Your Derriere’s Dilemma of Where to Park on a Plane

(Yeah that’s just a fancy way of saying that your flight’s seat assignments can be tricky, especially when traveling as a family or a group.)

You are always better off when you have a sassy travel agent like moi plan your travel and in your corner when things go awry. But guuuurl we are not magical and airline seating policies are just as frustrating for us as they are for you.

So, if I can’t always get the airlines to see things our way, I can at the very least give you a little bit of insight as to why you perhaps can’t get your seat assignments until you check in or arrive at the airport.

Seat selection can be a little bit stressy-pants.

Airlines are Running Their Own Little Fiefdoms

Whether you buy an airline ticket on your own or through me as part of a vacation package, you are subject to the airline’s “Contract of Carriage” or “Conditions of Carriage,” which spells out what the airline will and won’t do for you. In particular, most airlines’ contract of carriage regarding seats are pretty similar and say something to the effect of, “we cannot guarantee that you will be able to sit in any particular seat,” and/or “we can change your seat at any time, even after you have boarded the aircraft, as we may need to do this for operational, safety or security reasons.” (Those examples are pulled directly from a certain international carrier’s actual Conditions of Carriage.)

Those general provisions give airlines wide latitude for them to fill in the gaps with the following types of policies (which they often do):

  • Charge for selecting seats at any time between reservation and check-in.
  • Charge extra for selecting “premium” seats in your cabin, like exit-row or bulkhead seats.
  • Holding back seats for preferred customers (e.g. customers with elite status in the airline’s loyalty program).
  • Oversell flights (this is a WHOLE other can of worms that we’ll reserve for another day).

What You Can Do

1. Don’t Panic

The fact that airlines have monetized seat selection is indeed rage-inducing. But just because you don’t see a lot of available seats on the seat maps, don’t immediately panic and think you’ll have to spring the extra cash for a “premium” seat since that looks like all that’s left.

Don’t panic! You’ll get a seat! Overhead bin space is another story . . .

First off, airlines often hold back certain seats for certain tiers of customers in the airline’s loyalty program; if they’re not snatched up, then the airline will often release the seats around check-in time. Second, although an airline doesn’t have to guarantee you “any particular seat,” it does have to guarantee you a seat. So, if by the time check in comes around and all that is left in your cabin are the “premium” seats, then the airline needs to seat you in one without charging you extra.

2. Traveling as a Family

This can be trickier. Back in 2016, Congress included in the FAA Reauthorization Bill a provision that tasked the FAA with creating rules that required U.S. airlines to ensure that families were seated together without being charged a fee. However, the FAA has yet to finalize the rule. Thankfully, some airlines (including some international carriers who wouldn’t necessarily be subject to the rule) have their own policies in place that require some form of this, which is something to look for or discuss with me when we’re working on planning your family’s trip.

3. Join ALL the Airline’s Loyalty/Rewards Programs

Yas gurl, I’m mostly serious on this one. ALL. THE. PRO. GRAMS. Well, within reason.

Sign up for airlines’ loyalty programs and you may be able to save money on seat selection.

It costs you exactly $0.00 to join an airline’s loyalty program and you just need to put up with their constant emails (which might clue you in to a gorgeous sale, at which point you contact me and we build a vacation around it! Werq!).

Airlines don’t want you to shop around for the best deals, they want you to fly with them and them only. That’s why they reserve so many perks—like holding back seats from the general flying public or allowing early seat selection at no cost—for their most loyal customers.

You don’t need to sign up all at once. But if your next vacation has you using a new airline, then sign up for their loyalty program, link your flight reservation to the program, and accrue those miles momma! A few long haul flights just might get you into a new tier status that could be enough to garner some perks and/or mitigate some costs on your next flight.

Now go forth my darlings, fly, and avoid paying extra for selecting seats!

Announcing Gay Best Friend Travels!

Oh haaaaaaay sassy travel buddies! I am SUPER DUPER HOLY MOLY EXCITED to announce that I am taking my travel agency in a new direction!

