Thanks for stopping by! The Trip Chicks® are two unconventional tour guides/travel agents with 25+ travel industry/airline years, mischief in 85+ countries, and a heap of travel (mis)adventures under our belts. Our goals? To educate, entertain, and help save you time, money, and stress on your next trip. Sometimes we digress. Happy travels!

Monday, December 27, 2010

An Incurable Bug

Last May over lunch in a busy Atlanta diner, the couple next to us made a startling confession. It'd been eight years since Rev. Brown and his wife had vacationed more than a long weekend. "The economy's in a slump, and we're really busy at the church," he sighed. In our country of chronic workaholics, the Browns certainly weren't alone. "One day...."

Can't remember the last time you enjoyed a real vacation? When did you sneak away for more than a couple days, without even calling into work or checking your emails? Maybe you've seen the figures. A recent study by found that almost 33% of Americans routinely forfeit part of their hard-earned vacation time. As a matter of fact, the U.S. has the highest lost vacation rate of any industrialized western nation.

Some of our fellow citizens are forgoing vacations altogether. Sobering too is proof that European medieval peasants took off more time than today's average working American! Sadly, the U.S.A. has not joined the list of countries mandating vacation time for the nation's work force. We need to fess up. America's national vacation deprivation syndrome is out of control. Our top mission in the new year? To encourage our overworked compatriots to catch a serious case of the travel bug.

No more excuses. Go away in 2011! A vacation is actually good for your health. Eye-popping travel deals abound and are yours to snag. Do it! Mark your calendar right away. Remind yourself you really deserve an escape. From now on, make your vacation a priority every year. While you're at it, plan to stay away at least one week. Really unplug. You'll come home a changed, rejuvenated person.

On his first getaway since 2003, Jack the attorney did. As we cycled along Dutch tulip fields at their glorious peak, he stopped to savor the rainbow of colors. Then he choked up. That afternoon he vowed never to lose vacation days again. When Jack returned to his practice, he emailed us that he had never felt more focused and productive in his life.

Still not convinced? A vacation is the sure cure for burnout; it's therapy for your heart, mind, and soul. There's plenty of scientific proof. Just ask Mel Borins M.D., author of Go Away Just for the Health of It. He says the lack of regular vacations is likely a contributing factor to America's rate of heart disease. Listen to Dr. Susan Biali, a physician who cites studies showing frequent vacationers often live longer than those who don't break away from life's routine. People who took "multiple vacations, up to five a year, had a 32% lower death rate from all causes," says Dr. Biali.

Back to the Browns and our chance meeting at the diner. Jotting down the name and phone number of the Swiss cousins she'd never met, the pastor's wife made us promise to call her relatives next time we were in Switzerland. We not only phoned family Knecht, but were invited to stay with them for three days. As we picnicked in a flower-studded alpine meadow, we raised our glasses to toast the Browns. We felt sure a Swiss dream holiday was soon in the works for them.

After returning to Atlanta, we made plans to meet the pastor and his wife in July. "We've gotten our passports and are ready to make our first trip across the big pond," gushed Mrs. Brown. "We're so excited, and we can't wait to hear all about Switzerland!" On July 11th we headed to the diner early to set up our laptop slide show. "Where's Mrs. Brown today?" Wendy asked, seeing that Rev. Brown was alone. There was a long pause. Then tears trickled down his flushed face. "My dear wife passed away in her sleep two weeks ago," he sobbed.

It was a wake up call that hit hard. There are way "too many places, yet too little time." The benefits of vacationing seem even more precious the older we become. Travel is by far the world's best medicine and greatest education. Each stamp in a passport symbolizes keen insights and new friends on the planet we share. Jump back into life revitalized and grateful. Give yourself the ultimate gift: put your vacations on life's front burner. Catch the travel bug!

~Ann Lombardi & Wendy Swartzell

The Trip Chicks®

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Three Dumb Things People Do To Mess Up Their Trips (Apologies, Dr. Laura)

You're stoked about your vacation. It's way overdue, and this time you're sure things should go without a hitch. But wait...Yes, many great travel experiences are full of serendipity. However, too many curve balls can mess up a trip royally. Here are three things to avoid before you even leave home:

1) The "Everything But the Kitchen Sink" Syndrome

Of course you love those lavender stilettos and new snorkeling fins, but will you really use them on your hiking trip to Austria or your cruise to Alaska? When in doubt, leave it out. Your luggage can be your vacation ball and chain, keeping you from enjoying free and easy travel. It's a pain to pull a muscle, miss a tight train connection, fork out luggage surcharges, or spend hours tracking down a checked bag lost en route, all because you allowed your heavy luggage to hold you hostage. Less is more. Trust us!

