One of my favorite times of the year is the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. It’s the perfect time to take a few days off to relax from the hustle and bustle of work and spend quality time with family and friends. It’s also a fitting time to reflect on what we’ve accomplished in the past year, and what we’re hoping to achieve in the next year.
2011 will be a momentous year for Friendly Planet Travel. It marks our 30th year in business! Back in 1981, I never thought about where I would end up in 30 years. Now, three decades later, I’m still here. I feel so lucky to have what to me feels like the best job in the world.
Throughout the year I’ll be sharing stories of why I started Friendly Planet Travel, and about our first group tour, which included my first group tour to Israel for the first gathering of Holocaust survivors in Israel. I’ll also be interviewing the travelers who have been booking tours with Friendly Planet Travel since the beginning, and much more.
In addition to celebrating our 30th anniversary throughout the year, we’ll be introducing new products and new ways of giving back to many of the countries that welcome our tours. Here’s a sneak peek at what to expect from Friendly Planet Travel in 2011.
New destinations. We surveyed Friendly Planet Travelers to discover the location they want to travel to most. The winner was Madagascar. And 2011 will be the year you can visit this fascinating destination with Friendly Planet Travel. We’re also introducing tours to Spain and Portugal, Burma (Myanmar), and Botswana.
New tours. As part of our 30th anniversary celebration, I will be leading a select group of tours to the new destinations being introduced in 2011. I’ll get to put my first-hand experience and research of these new locales to use when I extend invitations to these four tours later this year.
New booking engine. We will be unveiling a new air-hotel-car booking engine for travelers who want to create their own vacations without worrying about set departures or prepared itineraries. This consumer- and service-oriented portal is for savvy travelers who know what they want in services, including great pricing, but don’t want to give up service to get it.
New cruises. We will also be adding a robust, new series of cruise selections, featuring such highly regarded cruise brands as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), and Asamara. All will be available for individuals who want to travel independently, as well as set departure programs that include lots of additional services.
New nonprofit foundation. When I created Friendly Planet Travel, outreach and support for humanitarian causes was always part of my mission. We contribute directly to projects in many of the countries we visit, as well as right here in America. As part of our 30th anniversary celebration, I’m fulfilling my original mission with the creation of the Friendly Planet Travel Foundation. All the outreach and support that we conduct will move to our foundation, and we’ll be offering you plenty of new opportunities to get involved in helping as you vacation.
Continuous improvements to our digital ecosystem. You might have noticed some changes to the Friendly Planet Travel website in 2010. It’ll continue to evolve as we include more enhancements to the website and booking engine.
There’s plenty more to come in the new year, but I hope that in the meantime, these tidbits of news will tickle your curiosity and bring you back to the blog for more details. Come back and visit the blog soon to see what else we have in the works in 2011.
Before I put 2010 behind me, I have a few more things to take care of. One those is extending thank yous to the editors who covered Friendly Planet Travel’s Captivating Costa Rica, Best of Turkey, and Pyramids and Nile Cruise tours in December. Read on to see what pubs these Friendly Planet Travel tours landed in.
Captivating Cost Rica made an appearance on “Frommer’s 5 Deals for December 15, 2010.”
Lastly, Oregon Travel Daily talked about our Pyramids and Nile Cruise when we announced new departure dates.
Thanks again editors for featuring Friendly Planet Travel. Hope you all have a happy new year!
A few months ago, I told you what to do if you’re stranded in an airport. Unless you’re living in a cave, you know that the U.S. East Coast was hit with a major snowstorm yesterday.
And if you’re reading this blog post from your smart phone or another mobile device at the airport, you’re probably one of the thousands of holiday travelers whose flight was cancelled.
I have to admit. A year ago at this time, I was shakin’ in my boots. We were about to re-launch the Friendly Planet Travel blog on a new platform and I wasn’t sure if our readers would follow us. Then my worries subsided when I saw that our readers did, indeed, come visit us at our new home on the Web. Thank you!
