Ask the Pro Series – Issue 1: Planning the Perfect Honeymoon with Brownell Travel

I’m so excited to share with you the first issue in my new Ask the Pro editorial series, where experts in their field share inside tips and how to’s with HDP so I can share them with you! I’ve been very selective about my partners in this series because I want you to hear from the very best in the business! Most of these partners are based in Nashville and Birmingham, the cities where I’ve lived and worked the most. However, their reach extends much further.

First up…Brownell Travel. I’m thrilled for you to get acquainted with this company (if you aren’t already),  the leading upscale travel firm in the Southeast since 1887. Brownell is a member of Virtuoso, the world’s oldest and most prestigious leisure travel association. Less than 1% of America’s agencies are accepted for membership in Virtuoso. These select agencies must be able to offer clients extensive knowledge and wide-ranging experience on travel throughout the world. Virtuoso travel consultants create experiences, not just trips or vacations.

Brownell Travel is based in Birmingham, AL, but has experienced advisors all over the world. So, no matter where you call home, they have knowledgeable pros to help plan your perfect honeymoon, destination wedding, vacation or trip to just celebrate life!

“Travel, it leaves you speechless
and then turns you into a storyteller.”
— lbn Batutta


Haisley Smith, CTA Vice President of Marketing and Development,  Brownell Travel (image supplied)

Haisley Smith, CTA is the Vice President of Marketing and Development for Brownell Travel. Haisley joined Brownell in 2005 as the Director of Marketing and now serves as the Vice President of Marketing & Development. She set her sights on a career in the travel industry after studying anthropology abroad at the University of Innsbruck in 1998. Through her position at Brownell, Haisley is able to combine two passions – seeing the world and promoting the amazing travel experiences Brownell can offer.

Haisley promotes Brownell by highlighting travel advisors’ expertise, access to authentic experiences, legendary personalized itineraries, and travel perks that come from Brownell’s strong reputation and relationships with other Virtuoso travel providers. In short – “Travel Beyond Your Expectations.”

Haisley and I have known each other since 2000, where we worked together at a magazine publishing company. We’ve stayed in touch ever since, working together on various projects for Brownell over the years. I’ve even photographed her two beautiful daughters and watched them grow up through my lens. Brownell has also planned amazing trips for me, including Paris and Mexico. Next up on my list is Italy! Haisley has never met a stranger, is passionate about her job and is truly an exceptional person. Here’s what she had to say in response to our honeymoon planning questions.

Q&A with Brownell Travel:

What makes Brownell Travel the best option for all my honeymoon planning

Connections and Experience. We’ve been in business for more than 130 years and we’ve worked with hundreds of resorts since they opened their doors and that opens (otherwise closed) doors for our clients. 

What is the best advice you could give newlyweds on finding their perfect honeymoon destination?

Your honeymoon should be as thoughtfully planned and as personal as your wedding. You wouldn’t duplicate your friend’s wedding, why would you duplicate their honeymoon? The perfect destination and honeymoon is uniquely yours. Use an expert to help you uncover what that is.

What are ten things you need to know before planning your honeymoon? 

1. If you didn’t want a cookie-cutter wedding, a cookie-cutter honeymoon from the Internet is going to disappoint you. 

2. Prices for the same room at the same resort can fluctuate by several hundred dollars per night depending on the time of year.

3. The day after the wedding is not always the best time to depart for your honeymoon. Delayed honeymoons can be even better because you have the luxury of anticipating the trip instead of worrying about wedding details.

4. All-inclusive resorts are not always a great value, but many fantastic resorts have all-inclusive packages they don’t promote to the public.

5. Domestic honeymoons are often overlooked but can be magical with the added bonus that they are easy to return to for anniversaries.

6. Don’t be fooled by pretty pictures on the Internet. If sugar-white beaches and turquoise water are important to you, work with an expert who knows what the destinations actually look like, season by season. 

7. Talk through your expectations of what you want to experience on your honeymoon with your fiancé. You may picture yourselves on a beach under an umbrella all day, but he may be expecting rock climbing and kayaking!

