Insider’s Guide to the Worlds Happiest Destinations

In celebration of the United Nation’s International Happiness Day, we asked Insiders  from the 10 happiest cities on the planet* to tell us what makes their cities so special. Here’s what they told us.

* According to Anholt’s Nation Brands Index

10. Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is sometimes referred to as the Paris of South America. Buenos Aires has taken created a cosmopolitan center from the best art, culture, food, history and spirit of its immigrants and allowed it to flourished into a city that literally never sleeps. Buenos Aires is a place where exclusivity and luxury clash on poverty, and the differences can be found on every corner.

z4YjsHkdUxVDBdSuOndQKwLuc_Y2JEImwJWGuEi395o

9. Paris

Like all great loves, Paris never bores and never ceases to challenge. The city’s reputation to intrigue, fascinate, captivate and bewitch people from all over the globe continues to this day. In 2012 the city received over sixteen million visitors, more than any other city in the world with the exception of London, host of the Olympics. Paris’ culture, gastronomy and glamorous history have always dared people to dream. There are no signs that these ambitions are slowing, as the city strives to make itself more attractive each day. The world is changing, and Paris is reacting beautifully.

image1360692712

8. Rome

To be sure, the saying “when in Rome, do as Romans do” is referring to the incredible wealth of activities in present-day Rome, not the Rome of the past. So relax and enjoy the historical monuments in the center of the city: the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon or the Vatican with Saint Peter Basilica; or visit museums such as the Galleria Borghese with extraordinary collections. Soak in the sunlight on your face outside a café, and enjoy long lunch or dinner with good food and wine for a good price.

image1376728713

7. San Francisco 

We inhabitants of the secluded Isle of San Francisco are a peculiar mix of meta-hipsters, thriving geeks, endangered hippies, power bottoms, professional dog walkers, Marina MILFs, cloud sourcers, ass-less chaplains, green startups and green upstarts, car sharers, obsessive burners, bay-to-breakers and even a few quivering republicans, all coexisting in our disparate yet overlapping universes as we manifest our strange destinies in concert.

image1360668684

6. Madrid

Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain, located on the Manzanares river. It’s found landlocked in the center of the country and has a population of roughly 3.3 million, making it the third largest city in the European Union, after London and Paris.  Residents here are made up of an eclectic mix of Europeans and US expatriates. The streets and cafes are full of French business men, retired German couples, young middle-class British families and US college students studying abroad, as well as a large chunk of locals. Madrid is always brimming with a huge number of tourists visiting from all over the world, rushing between landmarks, snapping hundreds pictures along the way.

image1364866195

5. Melbourne

Discover hidden secrets and get local tips on this unique bicycle tour of Melbourne. This stunning tour will have you pedaling through some of the hippest and most scenic places in the city, including graffiti-covered alleyways and the legendary Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Cycling the safe, scenic bike paths of Melbourne with your local guide is an experience you’ll be sure to write home about.

Image

4. Amsterdam

When you think of Amsterdam you think of tulips, windmills, clogs, canals, bikes, Vincent van Gogh, the Red-light district and, of course, our infamous coffee shops. But Amsterdam is so much more.

Image

3.  Barcelona

Set along the Catalan coast by the deep blue Mediterranean sea is one of Europe’s most stunning cities: Barcelona. Its rich history of trade and commerce continues to thrive today as Barcelona can boast of being Spain’s most cosmopolitan, temperate and eminently visitable city. Its streets are lined with reminders of long-gone times, and the bohemian influence is in evidence in its stunning architecture, most notably in the world-famous works of Antoni Gaudí. The region can also name such creative heavyweights as Picasso, Dalí and Miró amongst is more famous sons.

 Image

2. Sydney 

Sydney’s beginnings and development from it’s early days as a convict colony right up to the major developments that have made Sydney the world city that it is today.

 Image

1. Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro is one of the most visited cities in the southern hemisphere and is known all over the world for its natural settings, Carnival, Samba, Bossa Nova and beaches.