Upon this reflection, I thought I would share with you the blog posts that you loved the most since we made the switch. Here are our top seven posts of 2010.
1.) Vietnam is Anthony Bourdain’s favorite place on Earth to eat. The Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain traveled to his favorite place in the world to eat, Vietnam, for his show, “Anthony Bourdain No Reservations.” I share the Tony’s enthusiasm for Vietnamese food, and tell you how I happily ate my way through the country last year on my trip to Vietnam.
2.) Should you carry cash, credit, or a traveler’s check when traveling? A lot of us are accustomed to paying for most things with our credit or debit cards. It’s easy and convenient. But when you’re traveling, using a credit card might not always be the best option. So before you leave the U.S., I help you determine whether you should be carrying cash, credit, or a traveler’s check.
3.) The best travel apps for your smart phone. If you have a smart phone, you probably have apps. So which travel apps are worth it? I can’t tell you (just yet), but Becca Torres of the Planet Travel Reservations team can. See which apps made Becca’s cut.
4.) Get exclusive savings on Friendly Planet tours with Hot Deals. For the first time, Friendly Planet Travel started giving subscribers to the Hots Deals mailer exclusive coupon codes on Friendly Planet tours. We told you all about how to sign up to not only get announcements on deals and new destinations, but how to save even more bucks on select tours.
5.) Advice on what you shouldn’t pack in your suitcase. Some people like to pick up every knickknack and souvenir they can get their hands on when they travel. From the hotel shampoo to the restaurant matchstick book, they shove it all into their luggage. Find out what you should keep and what you should toss.
6.) Friendly Planet review: A snapshot of the Best of China tour. Ron and his wife Jan booked the Best of China tour for October 2009. They came back with over 1,600 photos to share. We talk to Ron in a podcast to get the stories behind the photos and what travelers shouldn’t miss when they’re in China.
7.) What to do if you’re stranded in an airport. What do travelers need to know in the event that some force of nature grounds air traffic and throws their plans into gridlock? I share a few suggestions you can follow if you find yourself stranded, sharing an airport with hundreds of other travelers in the same boat as you.
That’s my wrap up. And if there are any topics you’d like to see covered in the New Year, leave them in a comment on this post.
Travel insurance is something you buy hoping you never have to use it. However, not everyone purchases it when booking a vacation — a big mistake in my book. I’ve told you how travel insurance covers medical expenses and the steps to take to use your insurance, but it also covers a lot of other events you might not have expected.
With an estimated 43.6 million people traveling by air this winter holiday period, I’m sure some of your trips might not go as planned. When something does go wrong and you have to foot the bill, you’ll either sigh with relief that you bought travel insurance or kick yourself that you won’t be reimbursed for any of the additional expenses.
In this new series, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about travel insurance. Why a whole series instead of one post, you might ask? Honestly, there is a lot to cover.
While it might not be the most fascinating part of planning your trip, it’s vital for success that you have all the facts! Believe me, I’ve used my own travel insurance before, and you’ll say “Really?” when you find out what’s covered. From trip interruptions, to lost prescriptions, to lost luggage, the list goes on and on.
Since skies will be busy this season, let’s start with what travel insurance covers around your trip to the airport. As an example, here is Friendly Planet Travel’s policy to give you an idea of what travel insurance can cover.
Trip delay. If you’re stranded in an airport because of weather, mechanical problems, or you got in an accident on the way to the airport, etc., your travel insurance will cover you for costs associated with the delay. For example, if your flight gets delayed, it will likely fly out the next day. The insurance will pay for your hotel and meals for that night if the airline does not.
Now you arrive at your destination and you need a transfer to meet up with the rest of your group tour. The travel insurance will cover that. You’ll have to pay for it out of pocket, but will be reimbursed as quickly as possible. So keep your receipts.
Travel insurance will cover up to $100 per day for up to five days. It will reimburse you for additional expenses incurred by you for hotel accommodations and meals if you are delayed 12 hours or more. However, it will not pay benefits for expenses incurred after travel becomes possible.
