Why Malaysia Should Be High on Your Bucket List

5 (3).png

Malaysia. Borneo. Rainforest. 

It just seemed so obvious. 

When I first started my business, I wanted to focus on off-the-beaten-path experiences where we had local connections and could give travelers inside access. As such, Malaysia seemed like such a perfect destination to highlight, and one that other ‘travel companies’ in the US were not giving any attention to.

Since my father grew up on the island of Borneo and I had visited multiple times as a guest of local friends, I knew that I could give people a peek into this culture that others didn’t have easy access to. I spent 6 weeks, loving life, exploring the rainforest, making connections, visiting the orangutans, and eating and eating and eating.

So I built the trip of my dreams, our Discover Malaysia tour—market trips led by locals, trying tropical fruits, sunset cocktails on exquisite beaches, canopy walks with birds and monkeys, river safari cruises, laughing with street food vendors as they cooked, and so much more.

I thought we would reach eager travelers ready to explore beyond their imagination, but who also wanted a helping hand to give them safety, security, and comfort in such an exotic destination since I'd been there, tried it, and had all the right relationships and connections.

What I found is that it was a LOT harder to promote a destination that very few people really knew about.

Although Malaysia is growing as a destination on the international scene with many visitors coming from other Asian countries and Australia, American travelers who go to Southeast Asia are still frequenting Thailand, Vietnam, and Bali

I couldn’t figure out why it didn’t have the interest I thought it deserves. Malaysia had such a rich diversity and culture that made me yearn for being there every moment I was away.

Needless to say, if Malaysia isn’t on your bucket list (or even on your radar), here’s a few reasons why it should be:

1. Borneo is home to the oldest rainforest in the world

Even older than the jungles of the Amazon, this rainforest is home to approximately 10,000 different plant species (that’s more than on the entire continent of Africa!), including two THOUSAND species of orchids alone! *major heart-eye emoji*

In addition to crazy plant life, you’ll also find a number of crazy wildlife here, ranging from one of the smallest squirrels in the world—the least pygmy squirrel, no bigger than a mouse—and to the smallest elephant subspecies, the Borneo pygmy elephant, which are now endangered. You’ll also find it home to other species on the endangered list such as the Bornean orangutan. 

Borneo-Rainforest-Wildlife.png


On our Malaysia tour, we travel deep into the rainforest to stay a couple of nights in a secluded eco-lodge. We do a night safari to scout out the nocturnal wildlife, as well as a morning trek with naturalist guides who can fill us with knowledge on what we’re encountering.

2. Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures—and food…

In ancient times, Malaysia was a stop on the world’s spice trade route—so you can literally say that they have flavors from all over the world!

But really, over the centuries many different Asain ethnicities—particularly many Chinese and Indian immigrants— have settled here, bringing their home culture and cuisines with them to mix with the indigenous and the local Malay cultures and cuisines. This has resulted in making Malaysia a multiethnic and multicultural country, and an amazing country to EAT in if you love variety!

Malaysian-culture.png

3. …And religions

Along with the rich mixing of many cultures brings the blending of different religious backgrounds as well. The Malaysian landscape is sprinkled with the influences of Hindu, Muslim and Buddist temples, shrines, and communities. Some even becoming a major pilgrimage hub, such as the Batu Cave Temples, with its 272 rainbow stairs and shrines dedicated to Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war.

Religious-Shrines-in-Malaysia.png

4. Malaysian street food

We mentioned food above, but honestly the street food of Malaysia deserves its own item on this list. Easy, quick eats are an integral part of the Malaysian food culture.

Think taco trucks, but not just tacos. In Malaysia, you can find street carts, small food stalls, and “kopitiam,” or coffee shops, where both beverages and meals are served. And although street food is commonly understood as "fast food", some of these kopitiam are just like our coffee shops where folks read their papers, chat with friends, and linger for hours.

They serve everything from coffee and teh tahrik (pulled tea - my favorite!!!) to noodle dishes and bbq pork. The list goes on and on.

Malaysian-Street-Eats.png

5. Stunning Tropical Beaches

You’ve probably had friends who have raved about their time on the beautiful beaches of Thailand, and maybe you’ve jealously scrolled through their vacation photos on Facebook, but Malaysian beaches (as Malaysia is right under Thailand), are just as stunning with soft white sand, lush palm trees, and radiant blue water, but lesser-known, and therefore, lesser traveled. 

