Monthly Archives: January 2014

Amazing Deal – Citi American Airlines Credit Card 100,000 points!

Occasionally a great deal will come our way.  Last year for 2 days only, I received 100,000 miles from American Express.  Those miles took Blogger Hubby and I to Hawaii in Business Class seats with 40,000 miles left over for a future trip.

Now Citi is offering a similiar deal – you can earn 100,000 American Airlines miles with a $10,000 spend in three months.  This offer comes with the following benefits:

  • $200 in statement credits — earn $1 in statement credits for each $1 spent on purchases within the first 12 months of membership.
  • Admirals Club membership (a membership value of up to $500)
  • Earn10,000 Elite Qualifying Milesafter spending $40,000 in purchases each calendar year
  • No foreign transaction fees  on purchases
  • Earn two AAdvantage miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, including US Airways codeshare flights booked on aa.com
  • Priority Boarding and 25% savings on eligible in-flight purchases
  • Your first eligible checked bag is free
  • SmartChip technology Expert Concierge Service
  • $450 Annual Fee – not waived but with the $200 statement credit it will help offset this expense

You will notice on this page, which will take you to the application page, that it asks for a referral code  – you can leave it blank.

aadvantage deal

Remember that US Airways and American Airlines are merging so more routes would open.

I know that you might be put off with the $10,000 spend but my plan is (yes, we got this card yesterday) to buy Vanilla Reloads and pay my mortgages with them and then pay my credit card that I used to get the VR’s with the money that is in the bank that I was going to use to pay my mortgage.  Between paying bills, grocery shopping, and even paying for federal/state taxes with my credit card.

Is this something that you are planning on applying for – if yes, I’d recommend doing it sooner than later.  Great deals like this do not last long.

Target and Free Credit Monitoring – might be worth your while

In the wake of the security breach at Target during the holiday season, they are offering a free year of credit monitoring for all customers who shopped at their stores in the US.  I shopped only once during the holiday season and for that reason I did register with Target to get the free credit monitoring.  You must register to get the credit monitoring.

target

Here’s how to sign up:

■ To request an activation code, enter your name and email address on Target’s website, creditmonitoring.target.com. The deadline to request the code is April 23. Credit reports are for a person, not a credit card number, so people who used multiple credit or debit cards at Target only need to sign up once.

■ Within one to five days, Target will send an email with a unique activation code and instructions on next steps. If you request a code and don’t receive one in five days, check your junk or spam folder. I received mine within 24 hours.

■ Once you receive the activation code, go to http://www.protectmyid.com/target to register the code with Experian. As part of the registration process, customers will be asked for their Social Security number. This is done to verify the person’s identity and ensure no one else has access to the information, according to Target. Payment is covered by Target, so no payment information is necessary to register. The deadline to register the code is April 30.

As part of the one year of free credit monitoring, customers will get a free copy of their Experian credit report. The free credit report will be available online for 30 days to those who sign up online. The report does not include a credit score.

As part of the credit monitoring, consumers also will get alerts that reflect changes to their Experian credit report during that year. That includes new inquiries, newly opened accounts and new derogatory information.

If you are confirmed to be a victim of identity theft you will be assigned an Experian fraud resolution agent, who will help walk them through the fraud resolution process.

Victims of identity theft relating to the Target data breach also will be covered by a $1 million insurance policy that can help cover costs, including lost wages, private investigator fees and unauthorized electronic fund transfers for a year.  I wouldn’t be surprised if down the line they didn’t cover more than one year.  A recent report that I heard on television said that these hackers could hold on to your information for a while before using it.  If you are worried, you might want to ask your credit card issuers to give you new credit card numbers but remember, the real risk is your stolen identity with your address, etc.  Be diligent and monitor your credit card charges every week.  Access to personalized assistance from a fraud resolution agent will continue after the one-year ProtectMyID membership expires, Target said.

Target said people will not automatically be re-enrolled after a year. However, customers can choose to continue the coverage at their own expense.  If you are not already covered by  credit monitoring, then you should consider continuing the coverage.

