My Top 5 Dream Destinations

Rwanda

This one has been on my list for a while, and for one big reason — gorillas. There are only three countries in the world where you can see gorillas: Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC, and since the security situation in the DRC makes a visit there less than safe, you're really left with two options. I lean toward Rwanda because it's more of a luxury destination (and if I'm going big, might as well go big!), because it's a lot easier to reach the gorillas once you're in Rwanda than it is in Uganda, because Rwanda is where Dian Fossey worked and is buried, AND because there are more habituated gorilla families in Rwanda than in Uganda. The big downside? Gorilla trekking permits in Rwanda run $1,500 per person per day, while they are only $600 per person per day in Uganda.

The Azores

The Azores are one of those places that has simply fascinated me since these islands in the Atlantic Ocean first appeared on my travel radar. It's a less than 5-hour direct flight from Boston, so it's a great place to go with limited travel days. The landscape is volcanic, meaning waterfalls and hotsprings, geysers and impressive vistas are everywhere you look. And while it is very much an up-and-coming destination, it's far from a crowded tourist destination (at least so far). The weather is beautiful year round, so it's also an any-time destination. The hiking is breathtaking, the whale watching is some of the best around, and the hydrangeas that bloom in late July and August are the most vibrant blue you'll ever see. What more could you want?

Tasmania

If you're anything like most people, you probably hear the word "Tasmania" and your immediate thought is of the Tasmanian Devil. While those fascinating creatures do call this Australian island state home, (and I definitely want to meet them) Tasmania has much more going for it! It's one of the most beautiful natural places in the world, so any time you're outside, you're going to be in awe of the view — whether you're hiking a rugged mountain or relaxing on a beach without another person in sight. Food and drink is superb here, and the air is considered the world's least polluted. Plus, you can spot seal colonies and walk among the Fairy Penguins, so I'm pretty sure you'll fall in love!

Norway

If you are looking to escape the heat instead of run toward it like some travelers, Norway might be just the ticket. For me, the fjords are my main reason for wanting to visit Norway. If you head to Norway in the summer, you'll have very long days, and in the winter, the country compensates for the cold and dark with some impressive Northern Lights displays. I think the wooden stave churches that have survived for centuries are even more impressive than the stone behemoths you might find elsewhere. If you like to ski (not me!), you'll have plenty to keep you busy in Norway. The wilderness of Norway is wild and largely untouched, so there is plenty for nature lovers as well. Small fishing villages, staggeringly beautiful scenery, friendly people, charming cities and even polar bears (on the far northern Svalbard Islands), all add to the many reasons that Norway is on my list!

Turkey

I have a real fascination with the history of the Ottoman Empire, so Turkey is one of those places that is always on my mind. I'm a tea-lover, so Turkish tea is another big draw for me, but I hear they also make a mean cup of coffee, so there's a little something for everyone, beverage-wise! Baklava (and all of the other delicious food in Turkey) is also a huge plus for me. I have dreams of drifting over Cappadocia in a hot air balloon, spending the day in a hamam, and strolling through a Turkish bazaar. I want to see the pools of Pamukkale, where blue waters cascade over brilliant white travertine terraces, and marvel at the huge statues on Mount Nemrut. Of course, I wouldn't miss Istanbul or the Hagia Sofia or any of the country's other breathtaking architecture.

What about you? Ready to check a destination off of your wish list? Just send me an email at kati@curiotraveldesigns.com and let's get started making those dreams a reality!


Kati Knowland
Q: What do I do about money when I'm traveling? Do I exchange before I go? After I arrive? And how?

First, let me tell you that there are sometimes recommendations specific to a certain country, specific banks and specific cards, so be sure to do a little research before you go for some additional guidance, but here are my recommendations based on my own experiences.

Forget about travelers checks. Some of my clients ask me about travelers checks, and the truth is, many countries won't even accept them any more, and they can be difficult (and costly) to get. It's best just not to bother.

Don't worry about changing money before you go. It's just another unnecessary hassle before your trip, and exchange rates are going to be bad. Just wait until you're at your destination.

Avoid exchanging money altogether. As much as possible, it usually makes sense to use a credit or debit card rather than cash. In some countries (like Iceland), you'll be hard pressed to find an establishment that doesn't accept plastic. In other places, you will need some cash for smaller shops or street markets, but you'll still be able to use your card (and avoid awful exchange rates) most of the time. Just double-check to make sure that your card doesn't charge a foreign transaction fee. 