As of today, Four Spheres Travel is going buh-bye and I’m officially launching Gay Best Friend Travels!

The most rewarding part of my business is the fun and rapport I have with my sass-tastic clients. When I was just starting out with my travel agency, like any new business, I needed clients and could not be terribly picky. As I’ve gotten into my travel biz groove over the past several years, I’ve found that the clients I have the most fun with are the ones I can completely be my most fabulous-big-gay-homosexual-sassy-self. In that mode, I can push through the feigned professionalism that other businesses put up as a façade, and really speak to my clients on an honest and personal level.

International travel is one of life’s most rewarding experiences, and you can’t do that well if you don’t have a travel professional like me giving you the down-to-earth honest advice you need to make the best travel choices for the best value. The most effective way for me to give that to my clients is through an interpersonal partnership of complete honesty where I can tell them “yaaaaaaaas momma, this trip is gonna be gorgeous!” or “guuuuurl no, you don’t wanna do that!”

The creation of Gay Best Friend Travels (or “GBFTravels” for short) will do just that. I also understand that with this new travel business ethos GBFTravels may not be for everyone. So, who is the ideal GBFTravels client? The answer is women, LGBT folks, and their families. And yes, straight guys are of course welcome. Just be ok with me calling you “darling,” “honey,” “sweety,” “guuuuurl,” or any number of other pet names!

I am so excited about this new brand and I can’t wait to work with you!  Poke around the website, and then email me or submit an information request through the website and let me know where GBFTravels can take you!

Thanks sassy travel family!


7 Reasons Malta is Your New Favorite European Destination

Do you know where Malta is? It’s ok, neither did I until recently. Living in DC, I had the privilege of attending the European Union’s embassies open house event. Malta’s embassy in DC is a little out of the way, but a friend insisted on going, so I tagged along.

Look cool in Malta without sounding like a tourist – English is an official language there!

What. an. eye. opener. !. Three little islands in the Mediterranean (just south of Sicily) add up to one amazing destination!

I was fortunate enough to meet with a representative from the Malta Tourism Authority who provided me with tons of info on why Malta is THE place to go in Europe. After delving into the destination, I’m inclined to agree!

Here are 7 reasons why Malta is YOUR new favorite destination in Europe:

1. The nonexistent language barrier: As English is an official language in Malta (in addition to Maltese), there’s no language barrier to worry about and street signs are in English. As a former British possession, Malta is actually a destination for English-as-a-second-language learning! So you get all the benefits of Europe without the hassle of a learning how to say, “Do you speak English?” in the local language.
2. 7,000 years of history: The first settlers to Malta arrived around 5000 BC. Since then it’s been variously under rule by the Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Arab, Spanish, the Knights of St. John, French, and British

Temples dating from thousands of years ago – so much history in three tiny islands!

(it became a Republic and 1974 and joined the EU in 2004). Besides the brief history lesson, that means it is a treasure trove of heritage and culture, with three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and more monuments per square kilometer than any other country!
3. Year-Round Destination: Thanks to its location in the Mediterranean, Malta can be visited any time of the year. Beach season runs well into October and the “winter” (only getting into the 50s) is great for hiking and biking around the islands.
4. Sailing Paradise: The crystal-clear waters are a magnet for sailing enthusiasts who visit Malta from all over the world. Malta boasts various harbors and marinas which can accommodate any kind of sea craft. You can also opt to charter a sailing boat for a week or weekend, while day cruises are a favorite for many.


Malta is a diver’s paradise!

