The Realities of Large Group Travel

The Realities of Large Group Travel

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The Realities of Large Group Travel

Keeley Dority , Missouri, USA

Keeley Dority graduated in 2017 with a magazine journalism degree from the University of Missouri. She has been published in local newspapers, magazines and national blogs. She currently works for the Missouri Press Association as a media coordinator and is a freelance writer.

3 April 2018

The curated pictures of a large group of friends at the beach, on a boat, or at some national landmark can seem endearing. It’s easy to look and think, “wow, how careless and fun.” Just like a lot of social media, there is often a behind the scenes reality composed of chaos and bad attitudes. As an experienced group traveler, Keeley has some practical tips for us on how to enjoy group vacations and not let petty arguments get in the way.

How simple is it for everyone in that group of twelve to pose for the shot? How many shots did it take for everyone to agree on one image? After pondering the situation, the truth reveals something more like a nightmare.

Yet, traveling with a large group is possible. There’s a reason people keep doing it. The question is, how do you make it through a long weekend or even double digit days without hating your crew? The key is to prepare like you would for any other trip. You don’t want to go into the event thinking that because there are more people, there is less worry about. It’s usual quite the opposite.

How many tries does it take to get the photo right?

Keeley with friends in Italy

1/ KNOW THE PERSONALITIES

First, it’s important to think about who you’re traveling with. What is your relationship with these people before this adventure? If you’re acquaintances, you can’t expect them to know your habits or expectations for the trip without clear communications. If you’re going with a group of longtime friends, you can’t forget that people change, and if you haven’t vacationed in a few years, it might not be the same. Think about these personality traits before you jump into itinerary planning. Talk through major topics such as sobriety and eating restrictions. You don’t want things to be uncomfortable before they even begin.

 

2/ MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS

After you’ve figured out the structure of your travel group, think about what you’re expecting out of the trip. For example, when I travel with my group of girlfriends, I always map out my own agenda. There will be things you want to do that others don’t.  So, you either should plan for time to explore by yourself, or accept that you might make another trip later. For me, I usually arrive the night before the rest of my group. It gives me time to get settled, eat at a restaurant of my choice or do some shopping. Arriving at the same time as everyone else can be overwhelming. You often hit the ground running without having time to feel comfortable in your environment.

“Don’t feel like you’re being selfish, if you’re spending time and money to travel, you deserve to see and do what you want. You just should do it in a way that’s not going to interfere with the rest of the trip.”

Having this alone time at the beginning can also allow you to be more open during the rest of the vacation. If you already feel satisfied with your time, you won’t be disappointed when your group decides to alter plans, or cancel an activity. You have that reassurance that you didn’t miss out. Don’t feel like you’re being selfish, if you’re spending time and money to travel, you deserve to see and do what you want. You just should do it in a way that’s not going to interfere with the rest of the trip. This can also be reversed, book an extra day at the end of the trip. If you’re having a party-style vacation, you might need a day to relax before heading home.

It’s all about managing your expectations.

Keeley and her friends in Nashville, USA.

3/ MONEY MATTERS

No matter how well you know your travel group, do not let the topic of finances be left until the end. The one thing that can truly derail a nice vacation is the awkwardness of unpaid bills. This might come as an end of the night tab that nobody wants to cover. Once again, you must practice preparation and communication. My travel group uses the same money transferring app, and isn’t afraid to request money from an Uber ride or late night delivery order. We also make large financial purchases before the trip.

If you’re planning on doing certain activities, why not book them in advance? Everyone can pay on their own terms and you’re likely going to get a better rate than the day off. Plus, who wants to be the person that had to miss out because it’s day five and the cash flow is low? Keep this in mind when you’re traveling internationally as well. For example, many small, family restaurants in Europe will not split checks. Either take turns with a card, or always have cash. For my group of eight, we found that carrying an array of Euro’s was easier than dealing with international charge cards.