Image

World’s Coolest Distilleries

Busnel

The art of alcohol distillation dates back to some of the earliest civilizations. The ancient Chinese were known for distilling a beverage from rice beer, Greek philosophers were known for distilling wine, and arrack was being distilled in the East Indies by 800 BC. Today, the practice continues and we highlight some of the coolest places in the world to sip on spirits while gaining an insider view on how they’re made.

Read more

5 Places to Fall in Love in Paris

Paris Lights

Oh, the city of lights. For centuries, Paris has enticed poets, artists, and lovers with its cobbled streets, cafe culture, and romantic views. Our love affair with the city runs deep, and we’ve rounded up some of our favorite spots in Gay Paree to fall in love. To see the places we love, check out our blog post over at Huffington Post.

What are some of your favorite places to fall in love in Paris?

Mardi Gras Around the World

Mardi Gras – French for Fat Tuesday – refers to the practice of consuming rich, fatty foods (and let’s be honest, alcohol) on the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of the Christian Lenten season. Revelers around the world let loose with flamboyant parades, bright costumes, and cultural rituals. Here are a few ways that people around the world celebrate this spirited holiday marked by abundance.

 New Orleans, Louisana, USA

Mardi Gras

Party goers pack the streets of the Crescent City donning masks, costumes, and beads, beads, and more beads! Revelers attend a slew of parades and masquerade balls marked by the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold. Mardi Gras wouldn’t be Mardi Gras without the traditional King Cake, a ring of cinnamon roll-style pastry that contains a small plastic baby. Those who receive the lucky slice are expected to have a year full of luck.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

MG_Rio 2

The Carnaval in Rio is the largest Carnaval celebration in the world with more than 2 million people flooding the streets of Rio. Festivities vary across Brazil, but Rio is known for its Sambodromo, or samba schools. These large groups of students fill the streets with samba music alongside brightly colored parade floats.

Cologne, Germany

Karneval_2

Known as Karneval, Fastnacht, or simply “the crazy days”, the celebrations in Cologne are one of the largest in Germany. The celebration starts on Thursday with “Women’s Carnival”, where ladies can kiss any man they like after cutting off his tie. This is followed by “Rose Monday” which is marked by elaborate parades. Every year, a group of three people referred to as the Dreigestirn are bestowed with the titles of prinz (prince), jungfrau (virgin), and bauer (farmer). These lucky few lead the Karneval festivities throughout the week.

Trinidad & Tobago

MG_Trindidad

Trinidad and Tabago hosts the largest carnival celebration in the Carribbean. Called J’Ouvert, or ‘day break’, the carnival celebrations start before dawn and peak a few hours after sunrise. Calypso bands and dancers fill the streets. Part of the tradition involves smearing chocolate, mud, oil, and paint on the bodies of partiers known as “Jab Jabs”, who dress and act like demons and monsters.

How are you celebrating Mardi Gras? Let us know in the comments section below!

Exploring Coffee in Kauai

By this time of the year, most of us are thinking of warmer weather and rays of sunshine. One place that often comes to mind is Hawaii. An island of contrasts, from white sand beaches to jagged mountains, Hawaii is a wonderful place to escape and explore. If you travel to the island of Kauai, you’ll also discover the largest coffee farm in the U.S. The picturesque landscape is a great place to relax and learn how your cup of joe is grown, harvested, and roasted. Take a look inside the Kauai Coffee Plantation with the travel team from Sample the Culture.

 

If you make it to Kauai, be sure to experience the local culture as well. Our insiders can take you swimming in bamboo hole or guide you through a Jurassic tunnel tour.

Your Travel Questions, Answered

This afternoon, Jamie Wong, Vayable’s founder & CEO, spent some time over at Lifehacker answering readers’ questions on ‘how to travel like a local.’ In case you missed it, we’ve summed up some of our favorite questions and answers below.

Zach: Airfare seems to be the most expensive part of a trip, especially when trying to fly to the opposite side of the world. What’s your number one tip for saving money when planning a vacation?

