Friendly Planet Blog

Archive for January, 2010

The new Taj Mahal Express for 2010: The best group tour of India just got better

The Taj Mahal Express has been one of our most popular tours, and for good reason. We were the first tour operator to introduce an affordable tour of India in 2005. It cost just $999 then, and that was five years ago.

The response was huge. Over 900 travelers signed up for the first Taj Mahal Express tour! Since then, its popularity has only grown. And we have continued to add more perks and features, without raising the price.

As you might expect, I personally visit every destination. I inspect every hotel, talk to all the guides, travel the itineraries, see the sites our travelers see, and talk to people who represent us on the ground.

I do this for several reasons. Obviously I love these exotic destinations. But I visit these places also to ensure that our tours are consistently meeting or exceeding my standards, and to look for new ways to make our trips even more exquisite.

It’s funny. Our suppliers on the ground sometimes complain during my visits about the standards I expect for Friendly Planet travelers. Think about that for a moment. If they’re complaining, that suggests our competitors are pushing them only for lower prices, not better value for travelers. It’s easy to pressure suppliers on price. It’s not easy to negotiate better pricing for travelers while maintaining a high level of hotels, service, and programming.

That’s exactly what happened during my recent visit to India. I discovered several opportunities to make the best one week tour of India even better. Our Taj Mahal Express is now enhanced with an additional night (9 days total) and most optional tours now included in the price. And we’ve added an exclusive new tour of an authentic farming village to give our travelers a chance to interact with real people (outside the realm of tourism), meet the village elder, and get a real understanding of life in India.

Best of all, I’ve been able to hold the line on price. This brand new, nine-day Taj Mahal Express tour is just $1,099, including flights, great hotels, lots of touring to the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikhri, and the Amber Fort with an ascent on an elephant or a Jeep.

Plus, a full-day tour in Delhi that will take you to its most important sites, such as the Laxmi Narayan Temple, Raj Ghat, the Red Fort, and more. You’ll conclude your day with a rickshaw tour through Old Delhi’s most popular street market, Chandni Chowk.

This is always one of the most memorable experiences I have of India. Our driver is a master at guiding the rickshaw through India’s winding, narrow lanes and alleys. They’re teeming with shoppers, street vendors, cows, cars, other rickshaws … the ride is simply an amazing adventure, and something you can’t experience anywhere else.

Here’s what else I’ve always included in the Taj Mahal Express tour for you: non-stop flights from JFK International airport on Air India, all transfers and ground transportation within India, deluxe and superior first-class hotels, daily breakfast buffet, an authentic Indian farewell dinner in Delhi, and more.

And now that you’re in the neighborhood, why not add a visit to Nepal. On our three-night extension, you’ll fly to Kathmandu and visit Durbar Square, the city of Bhadgaon, the famous five-story pagoda temple of Nyatapola, and local bazaars. On your last day you have an opportunity to take an optional air tour and fly over the Himalayas to see Mt. Everest. Talk about flying high, if you remember your high school geography, Everest is the highest peak on Earth. And you’ll be flying over it.

As I’ve shared with you before, India’s sights, sounds, and smells are among the most phenomenal in the world. I encourage you to read my previous posts about the Taj Mahal Express, and also see what our Taj Mahal Express travelers have said about it.

Book our new nine-day Taj Mahal Express tour for $1,099 by March 31st. You’ll be signing up for one of the most popular tours we’ve ever offered at Friendly Planet, and certainly one of the most amazing cultural experiences of your life.

For complete details about the tour and the Nepal extension, visit our Web site. Have any questions? Write to me directly.

Three new travel gadgets to get you going to your destination

Whether airport security is getting tighter is still up for debate. I told you about my recent experience flying to Israel, and what has (or has not) changed. One thing is certain. Getting through airport security is still a necessary hassle.

That’s not to say it can’t be less of a hassle, or that traveling from point A to point B can’t get easier. Here are some new gadgets that do just that, by helping you speed you through check-in and security.

