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Archive for May, 2011

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Pathfinders Travel’s P.J. Thomas helps you see beyond the beach when traveling

Since the day she was born, P.J. Thomas hasn’t stopped traveling. Her father’s work in the Air Force kept her family on the road throughout her childhood. But it was that lifestyle that inspired P.J. to become a travel journalist and eventually start her own magazine, Pathfinders Travel.

For the past 14 years, P.J. has been telling readers what’s beyond the beach and what’s in the heritage and culture of a coastal destination. So when Friendly Planet Travel ran into P.J. at The Philadelphia Inquirer Travel Show, Melissa got a few minutes to catch up her with on camera.

If you want to do more than sightsee on your next trip, and become part of the local culture, watch the interview. P.J. shares with Melissa some great travel advice on what to do to become accepted into the local community in a foreign country, even if you’re only visiting for just a few days.

They also talk about how P.J. started Pathfinders Travel magazine, the beaches that should be on every traveler’s to-see list, tips to make sure you’re always being a respectful visitor in the country you’re exploring, and much more. Thanks P.J. for spending some time with Friendly Planet Travel at the Travel Show!

Friday’s Friendly Funny

First-time Friendly Planet traveler reviews our Best of Turkey tour

It’s been almost a year since we introduced Friendly Planet Travel’s Best of Turkey tour. And every Friendly Planeteer I’ve spoken to who has taken this tour tells me how much they loved exploring the country known as the crossroads of Asia and Europe.

I wanted to share with you what Ann Ott from Cedar City, Utah had to say about her trip to Turkey. She sent me an e-mail that I’ve pasted below verbatim.

“Just returned from my first trip with Friendly Planet and was so impressed that I had to write this note. You have a lot of choices in travel and I have found my tour company at last. Everything about my trip was amazing- our guide, Ibrahim, was not only extremely knowledgeable, but also patient and very funny.

Hotels, transportation, meals, added excursions were all superb. Everything went off without a hitch- I felt safe and cared for every minute and could spend ALL of my time enjoying the trip instead of worrying about the travel details. Turkey, its people, scenery, food, monuments and parks are just wonderful. I can’t wait for my next trip. So little time, so much to see.” — Ann Ott, Cedar City, Utah

Ann, it brightens my day to find out how pleased you were with your first Friendly Planet Travel tour! Let us know which tour you pick as your second trip. And thanks again for your note!

Why a tour of America’s deep South trumped one travel expert’s trip to Antarctica

I base my livelihood on selling tours to exotic locations. But when I was told why a trip down South was better than a trip to the edge of the world, I wanted  to share with you the reasons why, despite the fact that I do not sell any tours to that region.

When we were at the The Philadelphia Inquirer Travel Show, Melissa talked to travel journalist Reid Bramblett about why his trip to America’s deep South trumped a trip he took to Antarctica.

And it wasn’t the amenities that made one trip better than the other — it was the experience. That’s what travel is all about. Experiencing the world the around you. You don’t have to book a five-star hotel or spend thousands of dollars on first-class service.

Sure, it’s nice to do that once in awhile, but traveling is about interacting with new people, seeing different sites, and sharing the experience with others. And it just so happens that Reid found an extraordinary trip in his own country, traveling with his dad, and visiting a not-so-off-the-beaten path, exotic location.

Reid explains his travel philosophy in a conversation he had with Melissa at the show. They talked about ways travelers can turn an ordinary vacation into an extraordinary one, when and where you should splurge while traveling, how to immerse yourself in the local culture, tips to get through airport security faster, the #1 item you should have in your carry-on bag, and much more.

See what Reid has to say in the video. It’s an interview packed with valuable travel advice from someone who has written or contributed to over 30 travel guidebooks and founded ReidsGuides.com. Thanks Reid for taking the time to chat with Friendly Planet Travel!

More on how to save money on a trip to Asia

The other day I told you how to save on flights and hotels when designing your own trip to Asia.