Malaysian-Beaches.png


6. It has the best of both worlds: the Modern & the Traditional

Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, is a breathtakingly modern city housing 1.73 million people, rated 31 on the Top 60 Safest Cities in the world (above both Beijing and Shanghai), and home to THREE of the world’s largest shopping malls.

Considered a first-class city, it is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in Southeast Asia, both in population and in economic development. However, the surrounding, more traditional areas provide a fascinating contrast of the mix of old and new, of the modern and traditional.

Malasian-Cities.png

7. It’s growing in popularity

Go before your friends do. Malaysia is growing in popularity, slowly, but surely. The destination is becoming more and more popular due to their conservation efforts and their endangered animals like the orangutan.

For the real, authentic experience in the country, it’s better to go sooner, before the giant cruise ships and mass tourists arrive. 


Malaysia is a place that might not be on your bucket list, but we guarantee it should be.

To find out more about our tour to Malaysia and to save yourself a spot, click the button below.

Save this post to Pinterest with the image below!

 
Things (3).png
 



4 Ways to Machu Picchu (Without Hiking the Inca Trail)

5.png

Machu Picchu has quickly grown in popularity among travelers after being voted one of the "New 7 Wonders of the World" in 2007. In visiting the 15th century Incan city, the first thing that comes to mind is a strenuous hike traversing the Inca Trail for 4-5 days to reach the ruins located at an altitude of about 8,000 ft.

Which, to many minds (and mine), doesn't necessarily sound like a "vacation." Rarely do I consider something a vacation if there isn't a toilet.

research-trip-to-peru.jpg

As such, when we launched our "Taste of Peru and Machu Picchu Tour" some of our travelers hesitated on joining because of the common misconception that the only way to reach the ruins was by means of hiking and camping.

Although there are many multi-day treks which accomplish that goal (and work up a serious appetite), we're here to set the record straight that there are other ways to reach the UNESCO World Heritage Site without the need to train like an athlete beforehand.

The city of Cusco is most often the starting point for a journey to Machu Picchu. Travelers arrive to Cusco via flights from the capital of Lima. Although there are buses that make the journey, we recommend the 1 hour 20 minute flight since there are numerous daily departures on LATAM and Avianca Airlines and they are relatively budget-friendly.

LATAM-fight-from-lima-to-cusco.jpg

In addition to the travel options I mention below there are also alternative treks, hikes, and walks which will lead you to Machu Picchu. However, I'm assuming if you're not interested in a 4-day trek on the Inca Trail, you're probably not interested in a 32 km walk to Aguas Calientes. Wild assumption, I know. That said, here are 4 ways to reach Machu Picchu without breaking your back:

Step 1: Travel from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (also referred to as Machu Picchu village)

We recommend transiting to Aguas Calientes at least one day prior to your visit to Machu Picchu. Aguas Calientes is a small town approximately 6 km from the ruins; it is primarily a tourist hub with hotels, restaurants, and a train station to serve travelers on their way to the ruins.

1. Train from Cusco

From Cusco you can catch a taxi to Poroy, a small town about 25 minutes away, which has a train station. The train journey is about 3 hours and 20 minutes and stops once on the way to Aguas Calientes. This route is operated by PeruRail and IncaRail.

2. Bus/Drive + Train from Cusco

Given that Cusco is at a higher altitude (approximately 11,000 feet), we recommend spending time in the Sacred Valley (approximately 6,000 feet) before slowly progressing to Machu Picchu and then Cusco. If you choose this option, you can first fly into Cusco, then take a taxi or private vehicle directly to Urubamba or Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. From Ollantaytambo you take the train to Aguas Calientes which is about a 1 hour 50 minute train journey.

How-to-get-to-Machu-Picchu.png

Step 2: Travel from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu Ruins

After arriving by train to Aguas Calientes we recommend staying at least one night. The train track runs through the middle of the town so it's easy to access most hotels on foot.

3. Bus

Starting at 5:30 AM every day, there is a circuit of buses which ferry travelers on a 25 minute ride to the entrance gates of the ruins. Tickets for the bus should be purchased in advance and you can take the bus round trip to return to Aguas Calientes.

4. Hike

Okay...so this one might actually break your back a little. However, this is the only alternative from Aguas Calientes to reach the ruins. If you wish to hike to the ruins entrance gates, it is an 8 km hike from town, up a steep mountainside path.