When you exchange money, use the ATM. Most ATMs will have a small(ish) charge for foreign cards, but you won't pay the commission and fees charged at a lot of cash exchange businesses AND you won't have to travel with cash to be exchanged when you arrive. And some banks will actually reimburse you for your foreign ATM fees, so it's good to do some research before you go!

Double-check that your card has no foreign transaction fees. I mentioned this above, but it's really important. If you're using your card for most things, just be sure that it's not charging a fee for every time you use it internationally. As you might expect, this can seriously add up.

Pay in local currency (not US dollars). Some places you'll visit will accept US dollars or will even charge your card in US dollars for you. Most of the time, this is a bad idea, and paying in local currency is the way to go. You'll usually pay less with fewer fees if you choose the local currency, but, again, this can vary based on your specific card, so make sure you know your own bank's rules.

Take a minute to familiarize yourself with the local currency. Get an idea of which coins and bills are for which amounts so that you avoid flashing a whole stack of bills and dumping out a pocketful of change when you pay. Also, an American who's used to ignoring the jingly sort of change, I'm sometimes surprised at how valuable coins can be in other countries. (For example, in Japan they use a ¥500 coin that is worth about $4.50!)

Double-check the type of card that you're using. Visa and MasterCard are pretty widely accepted, but you are sometimes hard-pressed to find places that will accept a Discover or American Express card, so be sure those aren't the only cards you're traveling with. Again, check what's normal for your destination!

Those are my experiences and recommendations, but, as I've mentioned, it's vital to know your own card, your own destination and your own buying habits to make the best choices for you!

Kati Knowland
Q: What is sustainable travel and why does it matter?

A: Well, technically that's two questions, but I'll let it slide this time! 

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, sustainable tourism "takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities."

So, in short, it's NOT just staying in a hotel with solar panels on the roof. Sustainable travel is recognizing that when we travel there is an impact, not just on ourselves, but on the communities and people we encounter during those visits. It's about making tourism a positive thing and not a destructive one.

You may have heard about Maya Bay in Thailand closing because of overtourism. You might have read about how hoards of tourists in Venice are overloading the infrastructure, damaging buildings, and making daily life miserable for all who live there. And did you know that in Africa, sometimes poachers will follow your geotagged posts on Facebook or Instagram to know where to find their next victim. In Iceland and in other countries, they're actively concerned about how to protect the natural beauty that makes them so attractive to tourists FROM those very same tourists.

In fact, there are so many stories in the world about the negative impacts of tourism that it's a topic of concern just about anywhere you visit. It's not all about hugging trees and recycling; sustainable tourism is about finding ways to travel and experience the world without destroying the beauty, culture and nature that make travel so very worthwhile in the first place.

So, how do we do that?

Well, here are some things to consider:

  • Make a point of interacting with locals when you travel. These one-on-one connections can give you incredible insight into their daily lives and can help you become more sensitive to the impact your travel has on them. In some areas, this might mean understanding that when you buy that scarf, you're helping them feed their families. In other destinations, it might help you understand what kinds of tourist behaviors negatively impact the local life. These types of connections are much more easily accomplished outside of a large tour group and instead with a single, reputable guide who can help you dig deeper into destination and connect with its people. 
     

  • Be aware of your impact on the environment you visit. In Iceland, that might mean not stepping on moss that will take 100 years to grow back; in other places, it might mean traveling at off-peak times, in smaller groups, or to less touristy destinations to limit your impact. Other places, it might mean simply being aware of the physical toll your visit takes on important landmarks — both man-made and natural. Think about how you can help ensure these places are in pristine condition for your kids and grandkids and all future generations.

  • Understand local culture and customs. Don't try to change a destination to be what you expect it to be or what you're used to. So much of the joy of traveling is in experiencing new and different cultures and customs. Join in on what the locals share with you instead of trying to impose your own customs. Because, when it comes down to it, many places are dependent financially on tourist dollars, and if every tourist who visits expects fast food on every corner, it won't take long for that expectation to be met.

  • Spend money locally. Tourists are huge business in many countries. And tourists can speak with their money, investing it where it can do the most good. For example, in Thailand, you can buy batik fabric from a woman with a small stall at a market who wove it herself and supports her family with her craft OR you can buy a similar fabric from a shop filled with mass-produced merchandise. It's always better, when you can, to spend your money on authentic, local products. 