2) The "I Didn't Get Around to It" Trap

Time is indeed the most precious of commodities in today's fast-paced world. We need to take our vacations to restore balance, to feed our hearts and souls, and to escape from routine. Besides, vacations are good for health. Yet far too often, our time off becomes just a P.S. in our lives, relegated to the back burner of life's priorities until the very last minute. That's when the trouble starts. A little planning and a handful of research go a long way to ensuring a fairly smooth trip. Don't fall victim to "Before we left, I just didn't have time to...a) reconfirm our flights, make sure our seat assignments are still intact, and print our boarding passes b) make copies of the hotel and car rental confirmations c) check our passport expiration dates d) confirm whether or not we need a visa for the country we're visiting e) make sure that special museum is open the one day we hit the city f) verify rail schedules to see if the day trips are really doable from our base town g) read the weather forecast for our vacation spot h) ask the neighbor to collect our mail, water the plants, check our house in our absence, etc. Save yourself the stress. A trained travel agent can help you. Make a short list of what to do and what to know before you go. Start checking things off little by little. Then you'll be able to kick back and enjoy your getaway worry-free.

3) The "I'll Sleep Longer, Eat Better, Drink More H2O, Exercise More When I Get There" Myth

No you won't. Start now. It's probably not a smart idea to pull three back-to-back all-nighters before a long flight to New Zealand, or even a shorter one to L.A. for that matter. Rest up before you go. Break in those cool new shoes. Your feet will thank you for it. Run around the block and briskly go up a flight of stairs with your packed suitcase in tow. It's a quick fitness test. Get in reasonable shape several weeks before you head out. Start hydrating days before your flights. Sure you might have to get up from your airplane seat more often, but drinking plenty of water is great for your skin. It helps you beat jet lag and keeps you regular too. Yep. A rested, nourished, fitter person is usually a more content, easy-going traveler, and a heckuva lot more pleasant to be around in transit and on vacation. Now, let's see if WE too can just practice what we preach next time we leave home! :) Happy travels.

~Ann Lombardi & Wendy Swartzell
The Trip Chicks®

Sunday, April 11, 2010

On the Sneak in Switzerland

We Trip Chicks always say that the best vacations are packed with serendipity. Ok, I admit. Together, my business partner Wendy and I are a solid travel team, but me solo? For some strange reason whenever I set out on my own, I always seem to attract more than my fair share of (mis)adventures worldwide. This time, on a visit to the peaceful Swiss countryside, I was itching to prove everyone wrong. Yes, for once I'd have an incident-free holiday in the heart of Europe.

At the end of a taxing bike tour to the Czech Republic, Wendy dutifully headed home with our cyclist group while I made a beeline for Switzerland. I was sure it'd be an ideal refuge for my travel-weary bones. And anyway, how could I possibly pass up that tempting farm vacation program in the catchy Swiss Tourism brochure? Never mind I was an American city-slicker. Visions of creamy chocolate, contented cows in rich green pastures, Edelweiss, and pristine glacial lakes swirled in my head. I deserved a break. So, I rushed in the Zurich booking office and plopped down the finder's fee. Then I scooped up my host family's address and hopped a train to the country for a taste of rural life.

Rolf and Ruth Springer welcomed me into their 400-year-old farm house nestled high in the hills of a tiny village, a stone's throw from the German border. And the farm? It was the place of tourist dreams: happy dairy cows with huge bells and over-sized udders, and a lively menagerie of horses, pigs, sheep, hens, goats, cats, and pooches. There were rows and rows of cherry and apple trees bursting with fruit, manicured gardens full of organic veggies and homeopathic plants, and each weekend, the best homemade hazelnut carrot cake this side of the Atlantic. "Idyllic?" There had to be a better word. I'd died and slipped through heaven's pearly gates.

The worn wooden floors with secrets of centuries creaked musically with every step we took in the old house, especially during midnight kitchen raids. Bowls of homemade honey yoghurt, pitchers of fresh cider, and crunchy loaves of bread were impossible to resist. Oooh, that bread....Mondays and Fridays were hands down my favorite days of the week. Just like Swiss clockwork promptly at 9 a.m., the heavenly scent of fresh wholegrain loaves baked in the wood-burning oven began to float lazily through every room.