5. Diver’s Dream: Malta was recently rated #2 worldwide as a diving destination. The mild climate makes it possible to dive all year round and many diving schools offer their services throughout the year. Their tailor-made packages offer all types of educational and escorted day or night dives, including equipment rental for the more experienced unaccompanied divers. You can choose to dive from shore or from a boat. A family diving holiday here can be a magical experience, with many dive schools offering snorkeling and diving courses for young sea-explorers.
6. Night-Life: They know how to par-taaaaaay in Malta with a large selection of bars, restaurants, clubs, and casinos to choose from. Or you can take it easy and sip cocktails or wine at a sea-front establishment and enjoy gentler live music.
7. LGBT Friendly: Although the country is super Catholic (St. Paul is said to have ship-wrecked on the island while fleeing the Romans and thus brought Christianity to the Maltese people), they are also super welcoming and totally down with the LGBT-folk! In fact, the Maltese Islands rose to first place on the ILGA-Europe Rainbow Europe Index in 2016.

Whatcha waiting for?! Malta or bust!!


Don’t Go Chasing Icelandic Northern Lights (or at least don’t pre-pay for it)

Lots of people visit Iceland in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights (aka the “Aurora Borealis”).  And who can blame them?!  They’re breathtaking!  To that end, many tour companies offer “Northern Lights Chasing Tours” or something similarly titled that promises to take you out and about in search of this fabled atmospheric phenomenon.  But what they don’t promise is that you’ll actually see the Northern Lights . . .

You need 3 things in order to see the Northern Lights: (1) solar activity; (2) darkness; and (3) clear skies.

Iceland in the winter is actually pretty fantastic. I speak from experience!

Solar Activity
This is the meat and potatoes and what actually causes the Norther Lights: no solar activity, no deal.  Our sun will sometimes throw off various particles, known as a solar wind, and send them hurtling out into space.  It takes these winds about 40 hours to reach Earth.  If the Earth is in the path of a solar wind, its magnetic fields concentrate the particles at its poles.  As the particles move towards the poles and begin to concentrate in the higher latitudes, such as Iceland, they interact with various gases in the atmosphere to create the awe-inspiring light display we refer to as the Northern Lights.

It means just that – it needs to be dark.  This also means that a summer trip to Iceland won’t result in the needed night time darkness.  As early as May through as late as August, due to the Earth’s tilt towards the sun, some degree of sunlight persists around the clock in Iceland and prevents the necessary darkness to view Northern Lights activity.  So consider a trip to Iceland in the winter – the nights are sufficiently dark to see the Lights and it’s not as cold as you’d think thanks to Iceland’s location in the Gulf Stream (trust me, I’ve been there in February and it was fantastic!).

Clear Skies
Just like an overcast day casts only a gray light or a cloudy night masks the moon, cloudy skies will prevent you from seeing Northern Lights activity.  As with any weather, this is up to Mother Nature so with a little luck there will be at least one night on your trip with clear skies to view any Northern Lights activity.

Consider renting a car and doing some Northern Lights chasing on your own.

Unless these three requirements are all present, that “Northern Lights Chasing Tour” you pre-booked months ago simply can’t deliver.  This is not to say you shouldn’t try once you get to Iceland!  Darkness and clear skies are easy to figure out on your own by simply traveling to Iceland at the appropriate time of year and checking the weather app on your phone.  Fortunately, there is also a way for us non-scientist folks to see an “Aurora forecast” by visiting the Icelandic Meteorological Office.  Consider renting a car and doing some chasing on your own if the predictions look good.  Or, if you really want a tour, wait to book it until you’re actually in Iceland and have an opportunity to check out the necessary forecasts.

The Northern Lights are absolutely worth chasing – just be sure to chase them knowing there’s a good chance you’ll catch them.


P.S. FUN FACT: Towards the South Pole, this same phenomenon is called the “Aurora Australis.”

Live a Little: 3 Small Ways to be a Travel Dare Devil

International travel is all about new experiences.  But if you don’t step outside your comfort zone then you aren’t really experiencing your destination.  When I say “dare devil” I don’t mean you need to bungie jump or sky dive your way in new experiences.  You simply need to embrace something that might scare you a little and go all-in.