Trip interruption or cancellation. An interruption is when you get stuck in a location for three or four days due to forces you can’t control. For example, there’s a strike that shuts down roads or closes airports and you can’t leave that country for three or four days. Travel insurance covers all of the expenses to stay a few extra days because your trip was interrupted.
Interruptions are usually coupled with trip cancellations. So if you have to cancel your trip because you get sick, injured, or anything similar, travel insurance typically covers up to the total trip cost. And if your trip is nonrefundable, it covers trip payments up to the air and land cost for cancellation prior to departure or trip interruption after departure.
Missed connection. If you find yourself without enough time between your connecting flights, you might be making a mad dash to your second gate. Unfortunately, your best attempts to hurdle over luggage and slow walkers in the terminal might not get you to the gate in time.
There’s no need to sweat. Travel insurance covers costs up to $500 and additional transportation costs to join the trip once you get on a new flight. Also included are accommodations and meals if inclement weather or the carrier itself causes the cancellation or delay of regularly scheduled airline flights for three to less than 12 hours.
Now, don’t just sit back and let the travel insurance do all the work for you if you find yourself in any of these situations. You need to be a good advocate for yourself. But do it respectfully, but insistently. Depending on the situation, a lot of travelers might be in the same boat trying to reschedule a flight or book a hotel room. If that’s the case, take matters into your own hands knowing that the travel insurance will reimburse you later.
You can start by booking a new flight yourself. Once you do that, tell the ticket agent that you’ve booked yourself on another flight and you need authorization from the other airline to accept your ticket. If they give push back and say no, remember you have the right to be accommodated, just do it respectfully.
And when it comes to booking a hotel room, avoid the Waldorf Astoria if you can. Travel insurance will cover reasonable accommodations, not luxury. You don’t have to rough it, but a Marriott or a Holiday Inn will provide you with a roof and bed.
So stay tuned, or bookmark the travel insurance tag. In my next post I’ll cover lost luggage, personal effects, assistance, and more.
Tour guides can really make or break an experience in a new country. Anyone who has ever gone on a group tour can attest to that, including Nicole Zuchelli and Zack Grahama. They just returned from Friendly Planet Travel’s Taste of China tour and thought their tour guides took their experience to a whole new level of enjoyment.
Nicole and Zack sent me a detailed e-mail about how wonderful their tour guides were and what they thought were some of the highlights of the group tour. I copied and pasted the e-mail (verbatim) below. Give it a read. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
|Nicole and Zack in the Forbidden City|
“Dear Friendly Planet and CITS,
We just returned from Friendly Planet’s “Taste of China” tour and we are two incredibly satisfied travelers — it was fabulous. Although we’ve been fortunate enough to travel pretty extensively in our lives, this was our first experience with Friendly Planet and our first trip to Asia. We’ve barely been back in the states for 48 hours and we’ve already converted our families into Friendly Planet fans via our ‘Taste of China’ travel tales.
We must tell you that National Guide, David Bai, runs an absolutely excellent tour. David is personable,exceptionably knowledgeable and is careful to keep things lighthearted and fun, all of the essential ingredients for magnificent group travel.
He went above and beyond to ensure that we enjoyed a unique and memorable experience and for that, we are grateful. We’re already thinking about returning for the ‘Best of China’ tour and hope that David can be our guide. Local guides, Alan (Shanghai) and Susan (Xi’an) were wonderful as well, taking extra care to answer all of our questions and it was obvious that all three of our guides took extreme pride in introducing their country to us.
The hotels were fantastic(particularly the Grand Mercure in Xi’an)and the food was delicious and plentiful — no one ever left hungry. Every restaurant that our guides took us to was great and almost all were filled with locals, so we really felt like we were experiencing the “inside scoop” as far as cuisine was concerned.
We feel as though we received amazing value for our money and returned home with a deeper appreciation for travel, a greater understanding of another culture and new friends halfway around the world. What more could you ask for? Xie xie!” — Nicole Zuchelli and Zack Grahama, Los Angeles, Calif.
