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Archive for June, 2010

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Brave New Traveler’s Christine Garvin on becoming a global citizen, in her own words

If you’re more of a visual learner, you can read the transcript of my podcast with Brave New Traveler’s Co-Editor, Christine Garvin. In her own words, she’ll tell you about her holistic approach to travel and the many paths a person can take to becoming a global citizen.

Tour guide puts Exotic Ecuador a cut above the rest for first-time Friendly Planeteer

I told you about a new Friendly Planet tour almost every week in June. So I thought I would take a break and let one of our customers do the talking.

Dianne Jernigan of Victoria, Texas went on the Exotic Ecuador tour in late May. I won’t step on her toes, I’ll just paste her e-mail below (verbatim) and let Dianne take it from here.

“I wanted to let you know personally how very much I enjoyed my recent tour with Friendly Planet. This is the first time I have toured with Friendly Planet and my first trip to Ecuador. The experience was everything I’d hoped for….and more! Our Tour Guide was outstanding. He was very informative, and we were able to learn much about the history of the country from him. He handled an unexpected change in plans (because of the volcano eruption) flawlessly and very professionally. I would definitely travel with Friendly Planet again….especially if Patricio is the Tour Guide!”

Dianne, I look forward to planning another trip for you soon!

What to do if your US passport is lost or stolen

I love getting packages in the mail. Who doesn’t? And when the only thing separating you from an international voyage is your passport, it’s pretty exciting when that package arrives.

I told you how to apply for a U.S. passport, which is your ticket to travel the world. But there might come a day when that ticket is lost or stolen. Here’s what you should do if you’re ever faced with that unfortunate circumstance.

The first step to recovering a lost or stolen passport should be taken as soon as your passport arrives in the mail. And that is to sign it.

Next make photocopies of the signature and photo pages. File away one copy, and put the other one in your wallet. You’ll also want to do the same for the extra passport photos I suggested purchasing in my previous post.

If your passport is lost or stolen, don’t panic. It’s very easy to replace a passport. And if you make photocopies, you’re already one step ahead.

As soon as you realize it’s gone, you need to report it to the U.S. Department of State. You do this by calling them toll free at 1-877-487-2778. Then you have to fill out Form DS-64, which can be obtained online or from any Acceptance Facility or Passport Agency. This form will be placed in the Consular Lost or Stolen Passport System to prevent the misuse of your missing passport. Once you complete it, mail it to:

U.S. Department of State
Passport Services
Consular Lost/Stolen Passport Section
1111 19th Street, NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20036

If you want to replace your U.S. passport right away, you’ll also have to fill out Form DS-11. But you can’t mail it in. You have to go to an Acceptance Facility or Passport Agency and submit both forms in person. From this point on, you follow the same steps as if you were applying for a U.S. passport. If you need to refresh your memory on how to do that, flip back to my previous post.

If you’re outside of the U.S. and your passport disappears, the same steps apply, except you’ll need to contact the U.S. Consulate in that country instead of the U.S. Department of State. They will tell you exactly what to do. Contact information for a U.S. Consulate is widely available and the front desk of your hotel probably has it on hand.

Here’s where it pays to travel with a photocopy of your passport and an extra photo. This information will help any foreign consulate track your records quickly and get you a new passport issued without too much hassle. You could even get a new passport issued the same day. Turn around time is much faster outside the U.S. since, in most cases, the traveler will have to depart the country sooner rather than later.

It’s important to mention that a U.S. citizen can’t possess two valid U.S. passports. So if you recover your passport after you have reported it lost or stolen, it can’t be re-validated. You have to submit it to the address listed above for it to be destroyed. Or if you like to keep your old passports, you can opt for it to be canceled and returned to you.

All of this information is available on the U.S. Department of State’s website. Its FAQs section is very extensive as well, but if you still have questions, don’t hesitate to write to me.