What Travel Books Do You Like? Here are Some of the Best

I love reading Budget Travel magazine.  I get some many practical ideas of what to see, where to stay that’s affordable and even where to eat.  I had a collection of some of their articles for future trips.  I also like to read about travel and travel stories.  When the two travel loves combined, we get the Top 25 Travel Books of All Time from Budget Magazine.  How many of these have you read and how many are you going to put on your reading list?

photo credit: Kiera Kim
photo credit: Kiera Kim

Anyway, here is their list:

  1. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
  2. The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles
  3. The Beach, by Alex Garland
  4. Daughter of Fortune, by Isabel Allende
  5. White Teeth, by Zadie Smith
  6. A Passage to India, by E. M. Forster
  7. The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith
  8. Open City, by Teju Cole
  9. The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova
  10. Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
  11. The Plumed Serpent, by D. H. Lawrence
  12. Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín
  13. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
  14. In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson
  15. Video Night in Kathmandu, by Pico Iyer
  16. Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer
  17. Travels With Charley, by John Steinbeck
  18. Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey
  19. Wrong About Japan, by Peter Carey
  20. Confederates in the Attic, by Tony Horwitz
  21. Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass, by Isak Dinesen
  22. The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen
  23. The Great Railway Bazaar, by Paul Theroux
  24. In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin
  25. Great Plains, by Ian Frazier

I know that I have added to my reading list and I hope you have too.  Have you read any travel books that you would recommend?

 

Kiva – loaning to others worldwide while you are meeting your minimum spend

Have you heard of Kiva?  Our sons introduced us to it years ago.  Kiva is a non-profit micro-lending organization that connects folks around the world who need a loan with people who are willing to make those loan, often at $25 increments.  Their mission is to try to alleviate poverty by loaning money to vetted individuals throughout the world to make them more able to provide for themselves and their families.  It’s a loan that will change their lives.

kiva

According to their website, “Kiva field partners vet, administer and disburse funds”.  Kiva’s Field Partners have expertise in their local markets and they know their local communities.  They do all the leg work required to get Kiva loans to the borrowers posted on the Kiva website.  The Field Partner collect borrower stories, pictures and loan details, and upload them to Kiva. The loan requests are reviewed and published to the Kiva’s site.

By combining microfinance with the internet, Kiva is creating a global community of people connected through lending. Kiva was born of the following beliefs: people are by nature generous, and will help others if given the opportunity to do so in a transparent, accountable way; the poor are highly motivated and can be very successful when given an opportunity; and by connecting people we can create relationships beyond financial transactions, and build a global community expressing support and encouragement of one another.

kiva 2

Since Kiva was founded in 2005 they have had 1,039,131 Kiva lenders that have made a total of $516,426,650 in loans to people in 73 countries and they have had a 99.00% Repayment rate.  I am amazed at this and am thankful that generous people are able to believe in others and lend a helping hand.

I mentioned that you can meet your credit card minimum spend by becoming a lender with Kiva and that’s because you can make your loans via a credit card.  In case you are wondering,  Kiva is very highly rated by Charity Navigator.

Have you thought about helping someone out with a small loan?  If so, please go to the Kiva site.

Barclay’s Arrival World MasterCard

Thanks everyone for staying with me.  I know that I haven’t posted much since the past few weeks.  Between family get togethers, having a new grandbaby and then having a sinus infection for three long days I’m finally feeling like I can get my life back on track.     Jane

Most of the credit card offers that I have written about in the past have been with credit card partners where you redeem a certain number of points for a fixed value.  Let me explain, if I was going to redeem my Ultimate Reward points with United I know that 25,000 miles would get me a roundtrip cross country trip in economy; I know that 22,000 points with Hyatt would get me one night at a category 5 hotel.

