TRAVEL.

Tour of Cinque Terre with CiaoFlorence

As a 22-year-old recent college graduate, I normally try to minimize all expenses during a vacation. Until now. After researching trains and buses to to go to Cinque Terre, a group of small fishing villages located on the north western coast of Italy, I realized it was a bit out of the way and expensive regardless of our mode of transportation. With a few hours of google search history logged, I decided to look into a guided tour.

I found the “Florence to Cinque Terre Scent of the Sea” tour guided by CiaoFlorence and immediately realized it would be the most convenient and cost effective option. The best part? The tour is also only partially guided! You have free time in each village to do your own exploring and only meet with the group to travel from place to place.

Cinque Terre in June

What You Get on the Tour of Cinque Terre

On this tour all of your transportation is included and, for an extra 10 euros, your food can be included as well.

  • Transportation by Air Conditioned bus to and from Florence
  • Transportation by train between the villages (we did not have a boat ride my day)
  • Guided tour information about the villages in your native language
  • Additional: Three-Course Lunch with the group

Cinque Terre in June pt 2

Why I Choose This Tour of Cinque Terre

I picked this tour because it seemed – and was – highly flexible. My boyfriend and I were able to explore each village at our leisure and only meet up with the group to take the trains in between each one. This made the day organzied and enable us to see 4 of the 5 villages, whereas we would haev probably only seen 2 if we went alone.

In addition, the bus ride was about 2.5 hours as opposed to about 3 hours in a train with extra time spent on connections. It was truly easier to go with a group and wound up being only a bit more expensive than buying all of our train tickets a la carte.

Why I Would Recommend This Tour of Cinque Terre

I would recommend this tour, and tours in general, because traveling by between villages could get quite confusing on your own and sticking with a schedule allowed us to see almost everything! In addition, the tour guides were flexible if you wanted to stay in one village longer and meet up with the group later on.

We found this to be one of our favorite days of our trip. Cinque Terre is truly picturesque and unique, so I am glad we weren’t just intimidated by the initial train schedule and still found a way to visit.

MY GOAL

As always on Sophistication and Sparkles, my goal is to help you get the most out of life during your college years and early twenties. When your traveling, sometimes that means spending an extra $20 to maximize the sights you see on your trip! I hope that this post gave you an idea of how you can find better deals and incorporate tours into your vacations.

~ALANA ROBIN

Disclaimer: I had the privilege to attend this tour in exchange for my sponsorship; however, all opinions are mine and I found the tour on my own!

visiting cinque terre with ciao florence

Plan a Hiking Trip to Arizona

To kick off 2017, my parents and I went on a hiking trip to Arizona. Not only was there amazing food, but also we got some good work outs in throughout the trip. After visiting Phoenix, Sedona, and Grand Canyon, I have loads of tips on packing, trails, lodging, and activities. I hope this guide helps you to plan your own wonderful trip to Arizona!

Packing Tips and Must Haves for a hiking trip to Arizona

Boots: As someone who has only gone on hikes that could also be called walks, I only had a pair of Nike sneakers to bring. Fortunately, my mom convinced me to buy a pair of Merrel hiking boots from the sale section at REI. My life has been changed. Forever. I’m not kidding when I say that I never knew shoes could have that much traction and grip. Our trip to Arizona had hikes in multiple climates, including icy snow, and I never slipped. As someone who sprained their ankle six months ago by falling over nothing-that is a big feat for me.

Refillable water bottle: Trust me when I say that the desert, even in cold months, will leave you thirsty. Bringing a refillable water is a must!

Backpack: When you go on a more challenging hike, particularly with changing climates, having a backpack for water, granola bars, and layers can be a lifesaver. Plus it leaves your hands free if you need to balance yourself at any point!

Sedona Trails, Lodging & Activities

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Sedona is about half way between the Phoenix airport and Grand Canyon. My family spent 5 days in Sedona and could not be more thrilled with our experience there. The Red rock formations are unlike anything I’ve seen before and hiking through them was amazing.

Sedona Trails

Beginner: If you’re looking for an easy walk where you’re still surrounded by amazing red rocks, I would recommend Red Rock State Park or Crescent Moon Park. At Red Rock, we did the Apache Fire Trail. It was a look at some old structures and a smooth hike. There was some up and down, but the path itself wasn’t rocky.