At the end of the day, everyone is going to travel different and that applies to large groups as well. It’s important to remember that traveling with friends and family enhances the experience.  But, the perfect vacation is not going to happen on its own. Really think about the people you choose to travel with. The most important thing isn’t that they have the same priorities or expectations as you, but that there is mutual respect in the group for everyone’s travel styles. Being honest about how you feel only makes your group stronger, and by the end of the trip, those group pictures feel like second nature. Traveling, whether it’s out of town or out of the country, is all about enjoyment, so plan and prepare, but don’t forget to just have fun!

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Skiing in Lebanon – the unexpected side of the Mediterranean
13
MARCH, 2018
Anastasia Pashkovetskaya

Sitting on the coast of the Mediterranean and known more for its complicated past than its charming mountain villages, Lebanon is not most people’s choice for a ski holiday.  However, given that we are currently based in Cyprus and Lebanon is a sweet 20 minutes flight away, we decided to try something new this skiing season. Here is what we have discovered.

 

Mzaar Kfardebian Ski Resort

The Mzaar Ski Resort is reportedly the best equipped and most popular resort of Lebanon, located in Kfardebian village, an hours drive from Beirut. According to the official website, there are 42 slopes and 80 kilometers of ski tracks. I’m assuming by slopes they don’t mean actual pistes, because the official map only marks 18, plus 2 private pistes which belong to the Intercontinental hotel. Regardless, there is plenty of room for skiers at all levels and beautiful unpisted runs for those looking for a bit more excitement. The peak of Mzaar is at 2465m peak of Mzaar and offers stunning views over the Bekaa valley, Mount Hermon of the Anti-Lebanon and other peaks like Laqlouq and the Cedars. On a clear day, you can even catch a glimpse of Beirut and Jounieh beneath, as well as the sparkling Mediterranean beyond. The other peak, Jabal Dib at 2296m, is home to the heighest restaurant in Lebanon “Auberge le Valais” that offers interpretations of alpine staples such as raclette, rosti, fondue and vin chaud. To make things more exciting, they also offer nargile. Needless to say, we had to have one. Here is a 360° video where you can get a good feel for a typical day skiing in Mzaar, Lebanon.

“On a clear day, you can even catch a glimpse of Beirut and Jounieh beneath, as well as the sparkling Mediterranean beyond.”

Where to stay

We stayed at Urban Faqra Hotel, in a small village just below the ski resort. It is a small boutique hotel of 8 rooms, a lounge and a restaurant. It’s perfectly charming with plenty of rugs, cushions, mountain views to sooth you after a day of skiing. They serve a generous Lebanese breakfasts and even bring you dinner to the room at no extra charge if you don’t have the energy to get out of your bathrobe and venture out to find food. The staff is super friendly and helpful, speaking English and French. Roland, the manager had introduced us to his friends so we could rent out skis and snowmobiles. It felt like a home away from home. At the very end of our stay, we discovered the ODOM Camp, which is now at the top of my wish-list for our next visit! It is owned by the same family who run Urban Faqra, so I trust we will be in good hands.

Feeling like a James Bond girl
Skidoo in Mzaar Lebanon

Snowmobile Expeditions

Another really cool thing to do in Mzaar is to hire a snowmobile to explore the vast mountain valleys away from the main ski area. It seems that every self-respecting local entrepreneur offers skidoo tours – ranging between 100 and 150 USD for the hour. We got ours from Roland’s friend, who also happened to be the ski champion of Lebanon.  Kitted out with all the necessary gear (and feeling rather cool about ourselves), we raced our guide through the valeys, arriving at a plateau to watch the sun set behind the mountain range with noone else in sight. While it was all very romantic, patches of barbed wire on the ground and several “Caution: Mine field” signs served as a stark reminder of the country’s turbulent past. Back at the shop, decorated with photographs of the owner’s victory, we were offered tea (and cigarettes – everybody smokes, everywhere) and chatted to in French about our impressions of Lebanon and all the things we must do during our stay. Chaleureux. That’s one word that comes to mind when I think of Lebanon.

