Thursday, December 13, 2018

Is a Wellness Vacation for You?

 Traveling to take a break from the daily grind is not a new idea.   Due to our busy lives today and the constant presence of social media it is sometimes hard to focus just on yourself.  This is where wellness travel comes in.  Whether you travel with a small group or if you prefer to travel solo, a wellness trip will give you the opportunity for some serious "me" time.  Regardless of whether you want to maintain your healthy routine associated with wellness living or take a break from the stress of daily life, a wellness vacation can be a tonic for the mind, body, and spirit.



Wellness Travel Trends 
Recently, wellness travel has started to trend becoming popular with people of all ages and from all walks of life across the globe.  This type of traveler seeks destinations that include new health experiences that go above and beyond a spa treatment. The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness tourism "as journeys made by tourists who seek to improve or maintain their well being during or as a result of their trip." And, this type of travel experience is popular with an estimated 17 million travelers identifying themselves as being "healthy and wellbeing" focused; and with a surprising 40% of those interested in wellness traveling regularly.



What to Expect 

For many folks, the first thing they think of when considering a wellness vacation is a spa treatment, bland meals, lots of restrictions, and luxurious accommodations.  Wellness travel has come a long way from that!   As the popularity of wellness travel grew so did the variety of activities available to travelers seeking this type of travel experience.  The key to a successful wellness vacation is to find the right balance of wellness activities and Tours of Distinction has curated a new wellness retreat that does just that.

  
Elements of wellness travel provide authentic experiences that put you first helping you feel refreshed and energized.  Imagine taking a hike to look for exotic wildlife, practicing yoga on a deserted beach, meditating at sunset, and fresh farm to table meals that tantalize your taste buds, these are all elements of a wellness vacation.  


Wellness travel is about rejuvenating and finding balance in your life.  You might learn about a healthier way of eating, collect new recipes, or be inspired by hiking, paddle boarding, biking or yoga.  You might even shed a few pounds, although wellness travel is more about the reduction of stress and your overall mental and physical health than it is about losing weight.




The Galapagos Retreat with TOD

Tours of Distinction has made planning a wellness trip easy with the development of a new tour to Ecuador and the fabled Galapagos Islands called the Galapagos Island Retreat that is perfect for small group travel whether you are traveling with friends, as a couple or flying solo.  




The Galapagos Retreat will host no more than 18 people for eight days, from September 23-September 30, 2019, and include fourteen meals.  This journey begins in the cosmopolitan city of Quito, Ecuador, home to the Basilica del Voto Nacional, the first UNESCO World Heritage site in the world.  For the next five days, the group will explore five Galapagos Islands, practice yoga on the beach, learn about the unique wildlife that makes these islands their home, snorkel, swim, paddleboard and enjoy healthy and fresh local cuisine.  





This tour also offers complimentary airport transfers within 50 miles of the departure airport, a Tours of Distinction Tour Director,  and a certified Yoga Instructor.  All gratuities for the Tour Director, Nature Guides and Drivers are included in addition to Galapagos Park entrance fees and all excursions per the detailed itinerary.



Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Five Top Places for Solo Female Travel

One of the most common reasons why women don't travel is because they worry about traveling alone, even in regard to group travel.   There are worries about being bored and safety.  All this is changing according to Google.  Searches for solo travel for women is on the rise and has hit an all-time peak of 100 million Google searches this year.  The Travel Industry Association said that 32 million women travel alone each year. And, tour operators like Tours of Distinction have seen an uptick in requests for women traveling solo and for group travel that is solo travel-friendly.  




Traveling solo is a way to unwind and to immerse yourself in another way of life without having to think about anyone but yourself.   This type of travel can be rewarding because it gives you complete and utter freedom, there is no compromise and no debating with others; it is essentially being selfish without it being a bad thing!  As a solo traveler, you are apt to be more open to talking and connecting with people living in the destination that you are visiting.  Just think of all the amazing people you can meet and learn from as a solo traveler.