So, as you can see, sustainable tourism is about way more than just "being green." It means being the best possible tourist in ways that will help preserve and sustain the culture and beauty of the destinations you visit.

Sustainable tourism is important to me personally, and I'd love to help you plan a trip that benefits both you and the environment! Send me an email at kati@curiotraveldesigns.com, and we can get started!

Kati Knowland
Q: What do you consider carry-on essentials?

A: The answer to this question depends on a few factors, including the length of your flight and whether you're flying solo, with family or with a large group. I won't get into the number of snacks, games and other multitude of distractions you'll want to pack if you're traveling with young kids, but here are my basics when I'm traveling by myself on a long-haul flight:

(Note: These are the things I carry in my "personal item," the one that stays under the seat in front of me. I've never been, and probably never will be, the type of person who can pack all of their clothes into a single carry-on bag! And, despite the lovely stock photo above, my carry-on bag of choice is a backpack, which leaves my hands free in airports and is simply more comfortable than slinging a bag over one shoulder!)

  • A scarf or blanket — Planes and airports can be cold, then warm, then cold again. Having something soft that can be easily added or removed makes the entire trip more pleasant. I love this one!
     

  • Noise-canceling headphones — I'm a recent convert to this world, and I'm too cheap to buy the fancy ones, but they have quickly become an important part of my flying routine now. I put them on as soon as I sit down and don't take them off until we land. They are easy to wear for hours and hours, whether I'm watching a show or just napping. Some people even say they help prevent jetlag. These are the ones I have.
     

  • Moisturizing products — Even if you don't ever need lotion or lip balm in your daily life, trust me, you'll want it on a long plane ride. The air is dry up there, and dry skin and lips can be seriously uncomfortable. This lip balm is always in my bag. 
     

  • Snacks — Even if I'm seated in first class, I always take along a few snack items, like almonds or protein bars. Sometimes I sleep through meals or snacks, sometimes I have a long layover and don't want to eat airport food, sometimes I just get bored and eating helps pass the time (not recommended, but true!), so it's nice to have a few things just in case.
     

  • Entertainment — This is really a no-brainer, but I always load up my phone with podcasts, binge-worthy shows and books. I try to mix it up so that I have some audiobooks and podcasts that I can listen to if my eyes are tired but I'm not ready to sleep, plus some funny and engaging shows to keep me entertained for the times I want to stay awake.
     

  • Charger — Since things like my phone and my headphones require charging and not all planes have outlets, I always pack a portable power bank (or two). These also come in very handy at airports (so you don't have to fight for the outlet) and once you reach your destination and are out exploring all day. I generally use Anker brand, but be sure to check the mAh rating ... the larger the number, the more charges it'll give you.
     

  • Travel wallet — Obviously you're going to bring a wallet along; I like to bring one that will easily hold my passport, my boarding passes (cause I hate the electronic ones), and all of my receipts while I'm traveling. This one has worked well for me.
     

  • Notebook/pen — Sometimes inspiration strikes, sometimes I remember something I need to do when I land, sometimes I just need to take a break from electronics. Even if you don't want to carry a notebook, ALWAYS pack a pen! You think you won't need one, but you always will. It's worth it to tuck one in your bag just in case.
     

  • Itinerary and hotel details — I'm not talking about having it on your phone or in your head, I'm talking about having a printout of your full itinerary and the contact details for your ride from the airport as well as details for your first hotel AND, of course, your travel agent's contact info. You never know what internet connectivity will be like when you land, so just make sure you have the details you'll need right away so that you can avoid the hassle!
     

  • Personal items — Just pick a few items that will make you feel a bit refreshed after a 14-hour flight. Think toothbrush and toothpaste, hairbrush, and deodorant. Take a minute to freshen up in the airplane bathroom before you land, and you'll feel much better at the start of your trip.
     

  • Change of clothes — I don't always follow my own rule here, and one time on my way to India I ended up stuck in Toronto overnight with no change of clothes and had to take an Uber to Walmart just to feel somewhat presentable. Learn from my mistake and pack an extra set of clothes just in case!

I hope this helps next time you are packing up for a getaway! If you have questions you'd like me to answer about travel, just click the button below to send me a message!

Kati Knowland
The answers to your questions!
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Hello there, intrepid adventurer!

It's been a while! There have been a lot of changes around here, so I thought I should start with the basics. My name is Kati Knowland, I like long walks through the jungle with elephants, and I’m the owner of Curio Travel Designs (formerly Mosaic World Travel...see? Changes!) 