Today I’m giving you more tips on how to save on tours, currency exchange, and restaurants once you’re in your destination. So let’s get started.

Tours
Unless you are fluent in the local language, it’s probably best to book tours through a known agency. But check carefully to determine how much touring you really need to buy. I always begin my exploration of a new destination with a simple city tour.

This is for orientation purposes. I like to get a feel for the city and to get an overall idea of what there is to see. An orientation tour also gives you a great feeling for the lay of the land, that is, how far (or near) things are. Once you’ve oriented yourself, you can quickly determine how much touring you want to do with a guide and how much you can do on your own.

In some places, signs are not translated into English, making self guiding a real problem, so check carefully before you set out on your own. In other places, signs are posted in many languages making a self-guided tour a joy.

Book tours to the places you’ve always dreamed of visiting to be sure you don’t miss any of the important facts and details. Or, prepare yourself well in advance. Use a guide book to supplement your tour, but never use it to replace a real guide.

It’s better to save money by booking only those absolutely necessary tours through a reputable agency than to hire a private guide off the street (or even through the concierge at your hotel).

When you don’t go through a reputable agency, you don’t know your guide’s experience or knowledge of the city. Again, do the research before you depart. The Internet will give you lots of information about local tour companies. Even if you book and pay on the spot, you’ll already have identified whom to contact, saving time and trouble once you get to your destination.

Currency exchange
Never change money prior to departure. Every airport I’ve ever been in has a “change” desk where you can get enough money to see you through your first day. If you’re on a guided tour, your guide will know precisely where to change money.

And if you have an ATM or credit card that allows you to take out cash, that’s going to be your best bet. Capital One is the very best credit card for this purpose. It has no foreign currency service fee associated with it, and it’s the one I carry when I travel abroad.

However, even my AMEX or ATM card does the trick. After fees and exchange rates, I’m still generally getting a better deal than at the bank. And I can put my card into the ATM machine and ask for a modest amount of money to get me through a couple of days. Because in every Asian city and town I’ve visited, there are ATM machines readily available.

Restaurants
My main consultants for restaurants have become shop owners. I love to browse and wander, and shopping is part of that experience. Shopping doesn’t even need to include buying, but those shop keepers and clerks are eager to talk to foreign tourists, and they always know their towns well enough to give great recommendations. I’ve gotten tips about incredibly inexpensive spots to enjoy a meal with locals, where the food has been awesome and the socializing spectacular.

A good tour operator will give travelers plenty of advice and suggestions on most of these issues. Friendly Planet Travel offers every traveler a comprehensive destination guide for each place we visit, complete with great tips on where to shop, what to buy, and where to dine.

I hope these tips come in handy when you travel to Asia! And remember, you can use Friendly Planet’s new travel search engine to search thousands of deals on flights, hotels, and rental cars in Asia. And better yet, if you use our search travel engine, you still get Friendly Planet’s great savings and award-winning service. Enjoy your time in Asia!

Friday’s Friendly Funny

How to save money on a trip to Asia

A few weeks ago, Michelle Higgins of The New York Times called out our Taste of China tour as a great way save money on a trip to Asia. But when I was exchanging e-mails with Michelle about Friendly Planet Travel’s tour, it got me thinking of other ways travelers can save money when planning a trip to Asia.

I know a lot of ways to cut costs without cutting the experience of a trip. Being in the travel industry for over 30 years has taught me a thing or two. It’s why Friendly Planet Travel’s tours are so extraordinary.

However, I also know that some travelers like to design their own itineraries when they travel. But even if building your own trip is your travel preference, everyone loves to get advice from other travelers who’ve been to that destination before.

The Friendly Planet team, myself included, has been to Asia at least a dozen times. So I wanted to share with you ways to save on flights, hotels, tours, currency exchange, and restaurants.

But since there’s so much to tell you about, I’m splitting this post into two. Look for part two in a few days. Let’s start with ways to save on flights and hotels when booking a trip to Asia.