The Wander Woman's Index reviews some of the best places for solo female travel on a variety of factors in order to rank and assess what destinations are best suited for solo travel for women.  Some of the factors that were considered include safety, women's rights, culture, scenery, adventure, and culinary options, all factors women claimed were important to them.  The following are five highly rated destinations for solo women travelers.

Japan





Japan was the highest scoring country on the Wander Woman Index list not only because of its' incredible scenery but also because it has a very low crime rate.  There is so much to do and see in Japan from exploring fast-paced cities to meditating in serene Buddhist temples.

France




The destination that ranked second on the Wander Woman's list was France because of its high score on women's rights and amazing culture.  TOD is offering a cruise on the Hidden Canals of the Loire Valley that is solo travel-friendly.  This tour allows travelers to leave the group and cycle along historic canals.  Paris is another favorite in France.  It is an extremely walkable city that is ideal for women to explore on their own. The TOD tour offers a day and a half on your own in Paris before setting out for the Loire Valley, making this a great solo travel option.  For tour details click here.

Spain



Spain ranks third on this list because it ranks high for its culture, amazing art, and culinary scene. Tours of Distinction's Spain History to Heart is a solo friendly tour that offers plenty of time to explore this legendary country on your own.  Barcelona is fairly simple to navigate, the food is excellent, and the cultural attractions are amazing.  For tour details, click here.

Italy




It is not a surprise that Italy comes in at number four on this list. Rome is on the bucket list for so many travelers including solo women travelers. Italy ranks high not only in its culture but on its world-renowned artwork found throughout the country.  Italians tend to speak English and are warm and friendly people making it easy for solo women travelers to socialize.  Tuscany also ranks high with solo women travelers.  This destination has been popularized by books such as "Return to Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy."  TOD's Sailing the Western Mediterranean stops in Italy, Spain, and France that allows solo travelers to check off all three of these destinations.  A real plus on a cruise for solo women travelers is that they enjoy the convenience of an itinerary and secure accommodation and the fact that they only have to unpack once. For tour details click here.

Iceland




According to internet searches, Iceland is ranked high by many solo travelers because it is not only considered safe but also friendly.  Iceland ranks high for an abundance of natural wonders from glaciers and volcanoes to pools of bubbling mud to the surreal Blue Lagoon.  The capital city is easy to navigate with a myriad of interesting shops, cafes, and restaurants. A favorite time for solo travel is in the summer when there is almost 24 hours of daylight.  TOD Iceland Inspired tour offers a variety of solo-friendly options to explore this fascinating destination on your own. For details click here.





Solo travel gives you as much as you put into it. Be confident, be well prepared and be safe - use your street smarts. And, always remember, a smile can go a long way in helping you meet like-minded travelers and locals that make your destination of choice their home.  Tours of Distinction is happy to help you choose the right destination and help you customize your solo friendly tour. For more information, click here.

Travel Tip Tuesday - Five Great Gifts for Travelers

The holiday season is in full swing this month, which means it is officially the time to start looking for the perfect present for people on your gift list!  If you have travelers on your shopping list, we have a few ideas of handy travel items to consider that they will actually use!  We are suggesting gift ideas that Tours of Distinction Staff have found invaluable over our many years of travel. So whether you head out to a National Park or explore the temples of Thailand, you will find the suggested travel gear below worth your consideration.  All of the suggested gift items are below $50 and many below $20.


Travel Gear Gift Ideas

Shawls 

A shawl wrap always comes in handy on the road. It packs easy on a carry on and will keep you warm on the plane when the air conditioning is cranked up to high.  A silk shawl dresses up a casual outfit for the evening and will keep you modest by covering your bare shoulders and arms when visiting temples or churches overseas. Shawls come in a wide variety of fabrics from pure cashmere and 100% cotton or silk to a luxurious blend of all three. Best of all they are lightweight.  Keep the climate of the destination you are traveling to in mind when choosing the weight and fabric of the shawl you decide to bring.




