How to Deal with Travel Agents When Booking Your Honeymoon

I chatted with a good friend of mine earlier this week about her upcoming honeymoon in Italy and Spain. Since she and her fiancé are still finalizing the details of their wedding, her mom suggested that they contact a travel agent who specializes in Italian travel to help with the honeymoon planning, so they did.

The problem is that my friend wasn’t blown away by the agent’s suggestions thus far, and now she isn’t sure if working with an agent was the right decision. Another related issue that they’re having is that my friend and her fiancé really like the idea of planning their own honeymoon, and it’s hard to put that responsibility into a stranger’s hands. She wanted to know what I thought they should do: continue working with the travel agent, or just plan things on their own.

italy honeymoon

A lot of people think that travel agents are obsolete these days, but I don’t necessarily agree, especially for those who are stressed out with simultaneously planning other major events (SUCH AS WEDDINGS). However, hiring a professional is not the right decision for everyone. I’ve already blogged about why I think that working with a travel agent can be a smart move for certain couples, but here are some additional tips for those of you who do decide you want to hire one:

  • Try to find a travel agent who specifically plans honeymoons for people in your age group. Agents oftentimes get the majority of their business from older folks and retirees (whose interests are much different than young newlyweds), so you’ll be happier if you work with someone who will understand your priorities.
  • Tell the travel agent as much as you can about the honeymoon you’re envisioning, and be as specific as possible. This includes  your preferences for your accommodations, activities you’re interested in, and especially your budgetary restrictions. You can also let them know how much of your trip you actually want planned.*
  • If you’ve been referred by a friend, let the agent know that, but also make sure to explain if you and your friend have different tastes or budgets.**
  • Unhappy with the first itinerary that your agent shows you? Speak up! You’re paying them to plan the best trip possible for you, and they should revise your itinerary accordingly (multiple times, if necessary). Do not feel obligated to accept a cookie-cutter trip that doesn’t seem personalized to your interests.
  • Using your travel agent’s itinerary is not an all-or-nothing proposition. For example, our agent’s original itinerary included our flights to/from Asia, but we found a much better deal on kayak.com, so we told her we’d just book those flights ourselves.
  • Still unhappy after lots of revisions to the itinerary? It’s okay to say “thanks but no thanks,” and just lose your deposit. In the long run, you’ll be happier that you lost a couple hundred bucks but your honeymoon was awesome.

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Real Honeymoon: Canadian Rockies

That’s right, this is Peonies to Palm Trees’ very first real honeymoon from the Great White North! This week’s real honeymooners had a great time driving all around the Canadian Rockies, and it just goes to show that you don’t need to fly halfway around the world and spend a small fortune to to enjoy an awesome honeymoon. Read all about their fun Canadian honeymoon below, eh?:

When and where did you honeymoon?

We travelled to the Rockies in southern Alberta, right after our wedding in July 2013.

We flew into Calgary, and spent a few days in Banff, followed by two nights in Calgary (for the Calgary Stampede).  We then did a day trip northeast to Drumheller (dinosaurs!), then went back to the Rockies, staying in Canmore for another two nights (where mostly townies and winter athletes live), and then Jasper (after driving through the Columbia Icefields).  Finally, we finished the trip with two days in Lake Louise.

The itinerary wasn’t ideal geographically, but we did it this way to catch the Calgary Stampede (which ended in the middle of our honeymoon); plus, it was only about 4 hours of out-of-the-way driving.

canada honeymoon

How long was your trip?

Ten days, although we’d already been away for a week just prior for our wedding in the Maritimes.

canada honeymoon

How did you decide on your honeymoon destination(s)?

Our criteria were: 1. Somewhere we’d never been before; 2. Take advantage of summer in the Northern Hemisphere (i.e. we’d rather save a Caribbean beach vacation for February when we need a reprieve from Michigan winters); and 3. Not super far away.

This essentially left North America, north of 45 degrees or so, and Western Europe.  Since we’d both been to various parts of Europe relatively recently, North America it was.  Banff just came up as a pretty place that met all our criteria.

Canada honeymoon

The best part about our honeymoon was…

A tie between endless gorgeous mountains views, and watching the rodeo at the Calgary Stampede (which the Canadian one between us wanted to do since seeing it on TV as a kid). We had some ambivalence about cowboys riding bucking horses and roping calves, but it was still a fun cultural experience to have once.

calgary stampede

If I knew then what I know now, I’d change…

We would have probably come back a day or two earlier, both to save on cost and to have more time to settle back in at home after being away for three weeks.  (So much laundry to wash and presents to unpack and garden to weed!)