A holistic look at travel with Brave New Traveler’s Christine Garvin

Brave New Traveler Co-Editor,
Christine Garvin

One of my favorite online travel publications is Brave New Traveler (BNT). Contrary to what you might think, it covers everything about travel except the destination itself. You might be saying, “Whaaaaat?” Flip over to their website, and you’ll see what I mean.

BNT teaches readers how to travel the world, respect other cultures, and discover the many paths to being a global citizen. It’s all the intangibles of traveling beyond the hotel amenities and tourist attractions.

Christine Garvin is the co-editor of BNT and I had the pleasure of chatting with her last week in a podcast, which is below. She leads a team of travel writers stationed all around the globe who cover intriguing topics, such as “Does Every Culture Have Sarcasm?” to “Can A Yogi Clean Up India’s Political System?

Christine pens plenty of articles herself and I asked her how she comes up with these different perspectives. A lot of her inspiration comes from her background. Christine is a certified Nutrition Educator and holds a master’s degree in Holistic Health Education.

This lets her look at travel differently than mainstream media. She looks at the good and the bad sides of traveling, as well as how it effects a person, the country they go to, etc. It’s truly a holistic approach, which makes her a perfect fit for BNT.

She’s been there for just over a year and has written a lot of memorable articles. One of her more popular articles we dive into is “What’s Your Travel Personality?” But you’ll have to listen to the podcast to get all the details.

Our talk wasn’t all work and no play. I uncovered Christine’s favorite travel destination. She was a little hesitant to admit it because it’s widely visited. Learn what city it is in our podcast, and listen to her great advice on the best time of the year to visit, and what to see and avoid.

There’s a lot more insight from Christine in the podcast, so click play and start listening.

Friday’s Friendly Funny

Oh my Greek god! An Athens and 3-Day Greek Isles Cruise for $1,249

The whitewashed houses that cling to the cliffs in the Greek Isles

Friendly Planet blogger Lucy has been giving you a first-hand look into our Athens and three-day Greek Isles Cruise she embarked on in March. What sparked her interest in the tour was the incredible discount we were offering in July 2009.

Take a look at your calendar. It’s almost July and we decided to bring the discount back for 2010. You can book the Athens and three-day Greek Isles cruise for $1,249 until July 30. It’s an epic eight-day journey through Greece. If you read Lucy’s posts, you’ll find out how we fit so much of Greece into just over a week.

The tour first takes you on a voyage through the Mediterranean Sea aboard the Aquamarine or Calypso, docking at the islands of Mykonos, Patmos, Crete, Santorini, and Kusadasi, Turkey. Then you return to land to explore Athens, the birthplace of western civilization.

A sea-side cafe in Mykonos

Pairing a journey to Athens with a cruise around the Greek Islands gives you the best of both land and sea. Your ship is your floating hotel, delivering you to islands full of history, myth, and vibrant towns.

But if you’ve taken a few cruises before, you’re probably accustomed to large, luxurious ships appointed with every possible amenity. Cruising the Greek Isles is different. Ships (including those of Louis Cruise Lines) are generally smaller and more agile, better suited for navigating the shallow waters and small ports of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas.

These mid-sized ships are practical, comfortable, and equipped with all necessary modern conveniences. So as Lucy mentions, don’t over pack. A basic cabin has all the amenities, but it’s not overly spacious. Think of these ships as good three-star hotels, offering convenient and comfortable transport through the Greek Isles — which are the true reason for your cruise.

But there’s more to our Greek tour than the cruise ship. You’ll spend most of your days exploring the different islands. The first stop is the island of Mykonos. Here you walk its winding alleyways and whitewashed buildings, and relax by sipping ouzo in a café overlooking the Aegean Sea.

The next day you find yourself in Kusadasi, Turkey. Its close proximately to Mykonos makes it an easy detour to experience one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World: the Temple of Artemis.