I had found my "inner farm girl." Quite frankly, I didn't even miss usual creature comforts like central heating or private bathrooms. Dear Mom and Dad would have been so proud. I quickly mastered the evening task of stoking the fire in my very own bedroom furnace and heating the nifty mini-pillows stuffed with cherry pits. On the brisk early September nights, they kept my feet toasty under a fluffy goose down quilt. "What a perfect way of life," I smiled each night as I drifted off to sleep.

Well, life was pretty close to perfect...except for one ever-so-slight annoyance. The otherwise normal Springers were hell bent on ironing, pressing anything remotely resembling fabric. Their obsession included the meticulous ironing of every piece of clothing worn by their army of children: 14 of the rascals to be exact. Naturally, I got stuck with the dreaded chore. Who ever heard of ironing farmer denim coveralls destined for work in the stall, or heaven help us, bed linens? Now this was going way overboard with the Martha Stewart thing! To my credit, I never once complained. Channeling my grandma, I reminded myself that hard work builds character.

One afternoon on a gorgeous autumn Tuesday, I plotted to finish my ironing duties in record time. "No more numb hands and fingers for me today!" I thought. Nor was I about to stay cooped up in the house with such beautiful weather beckoning me outside. I sang tunes from "The Sound of Music" as my ironing picked up speed. About halfway through one massive pile of clothes, something caught my eye. I spotted three pairs of the fanciest, skimpiest men's underpants I had ever laid eyes on. Maybe you California folks might know the kind I'm talking about. But in the deep South, no red-blooded American male I know would be caught dead wearing a pair of tiny, low-rise Euro-style briefs. And that black nylon mesh, like a net ready to snare a big catch of fish, for jockey briefs?? No way! Definitely off limits for studly Southern guys.

I immediately guessed the fancy underwear had been hidden inside the festively-wrapped birthday present a giggling Frau Springer had given her hubby a few days before. Sure, I might be a domestically challenged city gal, but still I realized instinctively these underpants were special. It was plain as day to me they weren't meant to be ironed. Carefully folding all three pairs in the precise Swiss manner I had been taught (in thirds, with the fronts facing up), I gently put the undies at the far end of the ironing board. The picture of concentration, I felt pleased at how much I now knew about the fine art of household chores.

Next came Leo's turn. He was the family's always playful, borderline hyperactive St. Bernard. Somehow I sensed that dog exactly knew whenever he bounded in out of nowhere, he'd scare the bejeevers out of me. With impeccable timing, he succeeded once again. This time was tragically different. The ugly scene that followed is forever emblazoned in my middle-aged mind. Mein Gott! I'd knocked over the scalding iron! And bull's had hit the prized skivvies dead center. I froze in sheer horror.

A dense cloud of billowing, stinky gray smoke jolted me out of my shock. My first impulse was to bolt. Regaining my composure, I managed to unplug the hissing iron. Then I sprinted to the kitchen to grab a spatula. Frantically I began scraping the bottom of the smoking metal menace. After five minutes of panic and furious scraping, I realized it was hopeless. A sticky glob of melted charred nylon was plastered underneath the iron. Even worse, the underpants were welded together at what used to be three distinct crotch areas.

Then and there, I made a very wise decision. I decided not to breathe a word of the minor mishap to Frau Springer. I could always confess to her later, but the timing had to be right. A far safer strategy would be for me to wait until after I had purchased a brand new iron along with three pairs of skimpy underwear. The hunt in a neighboring village began. Thankfully, Lady Luck took quick pity. Within 48 hours of my little accident, I scored identical replacements. Somehow I just never got around to fessing up. Why spoil a vacation? Ignorance is bliss. My two weeks on the farm whizzed by.

The last day of my stay, while I reminisced and packed my bag, there was a knock on my bedroom door. It was Mrs. Springer, holding a pink box inscribed "To Ann, our unforgettable American visitor." Touched by the surprise farewell gift, I unwrapped the package. The family's present to me was a colorful scrapbook decorated with pictures of alphorns, cheese wheels, St. Bernards, and hardy farmers in traditional Swiss costumes. I peeked inside the album. On the very first page, Mrs. Springer had thoughtfully placed.... a sketch of a smiley-faced iron engulfed in smoke...and a neatly-glued black chunk of Herr Springer's fried underpants.

~ A true tale by Ann Lombardi

The Trip Chicks

You too can have an adventure like this! For info on farmstays in Switzerland and worldwide, check out:

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tiptoe Through the Tulips in Springtime Netherlands

Almost every year since 2000, we have happily pedaled through stunning tulip country in the Netherlands with our equally happy bike and barge tour groups. In recent years we've started scheduling our Holland flower trips earlier in the season to increase our chances of catching the glorious Dutch flowers blooming in the fields.