The Scanner Bag: In most airports, you’ll have to put liquids and gels into a quart-sized plastic bag for easy inspection. The Scanner Bag is a handy accessory that makes that task easier. It works like a luggage tag, but unfolds to reveal mesh pockets that hold your items. It attaches to your carry-on luggage and rolls along with it through the scanner. Now you can forget the plastic bins and bags, and stop worrying about collecting them up in a hurry after your belonging emerge from the scanner. Everything stays together, neat and tidy.

Portable scales: Most travelers collect souvenirs and other momentous, and think nothing about carrying them back in their luggage. But if your items increase their weight of your luggage over the airline’s prescribed limit, you’ll be hit with a surcharge. Certainly you could mail the items back home. But that’s not always practical. A better solution would be to bring a digital portable luggage scale with you. They’re inexpensive, easy to use, and tell you exactly what your luggage weighs before you arrive at the airport. That way you can rejigger your luggage to remain under the airline’s threshold, and know exactly what you need to include in your carry ons.

Space Bags to Go: For short trips, some people like to cram everything they need into a single carry-on bag, so they can skip the baggage check and pickup. If that describes you, you know how hard to can be to actually get everything you need into a single bag. It’s almost like a Three Stooges skit. Just as you think you have the bag filled, it pops open and your stuff flies out. Sound familiar? Then you need the Space Bag to Go. Simply put your items into the Space Bags, and roll up or push down on the bag to compress the items inside. Once compressed, you seal the bag and everything stays put. You can significantly reduce the bulk of clothing, towels, and other items. Carry more stuff while carrying less luggage! Who wouldn’t like that? The manufacturer claims you can carry 300 percent more. That sounds optimistic to me. But I do know the Space Bag does help scrunch more items into a duffel bag or traditional suitcase.

Have any suggestions for other helpful travel gadgets? Let me know! I’ll share them here.

Airport security: A world of difference between the U.S. and Israel

It all sounds good. But I fear it’s also empty promises. I just returned from Tel Aviv, Israel. I kept a keen eye on security procedures throughout my trip. I saw some changes to security. But I was also again reminded of the differences between the U.S. approach and the rules and procedures Israel has in place.

On January 6th, I checked in at Philadelphia International Airport to fly to Tel Aviv, Israel. One noticeable change at the airport was increased presence of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers. I counted 10 plus a dog in the area (many more than usual). About an hour from landing, the captain asked us to take our seats. We were then required to remain seated when we were 30 minutes from landing.

Other than that, it seemed to me to be business as usual. That’s not to say security was lax. Certainly U.S. airport security has become much tighter since 9/11. But other than more TSA officers and being asked to remain seated, additional security precautions were not apparent to me.

Now let’s compare the current state of U.S. airport security to Israel’s approach. In Tel Aviv, security is in place long before you arrive at the airport. On the highway, you have to pass through a checkpoint manned by Israeli border police. Officers look into your car and assess the occupants before letting the car pass through to the airport access road.

You’re screened again upon arrival at the terminal. The men and women who perform the security checks are highly trained in evaluating travelers. They look for telltale signs, check stories, ask questions, and stare you in the eye as you answer their questions.

They are skilled at noticing subconscious body language (“tells“) that can reveal when someone is lying. And they will pull you aside for deeper questioning or other actions if they have the slightest concern. You can’t check in for your flight until these officers are satisfied that you don’t pose a risk. In fact, you can easily be interviewed multiple times by various agents if any one of them doubts about your motives.

Your checked luggage is also screened before you check in for your flight. Nothing gets to the counter — much less the airplane itself — without quiet, comprehensive, repetitive scrutiny.

Ben Gurion International Airport has not had a terrorist incident nearly 40 years, despite being surrounded by legions of Jihadists who would gladly sacrifice themselves. And guess what? They maintain this successful level of security for travelers without asking any to remove their shoes.

I’m not saying international travel isn’t safe. What I am saying is that the world should take a hard look at how Israel protects travelers, and ask what we can learn from their impeccable track record. It’s especially impressive when you consider, again, that Israel is probably the radicals number one target for destruction.

