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Archive for October, 2009

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Cash, traveler’s checks, or credit? What’s the scoop on money when you travel?

FP_Creditcard.jpgIn today’s world, it’s hardly ever worth it to carry traveler’s checks. You can find ATM machines in many destinations, even those considered "off the beaten track" where you can get cash, in local currency, using your own credit or debit card.

Typically, the exchange rates charged by your credit card company or bank will be better than those charged by local banks, and the convenience goes without saying. You get money as you need it, without having to carry around lots of bills, and without having to pay commissions and fees to cash the traveler’s checks.

If you simply can’t imagine taking a trip abroad without traveler’s checks, by all means get the ones that are free. If you belong to AAA, or your bank offers free traveler’s checks to their depositors, get them. But make sure you get them in small denominations. Typically, you pay fees based on the amount you’re changing. If you’re like me, you’ll bring them home with you again to redeposit into your own checking account. That is, of course, if you have anything left!

When I travel abroad, I usually bring about $300 in cash so I can quickly convert some dollars to local currency on arrival. That gives me time to find out where the ATM machines are located, without having to stress about not having money in local currency.

I also carry enough $1 bills to take care of incidental tipping, too. Having $20 to $30 in single dollars buys me time to figure out what a good tip should be in local currency (and I can assure you that tips paid in dollars won’t be refused).

I use the hotel in-room safe to store extra cash, so I don’t need to walk around carrying a bundle of bills in my purse. I also take two different credit cards with ATM capabilities, but I only carry one at a time. I leave the second card tucked away in the room safe. If I ever lose my purse or if it gets stolen, I have another card on hand.

And remember, before you even depart the U.S., it’s a good idea to call your card companies and bank to let them know when and where you’re going. The last thing you want is to have your bank account frozen while you’re abroad.

I always call my card company before leaving for any trip. The trip details go into my credit card file. If you’ve ever been in another country, tried to make a purchase, and had your card declined, you know why the preemptive call is important. In today’s security-conscious world, where identity and card theft is rampant, cards are often declined because the charge doesn’t fit a normal profile. If your credit card profile is annotated with your travel details, you’ll never face this embarrassing inconvenience.
 

Five tips for avoiding passport hassles

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You can’t travel abroad without a valid passport. Everyone knows this, and everyone planning a trip can find out how to easily get a passport issued. But that’s not the end of the story. Here are five important tips for avoiding passport hassles that can ruin even the best planned vacation.

1. Make a photocopy of the signature and photo pages of your passport to carry with you as you travel. Keep it in a safe place, but keep it in a separate compartment or bag from your actual passport. If your passport gets lost or stolen, that photocopy will be helpful in getting a replacement.

2. Check the passport to be sure it is valid for at least 180 days AFTER your return date from your trip. Most destinations have rules about passport validity, so don’t assume that because your passport is valid when you depart, it’ll be sufficiently valid for your return. For example, if you’re going to India on Nov. 1 and returning Nov. 15, your passport should be valid though May 15, 2010. If it’s set to expire before May 15, 2010, get the passport renewed before you travel.

3. If you’re planning to visit a destination that requires a visa, and you need to get your passport renewed for this trip, do the renewal BEFORE you apply for your visa. The visa will be stamped into your passport, so if you get the visa first, you’ll have to apply (and pay for) the same visa all over again when you get your new passport.

4. Check to be sure you have enough visa pages in your valid passport, as many destinations require a certain number of blank visa pages for you to be able to enter the country. This is different from getting a visa in advance. In this case, the visa is stamped into your passport at passport control upon your arrival. Sometimes it’s free and sometimes you have to pay a fee. But regardless of cost, the pages need to be available. Typically, If you are short on visa pages, you won’t be able to board your flight in the first place, and that means plenty of disappointment all around, not to mention plenty of lost money trying to catch up to your tour or paying penalties to change flights, etc.

