How to Get Nearly Half Off Your First Airbnb Reservation

If you’re planning to travel anywhere anytime soon and haven’t checked out Airbnb yet, now is the time to make it part of your plans for accommodation at your destination! When you join through our exclusive referral link, you could receive nearly half off your first Airbnb reservation over $75.

You read that right. If you sign up using our referral link you’ll get $40 off your first booking of $75 or more. Find a deal for just around $75 and this exclusive discount can end up being as much 47% off your first stay at an Airbnb listing (excluding taxes and fees of course). Make sure to use the link above to sign up for Airbnb, and the $40 credit will be automatically applied towards your first reservation and will appear on the checkout page of any reservation worth $75 or more.

Now that’s a pretty awesome reason to check out Airbnb right now for vacation rentals, homes, places to see, and EVEN experiences in your destination city.

6 Great Paris Hotels Near the Eiffel Tower Under $160 Night

If you’re planning a trip to Paris, France soon or it’s on your travel bucket list, here are six hand-picked hotels near the Eiffel Tower where you can catch a glimpse of it’s light show every night.

Mercure Paris Tour Eiffel Grenelle

$140 / Night: A stay at Mercure Paris Tour Eiffel Grenelle places you in the heart of Paris, minutes from Champ de Mars and Eiffel Tower. Featured amenities include complimentary newspapers in the lobby, dry cleaning/laundry services, and a 24-hour front desk. Planning an event in Paris? This hotel has facilities measuring 161 square feet (15 square meters), including meeting rooms. Self parking (subject to charges) is available onsite. Get more info on this hotel»

Plaza Tour Eiffel Hotel

$156 / Night: A stay at Plaza Tour Eiffel Hotel places you in the heart of Paris, minutes from Palais de Chaillot and close to Eiffel Tower. Featured amenities include a computer station, complimentary newspapers in the lobby, and dry cleaning/laundry services. Get more info on this hotel»

Beaugrenelle Tour Eiffel

$86 / Night: With a stay at Beaugrenelle Tour Eiffel in Paris (15th Arrondissement), you’ll be minutes from Statue of Liberty – Paris and Eiffel Tower. Featured amenities include a 24-hour front desk, multilingual staff, and luggage storage. Get more info on this hotel»

Hotel du Cadran

$140 / Night: With a stay at Hotel du Cadran (Ex Valadon Colors) in Paris (7th Arrondissement), you’ll be minutes from Army Museum and Eiffel Tower. Featured amenities include dry cleaning/laundry services, a 24-hour front desk, and luggage storage. A shuttle from the hotel to the airport is provided for a surcharge (available 24 hours). Get more info on this hotel»

Hôtel Gavarni

$92 / Night: A stay at Hotel Gavarni places you in the heart of Paris, minutes from Palais de Chaillot and Eiffel Tower. Featured amenities include a business center, limo/town car service, and complimentary newspapers in the lobby. Get more info on this hotel»

 

Eiffel Rive Gauche

$81 / Night: A stay at Eiffel Rive Gauche places you in the heart of Paris, minutes from Champ de Mars and Eiffel Tower. Featured amenities include a business center, complimentary newspapers in the lobby, and a 24-hour front desk. A roundtrip airport shuttle is provided for a surcharge (available 24 hours). Get more info on this hotel»

 

 

5 Tips on Visiting Morocco from a Solo Female Traveler

So you want to go to Morocco? Good choice! I had always had a dreamy fascination and idea of the small, northern country of Africa. It was full of bright colors, flavorful foods tied to deep traditions, and a culture so completely opposite from my own. Morocco was an alluring destination I had had on my bucket list for awhile, so to celebrate my 26th birthday, I booked a tour for my first ever international solo trip. After spending about a week and a half around the country, here are a few tips I feel are useful:

