5 Instagram Travel Accounts You Should Be Following | July 2017

One of the things I do, both on a regular basis and, more so, when I can't travel, is scour my favorite Instagram accounts for inspiration. I'm blown away by all the amazing people doing amazing things in amazing places around the world. 

Here are five amazing Instagrammers taking the world by storm! I'm particularly inspired by them because of their unique style. They've each honed their artistic craft - be it in photography, storytelling, or fashion - and weaved it beautifully with their love for travel. 

1. Chymo Meng (@chymo_travel)

A Chinese photographer based in the Netherlands, Chymo shares her adventures around the world through beautifully captured pastels and gorgeous lighting. Who knew you could capture so much beautiful in a square frame? Not to mention her commissioned work - which includes lifestyle and wedding portraits - is #goals. 

Kawasan waterfalls. Cebu, Philippines.

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2. Asiyami Gold (@asiyami_gold)

It's hard not to be inspired by this visual storyteller. An artistic globetrotter, Asiyami's feed is filled with magazine-worthy photographs that show off both the beauty of the world and her stunning style. She is the epitome of a girlboss. 

Surreal Moments @thesafaricollection #seeingafricadifferently #discoverthesafaricollection

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3. Angela Pan (@panapetite)

Do you ever wish you could see the world and look stylish while doing it? Well, Angela is all the inspiration you'll need. Based in Aukland, this kiwi knows how to dress to the nines while still staying down to earth. 

What's your favorite view from YOUR city? 📸 @yutianp

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4. The World and Juless (@theworldandjuless)

In today's Instagram game it can be hard to find people who are genuinely living life to the fullest (not just doing it 'for the gram'). One look at local New Yorker's feed and you instantly feel joy that radiates from her photographs. Full of smiles, laughs and color! 

Honey I'm hooooome

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5. Henry Wu (@humminglion)

This California-based photographer is the first guy to grace the ranks of this series. But just scroll through his feed and it's not hard to see why! Traveling the world with his partner-in-crime Zornitsa Shahanska (@zorymory), Henry has a artistic eye that captures the beauty in the every day - whether that's in the colorful streets of Morocco or other-worldly dessert of Burning Man! 

Loving the inspiration? I'll be featuring my favorite Instagrammers each month so stay tuned!

What are your favorite Instagram accounts?? We'd love to know! Show them some love below!!

How to Get From Railay Beach to Koh Lanta by Ferry

Island-hopping is one of the best ways to experience all that the Thai islands have to offer. It can be hard to decide to which islands to visit - since there are just so many to choose from - but once you do, it's easy to get around!

Unfortunately, there isn't always a lot of information available about how to get from one place to the next. I found this out the hard way when I was planning our trip from Railay Beach to Koh Lanta. Luckily we figured it out!

Here's what you need to know about getting from Railay Beach to Koh Lanta by ferry:

Ferry is the best way to travel between Railay Beach and Koh Lanta for one simple reason: both places are only accessible by ferry. You can drive to Koh Lanta from the mainland - but it still requires using a car ferry. So bottom line? Passenger ferry is the best mode of transportation between the two places. 

The passenger ferries between Railay Beach and Koh Lanta operate November to April via several companies. The travel time from Railay Beach and Koh Lanta (or the reverse route) is 1 hour on the speedboat (operated by Tigerline) and 2 hours on the regular ferry (operated by Ao Nang Princess). It costs cost 1500 TBH and 550 TBH, respectively. There is usually one ferry per day, which leaves in the morning. 

Passenger ferry ticket via Ao Nang Princess

Passenger ferry ticket via Ao Nang Princess

Meeting point on Railay Beach West

Meeting point on Railay Beach West

Timetable for passenger ferry (as of March 2017)

Timetable for passenger ferry (as of March 2017)

You can book tickets online through both operators - but there's really no need. You can easily book once you arrive, either through your hotel or at the company's ticket office at the respective piers (in Railay Beach, there is no pier so the company's ticket 'offices' are located at the beach front where the ferries depart). The advantage to not booking in advance is it gives you the flexibility to decide once you get there. Plus, neither company puts a cap on the number of passengers (as you'll see, the ferries are notorious for being crowded). Having a booking in advance doesn't give you any advantage. 