Bus-to-Machu-Picchu.jpg

On our 9-day small group “Taste of Peru” Tour (running from October 25-November 2, 2019!), we crafted an itinerary which gives you the best of both worlds.

You get the breathtaking views looking out over Machu Picchu, with the creature comforts of some of Peru's finest award-winning lodges and accommodations. We use a combination of private transfers in air-conditioned vehicles, train travel, and the Aguas Calientes bus to reach Machu Picchu.

We also take the guess work out of buying tickets, securing entrance times, and all of the finicky logistics. For more information on our itinerary and whether it's the best fit for you, please email us at info@thetablelesstraveled.com or call 425.894.8976.

Save this post on Pinterest for later reference!

 
Things (1).png
 

More images from our trip:

Main square and cathedral in Cusco, Peru

Main square and cathedral in Cusco, Peru

Visiting the Maras Salt Mines

Visiting the Maras Salt Mines

a Lesson in Roasting at the Coffee Museum

a Lesson in Roasting at the Coffee Museum

Cheesemakers in the Markets at the Sacred Valley

Cheesemakers in the Markets at the Sacred Valley

Right before we jumped on paddle boards on this serene lake

Right before we jumped on paddle boards on this serene lake

Best Sandwich in LIMa!

Best Sandwich in LIMa!

7 Things to Know BEFORE going to Peru

5 (1).png

Peru’s tourism has exploded over the last few years, especially since the Inca site of Machu Picchu was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007. People from all over the world have flocked to see this Incan ruins site perched high in the Andes Mountains in the highlands rainforest.

We have loved visiting Peru and introducing our travelers to the culture through many of our local friends like Christo, Brisa, and Nacho. Along the way we learn about what it’s like to live in Peru—whether your ancestors are farmers in the Andes or whether your family lives in a beautiful waterfront view apartment in Lima.

One of the realities of life in Peru is managing the growing tourism and responsibly considering what is best to preserve the special place of this land while increasing economic opportunities. We believe in being responsible tourists. There is value in connecting with people from all over the world, sharing experiences and coming together, uniting us over our commonalities and understanding our differences.

Because of that, we want to draw attention to some tips and things to think about when traveling to Peru that we recommend to help you be less of a “tourist” and more of an aware and informed traveler.

Of course, my first recommendation is to join our Taste of Peru Tour on Oct 25-Nov 2, so we can introduce you to our friends. But here are a few other things you should know before visiting this stunning country:

1. Peru is a dietary-restriction dream

One of my favorite parts of Peruvian cuisine is the diversity of fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Many of the dishes served in Peru have a focus on vegetables and grains grown locally.

Did you know that Peru has over 3,000 varieties of potatoes? Not to mention quinoa, amaranth, and many other healthy foods. Peruvians eat locally and had ancient trade routes along the Inca Trail, sometimes allowing trade between environments like the Amazon with its tropical fruits to the Andes with potatoes, quinoa and coca leaves.

 
food-in-peru.png
 

As I’ve come to embrace my own dietary restrictions and be aware of those of our travelers, we’ve found that Peru is BY FAR the easiest country of our destinations to accommodate dietary needs. And not just accommodate them, but embrace them.

We’ve had previous travelers join us with restrictions like vegan and vegetarian diets to gluten and egg allergies, and not only have our chefs and local in-home cooks accommodated, but they've created beautiful dishes that are still an enriching experience of the cultures' roots

2. There are more ways to get to Machu Picchu than hiking the Inca Trail

Just because hiking is not your forte—and the Inca Trail is noooo walk in the park—does not mean you’ll have to miss out on seeing this stunning Wonder of the World. 

On our Peru Tour, we take the train from Urubamba to Aguas Calientes, and then a bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, the last of which is only a short 6k journey, but we’ve also written about more ways to get to the ancient ruins without breaking too much of a sweat on our blog post “4 Ways to Machu Picchu”.

ways-to-get-to-machu-picchu.png

3. Stay overnight near Machu Picchu

As mentioned above, on our trip we take the train from the Sacred Valley to stay the night in Aguas Calientes before the big day. 

