Saturday, January 27, 2018

Hawaii - The Big Island

I've been fortunate to visit Hawaii multiple times. On my last visit I traveled back to the Big Island as I think it is an island that is overlooked. Hawaii, the Big Island, is known for it's active volcano; however it offers so much more...and of course a day trip out to the Volcano is must.

On arrival and near the airport I stopped at the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm.  This farm is in the only seahorse farm in the world dedicated to preserving the endangered seahorse. The tour was incredibly interesting and you too can bring home your own seahorse!  Believe it or not they ship. 

I spent the next day with my good friend Samantha who is a native to explore the wonders of the island.

On the Big Island you will find miles and miles of lava fields. The topography is so different and unique from the other islands. We spent the day driving northeast with incredible stops along the way to our final destination, the Hawaiian Vanilla Company. With every mile the scenery continued to change from lava fields to lush greenery...simply fascinating.

Waipio Valley Loo

On our drive the the Hawaiian Vanilla company we stopped at:

Waimea Coffee CompanyWaipio Valley Lookout
TexDrive Inn (known for their malasadas aka Portuguese donuts), KolekoleState Park, Umauma Botanical Garden and finally the 

Umauma Botanical Garden

The Hawaiian Vanilla company has been featured on the Food Network,  Discovery Channel and the Travel Channel.  They are the first commercial growers of vanilla in the US. Who know how interesting a tour of a vanilla farm could be!  After the tour we had an incredible lunch...with touches of vanilla of course.  

Contact me at on where to stay and more activities you can do! There are many outstanding resorts to choose from and I will work with you on the best option for your travel needs. I can also be reached at 703-762-5056. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

National Parks & Group Travel

I often receive requests for the National Parks – there are so many ways to explore these treasures. For this particular adventure I was traveling with my family, my sister’s family and my parents. We opted to take an organized group tour which worked out perfectly – I wouldn't have changed a thing. There are many different companies that offer these tours and I would be happy to discuss the differences with you. A group tour in this instance worked not only for our family dynamic, but for the destination.

I researched several different itineraries and chose an itinerary and tour company that would work for all of us. Our itinerary started in Sedona at the beautiful Enchantment Resort. Seeing the beauty of the Red Rocks has always been on my bucket list. A trip to Scottsdale and Sedona can be combined for a week-long trip without adding any other touring. From there we traveled to the Grand Canyon – words truly cannot describe its majesty. We then traveled to Monument Valley, led by a Navajo guide. I was really looking forward to Arches National Park and it completely exceeded my expectations. We had a choice of an “easy” hike or a longer hike to the crown jewel: The Delicate Arch. I could have sat there for hours. Our tour ended with Colorado River rafting which was perfect for all ages and activity levels. The scenery was absolutely stunning and it was a trip I will always remember.

Here are my top reasons why you may consider group travel: 

-You pay one price upfront and you know all of the inclusions
-Transportation is taken care of for you. Driving to various national parks involves a lot of time in the car. Being on a bus allows you to relax, chat, nap and most importantly, take in the scenery.
-Everything is thought of for you and you learn SO much more than you could ever research on your own.
-With National Parks, you don't have to wait in line and you get prime hotel locations. This is key in the Grand Canyon, where room availability within the Canyon is extremely limited.
-You have a sense of comradery and meet like-minded travelers. If you don't feel like being social it’s not necessary; though in this case it was wonderful to see our kids bond and make new friends.

I'm happy to share more of my expereinces with you.  Contact me at Follow me on Instagram @jesstravels. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Flathead Lake Lodge - Family Camp!

Just yesterday my son asked “Mom, can we go back to Montana?” Even a few months since our return, this family experience is still fresh in his head. I asked him what his favorite part was and he said “everything.” 

I had the privilege to return to Montana Memorial Day weekend for a meeting with the FTA – Family Travel Association. The meeting was held at Flathead Lake Lodge and I was fortunate enough to get to bring my family... after all, it was a meeting about family travel!
To get to Flathead you fly to Kalispell Montana which is located near Glacier National Park. The best way to describe Flathead Lake Lodge is family camp. They are open seasonally from May through the Fall. Like “camp” you stay for a week – Saturday to Saturday. Each family will have their own lodging and unit.