Later in the afternoon, you head back to Greece to the island of Patmos, where St. John wrote the Book of Revelation. Then it’s on to Heraklion on Crete. It’s home to the ruins of Knossos, the palace with an intricate collection of over 1,000 interlocking rooms.

And we saved the most celebrated of the islands for last, Santorini. There you can catch the spectacular views of the sunken caldera and still-active volcano off the coast before you head back to Athens.

The Acropolis of Athens

Your remaining days are spent in Greece’s capital where you drop your bags in the Divani Palace Acropolis hotel. It is located in the heart of Athens, under the shadow of the sacred rock of the Acropolis where ancient Greek civilization meets modern life.

Step outside and you’re in the Plaka. It’s the historical district of Athens, known for its narrow streets, contrasting old buildings, boutiques, outdoor markets, and more. Traditional Greek music is heard from the taverns lining the streets. Walk inside and you’ll likely find locals and tourists singing, dancing on the tables, and partaking in the celebratory throwing of plates.

There is more information on Athens and the islands in Lucy’s posts, as well as our podcast with Judy Poliva, Friendly Planet’s resident expert on Greece. They’ll both teach you how to say some common phrases in Greek and give you tips on what can’t be missed when sightseeing.

We pack a lot into the tour, and the price as well. Included in the $1,249 price tag are round-trip flights from New York (other gateways available at low fares); three nights in superior hotel accommodations in Athens; three nights aboard the Louis Cruises’ Aquamarine or Calypso; daily buffet breakfast in Athens and all meals aboard the cruise; all group transfers; professional, English-speaking tour guides; and more.

There are only two departure dates available at this low price, so book the Athens and three-day Greek Isles Cruise for $1,249 by July 30 before it sells out. And if a three-day cruise isn’t long enough, why not consider Friendly Planet’s Athens and four-day Greek Isles Cruise, which includes a stop at the island of Rhodes.

After both programs you can take advantage of the already included airfare and enjoy a four-day Classical Greece extension. You’ll see more ancient cities, including Corinth, Mycenae, Olympia, and Delphi for $699. Plus you get breakfast and dinner daily, great hotels, and all touring.

We have a lot of Greek tours to choose from, so if you need any help deciding, write to me or give Friendly Planet’s reservations teams a call at 1-800-555-5765. We’ll get the right tour picked out for you.

Part three of our first-hand look at Friendly Planet’s Athens and 3-Day Greek Isles Cruise

Picking up from where I left off, recounting my experience on the Athens and 3-Day Greek Isles Cruise

When I left you last, we had arrived at the port of Piraeus where we would board the Aquamarine — the cruise ship that would become our home for the next four nights. For those of you who have never been on a cruise, the boarding experience, called embarkation, is exactly what you would imagine. Wait in a line, drop off your bags, and climb the gangway into the belly of the boat.

But there’s one thing about it you might not expect — you have to hand over your passport for the duration of the trip. Considering that international travelers are told over and over again that their passport is the single most important item they own, and that they must risk life and limb to protect it, putting that precious book in the hands of a very friendly, but completely unfamiliar port agent can be panic inducing.

But rest assured, this is how it’s always done. They will not take off with a few thousand passports for a good laugh. And it will be safely returned before you leave the cruise ship at the end of your stay.

Participating in our life boat drill

In return for your passport, you’re given a plastic ID card. This is your replacement passport. If you are ever asked to produce one while on a shore excursion, you can show them your cruise ID card and they’ll know exactly what it is. The card is also linked to a personal credit or debit card so you don’t have to carry around cash or other cards while you’re on the ship.

Upon boarding the ship, the five of us were greeted by the staff of the Aquamarine and led to our cabins. Quick note about cabins on a cruise ship: They are not designed for the over packer. Do everything in your power to keep pieces of luggage to a minimum if you want to be able to walk to and from the door.

After a lengthy (and hilarious) life boat drill, where many jokes about the Titanic were made, we spent the afternoon acclimating ourselves to the layout of the ship, lounging by the pool, and reading up on Mykonos, the first stop on our trip.

