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May 3, 2017

When to splash out for luxury.

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Most of the time we’re happy without luxury travel. However there are some scenarios when it’s nice to make that little step up. Here are our ideas for when it makes sense to go lux.

1. When it’s only $20 more.

There are quite a few times when it’s only a small $20-30 to step up from a 1 star tiny room with no pool to a 4 star luxury hotel with a pool and a deluxe bed and view. Cities in Asia are often good candidates for this. The Daily Mail has some other suggestions here for places you can stay in luxury for under 100GBP/night. The Independent recommends Poland as their destination for cheap luxury within Europe.

2. When it’s super hot.

When it’s 30C/90F or more, a pool is a must (unless you’re at a beach location where you can swim in the ocean). In hot cities, you’ll need to cool off once you get back from walking around in the heat. Remember you’re likely to walk a lot more when you’re traveling rather than be getting around by air-conditioned car.

3. Honeymoons and Babymoons.

If you haven’t heard the term, a “babymoon” is when people take a trip while pregnant, usually before a couple’s first child. The assumption is that travel will be harder after baby (maybe not) and that the woman deserves a treat after enduring morningsickness and before going through labor and lots of sleepless nights.

Honeymoons and babymoons are times when you’re generally wanting to focus on each other and have a relaxing hotel break, rather than be trekking around through the jungle.

If you’re going to splash out, make sure you do very thorough research so that you get what you’re paying for. You can easily do this research online yourself rather than working with a travel agent.

4. When someone else is paying.

Conference travel and other types of work travel are a great opportunity to stay in nicer hotels. Since the cost can be expensed, their isn’t a lot of real difference in the cost of a cheap hotel vs. a slightly nicer one.

5. When it’s mid week in a weekend travel destination.

This brings us back to the point of scenarios when you can get luxury for cheap. Some destinations have super high prices at the weekend but 60-70% discounts during the week. Think places like Las Vegas or beach/sun/ski resort locations that fill up on weekends and empty out on weekdays.

6. When you’ve been roughing it.

If you’ve been roughing it, e.g., you’ve been doing a hike or been on a small island with few facilities then you definitely deserve some luxury. It’ll be something to look forward to after enduring discomfort in the name of adventure.

photo credit: Bert Kaufmann via photopin cc

April 7, 2017

O’Canada – An overview to making a trip up North

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Top Cities to Visit in Canada

Montreal

Visiting Montreal is like getting two vacations for the price of one. You get a Canadian stamp on your passport, but you also get to experience a city that feels very European. If you want to practice your French and a plane ticket to Paris is too pricey, Montreal is your go to option.

Ottawa

Although many people assume that Toronto or Montreal are Canada’s capital city, they’re not. It’s Ottawa. Ottawa is between Toronto and Montreal and worth a stop rather than just zooming through. One thing we’ve learnt about travelling is that you can’t always guess in advance which cities you’re going to like best (or dislike). Therefore if you’ve got an easy opportunity to visit a city on the way to/from somewhere else, then why not take it.

Quebec City

Quebec City is the oldest French speaking community in North America and the oldest walled section of town is very quaint with narrow, cobbled streets – reminiscent of Europe. Amongst many things it is famed for the Quebec Winter Festival which is celebrated each February.

Toronto

Toronto is Canada’s largest city. The greater Toronto area has a population of over 5 million and over half of it’s inhabitants hark from outside Canada. Because of this Toronto has vast cultural diversity so you’ll find tons of ethnic restaurants and neighborhoods to enjoy and explore. Toronto has great shopping and be sure to check out the cool, hipster neighbourhood of Kensington Market. A popular event held in the city each September is Toronto’s VegFest (as in vegetarian festival). Other popular things to do in Toronto are visiting the city’s landmark CN Tower (the tallest stand alone structure in the western hemisphere) and the Harbourfront Centre with it’s galleries, restaurants and promenade walk along the edge of Lake Ontario. For nature lovers amongst you the Toronto Zoo is world famous and currently has 2 Pandas on loan from China! And remember Niagara Falls is only approx.2 hours drive from Toronto, or 3 hours by train.

