When Matt and I planned our destination wedding, we knew that a wedding website would be the best solution for our needs.
For our wedding, we had everyone from my 24 year old niece to my 70-something grandmother asking for info. In total, we had nearly 60 guests traveling from eight cities. We needed ONE place that guests could go for information about the resort, the dates, the planned activities and more.
On top of that, we didn't want to mess with traditional invitations and save the dates. Yes, they are beautiful and I love stationery (card carrying Cricut owner, right here!). However, our wedding came at a very complicated time. I was living in two places (NYC and Warrensburg), Matt was away for training and we had a lot on our plates. With all of our addresses, there was a point in time where I didn't even know where RSVP cards could be sent!
We needed an all-in-one website and wedding manager solution. Enter Wedding Window.
Before you ask - yes, I am Wedding Window affiliate. I believe in full disclosure when it comes to sponsored posts. However, I do have strict crtieria before I write about a brand or product:
Fortunately for my wedding and honeymoon clients, Wedding Window fits the bill!
Why I like Wedding Window
When my destination wedding clients ask me for a website solution, I typically make two recommendations.
I"ll be honest: Squarespace makes beautiful sites. Beautiful!
However, not everyone has the patience to fiddle with the URL settings, the design, uploading photos, etc.
Also, it doesn't have a back-end, behind-the-scenes system to manage the invite list, email save the dates and easily accept guest RSVPs.
Wedding Window offers the following:
In addition to the wedding website and eCard features, Wedding Window offers a bunch of planning tools:
In short, Wedding Window is a great solution for the less-tech savvy couple ... including myself.
I used it, I loved it, and I think you will love it to!
To start your own Wedding Window experience, click on this link and sign up. Make sure you tell them Alpaca Your Bags Travel sent you!
If you’re a frequent traveler, you’ve undoubtedly had the near-universal experience of enduring a TSA security line or an immigration line upon re-entry to your home country.
What if you could bypass these lines for good?
You may have heard of Global Entry, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. You fill out a (fairly lengthy) application, pay $100, and if your application passes the initial phase, you’re invited to an in-person interview/screening at a participating airport. If you pass that phase of the application, you are granted a Global Entry ID. In a nutshell, this is how it works:
At airports, program participants proceed to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable passport or U.S. permanent resident card, place their fingertips on the scanner for fingerprint verification, and make a customs declaration. The kiosk issues the traveler a transaction receipt and directs the traveler to baggage claim and the exit. (www.globalentry.gov)
In addition, people who are approved via the Global Entry program can also participate in TSA Pre-Check, which allows people to skip regular TSA security lines at participating airports and go through an expedited line — without having to remove shoes or other clothing items, open laptops, or do any of the other things that take up time in line.
Global Entry (and the accompanying TSA Pre-Check) is a good fit for your flying needs if:
In addition to inside info on things like GE and Pre-Check, as your travel agent, I’ve got tons of helpful hints and connections to make your next trip an amazing one. I would be thrilled to meet with you and plan out your next great adventure!
Hello, my name is Ashley and I'm a huge packing nerd. I'm not afraid to admit it!
One of the things I love about planning a trip is the PACKING! Admittedly, I don't love the physical act of putting things in a suitcase.
However, I do love is the research part... I love learning about and searching for all of those perfect little items items that will make my vacation that much better.
The unique nature of cruising presents a special challenge. The smaller space, the wide variety of activities and the expense of certain items onboard leads many to think carefully about what we can and can't bring. Add in a formal night or two and a small closet and you've got yourself a grade A challenge.
In this post, I'm not going to focus on clothing or personal items. Instead, I'm going to focus on a few items that I consider "must haves." These are the things that I bring with me on every cruise. I may not always need them all, but they've all come in handy a time or two. These are the things that are worth the space and then some.
1,. Cruise Luggage Tags: When you check in online for your cruise, you'll print special luggage tags for your bags. At the cruise port, you'll say goodbye to your bag and it will be waiting for you in your cabin later that afternoon. The special luggage tags allow the curbside porters to load your bag and deliver it to the correct stateroom onboard. Sure, you could print the paper luggage tag and staple it around your suitcase handle, but I love these plastic luggage tag holders for an extra layer of protection. No lost bags here!