In Summary

Skiing in Lebanon is safe, fun and affordable! We found that everything (accomodation, ski passes and ski hire) is much cheaper than anywhere in Europe. The downside of this, is of course the infrastructure, which is not as modern as in some of the hot ski resorts in Europe. So forget cosy, heated capsule lifts of Courchavel. This is the old school baby. If that doesn’t bother you too much, I would highly recommend it. The resort is big enough for a solid few days of skiing, there is plenty of nice accomodation, good food, friendly people and fun things to do off-piste.

Besides, where else can you have shisha on top of a mountain, without ever taking off your ski boots?

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Vegas on a Budget, or what to do there if you don’t Gamble?

Vegas on a Budget, or what to do there if you don’t Gamble?

I’m not a gambler, so when I had to go to Las Vegas for CES this January, I had to do some serious research on how to spend my free time out there. Turns out, there’s plenty to do! Here are my findings and tips I gathered from locals on what to do in Vegas if you don’t gamble. Or if you lost all your money.

1 / Explore The Hotels

Las Vegas Hotels are unlike anything I have ever seen. They are not just a place where you lodge during your stay. Nor are they  a place where simply you dine, party, gamble, shop, or go to the spa. Las Vegas Hotels are a Production. There’s no other word for it. They are massive, impressive, and are done with so much attention to detail, they fill you with wonder at what man can do with enough money and creative liberty.

Each hotel has it’s own character and feel, so exploring them is an experience in itself. You never know what discoveries you will make…

Price: Free

2/ Watch the Bellagio Fountain Show

No, this is not a sponsored post. I just think it’s one of those iconic and really impressive things that you absolutely must do when you’re in Las Vegas. They run every 20 minutes and every time it’s to a different tune. Stand on the side of the Bellagio Hotel to get the stunning views of the strip and the local Eiffel Tower.

Price: Free

3 / Ride a Gondola

Always wanted to take a romantic trip down a canal in Venice while the gondolier serenades you and your lover? Well you can do that right at the Venetian in Las Vegas for just $29! Step back in time and surrender to the romance of a serenade being a total tourist as you float along the Grand Canal that runs through one of Las Vegas’ most renowned resorts. Float beneath bridges, beside cafes, under balconies, and through the vibrant Venetian streetscape. You can choose between the outdoor or indoor ride, and if you’re really into it, you can even get pro tips on how to become a Gondolier. The daily program, limited to nine participants, shares the “ins and outs” of piloting a gondola. Upon completion, you will receive a gondola hat and t-shirt, a souvenir photo and a degree certificate from Gondola University. It’s like a parody of itself. So bad that it’s good.

Price:

Shared Gondola (Seats Four): $29.00 per person
Private Gondola (For Two):$116.00

4/ See at least one Show

As you probably already know Vegas is one huge, elaborate and extraordinary expensive production. So when in Vegas, seeing an actual show is a must! With so many to chose from, all you have to do is decide which one.

I am a huge fan of Cirque du Soleil, so of course, I went to see “O” (from the french eau ) –  the aquatic show inspired by the “infinity and elegance of water’s pure form”. A group of 150 stage technicians assist in the production of the show, the cast of which consists of 85 performers: international acrobats, synchronized swimmers, and divers. I sat in the 3rd row (splash zone) and spent most of the show catching my breath and emitting pathetic squeals as the performers launched themselves into the 1.5-million gallon pool that transforms into to a stage at the drop of a hat. Worth every penny.

Tip: Check this website for special offers and discounts. Also, some theaters will do discounts if you book at least 7 days in advance, so check their websites if you’re booking ahead of your trip.