Speakeasy Scarves


If you want to carry money and your passport and you don't want anyone to know what you are carrying, then check out secret pocket travel scarves.  These scarves have a self-locking zippered pocket that is perfect for stowing your passport, credit cards, and cash. They come in a variety of fabrics and weights to suit the climate of your destination.  Some scarves actually include cooling options for the spring and summer!



Travel Tooth Brush Sanitizer

Yes, there is such a thing!  Have you ever thought that your toothbrush could be a haven for bacteria, well it is!  A toothbrush sanitizer using UV light kills 99.9 percent of the germs on your toothbrush making it a must-have item when traveling out of the country especially if you are rinsing your brush off in tap water in a new country.  Violife VIO200B is a travel-sized ultraviolet toothbrush sanitizer that also doubles as a toothbrush holder. It is compact and has just one button that activates the device.  The device also has an automatic shut off after the seven-minute sterilization process stops. To view on Amazon click here.  It works with both manual and most electronic toothbrush heads.




Turn Your iPhone into a DSLR Camera


There are so many airline restrictions these days about carry on luggage it sometimes discourages travelers that like to take pictures from bringing their digital camera and all the gear that comes with it on board. No worries, check out the Universal Professional HD Camera Lens Kit made for iPhone X/8/8 plus/7/6s by Techno.  This little gadget is a two in one tiny clip-on detachable HD lens for mobile phones and iPads.  It has a macro lens that takes pictures of tiny objects with clearly defined details.  Best of all it is also a wide angle lens that is perfect for taking images of groups of people, buildings and landscapes.  It attaches easily to an iPhone and other devices and the clip is strong and well made.  This lens has gotten rave reviews from Amazon customers. For more details and pricing ($17.99) can be found by clicking here.



Mini Portable Power Bank

If you travel with your cell phone and take a lot of images on the road, it is always prudent to carry a portable power bank to help recharge your phone.  There is nothing worse than watching your phone's battery power die and missing out on some of the travel photos you want to take.  Our advice is to bring along an Anker Astro E1 5200mAh Ultra-compact portable charger that is the size of a candy bar!  This compact charger delivers a charge speed of up to two amps which is four times faster than charging with a computer's USB port.  It will add two full charges on an iPhone 7 or 6s and at least one full charge to a 7 Plus, Galaxy 57, Nexus five and other smartphones.  It is 3.8 x1.7 x 0.9 inches and weighs 4.2 ounces and fits in a pocket or purse easily.  It recharges in about 5 hours and comes with an 18-month warranty.  For pricing ($15.99) and to order click here.



Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Travel Tip Tuesday - Speaking "Cruise-ese"

Tours of Distinction offers so many cruises that explore waters near and far.  The cruise offerings are amazing and range from Panama, the Caribbean, Alaska, Maine and Atlantic Canada, to cruises that explore the Elbe River that wends its way through the heart of Europe or a cruise to the sunny ports in the Western Mediterranean.  When taking a cruise there are few words and phrases that will help orientate you on the ship and make it easy for you to find your way around.



Finding Your Way Around

On land when navigating we use right and left or east, west, north or south.  On a ship, it is best to use the following terms to find your way around without sounding like a landlubber!  This blog will have you speaking "Cruise-ese" in no time!

Bow - The front of the ship.

Stern or Aft - The rear of the ship.

Port and Starboard- When you are looking forward toward the bow of the ship, port and starboard refer to the left and right side of the ship.  Unlike left and right, port and starboard refer to fixed locations on a vessel and mariners use these nautical terms instead of left and right to avoid confusion.

Bridge - This is the control room of the ship.

Galley - This is the kitchen of the ship.

Lido Deck - This usually refers to the pool deck or a resort like area of the ship.

Gangway - The ramp or stairs that lead from the ship to the pier allowing passengers to get on and off the vessel.

Tender - A small boat that takes passengers from the ship to the shore when a vessel can't dock at a pier, or docking is not possible.

MDR - Main dining room

Munster Drill/Munster Station - This is a mandatory and important event where passengers assemble in a specific location to learn what to do in case of an emergency. A munster station is where passengers must go in case of an emergency.



