Happy Thanksgiving! Our offices will be closed on Nov. 27th and 28th.
You can still reserve online, make a payment, or contact us via our website. We'll reopen on Monday, Dec. 1st to help with your travel plans!

Friendly Planet Blog

Archive for March, 2011

« Newer Posts

Japan update: Travel news and ways you can help

Since my last update on Japan, I’m happy to report that our representatives in Tokyo are safe. We also have been in contact with our airline partners, Singapore Airlines, who have extended the deadline to cancel flights to Japan without penalty from March 20 to April 10.

That means insurance coverage is guaranteed only through April 10. However, I believe this deadline will be pushed back, as the nuclear emergency in Japan has complicated things.

So in order to make sure our travelers don’t suffer unnecessary penalties for canceling their April 19 departure or later for the Japan Panorama tour, which is not yet protected by waivers from suppliers, we’re not making any changes or canceling any tours at this time.

If you’re on our April 19 Japan Panorama departure, we’ve already contacted you with a list of options to choose from at this time, including booking another Friendly Planet Travel destination or a later Japan departure date.

Once we have a better sense of damage to the particular regions visited on the Japan Panorama itinerary, we will be better able to determine how to proceed. I want to assure you that we will act in your best interests. Flip back to my previous post to get more details about this decision.

Amid this disaster that has reshaped Japan physically, it’s clear that the Japanese people are methodical, strong, and united. One journalist I heard this morning on the BBC spoke of spending the night in a standing apartment in a village in the earthquake zone.

The family who lives there has no electricity, water, phone service, and very little food. Despite this, the journalist was welcomed warmly and invited to share whatever meager resources the family had. The journalist was surprised by the lack of hysteria and the stoic, calm attitude of the people she has met.

I’m not surprised. I’ve been working with the Japanese for years and know that they will recover and emerge from this better and stronger than before. That is just how they are as a people. For example, our representatives in Japan expressed their gratitude at having been spared the worst of the earthquake and the tsunami, but are worried about people in the worst impacted areas. Their message to me ended with this stoic line: “We will fight this tragedy together and recover, for sure.”

This is just one of the reasons why people — especially those of us who value independence, strength of character, and the ability to look ahead and work toward a better future — will not cancel, but postpone travel to Japan. And, at the first possible moment, they will make a beeline to be among the first to witness the recovery.

Friendly Planet Travel is looking for the best ways to help the Japanese people at this terrible time. We will get back to you with some suggestions for places to send donations that assure the help gets through quickly and to those who need it the most.

In the meantime, we are recommending Doctors Without Borders as a good place to send donations. They are very active in the Japanese recovery and have indicated they will need special funding to handle the crisis. I’ll continue to post updates to the blog, Facebook, and Twitter about the situation in Japan.

Japan earthquake travel update

This post has been updated here.

I don’t have to tell you about the natural disasters that struck Japan, devastating the country.

I love Japan and am heartbroken to see this beautiful country go through this horrible event. Our hearts go out to everyone effected by this disaster.

Thankfully, Friendly Planet Travel does not have any travelers in the country at this moment. However, we do have a scheduled departure date for our Japan Panorama tour on April 19, which is presently on hold.

For the moment, we have been informed that tickets issued for travel to Japan can be cancelled without penalty only through March 20. After that date, issued tickets can be cancelled, but for a penalty of $100 per person.

Since we have not been able to reach our land agents in Japan yet, we can’t determine if land penalties will be waived for April departures. We believe, however, that all of our suppliers will be lenient under the circumstances.

It is out of the question to even begin to determine the extent of the destruction in Japan at this early hour. In fact, a second earthquake occurred just a short while ago in the Nagano area, and there are likely to be aftershocks in the hours and days ahead.

In order to determine if travel in April will even be possible, we will need to assess the viability of the buildings in the cities where our travelers would stay. In the best case scenario, this will take weeks. The safety of our travelers is always our number one priority.

We will need to wait a few days until we make contact with our representatives on the ground in Japan. From there we’ll determine how cancellations of tours for April will be handled in order to make a final decision about our departure dates.

If you’re one of the travelers booked on our April 19 Japan Panorama tour, we are contacting you right now to give you all the information we have. Once the options are known, we will send them to you without delay. And be assured that no matter what option you choose, we will work with you to ensure you get a trip you are happy with.

The tsunami that hit Japan triggered tsunami alerts in other parts of the world where we do have Friendly Planet Travelers, including the Galapagos Islands and Costa Rica. I spoke with our representatives in the Galapagos Islands and they they told me everyone is safe and has been moved to higher ground until the alert expires. Costa Rica was issued a “green alert,” which is considered not threatening.

