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Archive for October, 2010

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Friendly Planet Travel tours featured in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and more

Take a break from assembling your Halloween costume and catch up on some of the tours that are catching the eyes of travel editors. Thanks to all for including Friendly Planet in your roundups!

The Taj Mahal Express answered The Washington Post’s question: “What’s the deal?”

Los Angeles Times was captivated by Costa Rica in its Travel section.

The Taj Mahal Express was the “Smart Deal of the Week” according to Frommer’s.

Budget Travel thought our Taste of China tour was a “Real Deal.”

Friday’s Friendly Funny

Get another serving of the Taste of Vietnam tour with the podcast transcript

If you’re unable to listen to Charlie Clarke’s first-hand account of Friendly Planet’s Taste of Vietnam tour, grab the transcript. It’s a great resource to hold on to for anyone thinking about traveling to Vietnam.

How you can win a SCOTTEVEST Travel Vest

When I kicked off my search for the perfect travel gear, my hope was to give away some of the products I’ve featured. Well today I’m going to tell you how to win one of the first products I wrote about: a SCOTTEVEST Travel Vest.

A few weeks ago I posted a podcast with Scott Jordan, the founder and CEO of SCOTTEVEST Travel Clothing. His clothing line is one of the most ingenious products I’ve reviewed.

It’s stylish clothing that actually saves you from having to carry around purses and bags. Every garment SCOTTEVEST sells has tons of pockets where you can securely stow gear and gadgets.

Here’s what you have to do to enter to win a SCOTTEVEST Travel Vest: Answer these two questions in a comment on this post.

  • Which Friendly Planet Travel tour would be best suited for wearing the SCOTTEVEST Travel Vest on? 
  • How would using a SCOTTEVEST Travel Vest on that tour change your trip?

It’s that simple. Click on “Post a Comment” at the bottom of this post. A comment box will appear. Answer your two questions, include your name and e-mail address where we can contact you if you win, and hit “Publish Your Comment” when you’re finished.

Please be as detailed (and creative) as you can with your answers. The winner will be judged on how well the Travel Vest is put to use on a Friendly Planet tour. You can flip back to our podcast with Scott to find out more information on how SCOTTEVEST can help free your hands when you’re traveling.

VERY IMPORTANT: Make sure you leave your name and an e-mail address where we can contact you if you win. You won’t be eligible to win without this information. One winner will be selected from the pool of applicants based on the best use of the Travel Vest on a Friendly Planet Travel tour. Deadline for comment submissions is Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010 at 11:59 p.m. EST Friday, Nov. 19 at 11:59 p.m. EST. I’ll announce the winner shortly after on the blog.

Note: This contest is open to anyone except employees of Friendly Planet Travel, SCOTTEVEST Travel Clothing, and any Friendly Planet Travel vendors.

Friendly Planet review: An in-depth look at the Taste of Vietnam tour

You might remember me writing that Vietnam is one of my favorite countries to visit. And I not only love it for its extraordinary beauty and charming people, but for its delicious food. I never thought I’d find another traveler who is as enthusiastic as me about Vietnam, until I met Charlie Clarke from Calgary, Canada.

Charlie and his partner Wayne recently returned from Friendly Planet Travel’s Taste of Vietnam tour and thought it was fantastic. They departed on Sept. 22, and when they returned, Charlie sent me an e-mail detailing every part of the trip he and Wayne particularly loved. From the hotels, to the food, to the tour guides, he explained why it was such as great trip.

One of our Friendly Planet bloggers, Melissa, followed up with Charlie on the phone to get a first-hand account of his experience on the Taste of Vietnam tour. I wanted to hear exactly how Friendly Planet stacked up against his past travels, and what made his trip fantastic. Listen to the podcast if you want to know what the tour is like, start to finish, from a Friendly Planet traveler.

In the podcast, Charlie takes Melissa through Vietnam’s largest and most important cities: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi. In Ho Chi Minh City, Charlie duck-walked through the Cu Chi Tunnels, learned how to make rice paper, ate elephant ear fish, and more.

In Hanoi, his group got the chance to celebrate Vietnam’s 1,000 year anniversary on Oct. 1. They also took in a Water Puppet show, an ancient form of Vietnamese entertainment, and more. Charlie was more than impressed with Friendly Planet’s tour guides in both cities because as he says, “they give you information that you can’t find on Google.”

In addition to talking about the tour, Charlie offers advice on what to pack when traveling to Vietnam in September, how to pack lightly, and what to expect in terms of the weather. He also gives you a lesson in Vietnamese culture by sharing some gestures you should use and clothing you should wear to show respect.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot more information in the podcast that’s incredibly valuable to anyone wanting to hear first hand what a Friendly Planet Travel tour to Vietnam is really like, directly from a just-returned traveler. All of us at Friendly Planet are grateful to Charlie for sharing his experiences with us, and we look forward to having him with us on tour again very soon!