5. Unless you’re traveling daily from one city to another, use the in-room safe or the hotel’s safe deposit system, and store your passport together with your other valuables. In some countries, it’s virtually impossible to easily replace your travel documents, and in most places, you won’t need to carry your passport with you all the time. For identification, consider carrying your driver’s license or other small document that identifies you. Even a driver’s license will be replaced more easily than a passport. And unless you plan to do extensive banking transactions or purchase very expensive items which qualify for VAT reimbursement, you will hardly ever need your passport as you travel, except to cross borders from one country to another or to board your flights.
 

Hop on board the Borneo Adventure

FP_Borneo_Petronas.jpgThere aren’t many places in the world that can compare to the island of Borneo, Malaysia, where a mosaic of indigenous tribes, intriguing history, ancient rain forests, winding rivers, and diversified wildlife await.

Imagine a day spent exploring an electric city, making your way through bustling exotic markets in the shadow of looming skyscrapers. Stroll down lantern-lit streets, haggle with street vendors, and visit temples and other ancient remnants of Malaysia’s unique and colorful heritage, tucked among the sky scrapers, shopping malls, restaurants, nightlife, and other icons of modern life.

 FP_Borneo_Canopy Walk.jpg

Then, spend the next day knee-deep in local umbrage as you follow your guide past shrieking monkeys and luminescent birds on a tour of one of Borneo’s national parks. Take a guided canopy walk hundreds of feet above the forest floor. Explore incredible cave formations, and take a dip in the ocean at one of the country’s beautiful white sand beaches.

Our 15-day Borneo Adventure for $2,899 offers the chance to see and do all this, and so much more. This trip is truly a fantastic journey of discovery for a price that is as amazing as the destination itself.

Travelers explore Kuching, Batang Ai, Mulu, Kota Kinabalu, and Kuala Lumpur, with an optional Penang Island extension. As always, the $2,899 price includes airfare, fuel surcharges, great hotels, transfers, many meals, touring, and more.

The remaining 2009 departure is already sold out, but we still have spots available on all three of our spring 2010 departures: March 24 – April 7, April 14 - April 28, and May 12 – May 26. For more information on the Borneo Adventure, have a look at our Web site. And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

Photo credits: imagine.asia and Wikipedia

Friendly Planet Travel giving travelers what they want, according to Conde Nast Traveler’s 2009 Readers Choice Awards

As I was home catching up on some work-related e-mail this weekend, I spent some time browsing the latest Condé Nast Traveler: 2009 Readers’ Choice Awards. I couldn’t help smiling to myself as I read that once again, Friendly Planet has it pretty well covered in terms of what travelers want.

Take the Top Cities category. We offer trips to eight out of the top 10 Asian cities: Bangkok, Hong Kong, Chiang Mai, Kyuoto, Shanghai, Jaipur, Tokyo, and Hanoi. Singapore, also on the top 10 list, is coming in 2010, and that’s just Asia. We also cover four out of five of the best Africa and Middle East cities: Cape Town, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Dubai.

FP_Plane.jpgThe No. 1 and No. 2 airlines on the list of Ten Best Global Carriers – Singapore Airlines and Emirates – are prominently featured on some of our tours. And even some of the world’s best hotels, such as the Fairmont Hotel Dubai, are found on our programs.

So, you could be thinking, "big deal." A lot of companies feature these places, these airlines, and these hotels. And that’s the point. A lot do feature all of this and more, but at what price? That’s where we differ from almost everyone out there. The best for the least means something in my mind. It translates into a lot of work in creating the tours that result in great vacations in great destinations at great prices.
 

That’s the thought  I had after reading these lists, anyway. But more importantly, how do YOU think Friendly Planet Travel stacks up? Are there cities we don’t offer that you wish we did? Where do you want to go with us? Let me know in the comments section below! I would really love to hear from you.