What I found very intriguing and unique about this particular ranch is you have the typical ranch activities – horseback riding, lessons, trail rides, steak fry wagon dinners; but you also have all of the fun activities that a lake vacations offers you. You can spend your morning horseback riding and your afternoon in a kayak or canoe. The lake also offers fun activities like boat rides and water skiing. You can be as active has you would like to be or you can spend the day poolside with a great book.
All of your meals are included. There are fabulous local breweries and a cute town and do some shopping. For day trips you could go white water rafting or visit Glacier National Park. At night sip a glass of wine around the fire pit, enjoy a smore and take in the magic of the big Montana Sky. I was fortunate enough to see the Northern Lights – bucket list check!

 Flathead Lake Lodge is a special place. By day three all your worries are gone and it's just about good old fashioned family time. You feel so safe in this environment. Kids are kids and love their new found freedom of riding bikes together and just playing without screens. Joey's favorite part was building a fort with his new found best friends – and no girls were allowed!

I've always loved “outdoorsy” destination and this was no exception. If you need a week to reconnect with your family this is a very special destination to do so.

For more information contact me at or 703-762-5056.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Italian Spring Break

When planning this year's Spring Break, I wanted to try something I have never personally experienced before: a villa rental. I work with villa companies all the time and have booked dozens of villa vacations for my clients. I decided now was the time to experience this for myself & my family.

We decided on Tuscany, and our villa was located just outside of Siena. I choose this location to be centrally located with the option to take multiple day trips throughout the week. From our villa, we were about an hour and half from Florence and 25 minutes from Siena.
Outdoor Living 

Love from the top of the Siena Tower
Renting a villa is a completely different experience than a resort or hotel. You do give up the comforts of a front desk & concierge, daily housekeeping, fresh linens and turn down service. With most villa rentals, you have the option to pay for things like prepared breakfast and daily housekeeping at an additional fee if you wish. For my purposes I didn't feel I needed that.

Who is a villa for? Everybody -- and I really mean that. If you want privacy and space, even just for a couple it can be a great option.  Many times you will pay less than hotel rooms/suites, but again, you must consider the comforts of a resort you are giving up. A villa is great for couples traveling together; we found having private indoor and outdoor living space to meet nightly is fantastic. And of course, it's amazing for families. You can be as loud as you want and not worry about kids waking up hotel guests. You move at your own pace and on your own time.

SOOO much amazing pasta

We landed in Florence, picked up our car rental and then off to the villa. Make sure you have a data plan on your phone so you can use Google Maps or Waze, for example. We found it is absolutely necessary; don't trust a print-out of directions in a foreign country. On arrival, we were greeted by our villa manager who was extremely helpful and showed us around. Our first night we just settled in, went to the grocery store, and had dinner brought in for us. That is a must for your first night.  You will not feel like cooking! On our last night we upped our game and had a chef come in to prepare dinner with multiple courses and wine pairing (of course). My new favorite – fried tempura sage. I can't wait to try it at home.

I have been working with trusted villa companies for over a decade. Yes, there are AirBnb's, VRBO's, etc. but you cannot always be sure what you are getting. With a trusted advisor, you know you are working with a company that has been in the villa, taken the pictures, and is completely non-biased. If the property is not up to par, they won't represent it.

If you are interested in our day to day itinerary, take a look below. You know where to reach me – Let me help you plan your next villa vacation!

Day 1 – Villa Arrival.

Day 2 – Siena & San Gimignano
Every night ended with wine!

We drove to Siena and explored this charming town. If you are ever there definitely walk up the tower, it's worth the view (and the exercise). From there we drove to this charming farm and had a fabulous farmhouse lunch. Afterwards we explored the farm and then headed to the amazing town of San Gimignano.

Day 3 – Time for wine tasting!!
I recommend getting a car and driver to 1) give you a break from driving and 2) to fully enjoy a day of wine tasting. We were picked up and a car and explored the Chianti area. We stopped at Castello di Casole which is a lovely Virtuoso Resort where you can reserve a room or even a villa.