8. Be wary of travel advice from well-meaning friends and family. Their ideal is probably not yours, even if they are great spokespeople for their favorite destinations and resorts.

9. Agree on a budget and be transparent with your travel advisor. A professional travel advisor will not try to “upsell” you and will be very candid about what kind of experience you can expect with your budget. 

10. Even though you may be excited to use your new name, don’t book your airline ticket in your married name!

What are the top places to honeymoon in Europe? 

The hot destinations for honeymoons in Europe now are Greece, Portugal and Spain. Italy and France are always popular and always a good idea.

Canaves Oia Greece.jpg
Canaves Oia, Greece, (image supplied)
Grand Hotel Tremezzo, Italy.jpg
Grand Hotel Tremezzo, Italy, (image supplied)
Six Senses Duoro Valley, Portugal.jpg
Six Senses Duoro Valley, Portugal, (image supplied)
Belmond La Residencia, Spain.jpg
Belmond La Residencia, Spain, (image supplied)
Park Hyatt Paris.jpg
Park Hyatt, Paris, (image supplied)

What are the top places to honeymoon in the US?

Napa/Sonoma Valley, San Francisco, South Florida, Oregon, and New England are great honeymoon destinations.

Faena Miami.jpg
Faena, Miami (image supplied)
Acqualina, Miami FL.jpg
Acqualina, Miami (image supplied)

How would you suggest making the most out of your honeymoon when you only have a few days of vacation?

Choose a destination with a short flight or short drive. No need to waste valuable relaxing time in an airport, on a plane or on the road. Don’t overschedule or over-plan and DEFINITELY don’t over pack. Maximize your time by having a plan and not scrambling for restaurant or activity reservations on site.

What are the top three places to honeymoon in the Caribbean?

It changes every year. My personal favorites are St Lucia, Turks & Caicos and the BVI.

The Shore Club, Turks & Caicos.jpg
The Shore Club, Turks & Caicos (image supplied)
Hermitage Bay Antigua.jpg
Hermitage Bay, Antigua (image supplied)
Curtain Bluff, Antigua.jpg
Curtain Bluff, Antigua (image supplied)
Amanyara, Turks & Caicos.jpg
Amanyara, Turks & Caicos (image supplied)

Do all-inclusive resorts actually save you money in the end? 

I’m personally not a fan of all-inclusive resorts for honeymoons because the experience can be very cookie-cutter and you become one honeymoon couple among hundreds. The “brand-name” all-inclusives give many of the special, independent all-inclusives a bad name with poor service, poor food, and watered-down drinks. There are some gems out there, but in the end, you can’t put a price on disappointment.

“Wedding season” is May-August which is hurricane month for most of the Caribbean…what are other easily accessible tropical destinations?

There are lots of destinations in the south Pacific, South America and even in the Caribbean that very rarely (if ever) are affected by hurricanes. They are each very different with very different price points. 

The Brando.jpg
The Brando, French Polynesia (image supplied)
Laucala Island.jpg
Laucala Island, Fiji South Pacific (image supplied)
Gili Lankafushi.jpg
Gili Lankafushi, Maldives (image supplied)  

“We are wanting an adventurous honeymoon in the US”…what are the top places we should consider? 

The American West – we love Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona

The Ranch At Rock Creek, Montana.jpg
The Ranch at Rock Creek, Montana (image supplied)
Amangiri, Utah.jpg
Amangiri, Utah (image supplied)
The Resort at Paws Up.jpg
The Resort at Paws Up, Montana (image supplied)

“I want to surprise my bride with our honeymoon”…How can Brownell help me make sure I include everything she would want? 

Brownell has a really powerful tool – think of it as Netflix for travel that helps couples rank and rate their travel styles and wish-lists.

Is there a secret trick to getting upgrades?

Yes, a well-connected travel advisor has access to exclusive preferred partner programs with hotels and resorts that give their clients special amenities, perks and put them top of the list for upgrades – some at the time of booking!