Vancouver

All of the above cities are most easily visited from the East or Midwest of the USA. Vancouver on the other hand, is all the way across the continent on the West Coast. Because of Canada’s vast size, you’re probably not likely to make it all the way across the continent. The population of Canada is much smaller than the US, so a road trip across Canada won’t have the density of famous sights, the way a road trip across the US does.

One of the reasons Vancouver is popular is because the famed Whistler ski area is just North of Vancouver.

Canada’s other Western city, Calgary, has a bigger population than Vancouver but doesn’t get as many tourists, thanks in part to how easily accessible Vancouver is from Seattle (Calgary isn’t on the coast and is a 10 hour drive from Vancouver).

Getting Around

Road tripping it.

West Coast: Seattle to Vancouver is under 3 hours driving. A northern West Coast road trip could start at San Francisco and take in Portland, Seattle and Vancouver.

Mid West: There are lots of route options for road trips to Canada from either the Mid West USA or East Coast. For example, if you’re doing a cross country road trip, it’s easy to access Toronto from Detroit (4 hours). If you’re doing a road trip that takes you through the deep south, you can visit deep south locations like Nashville and Memphis and then make your way North. If you don’t want to go via Detroit then Chicago to Toronto is only 8 hours drive. From Detroit to Niagara Falls is 4 hours drive.

East Coast: It’s only 6 hours drive from New York to Montreal, and around around 7 hours to Niagara Falls. The train, will take a little longer. If you’re on a super tight budget, there are cheap bus options e.g., Megabus.

Training it

If you want to kick back and relax, without having to worry about traffic or possible flight delays, then traveling across Canada by train is a great option. The journey between Vancouver and Toronto on the world-famed “Canadian” takes 3 days and 4 nights and you’ll travel through 4 provinces on your approx. 4500 km journey, passing through the Rocky Mountains, prairie lands, and the great lakes along the way. Take a day trip to the Niagara Falls and then journey by VIA Rail to Montreal which will only take you half a day. From there you’ll travel via Quebec to Halifax on the North Atlantic coast, on Canada’s other great train, the Ocean.
If your time is limited to the west coast then a train excursion from Vancouver to Calgary via the the Rocky Mountains would be a highlight of your trip. The journey on the aptly named “Rocky Mountaineer” takes 2 days and one night. There are a number of different Rocky Mountain train route options available e.g Whistler and Jasper.

Flight secrets

From the USA:

If you’re making a trip to Hawaii, you may find it cheaper to book a flight home from Hawaii to Canada with a “stopover” in your home city. Don’t ask me why but flights from Hawaii to Canada are often cheaper than from Hawaii to the USA. You can try this trick with trips to Europe too. It’s a way to get at a free one way flight to Canada. This is likely to work best if you live somewhere like NYC, or another airline hub city, where a connection between Hawaii and Canada makes sense.

From further afield:

If you’re traveling to North America from Australia or New Zealand, then Air New Zealand’s flight from Auckland to Vancouver is often a bargain. One option would be to open-jaw and fly into Canada and out of San Francisco or Los Angeles, or vice versa.

If you’re wanting to reach Vancouver from Asia, check the prices for flights to Seattle too. It’s only a short distance between the two and if you’re interested in Seattle as well, it may make sense for you, especially if the flight prices are cheaper.

Weather

Canada gets extremely cold in Winter and often isn’t that warm in summer. If you’re traveling in North America in summer but don’t like hot weather, then you’ll probably like Canadian summer.

Image by Scott Taylor under Creative Commons license.

October 26, 2016

Preparing for a trip around Southeast Asia

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With the winter weather getting a lot of us down, many people are looking forward to their summer holiday. If you’re sick of the bog-standard hotel chain full of lager louts and cheesy entertainment, it’s time you spread your wings and headed further afield. Yes, it’s time to wave bye-bye to the package holiday, and hello to Southeast Asia.