This week, I'm going to do things a little bit differently so that I can bring you up to speed on what's new around here and share my excitement about two upcoming trips that are on my calendar for 2019. I've gotten a lot of questions lately, so let's do a little Q&A to bring everyone up to speed!

Going forward, in this space I'll share insights and reviews from my own travels, and I'll also give you real-world tips for making your travels extraordinary! If you have any travel questions that you'd like me to answer for you, just send me a note, and I might feature you (or, your question at least!) in a future newsletter.

I'm so glad you're along for the ride!

Q: "So, Kati, what's with the new company name?"

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A: I'm so glad you asked! My goal in changing my company name to Curio Travel Designs was to focus more obviously on serving my clients — the curious travelers who want to see the world in style. A "curio" is defined as a rare, unusual, or intriguing object, and I love to seek out the rare, unusual, and intriguing destinations and experiences for my clients, so the word just seemed to perfectly fit my business!

In addition to the change of name, I've also switched my agency affiliation from Signature Travel Network to Virtuoso, the industry's leading luxury travel consortium. Now, that may not mean much to you (depending on how plugged in you are to the ins and outs of the travel world), but let's just say that Curio Travel Designs has taken a big step up and will now be able to offer even higher levels of service and exclusive amenities to our clients. So, yay!

If you've got a trip in mind, and you'd like my help making it rare, unusual and intriguing, just click the button below to get started or send me a note at kati@curiotraveldesigns.com. I can't wait to uncover some gems that will take your trip from ordinary to extraordinary!

Q: "Wait, where are you going NOW?"

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A: That's what my husband asks me any time I start a sentence with, "So, guess what?" (Poor guy!) It's true that I have been very fortunate to visit some incredible places since becoming a travel advisor (India, Myanmar, Cambodia, Japan and Thailand so far), and I have two more trips on the calendar for 2019!

First up, I'll be leaving at the end of May to explore Laos and Vietnam, two of the only countries in Southeast Asia that I've never visited! I can't wait to:

  • see the historical treasure that is Luang Prabang

  • experience a private Baci ceremony (for good luck and blessings)

  • visit the Pak Ou caves filled with more than 4,000 sacred Buddhist statues and images

  • people-watch in a vintage coffee shop in Hanoi

  • marvel at limestone karsts in Lan Ha Bay (a more secluded part of Halong Bay)

  • learn to prepare traditional Vietnamese dishes on board the Ginger Cruise

  • delight in the street food in the ancient town of Hoi An

  • learn the traditional Vietnamese art of lantern making

  • brave the Saigon city streets at night on a vintage Vespa

  • eat lunch with a local farmer along the Mekong Delta

  • AND, of course, visit some of the most breathtaking hotels in Laos and Vietnam

It's going to be an amazing trip; I'll be documenting the highlights on Facebook and Instagram, and I'll share all of the details afterward on my blog, so I hope you'll follow along!

Q: "But didn't you say you had TWO trips planned?"

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A: Yep, it's true, there's one more trip on the horizon for me ...

I'm going to Africa! Specifically, South Africa and Zimbabwe!

Now, the trip isn't until November, so I'm not going to spill all of the details just yet (your jaw will drop when you see some of these safari camps!), but I do want to tell you about how I ended up on this trip. It's one of those "meant to be" stories for me.

As you know, in the past, I've focused mainly on travel to Asia — I love Asia, and it provides ample opportunity for those curious travelers like yourself (and myself!) to encounter the unusual and intriguing. 

But lately I've felt a bit of a nudge to expand on that. There are so many destinations around the world that are filled with curios; let's not limit our imagination just to Asia, right?

Once this thought crawled its way into my brain, it seemed like Africa (and, specifically this trip) was tapping me on the shoulder everywhere I went! I first heard about it in February and considered it, but hemmed and hawed long enough that all the spots were filled. I decided it must not be meant to be.

Then in early April, I heard there may be a spot open, but I resisted again — why would the Asia travel pro go to Africa? Plus, I've been on so many trips this year, I should really sit this one out!

Later in April, it popped up on Facebook that the one spot was definitely open ... but the post had been up all day and had several responses already. I told myself that I would just reach out and ask! If the spot was already taken, then that was my sign that it really wasn't meant to be. If it was still open, I NEEDED to be on this trip!