Cabin/Stateroom - This is your sleeping quarters on the boat.

Porthole -  Sometimes called a bull's eye window this refers to a circular window used on the hull of a ship to admit light and air, especially on lower decks.

Cabin Steward - This is the person that cleans your cabin and turns down your room at night. They can also be asked to bring extra towels, ice, or to take your laundry to be cleaned. 

Purser- The official in charge of financial accounting, they handle billing and other customer service issues. 

OBC - Onboard credit that is added to your onboard account as either a perk of booking or for compensation for an unforeseen event.



Now that you know cruise lingo, it is time to book a cruise with Tours of Distinction and set sail on a fabulous vacation.





Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Travel Tip Tuesday - Compression Socks - No More Sausage Feet!

We have all been there. After a few hours in the air, you finally land only to discover that your feet and ankles have swollen to twice their normal size and that it even hurts to walk to the baggage claim area.  It is such a disconcerting experience and one that can be easily avoided.  The is a solution to swollen feet and ankles that can be the result of a flight taking a toll on your circulatory system are compression socks.


Compression socks help increase circulation and reduce or prevent swelling as well as deep vein thrombosis and clotting.  They work by gently squeezing your feet, ankles, and legs to help your veins and leg muscles move blood more efficiently even when you are sitting!  If you don't want to wear compression socks to the airport, just toss a pair in your carry on so you can put them on before boarding; it is easier than trying to put them on once you are seated on the plane.  The best way to put on compression socks is to grab the toe and fold the rest of the sock out, put your toe in and start rolling the sock up over your foot, ankle, and leg.  At first, they will feel a bit tight like your legs, feet, and ankles are getting a gentle massage.  They take a few minutes to get used to but once you do and when you see the results when you reach your destination you will swear by them!


Some Compression Sock Options
There are many compression socks made for travel to choose from and here are a few highly rated options.  In general, the tighter the sock, the better the compression. Compression socks that work best are those that go up to your knees.

Physix Gear makes compression socks for men and women that are easy to get on, wash well without losing compression and have moisture wicking properties.  They provide instant support and compression for your feet, ankles, toes and calf areas without pinching.  They make calf compression sock sleeves as well.  They are made of washable lycra fabric and double stitched for added support. Best of all, if you don't like them, the company will give you your money back.   These socks are a top Amazon pick with lots of good reviews.



VitalSox Italian graduated socks are also excellent compression socks for men and woman that are made with 70% silver drystat, a patented material that builds silver ions right into the fiber of the material the socks are made of to help to stop the growth of bacteria. This helps to keep these socks smelling fresh, they are also made of lycra and nylon. These socks have a patented gradual lighter compression that was developed by Arcos Srl in Italy with a four-way stretch system. They are made in the factory in Italy and never outsourced.   This company has been a leader in real tested graduated compression socks since 1998.  They come in a variety of colors and sizes and are available from Amazon.

Blitzu compression socks are made for men and women and provide graduated compression to promote blood circulation and oxygen flow that will prevent cramping, fatigue, and swelling.  These socks combine the stability of kinesiology taping with compression fabric and support your foot, heel, arch, ankle, and calf (they are also good for spider and varicose veins).  They are designed for everyday use, day and night.  They have a 360-degree circular knit structure that provides great flexibility and durability.  Many colors and sizes available.


Mudgear makes pro-grade graduated men's and women's compression socks that are strong comfortable and have a padded toe and calf and are made of nylon, polyester, and spandex.  They come in a variety of colors and sizes.

Zensah tech compression socks are made in Italy of polyamide and elastane and have been engineered using a 200 need count construction resulting in a very durable sock. These socks offer gradual compression that means there is less compression in the calf area and more compression in the ankle area.  This helps to promote blood flow by pushing it back to the heart and helps to prevent swelling and cramping.  They are lightweight, moisture wicking, thermal regulating with a seamless toe.  They come in a variety of colors and sizes.