2. Eagle Creek Packing Cubes: I have evangelized packing cubes before, but they deserve a second mention. Note that I am specifically recommending Eagle Creek ... I have no incentive to mention them by name, except that I LOVE them. I've owned this set of Original Pack it cubes for over 6 years. These have been in multiple countries all around the world and are now surviving twice monthly trips to New York. I've had the cheaper ones and they rip. Go for the good ones and save your money!
3. Hanging Toiletry Bag: Once you get in the cabin, you'll need a way to keep your toiletries organized. In a small cruise bathroom, I recommend a hanging bag that will keep everything organized and off the counter. I like and own this Travelon bag. It's a little big for weekend trips, but it's my go-to for anything 7 days or longer.
4. Heavy Duty Suction Hooks: While most bathrooms do have a hook for hanging items, sometimes you want a few more. These heavy duty suction cup hooks hold up to 22lbs each. They are so strong, I used them for hanging my laptop bag in my NYC apartment!
5. GoToob Travel Bottles: These are the best travel bottles because you can squeeze them and get every last drop out Trust me.
6. GoTubb travel containers: From the same manufacturer, these little tubs snap tight and hold a number of things. I use them for jewelry, bobby pins, cotton balls, q-tips, etc. They are also great for pills, small items like coins and lots of other uses. Go nuts!
7. Poopourri Spray: While we're in the tiny bathroom, grab a bottle of this. No explanation needed, except that IT WORKS.
8. Backpack: I highly recommend a good backpack for your carry on. When you embark on the ship, it may be a few hours before you get your checked bag. If you bring a backpack, you can have all of your essential items with you, yet still be comfortable as you explore the ship. Remember to pack your swim gear and a change of clothes for the evening in your backpack as you may not get your big bag before dinner.
9. Dry Bag: If you plan on hanging by the pool or taking a camera ashore for excursions, you may want to consider a dry bag. A dry bag is a sealable plastic bag that can keep important items dry when you're out and about. Some dry bags allow you to keep your phone or camera inside and take photos through the clear plastic. These are worth checking out!
10. Emergency Flashlight/Flare/Whistle Combo: Ok, this may be bordering on paranoia, but I like throwing one of these in my backpack. I have this exact model and it has traveled with me for years. it's a flashlight, an emergency flasher, a whistle and more.
There you have it! Those are my must pack cruise items.
Did I forget anything ? What would you add?
Also, don't forget to check out our Friends & Family cruise! When it comes to cruises, planning ahead is the best way to save money. The earlier you book, the more you save!
10 Things You Should Know Before Going on a Cruise
If it seems like we are cruise crazy lately, that is probably a little bit true. I am just so excited about this group cruise on Carnival Freedom!
When I first became a travel agent, I knew I would eventually dedicate part of my business to group travel. While I love solo trips and family vacations, I cannot help but educate people about how group trips really rake in the benefits! When you book into a group trip, you save cash and gain perks that "regular" vacations just can't access. In this case, there is truly strength in numbers!
In honor of this awesome deal, I dub the month of June Alpaca Your Bags Travel "Cruise Month!" While I will eventually get back to discussing other types of travel, I do want to give cruising its due.
For anyone who is CRUISE CURIOUS, it's important that you know the ins and outs of this type of vacation.
If this post leaves you pining for more, join our FREE webinar on Sunday. In that live session, I'll review these top 10 tips, as well as answer your questions about cruises and our group event. Go sign up! I'll wait.
Without further ado, here are the 10 most frequently asked questions about cruises!
1. Do I need to have a passport? This one is tricky to answer. For a closed loop cruise (one that begins and ends in a United States port), you technically are not legally required to have a passport. In that case, a photo ID and a birth certificate will suffice. HOWEVER, most travel professionals (including this one!) highly recommend that you use a passport anyway.
Here's why: When you travel out of the country, it is critical to have valid, foolproof evidence that you are a United States citizen. A passport is the most surefire way to check this box. If you leave the ship for an excursion and accidentally miss the ship, being stranded without a passport is not a good situation to be in. A valid passport is also useful for medical evacuations and other unknown emergencies that can pop up. It's always better to be safe than sorry. At Alpaca Your Bags Travel, we strongly encourage our clients to have a passport for cruises, even if its a closed loop cruise.
2. Do I need vaccinations? It depends on the cruise itinerary and your destinations, but usually the answer to this is no. While I am not a doctor, I do keep up with the CDC's recommendations on travel health. If you are ever curious about the health requirements and vaccination policy for a country on your itinerary, you can always check the CDC website for their latest information.
