Travelers’ Top Tips to Pack Smart

Article taken from TripAdvisor

We reached out to Top Contributors in our traveler community and asked for their best-ever packing tips. Here’s what they had to say.

  • Pack light to travel light. If you can manage with a carry-on, do it. Try taking half of the things you need and twice the money. You can make buying a few new items a fun part of the adventure.
  • Pack a sleep mask and ear plugs. These can come in handy on a plane, train or in your hotel room.
  • Capitalize on empty suitcase space. Roll your clothes, instead of folding them. Stuff socks, underwear, and accessories inside of shoes. Leave no space unused.
  • Keep a sarong or pashmina in your carry-on. They can be used as a blanket on the plane, a scarf if it’s cold or a shawl on an evening out.
  • Bag it. Kitchen sandwich bags can be used to hold your accessories, vacuum pack bags can be space savers, and trash bags have multiple uses (laundry bag, shoe covers).
  • Skip airport snacks and bring your own. You can save yourself a bit of money and keep your hunger at bay in case you have a delayed flight.
  • Create compartments. Two words: packing cube. If you are visiting more than one city during your trip, packing cubes will keep your suitcase organized and save you from having to pack and unpack.
  • Share your packing space. Traveling as a couple? Split your clothes between two suitcases on the off chance one of them gets lost during the flight.
  • Bring a multi-socket extension cord. Although newer hotels have USB ports in rooms, it’s best to have an extra outlet to charge all of your electronics at once.
  • Make photocopies before leaving home. If you’re traveling out of the country, make two photocopies of your passport. Use your smartphone to take pictures of your car in the airport’s parking garage and do the same for your luggage and its contents in case it gets lost.

The Sands & Beaches Here in the Heart of Florida’s Emerald Coast

The more you know about the Emerald Coast, the more there is to appreciate. Take some time out before you come to learn why our sands are so white and our waters so green, as well as other interesting facts about our natural environment.

Secret of the Sands

The sands that compose the beaches of Destin, Ft. Walton Beach & Okaloosa Island are among the whitest and cleanest in the world, and the perfect oval shape of each grain of sand makes the beach “squeak” when you walk on it.

You can thank the Apalachicola River, 130 miles east of Ft. Walton Beach, for the type of sand found here. The quartz-sand material, delivered to the Gulf of Mexico from the Appalachian mountains via the river, was deposited along the shores when Santa Rosa Island began to extend like an arm from Destin. This extension continues today as these small, white grains of quartz sand move to the west before reaching their final destination at the Pensacola Pass.

Sand Dunes

Sand dunes, which protect the coastline from storm winds and waves, are formed when waves carry sand to the beach, where the wind picks it up and blows it inland. Gradually, the sand piles up and plants such as sea oats begin to grow in it. The sea oats slowly cover the entire dune and protect it from erosion. If people strip the sea oats from the dunes by walking on them or driving dune buggies over them, storm winds and waves will be able to cut through the dunes and cause severe damage inland. For this reason, it is important to remember: KEEP OFF THE DUNES.

Barrier Beaches

Much of Florida is protected by a chain of barrier islands – narrow strips of sand that act as a buffer for storm waves. In their natural state, barrier islands contain a range of habitats, from sandy beaches to salt marshes and brackish lagoons. Behind the front dunes, which can vary in height and distance due to the salt spray and wind, thickets of shrubs that can tolerate strong wind and spray create a protective hedge in front of coastal forests. These forests trap and anchor sand, help stabilize the dunes and protect the shoreline against storms and hurricanes. They are also critical stopovers for songbirds migrating between the tropics and North America. Farther back from the ocean, the dunes flatten, ending at saltwater lagoons bordered by salt marshes in North Florida and mangrove swamps in South Florida.

Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier

Posted by

Erika Zambello, Emerald Coast CVB

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We all know that fishing piers are good for fishing. They provide structure around which fish can congregate, and allow anglers access to deeper waters without a boat. I have discovered that they are also great places to view local marine life, and the Okaloosa Island Pier is no exception.