Jamie: This is my specialty. :-) Airline loyalty programs are your #1 ally. Most of them also offer credit cards and you get what amounts to a full roundtrip ticket when you sign up. Do this. Be diligent about racking up miles, and then smart about how you spend them—take full advantage of the layover privileges if possible, as well as the no-change fee policies (aka: extend your trip!) Another way to do this is to look for great sales, like companions fly free, and plan a trip around that. Air France once had a special offer: if you booked a mileage trip to Cuba, your companion flew free. We did this and it was one of the most memorable trips of my life —-all because Air France was promoting that route. As far as searching OTAs (online travel agencies), one of my secret weapons is yahoo travel. Bizarre, i know, but for some reason they consistently yield the cheapest airfares.

Skylar: I love trying local foods but get nervous sometimes about how my stomach will react when in foreign countries. Do you have any tips on how to sample the cuisine without getting sick on vacation?

Jamie: I can totally relate. I have the weakest stomach and can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen ill. However, there are some amazing tricks that can help prevent this and now has me fearless when it comes to even the smallest hole-in-the-wall street food in a developing country: Grapefruit seed extract! Start taking it about 2-4 weeks before your trip and then throughout your trip. I went from the girl who got sick from a salad in Barcelona to someone eating Yak meat in the mountains of tibet and fishball soup in tiny food stalls in the hidden streets of Hanoi. Another thing that helps is green drinks. You can buy it in powder form and just add water or juice. Bring it with you and start your day with a green drink to increase your immunity.

Mifune: When I was in Seoul last year, I was fortunate to have some really amazing experiences, thanks to friends who lived there; I can’t imagine traveling to a foreign country without the benefits of help like that. The people we knew in Korea were very close friends, so we already had a good, very personal connection with our guides. If using a matching service like Vayable, what are some good things to ask to make sure that your guide is a good fit for your personality?

I recommend you start by looking at which experiences look most interesting to you —-99% of the time the people offering those experiences will be a good match based on the shared interest. Then read their bio and reviews and you’ll get an even fuller picture. I find reviews to be a really wonderful way to get others’ perspectives on the experience.

 

Have a travel question for Jamie? Leave a comment below, and ask away!

Photo Friday: Green Gardens of Mexico City

 

Mexico City

If you take a stroll around Mexico City, you might notice the unique vertical gardens that have sprouted up around the city. These sculptures are designed to help filter up to 40 tons of greenhouse gasses and are just one example of how sustainability can add a unique footprint to the cityscape.

Learn more about these unique gardens and explore all Mexico City has to offer with Vayable Insider Gabriel  on his local tour of the city.

Live, Eat, and Travel Like a Local

Live, Eat, and Travel Like a Local

 

Part of the thrill of travel is living and experiencing things as the locals do. Our friends over at Nomadic Matt have complied a great list of travel sites and services to connect you with natives. Whether you need a place to stay, a car to rent, or just want to take in the local culture and landscape, here a few sites that can help you make the most of your next trip. For the full list, check out the post at Nomadic Matt.

Airbnb
Why stay in a hotel when you can stay in someone’s home? On AirbnB, locals open up their homes to travelers for rent, and you’ll have a local host to help show you the ropes of your new destination.

Camp in my Garden
This unique service connects campers with people who let them camp out in their backyards. It’s mostly available in the UK and Europe, but the site is quickly expanding. 

EatWith
Get out of the hotel bar and join a local for dinner. EatWith enables travelers to enjoy organized dinner parties with locals and home-cooked meals.

Wondering where to travel next? Check out some of our top Vayable experiences for some inspiration. 

Introducing Vayable Insiders

Vayable’s mission has always been to help people to see the world differently.  We started with our community of local Vayable Insiders hosting adventures.  Two years later, we have grown to nearly 5,000 guides in over 500 destinations and have connected thousands of people throughout the globe–from Buenos Aires to Bali–on our community platform. We are thrilled to announce that we’ve expanded our platform to better accomplish this mission with the launch of Vayable Insiders.

You can now request travel experiences tailored to your interests, style and budget.  We match you with vetted and trained local Insiders at your destination who work with you to design and build a travel experience as unique as you are, whether it be a ten-day road trip in Ireland or an afternoon discovering food and art in Paris.