Other credit cards are what we call Revenue Based.  What that means is that the points convert into dollars and you can then apply them against your travel.  The more you spend, the more points you’ll have that will equal money for you to apply against your charges.  Going back to my cross country trip on United – that flight might cost me $569.  With the revenue based credit cards, I would need 56,900 points for that same ticket.  That generally is something that I would not want to waste that many points on UNLESS I had to be at a specific place and there were no award seats available on my flight to book for the 25,000 miles.  With revenue based, there is no blackout dates AND you are credited for the miles flown.

We had a revenue based card, the Capital One Venture card and only used it twice.  The first time was when we were in Singapore last year and stayed at a hotel that was not part of a loyalty club.  The hotel was in a great location and was highly recommended by our travel agent.  We paid the bill with our Venture card and when we came home we used their “Purchase Eraser” to deduct the points against the charge.

barclaycard

Barclay has a new card that is generating some talk – it is the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard.  In fact, Blogger Hubby got his in November.  He received 40,000 points (that equal to $400) after spending $1000 in 90 days.  What makes this card different than other Revenue based credit cards is that you get a standard 2X miles per dollar on everything!  For the $1000 that he needed to spend to get the 40,000 points, he earned 2,000 points – total was 42,000 after the $1000 minimum spend and a waived fee.

Barclaycard-Arrival-Offer

Additionally, when you redeem your points, you get credited back to your account 10% of the miles you redeemed.  Finally, with your card you are given a complimentary Tripit Pro subscription.  This is the premium version of Tripit which organizes all your travel.  The extra features that Pro provides is:

  • organize and share your itineraries
  • tracks your mileage and travel reward programs
  • receive instant flight alerts on your phone
  • find out when you’re eligible for a flight refund
  • sync with your calendar

If you are interested in this credit card, here is a link for you to follow.  I do not receive any compensation for recommending any of these credit cards.  They are just what is in my wallet and that I use.

Winter Getaway – The Mountain View Grand Hotel in Whitefield, New Hampshire

Sorry for not having a post yesterday but I have a great excuse.  Our family increased by one yesterday with the birth of our grandson.  My stepson Mark agreed to fill in with a guest post from his recent family trip to New Hampshire over the holiday break.

Oh so close.  The Mountain View Grand Hotel in New Hampshire’s White Mountains is oh so close to marrying family amenities with a luxury turn-of-the-century grand hotel experience that my family and I can’t help but root for them.   Just a few issues to fix (more on those below) and the hotel would be fully there…except maybe then it would book solid and stop offering the frequent deals that make this extravagant experience financially within reach.  So maybe we won’t root too hard.  If you’re the type who is accustomed to luxury and scoffs at every imperfection, then this is oh so close, but not quite your hotel.  But if you can brush off a few minor issues, you’ll love the MVG, and your kids will too.

mgh3

The White Mountains are a four season draw, and there are plenty of flavorless motels and quaint B&Bs to choose from (if you don’t mind invading the intimacy and calm of a B&B with children).  But if you want to experience the charm and history of the mountains, dine where presidents once dined, and enjoy fireside extravagance, then the grand hotels—leftovers from a bygone era of horse drawn carriages and wealthy families escaping (with staff) for the full summer—stand out.  There are several nestled right in the heart of the mountains: Eagle Mountain House, the Balsams, the famous Mount Washington Hotel in the shadows of its namesake mountain all come to mind.  And then there is the Mountain View Grand, which is not quite in the mountains, but oh so close.  It’s just north of the main mountains and the main towns, perched on a hill with a glorious view spanning the slopes of Cannon Mountain ski resort, Franconia Ridge, and all the peaks of the Northern Presidential Range.  But unlike the other grand hotels, you’re not quite in those mountains; you’re admiring them from a 25 minute drive away.  And you’re not quite near any towns of appreciable size either.  So if you want to get away and stay away, which is what we did, then you’ll be happy.  But if you want the slopes or the trails or the shops and restaurants at your doorstep, keep looking.