Website: Brownell Travel | Phone: 205.802.6222EndCap

Photo by Heather Durham Photography in La Jolla, CA

Whether you are a bride and groom planning a Destination Wedding or honeymoon, or Parents of the Bride and Groom needing a vacation after all the busy wedding planning, if this first issue of Ask the Pro doesn’t get you grabbing your passport and online shopping for new luggage, I’m not sure what will! Thank you to Brownell Travel and Haisley Smith for sharing your expertise with us!



Charleston Images and Travel Tips

[All images © Heather Durham Photography, 2018]

Charleston. It’s one of my very favorite southern cities for so many reasons. I had visited two other times, but I was in my twenties for both; so I was excited to go back with a new appreciation for the history and architecture. This was a Mother-Daughter trip with my 15-year-old and one I won’t forget. We made some fun memories, just as I did with my own Mom the last time I was there.

Considering Charleston has been through several major wars, hurricanes, and fires, the city’s history is extremely well-preserved thanks to its strong historical society and architectural review board. You can’t touch anything that’s 50 years or older without a thorough review by the board prior to beginning a project. Just YES!

Side note: I sure wish my hometown of Birmingham, AL had preserved its beautiful old terminal station instead of tearing it down! The new redevelopment plans were never built. Such a waste!

920px-Birmingham_Terminal_Station_(1909)(Rendering of the Birmingham, AL Terminal Station 1909-1969 via Wikipedia )

In addition to Charleston’s historic preservation, I love that it’s simple to navigate. The downtown peninsula area is easily traveled by foot because it’s only 5 square miles in total. My favorite way to see a city is to walk it, slipping in and out of cafés and shops to take it all in and not miss anything. Most of the outlying beach islands such as Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palms, Folly Island, Johns Island, James Island, etc. are just a short 20-ish minute drive off the peninsula. It’s easy to hit them all and have a very different experience at each one. Sullivan’s Island is my favorite…but I’ll get to that a little later in this post. Oh! And if you fly to Charleston, I highly recommend renting a convertible to enjoy the city and beach towns with unobstructed views.

If you’ve never been to Charleston, I hope this blog post will convince you to put it at the top of your list of southern cities to explore, especially if you are a history buff or a foodie. If you’ve been to Charleston, but it’s been a while, I hope this post will provide some new and useful information for your next visit. If you aren’t traveling in the near future because you are building or remodeling a home, you will definitely be inspired by the architecture, landscape design, window boxes and paint colors! I used my Nikon DSLR for most of the images, but an occasional shot was taken with my iPhone based on what was easiest and what I had with me at the time. I hope you enjoy seeing and hearing about this lovely South Carolina coastal town.

HDP-Charleston-173_-WEB.jpgSouth Carolina’s flag and car tag are my favorites in the U.S., and yes! These things matter.

Food is so much a part of what I love about traveling and I usually do my research, plan meals and make Open Table reservations at restaurants in advance of every trip. Based on followers’ requests I try to post some of my travel images and tips to my blog to help you plan your own trips. However, I didn’t get to eat enough yummy Low Country food on this trip. My teenage daughter and I have very different palates and she doesn’t eat seafood. Since I wanted to be spontaneous with her and let her choose what sounded good (with a few exceptions), so that she could have fun, I let go of my restaurant picks this time. I didn’t want her to remember this trip as me dragging her to white tablecloth seafood restaurants every night, where she left hungry. If she wanted to roll off the beach, throw a t-shirt and denim shorts over her swimsuit and eat Mexican, that’s exactly what we did. However, I will share a few food spots and activities that stood out to us in our spontaneity.