We HIGHLY recommend doing this if you take your own trip. Staying in the small town also referred to as “Machu Picchu village” allows us to get up the mountain BEFORE the crowds get in from Cusco, and often in time to catch the sunrise coming over the mountain peaks.

how-to-travel-to-Machu-Picchu.png

4. Machu Picchu isn’t the only fascinating Inca site

As amazing as this Wonder of the World is, there are plenty more mind-blowingly cool & ancient Incan sites, like the Moray ruins and the Maras salt flats.

Just a bit off the beaten path from Cusco, you’ll find both of these hidden gems.

The Moray ruins are rarely mentioned in guidebooks so you can enjoy this remote area of the Sacred Valley in relative peace.

Though they look a bit like “Signs” and alien crop circles, these circular terraces were not created by extraterrestrial lifeforms (that we know of, at least), but instead constructed by the Incas as probably an agricultural laboratory of sorts. Basically, the Incas were wayyy advanced in science for their time.

The Maras salt flats are another favorite stop on our Peru tour. These 3,000 shallow pools collect the salt from an ancient salty subterranean spring (created when the tectonic plates moved together to form the Andes), and allow the water to evaporate off, leaving the salt to be mined by the families that own it.

And no, that is not them covered in snow—that’s actually the white salt!

Incan-ruins-in-Peru.jpg

5. Mother Earth is sacred to the Incas

Mother Earth, or “Pachamama,” plays an important role in Peruvian tradition - particularly in the Andes Mountains. Mother Earth was a fertility goddess that presided over crops, mountains, and could cause natural disasters like earthquakes. Many Andean people still connect with Pachamama and pay respects to the giving, benevolent goddess.

During your time in Peru, go beyond the ‘ruins’ and see inside the hearts and souls of people and where their beliefs are rooted.

6. Panchamanca is amazing

A pachamanca is a traditional way of cooking and a dish that is comprised of a variety of meats, herbs, and vegetables that are slowly cooked underground on a bed of hot stones. The Andean language of Quechua gave way to this term, the word “pacha” translates to earth and “manka” to pot and the tradition dates back to the Inca Empire and perhaps even earlier.

When visiting Peru, dive into the lesser known food traditions and eat like a local would! The preparation was a way to celebrate life, meant to offer respect to Mother Earth.

panchamanca-in-peru.jpg

7. Lima is worth the stop

When I was planning my first Peru research trip, most people had given me the tip that the capital city was one that was "skippable."

Well...I'm telling you from experience...if you like food, it is decidedly not skippable.

Lima has some of theeee most amazing food in all of South America. In two days, I dined at THREE of the best restaurants in the world. Yes you read that right, Lima, Peru is the ONLY city home to two of the World’s Top 50 Restaurants (and one in the Top 100 list).

Lima is the last stop on our Taste of Peru tour and we make sure to get our foodie on in the city and at two of these top restaurants before sending our travelers on their way. Definitely plan a visit to Lima into your itinerary. (You can read more about my dining at Lima’s world-class restaurants here.)

lima-food.jpg

Whether you’re planning on joining us on our October Taste of Peru tour, or thinking of planning your own Peru trip, we hope you find these tips helpful and that they bring you to find something even greater in your travel experience that gets stored in your memory bank, that roots you to the land and connects you with the people during your time there. 


Save these tips for later and pin this post to Pinterest!

 
Things (2).png
 

3 Top Restaurants of the World in Lima

3 Top Restaurants in Peru.png

Every time I casually tell people that Lima, Peru has three* of The World's 50 Best Restaurants (from Pellegrino's annual list), they can't believe me. And then the question usually follows jokingly, "Did they serve you guinea pig?"

And then I deadpan, "Yes." Because, yes, they do serve guinea pig. And YES, it was one of the most savory, succulent, and delicious things I've ever eaten. Ever.

When I discovered that Lima was a food haven I was well into planning my first Peru research trip and had heard from most people that the capital city was one that was "skippable."

Well...I'm telling you from experience...if you like food, it is decidedly not skippable.

In two days, I dined at THREE of the best restaurants in the world. Central for lunch, Maido for dinner, and Astrid & Gaston for lunch the next day.

Don't worry—I still ate breakfast at my favorite sandwich shop.

Sandwiches aside, these 3 meals represented a huge variety of food inspiration, and creativity. Each experience was unique.

 
first+course+at+Central.jpg
 

Central

Since dining there in 2015, Central rose in the ranks to #4 best restaurant in the world, and #1 in Latin America. Their tasting menu is based on altitudes, from the highest of highs in the Andes to the lowest of lows in the Amazon. They source ingredients from distinct regions of the country and create dishes you couldn't even imagine.