We knew Banff was a tourist town, but we were still blown away by how expensive everything was.  We wish we’d spent a bit less time there, and more time in the more chill and less yuppie Canmore, which was still pretty and had a cute, walkable downtown.

We also should have looked at the fuel gauge more often.  Luckily we found a gas station in the lovely, very small town of Carbon, only 11km off the “main” road on our way to Drumheller (dinosaurs!).  No pushing a neutral car required, although it was a tense ride, with as much coasting on the downhills as possible.

canada honeymoon

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Pre-Honeymoon Running Playlist

By no means would I consider myself anything even close to a fitness expert, but boy do I have opinions when it comes to running and workout playlists (and yes, there’s a difference). For plain old workouts and weight training, I like putting on the Robyn’s Pandora station or just playing Kanye’s All of the Lights on repeat. But for running music, it almost always needs to be either:

  1. loud punk rock
  2. hip hop that tells me to shake my ass, or
  3. pure guilty pleasure pop music

So if you’re looking for some good running music* to get you into honeymoon shape, here’s a playlist of my favorite running songs:

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* “Good running music” is totally subjective, and is not the same thing as “good music.” There’s a whole lot of bad music on my running playlist (e.g. multiple Ke$ha songs), but sometimes it’s so bad, it’s good.

How to Deal With Social Media During Your Honeymoon

Reading your Facebook newsfeed, posting a few pics to Instagram, and sending out a couple of tweets is a daily occurrence for most young people. But when it comes to your honeymoon, do you really want your memories to be primarily about how you were attached to your laptop or iPhone the entire time? Probably not.

I’m definitely not suggesting that going cold-social-media-turkey is the way to go during your honeymoon. In fact, social media can improve your honeymoon experience. There’s a fine line between using social media to your benefit without overdoing it and forgetting that you and your new spouse are on one of the most incredible vacations of your lifetimes. Thus, the following is my list of Honeymoon Social Media: Do’s and Don’ts:

DO use your down-time to untag unflattering photos from your wedding on Facebook. I’m not suggesting that YOU didn’t look fabulous, but I am suggesting that your friends’ smartphone photography skills are most likely pretty sucky. You don’t really want the world to think your wedding was a fuzzy insta-filtered mess, do you?

DON’T over-brag (example: OMG this is the most AMAAAAAAZING trip at the most EXPENSIVE resort ever with the hottest hubby in the WHOLE WORLD!!!! #lovehim #bigpimpin #spendincheese + 10 photos of you frolicking in your swimsuits). Yes, your friends and family are (probably) very glad that you’re happily married and enjoying your honeymoon, but they’re most likely sitting at their desks at work while they read your Facebook newsfeed. Don’t push it.

DO reach out to friends to ask for travel recommendations, especially if you didn’t get the chance to do so before you left on your trip. Feel free to ask people you know who’ve been to the destination before about what restaurants and activities they really liked. (If you still need a hotel rec at this point though, you may not have planned enough. Yikes.)

DON’T over-post. Even if you’re doing it in a humble way, you don’t have to share every interesting thing that happens to you* or gorgeous tropical sunset as it happens. Wait until you can properly edit and aggregate all of the best photos and post them as an album instead.

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Real Honeymoon: Greece & Italy

In search of gorgeous scenery and delicious food, Sarah and Charlie honeymooned in two of the most popular European destinations: Santorini and the Amalfi Coast. Read all about their amazing honeymoon in Greece and Italy below:

When and where did you honeymoon?

For our honeymoon, we went to Santorini, Greece and the Amalfi Coast in Italy.

SantoriniHotel

How long was your trip?

We were gone for 12 days. We arrived in Santorini in the morning, stayed there for 5 nights, and then we flew directly into Naples and split our time in Italy: 3 nights in Ravello, 3 nights in Positano and 1 night in Naples (we had a super early flight).

Ravello Honeymoon

How did you decide on your honeymoon destination(s)?

