10 Important Airport Hacks You Need To Know For Busy Travel Days

If you are flying during any busy time, from the holiday season to regular busy days/hours the key to avoiding stress and making it to the other end unscathed is to utilize these professional traveler, tried and tested airport travel hacks.

1. Always Check In Online

Checking in online 24 hours prior to your flight gives you several advantages. You are less likely to be bumped from your flight and you will already have your boarding pass. When you arrive at the airport unless you are checking a full sized suitcase you can move straight to the TSA checkpoint.

Airlines will let you gate check oversized bags for free, so you can save yourself $30 checked luggage fee by doing it at the gate.

2. Arrive Early

You may be able to get away with arriving later for flights during non-busy times, but during high traffic periods plan on arriving at the airport 2-3 hours early. The most stressful parts of flying on busy travel days are getting stuck in long lines either at check in or at the TSA check point. It doesn’t hurt to have some extra time up your sleeve – worst case scenario you have a coffee or something to eat once you have gone through the TSA check point.

3. Use The TSA App

Use the TSA app to see how long the wait times are. If they are looking excessive you can leave home earlier than planned.

4. Pack Your Carry-On Properly

One of the reasons that TSA gets so backed up is that travelers don’t think ahead when packing their carry-on luggage.

image via Smartertravel.com

If you don’t have TSA pre check you know up front that your liquids and laptops will have to be taken out of your bag before going through the x-ray machine. Save yourself (and everyone else) time and aggravation by having your liquids/skin care/makeup products packed together in see through bags packed at the top of your carry on.

RELATED POST: HOW TO PACK A SUITCASE LIKE A PRO

5. Be Ready For TSA

Another reason that lines get so backed up at the TSA checkpoint is travelers arriving not ready to proceed through.

*If you don’t have TSA Pre Check be sure to wear shoes that slip on and off easily.

* Remove all jewelry, belts, small change from your pockets, jackets, hats, scarves prior to entering the TSA line. Ideally do this before you leave home, and put on belts and jewelry after passing through the xray machines.

*Have your bags and coats ready to go through the xray prior to getting to the front of the line.

If you watch frequent flyers/professional travelers you will see that they have all of this thought out and prepared prior to arriving at the checkpoint.

6. Turn Left

Most people are right handed, so after having their I.D and boarding pass checked they turn right to the x-ray machines. The lines are always quicker to the left.

7. Bring Snacks

On busy travel days and busy flight times the lines at the terminal snack bars can get long. It is much easier and less stressful to bring your own snacks and just proceed to the gate.

RELATED POST: HOW TO LOOK FABULOUS AFTER A LONG FLIGHT

8. Bring A Phone Charger

Always arrive at the airport with a fully charged phone and a fully charged phone charger. You can’t rely on their being power socket/charging stations available, and even if there are phone charging ports at your seat on the plane there is no guarantee they will be working.

9. Bring A Refillable Water Bottle

Bring an empty water bottle and fill it at a filling station once you have cleared TSA. Should you encounter delays you will be glad you did!

RELATED POST: SUBSCRIPTIONS THAT MAKE GREAT GIFTS FOR TRAVELERS

10. Gate Check Bags

Most domestic flights now are fully booked which means they run out of overhead bin space. Save yourself the hassle of wandering up and down the aisle trying to find space for your carry-on bag by checking it at the gate.

There is no fee for gate checked bags and they get walked directly down to your plane, so unless you have a connecting flight you can be relatively certain your bag will arrive when you do.

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8 Exciting Places You Need To See While On The Amalfi Coast

If you are planning a trip to Campania chances are you are just thinking about Capri and the Amalfi Coast, and maybe a quick jaunt into Naples. Problem is, these are the places that everyone goes to, which means the crowds can be brain-bendingly overwhelming.

There is much, much more to see and do in Campania than just the big tourist spots. Whether you want to take a half day or day to do something different, or whether you may want to add an extra few days to your Amalfi Coast trip, here are 8 places to consider when planning your trip to the Amalfi Coast.

Be sure to read to the end as you probably haven’t heard of 6 through 8!