mgv1

We spent four days with our two kids, and the kids didn’t want to leave.  The list of what we parents and the kids loved is long:  live piano music in the lobby in the evening; a mini movie theatre with reclining leather seats where you can pick the movie you want and request the staff bring down free popcorn; a good sized indoor pool, hot tub, exercise room, exercise classroom, and sauna.  Wide hallways adorned with oil paintings and stocked bookshelves; a game room with pool, ping pong, air hockey, and foosball; a parlor rooms with checkers and chess.  The food in the restaurant is excellent again this year—two years in a row now, and a marked improvement over earlier years.  There is a barn stuffed with alpacas, lamas, sheep, ducks, and donkeys, with an engaging farmer who provides excellent and educational tours for the kids.  The golf course offers a good hill for sledding.  There are daily activities (ax throwing anyone?) and a fully staffed “Explorer’s Club” activity room if you want to deposit the kids for a few hours of supervised fun.   There are other things too that we haven’t sampled, either due to price or season, among them the spa, golf course, outdoor pool, tennis, mountain bike rentals, and snowmobile rentals.

diningroom mvg

There are also more basic conveniences.  After its heyday in the pre-WWII era, this style of hotel in general, and this one in particular, fell out of favor and repair; the MVG eventually closed in the mid-80s.  But it was purchased, gutted, and redone via a major renovation inside and out before re-opening in 2002, and the results are the little things that make a grand old hotel feel modern where you want it to:  modern windows that seal, modern heating, outlets where you need them, modern bathrooms…in short, it’s still has the grandeur of the old hotel, ornate and with crown molding on the crown molding, but is quite new in all the right ways.

So then what about those imperfections?  Why oh so close?  I mentioned the location—not quite in the mountains, a bit more than a hop skip and jump from the slopes, and at least 20 minutes from any sizeable town.  Good luck trying to run out for a meal.  But there are other little things as well.  Our first year we fell in love with the outdoor skating area, surrounded by a snow covered string of lights for a quintessential New England experience.  But for three straight years now, they can’t quite bring themselves to get the skating ice up and running.  Either they try but forget how to make an outdoor skating area, or claim the weather is not quite right (even though every fourth house in our neighborhood has their backyard rink running smoothly), or they can’t be bothered to set it up in time, or they forget to shovel.  We bring skates each year, and leave disappointed.   Oh so close.  And I mentioned the movie theater…except many of the reclining leather seats are broken and slumped—not a surprise with kids climbing all over them on a daily basis—except the slumping chairs remain year after year.  Oh so close.  Service in the restaurant is prompt and attentive and our breakfast arrives quickly.  And yet there is no syrup with our pancakes and waffles, and it takes repeated requests and ten whole minutes to get some.  Oh so close.  The sledding hill is great but used to send us straight into bushes and a stone wall behind.  Last year they field-mowed the bushes but left the eight inch stalks in the ground like awaiting daggers that made short work of our inflatable sleds.  (Whoops—stupid us.)  Finally this year they’ve taken a bulldozer to the area and cleared out the bush trunks and wall altogether.

The hotel is not inexpensive, and if you go at peak time and pay full price, you’ll be paying full luxury fare commensurate with the ice sculptures and doormen that will great you.  But if you can pick an off season or keep your eyes open for a deal (we found ours through Groupon), and you’re willing to overlook a few rough spots, then you’ll love relaxing and exploring this historical grand hotel.  And your kids will not want to leave.

Thanks Mark for your review.  For those unfamiliar to this area, you are close to the Presidential Range and Mt. Washington.  For the skiers, downhill skiing is available at Bretton Woods, Canon Mountain, Wildcat, Attitash.  If you visit in the spring, summer or fall, make sure you go over to Mt. Washington and take the cog railroad to the top of the mountain or hike up but remember, it is much colder at the peak so be prepared with clothes for a much colder climate.

Travel Planning for the New Year

I had planned on writing this post for a few days now and coincidentally a letter from a reader prompted me to write it sooner than later.