Made up of beautiful countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia to name but a few, here’s everything you need to know to plan the perfect Asian escape.

Planning your route

The first thing you’ll need to decide when it comes to your Southeast Asia vacation is where exactly you will be going. Will you be spending all of your time in one place or will you be exploring the region to see everything it has to offer?

If you are planning to visit more than one location, it will pay you to fly into Bangkok Airport. From here, you will be able to get a connecting flight to your chosen destination. Usually these flights will be reasonably priced.

What to pack

When it comes to packing, you’ll need to take into consideration when you are travelling. If you are visiting between April and May, you can expect hot and dry conditions. However, from May to around October, it is monsoon season in much of the country. The cool winds arrive in November. (Some areas of Thailand have a different monsoon pattern – check it out here)

If you intend to travel during monsoon season, it is recommended that you take a waterproof jacket, to avoid getting soaked. As the weather will still be incredibly humid, you should choose a thin, non-insulating one to prevent you from getting too hot. An umbrella would also be handy too.

Whether you’re visiting the metropolis that is Bangkok or are simply enjoying the region’s magnificent landscapes, you won’t want to forget all of the sights you see. That’s why you should invest in a high-quality digital camera or at least have a smart phone with a decent camera.

In the monsoon season, mosquito bites can be common. As a preventative measure, invest in an insect repellent with a high DEET factor to keep the bugs at bay.

What to do

The activities you partake in and the sights you see will be influenced largely by the type of holiday you are after. If you’re looking for a lively nightlife and bustling party scene, head to Bangkok for some of the best bars and clubs the region has to offer. Or, for a one-off experience, take advantage of one of Thailand’s many full-moon parties on the island of Ko Phangan.

If you’re looking for a more cultural experience during your Southeast Asia trip, head to Thailand’s Chiang Mai. Here, you’ll find a plethora of exquisite Buddhist temples. Likewise, Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, the largest and oldest temple ruins on earth, won’t disappoint.

For more inspiration on must-visit Southeast Asia attractions, take a look at this post on the Reader’s Digest website.

October 25, 2016

Hitting the Adventure Trail in Turkey

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Smoking a shisha pipe in Istanbul and lying on a beach towel in the sun are just why reasons why choose Turkey as an holiday destination. There’s much more to the country than this especially if you’re an adventurer, natural athlete or aspiring fitness fanatic. And if you aren’t, you’re missing out!

What to Pack

Take some supplies with you so that you’re ready to rock and roll when you get off the plane. A first aid kit is a must, as is some Factor 30+ sun cream to protect your complexion. A hydration kit which includes mineral salts and a water bladder is also a good idea. This will come in handy for hot afternoons of beating the pavement. Also, some comfortable, high-quality cycling kit will come in handy, and so will some general purpose hiking boots and polarized sun glasses.

Evliya Celebi on Horseback

The ancient Roman and Ottoman roads to the north west of Turkey pass through some remarkably beautiful landscapes, including hill forts and quirky villages which are concealed from the main tourist traps. This takes you as close to the authentic Turkey as you can get. Approximately 650 kilometers, this journey was originally a pilgrimage undertaken on horseback by the enlightened Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi. The route takes 25 days to complete on horseback, and if you’re up for it there’s no shortage of tourist operators who will give you a leg up onto the back of a pack horse so that you can do the same.

Mountain Biking in Cappadocia

This central mountainous belt in Turkey features lunar-like volcanic rock cones and spires known as “fairy chimneys.” It’s perfect for gung-ho mountain bikers and stunt riders who want to put their abilities to the test. Depending on how fast you ride, the Cappadocia route takes between 3 and 10 days to compete and is graded at medium difficulty level. Along the way you can sleep in underground cave venues and country hotels.

A Drive through History on the Aegean Coast

This glittering part of Turkey is a popular playground for the rich and famous, but there are also plenty of historical sites to satisfy curious travelers. Some of these crumbling ruins feature in ancient epics. Here you can visit the Temple of Artemis, the Doric temple of Athena, the ancient city of Pergamon and the landscape surrounding Mount Mykale.