1. Morocco is Safe, Yes, even for Solo Travelers.

Now a lot of people have it in their heads that traveling to a predominately Muslim country is “unsafe,” especially for a solo female traveler. However, even though I stuck with a tour group pretty much my whole trip, I felt just as safe as I did at home in Texas. As far as safety goes, it pretty much comes down to common sense. If you use common sense to guide you with smart decisions, then you should be relatively fine. It goes for any major city in the world:

  • Don’t go out alone at night (just asking for trouble)
  • Respect the culture’s traditions, rules and etiquette (for example: explore the country with shoulders and knees covered, it’s respectful of Muslim religion and culture, as well as a way to avoid unwanted stares.)
  • Learn a little of the languages most commonly spoken (Locals are usually willing to help if they can, but also appreciate if you try using their language, which in Morocco happens to be French and Arabic. There are tons of free phrase books apps to help with this!)
  • Haggle like a local (When it comes to taxis and souvenirs, you’ll most likely be charged the “tourist” price, therefor haggling shows your confidence and desire to engage in the culture.)
  • Be careful where you aim your camera or phone (I once took a picture of a cool doorway to a market in Casablanca and failed to see a police officer in my shot. He thought I was taking a picture of him, which is not allowed, and asked me to delete the photo. With the language barrier, it was a bit of a scary situation to have a cop chase you down. Also, a lot of people don’t like cameras in their face, so be respectful and ask for permission when wanting their picture.)

2. Try Tagine, One of the Most Traditional Dishes of Morocco

There are all kinds of tagine, and honestly it’s hard to avoid eating this iconic dish where ever you are in Morocco. Each region has their own version of the plate, but my favorite was the Berber Tagine. Berber refers to the older tribes of the Atlas mountains. Typically, tagine consists of vegetables (zucchini, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots), a meat (beef, chicken, lamb), and a variety of local herbs like cinnamon, saffron, ginger, cumin and paprika. Olives, which grow in many regions of Morocco are also a usual addition, as are preserved lemons. You’ll also sometimes see fruit, like apples, prunes and dates added to varieties of tagine.

Tagine, also the name of the clay pot the dish is cooked in, is generally made of red clay. They say the best tagine is one that hasn’t been glazed, so that each time you cook, the flavors seep within the clay and add flavor to the next time you cook. The way it works is similar to that of a dutch oven. A tagine has 2 parts: a base and cone-shaped lid with a hole at the top. As steam rises to the top of the lid, it condenses and falls back down, allowing the contents to stay moist and juicy. The top hole allows you to add water when needed.

Of course, if you’re going to try tagine, you’re most likely going to try it with another Moroccan staple, Moroccan mint tea.  Funny enough, I learned that Moroccan mint tea was actually adopted from Britain and China. The green tea itself is imported, but Moroccans added their own twist by adding fresh mint leaves and a load of sugar cubes. You can expect, if you are served by a local, for the tea to be extremely sweet.

3. Take a Camel Ride in the Sahara Desert

This was by far my favorite part of the trip. We drove out to the edge of the desert in Merzouga, climbed onto our camels, and rode out to a campsite among the sand dunes. When we first arrived, a few of us climbed the sand dune directly behind our tents, which was no easy task. After assuming we were going to pass out and die numerous times, we finally reached the top to a rewarding view of the last hints of sunset and the moon rising. It lit up everything, and gave the usual copper sand a very milky tone. Once back down, we were served traditional food and drink and participated in some regional music with drums a few locals brought. It was a pretty magical night filled with great company and no worries.

We got up the next morning before dawn to ride out and see the sunrise. This was one of those moments you never forget, and for me, I knew it as soon as I breathed in the chilly, quite morning air and saw the first traces of pink and yellow in the sky. It was one of those moments you truly feel alive and present. Even the little grunts of our sleepy camels made that moment perfect. As touristy as it was, it was authentic Morocco to me, and I definitely recommend it.