At the beginning of a new year, Blogger Hubby and I like to look forward to what our travel plans might be in the new year as well as the year after that.  In doing so it allows us time to strategize as to which airline we most likely would be flying or at least the alliance.  That way we can see how many points we have, how many would be needed for our trip, whether we need to apply for new credit cards for the points/miles and the timing of the cards.  We’d want to allow enough time to get the card, do the spend and have it posted to our account.  For some long haul trips you would need to begin looking for award space 330 days out from when you wanted to fly and therefore we would need for it to post by then.

Next, hotels then come into play.  Where would we be staying?  Do I have any free nights that we can use?  Are there any promotions that I can take advantage of to get more points?  Most hotels do have promotions throughout the year.  Blogger Hubby came to realize that if we spend $60 for a hotel room here, then that would translate into points for a much more expensive hotel on our vacation.  For those new readers, let me explain.  Club Carlson (Radisson, Country Inn and Suites, Park Inn) had a promotion back in 2012 where if you registered and stayed in one of their hotels by a certain date you received 50,000 points plus the points for booking it online and for staying there.  We also had an online coupon for 30% off the price of a room.  We made a booking about 30 minutes from our home and we stayed there (sometimes we just check in and don’t spend the night).  For that one night that cost us $54, we received about 53,000 points which we used at a hotel in Sydney, AU that would have cost us $350.00.  Currently Club Carlson has a decent promotion where you stay three nights and receive 38,000.  Click here to register.   Sometimes you do have to spend a little to get a better reward.  I recently did the same thing for the Big Win with IHG – made a reservation at the Candlewood Suites for $69 but received 39,000 promotion points plus the points for the stay.  That will translate into 2 nights in Copenhagen.  I know roughly how many nights I need accommodations for and will working towards that total.

Planning your travels will help you be successful in your travels.

Traveling to Africa? Consider Visiting Malawi

Margie, a med student at Harvard, who has volunteered several summers in Malawi  has written a guest blog to introduce my readers to the small Africa country of Malawi.  Perhaps after reading her blog you might put it on your bucket list.

Malawi has earned several nicknames that should spark your interest – like the “Warm Heart of Africa” and “Africa for Beginners.” While its neighbors can boast higher-profile attractions (like Kilimanjaro and the major game parks in Tanzania, or Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe), Malawi has a lot to offer: it is relatively compact, easily navigable, and English-speaking, and its tourist destinations are almost never crowded. I’ll share with you some of my favorite spots in the country, but be sure to do your research to make the most of your trip!

A Few Basics

Malawi is an up-and-coming travel destination, but infrastructure is still very rudimentary. Only the highest-end spots will offer online reservations, for example, and few hotels and fewer restaurants accept credit cards. There are very few chains besides South African stores like Shoprite and Game, and as of now, no major international hotels. Other than the AXA coach between major cities, buses don’t run on a schedule – they leave when they are full. Malawi is generally very safe, but you should do your homework about how to minimize risk, and keep in mind that car accidents cause more harm to foreigners than infectious diseases. (But speaking of health, get your malaria prophylaxis and vaccinations before you go!)

I have found Malawi to be a remarkably safe, welcoming place. I encourage you to travel with an open mind and a generous heart – on a whole, Malawians are friendly hosts and want to show you the best their country has to offer. However, certain situations call for more caution. Again, road safety: I cannot stress enough the importance of safe driving and abundant caution! Also, if you are out and about in the cities at night, try to plan your itinerary and use taxi drivers you have already met. Use general travel smarts, like spreading out your cash and keeping photocopies of your passport. Check out the CDC for health advisories, and read local newspapers to stay up-to-date on political happenings (such as the 2014 presidential election).

For a basic orientation: Malawi is a long, skinny country with three regions – conveniently North, Central, and South. The North is much less populous than the South and Central, but there are worthwhile destinations in all three regions. The M1 is the main highway that runs the length of the country, with other major roads along the northern lakeshore (the M5) and through Liwonde and Zomba (M3).

You will have several options for getting between locations. The very adventurous can use buses (and minibuses for shorter trips) that travel all over the country many times a day. For more control over your schedule, though, you can consider renting a car, with or without hiring a driver. Be advised that driving is on the left, and while the major roads are generally in good repair, you will save yourself a lot of headache by keeping your speeds low and your traveling to the daytime. Within the city, I would recommend finding a taxi driver and getting their cell phone number for subsequent trips.