Flights
Asia is far away for American travelers. That means you’re going to be flying for a very long time, no matter which carrier you select. But if you do your airfare research, you’ll discover that there are wide variations in pricing. In booking flights, I typically look for the least expensive deal I can find.

Sometimes that double connection actually saves hundreds of dollars per ticket off the single connection or nonstop flight. Keep in mind that the single connection and nonstop flights still take a long time, and if you can save $300, 400, or more on your tickets by choosing the longer flight, you might want to take advantage of the savings.

Or, consider departing one day earlier, take a relatively small part of your savings to pay for an extra hotel overnight at your destination, and give yourself the gift of a day to rest and recover from the jet lag. You will need the extra rest regardless of the flight you take. But saving money on the ticket will give you the money to indulge in the luxury of sleeping off the impact on your body of the long flight. You will still enjoy the savings from your tickets, and you’ll be ready to explore the destination with plenty of energy.

Hotels
Hotels in many Asian destinations can be tricky. The price is not the sole consideration for selecting a hotel. I start with the location of the hotel. Make sure that it’s very close to, or even at, a public transportation station.

In many, many Asian cities, gridlock is what you’ll find all day and into the night. Traffic is a nightmare and getting around the city can be a horrible and time-wasting experience. Even if your hotel is practically free, if you have to spend hours getting around, the value of your entire vacation will be eroded by the inability to do the things you really want to do.

On the other hand, if you’re near a tube, light rail, or (last choice) a bus line, you’ll make much better time. The extra cost of a hotel in a location that is very close to good public transportation will be well worth it.

Also, when you do your comparison shopping for a hotel, be sure your breakfast (buffet, American style) is included in the cost, as well as taxes and other fees. Otherwise, you may think you’re paying a bargain price only to discover the real cost is 50 percent or more more than your budget. I would NOT recommend staying in anything less than superior tourist class hotels in Asia, unless you are staying in a B&B owned by a good friend.

So, if designing your own trip to Asia is more your style, try using Friendly Planet’s new travel search engine. It lets you search thousands of great deals on flights and hotels. Our travel search engine is an easy way to arrange your next vacation, while enjoying Friendly Planet’s great savings and award-winning service.

And stay tuned. I’ll talk about ways to save on tours, currency exchange, and restaurants in part two. But before I get to that, have you been to Asia recently? Please share some of your own advice on ways to save in a comment on this post.

Travel trivia at The New York Times Travel Show

We’ve been sharing videos from The Philadelphia Inquirer Travel Show where travelers give you their own advice on traveling. But when we hopped on the train bound for The New York Times Travel Show, we decided to bag the advice questions and shake things up.

Instead of getting travelers’ advice, we wanted to quiz travelers on their knowledge of the globe they love to trek. Here is our Friendly Planet Travel trivia quiz where Melissa, one of our bloggers, tried to stump travelers.

Play along with the video to see how many questions you get right. And no cheating! When you’re finished watching it, let me know how you did in a comment on this post. Good luck! And thanks again to all the travelers at The New York Times Travel Show who participated.

Friday’s Friendly Funny

How group tour operators save you money on group travel

Billie Cohen had a great article in The New York Times on Sunday called “How to Save on Group Travel.” I won’t lie to you. I read through it eagerly to see what she had to say about how group tour operators save you money on group travel.

But lo and behold, Billie didn’t mention group tour operators at all in her article. Now, not to be critical, but unless your group only needs flights or just hotel accommodations, it’s one of the best ways to save!

Best doesn’t always mean obvious though. It’s obvious to me because I’ve been a group tour operator for 30 years. Frankly, more vacations are booked without group tour operators then with them. And that’s simply because people just don’t realize that at the highest level, group tours provide the economies of scale at lower prices. But that’s what you have me for.

I didn’t want readers to miss out on how group tour operators help you save money. I left a comment on Billie’s article bulleting five ways group tour operators can help you save when planning a group trip. Jump over to article now and then read what I shared in my comment.

What are some ways you’ve saved money when traveling with group? I’d love to know. Leave a comment on this post.

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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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