4. Visit the Small Villages in the Atlas Mountains

From traveling north to south in Morocco, we drove through the Atlas mountains. Don’t get me wrong, I love a big city with all it has to offer, but the small villages have so much more authenticity when it comes to learning about a culture. I love mountain ranges, and the Atlas region was full of beautifully colored mountains and rolling hills layered with pinks, greens, blues, you name it. It was also fascinating to pass by real-life nomads. They still exist. These people live in portable small communities in the mountains and their valleys. Most of them are farmers and sheep herders. It was a step back in time realizing how different their lives were from mine, free of the drama and complexities our societies deal with today. In fact, this is something I envy Morocco of very much.

We stopped in Todra Gorge and Ait Ben Haddou along the way. Even though these were pretty touristy sites, we never ran into crowds. We were able to walk around and soak in the feel of local villages. Unlike America, these people were very community oriented and tradition-driven. It was pretty quiet, and some places even had sketchy electricity. You didn’t really find TVs anywhere or anyone with their eyes glued to their phones. Most people spent their time participating in religious affairs, building or crafting their goods to sell in the market and visiting with neighbors. People were always pretty friendly, but kept to themselves for the most part. It was a simple way of life I really appreciated and respected.

One thing to take advantage of while traveling to exotic places like Morocco is talk to the locals, hear their story. It was so much fun being able to discuss cultural and political differences with our tour guide, Mohammed and everyone else in the tour from other countries. We covered everything from what Moroccans thought of the Trump election, to the fact that it was a rarity to find a woman cop. I enjoyed learning about all these new friendly faces and feeling a little bit closer to the world as a whole. It’s one of the best things about travel. Because you can get so drowned out in the mundane conversations at home, it was nice to be able to have deep conversations about things that really matter.

5. Buy a Moroccan Rug From a Local Cooperative.

As much as I had wished to bring home a huge Moroccan rug, they’re quite a pain to take back unless you can afford to ship it home. I ended up finding a decent-sized one that I hung on my wall for a pretty good price, thanks to some tag-team haggling skills. First tip when wanting to buy a rug: don’t go alone! Rug dealers can be bullies, and if you don’t have a strong backbone, you’ll pay a lot more than you should. It helps when you know your money is going somewhere useful too. We dropped into a women’s cooperative in one of the small villages we stayed in.

Because Morocco is still pretty far behind when it comes to women’s rights, most Moroccan women don’t have many choices when it comes to jobs or careers, especially in small communities. A lot of the women weave rugs, a family tradition handed down by generations. Typically, styles and designs differ by region, as do materials used to create these masterpieces. A lot, like the one I bought, were varied in materials like sheep hair, camel hair, and even cactus silk. The dyes are all natural, coming from items like turmeric for yellows and indigo for blues. The most intriguing part was that no rug was the same.

These women would create intricate designs in their head and just start weaving. The money they earn from selling their rugs allow them to send their kids to school and put food on the table. FYI if you buy a rug at a market in a big city like Casablanca or Marrakesh, it’s most likely factory made, so avoid convenience and get good quality! Plus, a lot of these women depend on it for their livelihood. If you’ve never haggled before, this is a great chance for practice! It took a friend speaking in Italian, pretending to be my aunt and some sad puppy eyes before we got the price of my rug down enough. Rug dealers are tough salesmen, but expect you to haggle, so don’t feel bad.

Morocco is a great place to discover and explore if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary. Get the most of out your experience by completely immersing yourself in the culture and getting outside your comfort zone. Places like this are a wonderful reminder of what life is really all about: living in the moment and reflecting on all the wonderful things life offers .

Feel free to reach out if you have any questions on my experiences or would like to share your own. 🙂


Katie Bernal, Austin Contributor

Katie writes for Mezze Weekly in Austin. She has a lifelong relationship with travel after she began traveling with her grandmother and uncle at 8 years old. 25+ countries later, she’s grown a deep affection for immersing herself in anything multicultural, especially food. She believes her spirit animal is Andrew Zimmern, and will definitely try anything weird or exotic. She’s big into the Austin foodie scene, and enjoys tasting and rating the latest restaurants. You can follow her foodie journey through her food blog. Along with her love for food and travel, you’ll also find Katie taking local art classes, cooking, taking pictures, thrift shopping, working out, or hanging out with her cat, Pumpkin. Currently, she’s a sound engineer for a post production studio that works on TV, radio and film. Check out what she’s up to on her Facebook and Instagram.