Maido

When I went to Maido it was ranked #44, but in 2016 it was the restaurant that took the "highest climber award" on the list to #13, and now sits at #10.

Unlike your inability to tell your children that one of them is your favorite, I have no qualms about picking my favorite restaurant in Lima: although I loved all of my eating in Peru, Maido stole my heart.

During the 13 course tasting menu at the Maido sushi bar, I was blown away by every single serving—a fusion between Japanese and Peruvian food, better known as "Nikkei" cuisine.

The most umami based flavor explosion I've ever tasted was the thinly sliced and seared steak nigiri with a ponzu-infused quail egg on top. There is so much to say about this one piece of nigiri that in reality there is nothing I can say to do it justice.

Maido+courses.jpg

Astrid & Gaston

The following day I made my way to Astrid & Gaston, now housed in a beautiful mansion with its own garden used for herbs and vegetables in the restaurant's daily preparations.

Perhaps it was the fact that I was easing into the routine of eating at fancy-pants restaurants, but regardless, this was the environment where I felt most at ease, most welcomed, and most befriended by the hosts and servers that I felt like I was sitting in a friend's home kitchen.

This is also where my guinea pig fantasies became realities. It was served in a trio of tastings—all with an Asian flare.

courses+at+astrid+y+gaston.jpg

After 3 unforgettable meals in Lima I can assure you that if you're lucky enough to get reservations (or come on our Taste of Peru group tour), it is a city where your taste buds will be delighted.

Authentic? Definitely.

Some folks have responded by saying they don't like the idea of dining in "fancy, famous" restaurants while they're traveling because it doesn't feel like an authentic, local experience. And I would beg to differ.

At least in Lima, I would.

As I sat sola dining in these fantastic restaurants I eaves dropped (I admit) on conversations all around me. The majority of diners were locals, who worked nearby, or had a special occasion, or in one circumstance had been trying to get a reservation for a year.

They were trying food that they deemed, rightfully so, to be a modern representation of their local cultural cuisine.

Join us on a culinary adventure for 9 days on our "Taste of Peru and Machu Picchu Tour." Groups are limited to 12 travelers for intimate experiences. Call us for more information or to hold a spot - 425.894.8976.

*this article was originally published in 2017. Astrid y Gaston did not appear on the 2019 Top 50 list, but rests at #67 on the 2019 Top 100 Restaurants list.

Pin this article to your Pinterest for easy access:

 
Top Restaurants in Peru.png
 

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Planning a Trip to Italy

Mistakes-to-Avoid-When-Planning-a-Trip-to-Italy.jpg

Almost everyone who I’ve ever met or known who has visited Italy absolutely raves about their experiences— the people, the food, the wine, and the sights. I typically nod in agreement while the usual places are listed, or sometimes chime in with the things that I also love about traveling there.

However, after years of operating our small group tours and customized private trips in Italy, I’ve come to understand how to get the most out of your visit to this beautiful country, and also a few common mistakes made by travelers that can be easily avoided for an even more amazing and unique experience during your vacation.

Here are 5 common mistakes that can keep you from the authentic and unique experience you’re looking for on your Italy trip (and what to do instead!):

1. Eating only at places with menus in English

Yes, there are great restaurants that have menus in English. But the real adventure begins when you’re in a place so authentically local that they are not catering at all to travelers, even if they know they could make more by having a menu that travelers could understand.

2. Eating “Italian Food”

There’s no such thing. Italy is all about regional cuisine—what you eat in Naples should be very different from what you eat in Milan. Eat the local dishes that are specialties of that region so you can taste what they’re best known for, and enjoy each dish at its very best.


3. Waiting for the bill to come

You’ll be waiting forever! (As long as you’re in an authentic place.) This isn’t a huge mistake, but it is a helpful tip! Restaurants in Italy aren’t trying to rush you out the door, they’re not solely focused on turning tables. So they often won’t bring your check until you ask for it.


4. Taking a huge tour with 20+ people

With this size of group you just can’t have the intimate, authentic experiences that allow you to see Italy as it should be.