Kayaking in Bodrum

The ceramic coast in Bodrum offers some of the most exquisite seascapes in the world. The quiet coves and deep inlets all call out for swimming, kayaking and scuba diving adventures.
Whether you prefer an underwater adventure or to see Turkey by bike, horseback or simply relaxing in a rental car, you have all kinds of opportunities to enjoy a real slice of Turkish rural life. What are you still sitting around for? Get yourself on over and grab a slice of the action!

June 30, 2016

Charming Crete: History, Hiking and Hammocks…

Greece’s largest island, Crete boasts a fascinating history, as well as diverse landscapes. It’s no wonder then that the destination is so popular among discerning tourists. While on the island, you can explore ancient ruins, trek over undulating terrain and soak up the sun on Crete’s beaches.

Although Crete attracts nearly a quarter of all Greece’s tourists, it’s still easy to escape the hustle and bustle of your fellow holidaymakers. Step off the tourist trail and you wander into charming traditional villages and quiet coves. Crete’s south coast, for instance, is less developed than the north, while the interior of the island contains the White Mountains, which are ideal for secluded drives and hikes.

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Step back in time

No vacation to Crete is complete without a trip to see some of the island’s Minoan ruins. The excavated town and palace complex of Knossos is a highlight. Located three miles from Iráklio, this is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on the island and is a real spectacle to witness. You should also check out the sites of Phaistos and Agía Triáda. Meanwhile, if you want to truly immerse yourself in local history, you should take a walk around the Archaeological Museum in Iráklio. This contains an array of exhibits, including jewellry, pottery and murals from an array of Minoan sites.

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Explore the island on foot

If you’re feeling energetic, there’s no better way to experience Crete than by setting off on hikes. Cretan mountains form a continuous chain that stretches from one side of the island to the other, and you’ll be spoiled for choice if you’re looking for good walking routes.Despite its ominous name, the ‘Gorge of the Dead’ at Káto Zákros makes for an amazing hike. Located in the north-east of the island, it packed with flora and fauna, and it’s also home to Minoan palace ruins.
The south-west boasts some superb walks too. There, you can tackle the precipitous White Mountains, wander through deep gorges and make your way along coastal trails that meander through peaceful beaches and fishing villages.

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Soak up the sun

When you fancy a spot of relaxation, simply make your way to one of Crete’s beaches. If you’re after a tropical experience, head to Vai on the east coast. Featuring Europe’s largest natural palm grove, this is a real peach of a spot. While you’re there you can also enjoy water sports, including jet skiing, scuba diving and windsurfing.
The suntrap of Mýrtos in the south of the island is another great coastal destination. A hippie mecca in the 1970s and 1980s, this fine-pebble beach is protected from the wind and has retained its laidback, bohemian atmosphere. When it comes to places to unwind, this is the ultimate spot.

Like a small country in its own right, Crete has lots to offer as a holiday destination. Whether you’re there for a week, a fortnight or longer, you’ll be able to find plenty of activities to keep you entertained.

Images by April Weeks, Dan Taylor and Matt Sims used under creative commons license.

February 4, 2016

Tis the Season — Springtime Fun in New York

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In the summer, scores of New York residents escape the oppressive city heat to more rural retreats but when autumn rolls around, beautiful fall foliage starts to appear in Central Park. Then the whole city embraces wintertime, with attractions like the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty looking picture perfect.

But following on from the holiday season and bitterly cold weather, New York welcomes spring, which is a tremendous time of year to visit. With many recreational activities and outdoor events taking place, it’s no surprise that tourists from all over the world check in to hotels in New York for an immensely enjoyable springtime holiday.

“It’s That Time Again” — Annual events

Commemorate Saint Patrick’s Day — From wearing the national colors to enjoying a few traditional drinks, there are few better places to commemorate Ireland’s national day than New York City. Its Saint Patrick’s Day parade is the biggest in the world as floats, dancers, marching bands and bagpipers all take to the city streets.