Several terrific companies offer all-inclusive trips throughout Malawi. I haven’t used them myself, but I have a lot of respect for Kiboko Safaris and the excellent value deals they offer for 3-7 day trips (their 7-day trips to the North or South both look perfect!). Don’t hesitate to inquire if your package can be personalized for your interests.

If you are planning your own trip, here are the highlights of what Malawi has to offer – in my humble opinion.

The Lake

Lake Malawi is a centerpiece of any vacation in the country. It’s a very large, deep, freshwater lake with beautiful sandy beaches and colorful cichlid fish. The easiest escape from Lilongwe is to Senga Bay (near Salima), and I have heard great things about Monkey Bay and Cape Maclear on the southern tip of the lake. My personal favorite, though, is the northern shore – I love Nkhotakota Safari Lodge for its excellent value and nearly empty beach. With a higher budget, you should consider a flight to Likoma Island to stay at Mango Drift or splurge at Kaya Mawa. I love just relaxing on the beach and swimming in the warm water, but many lakeside resorts will offer snorkeling, kayaking, and more activities.

Sunrise on Lake Malawi-1

The Mountains

Mount Mulanje

Far in the south of the country is the imposing Mulanje massif. Its cliffs rise from verdant tea plantations and offer countless miles of hiking trails. Be sure to hire a local guide, and every year in July, watch the fittest of them (and a few brave expatriates) compete in the Porter’s Race up and down the mountain. Mulanje is a terrific destination for active travelers, but it can also be a lovely place to relax on the patio and drink a Malawi gin & tonic while watching the sunset over the lush fields of tea.

Zomba Plateau

Just a few hours north of Mulanje by road (and less than an hour from Blantyre, once the road repairs are completed) is one of my favorite spots in the country, Zomba. Formerly the colonial capital, the town of Zomba is leafy and quiet, especially compared to the bustle of Lilongwe and Blantyre. Rising steeply above the town is the Zomba Pleateau, with a top altitude of over 6,800’. The sides of the plateau are heavily wooded, with pine and deciduous forest depending on the altitude. For a special treat, stay at the Zomba Forest Lodge  halfway up the plateau, where Tom and Petal will serve you a gourmet meal by candlelight. There are other great options in town, including Annie’s Lodge and a variety of budget accommodations. You can hike around the plateau any time of year, though you may find more luck in the dry season – but beware of legitimately cold temperatures in June and July!

Misty forest in Zomba, Malawi

Nyika Plateau

In the northern reaches of Malawi is Nyika Plateau. I haven’t been since the park was revived in recent years, but we enjoyed our stay at Matunkha Safari Lodge in nearby Rumphi back in 2009. The Plateau is up at quite an altitude, and offers some expansive views of grasslands dotted with zebras and many varieties of antelope. If you check out Chelinda Camp in the center of the park, let me know what it’s like!

Game Parks

If you want the classic African safari, you may be persuaded to visit Kenya, Tanzania, or South Africa for sightings of the “Big 5” and extremely established tourist infrastructure. However, Malawi offers excellent alternatives. Majete Wildlife Reserve in the south has re-introduced lions, and Liwonde National Park has hosted high-quality safaris for years. For a remarkably affordable safari, my mother and I stayed at Liwonde Safari Camp just a stone’s throw from Bushman’s Baobabs.  In about 24 hours and for less than $100 each, we ate three tasty meals, slept in a luxury safari tent, and took a game walk (seeing warthogs, crocodiles, and loads of unique birds), a game drive (elephants, impala, bushbuck, waterbok, other antelope, eagles, and a whole family of warthogs), and a river trip (hippos galore!). On top of that, we listened to hippos come ashore to feed after dark, and we were awakened in the morning by, quite literally, a small herd of elephants walking quietly through the camp and munching on trees less than 50 yards from our tent. Plus, we shared these experiences with only two other travelers, and saw only two other vehicles on our whole game drive – a totally different experience than what I’ve heard about Masai Mara and other, more developed parks.