1. Caserta

The Palace at Caserta
The gardens and palace of Caserta

If you enjoy visiting European palaces this one is a must see. Built to rival Versailles, Caserta is the largest palace in all of Europe. Like Versailles it is a gaudy display of too much gold, over the top frescoes and somewhat crass excess, all of which make it completely fantastic!

throne room at Caserta
The Throne Room at the Palace of Caserta

Rent a bike and explore the beauty of the garden and fountains which extend 3.5 kilometers in front of the palace, have lunch in the café and explore the royal apartments.

Caserta Palace

One thing I learned while there was how fascinating Marie Carolina was. Her well known sister Marie Antoinette gets all the attention, but Marie Carolina was a tremendous character, much, much more interesting. This was her palace and her story unfolds throughout the royal apartments.

staircase caserta
The staircase leading up to the Royal apartments at the palace of Caserta

RELATED POST: THE ROYAL APARTMENTS AT CASERTA

The palace at Caserta is a quick and easy train ride from either Naples or Salerno.

2. POMPEII, HERULANEUM AND OPLONTIS

While in the area of Naples and the Amalfi Coast take a morning to visit the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum and Oplontis

If you are not familiar with these incredible sites these are the ruins of three towns taken out by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The towns vanished from the face of the earth for 1700 years.

POMPEII

Pompeii

Over the centuries when people tried to find the fabled Pompeii they looked along the coast line, as it had been a port city but the eruption of the volcano moved the ocean 2 kilometers out to sea. Pompeii was discovered in the 18th century when a farmer inland had been digging for a new well.

Pompeii streets
Some of the first pedestrian streets were discovered in the ruins of Pompeii

Pompeii is Italy’s most unique archaeological site, its 109 excavated acres giving us a snapshot of 1st century Roman life.

RELATED POST: 18 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT POMPEII

wealthy home in pompeii
Remains of the home of a wealthy family in ancient Pompeii

I recommend visiting in the morning at opening time (8:30am) as for much of the year Pompeii gets overwhelmingly hot. Be sure to wear good walking shoes and a hat and bring a water bottle to refil at the fountains staggered around the site.

RELATED POST: THE BEST SANDALS TO WEAR IN EUROPE

statue in bathhouse in Pompeii
Holding up the roof in the thermal bath house in Pompeii

I suggest doing Pompeii first as this will give you insight into the life of 1st century Romans, their social structure, the absolute genius of their technological innovations, and the devastation caused by the eruption.

Herculaneum

Herculaneum/Ercolano is only 3 stops away on the local train (the Circumvesuviana) and makes an incredible second excavation to visit.

ruins at Herculaneum
Herculaneum

After seeing the destruction of Pompeii, much of which was crushed down to one level, Herculaneum lets you experience the multi storied homes replete with their red Pompeii style frescoes. Resplendent in its own right, this site is jarring also because it gives you greater insight into the way Pompeii would have looked up until the day the volcano blew.

herculaneum frescoes

Herculaneum is about 1//3 of the size of Pompeii, and rather than being an important merchant port city was a luxury resort town for wealthy Romans, so features more elegant villas than commercial buildings.

boathouse caves at herculaneum
The boathouse/caves at Herculaneum

The caves at the beach level are filed with skeletons. When Vesuvius erupted the people of Herculaneum were certain rescuers would come by sea, so the women and children were waiting in the safety of the caves while the men waited on the beach.

skeletons at herculaneum

Unfortunately for all of them a pyroclastic current of trapped gases at a heat of more than 500 degrees Fahrenheit (and up to 900 degrees) blew their way, instantly vaporizing their bodies.

Their instant death meant they were in fact luckier than their neighbors in Pompeii who suffocated and in many cases took multiple hours to die.

OPLONTIS

From the 1st century B.C Oplontis was a super elegant suburb of Pompeii where the uber-wealthy had their country villas. As with Pompeii it disappeared for 17 centuries and was only rediscovered in the 18th century. There is just one villa is open to the public, but it is spectacular and well worth the visit.

Villa di Poppea

Villa di Poppea, Oplontis
The Villa di Poppea in Oplontis

Poppea Sabina was Emperor Nero’s second wife. This is thought to be her villa due to an amphora with the name of her freedman and a vase with her mark on it being found on the grounds.