I began to walk along the pier in mid-morning, the sun already high and highlighting the iconic emerald color of the Gulf waters. In the shallow surf I noticed the long shape of a needlefish, swimming directly beneath the surface. As the water depth deepened, the color also deepened to a beautiful shade of cobalt blue. Bait fish swirled, creating different shapes as they schooled around the pilings; every so often they would hit the light just right, flashing silver.

Continuing down the pier, I began to pass anglers. Locals and tourists alike fished over the side, casting live bait as well as artificial lures. Parents taught their kids how to reel up, and I couldn’t help but smile at the squeals of delight whenever they pulled up a fish, however small.

However, nothing compared to the excitement all visitors had when spotting a sea turtle. I had just missed a loggerhead feeding next to the pilings, but everyone on the pier was still buzzing about its appearance. Sea turtles are beautiful, gentle creatures, so I was not surprised at the enthusiasm such a sighting left in its wake. The same kids who were fishing and exploring the pier continually exclaimed, “I saw a sea turtle. A sea turtle!

The end of the pier proved a great place to watch birds and see larger fish. The outline of a remora was clear beneath the surface, and other species circled in the more shadowy depths. Terns and gulls fed from the surface, while large pelicans alternatively soared overhead or rested, floating along the waves. Dolphins are very common at the end of the pier as well, attracted to the fish of the anglers as well as those naturally occurring near the pier. (Remember, don’t feed them!)

Though the pier is only a little over 1/5 of a mile, I strode back and forth for over an hour, taking in all the activity and soaking in sightings of marine life. For only $2, I plan to walk the pier as often as possible, even trying my hand at fishing!

Air Carrier GLO To Provide Seasonal Service To Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport

Regional Air Carrier GLO announced this week that they soon will be soaring into Northwest Florida, providing low-cost, non-stop service from New Orleans, LA and Little Rock, AR.

GLO Announcement at Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport.
CREDIT OKALOOSA COUNTY

For the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport, this is the second partnership with a new airline to be announced in less than a month.

Tracy Stage has been the Okaloosa County Airport’s Interim Director since October of 2015. His tenure has been short, but exciting.

In January, VPS added Allegiant Air with seasonal nonstop flights from Cincinnati, OH and St. Louis, MO.

Now, Stage is excited to welcome GLO Airlines to the VPS lineup.

“They came to visit us roughly five years ago to meet with the airport, to meet with the tourist industry and local leadership to better understand the destination,” Stage said. “You know these wins don’t happen overnight, so over years we’ve been speaking with them and it’s just the right time at the right place for GLO to expand.”

GLO was founded in 2013 by Trey Fayard and the service initiated flights in November of 2015.

As with Allegiant, GLO’s service will be seasonal.

Beginning March 25, the airline will offer direct flights between Destin-Fort Walton Beach airport and both New Orleans and Little Rock.  One-way, introductory “GLOForIt” fares are $119 (tax included) for the New Orleans route and $149 (tax included) for the Little Rock route.

The flights are currently scheduled for Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, with one flight each day to Little Rock and New Orleans, through the beginning of September.

“However, if the demand is there, they’ll extend the season or they’ll even run it year round,” said Stage, adding that it’s dependent on utilization of the service.

For the new routes to Florida’s Emerald Coast, GLO’s operator, Corporate Flight Management, will deploy the Saab 340B aircraft, known for its comfort and reliability.

“We offer a higher touch, a higher service option for our customers,” said Mike Welch, who is Vice President of Ground Operations for GLO Airlines and oversees the operations at the various airports they serve. “We’ve got thirty seats on the aircraft like I mentioned, and each one is very spacious and very comfortable.”

Welch also believes the price they offer to get here and the connectivity to the market is something that’s attractive, and differentiates their service from Allegiant.

On the new flights, on board service will be provided by a flight attendant and will include complimentary snacks and beverages from the region GLO services, as well as local publications. GLO passengers may also transport up to three bags and one personal item for free.

GLO will be Destin-Ft. Walton Beach Airport’s fifth air carrier and increases the number of destinations to nine.

“It’s great to get more people who otherwise might not have come so a boom to the tourism industry,” said Dr. Rick Harper, Director of the UWF Center for Research and Economic Opportunity.

While, Harper thinks the additional airline service is great for the area as a whole, he says it’ll be interesting to see how well some of these new flights catch on.