We see these 30+ traveler groups all the time. They eat at the worst restaurants because that’s where they can get reservations for that size, they shuffle through the streets having sights pointed out to them, without going in and experiencing anything unique. And they have tour guides who are ticking off a checklist of things they’ve seen.

Get intimate! If you are going to take a tour, focus on small groups, experiences, and places that take you behind the scenes and not through the main thoroughfares where everyone else is walking.

5. Being afraid to get off the beaten path

Albert Einstein said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” But I’d like to add that my definition of insanity (applicable to this situation, at least) is going to the same exact places all the tourists go, and expecting a unique and authentic traveling experience.

Traveling to Italy is about having a deeper understanding and appreciation of the culture, history, and their way of life. Yes, for some folks it is just as important to see Botticelli’s Birth of Venus at the Uffizi Museum. And that’s ok (because it’s amazing, of course!); but if you’re in Florence and all you do is stay in the historical center of the town (as many tourists do) then you are swimming in the sea of other visitors where there are certain establishments (and many vendors) who are catering simply to the tastes of tourists and not the reality of the locals.

Venture to the Oltrarno (the other side of the river) where more Florentines live and work. Stroll the streets and get lost. Find a café or a restaurant that has a small menu, only in Italian, and try it. Get outside your comfort zone. Go to a place where they don’t speak any English. Learn a few phrases in Italian and maybe mess up your order trying to use them (it’s all about the experience!).

Traveling is Truly What You Make of It

Traveling in Italy can be nearly like a “Disneyland experience” —manicured, swimming with the sea of other tourists, comfortable, and accessible.

Or you can get your hands dirty, explore, and absorb the culture like a true local.

If the latter is a little scary, or uncertain, or you’re not sure where to start or how to go about it, then join us on one of our curated culinary trips to Italy where we help facilitate bridging that gap.

We’ll introduce you to our friends—locals who live and work in the places we visit—who show us the inside scoop. We’ll teach you a few Italian phrases, or help with your ordering if you’d like some help. We’ll give you a behind the scenes view at artisan workshops, crafts that have been passed down through generations, and homes where you can dine with locals. And as always, our small group tours stay within 6-12 people to allow for more intimate experiences. (no 20, 30+ groups here!)

We’re taking two more trips to Italy this year—September & October— and we still currently have a couple spaces left in each of them.

Learn more about our 9-day Heart of Italy Tours (and why they are an experience of a lifetime) here.

If you found this post helpful, pin the image below to Pinterest to reference later!

 
Common-Traveling-Mistakes-in-Italy.jpg
 




3 Must-Have Items for International Travel

Let's just be honest...travel is amazing and wonderful and sparkles and unicorns and whiskers on kittens. But if we're being really honest there's also the side that's tiring, uncomfortable, and annoying. For me—that's packing and preparing for travel.

But there are a few things that are always, without a doubt, going in my travel bag...and that make those uncomfortable parts of traveling a tad bit easier.

Over the years I've tried lots of travel-friendly products which help me build custom packing lists for our private travel clients and our those on our small group tours.  Here are a few of my favorites that I would never leave home without:

3 Must-Have Items for International Travel.png
  1. Inflatable Travel Pillow - I'll admit I used to make fun of people with travel pillows...and then I became one. My favorite Eagle Creek pillow deflates to a compact size, you can remove and wash the cover, and it's far more comfortable than airline pillows (currently unavailable on Amazon — another great option here: Purefly Pillow)

  2. RFID Blocking Wallet - You've certainly heard about the risk of identity theft through RFID (radio-frequency identification). This Articulate wallet/clutch is my favorite tool for storing my passport and cards while on the go. It has multiple compartments and has interchangeable straps.  There is also a men's wallet available.

  3. Compact Backpack - It's a pain to carry a backpack on the plane in addition to your other luggage. Having a backpack that folds up has been a life saver on hikes, in markets, and on day trips. My favorite is the Eddie Bauer Packable Daypack which has lots of pockets and *bonus* you can secure zippers to other zippers and hooks using an S-biner.

    And those are my top 3! What do you HAVE to have for international travel? I’m always looking to pick up more tips, so don’t hesitate to comment below your Top 3 Must-Haves!



    Don’t forget to pin this article for future reference!

Must-Haves-for-International-Travel.jpg

4 Not-to-Miss Restaurants in Italy

Four-places-to-eat-in-italy.jpg

“Wait…this is fresh made pasta, right?” I asked as the server shot me a look of severe discontent. 

