The Best Day Trips from 4 Top Destinations

How much of your precious vacation time do you want to spend traveling from place to place, versus actually exploring (and enjoying) the destination that you’re visiting?

 It can be really hard to balance a long wish list and a limited number of vacation days. And a big part of our job as professional travel advisors is helping you to do that by making smart choices.

To that end, one of the “travel hacks” we recommend is to choose one place that’s a good home base (great hotel option, lots of good restaurants, easy transport connections) and then add some easy day trips from that base. You check in and unpack once, stay longer, and see other destinations from there as day trips.

Where does that work well? So glad you asked! Here are a few of our faves:


a street view of the Florence Duomo and the street artists next to it

This pedestrian-friendly, walkable city is the perfect home base to explore all of Tuscany. You can spend a day or two enjoying Florence’s charms. And then hop on a train/bus to nearby Bologna, Lucca, Pisa, or Siena. (all are within 1 to 1 ½  hours).

[Photo Credit: Liz via Shared Adventures. Read about her adventure in Florence here! ]

Rome is a 90-minute train ride away, and even Venice is do-able as a daytrip (two hours on the train). If you rent a car for a day (or hire a driver) you can explore Chianti villages like Greve and Radda. Or, Tuscan hill towns like San Gimignano and Volterra. And you could also do a daytrip to the coast, for hiking in the Cinque Terre.


Lots of travelers blow through Athens in a night or two because they’re focused on the Greek Islands, but there’s an argument to be made for staying put for a little while longer and using Athens as a home base. When you’ve had your fill of the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the ancient Agora, and the Plaka, you can hit the beach at Cape Sounion (about 2 hours away) and check out the Temple of Poseidon while you’re there.

[Photo Credit: Alicia & Jay via Shared Adventures. Read about their family trip to Greece Here! ]

A family visiting the Acropolis in Greece

Or visit the original capital (Nafplio). Which is one of the prettiest towns in the country (about an hour and 45 minutes away). The closest island is Aegina, where lots of Athenians have weekend homes. And you can get there on a 40-minute hydrofoil from Athens’ port of Piraeus.  Or you could do an organized group day trip to Corinth, Delphi, or Meteora.


The Swiss rail system is easy, efficient, and scenic. Why not take advantage of that by using Lucerne as a home base and exploring the surrounding country from there! Spend a day in Zurich (45 minutes by train), Bern (one hour), or Interlaken (two hours). Or connect from there to a mountain town like Grindelwald.

[Photo Credit: Ann via Shared Adventures]


With so many fabulous cities/towns so accessible by train, this one is a no-brainer. Spend a few days in London itself, and then hop on a train to Windsor (50 minutes), Oxford (one hour), or Bath (90 minutes). Spend a day in the Cotswolds (about two hours), or head to the coast (Dover and Portsmouth are both about two hours away). If you get an early start, you can even do Paris as a day trip (about 2 ¼ hours each way on the train through the Chunnel)

[Photo Credit: Ann via Shared Adventures. Read about her trip to England here!]

a selfiev in front of the London Eye

I think you probably get the idea by now! You can get more out of your vacation time/money by moving less and seeing more with a smart home base and fun day trips. Let us know if you want to try this strategy for your next trip!

Top 4 Spa Vacation Destinations

There are fabulous spas and spa resorts all over the world. It’s safe to say that in nearly every country you can find some sort of spa treatment to add to your adventure. But if you’re looking for a destination that puts the “aah” in spa – a destination that really shines in terms of spa treatments and a focus on wellness? These are our top four destinations: 

Budapest, Hungary – For an abundance of choice

Known as the Spa Capital of the World, Budapest boasts hundreds of thermal springs across the city. Created by the ancient Romans, these spas manage to combine modern spa culture with a traditional feel. You can find everything from Zen spa retreats to public thermal baths. From traditional Turkish hammams to high-end luxury experiences. The city sits along a geologic fault line that sends tons of warm-to-scalding mineral water into its springs each day. So, spa culture is very much intertwined with the local lifestyle. Plus, the city itself is one of the most beautiful in central Europe, with incredible architecture and a unique history. The variety of spa experiences makes this one of the best spa travel destinations in Europe. 

The Riviera Maya- For Beachy Vibes & Ancient Wisdom

two massage beds in a thatch-roofed hut on the beach in Mexico

A 100-mile stretch of beachfront along the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan peninsula, the Riviera Maya was specifically developed with tourism in mind. Packed with stunning beaches and luxury resorts, this is a perfect (and not too far away) destination to enjoy even a quick spa getaway. And you can find something a little different from the classic Swedish or deep-tissue massage. Check out specialized treatments rooted in ancient Mayan practices — like relaxing hot lava rocks, herbal steams, meditations, and Temazcal. Indulging in a spa vacation on the Riviera Maya is the perfect way to enjoy a beach vacation with an extra dose of relaxation.

