my fam travels in for our holiday celebration, and let's be honest - take any family - even one that's been plenty of times before - to New Orleans and the #1 thing on everyone's list: French Quarter boozing. It's fair. Half my family lives here, the others can't wait to get here, and in the spirit of keeping things sane I always create an itinerary with a list of other things to do before everyone arrives (keepin' 'em off the streets ya know).
Ask most people about their New Orleans knowledge and it's all beads and Bourbon Street... or that one time at Mardi Gras... and if they haven't been, that's what they want to know about. But truly: there's soooo many other beautiful ways to experience this city. And to me, it's the most magical time of the year (maybe even above Mardi Gras... GASP). I mean it though: the twinkly lights, the fog rolling in, the sometimes strange Creole or Cajun Christmas traditions, and the food - there's a pot of gumbo on at everyyyyybodies house from about the 22nd on. If you're visiting town and can't quite score an invite to a locals house for gumbo, Reveillon Dinners, a wonderful 19th-century Creole French tradition, are still celebrated in restaurants all over the city and are another brilliant way to enjoy the food of the city.
This year as I plan for our family time there’s 3 additional New Orleans to do's that are topping my list. Here they are, and if you find your way down here around this time of year (and I highly suggest you do) you won’t be disappointed.
Christmas in New Orleans
This may be one of the most glam things I'll do all year long. There's nothing quite as elegant as a Christmas Tea in a historical setting reminiscent of a royal. New Orleans has quite a few fabulous hotels offering Afternoon Tea, my favorite place for it: The Ritz Carlton Davenport Lounge. The Davenport Lounge hosts Tea 7 days a week, at 11 a.m. & 2:30 p.m., with a harp performance on the weekends. Reservations are required and can be made online.
This year the Ritz is offering a limited edition TEALEAVES Nutcracker and Organic Sugar Plum Fairy tea for the holidays (and I'm wrapping up the set as a gift AND giving away a set of the same over on instagram). My sister and I will be make a day of it, attending the Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker at the Sanger Theatre.
A Tour of the Lights
Canal Street, the original "Main Street" of New Orleans, and the old dividing line between the neighborhoods of the Creole & French-descended residents and those of the newer-arriving Americans (this is where the term "Neutral Ground" originated btw) is the center of New Orleans' lights. Start here, then take a walk over to the Roosevelt Hotel. The lobby runs for an entire city block and includes thousands of twinkling white lights. They're hanging from the ceiling and in the birch trees running along corridor, it's one of the most magnificent sights! From the Roosevelt, take a trip over to Celebration in the Oaks in City Park if you've got time, or stay at have a cocktail at the Sazerac Bar (okay, you knew there'd be some booze on the list).
Christmas Eve Bonfires on the Levees
This one is probably my favorite - and another Creole tradition: on Christmas eve bonfires (that take sometimes weeks to build) are set ablaze along the Mississippi River levees. The intention: to light the way for “Papa Noël,” the Cajun Santa Claus on his flight to Louisiana. Maybe I'm biased but I'm pretty sure this is one of the most beautiful Christmas traditions in America, hundreds of fires, families and so much wonderment. There's lots of places to enjoy the fires, our preference is a ways out of the city in St. James Parish - give yourself some time to get out there, and plan for a full evening of festivities and joy.
I'd love to hear from you guys! How are you celebrating?! And what places do I need to add to my list for 2018!?