Departure point on Railay Beach West

Departure point on Railay Beach West

From Railay Beach, the departure point is Railay Beach West. It's easy to see where the meeting point is because it'll be where all the other travelers will be with their suitcases. You'll check-in with the ticket office to validate your ticket and get instructions on what to do next. Once they're ready to board, attendants will check your ticket a final time and direct you to your ferry.

Because Railay Beach doesn't have a pier, you'll first get into a long-tail boat, which will shuttle you from the beach to the actual ferry. The attendants will take care of loading your bags. Once you're on the ferry, you can find a seat - either down below the main deck or on top. There's very little shade so don't forget your sunscreen! 

One to two hours later, you'll arrive in Koh Lanta! At the Saladan Pier. Grab your bags and exit the ferry. When you disembark in Koh Lanta be prepared for the crowds of people who are there to offer their transport services. It can be overwhelming but just keep moving until you get past the crowd. Most hotels can help you organize pick-up from the pier, or you can easily hop into a tuk-tuk to get you where you need to go.  

Saladan Pier in Koh Lanta, arriving from Railay Beach

Saladan Pier in Koh Lanta, arriving from Railay Beach

Are you going to Railay Beach or Koh Lanta soon? Let us know what question you have! We're happy to help! 

How to Travel to Cuba: Visas, OFAC, and "People-to-People" Licenses Explained!

UPDATE AS OF JULY 2017: 

In June 2017, the White House announced it was reimposing restrictions and regulations between the US and Cuba. This reversal in policy means that travel to Cuba will go back to being a restricted activity, as it was prior to President Obama's foreign policy in 2016. Travel to Cuba is still possible - but only through sanctioned group trips under the 'people-to-people'  license or one of the other license categories. According to the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), travelers who booked their trip to Cuba (even partially) prior to the announcement in June will be allowed to go ahead. For the most up-to-date and accurate information on travel to Cuba, check the OFAC or US Embassy in Cuba website.

Editor's Note: This post was originally published on February 25, 2017. It has been updated for accuracy based on latest available information. Key changes are noted in italics below. 

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With recent political developments, finding clear information and getting answers to your planning questions isn’t as easy. Luckily, we’ve got you covered. Here is what you need to know about travel to Cuba now:

What is OFAC Certification and “People-to-People” Licenses?

Legally speaking, U.S. citizens are not permitted to travel as tourists to Cuba. U.S. law restricts travel to Cuba to 12 authorized travel categories, each requiring travelers to meet certain requirements. The categories include: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and certain authorized export transactions.

So how are most people getting to Cuba? Answer: under the travel category “Educational activities and people-to-people exchanges”. The category is relatively broad, only requiring people traveling under this category to have “a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travel and individuals in Cuba.” This is why Americans traveling to Cuba have to go as part of organized, sanctioned trips (called 'people-to-people' exchange tours, or the like).

Under the Obama administration (2016), you could travel under the “Educational activities and people-to-people exchanges” category without an organized tour group. You could go solo, with a friend, or your own group – so long as you technically fulfill the category requirement (i.e. have a prepared itinerary and keep receipts of all your engagements - museums, business cards, etc.) Unfortunately these policies have now been reversed.

Under the current administration (as of June 2017), you are no longer able to travel under the“Educational activities and people-to-people exchanges” category without an organized group. So travel to Cuba is still possible but only through sanctioned group trips under the 'people-to-people'  license. Alternatively you could potentially travel without an organized group trip if you qualified under one of the other license categories. For example, you could travel solo under the "Journalistic activity" category if you have the appropriate credentials listed under that category. 