Monday, November 12, 2018

Travel Tip Tuesday - Shop Dresden

Like many museums in the United States, most of Dresden's top attractions have a gift shop situated just before you exit.  Dresden, especially the Old City is a wonderful place to explore and as you do, you will find several gift shops that offer genuinely unusual souvenirs.

For art lovers don't miss Dresdner Art located on Glasewaldtstraße 24. here you will find a large selection of Dresden and Saxony bags from market leader Robin Ruth as well as postcards, prints, cookie cutters, mugs, magnets, mousepads, textiles, miniature buildings of Dresden and Christmas items.





If you are near the Neustadt head to Kunsthofpassage where you will find some quaint shops and a few cafes. Don't forget to bring your camera along because the outside of the colorful buildings are whimsically decorated with art.





If you have a sweet tooth head to Remember Dresden on An der Frauenkirche 13 where you will find traditional confectionery, chocolates and the famous Christstollen cake.  A Stollen is a traditional German Christmas cake made of dried or candied fruits, raisins, nuts, cardamon, and cinnamon.  If porcelain is your thing, then head to the Meissen porcelain shop called Meissner Porzellan on An der Frauenkirche 5

Tradition and Form is located on Landhausstraße 6 and is less than a block from the Frauenkirche.  Here you will find a treasure trove of traditional and modern Erzgebirge art, Wendt und Kühn, Björn Köhler, smokers, nutcrackers, music boxes, and Christmas pyramids.





Tours of Distinction is visiting Dresden along with Prague, Litomerice, Bad Schandau, Meissen, Wittenberg, Magdeburg, Hohenwarthe, Genthin and Berlin on our Exploring the Elbe Cruise, June 29 - July 8, 2019.  Book by November 30 and save $200 per person. All meals will be onboard the M/S Elbe Princess II and complimentary Wi-Fi and open bar is included. Roundtrip air, transfers and gratuities for the Tour Director, Driver and MS Elbe crew are included. Services of a Tours of Distinction Tour Director is also included. For information on this tour visit https://www.toursofdistinction.net/tours/cruises/theelbe

Monday, November 5, 2018

Behind the Scenes @ Waterford Crystal Company

There are many places and things associated with the Emerald Isle -- there is Saint Patrick, of course,  great writers like Oscar Wilde, Guinness beer, the Blarney Stone and Waterford Crystal, to name a few.   Medieval castles, churches, and abbeys dot the lush green landscape, along with looming cliffs, rolling farmlands, and mysterious peat bogs.  Ireland offers visitors a seemingly endless variety of museums, shops, and pubs set amid an unforgettable landscape with friendly people that make you feel as though you have come home.


Souvenirs are keepsakes of a journey that we have taken and often bring back the memory of a trip. The best type of souvenir is something that won't be forgotten and ignored when you get home.  As you travel across Ireland, there are many craft stores and souvenir stores that beckon with everything from Irish Whiskey and sweaters made in the Aran Islands to chocolates and smoked salmon. One of the most treasured souvenirs visitors take home from Ireland is from the Waterford Crystal Company because these items can be used and proudly displayed.  Often Waterford Crystal is considered an heirloom that is passed on to future generations.


Early History of the Waterford Crystal Company

The history of glass making in Ireland dates back to the early Iron Age and medieval documents show that glassmaking was thriving in the 13th century.  Glassmaking really evolved in 1783 when two brothers, George and William Penrose founded their glass manufacturing business in the busy port city of Waterford. They employed nearly 70 people that were overseen by John Hill.  The secret of the success was the purity of color of the glass they made that could not be matched.



Waterford Crystal is known for its distinctive silvery white brilliance that is enhanced with deeply cut ornamentation giving this glass it's iconic sparkle.  The glass was exported from Waterford to aristocratic homes in Europe and America.  Glasses, serving accessories, and drinkware was admired and collected.  King George III ordered a set of Waterford Crystal that was admired by the court.  During these early years, Waterford Crystal won two awards for its beauty and excellent design from the Royal Dublin Society and at an exhibition in London.