Weekly wrap up: Friendly Planet Travel in the news

FP_paper3.jpgIn case you missed us …

Budget Travel: Iberian Coast Air/Cruise/Hotel, From $1,399

WhereToGoNext.com: Yuletide Holiday Deals

MomSpace.com: Spend the Holidays in the Mediterranean

Jennifer Michaels talks food, safety, and fun on family vacations

Some parents are a tad overwhelmed at the thought of traveling with their baby or young children. Others can’t wait to strap on the baby carrier and go, go, go. No matter which style of traveling you prefer, sooner or later, chances are, you’re going to be navigating an airport, highway, or foreign destination with your kids in tow. And according to family travel and mamma maven Jennifer Michaels, the best way to do travel with kids, is to do it prepared.

Jennifer is the woman behind Family Travel Planet, and the Family Travel Examiner column. She’s also a former television producer and Family Travel Expert for VisitFlorida.com. If anyone knows the inside scoop for saving money and keeping kids (and, let’s face it, that means everyone) happy while traveling, it’s Jennifer.

As you know, Friendly Planet Travel is currently offering some pretty incredible prices on the Mediterranean Highlights and Iberian Coast cruises, with the opportunity for up to two children to travel for free (just pay for airfare, taxes, and port fees).  So what better time to stock up on tips and tricks for traveling with kids? I recently had the chance to talk to Jennifer, and know that everyone could benefit from her family travel experiences.

Four steps to choosing the travel package that’s right for you

You know how everyone always writes in their travel ads to book now, because space is limited? Well, sometimes it’s actually the truth, especially when the space is for an awesome holiday travel deal that features gorgeous destinations and incredibly low prices. Even though we released our two December holiday deals just last week, they are already sold out.

To be perfectly truthful, there were some in the office who said it was too late to offer our special December holiday cruises in October. After all, that would leave only about four weeks to fill our allotments before having to release our blocked space. How wrong they were.

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We released our Mediterranean Highlights and Iberian Coasts cruises on Wednesday, Oct. 7, and as of this morning, both the Dec. 18 Mediterranean Highlights cruise and the Dec. 26 Iberian Coasts cruise are sold out. It isn’t really surprising to me, though.

So, while the December space is no longer available, departures later in 2010 still have plenty of space, including a Feb. 11-22, 2010 sailing of Iberian Coasts, which starts at just $1,399 including airfare, transfers, an eight-night cruise, and two bonus nights in Rome. Dare we say, book now, because space is limited?

But what if you can’t decide which cruise is right for you? They both sail through the Mediterranean Sea. They both stop at ports of call in some of the most beautiful coastal towns. And they both pamper vacationers with all the luxuries of the M/V Louis Majesty. How do you compare vacation packages that seem similar but have different prices?

People always ask me how to best make price comparisons of various vacation offerings. Sometimes, the trips seem identical, and yet the prices are vastly different. What can a traveler do to properly compare two or more trips, and determine which one offers the best value for the money?

Too often, I see travelers simply comparing the number of days of travel and the selling price. But these two details – while important – are very far from telling the real story of how one trip differs from another, and which is the one you should book for yourself.

I’ve put together four surefire steps that guarantee you’ll always be able to tell which package is the best deal.

1. Make a list of package features and line the list up feature by feature. Check items such as included flights, transfers, hotel nights, included meals, included touring, and hotels. Typically, the price differential has to do with any one, or a combination of these features. For example, Friendly Planet Travel usually includes all transfers if possible, while our competitors frequently do not. Sometimes, companies include no transfers at all, which could easily add a hefty sum of money to your trip’s bottom line.

Hotels can also make a big difference in the price of a tour, so be sure check the hotels by name. If the hotels listed for each tour differ, visit a site like TripAdvisor.com to see if you can ascertain differences in the service. Our hotels are always well-located. Hotels that are situated far from the action are typically less expensive than those with better locations, for obvious reasons. FP_vacancy.jpg

On TripAdvisor, you can see rates of hotels, and while you might not be paying those precise rates as part of your tour, you’ll certainly be able to figure out that one tour, using Hotel A, costs less than another tour, using Hotel B. If you see that Hotel A is selling on TripAdvisor for $50 per night, and Hotel B is selling for $200 per night, you can conclude that the cheaper tour is using cheaper hotels. And if those cheaper hotels are upgradable for a price, don’t forget to calculate the cost of the upgrade into your comparison. A tour that starts out hundreds less than the competition can end up being hundreds more, just by upgrading to an acceptable hotel.