 

Tips for Eating Well in Belgium from DC’s Chef Bart Vandaele of Belga Café

If you’re planning a visit to Belgium, take these tips from Chef Bart Vandaele of DC’s Belga Café. A native of Belgium whose worked under renown chefs in Belgium, and served as executive chef for European dignitaries in the U.S. capital, Chef Bart is a master of Belgian cuisine. In fact, after opening his flagship restaurant nearly fifteen years ago he became known as ‘the Belgian guy’ for putting Belgian food on the map in the area.

Belgian ingredients are literally based on down-to-earth cooking, Chef Bart shares and why he implements this down-home cooking at his restaurant. “I call it down to earth because literally it’s food that’s very closely connected to your backyard in Belgium. It’s your chickens or rabbits, or if you’re close to the sea, it’s mussels and scallops, and root vegetables, those are essential. It’s really about the cabbage, that Brussel sprout, and the potato—the potato for example is really big, there’s no meal without the potato.”

Brussels Sprouts at Belga Cafe | Facebook

It was during our recent #MezzeTravel Twitter chat, Chef Bart shared among the best things about Belgian culture expressed through food is that Belgium is the land of the good life. Food is Belgian culture, a type of friendship, with warmth, a feast, and way of life.

During the chat, he also shared that Belgian food can be characterized regionally, for example, in the northern coastal region of Flanders food is centered around the fish and mussels, and in the South, the region of Wallonia it’s about the hams, wild game, and essentially winter fare that are a must-try. Popular things to eat in the capital city of Brussels include traditional street foods and down-to-earth classics like mussels, carbonades or stews, frites or fries, and of course, famed Belgian waffles.

Moule Frites, Mussels and Fries at Belga Cafe | Facebook

When it comes to Belgium’s classic dishes, ingredients are like a circle of life and presentation is just a part of it, he believes. “[The food] is like a fashion and things are coming back, and that’s why you have tradition to reference. If the dish doesn’t endure it’s a fluke; if it doesn’t become tradition then it’s not really part of the culture. Real tradition lives in the books from the 1970s, for example, and things will come back if they’re truly part of the culture. A time is coming when people will come back to tradition, the values of food.”

If you’re wondering how to discern a truly Belgian food experience, Chef Bart advises that qualities of Belgian cuisine start with the culture and look at tradition. It is in that same vein that he develops his own menu for his restaurants, Belga Café and even the more contemporary B Too. He says it’s important to maintain definitive characteristics while keeping the dish relevant to modern times.

“You look at classic recipes, and if they have endured they’re there to be referenced, restudied, redone,” so that the main ingredients are essentially drawn forward generation after generation. If it wasn’t for the creative process of bringing forth tradition, he wouldn’t be a chef.

Belgian-style Shrimp, with butter and garlic at Belga Cafe | Facebook

But, if you’re out wondering the popular streets of Brussels where countless tantalizing menus and even tourist-catching photographs on signs vie for your attention, don’t get too caught up in the fleeting visuals. Like it is at Belga Café, to eat well in Belgium is, “really about the food and the love that was put into it, not about the fringes and décor on the plate—that comes and goes,” Chef Bart shares.

“It’s the meat and potatoes, that love in it, that stew you make, that people eat over-and-over again. That’s tried and true tradition really. You can tweak, to make [a dish] lighter in summer or heavier in the winter, but the recipe itself because of its tradition will endure.” He means that though inspiration is found to innovate Belgian dishes, there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed for classic recipes to remain, and to maintain their warmth and heart.