Though prime tulip season used be mid-May (and of course, you never really know with Mother Nature), now we advise our cyclists to travel with The Trip Chicks to the Netherlands by the end of April. Keukenhof Garden in Lisse is wonderful, and due to staggered planting, the tulips there bloom longer than in the open fields. Still, there's really nothing quite like the breath-taking magic of a Dutch bike route along rainbow-colored tulip fields as far as the eye can see. It's a scene that can make even the most straight-laced of travelers get teary-eyed at the sheer beauty of it all.

What about the barge itself, converted from a Dutch freighter? It's a cozy floating hotel typically with a crew of three to eight, along with an experienced multi-lingual Dutch tour guide. The guide, thankfully, is also a bike mechanic for those rare instances we need one along the way. Each morning after breakfast on the barge, we pack a picnic lunch. Then we head out with our bicycles while the barge chugs on to the next port. Not a cyclist? Not a worry! The crew is delighted to have a few extra willing hands on board. Those who prefer to stay on board for the day usually reach the overnight stop an hour or two before those who pedal. That gives the "advance team" a chance to explore a bit and share great finds with their biking shipmates.

Before meeting up with our boat, cyclists take in the peaceful green countryside and tidy Dutch neighborhoods, complete with carefully-manicured gardens, miniature windmills, and windows peeking from behind Dutch lace curtains. En route to our port, we make both scheduled and serendiptous stops, enjoying a scenic picnic, a visit to a working windmill, cheese farm, or maybe a medieval town or two. Of course, on each trip there are always a few cyclists who sneak off, on the daily hunt for the best Dutch apple pie in the province before hopping back on their bikes.

We reach the barge just in time for tea/coffee with tasty desserts. Then most of us grab a quick shower or stroll before the hearty dinner cooked up by our crew. To cap off our memorable day, sometimes our Dutch guide offers to lead us on a leisurely walking tour of the town. A bike and barge trip through cycling paradise - the land of wooden shoes, windmills, Droste chocolate, Edam and Gouda, and the welcoming Dutch - is hard to beat. What a perfect way for the young and the young-at-heart alike to experience the Netherlands at its best!

Happy travels. Tot ziens!

~Ann Lombardi & Wendy Swartzell
The Trip Chicks

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Lucky Shot in the Heart of Cheese and Cow Country

After 25+ years of travel and over 80 countries under my travel belt, you'd think I would have perfected my photography skills. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Every once in a while though, by a stroke of luck I happen to be in the right place at the right time.

I snapped this colorful shot last September during the annual "Cheese-Sharing Festival" in the village of Sigriswil, Switzerland. It's a tiny place in the heart of Swiss cheese country called the Juestistal. After a summer of happy grazing high in the mountain pastures, the cows decked out in huge bells and sporting garlands of flowers in their horns, parade down the mountain to signal the end of another successful cheesemaking season. Earlier that day way up in an alpine meadow, farmers distribute their season's cheese wheels as crowds gather to enjoy the fresh mountain air, yodeling, music, cheese snacks, and other local festivities.

Whenever The Trip Chicks bring our rail groups to Switzerland, we always try to spice up the tour by adding a tradition folk event to our trip. For many of our travelers, the market or festival ends up being the highlight of their stay. For more info on our favorite alpine nation, check out Switzerland Tourism's helpful site: Click on the "events" tab. You might be surprised at all the neat things happening the very same time you're on vacation in Switzerland.

Happy travels!

~ Ann Lombardi
The Trip Chicks

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tantalizing Turkey

Like us, you've probably traveled to Europe countless times. It's a culturally diverse continent to which we return time and time again, a user-friendly destination within the comfort zone of most American travelers. So, at the end of our Bike Bulgaria adventure, I was all set to go back to some old familiar European stomping grounds...until I peeked at a map and pinpointed Turkey, gateway to Eurasia. Bordered by eight countries, it seemed like an excellent choice for a serendipitous place to visit after our Bulgaria adventure.

We were dead on with our decision. Now I can't wait to return to this magical country of sensory overload. If you're yearning for something different to cap your European travels, don't miss Turkey. In an upcoming post, we'll share our top tips along with a few of our travel tales from the land of the Ottoman Empire. Until then, keep on traveling in 2010!

~Ann Lombardi
The Trip Chicks