Recommendations for food and activities by area:

Historic Downtown Charleston

Bitty & Beau’s Coffee
Carolina Polo & Carriage Co.
Charleston City Market
Hominy Grill
King Street Shopping
King Street Cookies
Pink House Gallery
Rainbow Row

My best tip for the downtown area? Wake up with the sun, grab coffee at Bitty & Beau’s,  and just walk…or run if you want the exercise. Named after the owners’ two children with Down Syndrome, every Bitty & Beau’s is staffed by people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and celebrates their value, acceptance, and inclusion. LOVE IT! Early in the morning, the light hits all of the buildings with a beautiful warmth, the streets are quiet and the only people you pass are dog walkers and runners. Walking allows you to take in all of the eye candy… the architecture of homes and churches with historic markers, window boxes dripping with flowers and greenery, old cobblestone streets, lovely art galleries, unique shops. bed and breakfast establishments and the harbor. Head towards The Battery by way of East Bay Street to see the collection of colorful pastel homes called Rainbow Row.







Charleston SC by Heather Durham Photography

Charleston SC by Heather Durham Photography



Be sure to eat brunch at Hominy Grill, and trust me when I say it is worth every calorie (and every extra workout…or nap you’ll need) to indulge in the Bread Pudding French Toast with Bourbon Caramel Sauce. It will change your life! Seriously it’s that amazing! I want it now.

IMG_9068_-WEB.jpgHominy Grill- iPhone

Book a carriage tour through the historic areas. I usually don’t enjoy guided tours of any kind unless they are outdoors by bike or carriage. Don’t even try to put me on a bus tour…EVER! Several companies do these carriage tours and they vary. You don’t know which tour you will get in advance because the city uses a bingo-type system. Once you are loaded in your carriage, the tour guide will stop by a little booth where he is given his tour area number, then off you go. We used Carolina Polo & Carriage Co because it partnered with our hotel and we could catch the tour right outside. My recommendation is book the first tour of the morning while everyone, including the tour guide and horse, is still fresh. Our tour guide was exceptional because he was a history teacher and had been doing carriage tours for 17 years. Even my teenage daughter said it was interesting and one of her favorite things we did!

Take time to peruse the city market great hall and open-air sheds. You’ll find local artisans selling their crafts including jewelry, food, sweetgrass baskets, Charleston souvenir t-shirts, etc.

Spend a day shopping on King Street. You’ll find everything from antiques to jewelry and clothing. When I travel I usually only like to eat at local-only spots and shop at local-only stores. But again, since I was with my daughter this time, we hit places she loves like Urban Outfitters. When she needed a break from all the shopping, we hit King Street cookies. If you are on a grown-up trip, be sure to do all of the antique shops. Gah! That’s all I have to say.

HDP-Charleston-153_-WEB.jpgLeft: King Street Shopping and Right: City Market

IMG_8984.jpegMy daughter shopping at some of her favorite stores on King Street-iPhone

IMG_8991Snack break at King Street Cookies. There’s even a milk bar! -iPhone

HDP-Charleston-56_-WEB.jpgThe Pink House Gallery, once a tavern, is the oldest building in Charleston, circa 1690

Shem Creek/Mount Pleasant 

Arthur Ravenel Bridge
Shem Creek Boardwalk
Tavern & Table

The drive over the Cooper River on the Arthur Ravenel Bridge is a treat in itself, both day and night. Here are two videos I took with my iPhone as we drove over the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, once at night and once during the day, with the convertible top down so I could film overhead as we went under this amazing cable-stayed bridge. (My daughter was being our DJ, so enjoy the cool tunes. 😉 )

On your way to or from Sullivan’s Island, stop at Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant for views of Charleston Harbor and the marshes. Rent a boat or water sports gear, then grab a bite to eat at one of the boardwalk restaurants. We liked Tavern & Table, for excellent food, service and waterfront dining. We were there at sunset, which was absolutely perfect!

IMG_9047_-WEB.jpgShem Creek Boardwalk sunset view while dining at Tavern & Table-iPhone

Sullivan’s Island/Isle of Palms

Arthur Ravenel Bridge
Middle Street Restaurants
The Obstinate Daughter
Beardcats Sweet Shop
High Thyme
Mex 1 Coastal Cantina
Charleston Lighthouse

Note: Shem Creek, Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms can be done on the same day. They are very close to each other.