We had a hard time picking our honeymoon. It was between Greece/Italy or Africa. I know- huge difference. We decided on Italy/Greece because we really wanted to use the time to relax, go to the beach, and eat good food. We had both been to Italy but not the coast, and neither of us had been to Greece so we were excited to visit these places for the first time together. We both love to cook and learn about food, so we felt like this was perfect for our hobby. We decided we would save Africa for some time down the road when we’re not coming off the heels of a whirlwind wedding weekend!

Santorini honeymoon

The best part about our honeymoon was…

This is hard since we went to two different places!

– The best part of our honeymoon in Greece was a day on a catamaran sailing around the island. We used Santorini Sailing to set up our trip. We were on a catamaran with a few other couples and one couple with their college-aged son. Not only was it a beautiful day at sea, but it was so fun to meet people from different countries. Everyone on the boat came from somewhere different: Canada, New York, England, and France. On the boat they grilled up some fresh calamari, served some amazing fresh salads, pastas, and meat dishes- all authentic greek food.

Santorini Honeymoon

– Our favorite part of our Italy portion was our cooking class. We went to Mamma Agata’s Cooking School, definitely a highlight of our trip!! We spent the day learning to cook the best eggplant parmesan I’d ever had, lemon cake, pastas, and other dishes that were so delicious. In between breaks, we were able to take our wine and walk around their gardens where they grew all their fresh vegetables. It didn’t hurt that they view looked over the Amalfi Coast. The class was full of other honeymooners which made it really fun. Afterwards, we went as a group to visit the Terrace of Infinity — the view was astounding.

Ravello honeymoon

If I knew then what I know now, I’d change…

We spent our last night in Naples because we flew out of Naples, connected in Rome. We had a car pick us up at our Positano hotel at 5:30pm to bring us to Naples because we didn’t want to leave! Our driver told us he often brings people from Positano directly to Rome. We realized that we could have had one more night in Positano, and left really early to make the same flight. I wish we could have had the extra night there because I got sick on that portion of the trip, so we missed out on a couple restaurants I was looking forward to trying.

Positano Honeymoon

How much planning did you do in advance?

We did a good amount of planning in advance. I knew a few people who had done Amalfi or Santorini for their honeymoons or vacations, so my first step was to reach out to people I knew. I always like getting an opinion from someone I know/trust rather than hitting trip advisor. I also looked at Travel and Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, etc. for suggestions. We did find out about the cooking class through trip advisor- the reviews were insane, it was a no brainer. We found out about the sailing trip through a girl from college. I saw her honeymoon pics on Facebook and immediately emailed her for all Santorini suggestions, same with my boss who had just visited that previous summer. Word of mouth was really important to me because I know how I trust. (I wish I had this website to turn to–I love hearing about people’s trips!)

Santorini Windmills

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Honeymoon Anxiety: What to Do When Choosing Where to Go Gets Too Stressful

I have some friends who always knew where they were going to honeymoon.  They’d dreamed about Greece/Tahiti/Italy for so long that when the time came to actually start planning their trips, they wasted no time at all booking flights and reserving hotels.

I, on the other hand, was not one of those people. My husband and I had NO IDEA where we wanted to honeymoon, so long as:

  1. it was warm,
  2. it had great beaches,
  3. it was far away, and
  4. neither of us had been there before.

In the months leading up to our wedding, we bought Lonely Planet books for Mauritius, Belize, and Venezuela. I emailed friends about the Maldives, Bali, and the Philippines.  I even remember having a random dream about honeymooning in Malta, of all places. In other words, I was ALL over the map, and it really stressed me out.

travel books

So many options!!!

Eventually one of my husband’s coworkers suggested that we at least talk to her travel agent, and I’m really glad we did. She was a huge fan of Bali herself, and she suggested we combine that with Vietnam, a country that I wouldn’t have even considered for my honeymoon. After we decided WHERE we were going, I could finally start feeling excited about it.

If you are having difficult deciding where to go on your honeymoon, here’s some advice:

  • Make a list of your travel priorities. What’s (honestly) most important to you about your honeymoon? (e.g. warm weather, sticking to a budget, having lots of activities to choose from, good food, etc.)
  • Take that list of priorities, and then organize it by how important each item is to you. (Again, be honest!)
  • Consider the time of year you want to honeymoon, and eliminate destinations that are not ideal.  (Or if you are considering visiting a destination during low season, make sure to read this post.)
  • Once you’ve narrowed it down, feel free to email me your destination shortlist, and I’ll give you my opinion :) Don’t forget to mention your travel priorities though, so I know what sort of trip you are looking for.
  • If you get stuck between two destinations, considering combining them into your ultimate multi-moon.