3. Which cruise line is right for me or my family? What about this ship vs. that ship? A travel agent with cruise experience has received hundreds of training hours to help answer this question. Family friendly or luxury? Quiet and relaxing or loud and lively? Formal or casual? Scheduled gourmet meals or "freestyle" any time dining?
Within each cruise line, there are also differences in the actual ships! For example, we chose our first group cruise onboard the Carnival Freedom because it is very family friendly, yet offers a lot of adult entertainment as well.
4. What type of stateroom is best for me? As with so many questions, the answer is "it depends!" A good travel agent can ask questions that can help guide you towards the right choice:
5. Will I get seasick? Today's cruise ships are equipped with stabilizers that minimize movement onboard. I personally get extremely carsick, yet cruises do not bother me. While every individual is unique, there are some precautions you can take: Traveling with motion sickness medication or wristbands, choosing a midship cabin close to the waterline and eating green apples frequently are all said to help with potential illness from motion. However, most people have no problems at all!
6. Will I need cash onboard? Do I need a credit card? Cruising is one of the most budget-friendly methods of travel because SO much is included! While it varies by cruise line, most cruise fares include your accommodations, your meals (except for speciality or upgraded dining options), basic non-alcoholic beverages like water, iced tea, coffee and lemonade and finally, your onboard entertainment.
When you board the cruise, you'll get a plastic card, like a hotel key card on steroids. This card is linked to your onboard account and is how you do almost everything on board. You'll use it to unlock your room, order drinks, check in for your dining reservations, program your safe (on some ships) and use it for any shopping you do while onboard. The card is connected to your credit card so that charges are paid quickly and seamlessly. Prefer to use cash? Most cruise lines allow guests to deposit cash into the onboard credit account at the beginning of each cruise.
If you're planning to take shore excursions or shop while in port, it's best to bring a combination of cash and credit cards. I also highly recommend bringing a stash of $1 bills for tips. Even if gratuities are included, I find that tipping at the bar leads to better service.
7. What do we pack? I'll cover this in a separate post, but packing lighter is generally easier! While cabin size varies by cruise line and by ship, you can guarantee that you'll have less space than at home. Typically, a hair dryer and basic toiletries (shampoo, body wash, etc) are provided in each cabin. Stay tuned for a future post about the top items Matt and I pack for a cruise!
8. Are cruises safe? What if I'm pregnant? This is a question that requires a common sense answer: Use your head and do what is comfortable for you. NO travel is without some risk, and that includes traveling across down to Walmart. While traveling anywhere, be self aware, don't engage in risky behavior and use the buddy system. I recommend traveling with a small first aid kit (not just because it's smart, but because drugs onboard are pricey!) I also recommend packing copies of your passport and important paperwork and adding them to each suitcase and carry on.
If you are pregnant or planning to be pregnant soon, this is a question for your doctor. While cruise lines are vary, most cruises allow women to travel until the beginning of their third trimester. For example, Carnival accepts passengers until they enter their 24th week of pregnancy.
9. Can we go on a cruise if we are under 21? Again, it depends. Most cruise lines require the primary passenger to be 25 years of age or older. Anyone under 25 needs to travel with their parent or with their spouse, if married. Married passengers under 25 may required to show a marriage certificate. And sorry to burst any bubbles, but the drinking age onboard is generally 21 years old. While some countries outside of the US allow drinking at 18, major cruise lines enforce an Age 21+ policy for alcohol.
10. Will we have an amazing time? YES! Unless you are just a total stick in the mud, I can't imagine anyone not enjoying a cruise. The trick is to find the cruise that is right for YOU. As mentioned above, a good travel agent will ask questions about your likes and dislikes to make sure that they find the perfect fit.
What can you find on our upcoming Carnival Freedom cruise? Sunny shore excursions, multiple pools, hot tubs, 3 kids areas, Broadway-quality shows and entertainment, a piano bar, a sports bar, trivia, a casino, dozens of restaurant and bar options and MORE. There is even a library! The challenge will not be "how do I have fun?" The challenge will be "How can I fit everything in!"
Feeling excited? Then let's get started! Contact us to start the booking process today!
Still have questions about Carnival Freedom? Don't forget to sign up for our LIVE Q&A session. You can join from your very own home! Wear your PJS... we won't tell anyone!
Whoa, how fast did 2015 go? I feel like it FLEW by.