Once a quiet fishing village, this tiny island currently boasts a population of about 11,000 and has become one of the most popular summer tourist destinations in Europe. During the summer season, the population shoots to 55,000, and the beautiful beaches, narrow streets, and about 100 bars and clubs are packed with vacationers.

The winding streets of Mykonos

Before disembarking at Mykonos, our tour guide, Heather gathered us together to tell us a bit more about Mykonos. Her biggest piece of advice? Try not to get lost, it’s very, very easy.

Known as the windiest island in the Aegean, the town of Mykonos was built to break the gusts coming in from the sea. Wind enters the city through a break in the buildings, only to be stopped by a wall of houses where the road splits off in two, or three, or more different directions.

If you click on the image to the right, which I found on The Mykonos Island Reservation and Travel Agency website, you can see how the streets look like a tangled web. According to Heather, the confusing layout had a secondary purpose. It was a way to slow down the pirates who attacked the port from time to time.

While intruders would quickly get lost in the confusing streets, locals would shut themselves into their houses, climb to the top floor, and drop boards connecting balcony to balcony over the narrow pathways. They would run from house to house and hide, unbeknownst to the pirates wandering the maze below.

My first Greek sunset

Before disembarking at Mykonos, I had a minute to catch my first Greek sunset on film, looking over the deck of the ship. Then we were off, down the gangway on onto buses that drove us the mile from where the ship docked into the town.

Heather was right. From pretty much the moment we took our first turn, we were completely disoriented. Had we been there in season, when the streets are jammed with people, I don’t know how we ever would have been able to find our way out. But because it was late March, and the night air was still chilly, Mykonos was ours to explore.

Once we were thoroughly lost in the streets, we explored our way right into a local restaurant for dinner. We sampled delicious moussaka, pita, tzatziki, and chicken gyros.

Our waiter even offered us a round of complementary dessert liquor! We thought we were special, until the table of American guys next to us said they’d been given an entire bottle to share the night before. I guess it was just that famous Greek hospitality, not how cute we looked. :)

A narrow street in Mykonos

The experience in Mykonos might have been a bit different had we arrived two weeks later. It’s truly the heart of the European party scene, once the weather turns warm. But no matter what time of year you’re there, the architecture is beautiful, and you really feel like you’ve been transported to another time.

After finishing our dinner and more free drinks from our waiter, it was time to find our way out of the town (easier than we thought it would be) and back to the bus.

One island down, four to go! Check back for my next post and an explanation of how you end up in Turkey when you’re on a trip to Greece.

Get a jump on two new Galapagos Islands tours

Just last week I told you about two new Greek Island hopper tours, and this week I have more island hopping to tell you about. No, we’re not in Greece anymore. We’re hopping right out of the Aegean and diving into the Pacific, headed for the Galapagos Islands. The Islands remain protected, but offer scientists, nature lovers, and travelers alike the chance to experience life just as Charles Darwin did when he voyaged to the archipelago in 1831.

Darwin’s Galapagos Islands Hopper and Explorer

Friendly Planet’s brand new, seven-day Darwin’s Galapagos Islands Hopper and nine-day Darwin’s Galapagos Islands Explorer tours give you the chance to cross paths with giant Galapagos tortoises, stroll past colonies of penguins, and see the endemic flora and fauna that have drawn visitors here for hundreds of years.

We still offer cruises to the Galapagos Islands, but I wanted to give you another way to be transported back 200 years in time and experience one of the few places where ecosystems remain untouched. Island hopping gives you more flexibility and time on Santa Cruz, Floreana, and Isabela to experience these islands’ biodiversity, history, and natural beauty.

A Galapagos tortoise

We worked closely with Red Mangrove lodges to get you the most intimate, gorgeous, and eco-friendly spaces available. Its goal is to protect and preserve the Galapagos environment while seamlessly weaving its beautiful lodges into the scenery. I can tell you, there isn’t a more beautiful place to stay when island hopping 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador.