“It’s an open question as to whether people from New Orleans are going to hop on the plane to fly to Northwest Florida or whether they’re going to hop in a car to do it,” he said, noting that trading the nine-hour car drive from Little Rock for a two-hour flight should not be a tough sell.

VPS officials say the airline is expected to bring in more than $1 million in economic impact to the economy.

Destination and ticket information are available at FlyGLO.com

6 Tips for Renting Your Vacation Condo

SPL 408_Legacy_2015_06_03_003Many of our previous blogs have been written for people who want to rent a vacation condo on the  Emerald Coast but today I’d like to share some tips with vacation condo owners who want to improve their property and increase business.

1. Add a personal touch

People like connecting with other people. They like to know that there’s a human on the other end of the business and not some faceless company. They want to know that their patronage is appreciated. You can make your guests feel welcome by leaving a handwritten note thanking them for their business, or a welcome basket with some inexpensive vacation gifts (candle, sun block, tourist guide, etc.).

2. List with a quality company

Managing a rental property is hard enough, but you bought the home as an investment, you don’t want to work 40 hours/week running the thing. That’s why it makes more sense to list your property with a quality vacation condo rental company that does all the marketing for you.

3. Be responsive, even if you’re booked

If someone contacts you about your vacation rental property, don’t ignore them. Many people have flexible vacationing timelines. For example, they may be open to taking time off work any time in July or August. Make sure to respond to everyone and encourage them to book a free time.

4. Visit your property several times per year

If you live out of state, don’t rely on your guests and property management company to keep you informed about the state of your unit. Visit between bookings every now and then to poke around. Look for wear and tear that hasn’t been reported or small issue that might turn into big problems.

5. Be mindful of the taxman

Renting out your vacation condo is a business and you should prepare your tax documents and legal papers with that in mind. Make sure to put aside some of your rental income every month so you can pay taxes on it at the end of the year.

6. Get insurance!

I can’t stress this enough! You need to have more than a traditional homeowner’s insurance policy on your condo. You need to have a specific policy that understands you are renting your house out as a vacation property. You need to protect yourself for when a renter leaves the water running or backs into your garage.

Browse affordable vacation condo rentals in Fort Walton Beach, Florida here.

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Look no further for vacation condo rentals on the beautiful Emerald Coast in Florida! Legacy Vacations has over thirty years experience providing guests with the best Florida dream vacation experience possible, as well as a level of customer service that exceeds expectations. They’re based right on the beach in Fort Walton Beach so they know a lot about the area!

Feel free to call upon their expert team to provide you with a smooth booking experience for your vacation rental condo in the Fort Walton Beach / Destin , Florida area. We will help you do all of the planning so you and yours can start making memories!

For more information visit www.legacy-vacations.com.

 

10 Reasons to Spend Winter on the Emerald Coast

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While the beaches of Destin, Ft. Walton Beach, and Okaloosa Island seem to be the most desired during the sultry summer months, here is what the locals know – the sugar-white sand and emerald-green water are just as captivating in the winter. Here, destination expert Deborah lists 10 reasons to spend winter on the Emerald Coast.

1. Come on in, the Water’s Fine! It really is a matter of perspective but many of our Northern visitors repeatedly tell us the water here is warmer in the winter than it is back home in the summer. Our visitors find it hard to believe that our average water temperature from December to March is 65 degrees.

2. Sunshine on Your Shoulders. There are days of “sweater weather” and there are days with a slight breeze coming off the Gulf. Either way, it is almost always sunnier here than it is back at home.

3. A Very Emerald Christmas. If you are dreaming of a White Christmas, head south, where our sugar-white sands offer a 100% chance of one. “A Very Emerald Christmas” is a monthlong celebration with special events, festive menus and unique shopping.

4. For a Shore Thing. Make a friend with a famous sea turtle at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park on Okaloosa Island or grab a GPS-enabled device for geocaching along one of many Okaloosa County parks. The kids will love exploring the diverse ecosystems along the shore.