Since when did I become such a pretentious eater that boxed pasta seemed so abhorrent?  Oh…since spending 3 weeks gorging myself in Italy, scouring the country for the best eats. I had officially been ruined for all the Barillas & DeCeccos of the world. After witnessing Italian nonnas (grandmas) fresh rolling pasta in the back of restaurant kitchens and lingering over fragrant sauces it was no wonder I was appalled by food from a box and a jar!

fresh-pasta-in-italy.jpg

After settling for his unequivocal reply of, “yes.”, I took a deep breath, a sip of wine, and replayed my trip through Italy as I prepared for my last meal before jetting off. As an avid traveler Italy was one place I had been hesitant about visiting…not because I was concerned that I wouldn’t like it, but because I was concerned I would love it too much and never want to leave.

And boy did Italy live up to all the expectations in my mind. From the first peek of the rolling Tuscan countryside through the airplane window, to the thrill of riding on a scooter around winding cliff side roads on the Amalfi coast, to this quaint little restaurant in Florence where I was eating my final fresh pasta dish, Italy took my breath away around every corner.

Italian-countryside.jpg


There is something so special, so enriching, so passionate, so simple about the way Italians live. And food is a major part of that beautiful life. On my first night in Italy I made friends with a group of locals who invited me over for a barbecue. I stood awe struck in their Renaissance-period kitchen as one of them nearly apologized to me because, “this olive oil isn’t very fresh…it’s nearly 8 months old since their family is preparing for the olive harvest this year.” Old olive oil?! Is that even a thing?! At home I just used whatever EVOO I could find in my cabinet, purchased from who knows where, who knows when. And that was just the beginning of my education in the way Italians eat, drink, love, and live.

One of the most beautiful things about Italian cuisine is how utterly simple most of the dishes are and that so much of the rich aroma and flavor comes from using very fresh ingredients. Italians are not shy about their pride in this matter. While participating in a cooking class the chef looked at me and matter-of-factly asked, “Do you like lemon thyme?”  Then he continued by saying, “Great, let’s go pick some,” as we trotted out of the kitchen where a few pots of fresh herbs grew. I felt like smacking my Staples’ ‘that was easy’ button

As a tour operator for international culinary trips, my sole purpose in Italy was to uncover the places that made me feel uniquely in love with Italian cuisine…places that I would be overjoyed to share with other like-minded food lovers. With some help from my friends at Utrip I was well connected with local Italian experts who showed me the way. And amongst some of my favorite meals were these 4 gems I highly recommend you check out:

what%2Bto%2Beat%2Bin%2Bnaples%2B-%2Bfried%2Bpizza.jpg
 
  1. Fried Pizza at La Masardona in Naples

 

2. Fried (you’re noticing a theme…aren’t you) Calamari Salad at Ristoteca Oniga in Venice

venice-canals.jpg
to-eat-in-italy---fresh-cacio-e-pepe.jpg
 

3. Cacio e pepe at Cacio e Pepe in Rome (seems legit, yes?)

 

4. Arugula salad & tagliolini magnifico at Trattoria Gargani in Florence

Florence-Sunset-Bridge.jpg

Do you have any “must-not-miss” places you’d recommend? I’d love to hear them! Drop me a comment — I’m always looking for new great places to be able to direct clients to (and eat at myself, of course!).

You can always find more of my “must-not-miss” places ON our actual small group tours to Italy and other destinations. Check ‘em ouuuut!

Don’t forget to pin this post for easy reference!

Where-to-Eat-In-Italy.jpg

(A similar blog post was originally published by our friends at Utrip on their blog. Utrip is an online travel planner that uses your interests and budget to sort through millions of options to deliver you a personalized itinerary in minutes.)

Packing Hack: How to Spice up Your Travel Wardrobe (Without Buying New Clothes!)

Hack-your-summer-travel-wardrobe.jpg

Travel is immensely rewarding and exciting, buuut, sorting the details can be incredibly complicated, frustrating, and stressful.

First, you have to choose where to go (okay, that’s the easiest and most fun part) and figure out how to get there. Then there are the hours of researching and (if you’re like me) breaking out the Excel sheets for what to do once you get there, where to stay, and where to eat—all the while trying to decipher which will actually be the unique and authentic experiences you’re looking for, hoping you don’t end up at some touristy diner that serves pre-made frozen pasta dishes in Italy.