Both of the tours, Hopper and Explorer, begin in Quito, Ecuador, the city that’s surrounded by snow-capped volcanoes. On the Darwin’s Galapagos Islands Explorer, you spend two nights and a full day in Quito touring the city’s colonial architecture in Old Town, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and more.

Then you fly to Baltra in the Galapagos Islands to begin your island adventure. On the Hopper tour, you spend a night in Quito before traveling to the Galapagos, and another night in Quito when you return, allowing time for you to visit Quito’s main sites before returning home.

After arriving in Baltra, it’s off to Santa Cruz. You’ll tour the Academy Bay at La Loberia and enjoy a thrilling snorkel with sea lions. If you prefer land-based exploration, you can hike to Los Gemelos (the twins), two enormous collapsed lava chambers, through the Scalesia Forest. It’s draped in liverwort and inhabited by large and small tree finches, the adorable Vermillion Flycatcher, and much more.

Next up is Floreana Island, where you’ll find plenty of rich red and turquoise colored marine iguanas sunning themselves on the black lava rocks. Floreana is one of the least populated of the Galapagos Islands, with fewer than 200 local inhabitants.

Travelers are fortunate to enjoy an opportunity to stay overnight there and experience a quiet and calm evening before hopping to Isabela where you’ll be greeted by sea turtles and penguins swimming in the stunningly clear turquoise water. Finally, head back to Santa Cruz to depart for Quito.

On the Hopper tour, this is when you’ll have your chance to tour Quito. For those on the Explorer tour, this is your second day in the city. On both tours, you can extend your stay in Cuenca, another UNESCO World Heritage site, also considered one of the most beautiful cities in Ecuador. It feels like spring every day of the year, and most travelers appreciate the opportunity to see more of Ecuador on this fascinating and well-priced extension package.

The very best part of these two wonderful packages is the included features we’ve packed into the low prices. Both tours include round-trip flights from Miami via LAN Ecuador with fuel surcharges; all ground transportation and transfers; superior accommodations; 14 meals; comprehensive sightseeing tours with a naturalist guide on the Galapagos Islands; a professional, English-speaking tour guide in Quito and Cuenca; Galapagos National Park fee ($100); Transit Control Card ($10); and more.

In just the short time that these tours were posted, many of our departure dates have already been filled, so I recommend booking without delay if you want to be included in these awesome, new tours. You can book the seven-day Darwin’s Galapagos Islands Hopper for $2,199 or the nine-day Darwin’s Galapagos Islands Explorer for $2,499 by July 30, or as long as space lasts.

If you have any questions, visit our website for more details and the full itinerary for both tours. And as always, feel free to write to me or call 1-800-555-5765 and speak to our reservations team.

Friday’s Friendly Funny

Friendly Planet resumes tours to Thailand

In my last post about Thailand, I told you how I couldn’t make an official announcement about new tours we were planning — but I can now! Today we officially re-launched the Taste of Thailand tour starting at $999. There are only two dates available right now at that price, so book your trip before it sells out.

I’m thrilled about this news! :) We issued a press release that hit today. Read on to get the details on why we decided now was the right time to go back to Thailand and what’s included in the price.


Friendly Planet Travel Resumes Tours to Thailand

With travel warnings lifted for Thailand, Friendly Planet Travel re-launches its nine-day Taste of Thailand Tour for $999

JENKINTOWN, Pa.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Friendly Planet Travel has resumed its tours to Thailand after the U.S. Department of State lifted its travel warning to the country. Friendly Planet is re-launching its nine-day Taste of Thailand tour for $999 with the first departure on Aug. 25, 2010. Two months ago, Friendly Planet cancelled all of its Thailand tours without any penalties to its customers when travel warnings were issued due to political demonstrations. With demonstrations ceased, the U.S. and other countries have lifted their travel warnings and the Thai people are welcoming back travelers to restore its tourism infrastructure.