Braised lamb with papparadelle pasta at Belga Cafe | Facebook

At Belga Café, for example, DC-area patrons will find traditional dishes like Brussels sprouts deep fried and prepared with bacon and topped with gobs of yogurt sauce, as well as steak tartare that’s prepared classically and served with cornichons, capers, but rather than just onions and raw egg yolk, Chef Bart’s version features fried onions and a fried quail egg.

Among Chef Bart’s favorite Belgian food and drink include, Een pintje or a little pint of beer like Stella Artois, Duvel or Brugse Zot, fries from a sidewalk friet stall, shrimp croquettes, and the Flemish dish Waterzooi, a stew dish made traditionally with fish or more commonly now, chicken. For the sweet-tooth Chef Bart enjoys famed Belgian chocolate and the Liège waffle, Belgium’s tiny, traditional and rich caramelized sugar loaded treat.

Belgian Beef Tartar at Belga Cafe | Facebook

If you’re near DC, stop into Belga Café to try some common dishes from the sidewalk café of Brussels like traveler-favorite Moules Frites, mussels and fries, but also very quintessential Belgian dishes like Pappardelle Met Gesmoorde Lams Shouder, a plate of braised lamb shoulder with pappardelle pasta and herb butter, tomatoes and a red wine sauce, as well as Vlaamse Stiverij Met Frieten, a Flemish beef stew with Corsendonk Brune sauces, Belgian fires, mayonnaise, and braised red cabbage.

Chef Bart Vandaele Shares 6 Ways to Experience Belgium Like a Belgian

When it comes to experiencing Belgium, Chef Bart Vandaele of Washington DC’s original Belgian restaurant knows a thing or two. He grew up in Belgium before moving to the U.S. twenty years ago. Known as a master of Belgian cuisine, he specializes in Belgian food and beer, having cooked for European dignitaries in Embassy row and even appeared on Bravo TV’s Top Chef.

Today, Chef Bar is at the helm of several DC restaurants, including Belga Café his flagship Belgian eatery in DC, alone the restaurant features a vast collection of over 100 beers on the menu which we wrote about here. In a recent interview and #Mezzetravel Twitter chat with Chef Bart, we asked him what were among his favorite things to see and do in Belgium and what travelers could take away about Belgian people and culture.

If you’re planning a trip to Belgium soon, here are six ways Chef Bart recommends travelers experience the country like a Belgian.

1. Pay attention to the details of local life.

For Chef Bart Vandaele, the best thing to do in Belgium for him is revisiting things he’s seen and was familiar with growing up in Belgium. Take, for example, the highest point in Belgium Signal de Botrangewhich he’s seen countless times. “Sure, you’ve been there on a trip as a school kids, but it’s different each time—or, to just drive around through the town you grew up in or that your friend grew up in, and then think to yourself ‘Hey, that street wasn’t there, or this changed, or not,’ that’s how I like to experience Belgium,” he shared.

 2. Don’t be in too much of a hurry.

When it comes to things to see and do, one of the things Chef Bart encourages travel enthusiasts to do is to simply sit. It’s one of his favorite pastimes in Belgium. “Visiting too much is never good. Taking the time to sit at the table and talk to people—sitting at a sidewalk café and just watching people or talking to the people who sit next to you and observing. Belgians are really focused on nothing and a lot at the same time,” he laughs.

 3. Rent a bike.

“Belgium is small, it’s fun. It’s not like you have a long journey to go most anywhere, and you can literally go from café to café, and see people passing by with their bikes,” he shared.

4. It’s normal if you don’t have a favorite city.

What Belgian city is Chef Bart’s favorite? He can’t pick just one, but Antwerp, Ghent and Brugge are among his favorites for wonderful reasons. Located in the most northern Belgian region of Flanders, Antwerp is his favorite Belgian city for its shopping and museums, and Ghent for its food, and simply strolling around. Brugge is a favorite for its pleasant outdoor dining, and of course Belgium’s capital city Brussels is on his list for its rich history and delicious and famous waffles.

5. Extravagance can be a way of life.

For people who travel and like to take souvenirs, we asked Chef Bart what spirit about the Belgian people should travel enthusiasts take with them. His answer: happy people with a love for Belgian food and beer.