This is actually the largest Roman suburban villa ever discovered and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, largely due to the sensational frescoes. This villa is enormous, with  large portico opening to gardens lined with statues, a swimming pool, loads of rooms, passageways and cubicle as well as a kitchen still recognizeable.

frescoes in Villa di Poppea, Oplontis
Frescoes inside Villa di Poppea

One of the most extraordinary features of the villa is the wealth of frescoes and mosaics all remaining in situ rather than having been carted off to a museum somewhere.

villa poppea frescoes
Frescoes inside Villa di Poppea

Interestingly there is no sign of life here at the time of the eruption. Some of the statues were found on a storeroom, suggesting that perhaps the villa had been closed up for renovations after the earthquake of 62 A.D

Villa Poppea, Oplontis
Villa di Poppea, Oplontis

3. Procida

An alternative to the frequently overcrowded and always expensive island of Capri is the delicious little island of Procida. Almost completely off the tourist radar this one is a weekend getaway for the people of Naples, but with the exception of August the streets are delightfully empty. So try to come here on a weekday if possible.

Procida
Procida

Procida is one of the most colorful places on earth. As you arrive into its little harbor your eyes don’t know where to land – all the fishermen’s homes lining the seafront are painted in bright pastel hues, the sunshine sparkles off the sea, which like the sky is a completely impossible shade of blue. Procida is visually stunning.

This tiny island is part of the Flegrean island chain, off the coast of Naples. The island is between Capo Miseno and Ischia, and occupies a mere 4.1 square miles. Its history dates back as far as the 16th century BC with Mycenaean objects having been discovered there, although the first known settlers were Greeks in the 8th century BC.

More than 30 movies have been filmed here including Il Postino and the Talented Mr. Ripley.

RELATED POST: JUST ONE DAY IN PROCIDA

If you take a day trip to Procida be sure to wander the waterfront and the streets of the Marina Grande, then head over to the back side of the island. Walk along sun-bleached little streets (but watch out for vespas zipping around) and head to Marina Corricella for lunch. This darling fishing village was one of the locations in Il Postino.

A variety of eateries line the waterfront, picturesque with fishing boats bobbing at their moorings, fishing nets lying out to dry and colorful buildings all around. Lunch here is authentic, inexpensive and wonderful. I recommend having a long, leisurely lunch with a view, then having a swim before heading back to the mainland.

Procida is easily accessible by hydrofoil from Naples.

4. Salerno

Another absolute treasure lies at the bottom end of the Amalfi Coast, the lovely medieval town of Salerno. Not only a wonderful place to take a day trip to, Salerno is also a tremendous place to base your Amalfi Coast trip.

historic center of salerno
historic center of Salerno

With train access (including the high speed AV trains) you can move around much more easily than if you are staying in any of the towns along the coast road, yet still have ferry access to the entire coast and Capri.

early morning in Salerno
Early morning in Salerno

The crowds, tour buses and cruise ship travelers don’t come here, (well, maybe a few small cruise ships do, but not the monsters that invade the rest of the coast)so you can wander around freely, enjoying the beauty, the history, the ambience.

If you stay in Salerno the local nightlife is infectious. Everyone comes out at night to enjoy a glass of wine and see friends in the cafes and bars dotted around the piazzas and the picturesque little streets. The restaurants are fabulous – I love evenings in Salerno.

RELATED POST: GLAM ITALIA TOUR IN SALERNO

Along with the castle, the Duomo, the medical school (the first in Italy, it dates back centuries) and the medieval town center, another benefit to staying or visiting Salerno is that it is the gateway to the beautiful Cilento region.

5. PAESTUM

Only 30 km or so south of Salerno you will find one of the coolest and most un-touristed places you have never heard of, the Greek temples at Paestum.

The 8 best preserved Greek temples in the world are in Southern Italy. Five of them are in Sicily, the other 3 are here in the former town of Poseidonia, now known as Paestum.