It’s a shame that, since the incident with the so-called underwear bomber, some folks have been inconvenienced more than is probably necessary. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories about “the new airport security,” where delays and lines are longer and more tedious. While this is true in some U.S. airports, I didn’t experience this in Tel Aviv. It’s an interesting contrast. Ben Gurion International has tighter security, yet it is easier for travelers to deal with.

Despite the failed underwear bomber attempt, the TSA’s measures are clearly working most of the time. Otherwise, we would have experienced more incidents like the near-miss on Christmas Day, or worse. That said, we don’t want and can’t afford any more near misses or successful attacks.

We should learn from the best. And right now, the best airport security operation is in Israel. Let’s hope the TSA is paying attention.

Weekly wrap up: Taste of Thailand tantalizing travelers

In the beginning of January, we reduced the price of the Taste of Thailand tour to $999! Since then, travel editors have be mentioning the amazing deal in their coverage. I just want to say THANK YOU! Check them out below.

Smart Travel Deals: Taste of Thailand 9 Day Tour – from $999 incl. Air

 
 
Travel Age West: Asia great buys 
 
 
About.com: Air Travel: Airfare specials

Customer Testimonial: From Ecuador to China

I know I’ve done my job when I hear from customers who want to return for another tour. Or when travelers keep coming back to experience a new exotic destination. These next two testimonials are from opposite sides of the globe. They loved every part of their trip, and I hope they’ll become Friendly Planet Travel frequent flyers.

You know by now how much I love reading these. So don’t hesitate to let me know how your exotic tour went!

A Taste of China

This was our second tour with Friendly Planet the first being India 3 years ago. We just got back from China and wanted to tell you how amazing the trip was and what a great time we had. Our guide David was fantastic and all the accomodations were perfect. We are so glad that we went and we will do more tours with Friendly Planet in the future. 

-O.R. Nasseri, San Diego, Calif.

Exotic Ecuador

I just returned and wanted to let you know that this trip was absolutely wonderful. It was very well put together; had a great itinerary, involved no surprises; and was a great value. The hotels were outstanding and I truly enjoyed the variety of activities expecially in the Amazon Region. Based upon this great experience I will definately consider Friendly Planet again.

-Theodore Lattanzio, New York, N.Y. 

Weekly wrap up: Thanks to travel editors for featuring our tours

I wanted to thank several travel editors for featuring some of our tours in their recent coverage. Thank you! 

Los Angeles Times: Tours and cruises in Latin America, Europe and Asia

MSNBCArgentina, air/8 nights, from $1,659 

Frommer’sFrommer’s 5 Deals: Puerto Vallarta, Morocco, Philly, India, and Texas Hill Country

Chicago Tribune: Borneo to Bangkok: Travel trips, tips & deals

WopularBorneo To Bangkok: Trips, Tips & Deals

Get a “Taste of Thailand” before it sells out!

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Since we featured the Taste of Thailand tour on the blog last July, it’s become one of our most popular destinations. Many travelers have been enjoying our tour guides showcasing its fascinating culture, exotic beaches, and islands.

Departure dates are filling up quickly, so if you want to experience the bustling capital city of Bangkok, the ancient city of Ayutthaya, and the historic River Kwai this spring — all for an amazingly affordable price, you need to act now!

You can book this tour  for $999 by Feb. 10. It includes round-trip airfare from Los Angeles, accommodations at superior first-class hotels, daily breakfast, sightseeing tours, English-speaking tour guides, optional extensions to Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Phuket Island, and more.

As I’ve told you before, Thailand has emerged as one of Asia’s most cosmopolitan destinations in the world. Travelers will explore Bangkok’s waterways on a canal boat ride, enjoy a traditional Thai Set dinner at Supatra River House Restaurant, visit the most visually stunning temples in the world, and so much more.

The nine-day tour will give you a deep appreciation for the old and new that gives the country its remarkable appeal. Read my previous post about the Taste of Thailand tour to get all the details about this magnificent country.

For travelers who want more time in Thailand, check out the Treasures of Thailand tour for 12 days. For more information on either of our Thailand tours, take a look at our Web site.

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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