5. We Love to Party. Just four hours from New Orleans, the “Laissez les bon temps rouler” attitude is alive and well along the Emerald Coast with numerous Mardi Gras celebrations! Check out Mardi Gras on the Island hosted by the Greater Ft. Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce. This parade is the first Mardi Gras parade on the Gulf Coast and has all the floats, fun characters and beads you would expect from a New Orleans-style celebration.

6. Choose Your Adventure. Walk or run along the beach, ride bikes, scout out nature walks, take in a historic fishing museum, visit historic sites or just doze in a beach chair.

7. Join the Flock. Make new friends or keep the old! Two of the area’s largest “snowbird “(senior) clubs are in Ft. Walton Beach and Destin.

8. Is It Tee Time? Swing into action on the emerald greens of the many stunning golf courses located throughout the area. Upon your arrival stop by the Visitors Center for discount flyers. Choose from any one of our eight championship golf courses.

9. Shop the Coast. You’re sure to find that “beachy” holiday gift or a one-of-a-kind travel keepsake in one of the Emerald Coast’s outlets, pedestrian villages, open air malls, boardwalks or traditional retail stores. Check out the newly expandedDestin Commons or browse the offerings at HarborWalk Village, but be sure to bring an extra suitcase; you’re going to need it.

10. Art & Soul. The arts are at the Heart of Florida’s Emerald Coast. Ballet performances, symphonies, Broadway productions, touring musicians and shows are just a few of the sensational winter cultural happenings. In March you can catch the quintessential fairy tale of finding true love when the Mattie Kelly Arts Center presents Cinderella.

Why the Best Mental Health Day Is a Vacation

BEACH CHAIRS

By Loes Daniels, Founder, HotelGift.com

It’s easy to spot the deep tan that marks someone recently returned from vacation. But the most important and long-lasting effect of travel may be one of the least visible. Books like Eat, Pray, Love and Wild have become international bestsellers by describing it: that sense of renewal, satisfaction, and well-being that can come from “getting away from it all.” As vague as that might sound, there are concrete reasons why traveling can foster better mental health:

1. Travel relieves stress.

It makes sense that a break from work would be relaxing. But you can multiply that relaxation by getting out of town for a few days. Experts say that “active” leisure pursuits–including vacations–can reduce job stress more than just taking time off. (The effect is so strong that one researcher recommended companies provide financial aid to help lower-paid employees get out of town.) Immersion in a new experience helps the brain refresh and reset, so that you return to your old environment in an elevated mood.

2. Travel encourages family bonding.

Bringing the kids along on vacation might seem like more trouble than it’s worth. But experts say travel as a family can promote bonding by forging shared memories. Long after it’s over, families can relive their time together by retelling stories from the trip. That’s true even if the logistics of the vacation are stressful, or the family isn’t particularly close. In difficult situations, parents can model good problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills for their children–skills that will come in handy when the kids are finally ready to travel on their own.

3. Travel strengthens romantic relationships.

Chores, errands, work obligations, plain old-fashioned stress — in everyday life, all these things eat into the time couples spend together. On vacation, by contrast, there’s much more time for intimacy and sex. The effects of such intense bonding can linger long after the holiday itself is over. In one 2013 survey, 40% of couples interviewed said that their sex was permanently better after travel together, whether that was a weekend getaway or an extended honeymoon.

4. Travel can trigger epiphanies.

Many people turn to friends for an outside perspective in times of crisis–but travel can work just as well. It’s hard to solve your problems when you’re stuck in the middle of them. (Just ask Wild’s Cheryl Strayed, who struggled with the death of her mother and a heroin addiction before heading out on her solo hiking trip.) Getting away from it all can help you see creative solutions to an issue that you might have missed. Travel is a journey of not just physical, but also emotional distance. That’s probably why so many people experience personal epiphanies while on trips.

5. Travel helps you appreciate home.

Travel has a way of making you look at the world with fresh eyes. Think about all the photos you take on vacation vs. on a normal workday — being in a new place makes you more likely to notice sensory details. You’ll get a big boost from your vacation if you can take this openness with you when you return home. Look more closely at the faces of subway riders on your morning commute. Take a long, slow walk through the streets of your neighborhood. Once you start treating your hometown as a vacation destination, who knows what you may find?

With contribution by Nathalie Lagerfeld of Hippo Reads.