Day 4 – Cinque Terre!
This was a very long day, but well worth it.  
I often get asked about the Cinque Terre and it is an area that can be done in a day. We drove to La Spezia which was about a 2 hour and 40 minute drive away from our villa. From La Spezia we met our private guide (highly recommended). Fortunately we had amazing weather and got to take the boat to several of the towns and took the train back. Our lunch by the sea was a highlight of the afternoon to include the local anchovy favorite. After our perfect day we made a stop in Pisa for more sightseeing, dinner and of course the ever famous tourist picture. 

Day 5 – Truffle Hunting and Cheese Making
Truffle hunting for many is a bucket list activity and depending on the season and time of year you will have different experiences. We were off-season for the white truffles, but were able to hunt for the the less valuable black truffle, which was in season. Nonetheless, it is a very fun family friendly activity. Playing with truffle hunting dogs and walking through the forest is always fun for kids. After “hunting” we got to taste our findings with an amazing truffle pasta. Afterwards we left for another farm experience...this tie cheese making. This was a truly authentic hands-on farm experience – complete with milking the sheep!

Day 6 – Rest!
Even with continuous eating and wine drinking one needs a rest... after all, this is a vacation! We slept in and took our time getting ready. Our villa was located on the grounds of a winery. Of all of the wineries and vineyards I have visited, this is the first time I walked from my accommodations through a Vineyard for a private wine tasting.

Day 7 – Montepulciano Winery Day
 Our local driver picked us up to visit another Virtuoso favorite hotel in the region – Castello Del Bosco. Afterwards a stop at Gattavecchi – a highly recommend winery. For our last night we hired a chef to come to prepare a farewell dinner for us.

Day 8 – Florence
You can't be this close to Florence without spending a day in this glorious city. To make the best use of our time we had a half day private guide to show us the highlights.

                                                                   UNTIL NEXT TIME!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Food & Wine Part 1

One of my bucket list destinations has always been Paws Up in Montana and I finally made it there! I was fortunate enough to travel during one of their many special themed weekends. This particular weekend was a Masterchef weekend featuring the extremely talented Jamie Malone, Mindy Segal, Ashley Christensen and Ben Jones who is the executive chef at Paws Up.

Each night a masterchef prepared a fabulous five course tasting menu paired with amazing wineries to include Merry Edwards Winery, Rombauer Vineyards and Grgich Hills Estate. Favorite bites of the weekend was hands down the Smoked Duck Pot Pie by Ashley Christensen and the Milk Stout Flourless Chocolate Cake from Mindy Segal. I think I need to have a dinner party! I must also give a shout out to Paws Up for one of the best Bloody Mary's of my life – Beef Jerky, Olives, Montgomery Distilleries' Sunday Morning Bloody Mary Mix. Now that's how you start your day!

My experience at Paws Up went above and beyond my exceptions. You have amazing homes to choose from to a glamping experience with fully furnished tents. You can even combine your stay with a tent to experience both types of accommodations.

The activities are unlimited – horseback riding, cattle hearing, fly fishing, ATV and even repelling. The scenery... well what can I say? Nothing beats the big Montana sky.

Will I be back – yes! When – not soon enough! If you are a “beach” only type of traveler please contact me and give the mountains a chance.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Wonderful Wailea

Our final days on the beautiful island of Maui were spent in the Wailea area. This further south on the island tends to be a little less rainy. There are great little towns to explore, like Kea, and more upscale shopping at the Shops at Wailea. Be sure to stop by this little dive called the Kea Cafe and bring your appetite!

Here we enjoyed the beautiful beaches and grounds of some top notch resorts. The highlight for us was a private surfing lesson. Our instructor was outstanding and immediately got us in the mood to “hang loose”. By the end of our lesson, Joey was a pro. This time together was definitely the highlight of our trip. It was so much fun to spend this time together as a family learning a new sport just the three of us.
Maui is a perfect destination for everyone because it offers such 
a variety of activities: everything from beaches and pools to mountains and recreational sports. There are also many great resorts to choose from, at different price points. One of my greatest professional joys is getting to know my clients to match them with the right fit resort.

We were sad to leave the wonderful island of Maui. Hawaii will always remain one of my favorite destinations. The Hawaiian Islands are excellent for rest and relaxation but also the adventure seekers. We were sad to leave but will have memories forever on this special destination.