Essentially, taking back with you a bit of the Burgundian lifestyle. Burgundy is a region in France but the phrase has its meaning in Dutch (that requires a history lesson), but it simply translates to a flare for ‘enjoyment of life, good food, and extravagant spectacle.’ To us, this means Belgians like to have the best time life can give.

6. Maintain a fun-loving spirit.

In the capital city, Brussels, for example the people have a fun rebellious spirit, one personified in Brussels famous Manneken Pis. Take this small bronze statue near town hall of the “little pee man,” in Flemish, which has a varied story of origin. Not just famous with tourists, the people of Brussels simply adore it and celebrate the statue as part of annual festivities—even replacing the water stream with beer on occasion!

Chef Bart tells us that, locals from Brussels are also especially proud of its sprouts, and that a stop in the capital city isn’t complete without a visit to the Atomium, which boasts a restaurant at the top of its fifth sphere. Quite the extravagant building.

What’s certain, I think, is if you’re planning a trip to Belgium you’ll have a really good time. You’ll surely find the culture of Belgium to be rich and beautiful, a wonderful place to travel, easily experienced through its easy-going people, and you’ll easily carry a lot about Belgium back home with you.

Chef Carlos of DC’s China Chilcano Shares Favorites in Peru: Bonds of Food, Family and Diversity

Recently, we chatted with Chef Carlos Delgado, Head Chef of José Andres’ Restaurant China Chilcano about some of his favorite things to see or do in Peru, and what spirit about the Peruvian people and way of life travelers could take back with them.

A native of the district of Callao, along the coast west of Peru’s capital city Lima, and its main seaport, Chef Carlos grew up familiar with the attractions of the city. “I grew in the Port of Lima, so Lima itself is a food city and there you’re going to learn about the food and culture,” he shared.

IMG_0164 by Renzo Vallejo, on Flickr IMG_0164” (CC BY 2.0) by Renzo Vallejo

“[Visitng Peru,] You’re able to find everything in one country, and it’s a surprise to many people—from the Amazon Rainforest, to a coast full of beaches, and you even have the Andes Mountain Range and imporant historical sites like Macchu Picchu,” he explained.

Lima by Avodrocc, on Flickr Lima” (CC BY 2.0) by Avodrocc

Within an hour or two in the plane you’re not just transported from city to city, but rather visitors can almost literally be transported back in time to a way of life and social customs preserved for centuries in Peru’s small towns and regions. Even the way people have traditionally cooked and dressed for centuries, shared Chef Carlos. “What shines the most about Peru is the culture. The culture behind where the people are from and why they do things a certain way.”

Machu Picchu Inca Ruins by Image Catalog, on Flickr Machu Picchu Inca Ruins” (Public Domain) by Image Catalog

Although in cosmopolitan or urban cities like Lima most people wear western-style clothing, for example, in more rural areas or villages people still often wear traditional clothing based on their regional background. Many customs are fused with influences from pre- and post-Spanish colonial and native Incan traditions.

When it comes to the way of life of Peruvian people, travelers will notice how leisurely and united the spirit of Peru is. We’re so used to being busy here [in America], but in Peru the culture is more slow-paced, he explained. I can agree, in the U.S. its common culture to be driven by our work schedules. We usually only slow down when we’re on vacation, or take the opportunity to spend true quality time with family when we have the time to travel. Chef Carlos notes that in Peru this type of quality time is very much a part of everyday life. In fact, it’s these cultural values that Peruvian families share together that influence their children. Traveling to Peru, you’ll often see families working and just spending the day together.

Ladnscape_peru by michele_saad, on Flickr
Ladnscape_peru” (Public Domain) by michele_saad

“The kids are still doing things their parents did, and that their parents did. You go anywhere in Peru, or Lima for example, and you’ll see the mom and dad, sons and daughters out doing things as a family. Those kids are going to be able to have that under their belt or in their heads as expertise. Like me, I had no clue I’d come to America at the age of twelve, but knowing I was in love with cooking and that I wanted to do that in Peru, here when I was 15 I knew I wanted to be a chef.”