When you arrive at the airport before your flight, you’ll be required to sign a form certifying that you are traveling under one of the 12 travel categories and specifying which you are traveling under.

How do I get a visa for Cuba?

As of June 2017, travel to Cuba is only permitted through sanctioned group trips under the 'people-to-people'  license or one of the other license categories. According to the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), travelers who booked their trip to Cuba (even partially) prior to the announcement in June will be allowed to go ahead. If you are booking travel to Cuba you will want to do so with a licensed operator, who will provide you a tourist card as part of your trip package.

Traditionally you would book your flight and then apply for your visa either through a third-party operator, a travel agent, or directly with a Cuban embassy. If you were flying via Mexico or Canada you could purchase your tourist card at the airport or on the plane.

Now that you can fly directly from the States, U.S. airlines also allow you to purchase your tourist card at the boarding gate before your departure. So you don’t need to worry about getting one before you fly. The cost of the tourist card is $50 (but can vary based on which airline you fly so check ahead of time). As mentioned previously, if you are traveling to Cuba as part of a sanctioned group trip, your tourist card will likely be included as part of your trip package - so you won't need to worry about applying for it beforehand or getting it at the boarding gate.

The tourist card is valid for a single-entry for a period of up to 30 days. Upon arrival in Cuba, a portion of your tourist card is retained by immigration authorities, and you hold on to the remaining portion until it’s collected at the airport prior to your departure. It’s important that you don’t lose the second half of the tourist card because you won’t be allowed to leave the country without presenting it at passport control.

Do I Need Medical Insurance?

In addition to the tourist card, you’ll also need to obtain Cuba-specific medical insurance. Luckily, airlines have also helped streamline this process. Most include a temporary policy within the cost of your ticket. Delta, for example, automatically includes a medical insurance surcharge of $25 in the cost of each passenger's fare. The boarding pass will serve as evidence of the insurance policy should any emergency medical services be required during the trip. If you are traveling as part of a sanctioned group trip, your tourist card will likely be included as part of your trip package. you obtain your medical insurance through your airline or tour operator, be sure to hold on to your boarding pass during your entire stay in Cuba.

 

Headed to Cuba soon and have more questions? Check out our complete Cuba travel guide! Or share your questions and plans with us in the comments below!

6 Touristy Spots in NYC That Are Totally Worth Visit!

New York City has no shortage of touristy spots - Times Square, Rockefeller Center, the list goes on and on. While some of them aren't worth the hype, others are. Here are just a few spots that you (and your camera) won't want to miss - some obvious, some delicious, but all special:

 

1. TOP OF THE ROCK

There are rooftop views, and then there is the Top of the Rock. Nothing quite compares to the sweeping, unobstructed views you get from atop the 67th, 69th and 70th floor open-air observation deck of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. From here you can see Central Park, Midtown Manhattan all around, and Downtown Manhattan. On a clear day, you can even see as far as the Statue of Liberty. 

 

2. SHAKE SHACK @ MADISON SQUARE PARK

Shake Shack is an NYC institution, with nearly a dozen locations across all boroughs. But this is by far the best thanks to the picture perfect setting. 

You know it's good when even locals are willing to wait in line for it (tip: check the Shack cam online to see what it looks like before you go).

With the whole menu available, including wine and beer, this location basically becomes a delicious beer garden. There's plenty of seating so even on busy days you should have no trouble finding a spot under the twinkling lights. 

 

3. CENTRAL PARK

It's not hard to understand why Central Park is the most visited urban space in the US. Famous in every sense of the word, Central Park is an oasis for locals and visitors alike. The best way to experience the park is on foot or rented bike. To experience the city like a local, strap on your sneakers and do a lap along one of the park's dozen running paths! In the summer months check out listings by the Central Park website for free events. If you're visiting in the winter, don't let the snow stop you from enjoying a stroll in the park - it's actually one of the most amazing times to go. Less crowds means you get to enjoy the the winter wonderland all by yourself.