In events such as these, it’s a good time to remind you of the importance of buying travel insurance. If your trip is cancelled, travel insurance typically covers up to the total trip cost. But there are some caveats.

In this case, travel insurance will cover the trips that are cancelled right now, that is, for departures through March 20. For the moment, airlines are waiving cancellation fees only through March 20 and insurance companies are following suit. It is to be seen how this disaster evolves. If it is not possible to conduct tourism as usual, that March 20 date will be moved back, and the coverage will also be extended.

Please be patient. The situation is still evolving, and it will take a few days to understand the full impact of the earthquake and tsunami. But be assured that we’re working 24/7 and monitoring the situation closely.

I will continue to post updates on the blog, Facebook, and Twitter as news develops. Most importantly, keep everyone in Japan in your thoughts. We will be creating a way you can help the people of Japan. I’ll tell you more about that in a future blog post.

Friday’s Friendly Funny

We meet Budget Travel’s Kate Appleton in the Big Apple

If there’s an extraordinary travel destination at an ordinary price, Kate Appleton knows about it. She has to. That’s because it’s her job as Senior Editor of Budget Travel. She’s been telling travelers how to “budget wisely to travel widely” since the website launched in 2005.

So I was thrilled when Kate was able to swing by Friendly Planet Travel’s booth at the recent New York Times Travel Show. While she was there, we cornered her for a quick one-on-one interview with Friendly Planet Travel’s blogger, Melissa.

Kate told Melissa about how she got her start in travel journalism, her thoughts on whether you should choose the better deal over the better value when booking a trip, the state of airport security, her favorite exotic destination, and much more. Watch the interview to get all of Kate’s travel know-how and advice.

Kate, it was wonderful to meet you! Thanks again for stopping by our booth.

How to stay healthy while traveling

In this past weekend’s New York Times Travel sectionMichele Higgins covered “How Not to Get Sick From a Flight.” While there’s some handy advice in it, some of the measures air travelers take are extreme.

I agree with Michelle that frequent hand washing is the best way to take care of germs that might make you sick. But you’ve heard me tell you this before, and why it’s important to buy travel insurance in the event you get sick when traveling.

However, the excessive attention paid to trying to make our environment as germ-free as possible has, in my opinion, made us incapable of fighting germs the way we were meant to — using our body’s natural defenses.

I like to believe I’m not germaphobic. I don’t use hand sanitizers, except when I know I can’t get to water and soap. And did you know that hand sanitizers can’t kill the number one thing that most people catch – the cold. I’ve also concluded from personal experience that products such as Airborne appear to be ineffective.

Despite traveling frequently, particularly by air, I almost never get sick with anything but a cold, which can’t be avoided if someone on the flight has one. And those nasty cold germs don’t even need to come from your seat mate. Someone sitting in another cabin who is hacking and coughing can make you sick.

After 30 years of being a frequent flier, I’m still healthy. So here are some normal precautions I take when I travel by air:

  • I wipe off the tray table before using it. 
  • When I wash my hands in any public space, I use the paper towel (after drying my hands) to open the door. 
  • I use the protective paper seat covers before using the commode. 
  • I try not to touch the hand rails on the moving sidewalks or escalators inside the airport.

You can buy all the health items described in Michelle’s article that are marketed to make you feel germ-free when traveling by air. But it’s like buying expensive facial creams. You know you’re paying a fortune for something that probably works about as well as mayonnaise. On the off chance the expensive cream might actually work, you pay the money anyway. You do it on the basis of a promise of some potential benefit, and in my opinion, the same is true for many of these products.

That said, it is possible some of these products might be helpful. Not having completed my own advanced degree in microbiology, I can only attest to my general knowledge and experience, but I wouldn’t go to a tremendous amount of trouble to stock up on all of that precautionary stuff. I would just remember to wash my hands a lot. What are some steps you take to avoid getting sick when traveling? Tell me about it in a comment.

Queue the music: We announce the winner of our free trip to India

Attendees entering to win our free trips at the Travel Show

My blog post asking you to check your e-mails and voicemails to see if you were the winner of Friendly Planet Travel’s free trip for two on the Taj Mahal Express worked.

Marybeth Kelman of New Jersey claimed the free trip she entered to win at The New York Times Travel show. Congrats Marybeth!

The Taj Mahal Express is one of the most amazing cultural experiences of a lifetime. Its sights, sounds, and smells are among the most phenomenal in the world. Marybeth, I hope you enjoy every second of your trip!

Head back to my previous post to find out more details about the free trip Marybeth won. And in case you missed the Travel Show, read my recap or bookmark “The New York Times Travel Show” tag to see the latest videos we’ll be posting from the show.