Thankfully when you travel with us on our trips to Italy, Peru, or other destinations, we take care of all those maddening details so you can stop googling “best places to eat in Naples” for the 5th night in a row and get back to your busy lives with the reassured confidence that you will show up and have an amazing trip of a lifetime with deep, authentic connections (and zero amounts of pre-made, frozen food).

However, there is one more thing about travel that is complicated, frustrating, and stressful, and that even if you go on a trip with us, you’ll still have to do yourself—PACKING.

Packing is— by far—the thing that drives me most crazy about travel. I’m a “better safe than sorry” kind of person, so I want to make sure I have something for every occasion and weather possibility...while at the same time, I am also equally dedicated to packing ONLY a carry-on whenever possible.

This paradox subsequently results in hours spent debating which items are appropriate for the occasion (will I be too cold? Too hot? To dressy? Not dressy enough?), but also versatile (can I wear this shirt with multiple other items I’m bringing? Does it transfer easily “day-to-night”?).

And then, finally, and perfectly rationally, I usually come around to the conclusion that I hate everything I own, I have nothing to wear, and I want need a completely new, fun wardrobe to bring with me and not the same clothes I wear every day.

Tell me I’m not the only one who goes through this.

The Packing Hack We’ve All Been Dreaming Of...
In walks Armoire—a wardrobe rental subscription service, based here locally in Seattle, but available to anyone online.  

As an already fond member of their service, I was in their store, discussing the pains of travel packing and how I was considering pausing my membership with them while I’d be in Italy for three weeks, since I wouldn’t be able to swap out new items.

And suddenly, it became clear to both of us this was not a problem, but an opportunity!

Together we created the 8-Piece Travel Pack—a travel wardrobe you could curate with a stylist and then return when you get back—to assist with your travel adventures this summer, and solve the classic packing woes.

How it Works & Why Renting your Travel Wardrobe is the Best Tip I’ve Found
For this May Heart of Italy Tour and research trip, I met with a stylist at Armoire and shared the basics I thought I would bring: a white tee, jeans, gray jackets, sneakers, sandals, etc. Then together we picked out 8 items with fun prints, patterns, and colors to put together that worked with my staples and that I could mix and match, dressing up and/or down.

Packing-for-Internation-Travel.jpg

Anytime that I’m allowed to shop, chat, and drink champagne—I’m pretty happy. So packing with a stylist actually became something fun instead of a dreaded chore I save for the last, frantic minute (scene cut to me at my own home alone, frazzled, throwing things around my room, and sending mirror selfies to friends asking which pants I should take).

So here I am currently in Italy with my 8 pieces (you can ready more about which ones I settled on and how I’ll be styling them here), and I am digging this experience!

What-to-Take-to-the-Almafi-Coast.jpg

What I’ve loved about traveling with these 8 pieces is that they are all fun, new, and I am excited to get up in the morning and put on a full outfit that has already been pre-planned. No standing in front of my suitcase debating which items to put together for the day.

Travel Packing Tips to Live By
To get you inspired, here are some of my go-to travel packing tips to keep in mind whenever & wherever you’re doing your packing:

  1. If a piece can’t be made into more than two outfits, ditch it

  2. Rule of thumb: look for super lightweight, breathable items that don’t wrinkle easily

  3. Layers, layers, layers. Unless I’m going somewhere with extreme cold temperatures, I’d rather wear 3 sweaters to keep warm than to carry a heavy, big coat.

  4. Always pack more underwear than you need. It’s the smallest item you pack and the thing you change the most (hopefully :)

See How it Works In Real Life — This June!
Interested in this life-changing, new way to pack for a trip? Join us for a drink, packing tips from me, a stylist to help you choose your 8 pieces for your next trip, and a chance to win a $1000 gift card at our Armoire + The Table Less Traveled Event on June 19.

I’ll be hosting this event with the amazing boss women over at Armoire. Come by to get styled for your summer, learn about traveling to Italy on a trip that’s curated and planned, and hang out with fun people while doing that dreaded packing at the same time.

Hope to see you then!

Travel in Style
with The Table Less Traveled + Armoire

Wednesday, June 19, | 5:30-8pm

Pin this post so you can come back to it!

Packing-Tips--How-to-Spice-Up-Your-Travel-Wardrobe-This-Summer.jpg