It's snowing again but not the big fluffy fun kind. So let's daydream back to when it was {#reedit}

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4. ROOFTOP BARS

While not a 'touristy spot' per say, Manhattan is known for its chic rooftop bars. And rubbing shoulders with the city dwellers makes you feel like you're a local. Most places are pretty pricey but worth it if the view is good! Places like Refinery Rooftop even have both indoor and outdoor spaces for year-around enjoyment. 

 

5. BROOKLYN BRIDGE

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is a must for any first-time NYC visitor. You're rewarded with great views as you cross in either direction, the wind sweeping through your hair. Unsurprisingly the bridge gets busy and crowded so it's best to go early! 

Rainy morning run across the bridge🏃 {#lookingup}

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6. THE HIGH LINE

The High Line is a 1.45-mile-long public park built on an elevated section of a disused New York freight rail line. Located on the west side of lower Manhattan, the park is home to unique views of the city and amazing art work - making it every designer's/photographer's dream. During the warmer months vendors set up shop selling souvenirs, food, and drinks so you can enjoy the park as long as you want.

Brace yourselves, #Fall is coming 🍂💕 #nyc

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These colors👌🏼💕🍂 #nyc

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Have you been to NYC? What are your favorite spots? We'd love to hear! Share your thoughts with us and others in the comments below! 

These Photos Will Convince You to Go to Railay Beach, Thailand

Railay Beach is a small but popular beach town on the coast of the Krabi province in Thailand. It’s located on the neck of a peninsula and surrounded by karst mountains – which means it can only be reached by boat. The town itself straddles the narrowest part of the peninsula. Because of it’s size, the town is completely walkable. The only vehicles you see are small motorbikes for transporting goods from ships to the various shops. 

The first time I saw a picture of Railay Beach, I wasn't very impressed. But the more I read about it, the more it seems like the quintessential Thai island getaway - complete with long tail boat rides, stunning sunsets, and secluded beaches surrounded by lush mountains. Of the places we visited in Krabi (the other two being Koh Lanta and Koh Ngai), Railay Beach quickly became my favorite. It's not hard to see why: 

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On our first night in Railay Beach, we were gifted with the most stunning sunset. Dare I say it is the most incredible one I’ve ever seen. There is a rain storm in the distance over what looks to be Phuket. The long tail boats bob up and down in the water as deep yellows and orange hues take over the sky. It started to rain but that only seemed to add to the amazingness of this moment. In that moment, it finally started to sink in that we were in Thailand. A country that has been number one on my bucket list for years. What an incredible welcome. 

IMG_3811-railay-beach-thailand-phranang-beach-trisa-taro.jpg
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Are you going to Thailand soon? Have you been to Railay Beach? We'd love to hear! Share your story with us and others in the comments below!

5 Instagram Travel Accounts You Should Be Following | June 2017

One of the things I do, both on a regular basis and, more so, when I can't travel, is scour my favorite Instagram accounts for inspiration. I'm blown away by all the amazing people doing amazing things in amazing places around the world. 

Here are five amazing women taking the world by storm! I'm particularly inspired by these women because they have such an authentic voice and visual identity. They aren’t caught up in the Instagram game. They’re just sharing themselves and trying to inspire and connect with others.

1. Jessica Lu (@jessomewhere)

Based out of Toronto, Canada, Jessica constantly shows us that the world is too beautiful to stay in just one place. If you have a thing for beautiful pastels and sharp photography, look no further!

2. Lena Martini (@inspirationdelavie)

It's not hard to see why her mantra reads "dreamers can never be tamed". A German-born globetrotter, Lena's feed is filled with stunning views and perfect facades from every corner of the world. 

3. Kelsey | Miles of Smiles (@milesofsmiles._)

Ever dreamt of picking up and moving to some exotic country? Well Kelsey is doing just that. Teaching English in Vietnam and traveling on her off days, she gives us the perfect excuse to live vicariously through her. 