Here’s to another awesome year filled with smiles, sightseeing and spending time with those who matter.
This time of year, the interwebs are flooded with Resolutions. Everyone wants to lose weight, save money and TRAVEL MORE, which is obviously my personal favorite.
However, most people (mistakenly) think they don’t have the money to travel.
People, IT IS A MYTH. If you’re like most of us, it’s not a question of money… it’s a question of priorities.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a post about skipping your daily latte or never eating out again. I would never. But I do think establishing (and re-establishing!) priorities is important. You have to decide where your dollars go.
Ask yourself: Would I rather have a house full of stuff or a passport full of stamps? Would I rather have a new iPhone or a round trip ticket to Europe? Do I really need to eat out or could I save that money for a meal on the beach?
That said, I do have some some little insider tricks that I’d love to share. These tips are the real deal; I’ve used them myself for years and I’m teaching them to Matt now. I really think they are attainable for almost everyone. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
BONUS: But wait, there’s more! Here is my 6th tip that I had to throw in. It’s a plug, but a good one. American Express Membership Rewards is The.Best. rewards program out there. If you have an American Express Gold or Platinum card, you can unlock a lot of points earning opportunities. What’s more, travel agents can work with American Express cardholders to get extra benefits. For example, I can get you $200 in onboard credit when you book your next cruise with an American Express card!
Note: I do not advocate using a credit card foolishly. Use your head. Also, American Express cards are charge cards, not credit cards, so you have to pay them off each month. However, responsible users can rake in the points and miles, making these cards a great way to supplement that travel account!
For a limited time, I have five referral links to get you a bonus 5,000 or 7,500 miles when you sign up. This is in addition to the bonus that AmEx offers new users. If you would like a link, email me!
So what do you think? Did you learn anything new? Curious about Digit? Let me know in the comments.
I’ll admit it: It’s mid-December and I haven’t started holiday shopping.
I hate being a procrastinator, but I graciously ask for a tiny break; working a full time job, running a small business AND moving halfway across the country are making life a little crazy!
For the other slackers out there (or for anyone looking to round out their gift list!), here are 10 of my favorite travel-themed holiday gift ideas!
Splendid Cities Coloring Book: Perfect for kids (or kids at heart) who want to color their way through the world. Did you know that the #1 bestselling book on Amazon is an adult coloring book? Coloring has been found to be relaxing and therapeutic. Pass the pencils!
Bombas Socks: I know, SOCKS! But hear me out: Everyone hates cold airplane feet and these socks have a higher power. Did you know that clean socks are among the top requested items at homeless shelters? For every pair of socks sold, Bombas donates one pair to someone in need. Also, #sharktank.
Eagle Creek Packing Cubes: When it comes to packing, you are either a folder or a roller. I’m a roller, so these cubes are helpful to keep my rolled up outfits organized. Don’t be fooled by cheaper imposters; this set from Eagle Creek is the real deal. I’ve had mine for over 5 years and they still look as good as new.
Go Toob Travel Bottles: Soft, flexible travel bottles that are leak resistant AND help you use every last drop. Save time, mess and money. I own 2 sets, plus these round containers.
Lo & Sons Bags: I lusted after the Lo & Sons OG bag for nearly a year before finally pulling the trigger. It is the BEST travel bag on the market. Don’t believe me? Google “Lo & Sons OG or OMG” to read tons of rave reviews. Started by a mother and her sons, this company created a stylish, sleek bag that keeps all of your essentials organized. There are compartments for your laptop (padded) and shoes (keep those dirty shoes away from your stuff!), plus it fits under the airplane seat. Do it, you won’t be disappointed!
Hidden Pocket Scarf from Speakeasy Supply Co: Channel your inner secret agent and gift someone this scarf with a tiny hidden pocket! Keep your keys, cash or ID safe while on the road, all without sacrificing style.
Multi-Function Travel Clothing from Encircled: Encircled is a Canadian company that offers many different multi-purpose travel pieces. I own the Chrysalis Cardi, which is an ingenious piece of fabric that can be a scarf, a skirt, a dress or beach cover up! Encircled also makes other pieces that will blow your mind, like these reversible leggings or a maxi dress that can be styled in multiple ways. If you’re looking for a gift that screams style but fits in a purse, this is it.
Carry On Cocktail Kit: Need a stocking stuffer for a man in your life? Try this Carry On Cocktail Kit, perfect for making Old Fashioneds on the go. Don’t like Old Fashioneds? There are also kits for Moscow Mules or a good ol’ G&T.