[Photo Credit Ann via Shared Adventures Travel]

Switzerland – For Luxury & Medical Know-How

Surrounded by the majestic Alps, deep blue lakes, and cool, refreshing mountain air. Switzerland offers the best in medical and holistic wellness programs. Here you’ll find centuries-old thermal pools and unique massage treatments. Alongside them are regimens developed by doctors, osteopaths, acupuncturists, and nutritionists. Switzerland combines jaw-dropping, imposing landscapes and bucket-list ski resorts, with a focus on luxury spa experiences and beauty and wellness products. These spas hold themselves to a high standard, and often incorporate medical-grade treatments meant to boost your health and extend your life.

Costa Rica – For combining adventure with relaxation

Eco-minded, beautifully lush, and pristine, Costa Rica boasts dozens of spas and wellness retreats. Nestled in the rainforest and along the coastline you’ll find a tantalizing blend of eastern and western therapies. The focus in Costa Rica is all natural. Disconnect and recharge from the stresses of daily life by immersing yourself in the beauty of nature. You can expect thermal waters, mud treatments, yoga classes, forest bathing, and mindful nature walks. And throw in a little bit of kayaking or hiking for balance.

[Photo Credit: Ellen via Shared Adventures – read about her Costa Rica honeymoon here!]

a pair of slippered feed on a wooden balcony looking at lush greenery in Costa Rica

Are you deciding on the perfect destination for your next relaxing spa vacation? Or just looking to add a bit of pampering and spa treatment to your next adventure? Let us know!

Top Tips for Your First Trip to Europe

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First time traveling to Europe? There’s a lot to consider for your first big trip abroad! If you’ve reached out to us to help you plan, you know most of the details are already taken care of. All that’s left is to pack, get on the plane, and enjoy your adventure! But even with a trusted travel agent by your side, it can feel a bit daunting heading to a completely unfamiliar place. Aside from preparing for the extra-long flight, what else do you need to know before you go? As seasoned European travelers, here are our top tips:


What to Pack: No matter where you’re going in Europe, you will be guaranteed to need three things: comfortable walking shoes, layers, and adapters. Your favorite dress shoes might look amazing, but if you’ve never walked farther than from the restaurant to your car in them, they need to stay home. Generally, the weather is constantly changing throughout the day. Fresh mornings give way to sweltering midday before cooling down again into beautiful evenings. To cover these changes you’ll need to bring some lovely light layers. Finally, you’ll need to select an all-purpose adapter to allow your US plugs to fit into a European outlet. Plus a converter if you’re bringing a US appliance (like a hairdryer) that can’t handle their stronger voltage.

Pack Light: Even with careful planning, at some point on your adventure you’ll need to lift your suitcase. It won’t be over your head, perhaps just a small step into your hotel, up and over the bridges of Venice, or simply over the gap between the train and the platform. But you want to be sure you pack a suitcase that you can manage and maneuver. Check out our packing it all in a carry-on guide – even if you don’t plan on fitting it all in a carry-on, you’ll find some good tips to help you minimize. 

[Photo Credit: Liz via Shared Adventures]

Important Items: Make sure you pack all medicines, important phone numbers, a change of clothes, and expensive items/ electronics in your carry-on bag. Anything you need in the first 48hrs goes in the carry-on in case your luggage is delayed or lost.

Your Phone

Check with your provider: Communicating while abroad is important – whether with other people in your group or with your friends and family back home. Or, if you need to access maps, use handy travel apps, post on social media, or check other internet info. Check with your mobile phone provider in advance to see what their international plan is, how to set it up, and whether it’s worth using. 

Offline: If you decide you don’t want to use your provider’s international plan, you must put your phone into Airplane mode to avoid roaming charges. Even if you’re not actively using your phone, unless it’s in airplane mode, it’s using data. It’s also worth looking up how to download offline maps. This will help you so much when you’re jumping from wifi to wifi. 

[Photo Credit: Angela Compagnone via Unsplash]

Connecting: Most crucially, when you’re abroad, you’ll need to dial the country code to contact anyone. Here’s how to do that (works for both iPhone and Android). Secondly, we cannot recommend WhatsApp enough. Everyone in Europe has and communicates through WhatsApp. That includes your tour guides, your drivers, and even some restaurants. Imagine trying to make a dinner reservation when you don’t speak the language. Instead of struggling to communicate, you type out the request in a translator app. Then, simply send the translation to the restaurant via WhatsApp text! Easy, simple, and with no misunderstandings! WhatsApp also works off of the wifi/ mobile data. So even if you decide not to set up an international plan, you can communicate! 