4. Hélène | Girls Born to Travel (@elenaflyaway)

Is it any surprise that the founder of Girls Born to Travel is a girlboss?? Born in France and now based in the UAE, Hélène has been traveling the world since she was 18 - visitng more than 40 countries (and counting)! 

From Venice Beach to Santa Monica 🚲🌊✨🌸 . . ( 📸 : @meryldenis)

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5. Lauren Riboldi (@ockeydockey)

Based in Oahu, Hawaii, this photographer/videographer is living proof that it doesn't matter where you are - adventure awaits! Lauren's feed - which is filled with surf, sea, sand, and an endless supply of smiles - reminds us that memories are waiting to be made! Let's go!

Days in the sun with my love ☀️💦

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Loving the inspiration? I'll be featuring my favorite Instagrammers each month so stay tuned!

What are your favorite Instagram accounts?? We'd love to know! Show them some love below!!

Why You Should Visit Bai Tu Long Bay Instead of Halong Bay

If you're traveling to Vietnam, a visit to the famous Halong Bay is a must. Located a few hours outside of the capital of Hanoi, Halong Bay is a 1553 square-kilometer area of emerald green water with thousands of towering limestone isles and pillars sprinkled throughout it. 

Thanks to its stunning setting and natural beauty (which earned it UNESCO World Heritage site designation in the early 1990s), millions of people come to see the bay every year. And because the bay is best experienced via the water, the bay is flooded with thousands of cruise ships every day. 

Luckily there are lesser traveled areas where you can go to still experience the bay without the crowds. The bay is divided into two areas: Halong Bay, the namesake area located in the southern half; and Bai Tu Long Bay, located in the northeastern half of the bay. 

Bai Tu Long Bay - which is just as stunning as its southern counterpart - has remained under the radar and provides the perfect gateway to exploring the area as an alternative to the tourist-filled parts of Halong Bay. 

Several cruise companies already offer trips to the area. We joined Indochina Junk on their Dragon Legend two-day, one-night cruise. The tour included round-trip transfer from Hanoi Old Quarter, overnight accommodation in our own private cruise cabin, kayaking, and all meals during our stay.

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In late March the weather wasn't the best - it had been raining in the days leading up to our cruise. But getting to see the limestone isles up close was mesmerizing. And in the end, the rain and mist actually gave the bay a mystical feeling, and made our cruise that much more memorable. 

Based on our experience I would recommend:

  • Choosing Bai Tu Long Bay instead of Halong Bay. During our entire cruise we only saw a handful of other boats, which was one of the things I loved most about the experience. Being away from the crowds added to the peacefulness and allowed us to really enjoy the scenery. I don't think we would have had the same experience if we had gone to Halong Bay.
  • Opting for a three-day, two-night (3D/2N) cruise, if you have the time. The two-day, one-night (2D/1N) cruise is good if you're short on time but it's essentially a 24-hour trip so it can feel a bit rushed.
  • Be prepared for some touristy bits, but don't let that distract you from the incredible scenery. I will admit that the cruise felt touristy, which I didn't love. I don't think that was specific to Indochina Junk, but because of the nature of the way they do business the schedule is packed and things (like food and service) can lose quality. But these things don't seem to matter as much when you sit and enjoy the views throughout the bay.
  • Chose your cruise operator wisely, and take size into consideration. If you are planning a trip to Halong Bay/Bai Tu Long Bay, there is no better way to experience it than by cruise. Being on the water let's you see everything up close and personal and it is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. That said, it's important to do your research before booking (because the cruises aren't cheap, and you get what you pay for). Our cruise had about 25-30 people total. Mostly couples but also a few groups with young children. I think the size of the group was great, especially because I've heard some of the larger boats can have hundreds of people at a time.

Have you been to Bai Tu Long Bay? Are you headed there soon? We'd love to hear! Share your story with us and others in the comments below!