Flower show fun — In March, Macy’s Flower Show features exotic, rare blooms from around the world, while the Orchid Show at New York Botanical Garden displays thousands of bright, colorful flowers in lush surroundings. At the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 220 cherry trees are in full bloom, which is celebrated with the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Easter celebrations — Along with the annual parade, tourists can attend special church services, take part in an Easter egg hunt or enjoy themed menus at one of the numerous restaurants around the city.

“Sick of Being Indoors” — Being Outside

Have a picnic or BBQ — Brooklyn Bridge Park is the perfect place to nibble your first picnic of the year while you take in lower Manhattan’s skyline. This area also features reclaimed-wood tables and 22 permanent barbecues so visitors can cook whatever their hearts desire.

Go on a rooftop bar crawl — With the evenings getting lighter and the nights becoming milder, there is nothing better than sipping a cocktail or beer from one of New York’s rooftop bars after a long day sightseeing. You can go from the East River to the Hudson without having a drink inside.

Take a stroll down the High Line — This public park is one of New York’s most fascinating attractions. Built on an old freight railroad above the streets of Manhattan, the High Line features an array of greenery and plant life. In spring, several food and drink vendors start appearing as well as Tuesday night stargazing.

Sticking to What You Know — Recreational Pursuits

TD Five Boro Biker Tour — This annual trans-city cyclotron is a must for pedal-powered enthusiasts. Around 32,000 people cycle 40 miles through all five boroughs and over five different bridges. Thankfully, every mile is free from cars.

Check out a baseball game — Both the Mets and Yankees play their season openers during spring, so take this opportunity to watch one of America’s best-loved sports. Sit back and watch the game unfold while indulging in some traditional (if a little unhealthy) cuisine.

Visit Coney Island — Home to rollercoasters and spinning tea cups, Coney Island also has a few entertaining yet active pursuits too. From whac-a-mole and break-a-plate to basketball three point challenges and a duck pond, fun is on the menu!

So whether you attend an annual event, get all active outdoors or just indulge in your favorite pastimes, New York is the place to be in the spring.

June 24, 2015

What Americans Need to Know To Save Money on European Travel

What Americans Need to Know To Save Money on European Travel

Let’s say you’ve got your dream job in London. You’re an official expat and all of Europe is at your doorstop. What might you need to know about how to save money on your travel planning? Here are some things that UK natives know that can trip up Americans.

1. That giant carryon bag ain’t going to fly.

America has very generous rules for what’s considered carry on luggage and size restrictions are rarely enforced as long as your bag isn’t too tall to slide into the overhead compartment. In America, if the overhead compartment door will close with your bag placed lengthwise, then you’re good.

In Europe and the rest of the world, the rules are much tighter. There will often be a weight restriction (sometimes only 10 lbs, but mostly likely 15 lb or 22lbs).

The bag sizes allowed are also often smaller.

If you’re planning on traveling carry on only in the UK and Europe (or Australia and New Zealand for that matter), plan on taking way less stuff. You might be able to fit a change of underwear and your laptop in your carry on, if you’re lucky!

Usually the carry on weight restriction only applies to your carry on bag and not your personal item (laptop bag, purse etc), but sometimes the combined weight of your carry on bag and personal item are considered.

Always check the rules of the airline you plan to fly before you book. There are a few airlines that don’t have weight restrictions but they tend to snag you by having smaller size restrictions. Argh!!

This chart will help you but restrictions change so always double check BEFORE you book. It’s sometimes better to take a full service airline and be able to travel with your carry on rather than have to check a bag (and pay for it) on a budget airline.

2. Charter airlines.

I don’t think I’ve ever looked into charter airlines in the US but charter airline flights are much more mainstream in the UK, especially to holiday resort destinations like Greece and Turkey. You can get some very cheap fun in the sun breaks with these airlines, and you’ll need them with how gloomy and depressing the weather in London is (but, hey, great weather isn’t why you’re moving to London).