Here’s what’s new:

  • Experiences tailored to you: A 60-second questionnaire which gives Insiders more accurate insight into travelers’ personalities, needs and their desired journeys means you get polished and customized proposed journeys designed by your assigned Insider.

  • Less work: Instead of sifting through travel forums, you have an Insider available for one-on-one conversations to refine your proposed journey to guarantee your perfect escape and for you to ask any questions about the destination. Insiders are also available to book your entire trip, from accommodations to restaurant reservations to museum tickets, so that you can pay in one click, which means you save time.

  • More connections created: We’ve created a safe place for people to connect with each other in destinations all over the world. All Insider applicants are pre-screened and go through a proprietary training program to formalize their skillset and to ensure they meet Vayable standards. We also give travelers access to Insiders on the ground who are happy to help travelers with anything else they might need, such as a ride to the airport, finding their way around and teaching them about local customs.

How it works:

1. Request an experience.

Go to Vayable.com and enter your destination and departure dates.  If you don’t know where you’re going, browse through travel experiences Insiders have created for inspiration.

2. Vayable matches you with an Insider

Vayable matches you with a vetted and trained Insider based on your destination, interests and personality.

3. Receive trip proposal

Your Insider will send you a trip proposal within a day to give you a taste of what’s possible. This proposal is only a suggestion and you can modify and build off of it with your Insider.

4. Connect directly with an Insider

To connect directly with your Insider, simply pay a $45 trip development fee (which we’ll then apply toward the total cost of your trip) and you’ll be able to connect directly to start designing the experience you want.

5. One-click booking

Once you’ve finalize an experience to your heart’s content, it’s time to book!  You’ll either receive advice and tips, a full itinerary or a full itinerary with bookings included–whatever you have agreed upon with your Insider and whatever best suits your needs.  You’ll receive an email with a link to access your personal booking page. Simply confirm and you’re off to enjoy your experience.

Fees

Fees for Vayable Insiders remain the same as throughout the Vayable platform.   You simply pay for the cost of trip (accommodations, tours, local transport–anything you choose to include) + Insider fee (an agreed-upon amount for their time and service) + a 3% platform service fee.

As with all Vayable experiences, Vayable takes a 15% commission from the Insider’s fees.

How are people already using Vayable Insiders?

1. Glenn and his wife wanted an on-the-ground Insider to create a completely custom, one day and one night whirlwind in “Welcome to Paris” experience. Our Insider crafted the perfect Parisian day complete with a locals’ jaunt through the backstreets of Montmartre with forays into music shops and a carefully selected boutique hotel with a roof top view of the Eiffel Tower.

2. Monty and Tan checked a big one off their bucket list by designing their dream mother-son bonding trip to Macchu Picchu! Our Insider planned their trip from start to finish, including a sunrise hike to Macchu Picchu, a private guided tour of Colca Canyon and topped it all off by taking them to eat ceviche with locals in Lima.

3. Greg knew he wanted to get off-the-beaten path but had no idea where to go. Our Insider crafted a two week adventure through Turkey and Croatia, where Greg enjoyed Turkish breakfast with locals, rode in a hot air balloon,  wandered around Roman ruins, relaxed in a Hamam and hopped around the Croatian Coast.

We hope these stories inspire you to go on your next adventure! Have a Vayable Insider design your next trip today.

Cheers,

The Vayable Team

Announcing two special community events in Paris & Barcelona

You love to travel. We love to listen.

At Vayable, we are constantly inspired by the questions, “Why do we travel? How can we travel better?” Join our conversation!

You are invited to meet our community and Vayable CEO and Co-Founder Jamie Wong at one of our two very special events this Friday, 19 July at The Workshop in Paris and this Sunday, 21 July at The Antic Theatre in Barcelona. We will have drinks, light bites, good company, and an open ear. We want to hear from you.

Click on the events below to RSVP. Friends are more than welcome–please have them RSVP also! We will be gifting $25 Vayable credit for everyone who brings a friend, and for their friend as well.