Thanks for your note Nicole and Zack! Drop us another e-mail if you decide to book the Best of China tour.
Kiva recently made headlines when Oprah included a Kiva gift certificate in her 2010 Ultimate Favorite Things show. Today, I’m bringing you more Kiva news by announcing that every traveler who books a Friendly Planet Travel tour by Dec. 23 will get a gift certificate for a $25 micro-loan to distribute through the organization.
Kiva is the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs around the globe. Here’s how it works. Lenders browse profiles of entrepreneurs in need from different countries throughout the world, and choose someone to lend to.
When they lend, using PayPal or credit card, Kiva collects the funds and then passes them along to one of their microfinance partners worldwide. Kiva’s micro-finance partners distribute the loan funds to the selected entrepreneur.
Often, partners provide training and other assistance to maximize the entrepreneur’s chances of success. Over time, the entrepreneurs repay their loans. Repayment and other updates are posted on Kiva and e-mailed to lenders who wish to receive them. When lenders get their money back, they can re-lend to someone else in need, donate their funds to Kiva (to cover operational expenses), or withdraw their funds.
Friendly Planet Travel started a Kiva lending team in August 2009. Since then, we’ve grown to almost 200 members who have loaned over $25,000 combined. This is Friendly Planet Travel’s second year offering Kiva gift certificates for every tour booked.
I love the idea of being able to give a gift that never goes away. You lend a struggling entrepreneur $25, which, combined with other loans of $25, can put a person in business in a developing country, changing their life and the life of their family. If you lend to a group of entrepreneurs who have teamed up in a business, you can change the lives of a whole village. It’s amazing. And the inspiration for the system, Dr. Mohammad Yunus, even won a Nobel Peace Prize for the concept in 2006.
At this time of year, it’s impossible not to want to reach out and do something for others. So if you’re looking to take advantage of our gift certificate offer, here are some hot deals that might pique your interest or make a spectacular holiday gift.
Twelve-day Treasures of Egypt: Be mesmerized by Egypt’s sweeping natural beauty on land, then board the M/S Tulip for a seven-night Nile River Cruise where you’ll dock at Edfu, Aswan, Kom Ombo, and more. Take $70 OFF with coupon code 121410-187 on all departures dates.
Ten-day Italian Treasures: Indulge in la dolce vita on a tour that takes you to the Italian classics. Visit Venice, Florence, and Rome, as well as off the beaten path gems, including Bologna, Siena, San Gimignano, and Assisi. Take $70 off with coupon code 121410-141 on all departure dates.
Nine-day Taste of Vietnam: Fall in love with this country’s extraordinary beauty, charming people, and delicious food when you visit its two most important cities: Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Take $50 off with coupon code 121410-178 on the March 16, April 6, and 20 departure dates.
Thirteen-day Aegean Greek Island Hopper: Jump from Athens to Paros, to Mykonos, and Santorini, all while staying in beautiful four- and five-star hotels that show off the individual character and majesty of each Greek Island. Take $50 off with coupon code 121410-192 for the April 27, May 11, 18, and 25 departure dates.
Thirteen-day Cyclades Greek Island Hopper: Stay in cliff-side hotels with idyllic views as you hop from Athens, to Mykonos, to Santorini, and Crete. Take $50 off with coupon code 121410-193 on April 23 and 30, May 14 and 21 departure dates only.
Fifteen-day Best of China: Experience China’s most dynamic, modern cities to its timeless villages and breathtaking natural wonders when you visit Shanghai, Yichang, Three Gorges, Guilin, Xi’an, and Beijing. Take $70 off with coupon code 121410-112 on the April 12, 19, May 10, 17, and 24 departure dates.
Coupon codes are valid until Dec. 28, 2010, for new reservations. Enter the code when booking online or mention the code to your phone agent. For complete details and itineraries for each tour, visit our website. And remember, you must reserve a tour by Dec. 23 to receive the $25 Kiva gift certificate. Happy holidays!