Intermediate: Slide Rock Park had hiking alongside the river. The trail was entirely rocks with ups and downs, but was manageable without an intense skill set. Devils bridge hike was labeled intermediate by the trail maps, but it was hard! Pros: free parking and gorgeous scenes. Cons: steep incline at the end of the hiking that was very difficult and a bit scary

Advanced: I felt the ones I called intermediate were advanced and never tried anything harder. So if you’re a pro-hiker looking to scale a cliff, I’m not the one to give you advice. Sorry!

Sedona Lodging

We spent 4 nights in Sedona split around our two days at the Grand Canyon. This left us staying at two hotels. Both times we opted for suites at Diamond Resorts. We found great deals on hotels.com for both the Sedona Summit and Los Abrigados. I would highly recommend both for different reasons.

Sedona summit

Pros: big kitchen, in room laundry for dirty hiking clothes, great pools

Cons: Located slightly out of town (10 min)

Los Abrigados

Pros: Located in the heart of town, night suite and pools, onsite restaurant options

Cons: smaller room (could just be what we got!), no laundry in room

Sedona Activities

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While there, we did a pink jeep tour and a helicopter ride. I would recommend both, but if you only have time and $$$ for one, the pink jeep tour is the move. We went on the Broken Arrow trail and found it to be a thrill of a ride packed with fun facts above the area and the rock formations. The price is a little steep, but they do give a AAA discount!

Grand Canyon Trails, Lodging & Activities

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Grand Canyon Lodging

We spent a night in the Kachina Lodge on the Grand Canyon rim and it was truly wonderful. I would recommend staying on the rim if you go in the winter, like me, when camping is difficult and the prices are lower for the off season. In the summer, I think you’re just as well staying right outside the park for a lower rate or going camping!

Grand Canyon Trails

Alright. You’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, are an amateur hiker, but figure you can hike it all.

You can’t. 

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but they call it grand for a reason. If you would like to hike all the way down and back up, you need to camp or stay at the lodge at the bottom and spend two days doing the hike. You also need to go in Spring or Fall because January was incredibly snowy and icy at the top.

My family opted for the rim trails. Partially because we didn’t have the skills and equipment to hike down at all, but also because we didn’t have time to camp over night down there. Walking along the south rim for 4 miles gave me the feeling of seeing a lot of the canyon without being dangerous on the ice. If you’re looking to see the canyon without hiking too far, this is a great option!

Grand Canyon Activities

As far as activities go, we saw the IMAX about the Grand Canyon at the visitor center. It was a great IMAX with interesting history, but not so amazing that you have to go if you are in a time crunch.

We tried to go on a bus tour because it was 30 degrees, icy, and windy; however, the tour was cancelled. Instead we drove our rental car from site to site and I would definitely recommend saving the money and driving yourself! We were able to stop at so many different look out points and got the amazing views without the tour bus fee.

Phoenix Airport Activities

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Flying in and out of the Phoenix Airport was an affordable option for us, so we found some fun things to do nearby. I would definitely recommend exploring Phoenix a bit so you aren’t just passing through!

Taliesin West 

Frank Lloyd Wright built a school 25 minutes away from the Phoenix airport and it is magnificent. We took a guided 1.5 hour tour that showed us around the grounds and gave us insight into the life of Mr. Wright. I would 100% recommend it to anyone going to Phoenix.

Botanical Garden

Within 10 minutes of the airport, the botanical garden is an amazing outdoor cacti garden. We went for a walk here and saw more succulent plants than I have ever seen. Also, the lunch restaurant is very good and makes a great hummus from tepary beans!

~Alana Robin

Days in Paradise: Trip to St. Thomas

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When my parents mentioned kicking off 2016 with a family trip to St. Thomas, I was definitely on board. I had never been to the Virgin Islands before and was super excited to experience a new place while also escaping the cold. To add to that, it is one of the last breaks my sister and I will have together before we both leave college to enter the real world and have to start counting our vacation days…yikes. (more…)

New Year’s Trip to Manchester, Vermont

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I have been a little MIA this week because I just spent the past week on a trip to Manchester, Vermont. I had an amazing time and wanted to share some of my travel tips if you are ever traveling and find yourself changing plans!

The Plan: From the beginning, the plan was to visit my boyfriend’s family and ski for the week leading up to 2016. I used to ski when I was younger, and was excited to get back out there and pick it back up.

The Reality: The weather is a fickle thing. With almost no snow and consistent rain, so we wound up not skiing at all. That said, I had an amazing time! Probably even better than if I had skied and fallen on my face a few too many times… (more…)