2500 years ago this was part of Magna Grecia. Greece sent its young men out to discover and conquer new land. Southern Italy and Sicily were hot favorites, benefitting from amongst other things, incredible Greek architecture. Be warned that these three temples are breathtaking.

Temple Hera 2 Paestum
Temple Hera II also known as the Temple of Nettuno

I love arriving by car (you can also get here by train) because as you drive through the countryside surrounded by open fields and buffalo mozzarella farms, these 3 giant temples erupt up out of nowhere. And they are truly magnificent.

Paestum Hera 1
Temple Hera I also known as the Basilica

Built in 550 B.C, 500 B.C and 480 B.C the temples of Hera, Athena and Hera II are in unbelievably good condition.

Paestum at Sunset
Sunset in Paestum

RELATED POST: THE GREEK TEMPLES AT PAESTUM

Also still in place are a heroon, a pool and various other structure dating back to the Greeks.

The temples are surrounded by the remnants of a Roman town. Romans loved Greek architecture so instead of pulling it down opted to build around it. Roman roads, houses and apartment buildings can still be seen here. If you have been to Pompeii and understand the layout of a Roman home, you will appreciate being able to walk inside the ruins and identify the front and back doors, the views from the homes as well as their layouts.

mosaic floors in ruins on ancient roman homes in Paestum
Mosaic floors still remain in the ruins of the Roman homes at Paestum

As if that weren’t enough, the cats eyes and mosaic floors are still intact. Not a cigarette butt, coke can or McDonald’s wrapper inn sight – it is all just here for you to enjoy.

If at all possible try to be here at sunset – it is just unbelievably beautiful. Also noteworthy are the famous roses that bloom here in the spring, famous since antiquity, bathing the temples in their gorgeous perfume and draping the area in even more beauty.

6. VELIA

If you enjoy seeing really ancient sites and are in the area, not too far south of Paestum there is another treasure, the town of Velia.

Velia, Cilento
Velia

Velia (originally named Elea) was founded around 540 B.C by Phoenicians from Corsica who fled the island after a brutal battle with the Etruscans ad Carthaginians. The town had a long period of economic prosperity as well as being an important cultural center. Home to philosophers such as Parmenides who founded the Philosophical School of Elea in the 6th century B.C, and Zeno, who was around in the 5th century B.C

The Romans took over in 88 B.C. The citizens of Elea were recognized as Romans but were allowed to maintain their Greek language and customs.

Porta Rossa, Velia
The Porta Rossa in Velia

Things to see here include the monumental Porta Rosa gate. Dating back to the 4th century B.C it is thought to be one of the only intact monuments of the ancient world. It is perfectly preserved too, cut blocks of volcanic tufa perfectly placed together without the use of lime to hold them in place, reaching a height of 6 meters. Interestingly it is the only example of a rounded arch in Greek architecture to be found in Italy.

The gate leads to an ancient road and paved steps that take you down to one of the town’s 2 ports.

In the other direction from Porta Rosa there are 2nd century Roman baths, and a lovely town square.

Greek Theater Velia
Greek Theater in Velia

The acropolis has a medieval church sitting atop a Greek temple, and just below it a small theater dating back to the 3rd century B.C.

Also to be seen here are remains of ancient homes and frescoed buildings.

7. BADIA SANTA MARIA DI PATTANO

Not far from Velia you can find the best preserved Italo-Albanian monastery in Southern Italy, the Badia Santa Maria di Pattano. Although the first known mention of this site was in a document dated to 933 A.D it is thought to be much older.

Badia Santa Maria Di Pattano
Badia Santa Maria di Pattano

The complex is noteworthy for its church of Santa Maria, an example of Angevin architecture with polygonal apses and ribbed groin vaults. The bell tower is one of the most ancient Early Middle Ages bell towers in Southern Italy. Standing 15 meters tall it may have been built in stages, because it has 5 different decorations, making it fascinating from an artistic point of view.

CHurch of San Fidelfo Badia Santa Maria di Pattano
Church of San Fidelfo Roman ruins

The Church of San Fidelfo was built on top of Roman ruins. (A thermal structure can be seen under a glass floor.)