Price: from $60

 

4 / Visit the Art Galleries

There is art everywhere you look in Las Vegas. For example there’s a casual $28 million statue of Popeye by Jeff Koons standing in one of the hallways at the Wynn. Check out the famous Bellagio Gallery Fine Art, where you can gain new knowledge of different techniques. There is also the Peter Lik Fine Art Gallery, which has locations around the city (including a new one at Caesars). The gallery carries photographs by Peter Lik himself and works from artists all over the world, like Dale Chihuly, Richard MacDonald and Brett Wesley.

If you’re feeling adventurous and have wheels, why not venture off the Strip and into the desert to check out Ugo Rondinone’s Seven Magic Mountains? These neon rock installations measure 30- to 35-feet high and are particularly beautiful at dusk (or dawn). A little longer drive is the ghost town of Rhyolite, which has a unique collection of outdoor sculptures.

Price: Free

5 / Eat in one of the Food Courts

Like everything else in Vegas, even a food court is not your average dining experience. While it may not seem very glamorous at first, it’s a fun and ironically, authentic way to dine in Vegas without blowing the bank.

While exploring the Venetian, I stumbled upon a place called Lobster Me and couldn’t resist the temptation. Their menu has everything lobster – from rolls, to sandwiches, bisques and lobster mac & cheese.

Quick, cheap and cheerful.

Oh and also much tastier than the $40 pasta I had in one of the “real” hotel restaurants.

Bon apps!

6 / Head Downtown!

Sadly, most people never make it off the Strip when they come to Vegas, which is understandable, given all that’s on offer.  But Downtown is the original Vegas and while it underwent a significant renovation, it still retains that old charm. It is also where all the locals go out. I was actually lucky to befriend one local who took me out and gave me a tour of the place. But that’s a story for another day…

 

Have you been to Vegas? What’s your favourite thing to do out there outside of the casinos? Let me know in the comments!

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5 Ways Caprice Lounge Brings You Hygge this Winter

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Hygge (pronounced hue-guh) is the Scandinavian word for a mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment. As the days get shorter and colder, we all need a cosy place to go and lift our spirits. I found my Hygge at Caprice Lounge at the Londa Hotel in Limassol this winter, and here’s why.

1/ Scandi Interiors

 

By mixing geometry and natural materials, so popular in Scandinavian interior design, the designers of Londa hotel have created a space that is clean and inviting at the same time. While in summer it gives you a sense of openness and lightness, in winter, the Caprice lounge brings Hygge to life, with plush blankets, cushions and a fireplace creating a super cosy atmosphere, that makes you want to stay all day.

 

2/ Sharing delicious food and drinks

 

A key part of Hygge is the act of sharing of food and delicious drinks between family and friends. I often come to Londa to share a cup of coffee with my partner. It’s also one of my favourite places to meet my girlfriends for drinks in the evening; cosying up by the fireplace with a glass of wine or one of their delicious cocktails.

3/ Enjoying the View

 

One of the major parts of Hygge is the feeling of appreciation and happiness for the simple things. Spending time in and appreciating nature always brings a sense of peace and comfort. The Caprice lounge is set on a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean sea, with unobstructed views onto the lapping waves and distant ships. It’s one of my favourite places to come to relax, enjoy the beautiful view and daydream.

4/ Sounds of live music

 

Good music is key to creating a relaxing atmosphere. Think lounge, classical pieces and jazz. On weekends and public holidays, the sounds of live piano stream through the lounge. What could be better during the winter months than snuggling up in a big cosy sofa with a hot cuppa, listening to live piano?

4/ A place to Linger

 

Spending quality time with friends and even yourself, is very Hygge. We are often so wrapped up in our schedules, always on the go, forgetting to linger and enjoy the moment. We finish our meals, get the bill and run off. Lingering is very important as it gives us time to relax and unwind, have deeper conversations and spend quality time with those who matter to us. What I really love about Caprice Lounge is that the staff is friendly, but not intruding. You can easily spend several hours there without anyone pressuring you to order another round or get the bill. Perfect for those long, winter evenings.