We look forward to meeting you!

paris

1069127_10153021599160591_1896016426_n

For any questions do not hesitate to contact us by email: party@vayable.com

Top 10 Places to Connect With Your Inner Child

“There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million.”
—Walt Streightiff

Our everyday lives often feel like a balancing act that even a trapeze artist would shy away from–balancing work, family, housework, finances, and those rare moments of leisure, to name a few. Although we’re on autopilot most days, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of “disconnecting,” as our Istanbul guide Kasper calls it, to come back to a familiar environment with new eyes.

Even our fun-loving Vayable guides need to escape from time to time in order to reconnect with their playful, nostalgic, liberated, ridiculous, and creative sides. Check out the top 10 spots that continue to instill a sense of wonder in each guide’s “inner child.”

10. Syssa E.Heiðmörk / Heidmork Conservation Area, Iceland

Image

“The Heiðmörk Conservation Area in Reykjavík’s backyard is an amazing 2800 acres of mossy fields, rock formations, cliffs and caves, forests and lakes–all in a vast lava field at the foot of Þríhnúkar volcanic craters. Need I say more? You only need a small amount of imagination to see trolls in the rugged moss-covered lava landscape at dusk and fairies in the forests at dawn; and if you are blessed with more, expect also to meet beings from other worlds that might lead you into some truth you may not have found yet.” (Photo courtesy of Syssa E.)

9. JeffreyTriangular Traffic Island, Flatiron District, Manhattan

Image

“Tall buildings and traffic jams fascinated me as a child. My opinion of gridlock has changed, but the excitement from cities in action has not. Where Broadway crosses Fifth Avenue, a magical traffic island is created. This triangular plaza mirrors the footprint of the Flatiron Building due south while towering north is the Empire State Building. I order comfort food from Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop (hot pastrami on rye + chocolate egg cream), grab a seat on the island and watch the city circulate.” (Photo courtesy of Jeffrey.)

8. Esther M., Villa Sciarra, Trastevere, Rome

Image

“Villa Sciarra, a little-known park in the Roman district of Trastevere, is my favourite place to connect with my inner child. I used to come here with my grandmother when I was a child, and I still remember (and my grandmother does too!) that I would get angry because I could not go on the merry-go-round designed for older children. I’m still obstinate and at times capricious, so absolutely this is the place to rediscover my inner child!” (Photo courtesy of Esther M.)

7. Aigul S., Teatro Elkafka, Amalgro, Buenos Aires

elkafka

“I discovered my inner child over 3 years ago in the dark rooms of the theatre Elkafka, in the Almagro neighbourhood of Buenos Aires. The stage of Elkafka has become a playground for my personal transformations. Here, I rediscovered myself by taking on lots of new roles, improvising and innovating with others, and making lifelong friends.” (Photo courtesy of Aigul S.)

6. Uriel G., le Louvre, Paris

d0b508754c7ea08c191eecdc8d69f8c8

“Before I knew it was one of the most impressive museums in the world, le Louvre was a place of mystery and fear. The Great Sphinx of Tanis, the mummies, and the hieroglyphic stones, were among the many traces of lost civilizations before which I felt even smaller than I was at the age of 5. The many stories le Louvre contains, such as the theft of the Mona Lisa, its history as a dungeon and a fortress before becoming a world-famous museum, completely overwhelmed me as a little Parisian. And some years later, it still does!”

5. Kasper I., Büyükada, Princess Islands, Istanbul

princess

“The Princess Island’s Büyükada, which means the Big Island, is just a ferry ride away from Istanbul and is usually where people go to escape from the chaos and traffic of the city, which is why I went there my first time. Here, you can picnic, barbecue, play football, swim in the sea, rent a bike, or take a carriage ride around the island, where motorized traffic is not allowed. In the evening, the island changes to a great, calm and nostalgic place for a walk with an amazing view of Istanbul, full of lights. Büyükada allows me to briefly disconnect from Istanbul, which is important for someone living in the city for a long time. Just one tip: if you want to disconnect from the city, you should not go to the Islands during a summer weekend, or you will find half of Istanbul joining you on your mini-getaway.” (Photos courtesy of Kasper I. From left: Minnoş the street cat, enjoying the view from Büyükada and view of the sea from Büyükada.)