Here are 3 ways to be a travel dare devil that will better immerse you in your chosen destination:

1. Rent a car and drive: This is an option I’ve been recommending to a lot of clients lately and, although they’re a bit dubious about it and recognize the need for a sense of adventure, they’ve found the freedom and access it grants them far outweighs any fears they had about driving in a foreign country.  Sure, signs may be

Driving on the left may take some getting used to, but the freedom to go where you want when you want is well worth it.

in a different language or you may be driving on the left side of the road; but, you’ll also have the freedom to reach those sightseeing gems that don’t have a train station or bus stop nearby.  Plus, if you bring the kids, you’ll be free to stop for the inevitable bathroom breaks.

2. Get lost and find your way WITHOUT your smartphone: In addition to being able to digitally detox, leave your smart phone in the hotel for a day, take a walk, and get lost in the city you’re visiting.  Rather than being tethered to your phone and all the distractions it brings, you’ll be free to take in the sites and interact with the locals when you need to ask for directions or a recommendation for lunch.  Allow yourself to be in your chosen destination without the crutch of your smart phone putting up an e-wall so you can truly experience some place new.

Try a different continent, like South America.

3. Up your destination game:  You’ve been to the great cities of western Europe?  Try eastern Europe or a river cruise.  Or try a new continent like South America.  If you’ve already done the “standard” international travel, then that has become your new normal and it’s time to push the envelope.  Try something truly unique like living for a week in a yurt in Mongolia, hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, or visiting ancient cities of the Silk Road in Uzbekistan.

What’s your next great adventure?  Let GBFTravels help you find it!


How to Digitally Detox on Your Vacation in 3 Easy Steps

If you’re reading this on your phone right now then stop, look up, and take note of the kink in your neck.  Yeah we need to work on that.  Our smartphones are indispensable parts of our lives but they’re also preventing us from living.  We experience less first hand in real time for ourselves in favor of second hand on a tiny screen.

Use a real camera rather than your phone to take pictures without social media distractions. Just be sure to look up from the camera as well and really enjoy your surroundings.

This will simply not do when on your vacation.  So let’s digitally detox you in preparation to live, experience, and enjoy your vacation (yes you can still Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram it later).

Step One: Use an actual camera to take pictures.  True this is substituting one digital device for another; however, the camera serves only one function – to take pictures/video – which greatly decreases its distraction value.  Focusing on capturing the moment, rather than snap – tag – upload, snap – tag – upload, will allow you to be in the moment and experience it with your travel companions in real time and make actual memories of seeing it first-hand rather than on a screen.  Just remember, in between taking pictures, to put the camera down and simply look at the scenery around you.  Take in the architecture, breath in the history that surrounds you, run your hands over the ancient façade and actually BE there.

Step Two: When heading out for the day, all but one of you leaves the smart phone in the hotel.  Smart phones and their connectivity are extremely helpful while traveling – the GPS alone is a life saver.  But not everyone needs to bring their phone.  Have a designated navigator who uses her phone for ONLY that reason – not social media!  You’re on vacation with your friends or family, so be with them and share the experience.

Each day have only one person bring their phone for any navigational issues or in case of emergency. NO social media time!

Step Three: Hair of the dog.  You’ve been away from social media all day long and your jonesin’ for it, I totally get it!  So do your social media posting in the evening.  Upload the camera pics to your laptop, ruminate on the perfect hashtag, and induce major jealousy back home.  You’re probably about 6 or 7 hours ahead of them which means all your posts will hit during social media prime time back home with plenty of opportunities for your peeps to share, retweet, like, and comment.


Spring Break for Families – 2 Ideas That Benefit Parents and Kids

Spring break is coming up and you need to figure out what to do with the kids.  The typical choices are either A.) take time off from your job to babysit them yourself, or B.) pay someone else to babysit them for you.  As much as you like at-home family time, that’s either burning precious work leave or shelling out $$ for a babysitter.  Since either option has you taking leave time and spending money, I present to you option C.) take a family vacation where everyone gets to have fun!