Money Matters

Check With Your Bank: You’ll want to check your bank’s foreign transaction fees and currency conversion rates. Be sure to let them know you’re traveling so they don’t flag any card purchases by mistake. If you have a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees (like a Capital One or Chase Sapphire) now is the time to use it! Also, be sure to bring a Visa/Mastercard since many places won’t accept Amex or Discover

In Belgium Beth showing off her chocolate- shopping bags in the Brussels Shopping Mall

Cash vs Card: It’s not necessary to get a huge amount of foreign currency before you leave, but you’ll need some pocket money. The general rule is: anything under 10€ should be paid in cash. Some places won’t accept cards if it’s under 10€ and sometimes it’s more polite to pay for tips, taxis, cups of coffee, etc in cash. Plus, public toilets will only take 1€ coins. Remember: 1€ and 2€ are coins so don’t just get rid of “spare change”! For larger purchases in shops and restaurants, you can use your card to get the best exchange rate and some added protections. 

[Photo Credit: Beth & Bob via Shared Adventures Travel – check out their Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris Adventure here! ]

Tipping: While in Europe, resist the urge to tip the way you do in the US. In restaurants check to see if a service charge is already on the bill. If not, and if you’re inclined to tip, don’t leave any more than 10%. Tip tour guides and drivers 2€ -10€ per person. For taxis, you can round up to the nearest Euro. European service workers, in general, make a living wage and do not need/expect a generous American-style tip.


Language: Of course, they speak a different language! In major cities, a lot of the service industry at least speak English related to their jobs. But it’s always nice for you to try to meet them halfway. Always try to learn “hello & goodbye”, “ please & thank you”, “ do you speak English?” and “Where is the toilet?” These all go a long way. Don’t forget all the signs will be in the foreign language as well! Luckily, in transport areas like train stations and airports, you’ll often see English in small letters underneath.

Dining Times: Throughout most of Europe the dining times are more specific. Many places, especially in Italy, Portugal, and Spain, close down for an afternoon siesta between 2:30 pm – 7 pm.

To avoid only finding sad sandwiches for lunch, make sure you’re getting lunch before 2 pm. Similarly, many restaurants don’t serve dinner until 7 pm. Certainly, there are a few open earlier, and in big cities, some are open all day. However, you’ll limit your choices if you’re trying to eat dinner before 7 pm.

[Photo Credit: Hilary and Zackary via Shared Adventures Travel — read about their Rome & Amalfi Coast Honeymoon here!]

delicious meal in southern Italy

Finally, in Europe, water doesn’t come automatically to the table. If you want water, you’ll have to order it and it usually is only available by bottle without ice.

Rooms: Unless you’re booking a suite, most of the hotel rooms and beds tend to be smaller than typical American standards. And that includes the bathrooms. 


Be Informed: To keep yourself informed, you can enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This is a free service that allows you to pre-register your travel plans with the US State Department. This way, they can keep you informed of safety conditions at your destination(s). Plus, the US Embassy will know how to reach you in the event of an emergency (including a family emergency at home). To enroll in STEP, visit To keep others informed – make sure you leave a full itinerary with a reservation number with a friend or family member. 

Overlooking Paris at sunset from the Arc du Triomphe

Keep Tabs on your Belongings: As with any crowded city or location, you want to make sure to keep an eye on your belongings. Don’t leave your phone in your back pocket, and have a bag that goes across your body and has zippers/ multiple pockets. 

[Photo Credit: Kim & Paul via Shared Adventures — read about their Paris Adventure here!]

Standard Precautions: Even though you are on vacation, please follow the same health/safety precautions you would if you were closer to home. Don’t drink to excess (especially in the hot sun), and never leave a drink unattended. Don’t wander around alone at night; practice the buddy system. Lock your hotel room windows and doors (and use the deadbolt provided, or bring an inexpensive door wedge or travel lock of your own). Leave expensive jewelry and electronics at home, and keep valuables in a safe and secure place (such as the in-room safe). If you run into legal trouble or are the victim of a crime, reach out to the nearest US Embassy for assistance. Your rights/responsibilities are different in foreign countries. 

While there will always be new things to discover on each adventure you take, we hope this blog has helped you feel more prepared to tackle your first big trip abroad! Now you’re ready to step off the plane and enjoy your European Adventure stress-free. Bookmark this page for later and if you would like some help planning your next adventure let us know!

You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)