Byzantine frescoes at Badia Santa Maria di Pattano
Byzantine fescoes in the church of San Fidelfo

The interior walls are decorated with some amazing Byzantine frescoes, in my opinion, alone they make the trip worth while.

8. THE CILENTO COAST

Cilento Coast Italy
The Cilento Coast

If you are not one for stone beaches, the crowds, high prices and overly manicured visage of the Amalfi Coast, this could be the area for you.

Cilento coast
Cilento Coast

Stretching 65 miles from Salerno to the Tyrrhenian coast of Basilicata, the Cilento coast is a beautiful alternative. With sandy beaches; pristine, clean ocean, affordable accommodation and dining options, this stretch of coast is authentic, a little erratic and the antithesis of the Amalfi Coast. Don’t expect glitzy hotels or the lamorous posturing of the uber rich, instead think of ancient port towns with the local fisherman still taking their boats out at dawn and fishing with handmade nets.

Cilento
Cilento

Break your days up with mornings spent discovering ancient Greek and Roman ruins, lunches in quaint little piazzas and afternoons on the beach.

Some of the towns to look for:

Agropoli, the largest town in the area can be a great place to base yourself.

Agropoli cilento
Agropoli

Only 15 minutes away is Castellabate. The castle ruins and the views of the ocean are fabulous, as is the main piazza. Although pretty tiny it is buzzing with cafes, a wine bar and restaurants.

castallabate cilento
Castellabate

Acciaroli is a lovely little seaside village you won’t want to leave.

Acciaroli, Cilento
Acciaroli photographed by Antonio Vaccarini

Interestingly it is known for the longevity of its inhabitants, with around 300 centenarians wandering the streets, 20 percent of whom have reached the ripe old age of 110!

Pioppi is another lovely seaside village. Ancel Keys lived here for 28 years studying and living the Mediterranean diet.

Pioppi Cilento
Pioppi

Palinuro is yet another beautiful coastal village with a rugged but spectacular coastline broken up with sandy beaches, the ruins of a medieval castle, a blue grotto – it has a lot to offer.

Palinuro, Cilento
Palinuro

Chances are you will want to run away here…

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8 cool places to see while you are in Amalfi

How To Get The Best Gelato In Italy

If you are traveling to Italy anytime soon (or ever!) there are 3 things you can pretty much guarantee you will eat at least one time while you are away.

Pasta. Pizza. Gelato.

Some people are lucky enough to have a digestive system and a metabolism that lets them run wild with all three, others of us have to be selective as to how many times we can indulge while away. Whether you fall into the once only category or the multi times per day group, you have to make every time count.

Today we are talking gelato, Italy’s answer to but 1000 x better than, ice cream.

lemon gelato in Capri Italy
Lemon gelato in Capri. Not to be missed!

So what’s so hard about ordering ice cream you say? Well, there’s a little more to it than meets the eye.

It Starts With Where You Buy Gelato

This is in my opinion the most important factor when getting a gelato.

With tourism being so huge in Italy (it is one of the most visited countries in the world) gelato chains started popping up everywhere. Mass made, factory made ice cream with added color, added sugars, added God-only-knows-what. Chain store gelato doesn’t taste as good and can be so over sugared that it bites the back of your throat. As authentic as a Big Mac and with a provenance and nutritional value equally as questionable, these are not the places to buy gelato in Italy.

Their gelato either ships in frozen or is made from a packet. This is not the gelato you traveled across the world to eat!

Gelato franchises/chains are always scattered through the high tourist areas and are generally very close to major tourist attractions. If you have read my book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) then you already know to avoid tourist trap eateries of any kind!

RELATED POST: HOW TO ORDER COFFEE IN ITALY

Always Buy Artiginale

Everywhere you go in Italy you can find fantastic, artisanal or artiginale gelato shops. These are owner operated stores where gelato is made freshly each day from fresh ingredients. The taste, texture and quality are superb. Think of it as chain store gelato being like eating Kentucky Fried Chicken versus artisanal gelato being like fine dining. Technically both will fill your belly but the experience is drastically different!

Buon Gusto artiginale gelato in Pienza Italy
Inside Buon Gusto gelateria in Pienza, Italy

Artisanal gelato flavors tend to be only what is in season. You won’t find strawberry year round.