However, the MOST important advice I have is to just keep in mind that you’re going to be happy wherever you decide to go. Sure, there are lots of great destinations out there, but there’s no rule that your honeymoon HAS to be the absolutely most amaaaaaaaaaaaazing trip you ever go on, I promise!  Don’t put too much pressure on yourselves just because this trip is the “all-important honeymoon.”  A honeymoon will be the most sentimental/expensive/exotic trip you ever go on only if you choose to make it that way.  Believe it or not, you can still plan plenty of other great non-honeymoon trips in the future ; )

One of the reasons why I chose to write this post this week is because I’ve been corresponding with someone in the  UK about where she should go on her honeymoon. The other reason is that I’m still hemming and hawing over where to plan our own big trip of 2014 now that Brazil is out of the cards. Even I still need to remind myself (all the time) that I shouldn’t really stress about where we plan our trips. Whether we go to Ecuador, Malaysia, or somewhere that hasn’t even crossed my mind yet, it’s going to be great.

Real Honeymoon: Costa Rica

My best friend Alice and her husband Jason did a mini-moon in Carmel in 2012 right after their amazing wedding at Carmel Valley Ranch, and decided to go on a longer honeymoon over their one year anniversary.  Alice loves traveling as much as I do (and has been everywhere), so we had lots of long discussions about where would be the best November destinations for their trip.  Finally she and Jason decided on an incredible itinerary in both the Philippines and Hawaii.

Fast forward nearly a year later, Alice sends me a headline about a super typhoon headed straight toward the Philippines — uh oh.  They had to act quickly and re-plan everything, and even though it wasn’t the honeymoon they were expecting, Alice and Jason had a fantastic time in Costa Rica.  (A Jay-Z and Beyoncé spotting at their hotel didn’t hurt either.)  Read all about their awesome Costa Rica honeymoon below:

When and where did you honeymoon?

We honeymooned in Costa Rica in November 2013. During our trip we stayed in two areas– near the Volcano Arenal for the first part, and on the Pacific coast at Playa Papagayo for the second part of the trip.

costa rica honeymoon

How long was your trip?

Our trip was two full weeks, from November 14 – November 28.

costa rica honeymoon

How did you decide on your honeymoon destination(s)?

We planned our honeymoon to be on our one year anniversary in November, and originally had everything set for 2.5 weeks in the Philippines and in Hawaii. Due to the “super typhoon Haiyan” that hit 5 days before we left, we decided to not continue with our original honeymoon plans for that destination. As a result, we planned a last minute honeymoon in Costa Rica because it had great beaches, activities, and very importantly, good weather :)

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We ended up splitting the trip up at 2 locations- The Springs & Spa Resort in Arenal (inland part of Costa Rica) and the Four Seasons at the Peninsula Papagayo for the beach.

(If anyone is curious about a honeymoon-oriented trip to the Philippines, I am happy to provide details on our plans to travel to Manila, Boracay, and Oahu).

costa rica honeymoon

The best part about our honeymoon was…

Can’t narrow it down to just one, but top three include:

  • Exploring the natural hot springs at our first hotel, The Springs & Spa Resort in Arenal (where they filmed episodes for The Bachelor). It was great being able to stumble upon various natural pools and springs throughout the entire property.
  • Experiencing the wildlife overall– river tubing and seeing a snake, golfing at an amazing course and running into anteaters and spider monkeys, hearing an angry gorilla in the forest during zip lining, and having an iguana run across my foot (ok that wasn’t ideal).
  • Lounging by the pool/beach and reading lots of books. After everything with shifting and re-planning the trip last minute, it was pretty amazing just relaxing with piña colada in hand.

costa rica honeymoon

If I knew then what I know now, I’d change…

We would have split the trip more evenly between the two destinations we stayed at. We spent 4 nights at the first hot springs/Arenal hotel, and then 10 nights at the Four Seasons. During our planning the week before, we had received a deal where we got every 5th night free at the Four Seasons– and as a result, we shortened our stay at The Springs & Spa Resort. Because the Four Seasons is very remote and almost everything has to be done on the property, we would have balanced the trip out more despite room credit, etc. from the Four Seasons.

costa rica honeymoon

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