Elephant in Liwonde, Malawi

The Cities

You will probably fly into Lilongwe or Blantyre to start your trip. Both are bustling, potentially overwhelming places without extensive tourist attractions, but if you find yourself with a day on either end of your trip, don’t be afraid to explore. My favorite accommodations in Lilongwe are at the Kiboko Hotel, with its comfy four-poster beds and cool patio and garden. It’s very centrally located but surprisingly quiet inside. Right next to Kiboko is the best art and souvenir market in the city – it’s open-air and definitely a place to bargain. If you feel like you need some guidance, ask for Morris and Osman, and tell them I sent you! The Lilongwe Wildlife Centre does a remarkable job rehabilitating and releasing animals in the wild, while hosting other animals who can’t be released in generously large enclosures. An hour or two at the Centre gives a nice respite from the traffic in Lilongwe. If you’re looking for a good meal, I love the many Indian restaurants in the city, particularly Blue Ginger in Area 43. Mamma Mia for Italian dishes and Don Brioni’s burgers are other favorites; Ama Khofi and the Living Room are great for a cup of coffee or cocktail. For a big night out, Zanzi’s and Harry’s have hopping dance floors. For someone used to a 2 AM last call in Boston, Zanzi’s made me feel like I was in New York City.

Rural Malawi – the Heart of the Warm Heart of Africa

Above, I’ve listed some of the top tourist destinations in Malawi—but after a few minutes’ drive in between any of them, you will probably realize that there is much more to Malawi that visitors are rarely able to see up close. Over 80% of Malawians are engaged in subsistence agriculture, making it one of the most agricultural economies in the world, and life on a rural farm is very different from what most visitors to Malawi are used to. Encountering rural communities can be one of the most elusive but rewarding experiences in the country; if you choose to do so, whether through visiting one of the many terrific community-based organizations or by participating in an organized tour, do your best to be a “responsible traveler”.  Start with the suggestions here. Do your best to act the way you would want someone to act if they were visiting your neighborhood for the first time. Most importantly, visit with an open mind and heart, and listen and observe without making assumptions.

My favorite memories in Malawi

There are a few highlights from my different experiences living in Malawi that really stand out. I had the privilege to live in a very rural community in 2009 near a district center. My neighbors farmed corn and other vegetables for their families, and my walk to work at the hospital took me through cornfields, by chicken coops, and past the well where we got our water. I remember waking up to my neighbor singing while she washed clothes, and walking home after dark under a full moon that lit up cornfields so brightly we didn’t need flashlights. Our landlady and her family were tirelessly generous: I remember when her son brought us half a squash and two ears of corn one morning after it became clear that we weren’t very good at cooking over our biofuel stove. The girls from the nearby high school came over to teach us how to make porridge and gave us lessons on carrying water in our big plastic buckets. When I go back to visit, I can count on an enthusiastic greeting from each of the many children that live with my landlady and nearby. I don’t want to romanticize the challenges of rural poverty in Malawi – life is hard, ordinary tasks are extremely time consuming, and education and health care are often of low quality when they are available – but there was endless warmth in the welcome that my husband and I received in that community.

Aside from that experience, I have three wonderful memories of traveling in Malawi that I hope you will be able to share. Hiking through the tea plantations on Mount Mulanje in 2009, spending a night at the Zomba Forest Lodge with my mother in 2013, and a weekend on the deserted beach at Nkhotakota are the highest of the highlights. I hope that whatever experiences you have in Malawi, you’ll hold them in your photo albums and your heart for many years to come!

I hope that whatever experiences you have in Malawi, you’ll hold them in your photo albums and your heart for many years to come!

Update:  CNN just reported that Malawi is THE place to visit in Africa.  Click here to read their report.

Thank you Margie for your travel suggestions to Malawi, a country that holds your heart.  If any readers have any questions, send them to me and I will forward them to Margie.