Charlie in the Cu Chi Tunnels

Charlie and Wayne on Halong Bay

A spectacular view of Halong Bay

Friday’s Friendly Funny

Falling in love along the Nile

Steve and Kesa Sage in Cambodia

For some people, taking a vacation can be life changing. And I’m not talking about taking a break from the office and recharging your battery. I’m talking about finding your soul mate.

One of our reservationists recently discovered that a couple booking our Taste of China tour had first met on another one of our tours. Their relationship blossomed and they got married. Their love story is very sweet and I wanted to share it with you.

Let me set the scene.

It was November of 2007 and Steve Sage, a firefighter from Denver, was on Friendly Planet’s Pyramids and Nile Cruise program. The plane had just landed in Cairo and Steve was on his way to see the pyramids with his group tour members.

Kesa Young, from Casper, Wyo., was on that same tour traveling with her sister and niece. Kesa was jet-lagged when they landed, but she was still ready to marvel at one of Egypt’s masterpieces as the group rode the bus to the pyramids site.

Little did Steve and Kesa know that this trip was about to change their lives forever.

Steve was a seasoned traveler and experienced at taking solo trips. He had booked the tour with Friendly Planet because on a previous trip to Egypt, Steve barely had any time to experience the ancient wonders. He was eager to return and and spend time seeing the Sphinx, touring Cairo, and more.

A history buff, Kesa had always wanted to see Egypt. She often traveled alone, but this time she wanted to share this experience with family. Since none of them had visited Egypt before, Kesa’s sister wanted to book a group tour to make sure no one got lost in an unfamiliar country.

The group disembarked from the bus in front of Pyramids at Giza. Kesa, her sister, and niece explored the towering monuments that have stood for the last 46 centuries. Close by, Steve was doing the exact same thing. When they once again boarded the bus, Kesa noticed a handsome man sitting alone.

On the ride to the hotel, Kesa approached Steve and introduced herself to him. And as she describes it, she was “smitten” right away. Since Steve was alone, Kesa found it easy to keep him company at every opportunity they were given.

Kesa wasn’t the only one noticing things that first day in Egypt. Everyone in their group tour noticed the chemistry right away, and they all played an important part in kindling of their romance. Group members would suggest they sit next to each other at dinner, or encourage them to go on an excursion together. With the group’s help, Kesa and Steve spent a lot of time getting to know one another on the trip.

At the end of their nine days together, Steve was going on the Petra extension and Kesa was heading back to Casper. On the last morning of the Pyramids and Nile Cruise, Steve woke up early to have breakfast with Kesa and see her off.

They exchanged e-mails and phone numbers and went their separate ways. Kesa wasn’t sure what to expect of her new-found relationship with Steve. Would she hear from him again? Then a few days later, her phone rang.

On the other end was Steve. He had just returned to Denver and they picked up right where they left off in Egypt. Now that they were back in the U.S., Steve joked that he never thought he’d have to go to Cairo to meet a girl from Casper.

Denver was only four hours away, but Kesa had just quit her job and was moving to Chicago to attend pastry school. For the next six months they flew back and forth to see each other, and it wasn’t uncommon for Steve to surprise her with a visit at school.

When Kesa finished pastry school, she moved to Denver to be closer to Steve. After almost two years of dating, Steve and Kesa decided to tie the knot in a style the suited them best — Las Vegas on Valentine’s Day 2009.

Before taking their vows, Kesa and Steve took the plunge together out of an airplane to skydive the morning of their wedding. It might have been in the desert, but they assured me that it wasn’t warm 15,000 feet up in the sky.

Today Steve and Kesa are happily married and living in Denver. They’re looking forward to touring China with us on an upcoming departure. And this time they’ll share the full experience together.

Thanks to Steve and Kesa for sharing such a personal story. I never knew that as a group tour operator I could also play cupid. ;)

Are you guilty of being an annoying airplane passenger?

Frommer’s tackles this question for you in a humorous article. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve probably annoyed some fellow passengers. But I do try my best to respect others while on a flight or in the airport.

Some passengers aren’t as kind though. And this articles looks at the top 10 offenses made by airline passengers. Give it a read, because you might not even be aware that what you’re doing is annoying someone else. Then leave a comment on this post and let me know what other offenses you would add to Frommer’s list.

New travel apps for your smart phone

Becca Torres, one of Friendly Planet Travel’s reservationists, told you what she thought were the best travel apps for your smart phone back in June. The other day I saw that MSNBC.com listed their favorite “Apps that simplify travel.”