The charter airline flights also tend to fly out of airports beyond just London, so you can combine a trip to say Glasgow by, for example, flying out of London but back into Glasgow. You’d then stay a couple of days in Glasgow and take the train back to London.

3. Plot out your bank holidays on your calendar.

What Americans would call Federal Holidays are called “Bank Holidays” in the UK, after the idea that the banks are closed on those days. Bank holidays will be a day off work for most people. For example, Easter Friday and Monday are bank holidays.

Since everyone and their mother will be trying to travel on bank holidays, you should book early if you want to travel these weekends. However, they are a great way to make the absolute most of your vacation days, which will typically be more generous than in the US. If you can swing it with your boss, arrange to start or finish your bank holiday weekend a day earlier/later to get the jump on everyone else trying to book flights for that weekend.

February 23, 2015

5 Surprising Ways to Save Money While Traveling

5 Surprising Ways to Save Money While Traveling

You too can have this on a budget… Playa-Paraiso-Beach

1. Book a MORE expensive flight.

Sometimes the cheapest flights are false economy. Key examples of this are:

– when the cheapest flight leaves to early or arrives too late for your airport transportation e.g., you have to pay after midnight surcharges for cabs or shuttles, or you’re not able to take public transportation to/from the airport when you usually would do so. Other examples might be when

– you miss the last boat to an offshore island,

– getting from an airport served by budget airlines is more expensive

– your bag fees, seat selection, and meal charges add up to more than a full service airline

– you end up spending a lot of money on wifi, food, and drinks in the airport because of a long layover

– the cheaper flight involves keeping your rental car one day longer (rental cars are charged in 24 hour periods)

However, the #1 reason to book a convenient flight is that when you’re tired you’ll usually make stupid decisions e.g., leave your purse in a cab, or get suckered into buying rental car insurance you’re already covered for.

2. Eat out rather than self-cater.

There are many places in the world where self catering is more expensive than eating out for meals.

Self catering is often more expensive than eating out because of:

– the typically higher cost for self catering accommodation (maybe due to a higher cost of the lodging, or maybe because it results in higher transport costs to less central locations)

– buying ingredients in the supermarket adds up to more than eating at restaurants.

3. Stay at a hotel rather than a hostel.

There are quite a few times in our traveling careers when staying at a hotel has been cheaper than booking two dorm beds or a private room at a hostel.

For example,

– in New York dorm beds can be $50! A hotel for two people can be found for less than $100.

– in San Francisco and other places I’ve paid less for a 4* hotel on Priceline than the cost of a private room at the HI Hostels.

Airport hotels are often great bets for your last night (or first night) at a destination. For example, you can get to the airport cheaper in the morning for your flight, and you’re more likely to be able to check in early after a long day of traveling than you are at a hostel. Being able to check in early, which most hotels will permit, sure beats trying to keep your eyes open till 4pm when you can check into your hostel. You won’t need to go spend $8 on coffees at Starbucks to stay awake.

4. Book a MORE expensive rental car.

– Very cheap rental car rates are often so cheap because they don’t include insurance or don’t include adequate insurance (the might include the legal minimum liability insurance, something like $25,000, which may not cover the costs of injuring someone). Make sure you don’t end up double or tripling your expected rate because you have to buy insurance at the rental counter.

– The cheapest rate might also have fine print like you’ll be charged for a tank of gas and need to return the car EMPTY (you might need a couple of extra bucks to get you the normal “pick up full, return full option”)

– For people who aren’t covered for liability through their existing insurance, you can get around some of the issues with liability insurance renting cars if yo buy a multi trip policy that covers rental car liability or buy a named non owner policy.

5. Book packages.

Sometimes packages come out cheaper than their constituent parts. When you’re searching on airfare sites click over and check out that package rate. Use the package rates as a ballpark figure for your trip costs and work down from there, perhaps based your own research time on $20 or $50 an hour in savings.

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