My favorite island is Sullivan’s Island. It’s the same feel as 30A, only much smaller…beautiful beach homes and good restaurants in a quaint little town. We were on Sullivan’s Island 4th of July week and easily got right seated in the restaurants on Middle Street without long waits. I would love to rent a beach house on Sullivan’s Island for spring break, for a slower pace and away from the crowds on 30A. Oh, I will always have a love affair with 30A! I’ve been going there since I was 12 years old and there were maybe 10 houses in Seaside. I’ve seen it grown and flourish over the years into a beach haven, but I also want my kids to experience different coastal towns. My daughter loved Sullivan’s island and kept wanting to go back.

Be sure to eat at The Obstinate Daughter and have gelato or an ice cream sandwich at Beardcats Sweet Shop. Their waffle cones are the best I’ve ever had! Melt in your mouth goodness.

IMG_8658 2_-WEB.jpg

The Obstinate Daughter & Beardcats Sweet Shop on Middle StreetHDP-Charleston-208_-WEB.jpgHigh Thyme and Mex 1 Restaurants on Middle Street

The road behind The Obstinate Daughter and Beardcats will take you to a boardwalk for easy beach access. This boardwalk is where I took photos (below) of the Charleston Lighthouse and nearby beach homes. Take a nap on the beach after all that food! It’s so peaceful there.

HDP-Charleston-278_-WEB.jpgHDP-Charleston-280_-WEB.jpgViews of the beach and Charleston Lighthouse from the boardwalk



Folly Island (with view of Morris Island)

Lost Dog Café
Morris Island Lighthouse

Be sure to eat brunch or lunch at Lost Dog Café on Folly Island, especially if your kids are with you. Get there early because they close at 3:00 PM Monday thru Saturday and at 2:00 PM on Sunday. Folly Island is quirky and a bit more of the touristy/party scene to me. Not mine or my daughter’s favorite of the islands, but one to check out anyway, depending on the kind of beach experience you want to have.

Lost Dog Café specialty pancakes-iPhone

Don’t miss the view of the iconic red and white striped Morris Island Lighthouse from the very far East end of Folly Beach. Park your car near East Ashley Avenue and Sumter Street and walk about a quarter mile down the road spray painted and chalked with words and quotes. At the end of the road, you will see the lighthouse and a path on the beach to walk towards the shore. Morris Island is uninhabited and you cannot get to it other than by boat. This is the best spot to view it.

The quarter mile road which leads to the beach and best views of Morris Island LighthouseHDP-Charleston-218_-WEB.jpg

HDP-Charleston-258_-WEB.jpgHDP-Charleston-239_-WEB.jpgMorris Island Lighthouse

Johns Island 

Angel Oak Tree
View of downtown Charleston with Arthur Ravenel Bridge

We went to Johns Island just to see the Angel Oak Tree. It’s thought to be almost 500 years old and covers 17,200 square feet. It really is fascinating that it is still living after several major hurricanes. Its location is behind an old church and down a long road covered with a tree canopy.

HDP-Charleston-330_-WEB.jpgA portion of the Angel Oak Tree. I shot through the fence because we didn’t want to wait until it officially opened to go inside. We were ready to get to the beach! And to be totally honest, 15 year olds don’t care that much about really old trees. Seen – check!

James Island 

Every time I visit a city, I try to get a skyline shot for stock imagery and to have in my personal travel collection. One day when I have time, I can print a gallery wall of travel photography to enjoy. I had been thinking about what encompasses iconic Charleston? To me it’s the historic downtown area with old church steeples, plus marshes, live oak trees and that amazing bridge. So…I wanted to somehow get all of that into one image. The last day of our trip, and just before we had to be at the airport, I found my epic vantage point at an empty lot on James Island. My daughter caught me in action. I love this image, because 1) She took it and 2) I’m in my happy place doing what I love…exploring and shooting. Charleston, you charmed me again. I’ll be back soon.

My daughter and me


[All images © Heather Durham Photography, 2018]