Feature Photo Credit: “Lima” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by antonde

5 Things You Should Forget for Truly Memorable Travel

When it comes to packing for a memorable trip, you’ll get tons of advice from people telling you what to bring with you. From the right clothing for the climate, to must-have travel essentials and gadgets, and let’s not forget everything related to logistics like the who, what, where, and when of sightseeing when you arrive at your destination.

What most people won’t tell you is how to absorb what you see and do in order to make the most of your trip. It’s up to you to decide how you’ll absorb your surroundings, but the purpose of this list is to give you some tools to help that you don’t even need to pack. Sure, travel feasts the senses, but what speaks to you and reaches your heart during the journey are much deeper than what you’ll carry in your bag.

Keep these 5 ideas in mind before any trip for a truly unique experience and profound memories after.

1. Forget to pack something

While you’re prepping for your trip, you’ll be tempted to come up with the ultimate list of clothing to bring with you. Consider forgetting a few things, you know, purposely. Packing a couple less shirts will encourage you to keep an eye out for replacements in your destination. You’ll know you need it, leaving your mind free to keep an eye out for a couple prized local pieces that’ll have a story.

2. Get out from behind the camera

Find a shop and buy a journal. A nice, locally handmade notebook is ideal, and then put pen to paper and write what your heart feels as a result of what you do and see, visually or in your mind’s eye. Think about what words and pictures describe your surroundings and jot or sketch them down. A locally-made journal also makes a great memento. You can even tuck keepsakes you find like pretty leaves or flowers between the pages.

3. Don’t learn too much before hand

Sure, you should learn ahead of time what piques your interest, but leave some room for your imagination. Once you get to your destination, pay attention to what makes you curious and then give into it. Do you see an interesting sign, a piece of art, or intriguing person sitting down at a cafe? Linger, browse or walk in. Whenever you feel a nagging feeling, that’s your heart telling you to explore.

4. Pick up on local customs

The best way to identify with others is to put yourself in their shoes. Do people take breaks at interesting times during the day, like a siesta? Take one, too. Do people eat meals earlier or later than you’re used to? Find out what’s customary in your destination and follow suit.

5. Remember that people are people

You might be tempted to spend your time in places where you see familiar attributes. If you let your heart guide you, you’ll end up in a unique shop or an eatery made up of locals, and you’re guaranteed to discover something you didn’t know you’d love. Every time you interact with someone new, or someplace new, you’ll find that while the gestures might be different, a genuine greeting is always recognizable.

The next time you’re traveling, remember these five ideas for a more memorable experience. When you remember to follow these tips, to keep an eye out for greater experiences than you’ve imagined, to get on their level and to identify with them, you’re bound to feed more than your senses.

6 Ways to Use What’s in Your Backyard to Beat Travel Barriers

It’s vacation season in the United States, but even so Americans are often led in our culture to believe that traveling is greatest when it’s a college rite of passage, or better yet, scheduled when we’re not busy at work—or best yet, a luxury to be enjoyed in old age.

Why? Because we’re taught that at any other point in our life, exploring so greatly is simply inefficient. We’ve been led to believe we don’t have enough money, time or courage to be curious about other people, or that travel is a hassle best for when it least disrupts us.

These are self-imposed cultural barriers. Now, here’s hoping the half of Americans with passports don’t mind elbowing their way through another 150 million peers who haven’t traveled abroad, but let me share 6 reasons why it’s important. Whichever half you fall into, when was the last time you took the euphoric plunge into something new?

If you haven’t ever or even recently stepped off a plane—or into your backyard—and into a different culture or country, then these 6 tips are for you.

Me, scared sh*tless until she saw the view with Europe’s tallest mountain behind her.