“The U.S. Department of State has given us the OK to resume travel to Thailand as the political unrest has died down,” says Peggy Goldman, President of Friendly Planet Travel. “We’ve also been working closely with our partners on the ground in Thailand to monitor the situation.

We’ve been in business for 30 years, and over that long span, have experienced many travel warnings for points around the globe. The determining factor behind all of our actions is always safety. We would never send our travelers into harm’s way. So rest assured, anyone traveling to Thailand with Friendly Planet Travel will safely enjoy the country’s intense beauty and rich culture.”

The Taste of Thailand tour takes travelers to three of Thailand’s most dynamic and awe-inspiring cities: Bangkok, Ayutthaya, and Kanchanaburi. Included in the price are: round-trip airfare from Los Angeles via China Airlines, including fuel surcharges; intra-Thailand transportation; accommodations at first class hotels; daily American buffet breakfast; a welcome dinner; sightseeing tours as per itinerary and all transfers; and professional, English-speaking tour guides.

The tour begins in Bangkok, Thailand’s sprawling capital city, also known as “Venice of the East.” Travelers will take a canal boat ride on Bangkok’s waterways for a close up view of traditional Thai life. But to fully understand Thailand, it is essential to experience the fabric that binds together its national identity: its temples. Travelers will visit some of the country’s most important temple sites, including Wat Po, the oldest temple in Bangkok, and Wat Trimitr, where the 5-ton, 700-year-old Golden Buddha resides, the largest in the world.

Then it’s on to Ayutthaya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s best known for Bang Pa, King Rama IV’s summer palace. It represents an appealing fusion of Thai, Chinese, and European architectural styles. Next up is Kanchanaburi and the River Kwai, where visitors can ride an elephant through the lush jungle and enjoy a bamboo raft ride down the gently flowing river.

Travelers can also choose from two optional extensions. The first is Phuket Island, Thailand’s largest island, also known as “the Pearl of the Andaman Sea.” This stop includes a relaxing stay at Thailand’s famous Novotel Resort with plenty of sun-drenched days on the pristine beaches of Kalim Bay. There’s also an optional tour to the astonishing Angkor Wat in Cambodia for travelers looking to explore one of the most magnificent archaeological sites in the world.

For more information visit Friendly Planet Travel’s website at www.FriendlyPlanet.com, the blog at blog.friendlyplanet.com, or contact Jackie Zima at Gregory FCA at 610-228-2138 (office), 215-534-2973 (mobile), or write to Jackie@GregoryFCA.com.

ABOUT FRIENDLY PLANET TRAVEL

Friendly Planet Travel (http://www.friendlyplanet.com/) makes high-quality exotic travel affordable for everyone. Since 1981, Friendly Planet Travel has been arranging all-inclusive escorted discount vacation packages and cruises to the most exciting destinations in the world at the lowest possible prices.

Each year, Friendly Planet Travel offers more than 30 different group travel packages to Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and South America — at discounts of hundreds of dollars off similar vacations. With no hidden charges, add-ons or surprises, Friendly Planet Travel vacations include convenient flights and airfare, carefully-selected first-class and superior hotels, knowledgeable English-speaking guides, many meals, and itineraries as well as friendships and memories that last a lifetime.

Friendly Planet Travel offers its extensive, economical travel services to private groups including universities, religious institutions, alumni associations, and families. Groups who wish to travel together can count on Friendly Planet Travel’s three decades of experience to operate their group travel program expertly and always at the very best possible prices. Visit us at www.FriendlyPlanet.com.

Press contact:
Gregory FCA
Jackie Zima
Account Supervisor
610-228-2138
Jackie@GregoryFCA.com

Company Contact:
Friendly Planet Travel
Peggy Goldman
President
215-572-9594
PMGoldman@FriendlyPlanet.com

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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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