Tours included in the vacation package can also make a big difference in a tour price. For example, a typical "trick" in pricing for tours with river cruises, such as the Nile or Yangtze River, is to sell the shore excursions as optionals. So, while the basic tour price includes the cabin and meals, the tours — the reason you are taking the cruise in the first place — are excluded from the price. These excluded shore excursions can add hundreds of dollars to the tour price, too. Be sure that the tours in your comparison group all have the same amount of included tours and shore excursions, and add the cost of these excursions where needed to get a realistic price comparison.

2. Call the company selling each tour and ask questions. How many people typically are included on a departure? If the group fails to reach the minimum number required for the tour to operate, when will the company advise those already booked, and what options does the tour company offer the travelers? If you find that the agents who man the phones are too busy to talk to you, look elsewhere. If you’re planning a tour, you’ll need to ask questions and service provided is the No. 1 value-added component. No service, no sale, is how you should view it.

3. Are you being charged extra for credit card payments? This is different from getting a reduction for cash payments or early bookings. Some companies advertise extra-low prices and then add fees for using a credit card. Your credit card payment provides a layer of protection to you as a consumer. You can decide later if you wish to take advantage of a cash discount if the agent is someone you know and trust, but if the advertised price requires you to pay by check or else pay a surcharge for your credit card payment, look elsewhere.

4. Ask for references. Any good company that operates ethically will have plenty of previous travelers who are willing to provide references and talk to (or e-mail) prospective passengers about the tours. If you are greeted with an incredulous "we don’t provide references" reply, look elsewhere. It’s your right to know that others who have worked with the company can attest to their service and the quality of their tours. And any company in business to sell travel should be delighted to share those references with potential future travelers. It’s actually part of the service you deserve to receive.

Weekly wrap up: Friendly Planet Travel in the news

FP_news3.jpgDog bites man! Man bombs moon! Man vacations Dubai for under $1,500! It’s all run of the mill here at Friendly Planet Travel.

Trip Atlas: Six (affordable!) days in Dubai

The Washington Post: The week’s best travel bargains around the globe, by land, sea and air.

Examiner.com: Cruise the Med during the holiday season starting at $1300 from NYC…we’re talkintravel.

Examiner.com: Friendly Planet Travel offers deals if you’d rather not be home for the holidays

Follow in the footsteps of Jesus on a customized tour of Israel and Jordan

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One of the best things about working in the group travel business is the ability to put together customized trips for specific groups who are looking to experience the world in a new and exciting way. And a popular request for trips are customized tours of the Holy Lands. We often have churches, youth groups, pastors, and parisioners reaching out to us to help them plan a group tour that will bring them closer to the experiences they’ve always read about in the Bible.

The Friendly Planet Travel office sent out this press release last week, and I thought I’d share the news with you here too. Of course, we don’t only cater to Christian groups. You are talking to the traveling yenta, after all. We offer an array of customizable options for any group looking to get back to their religious roots or experience their faith in a new way. Just ask!

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Friendly Planet Travel Makes it Possible for Christians to Follow in the Footsteps of Jesus on a customized tour of Israel and Jordan
 
Tour leaders or accompanying pastors can often travel free as part of the group tour
 