Scratch Map: Show off your travels in style with this scratch-off map of the world. As your loved one visits a new country, they can scratch off the map and document their travels. This one would be good for traveling families also!
Little Passports Subscription Boxes: Who doesn’t love getting mail? I once gifted these boxes to my own niece. Little Passports is a subscription box service. Each month, your favorite tiny traveler receives a box of activities and lessons with a geography theme. There are three different boxes, each for a different age group: Early Explorers (for kids age 3-5), World Edition (ages 6-10) and USA Edition (ages 7-12).
BONUS: Gift Idea #11: Alpaca Your Bags Travel Gift Cards
Duh, I had to include this one. Want to give the gift of travel this year? Contact me for a custom Alpaca Your Bags Travel Gift Card.
What are your favorite travel themed gifts? Comment below and you may be featured in a future blog post!
The holiday season is here! Bring on the warm fuzzy feelings, the joy, the carols, the food... and of course the stress. The lists. The bills. Ugh.
For some of us, travel is a major part of celebrating the holidays. I've lived several states away from my family for most of my adult life (going on 13 years!) so I've racked up some experience in this area. Here are my favorite tips for the most wonderful time of the year:
How To Survive Holiday Air Travel, aka 5 easy tips for not totally losing your sh*t
Tip #1: Do your research!
Do all of your homework before you go, including some extra credit.
Know your airline, departure time, departure gate, connecting times (if applicable).
Bonus points: If you have a connection, know the alternate connecting cities for your journey. That way, if a flight gets canceled or delayed beyond the point of salvage, you are prepared and ready with options. For even more extra credit, look at those airport maps in the travel magazine so you can easily identify your next gate. If you have to run for it, you'll be prepared.
Don't rely on the overworked and stressed gate agent to do your job for you... as a responsible traveler, you should know your routes and your backup routes. This will put you WAY ahead of the competition (aka other travelers) should something disrupt your trip.
Tip #2: Pack Light
The less stuff you have, the more nimble you are.
Try traveling with a carry on only... you won't believe how freeing it is! Ship anything you need to your destination beforehand and enjoy the most blissful trip ever. Laugh at all of those jokers who are dragging coffin-like suitcases through crowds of people. If the worst-case scenario occurs and you are delayed/rerouted/canceled, you won't have the added stress of your missing bag.
If you absolutely must check a bag for family or medical reasons, get to the airport early! The sooner that bag is checked, the sooner it can make its way down the Conveyor Belt of Love to your plane. If you DO check a bag, make sure it is easily identifiable at the carousel! Use colorful ribbon, a large luggage tag or some other method of finding your bag (and keep others from finding it for you!)
Tip #3: Stay Connected
Use those travel apps! (alternate subtitle: "I believe the children are the future...")
Download your airlines app and login before you go. When a delay or change occurs, the app push notification is often quicker than the gate announcement!
There are also dozens of other useful travel apps to help you stay connected on the go.
Tip #4: Allow Extra Time
Holiday Rush + Winter Weather = Unfortunate Chaos
Unfortunately for us, the December holidays coincide with the worst weather of the year. Delays can and will happen. If you are researched, prepared AND have allowed extra time, you will be a step ahead of most people. As my dad says, it's always better to be a few minutes early than a few minutes late. That is especially true during this time of year.
Did you know that you can check TSA security wait times before you go? Now you do!
Tip #5: Breathe and Be Kind
A Little Bit of Smile Goes aLong Way
Due to the state of air travel today, the complete experience is almost entirely out of our control. I have found that a little bit of kindness goes a long way in a stressful situation. That gate agent is probably working the end of a very long shift with some very angry people. He or she can't control anything any more than we can... it's best to just relax and know that we will all get through it!
When travel gets stressful, I always think of this Louis CK Video
(Warning, adult language! Hilarious adult language!)
Be a bit nicer than normal, even if you have steam pouring from your ears. Consider bringing a small gift, like a $5 box of candy or something similar from the gift shop. You will be appreciated and might even benefit from a free drink or an update. Try it and see if it works! At minimum, that unexpected act of kindness is good for your soul. It's the holidays, after all.
Hi, I'm Ashley
Ashley (@ashleysmorris) is a freelance writer, virtual assistant and owner of Alpaca Your Bags Travel.
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