The Secret Of The Emerald Coast’s Perfect Sand

White Sand

Anyone that’s been to the Destin, Fort Walton Beach, Navarre Beach Florida area knows how perfect the sand is compared to other beautiful beaches around the gulf coast or anywhere around the world.  On a hot day, it doesn’t seem to burn your feet.  Some have compared a walk along one of the Emerald Coast’s beaches to stepping on pillows.  There’s no doubt about it – the Emerald Coast sand is something special.

The scientific explanation to that perfect sand gets a little complicated but we’ll try to make it simple.

In a nutshell, that beautiful white sand is actually part of a mountain.  Or it used to be.   At the end of the last ice age, water from the Apalachicola river made its way to the Gulf of Mexico and carried quartz particles from rock that formed the southern Appalachian mountains.

Destin Sand

The sand gets its extra white color from naturally occurring “bleaching” from the sun and water.  Another big part of the Emerald Coast’s near perfect sand (and near perfect water)  is that the area isn’t polluted by water from rivers the way many beaches are.   Those rivers often carry discoloring sediments that can make ocean water and sand appear dark or murky.

According to the Destin History & Fishing Museum – “Not only does the sand sparkle, it actually squeaks when you walk on it from the sides of the grains of sand rubbing against each other.”

Legend around the area is that if you leave the beach here with sand in your shoes – you’ll eventually find your way back.

Well, I certainly came back….. and never left!

How to Negotiate and Save Big on your Next Beach Rental

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For much of us, going on a beach vacation is what we wait all year for. I mean, come on, who doesn’t like to relax on the beach, soak up the sun and enjoy the endless views and amazing breeze?

Coming to the beach might be your dream all year long, but actually making it happen can really put a ding on the savings account. With real estate values rising and rental rates going up, it can seem like coming to the beach just costs more and more each year.

Since we are actually in the Beach Vacation Rental business, let me share with you how you can save BIG on your next beach vacation!

Start Early or Wait Until the Last Minute
The first easy way to save big on your next beach vacation is to start early. I know, I know, planning far in advance can be tricky with a small, medium or large family.

There are so many things to consider:

Future unplanned tournaments for the kids
Unpredictable work schedules
The anticipation of other life-events
But if you can buckle down and identify your target vacation dates, most companies will generously offer huge discounts to get your reservation locked in. Depending on the time of year, we sometimes offer up to 25% off on reservations made for the following year (excluding late June and all of July of course!).

For property managers and rental property owners, each reservation is a lot of work, and the more we can get booked now, the more we’re ahead for the next rental season when it comes!

And as an extra incentive, most companies have really flexible cancellation policies that help ease your mind when making the decision to book a rental property to the Fort Walton Beach – Navarre Beach area. For example, except for a small admin fee, we offer a full refund on all cancellations that are 21 days or more out from the arrival date. So you can book now, save now, and have the flexibility to change later if you should need to.

Examples of starting early/waiting until the last minute are:

Book 6 months or more in advance
Book for next summer, this summer or fall
Last minute is usually between 1 to 4 weeks out
Closer to the arrival date, the more flexible we are on price
Be Flexible
Being flexible is another huge way to save big when planning a beach vacation. Even in the peak summer months, those that have rental properties on the Emerald Coast are looking to fill availability gaps. And those gaps we’re trying to fill can save you money when you come to the beach!

Some examples of gaps we’ve seen in which we’ve offered amazing discounts to guests are:

An owner blocks their property for use outside the conventional schedule (e.g. Saturday to Saturday)
We end up with an arrant 2-4 night gap in between two other reservations
A last minute cancellation comes up
The best way to save by being flexible is to tell the person you’re working with that your dates are flexible, you just want the best price on the best rental property. Tell them you would like to come in August or September, for example, and that you can stay anywhere from 5 to 7 nights, and you’re willing to fill in some gaps, etc.

Best ways to be flexible are:

Look on availability calendar for odd-date gaps (e.g. Monday – Saturday)
Bookmark a few properties you’re interested in and regularly check their calendar, watch for openings
Give your booking representative a date range, specifying that you’re just looking for the best deal
Ask your representative when they can give you the best deal on accommodations and go with that recommendation
Save Your Trip for the Fall or Another Shoulder Season
It should come as no surprise that rental rates are heavily dictated by school schedules. It’s economics 101.