As you can probably guess from the fact that I'm going to Africa in November, the spot was not yet taken, so I quickly filled out my paperwork and submitted it, knowing that for whatever reason, this was meant to be. I can't wait to see what this trip has in store!

Moral of the story: If an opportunity is chasing you around, just GO FOR IT! 

Q: "It's been a while; who are you again?"

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A: (First of all, ouch ... I can't believe you forgot me. But on to the real answer!)

Hi! I'm Kati!

My focus is on crafting tailor-made vacations with style and substance. You are a discerning traveler, and I want to ensure that your every travel dream comes true, whether that means receiving a personalized blessing during a private ceremony in a small Hindu temple on a side street in Delhi or sipping a perfectly chilled cocktail on an exquisite sandy beach during your private island escape ... and everything in between.

You know what luxury, service and perfection mean to you. My job is to translate those dreams into reality by crafting a tailor-made itinerary that will absolutely blow you away and will create treasured memories for years to come. (With, of course, as little effort as possible on your part!)

My services are perfect for travelers who want it all — the comfort and luxury of the world's most amazing hotels, insights and deep knowledge from personal guides, the simple deliciousness of street food and a true understanding of the complexity of a different culture.

As both a traveler and a travel consultant, travel to me is about going big — crafting an itinerary that is chock full of big memory-making moments. 

Because of that, I'm always on the lookout for the "best," — the best hotel, the best food, the best guides, the best experiences, the best service. But more than that, I'm 100% focused on what "the best" means to you! This is not about simply booking the top-ranked hotel on some ratings site; it's about figuring out what makes a hotel the best for YOU. And the best way for me to do that is for us to chat! So reach out today and we can get started planning your BEST trip ever.

Kati Knowland
The Best Time to Visit Thailand

So you’ve got a trip to Thailand on your bucket list, and you’re trying to decide when to go, right? Before you call up your travel agent to ask that question, know that the BEST time to go depends a lot on what you want out of your trip, what type of traveler you are, and where in Thailand you’re headed.

If you want sunny days lazing on the beach without a cloud in the sky, it’s probably best to avoid the monsoon season (obviously), but if you’re looking for lower prices, fewer crowds and cooler temperatures, the monsoon season might be a perfect fit!

One of the most important things to keep in mind is WHERE in Thailand you’ll be headed, since considerations can vary widely based on your destination. Here are a few pointers on the best times to visit some of the most popular destinations in Thailand:

Chiang Mai (The North):

If you want dry days and cooler weather, it’s best to visit the northern part of Thailand from the beginning of November through the end of April. In general, the north boasts cooler temperatures overall, so if the heat is a concern, Chiang Mai should be on your list. It’s also home to some active adventures, beautiful temples, and elephant encounters, among other unique experiences, and I recommend a stop to all of my clients.

Bangkok & Pattaya (Central):

Bangkok will almost certainly make an appearance on your itinerary, since it’s most likely where your international flight will land. Since you’re there, it’s definitely worth spending a few days exploring the area, good weather or bad! But if weather is a key concern, the best time to visit central Thailand is also between November and April. Although it will often be warmer than in the north, you’ll have fewer rainy days. Bangkok does experience more rain overall than the coastal city of Pattaya (about 2 hours away), so consider spending time in Pattaya, especially during the months of June, July and August when other areas are rainier.


Koh Samui (Thai Peninsula):

Known as the quiet version of Phuket, don’t let its status fool you, Koh Samui is not exactly an unknown destination! Koh Samui is an island off of the east coast of the Thai peninsula, and weather patterns are much different from those above, with a shorter dry season. Rainfall can still be heavy in November, December and January, so it’s best to visit in February, March and April for drier days. You won’t see much in the way of temperature fluctuations here, so prepare for hot temperatures any time you visit.

Phuket (Thai Peninsula):

Phuket, an island just off of the west coast of the Thai peninsula, experiences weather similar to Koh Samui. with steady (hot) year-round temperatures. As a beach destination, rainfall is almost certainly the biggest consideration for your trip timing to Phuket. The best time to visit for the least rainfall is definitely late December through to the end of March.

*Keep in Mind*

The best times to visit listed above are also the most popular times to visit, meaning that prices and crowds will be at their highest. If you want a less crowded and less expensive vacation, consider the first or last months of these prime seasons, or throw these seasons out the window and explore the fresh green of Thailand in the rainy season! And keep in mind: Your travel agent is the best resource to help find the best time specific to YOU!

Kati Knowland