Friday’s Friendly Funny

What you missed at The New York Times Travel Show

It took me a little longer than anticipated to get caught up after coming back from The New York Times Travel Show. But things have settled down, and I want to tell you all about the premier travel show in the U.S.

Let’s get to the most exciting news first — the winners of our Kenya Safari Express tour, Taj Mahal Express tour, and Nikon S8100 digital camera.

When the show came to a close on Sunday, I randomly selected three names from the Friendly Planet Travel globe, where attendees dropped in their names. I pulled three names out, and I’m thrilled to announce that Katy C. Li was the winner of the Kenya Safari Express! Congrats Katy!

You’re going to love Africa’s sweeping vistas, teeming cities, and magnificent wildlife. To see more details about the trip Katy won, flip back to my previous post. We’re still trying to reach the other winners to claim their prize. So, check your e-mail and voice mail, as you might be one of our winners! When the winners do claim their prizes, we’ll announce them on the blog.

Thank you to all the travelers who stopped by our booth last weekend and to those who saw my presentation on the “Five Exotic Locations for the Price of a Vegas Weekend.” I’ll be posting the video of my presentation in the coming weeks in case you missed it.

I also want to say thank you to Stephanie Abrams, host of “Travel with Stephanie Abrams!” for having me on her radio show live from the Travel Show on Saturday. If you missed Stephanie’s broadcast, you can download episodes on her website.

The Friendly Planet Travel blogging team was on the ground at the Travel Show talking to travelers all weekend too. They even got a handful of attendees to take Friendly Planet Travel’s trivia quiz. Melissa, one of our bloggers, quizzed travelers all weekend. I’ll post the video soon so you can see how much these travelers know about the globe they love to trek.

We also got the opportunity to talk with Kate Appleton, Senior Editor of Budget Travel. Melissa talked to Kate about the state of airport security, her favorite destination (hint: it has a canal running through it), her thoughts on whether you should choose the better deal over the better value when booking a trip, and much more.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting videos from the show, so keep your eyes peeled to the blog. But if you can’t wait, here are a few photos we snapped from The New York Times Travel Show.

Friendly Planet Travel’s booth

Welcome! Attendees arrive at the Travel Show

A life-size passport making the rounds on the show floor

Hundreds of attendees entered to win our great giveaways

Dancers performing on one of the many stages

A South American band providing a soundtrack for attendees

Another reason Costa Rica is one of the happiest places on Earth

Cameron and Amy at La Fortuna waterfall

Costa Rica was named one of the happiest places on Earth, and it certainly earned that title and more in the eyes of Cameron Clark and his new fiancée Amy Steinfeld on a recent trip to the country.

Cameron is Friendly Planet Travel’s webmaster, and when he decided to pop the question to Amy, he looked through Friendly Planet Travel’s catalog of tours and picked Costa Rica as the place to do it. Cameron got down on one knee and Amy said yes! Congrats Cameron and Amy, I couldn’t be happier for you two.

Cameron was so excited to share the news with us at Friendly Planet Travel that he didn’t stop there. He told us about everything else that made Costa Rica memorable.

Cameron customized his Costa Rica trip itinerary, but he did visit many of the cities on the Captivating Costa Rica and Costa Rica Pura Vida tours. They included San Jose, Tortuguero, Arenal, Monteverde, La Fortuna, and Santa Elena.

He detailed what he and Amy saw and explored in each of these locales in his e-mail. So I asked him if it was OK to share it on the blog to give readers a first-hand look at some of the places they can explore on our Costa Rica tours.

He graciously said yes and shared some spectacular photos he and Amy took. Read on to get a little history of Costa Rica and what some of the cities on Friendly Planet Travel Costa Rica tours are like.


Hey all,

Amy and I just back from Costa Rica late Sunday night. The trip was fantastic — probably the most relaxing and romantic vacation I’ve ever taken. Felt like much longer than nine days.

And some good news — Amy and I are engaged! No surprise to anybody, of course … except, somehow, Amy! I can’t imagine being any happier or luckier.

And now I’m sending you a not-so-brief summary of our trip, which you’re free to read!

Tortuguero, Costa Rica

San Jose. We started by flying into the capital and biggest city.

San Jose is not as dirty, run-down and dangerous as other Central American cities, but is certainly not the most photogenic part of the country.

Luckily, we had reservations at perhaps the most beautiful and charming hotel in the city, the Grano de Oro, a century-old tropical Victorian mansion that was once home to one of the Costa Rican coffee baron families.

