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This summer before you buy a new travel guide at the bookstore, you might want to first check out Nile Guide – an interesting new travel website created by a young startup company. Search by location and build your own guidebook for free. Although not every single location is covered, generally the major destinations are.

Nile Guide has also recently launched an Iphone app which allows you to create customized travel guides on your Iphone. With one app you can browse maps, restaurant recommendations, travel itineraries, and book flights on Expedia etc.

You can’t beat the convenience.

billy goat trail

A few weeks ago I headed to Washington D.C. to visit a few good friends. When people visit D.C. they generally think that they should hit up the Mall, the museums, Georgetown, and possibly U street now because of its recent popularity due to President Obama. But, for an off the beaten track visit to the nation’s capitol head outdoors for a hike on the Billy Goat Trail to check out the local natural beauty and activity junkies.

Where?

Billy Goat trail is located in Potomac, Maryland near Great Falls.

How long?

Approximately 2 hours of scrambling over moderate to difficult rocks, 4.2 miles roundtrip, definitely wear your hiking shoes!

What’s there to look at?

Dramatic views of the Potomac river, kayakers tackling challenging rapids, blue herons that are natural to the area (yes we saw one), and cute dogs being walked by their owners.

What to snack on?

After burning off substantial calories, on your way back to the city stop at Bus Boys and Poets near U street, a progressive cafe for a good meal.

Today’s  Travel Deals listed a great deal for Iphone users.

To help passengers make the most of their extra time in an unknown city, Lonely Planet is offering 13 of its European iPhone guides free, as part of a Volcano Relief Sale:

AmsterdamBarcelonaBerlinBudapest |CopenhagenIstanbulLondonMoscow |MunichParisRomeStockholmVienna

Travelers can download the guides free of charge until April 22.  After that, the guidebooks start at $15.99.

I’ve previously blogged and posted another tipster’s itinerary on the Dominican Republic. But I couldn’t resist adding my own thoughts after my own awesome trip to Punta Cana a few weekends back. As discussed before we booked our all-inclusive trip on Bookit.com during a 92 hour sale and got a steep discount on an all-inclusive package that included airfare, hotel, all meals and top shelf liquor! The Dominican Republic is a great place to go for a short weekend away from the city, it is only about 3.5 hours away on a direct flight and is probably one of the most convenient locations I have ever been to.

Where to stay:

Most of the resorts in Punta Cana are all-inclusive. Initially, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from an all-inclusive resort because we generally like to be more independent on vacation. After this trip I am now a reformed traveler!  For a weekend trip, all-inclusive is the way to go if you want a stress free vacation. You can literally leave the U.S. with only a dollar in your pocket and return with that dollar (excluding tipping waiters and staff) if you want to.

We booked our package with the NH Royal Beach. Upon arriving at the NH Royal Beach we were escorted to the adults only part of the hotel. The hotel is completely new and you can tell! Each hotel room is funky and colorful, we had a gift plate of cut fresh tropical fruit waiting for us when we arrived, and a jacuzzi on the balcony overlooking the ocean and pool. Can you spell h-e-a-v-e-n? The NH Real Arena is the family oriented side of the resort, both sit next to each other on a beautiful strip of beach.

The NH Royal Beach also features an awesome lazy river and several restaurants on premise that are included in the plan, but more importantly it has great service. The drinks are super fun and yummy. We took advantage of the bar in the pool and swam up frequently to have the bartender make us coco locos (real coconuts with rum) or hard lemonades in pineapples. Not once did we hear a busy bartender complain about scraping out the tropical fruit to spoil us rotten. We had a great time chatting with our bartenders who were busily tapping their heels to the catchy music the hotel plays during the day.

While you’re at the NH Royal Beach, the activities people on staff will try to make your vacation all the more fun. We learned how to sail a catamaran during a 20 minute instructional and then went out on the catamaran for an hour by ourselves. All included in the fee of course! The resort also had a volleyball competition and a kayaking competition, which was more funny than competitive. We didn’t have time to take the introductory scuba diving lesson, but it is offered for all guests of the resort.

On top of it all, on our last night there, the hotel staff brought us a plate full of home-made chocolate truffles and a chocolate sculpture! What else can you ask for in a weekend beach getaway trip from the city?

What’s not to like?

For vegetarians the food is so so… But honestly the effort that the chefs and managers put into accommodating our vegetarian tastes more than made up for the sub par food. I find it hard to complain when people are so friendly!

Overall

4.5 stars for a relaxing, romantic and fun weekend from the city.

On a cold March day we ventured out of our apartment and the confines of Manhattan to Flushing, NY for the “Indian” experience. Our goal was to hit up the Ganesha Hindu Temple in Flushing New York for some spiritual relief and great food, of course.

Based on my research, the closest Hindu temple to Manhattan is the temple in Flushing. It’s currently undergoing some renovations, but remains lovely. The entranceway to the temple is flanked with different figurines of Lord Ganesha (the remover of all obstacles) and allows for natural light to filter in. Once you enter the temple – there is a small shop to purchase offerings for the Gods that include coconuts and incense. I would have to say based on past experience in India, this is as close to the real thing as you’re going to get without buying a 1k dollar ticket to the real deal.