Some artisanal shops only make a handful of flavors each day. In Pienza my friend Nicola’ from Buon Gusto makes only 6 flavors per day. When I take my Glam Italia Tour groups to Pienza I have learned to take them to his store when we first arrive, because we only spend a few hours in town and everyone always wants to go back for another gelato before we leave!

Explore the Flavor Profiles

Artiginale gelato shops offer some really fascinating flavor combinations. Don’t order the flavors you do at home – try something different! Look for things like raspberry and rosemary, peach and sage, figs and honey.

RELATED POST: HOW TO MAKE ITALIAN COFFEE IN A MOKA

They always offer samples so you can try before you buy. I find the more unusual the flavor combination (unusual to us, quite normal to them) the more amazing the gelato is. I always try anything with lavender, sage, basil or rosemary as they give such a fantastic flavor to gelato.

strawberry gelato italy
Gelato made with strawberries and basil.

On one of my tours one of the travelers tried orange,carrot and spinach gelato, the thought of which wasn’t overly enticing, but it was so incredibly good we all ended up going back and ordering one!

Gelato from Buon Gusto in Pienza
The one in back is the spinach and carrot gelato. As awful as it sounds it was actually sensational!

Mix It Up

Can’t decide which flavors to order? Try a scoop each of two or three!

Don’t be surprised if they refuse to pair the flavors you want or if they look at you funny. They get so invested in their creations and your taste experience is so important to them that sometimes they won’t want to put two flavors side by side.

gelateria Teatro, rome
white peach with sage and raspberry with rosemary gelato at Gelateria Teatro in Rome

One time in Sorrento a gelato guy refused to give me 2 flavors together. It was pretty funny! I couldn’t decide between the two so in the end he gave me 2 separate cups each with one flavor, then told me which one I was to eat first. He wasn’t being a jerk, it was because he didn’t want me thinking his gelato flavors were bad.

I go back every time I’m in Sorrento, which is multiple times per year, and now he just chooses two flavors that play nicely together for me. And I feel no guilt at having two scoops either, because the walk up the hill to the apartment I rent there is savage, so I’m convinced I burn it all off on the way home…

RELATED POST: HOW TO USE THE TRAINS IN ITALY

How Can You Tell If It’s Artiginale?

Most artisanal or artiginale gelato shops will proudly post signs saying they are artiginale/artisanal. You can also just google artiginale gelato near me and get walking directions, invariably just around the corner from where you’re standing!

An easy way to tell if gelato is artisanal or not is to just look at it. Chain store/mass made/made from a packet gelatos tend to have punchy, bright colors, whereas artisanal gelato colors tend to be more dull.

artisanal pistachio gelato in Volterra, Italy
Real pistachio gelato will be a slightly dull shade of green

Gelato made with fresh strawberries will be a slightly dull pinkish hue, whereas mass market strawberry gelato will be bright pink. Another one to look for is pistachio, a flavor you will find year round. Artisanal pistachio gelato will be a dull, mossy or grey/green whereas mass market pistachio will be a vibrant green.

Have you read my books yet? Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) and Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things to Do in Rome: Beyond the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps are both available worldwide in paperback and on Kindle and the Kindle App. Both books are bestsellers and will change the way you experience travel in Italy!

Look For Locals

The best gelato shops are like the best little local eateries – heavily populated by Italians. Watch where they go, and buy your gelato there! Sometimes you will see long lines of people stretched out across the piazza waiting to buy gelato. At Dondoli Gelato in San Gimignano the lines get crazy long and sometimes stretch beyond the well in the middle of Piazza Cisterna, but the gelato is award winning and is definitely worth the wait. Funnily enough the café across from it also sells gelato and never has a line. Those in the know prefer to wait and have the good stuff.

This tends to be a really good sign, unless it is a bus tour and that’s where the tour guide told them to go. Bus tour groups are generally easy to spot though – if everyone in line looks like a tourist, this is not the place for you to be!

If you can’t spot a good gelato shop don’t worry – ask a local. There is always a good gelato shop close by.

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