From here, we explored the crowded markets, well-worn cathedrals and quaint squares of the city on foot and recovered from our red-eye flight.

Tortuguero. The next day, we were picked up and taken to a remote spot on the Caribbean coast called Tortuguero. Getting there was no easy task; we wound through several hundred kms of roads through cloud forests over the continental divide; turned off onto 30+ km of dirt roads through banana plantations; then changed to a boat for the last hour of the trip. (And all this in the pouring rain.)

Amy high above the rainforest

Tortuguero is a brackish delta of rivers and natural canals, surrounded by impenetrable jungle, which can only be accessed by boat or by air. Our hotel (if you can call it that) was located on a narrow forested island strung between one of these canals and the Caribbean Sea.

The beach here is one of the most important nesting spots for green sea turtles, as well as other species of turtles (tortugas), and during the nesting season (which we just missed), you can stay up all night and watch the hatchlings dig their way up through the sand and drag themselves out to the sea, only to return when they lay their own eggs.

But Tortuguero is also famous for a wide variety of other wildlife, including spider, howler & capuchin monkeys; iguanas; crocodiles and caymans; jaguars & ocelots; and a mind-boggling number of butterfly, insect and bird species.

Though this area is perhaps the wettest in Costa Rica — it rains without fail every single day — we were lucky to get almost one full dry-ish day, during which explored the canals by boat with a very knowledgeable guide.

Later, the rain provided a nice excuse to spend a couple of languorous evenings taking refuge in our cozy cabin, during which I had plenty of time to get down on one knee. :)

A glimpse at the peak of Arenal

La Fortuna and Arenal. We were next escorted halfway back to San Jose, where we got a rental car and began exploring on our own. First stop was Costa Rica’s most active volcano, Arenal.

After erupting in 1968 (wiping out a town and killing a bunch of people), it’s been more well-behaved, though it consistently chortles out smoke and bits of lava ever since.

It’s usually covered with clouds, but if you’re lucky, you’ll see the ribbons of lava at night and hear explosions. The nearby town of La Fortuna is home base to all sorts of adventure activities, but we decided to explore on our own, and were again lucky enough to get nearly perfect weather. We hiked up to the famous La Fortuna waterfall, a ribbon of water surrounded by dense rainforest, and swam in the pools.

Next, we hiked around the base of Arenal itself, catching a quick glimpse of the peak when the clouds parted for a moment. Then we drove down a little dirt road out to Rancho Margot for an incredibly inspiring tour of the most legitimate eco-lodge I’ve ever seen. We finished it all off with a romantic evening at Tabacón hot springs, a ridiculously gorgeous (manmade) paradise that Adam & Eve would have envied.

Cameron at the base of a 100-year-old Ceiba tree

Monteverde and Santa Elena. We next drove around beautiful (manmade) Lake Arenal and up into the mountains to Monteverde, Costa Rica’s most famous cloud forest.

Though only 25 kms from Arenal, the drive took over three hours in the rain, half of it on steep, windy, narrow dirt roads that suffer (like all of Costa Rica) from far too few signposts. Though I hadn’t really wanted it first, the rental company’s free upgrade to a 4-wheel drive SUV came in very handy!

We finally arrived in the small Tico town of Santa Elena, which felt very much like California’s old remote gold country towns high in the Sierra Nevada. Despite its size, Santa Elena boasts many nice hotels & restaurants and dozens of adventure activity outfits. Instead of the somewhat overrun Monteverde reserve, we spent our one full day here in and around the adjacent Santa Elena reserve, once again with nearly perfect weather.

After a three-hour hike led by a well-trained guide, we headed to the Selvatura center, purchasing a package that included 13 zip lines, a terrifying “Tarzan swing,” a well-maintained hiking trail with copious swinging canopy bridges, a hummingbird garden, and a butterfly aviary. As dusk fell and the animals started to reclaim the cloud forest, we finally wandered out, the last of hundreds of tourists to leave, and found our way back to our cabin, with its incredible views over the mountains down to the Nicoya peninsula.

The next morning, we took a tour with Monteverde Coffee Company of a small organic coffee farm with an incredibly sweet second-generation Tico farmer, who let us harvest some coffee beans alongside his 80 year-old father, then crush some sugarcane and drink the juice.

After a night in Cartago, a pretty little town and the original capital of Costa Rica, we headed back to San Jose. And after getting rather lost, managed to make it back to the airport with just 45 minutes to catch our flight — which luckily, we did.

« Newer Posts

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

Tours & Packages Our specialty for 30 years! Find one now:
choose a region Europe Mediterranean Asia Middle East Africa Central America Caribbean South America South Pacific
Cyber Monday Travel Sale: save up to $500