JENKINTOWN, Pa.—October 1, 2009—Christians throughout the world do their best to figuratively follow in Jesus’ steps every day. Now discount tour operator Friendly Planet Travel is making it possible for Christians to literally follow in Jesus’ footsteps in ways most relevant to their beliefs.
Friendly Planet Travel, the Internet’s leading group travel site, can help Christian groups plan and enjoy customized tours of the Holy Lands at tremendous savings when churches, congregations, or Bible study groups travel together. Customized by destinations, sites, and length of travel, these tours are led by carefully selected teacher-guides who deeply understand and appreciate the religious significance of each location. Tours include as many destinations and as many days of travel as a group chooses.
            “Every denomination has different beliefs and traditions,” says Peggy Goldman, President of Friendly Planet Travel. “Our specialty Holy Lands tours embrace these differences and wrap them within an itinerary that blends the breathtaking natural scenery, incredible historical sites, and awe-inspiring religious significance for the perfect journey of Biblical discovery and spiritual renewal for each group. It is the true definition of pilgrimage, where travelers experience the land of the Bible, and literally watch it come alive through the tour—because those places where the events of the Bible took place still exist, and travelers get to experience them in context.”
Friendly Planet Travel’s most recent Israel and Jordan tour featured nine days of touring for just $2,380. Costs can be less or more, depending upon the itinerary and number of countries visited. And as with every Friendly Planet Travel vacation, the tours don’t skimp on the details. They include roundtrip airfare, fuel surcharges, great hotels, transfers, many meals, touring, expert guides, and more. Tour leaders and/or accompanying pastors can often travel for free as part of the group tour.
            Popular sites visited on these customized Israel/Jordan tours include the four distinct quarters of Jerusalem with the Way of the Cross, the Western (Wailing) Wall, St. Anne’s Church, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Garden Tomb, the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Upper Room, and many other sites. Most tours also visit the Dead Sea region with Masada and Ein Gedi; as well as Qumran, where the dead Sea Scrolls were found; the Galilee region, including a crossing of the Sea of Galilee by boat; Capernaum; Tabgha (site of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes); the Mt. of Beatitudes (site of the Sermon on the Mount); Beit She’an, one of the best preserved and comprehensively excavated Greco-Roman cities in the Middle East; and Caesarea, the amazing Roman City built by Herod, on the shore of the Mediterranean. Other sites, such as Bethlehem and Mt. Carmel, are also often included. In Jordan, the most popular sites visited include Mt. Nebo which, according to tradition, is the mountain from which Moses saw the Promised Land before he died; Madaba, where the oldest known mosaic map of the Holy Land is found; and of course, Petra, that mystical lost city built by the ancient Nabateans as a commercial and cultural capital.
For individual travelers who want to go to Israel on their own, Friendly Planet Travel also offers a nine-day Classic Israel vacation with set departure. It includes airfare, fuel surcharges, great hotels, transfers, most meals, comprehensive touring, and more for just $2,199 when booked by October 9th. Every hotel has been selected for its location, comfort, and service, and every day of the program has been carefully designed to ensure travelers’ Israel experience is the very best. Friendly Planet Travel’s comprehensive itinerary features the most important Biblical sites throughout the country, such as Mount Carmel, Mount of Beatitudes, Jerusalem, and the Dead Sea.
As with all Friendly Planet Travel packages, prices includes airfare from New York City, fuel charges, all group transfers, superior hotel accommodations, many meals, touring, and more. Other gateway cities are available upon request. To book or for more information on any Israel/Holy Lands tours, please visit the Friendly Planet Travel Web site, or contact us.
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Special pricing alert for Mediterranean and Iberian Coasts cruises

As I mentioned already, we have some pretty special deals for travelers for our Mediterranean Highlights by the Sea and Iberian Coasts cruises, and I wanted to go into a little bit more detail on what those savings entail.

FP_kids.jpgOn both cruises, children up to age 18 (maximum two children per cabin) can share with two adults for free. The only additional costs are the already discounted airfare and airport taxes, as well as port fees. That’s the lowest price ever available for children on a Mediterranean cruise.

If you’re considering booking a family trip, call the Friendly Planet Travel office at 800-555-5765 or send an e-mail to mailto:questions@friendlyplanet.com with the departure date and ages of the children on the cruise of your choice to determine the exact price of child passengers.

We’ve also struck a deal for our single travelers, who often get slammed with hefty supplemental fees when cruising alone. We’ve negotiated discount rates for them, so the supplements will be lower than cruises usually charge.

And finally, the basic tour price includes a free upgrade to a superior inside cabin aboard the M/V Louis Majesty, rather than the usual standard inside cabin. Further upgrades to higher categories with windows and balconies are also highly discounted, if you choose to upgrade.

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About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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