The next issue is how to have a family vacation where the parentals actually get to have some fun AND find a little time to rest.  Fear not, I have the solutions!

A family all-inclusive beach vacation is the way to go to maximize fun and value.

Solution 1 – All-Inclusive Beach Vacation:  Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica have some amazing beaches, amenity-filled all-inclusive resorts, and value-for-your-money that can’t be beat!  Add to that regular charted flights from major U.S. gateways like Baltimore-Washington, Denver, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas, and the package savings and value are incredible.  There are a ton of family-friendly all-inclusive resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean that include activities for the kids so parents can spend time on their own to unwind and soak up some sun.  Everyone wins!

River cruises with Adventures By Disney take all the planning and guess work out of your overseas family vacation.

Solution 2 – Vacation Overseas with Adventures by Disney: Disney vacation options are so much more than Walt Disney World Resort in Florida or Disneyland in California.  And, let’s be honest, you don’t want to do the Disney parks scene during a major spring break when everyone and their cousin is there too.  Instead, take the family vacation overseas that you’ve always wanted but with none of the hassle.  Adventures by Disney include family-focused escorted tours all over the world and on the rivers of Europe.  Adventures by Disney takes care of all the details so the parentals can do their own thing and relax, the kids get some amazing culturally immersive activities, and the whole family will experience an international destination that will keep everyone smiling!

How are you going to spice up your family’s spring break?


Top 3 Travel Safety Precautions to Save Your Life, Wallet, and Sanity

We seem to have our safety priorities turned around.  We choose a destination that seems “safe” these days – safe from terrorist attacks, natural disasters, etc.  Although the statistical likelihood of any of those happening on the trip we’re planning is SUPER low, we fixate on them and then ignore the safety precautions that will save us from all the things that are statically likely to happen.

To aid you in your travel savviness AND to keep you safe and traveling often, here are my top 3 super simple safety precautions that may just save your life, your wallet, and definitely your sanity:

  1. Learn the Local 911 Equivalent: We’ve all been taught to pick up the phone and dial 911 in an emergency – it’s one of the few numbers we’ve committed to memory. But you need to learn the emergency number for your destination AND keep in mind there may be different numbers based on whether you need police, fire, or ambulance.  Learn the numbers before you depart and store them in your phone.
  2. Don’t Always Have Your Phone Out – For one, you should be looking at the amazing destination you find yourself in rather than staring at your phone. But also, staring aimlessly at your phone tells pickpockets you are not paying attention to your surroundings and that you’re easy prey – you may have your phone snatched out of your hands or soon realize your wallet is no longer in your possession.
  3. Make a Copy of Your Passport – A U.S. passport is considered the highest form of identification in the land; overseas it’s your ONLY form of identification. If your passport is lost or stolen, proving your identity is not an easy task and you certainly won’t be allowed to board any planes home. Having a copy of your passport will help speed up the process for getting a new passport at a U.S. embassy or consulate.  Leave a copy at home and pack a copy to bring on your trip.  You can even scan your passport and email it to yourself.

Be smart, stay safe, but most importantly, have fun!


Cancel-For-Any-Reason: 3 Reasons Why this Travel Insurance Option is Your New Best Friend

I’ve learned a lesson recently: in addition to getting travel insurance, always add the “cancel-for-any-reason” option – it’s going to save you time, money, and headache.

In October, during Hurricane Matthew, I had a client whose cruise was still scheduled to depart but the airline canceled her flights.  She purchased travel insurance, but because the cruise was going forward despite the flights being canceled, we had to hope (preferably not to our karmic detriment) that the airline would not operate flights into her destination for 24 consecutive hours in order for the full trip’s cancellation to fall under one of the insurance’s “covered reasons.”

Travel insurance is a necessary component for any vacation to protect your investment and plan for eventualities that hopefully won’t happen but will be darn expensive if they do.  Nevertheless, sifting through the policy to figure out if the unfortunate reason you have to cancel is covered can be a frustrating experience.