4. Shane U., the sidecar view of Shanghai & beyond 

shanghai

“My favourite place to connect with my inner child is the back of my sidecar. The first time I sat on a motorbike, revving the engine and feeling the machine vibrate, I knew I would have to get one of my own.  My inner child wants excitement and adventure, and that is exactly what my sidecar gets me.  Whether it is in the heart of the city of Shanghai, or the countryside near Xi’an, the sidecar provides for the child within!” (Photos courtesy of Shane U. From left: at Nanpu Bridge; at the Peninsula Hotel; the Pudong Skyline; Xi’an countryside.)

3. Russell H., the Wave Organ, San Francisco

waveorgan

“When I first moved to San Francisco, a city native invited me out to the spit of land just beyond the Marina Green to make music with the Wave Organ. With it’s womps and gurgles, we had a great time trying to play along (the neighbors were not happy with our childish noise making). To add extra inner child mojo to the Wave Organ, hop on a bike and ride along the Embarcadero, through Fort Mason, and down to the Marina Green. The views are amazing, and the Wave Organ is a creative, architectural treat when you catch it at the right time of the day–when the water hits the tubes just right–for the fantastical fun of San Francisco Bay sounds.” (Photo courtesy of the SF Exploratorium.)

 2. Anne D., Picnicking in Paris

pretavoyager-picnic

“For me, picnicking is one of the things that reminds me of my childhood summers. It wasn’t until I moved to Paris that picnics became something adults did as well. They’re the perfect excuse to check out a new location around the city and pick up something delicious at the local market. It’s a lovely experience being around fellow picnic-ers as well, and you can’t help but feel like a local.” (Photo courtesy of Anne D.)

1. Where do you go to connect with your inner child? Reply to our post on Facebook by July 1 with your favorite spot (bonus points if you include a picture!) We will blog the reply that gets the most Facebook likes, plus give you a $25 Vayable gift card to hopefully bring you a bit closer to your inner child’s next adventure. Remember–the world is your playground.

Image

Book Your Next Vayable Experience On The Go

After noticing a growing number of users accessing Vayable.com from their phones and various mobile devices, we decided to create a mobile-friendly site. We’re excited to announce that it has officially launched!

So grab your phone or tablet or phablet (those exist, right?) and take a look. Right away you’ll notice how much easier it is to explore our top six destinations—San Francisco, New York, London, Barcelona, Paris, and Rome—while also being able to search other locations around the world. With a more streamlined booking process, your next Vayable experience is now only a few clicks away (assuming you have good aim).

Check it out and start discovering your journey today.

www.vayable.com

And don’t forget to let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Now It’s Easier Than Ever to Book (and offer) an Experience as Unique as You

We’re excited to announce that we’ve partnered with our friends at Stripe, one of the fastest growing and best online payment companies in the world, to bring our insiders and travelers the absolute best global payment experience possible. We’ve been hard at work to revolutionize the payment experience for online travel booking, and with Stripe’s leading global payment platform, we can now deliver the fastest, most reliable and secure payments straight to you. Sign up for ACH now!

2014-01-29 10.34.16Vayable and Stripe hard at work! 

We’ve also made it easier than ever to request payments for customized experiences

At Vayable, we understand that no two travelers are alike, and we’ve just made it a little easier to make each experience as unique as the traveler who books it by introducing custom pricing. Requesting, customizing and booking unique experiences has never been easier.  Insiders and travelers can now work together to craft the perfect experience directly through email or your Vayable inbox, and you can book your personalized experience in a click right from your inbox.

So, what do all these new payment changes mean for you?

 Insiders benefit from:

  • Increased visibility into payout information and timing
  • Faster, more reliable payouts
  • Request payments with new easy-to-use custom pricing

Travelers benefit from:

  • Faster booking process
  • More customized and personalized travel experiences
  • Less back-and-forth before you get what you want!

We hope you enjoy the new improvements, as we want to make it as easy as possible for you to create travel experiences that are unique as you are.