They include some of the apps Becca reviewed and similar ones, such as Gate Guru. But there a few new apps that stand out from the crowd for me. They are
World Customs and CulturesWhere, and Tripwolf.

I’ll be downloading them on my iPhone and will let you know how they stack up as soon as I get to put them to use. Also flip back to the article to see what other travel apps made the cut. And let me know, are there any other travel apps you use that you can’t live without?

Is the new Kindle the ultimate travel companion?

How do you like to pass the time on a long flight? I know some people like to watch movies, play Sudoku, sleep, or read. Melissa, the voice of the Friendly Planet Travel podcasts, likes to read a lot. She just took a trip from Philadelphia to Los Angeles last weekend and got to use her new Kindle 3G.

She knows that I’ve been searching for the perfect travel gear, and offered to write a guest post about her new favorite travel gadget. She thinks it’s the best invention since sliced bread. But read on to see what she says and see if you agree.


I wouldn’t call myself a nervous flyer, but I do like to stay distracted when I’m soaring 35,000 feet up in the air. The less I think about how far off the ground I am, the better. The best way to do this I’ve found is with a good book and some magazines.

I’ve been traveling a lot recently and realized how much space books (especially large, hardbacks) take up in my carry-on bag. Not to mention all the extra weight they can tack on.

I had been eying the new Kindle 3G since the day it came out, and thought it would be great gadget to eliminate carrying books on the plane. Luckily, someone was kind enough to get it for me as a gift just in time for my trip to California.

When I put the 8.7 ounce e-reader in the palm of my hand, I was instantly infatuated. It is so light! I’m able to hold it with one hand without that hand falling asleep. And the battery life is incredible. Turn off the WiFi and you can go a month without charging. I had two weeks to familiarize myself with it before my trip, so I started playing with my new travel gadget.

The 3G model gives you Internet access anywhere, anytime. So having access to the Amazon Kindle Store is a huge plus. You can download a preview of any book you want in the store. If you’re as indecisive as I, you’ll really appreciate this capability.

I perused the sections of the Kindle Store and downloaded a handful of books to preview to determine which book I wanted to read on the flight from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. I was also able to download previews from my home computer. You can look at books in the store from your own computer and send them to your Kindle. It’s pretty cool and very convenient.

I started reading my first book on my Kindle and was impressed that the display looks identical to a page in a book. Its contrast is set just right and it doesn’t hurt your eyes. It kept getting better from there.

You can move your cursor throughout the page to highlight text and make annotations. By far, my favorite feature is when the definition of a word appears at the top or bottom of the screen when you put the cursor in front of it.

After familiarizing myself with it for a few days, I chose the book I was going to read, “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich. “The Social Network” just came out, so I had to read the book that the movie was based on first. ;) I also decided to subscribe to Businessweek on the Kindle, which is about $10 cheaper annually than the print edition.

So on the morning of my flight, I packed my backpack with the necessities I needed on the plane. I was astonished at how much lighter it was without all the books. I knew I was going to fill that extra space with some souvenirs from Cali. So with my lighter backpack I headed for PHL.

After I found my seat on the plane, I woke my Kindle up from its sleep and started reading. Then I realized that when we were asked to turn off all of our portable electronic devices, that meant my Kindle too. The words “Uh oh” came out of my mouth. Take off is my least favorite part of the flight for me. The loud engines, ears popping, the movement of the plane, are all things I try to avoid experiencing.

This was definitely the one downside of using a  Kindle versus a book. But I quickly grabbed a SkyMall magazine and looked at the crazy gadgets in it until we were allowed to turn on our electronics. For the next few hours I nestled in my seat and just read.

My eyes didn’t get tired. My wrist didn’t hurt. I was able to hold the Kindle comfortably for hours. And I didn’t have to reach into my backpack to grab a magazine when I needed a break from my book. I simply clicked the Home button on my Kindle to get my Businessweek.

By the time we were asked to put our tray tables up and our seat in its up-right position, I was finished my book and watching a California sunset. When I looked at the battery life, it barely nudged during my flight. It’s a relief to know that I don’t have to carry my charger around with the Kindle.

If you like to read and read a lot, the Kindle is what you want when traveling. I know some people are hesitant to make the shift from books, but give it a try. You might end up loving it more than you thought. That’s exactly what happened with me.

And its new pricing makes it even more tempting. You can get a Kindle with WiFi starting at $139. Or if you want coverage all the time, the 3G model is just $50 more. If you’ve been using a Kindle for some time, or also just got a new one, I’d love to hear what you think about it. Leave a comment on this post and we can swap Kindle tips!

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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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