Demand goes up, supply goes down, price goes up
Demand goes down, supply goes up, price goes down
This is why the first two weeks of June can usually be had at a better deal than the second two weeks of June. In the first two weeks, some schools are still getting out, but in the second two weeks, it’s likely all the schools are out and people are craving a beach vacation!

If you have flexible school schedules or perhaps you home-school, coming late April, early May, or late August (excluding Labor Day) or September is the best time of year to come to the beach in terms of saving money.

And if you want to really enjoy the beach, September and October are the best times of year in Northwest Florida because not only are the rates down, the weather is typically beautiful and the water pristine (and still warm).

November through the end of January is the absolute least expensive time of year to come to the Emerald Coast. However, all of the seasonal-only shops and attractions are closed and the weather is too chilly to bask in the sun or play in the water.

Most affordable times to visit the Emerald Coast are:

Late summer – August – the later in August, the cheaper
Fall – September, October – although, October stays pretty busy with fall breaks – September is by far the least in-demand for the fall
Winter, comprised of November through end of February – November-January is the least expensive time and most likely to work a deal
Late Spring – Late April and early May (after Easter and before Memorial Day)
This is just three of the best ways I know how you can save big on your next beach vacation. Please tell us in the comments below some of the ways you save when you come to the Emerald Coast.

Why Family Beach Vacations Have Become Tradition

When you think about your youth, do you remember little traditions you and your family would celebrate? For many, a summer vacation in Florida’s Emerald Coast is one of those time-honored traditions. Featuring some of the best family beaches in Florida, the Emerald Coast has retained its reputation as a hot vacation spot, with over 14 million visitors a year!

Discover the Best Beach for Families

When families join together for the same vacation on a yearly basis, the shared experiences are what memories are made of. After being rated by TripAdvisor as one of the top beach vacation spots, the Emerald Coast offers everything you need to make those family memories. What can you do in Fort Walton Beach and Navarre Beach to start your family tradition?

Start Rituals
The best family beach vacations include rituals that the whole family can look forward to or savor after the trip. Since the Emerald Coast has some of the best family beaches in Florida, a great idea would be to take a family photo at a particular spot on the famous sugar-white sand and write all your names on it with the date. Start this on your very first trip, and do it every year at the same spot and you’ll have a beautiful, personalized photo gallery! Other ideas include, visiting the same restaurants at the start of your trip each year, and another one at the end. Consider taking a photo in front of your favorite landmark or in front of the famed Okaloosa Island sign. From the weird to the wonderful, there are tons of ways to make the specifics of your trip a tradition.

Share Beach Experiences
Since the Emerald Coast is the best beach for families, you’re obviously going to spend a lot of time on the sand and in the ocean. Make time for ritual activities that the whole family just can’t miss. For example, some families rise with the sun and set out to a mile-long trek down the beach, finding a treasure trove of seashells left behind by the tide. Maybe you can even search for that one special item like sand dollars or sea glass. Whatever the treasure, the goal should stay the same—enjoying the excitement of the hunt as a family.

Dine Out at Your Favorite Spots
Food plays an important role on in our lives, so it’s no wonder that many family beach vacations revolve around dining out. Just as families love staying at the same Emerald Coast condo year after year, they also love eating at the same restaurants. Whether it’s the famous Boardwalk at Okaloosa Island Pier, Destin Commons, or some of the local restaurants, make food a part of the tradition and everyone will have something to look forward to. This also provides an excellent opportunity for a family photo.

Take Advantage of Technology
For many of us, we didn’t grow up with the luxury of the instant gratification and longevity that today’s technology provides. We’d snap photos as often as possible, but we’d have to wait until we got home to get them developed and we never really knew if we got the perfect shot. As you experience some of the best family beaches on the Emerald Coast, take lots of photos. Use social media to share your experiences. Take video too, because you can stitch together clips and make one seriously fun family video that showcases the memories in a way that can be viewed for years to come!

Family beach vacations on the Emerald Coast have long been a tradition for many families and friends, so if you haven’t started yours, there’s never been a better time!