Cancel-for-any-reason is an AH-mazing option available as a “rider” on many travel insurance policies and it can really save your bacon when something comes up prior to departing that requires you to cancel your trip, but the reason doesn’t fall neatly into one of the insurance policy’s “cover reasons.”

Here are 3 things we LOVE about a cancel-for-any-reason insurance option:

  1. It’s EASY. “Cancel for any reason” means just that – ANY reason.  You got a bad haircut and don’t want to be ridiculed on the streets of Paris? Done.  Your beach bod wasn’t quite ready for Cancun?  Done.  Your smart phone died so you won’t be able to shamelessly Instagram your entire trip? Done.  You get the picture.  ANY reason.
  2. It covers up to 75% of the trip cost. No, that’s not 100%, which is what you typically get if you cancel for a “covered” reason under a standard travel insurance policy.  But 75% is darn good if the only reason you had to cancel was because of a bad hairdo.
  3. It’s reasonably priced. For the peace of mind to cancel for ANY reason, the additional cost for the option is a great deal.  For example: A full travel insurance policy with a cancel-for-any-reason option for a $4,000 vacation for two people on a week-long trip is about $280 total.

insurance-docThere are some minor prerequisites to cancel-for-any-reason policies.  For example, most require you to purchase it within 21 days of putting the initial deposit on your trip.  Others require your travel dates to take place at a minimum time in the near future, such as 90 days.  Small potatoes considered the huge coverage benefit you receive.

Always always ALWAYS get travel insurance – I recommend it to every client I book for.  It not only protects your financial investment if you need to cancel before you depart, but it also covers your personal health and safety for unfortunate events that may occur during your trip.  Part of the fun of travel is the planning phase and getting excited for all the amazing things you will see and do during your vacation.  Travel insurance is small component of that planning that can make a huge difference.



Show Me the $$: Navigating Foreign Currency Exchange

Let’s be honest: dealing with foreign currency is a hassle because math is hard (or at least it is when you’re on vacation . . . well at least for me it is). So what are the best ways to prep for spending money on your trip without getting fleeced?

Best Way: Use a Credit Card with No Foreign Transaction Fees
Currency exchange rates change daily and the best way to keep up without having to think too much is to use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Call your credit card company to see if they offer this on your current card. If they don’t, sign up for a new one immediately otherwise you’ll be hit with a percentage fee of each overseas transaction you make and that adds up quickly. I personally use Chase Sapphire Preferred and I LOVE it.

Order money from your bank prior to departing and be sure to see if they have partnerships with overseas banks to avoid ATM fees.

OK Way: Get Foreign Cash from your Bank Before You Depart
Most banks keep popular foreign currency on hand (such as Euros and British Pounds) or they’re available to order on their website and pick it up at your local branch. This is super convenient as the bank will debit the money from your account and then let you know when it’s ready for pickup. The big drawback is that the bank’s “exchange rate” typically doesn’t match the market rate because they use the rate from the market’s close the previous day and then add their own hidden fee “mark up.” Still, it’s a good way to have some cash on hand when you land so you don’t have to deal with . . .

The Most Expensive Way: Airport/Hotel Exchanges and ATMs
If you can avoid it, DO NOT exchange money at the airport or hotel – the rates are abysmal and you will lose money. You know how items at a corner store are more expensive than they would be at the grocery store? It’s the same idea with exchanging money at the airport or hotel: you’re paying extra for the convenience. Sure, they work in a pinch but you are getting less for your money. ATMs are a crap shoot as you will likely be charged a fee by the bank ATM and your bank. Some larger international banks have partnerships with overseas banks that will allow you to avoid fees so be sure to ask your bank prior to departure.

Sometimes There’s No Need to Bother
If you’re going to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico or the Caribbean, you really don’t need to bother exchanging money as resort staff will be happy to accept U.S. currency for tips. Bring a stack of one’s and tip a couple dollars with each drink and leave some on the table after eating in resort restaurants.