Once you finish paying your respects or watching the other Indian people move through their religious routines, hit up the Temple Canteen for some amazing South Indian food, including dosas, idilis and uttampum. Being the pigs that we are, we ate dai bhara (a yogurt battered dish with chutney) at the canteen, but then we walked around the corner of the temple to go to the Dosa Hut.

The Dosa Hut is a hole in the wall, no frills watering hole for Indians. Compared to the dosa in the city, this place gets a excellent rating. The cheese dosa and Special Rava Masala Dosa rate among the best. Pictures are attached, no drooling please!

For the price of $2.25 you can escape from the concrete jungle to Queens for a relatively close Indian experience involving Hindu Gods and food.

p.s. Visitors or non-hindus are allowed or even welcomed in the Temple, as long as you’re respectful.

It’s been a long time readers, but my memory of the NYTIMES Travel Show this past February is still fairly fresh.  Every year, the NYTIMES throws a travel industry trade show at the Jacob Javits Center. As a member of the press (!), I went to the show primarily to check out if there were any fresh ideas on travel experiences I should be looking at and to see whether my readers should be looking at anything in particular.

Here is my summary…

Is the Trade Show Interesting – yes if you are one of those people who are uncertain about what tour operators to go with and if you are looking to travel to new locations with the right operator. Think African Safari operators, cruises and other group travel.

General demographic – 50 to 60 years old, think wealthy people who are looking to book their next cruise to the Mediterranean.

Convenience factor – mildly convenient. American Express tables were set up so you could book your next trip onsite.

Inspired to Travel? There were some interesting ideas and operators there. But, there was also a lot that was lacking. I didn’t see any budget operators, except for Gap Travel, there weren’t any eco-friendly groups or volunteer based travel groups either. But, for honeymooners and those who want to splurge on luxury travel, there were a few interesting ideas that I hadn’t heard of before.

Follow the Leaders’ Top 3 Favorite Operators from the Travel Show

  1. Duvine Adventures
  2. Africa Adventures
  3. Alaska Tourism Board

Duvine Tours

Duvine is bike touring company that offers you a chance to bike, sip wine, sleep in chateau in France and bragging rights when you return from an incredible journey. The company appears to have bike tours in Europe, Eastern Europe, South America and South Africa. You book the trip, and your guide picks you and your group up from the destination point. The bikes and all other gear are arranged for. I was drooling over the thought of seeing the French countryside, especially Burgundy and Bordeaux, on a bike, eating cheese and drinking wine along the way, on top of sleeping in a 17th Century Chateau. Oh and I forgot to mention that the food they prepare for you is gourmet,  plus the tour guides I met at the NYTIMES travel show were super charming, friendly, and fun (unlike some of the snotty ones at the other tables). This trip is one of those once in a lifetime trips that you never look back on.

Africa Adventures

I’m not going to say I’m an expert on travel in Africa, but I did study abroad in South Africa when I was quite poor and a struggling student. A group of friends and I traveled most of South Africa, drove down the Rainbow Route, sipped wine in Stellenbosch, hiked the sand dunes of Namibia, swam with fish in Mozambique, and saw Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe all without a tour guide or travel operator, but simply through the help of a few travel books.

That said, looking back on it now, I could still travel like that, but it requires a lot more planning when you’re not already in the country. Last year, when my husband and I were looking for a reasonable and good African Adventure company to plan our honeymoon we weren’t sure who to turn to. At the NYTIMES travel show I was dismayed by many of the travel operators because they seemed to indicate that going on a safari was only for the rich and wealthy. The only operator with whom I had a great conversation with was Africa Adventures. The couple who run the company seem to have a ton of experience, have lived in Tanzania and throw really customized African safaris.

Alaska Tourism Board

Despite being from the state where Sarah Palin laid her claim to fame, the Alaska Tourism Board was one of the friendliest groups of people at the trade show. I went to Alaska once while in law school and I thought it was probably one of the most gorgeous places I’d ever been. The Alaska Tourism Board’s website seems to be a good starting point for those looking to plan a vacation there. For example, the board told me that most of Alaska remains remote and to this day people fly on small planes to reach areas that simply wouldn’t allow for car access. It is an adventure traveler’s paradise and I can’t wait to go back.

It’s about that time of year when you’re calculating whether spring is really around the corner or whether we are going to have to suffer through some long rainy months. Usually on vacation I want an action packed trip, but after some long nights at work, the idea of sitting back with a mai tai on the beach sounds pretty good.

Last week, an alert went out to TravelZoo subscribers informing them about a  92 hour sale on Bookit.com I don’t generally act on these emails and have never really used TravelZoo, but Bookit.com had some amazing deals last week. We ended up booking an all-inclusive package to the Dominican Republic that went on sale last week. I’ll be blogging from Punta Cana on the first weekend of April. Check out some other quick getaways on the Times.

We booked a package for two, including airfare, all meals, and drinks at the NH Real in Punta Cana for less than what a ticket to Vegas would cost you about now. Be on the lookout for deals fellow readers...they do exist!