Psst. Hidden travel secrets are everywhere. From the off the beaten bike path that gives you the most breathtaking city vantage point to the flea market that uncovers the best vintage goods, secrets of the world's beauty are all around you. Whether it is a place close to your heart, a memory from childhood, or a spot discovered on accident, we all have these special locations we cherish.
Here are some of the best travel tips and secrets from our team at iExplore. Use the ideas to inspire you to get out and explore your own backyard or venture out into the world - you never know what you may find!
Family Fun: Skating in the Sky - Lauren Monitz, Online Marketing Manager
It's no secret that Chicago in the winter is not for the faint of heart. While the snow and icy temps may scare some tepid adventurers, one of the coolest new attractions in the Windy City is Skating in the Sky, way up on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Observatory. From January 1- March 31, a 900 square foot synthetic ice skating rink is built at more than 1,000 feet in the sky- the worlds first at that height. You can skate above The Magnificent Mile® and overlook sky high views of the city's lakefront skyline and bustling Lake Shore Drive. And as if that wasn't cool enough (pun intended), Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks have been known to pop in to offer FREE skating lessons to children. I have often wanted to borrow a child as an excuse to hang with the hockey greats.
The Book Lover's Dream: Hay-on-Wye Amanda Miller, Contributing Blogger
As I have said and always will, studying abroad in England was the spark that ignited my love of travel. I was enthralled by the beauty of the English countryside and the simple charm and character of each town I visited. I was fortunate enough to travel my way across the country, but as a self-proclaimed bibliophile, I was most excited to visit the hidden gem of Hay-on-Wye. Located on the Welsh side of the Welsh/English Border in the County of Herefordshire, Wales, Hay-on-Wye is an absolute book lovers dream. The sleepy, picturesque town is home to almost 40 secondhand bookshops specializing in every genre imaginable and the books are more than affordable, with many shops offering paperbacks for a mere 30 pence. The biggest attraction in town is the Hay Castle, which was turned into an enormous secondhand bookstore in the 1960s by Oxford graduate Richard Booth, the self-proclaimed "King of Hay." I unfortunately missed the annual Guardian Hay Festival, which features authors and musicians, but it is supposedly one of the best festivals in the region and has featured both Vice President Al Gore and President Bill Clinton. Walking the book shop-lined streets in Hay-on-Wye made me feel like I was emerged in one of my favorite mid-century novels and the tour of the castle and its medieval walls was a highlight. I still cherish all of my memories of England, but Hay-on-Wye definitely holds a special place in my heart.
Midwest Gem: Circus World Museum - Mary Brannen, Ad Operations Manager
Being from Wisconsin, I don't think of it as "off the beaten path," but anyone outside the state might not know about the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, WI. The Circus World Museum is located there because the Ringling Brothers used to live in Baraboo - when they weren't touring the country. As a kid, I was fascinated (and a bit scared) by the circus. But I was most awed by the beautiful, antique circus wagons - more than half of the circus wagons in the world are at this museum. Anyone who enjoyed Sara Gruen's "Water for Elephants" should definitely come here to see the real thing!
How to Avoid the Crowds: Travel Lemming Free - Todd McClamroch, Executive VP e-Commerce
To travel by the "Lemming Free" mantra does not mean you need to pull out a machete and cut your own path through the jungle. In fact it can be as simple as walking by all the security lines in the airport to find one at the end that most people do not see and saving yourself some extra time. In essence, it is not following the group but making your own decisions. If you have ever visited Paris for more than a few days you likely took a day trip out to the Palace of Versailles. The morning my wife and I arrived, we were close to the last people off the train which gave us a great vantage point of the tourist migration out of the station where tourists one by one looked at the sign pointing the direction to the Palace, a short walk away. Every single one of them made the decision to follow the line drawn on the map. When I looked at the map it was obvious there was a street running nearly parallel to the one selected for the tourist migration and we broke ranks and went that way alone. Our photos of that neighborhood were tourist-free and with the lack of crowds we arrived before the mass of tourists.
Stray from the Schedule - Corinne Edmiston, Social Media Manager
Sticking to a schedule is great, but most time “scheduled fun” becomes pretty boring, pretty quickly. A little spontaneity when you’re traveling can come in handy — that’s where the most memorable moments seem to stem from anyway. My friend and I broke from the group’s plans one night to see London at dusk. We didn’t have an agenda; we just picked a spot on the tube and went there. It led us to the London Eye, a bucket list item we hadn’t tried yet. Right as we were at the very top, all of London seemed to light up — Buckingham Palace became a brilliant gold, County Hall below us turned a bright blue, and the London Eye lit up in red, white and blue. It wasn’t until we got off that we found out Prince George had been born. Most people found out through social media, but my friend and I got a full show and an awesome travel memory to share instead.
Don't Forget the Mainland - Kirsten Chalfant, Client Success Manager
“I’ve been there” is a statement I heard again and again after returning from Belize. More times than not I would begin talking about all my favorite trip experiences only to be informed that they had barely explored the country at all. It seems people only stopped as a short day trip on a cruise or had just ventured around the small island of Ambergris Caye. Don’t get me wrong – The Hol Chan Marine Reserve is phenomenal, but the mainland is home to impressive Mayan ruins like Caracol, breathtaking views of the Mountain Pine Ridge that will make you question that you are in Central America, and fun activities like zip lining and caving. If you are an adventure lover like myself, I recommend heading away from the coast for a day at Actun Tunichil Muknal. As you walk, climb and swim through the cave, you will see impressive stalagmites and stalactites, ancient mayan artifacts and human skeletal remains. Though Belize is the size of Massachusetts or Wales, it boasts so many different landscapes from jungle to pine forest to plateau to killer beaches to explore.