 

Whats your favourite place to linger and cosy up during the winter months?

Let me know in the comments!

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Why You Should Visit Akamas National Park In Cyprus

Visit Akamas National Park in 360°

Akamas is famed for its breath-taking beauty and precious ecology. A favourite with hikers and nature enthusiasts, this park offers several nature trails amidst the numerous species indigenous to the region. There are three official nature trails: the Adonis Trail, the Aphrodite Trail, and the Smigies Trail. We walked the Aphrodite trail in beginning of November, a time great time to visit. The summer heat has eased and the plants have had the chance to freshen up under the first few rains.

 

Steps up to the Aphrodite Nature Trail

Akamas National Park

 

The Akamas National Park lies on the west coast of Cyprus, a truly magnificent part of the island. It has an area coverage of 230 square kilometres containing valleys, gorges and wide sandy bays. The wildlife diversity is crucial for the ecology in the Mediterranean. In this spectacular environment there are 168 varieties of birds, 20 different reptiles, 16 species of butterfly and 12 different mammals not to mention its very rich variety of fauna.

Mountain-side paths

500 year old Oak

Taking in the views of the Polis Bay

Flower plains

Natural Spring

 

Hiking in Akamas National Park

 

There are various nature trails that you can explore this beautiful part of Cyprus by, varying in length, duration and difficulty. The Adonis Trail is the toughest. We took the Aphrodite Trail – 7.5 km long, medium difficulty and it took us around 3.5 hours. It starts at the Baths of Aphrodite and climbs into the hills. The scenery varies dramatically at the different sections of the trail. Green flats are replaced with vivid red-earth and intriguing limestone boulders, then switch to cooling pine forests and finally turn into dramatic cliffs overhanging the Blue Lagoon beneath. The nature trails offer stunning views of the valleys and the coastline, as well as the chance to see the iconic mountain goat in its natural element.

Akamas Beaches

 

Another iconic part of this peninsula is its beaches. You can get some fantastic views of the Blue Lagoon from the Aphrodite nature trail. Here is in fact, the last large unspoiled coastal area remaining in Cyprus. Probably because it is so hard to get to (typically the only way is by sea). It is also one of the very few important sea turtle nesting areas in the Mediterranean.

Both the Loggerhead Turtle and the rarer Green Turtle nest here. Sadly, the latter depends on the Akamas beaches for its very survival in this region. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) lists Loggerheads as “vulnerable” and Green Turtles as an “endangered species”.  That’s why it’s so important that if you are lucky to see them out on the beach or in the water, do not touch or disturb them, and definitely don’t try to catch them!

Views of the coastline from the hills

 The Blue Lagoon

 

The European Council has included it in its Mediterranean Protection Programme. The Cyprus Government has yet to fully declare it as a National Park, although Friends of the Earth and Green Peace are lobbying hard for it.

Aphrodite’s Bath

 

Aphrodite’s Baths are a natural cavern with a shallow pool hidden among ferns and large trees. A natural spring supplies the water to the pool. According to legend, after swimming in the crystal-clear waters of the bay, Aphrodite used to bathe in this pond, hidden in the cooling shade of the foliage and fig trees.

Way to Aphrodite’s Bath

It is here that she met her beloved Adonis for the first time. Adonis was hunting in the Akamas forest when he took a break by the spring to quench his thirst. He was struck by the sight of the naked goddess bathing in the pool. Aphrodite and Adonis fell in love, bewitched by each other’s extraordinary beauty. The waters here are said to hold special rejuvenating powers. Probably because of how cold they are!

Getting there

 

By car about 50 mins to 1 hour drive from Paphos, or 20 mins form Polis. There is a car park near the site of the Aphrodite Baths as well as amenities such as food drink and bathroom. I recommend staying overnight in Polis or one of the mountain villages such as Droushia if you’re coming in the spring or summer.

 

Book your stay in Cyprus

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