1. Change routines to put more time on your side.

Our American work culture makes it hard to take long vacations, and it’s easy to feel guilty or even too busy to be far away or out of touch for long periods. So, try changing the way you treat the time you have outside of work. Find unique ways to break away from the typical afternoon or weekend by getting to know the world through authentic cultural experiences locally.

Dream of the Caribbean? Start salsa lessons. Find out what you want to learn more about, and you’ll covet your free time. It’s up to you to live beyond the nine-to-five. Time can’t be saved, but it can be invested.

2. Examine activities that improve the value of a dollar.

If you’re constantly letting costs and logistics prevent you from experiencing new things, then you don’t know one simple truth. Logistics are a part of everything we buy, and by getting hung up on every little decision, you’d never buy anything. Look at the money you do have, and then a closer look at your philosophy for living life. Ask yourself if you’re fulfilled in your current lifestyle investments. Reevaluate what investments are truly worth your resources.

For $20 you can go to Cuba—try a Cuban restaurant nearby, ask the owners about their culture, and try some new flavors. These types of new activities can inspire you to travel with the money you do have.

Check out upcoming exclusive events for exploring cultures in Austin. More »

3. That’s it, take a couple more steps out of your comfort zone.

If unknown flavors and cultures pique your curiosity, but you aren’t courageous enough to be adventurous, take a deep breath in and ask yourself why. Then tell yourself that every person and place you know today was once a step outside of your comfort zone. What you enjoy eating and doing today was something you once tried for the first time. Friends and acquaintances, at one point were strangers to you.

To get to know the world, take a couple steps and start locally. If you saw a show on Mexico, then find the nearest Mexican restaurant. Explore your city for people and things from around the world that you’ve heard about; you just don’t know you’ll love yet. Do that enough, and you’ll realize just how small this world really is, and that your backyard holds a lot of it.

4. Use your passions to overcome your circumstances.

Our circumstances set easy stumbling blocks in the way of travel if we don’t examine them closely. What notions of the future may not be leaving any room for you to explore today? What you chose to do today may be leaving more exciting doors unopened. If you love coffee then stop settling for the chain, and find an authentic Italian café or coffee class nearby tomorrow. If you’re seeking triumph up the corporate ladder, take another minute break and keep reading.

As Americans, we need to stop graduating, working and retiring to travel. Don’t become complacent because of daily—or worse, cultural expectations. Don’t settle for chain coffee. Open a new door, and you’ll add cool memories and quality to your life starting today.

5. Look for people eager to share something with you.

Don’t just try a new international restaurant, salsa class or espresso bar. Step outside and now ask yourself what else you can’t do. As Americans, we are fortunate to live in a beautiful, vast and very diverse country. It could take a lifetime just to see all of the regional and geographic diversity of the United States alone. Make that a goal, but you don’t have to go far to experience our cultural kaleidoscope.

Nearly a quarter, over 80 million of us recently immigrated here. Open the eyes of your soul and you’ll start to see the wealth of experiences, destinations and people eager to share their talents, heritage and firsthand international experiences from abroad right in your own neighborhood.

When you travel to celebrate something, that feeds your senses. When you go somewhere for no reason, that feeds the heart. Cross the boundaries of your own city for something new and fun, and you’ll find that people smile in the same language.

6. You don’t know what you don’t know, so find it.

If you’ve got a global outlook on travel, you’re almost ready to go. Look around you first. People around you might minimize the importance of world travel because, well, they don’t know what they don’t know. To them, other people might seem scary, strange and unapproachable—because of what they have only perceived. By traveling you can help to dispel myths and break down these barriers.

Once you truly see the cultures and traditions, languages and faces around you, they are no longer left to your imagination. Maybe that’s why it’s been said that travel is the ultimate form of diplomacy. Get out there locally and find something new in your own backyard.

True triumph over travel barriers comes when we learn to value the experience—not after we return but before we step on the plane. By relishing in travel’s enriching authenticity beforehand, traveling is simpler. Americans can change our outlook on international travel simply by changing how we interact with the people, places and things that are all around us.

Go explore something new today.