The  Demise and Resurgence 

With all these successes, it is hard to believe that in less than 100 years the first Waterford Crystal Company went bankrupt due to taxation and had to close in 1851.  Another century passed before this enterprise was revived in 1947.    A group of businessmen rekindled by Irish independence were resolved to bring back Waterford Crystal that made their city famous.


Karl Bacik and Noel Griffin began rebuilding the company and hired  Miroslav Havel as the chief designer of the new company.  They also hired 30 expert glassblowers from Europe.  Havel immersed himself in the National Museum of Ireland to study the traditional patterns and cutwork that were made famous by the artisans of the Waterford Crystal Company a hundred years before.  Havel incorporated these designs and patterns into the new product range of the company. Among the designs developed was the iconic Lismore pattern in 1952 that is still the best selling pattern in the world.

Waterford Crystal Ball - Times Square New Year's Eve
The company recruited and trained handpicked artisans and in a few short years, Waterford Crystal regained its pride of place among the best crystal manufacturers in the world.  Today Waterford Crystal is still synonymous with the original mission of the Waterford Crystal Company which was to create the finest quality crystal for drinking vessels and beautiful objects for the home.   The Irish Government presents Waterford Crystal to heads of State and the company makes trophies that are awarded to distinguished scientists and champions of sporting events.  One of the biggest moments of the company was during the Millennium countdown in Times Square, New York when 1.2 billion people watched the Waterford Crystal designed and produced crystal ball descend.


Tour Waterford Crystal Company

One of the highlights of visiting the Waterford Crystal Company is to take a behind the scenes tour to watch the company's artisans at work creating glittering masterpieces of glass.  The tour begins in the blowing room where visitors will watch the red-hot molten crystal take shape.  It is an amazing and hot process to watch as craftsmen meticulously transform glowing balls of glass into elegant shapes before your very eyes!


The next room visitors will see is the mold room where craftsmen use wooden molds and hand tools to shape the moulton crystal.  Waterford is one of the few companies in the world that use this ancient method of craftsmanship.


Quality control is one of the hallmarks of the Waterford Crystal Company and each piece is inspected by an expert craftsman for flaws at each stage of production before it is allowed to move on to the next process.  There are six inspections and at any stage in the process if the workmanship is not up to snuff it is rejected, smashed and sent back to the furnace to be remelted.


The next portion of the tour takes you to the hand-marking department where each piece is carefully marked with a temporary grid to assist the Master Cutter.  Each pattern is memorized by the Master Cutter during his many years of training.  The work is exacting and meticulous.


Visitors will learn that Waterford uses two types of cutting methods, Wedge Cutting and Flat Cutting. Even with technological advances such as the industrial diamond tipped wheels used to cut crystal, the Master Cutter still has to rely on his skills to judge the amount of pressure required to hold the crystal to the wheel; too much pressure results in a cut through to the other side.

A visit to the sculpting department will show the expertise of the craftsmen that work here that start off with a solid block of crystal and slowly carve it into an object of great beauty. Sculpted pieces take months to create with the Master Sculptors working with wheels rather than mallets and chisels.


The final room on the tour is the engraving department. Here a copper wheel engraves the crystal using the intaglio method making the object appear more prominent.



Tours of Distinction - Ireland Uncovered

On September 7-16, Tours of Distinction is offering a small group of no more than 24 people to take a trip to Ireland that departs from Bradley International Airport.  This ten-day trip includes 14 meals, roundtrip air, transfers and eight nights in four-star hotels plus eight full Irish breakfasts and six dinners.  Highlights of this trip will include a tour of Dublin City with the Guinness Brewery, an excursion to Achill Island, a tour of Powerscourt House and Gardens, Avoca Hand Weavers, and a  blowing and glass cutting demonstration at the Waterford Crystal Company.  A professional tour director will accompany the group and all gratuities are included.  Book this trip by November 30, 2018, and save $100 per person. For details click here.