Thanks again to everyone who participated in our latest Facebook travel chat. Reid Bramblett and I had a great time answering your questions, debating travel best practices, and sharing our travel know-how. I want to recap the Q-and-A here on the blog for anyone who missed it.
Q: How is Friendly Planet able to send people to Cuba? Isn’t there an embargo against Americans visiting the island?
Peggy: The answer is a new license called ‘People to People’ which enables us to send American travelers to Cuba to engage in educational and cultural exchanges. This means that in Cuba you get to do all the things that you would long to do in any international destination — meet real Cubans, see how they live, work, study, and generally live their lives — in addition to visiting the important sites on the island.
Q: Hi there, I love history and learning when I travel, what would be some great historical places in Europe to visit that might be a bit off the beaten path or not as widely known as say, Stonehenge or the Colosseum?
Reid: It sounds like you’re interested in ancient sites, and Europe is full of them. For example, the Irish version of Stonehenge is Newgrange, a gorgeous passage tomb just an hour north of Dublin. The west coast of Ireland is filled with Celtic ruins as well. This year is a great time to visit Ireland because of the Gathering. There are many activities celebrating Irish heritage throughout the country. I recommend the Fleadh Nua in Ennis, the most participatory of the Irish music festivals.
As for an alternative to the Colosseum, the south of Italy is filled with ancient Roman and Greek ruins (much of it was once part of greater Greece), from ancient amphitheaters to temples.
Q: There are a lot of beautiful towns on the Amalfi Coast, but which is the best to stay in?
Reid: For the Amalfi Coast, I would avoid the hordes in high-priced Positano and stay instead in one of the smaller villages — Praiano, or Atrani. Ravello is nice, too — a garden-filled town a mile inland, and nearly a mile above, the main town of Amalfi itself. It’s not right on the water, but that can be a good thing in summer, when the cool mountain breezes bring welcome relief from the hot, hot Italian sun. (Whatever you do, don’t be tricked into thinking Sorrento is the Amalfi Coast. It is on the Bay of Naples — terribly convenient for getting everywhere, like Capri, Pompeii, or, indeed, the Amlafi Coast itself, but not terribly interesting in and of itself).
Q: I would like to take a cruise but there have been so many problems in the last few years. Which cruise line has the best record?
Peggy: Despite the recent Carnival issues, cruising is very safe, safer than practically any other form of transportation. However, smaller cruise ships, like Azamara and other premium lines, are less likely to have major meltdowns when trouble occurs. They are more expensive, but with hundreds, rather than thousands, aboard, it’s probably easier to control problems when they occur. If you do a search on Google, you’ll see plenty of reviews and even professional reviews from CLIA and other responsible cruise organizations.
Q: What is the best travel “steal” out there today?
Peggy: Actually, we can offer you a few amazing steals right now, in various destinations. For example, Kenya turns out to be a terrific bargain, with flights, transfers, GREAT accommodations, safari game drives, and meals from $2399. Or, how about a trip to Ecuador, including flights, transfers, really interesting touring (including Amazon experience), meals, and cultural experiences from $1399? I could go on and on. Check out our website and see all the deals you can find for way less than $2000 per person. You’ll be surprised.
Q: Hi, I would love to travel to China, Japan and Korea someday. Maybe not all at once but I’m wondering what the best way to find cheap flights (I am usually on Kayak or some variant). Cheap places to stay that are legitimate and what I need to do to prepare for a trip to one of these places. Thanks!
Peggy: If you want to visit these places and not drop your entire life’s income in one fell swoop, don’t start with airfare. The best deals for Asia are always packaged tours that include airfare, transfers, hotels, some included touring and lots of leisure time to explore on your own. Good packages even include some meals. You can spend upwards of $1000 or more for a ticket to one of those destinations (never mind two or more). But for a little more, you can have an entire vacation. We offer them on our website, including a new program featuring Beijing, Tokyo, and even a terrific extension on Okinawa.
To prepare for a trip to Asia, you should decide how long you can spend and whether you’ll be happy with a single destination. Each country in Asia is different from anything you’ll find in the West, so the more time you allow for each country, the more satisfying your vacation will be.
Why not give us a call and we can help you — no strings, I promise.
Q: As a single senior…I find the charge for the “single supplement” makes some travel impossibly expensive. Where can a solo traveler consistently find reasonable accommodations?
Peggy: We couldn’t agree with you more. We are actually in negotiations right now with some of our suppliers to at least reduce, if not eliminate, single supplements. Problem is that hotels charge prices based on two people in a room. When one person is occupying that room, the hotels feel they’re losing revenue. As we try and revise these supplements, we recommend travelers try out our new roommate finder. This will help you find another single person who is interested in the same tour and might be a good fit for you.
Q: We’re getting married in Sept. and want to honeymoon in Europe, any suggestions for a two week itinerary?
Reid: First of all, congratulations! Your choice of honeymoon destination should be dictated by whatever you are both keenly interested in. If you are after a largely cultural experience, a tour of the great capitals would be in order; if you want more fun in the sun, think more along the lines of Greek islands, the Turkish Coast, Croatia, Andalucia, or other Med. destinations. My main piece of advice would be this: No matter where you go, remember that it is your honeymoon! Do not over-plan things. Leave lots of downtime for romantic dinners, park strolls, lazing on the beach, and canoodling back in your room.
Q: Is there one day of the week when it is cheapest to book airplane tickets? I’m dying to travel, but I’m on a tight budget!
Reid: For various arcane reasons having do with airfare pricing structures, the cheapest fares ring in late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
Q: Is there a good tour program that includes Israel, Jordan, and Egypt in one package?
Peggy: You are describing the ideal tour, but since the Egyptian revolution, we’ve stopped the Egypt portion of this great program. However, we offer a terrific Classic Israel tour. With this tour, you can easily visit Petra via an Eilat extension. Or, for a longer stay in Jordan, you can call us and we’ll add one.
Q: When traveling to Japan, is it better to have traveler’s checks or use a debit card to change currency?
Reid: By far, credit cards are the best. They are easy to use, accepted just about everywhere, and offer the best exchange rate. Also, bring an ATM card tied to your home account to get yen out of any street-corner bank machine (again, a better exchange rate than with travelers checks, and no messing around having to wait in line and offer passports or ID to exchange them). Just be sure you let the issuers of all your cards (credit and bank) know when and where you will be traveling by calling the toll-free number on the back. Most cards have automatic theft-protection services that flag and freeze your account if it suddenly starts behaving differently than normal — and charging things in a foreign country definitely counts.
Q: We love Friendly Planet but were disappointed to see that the Morocco trip is no longer available. Why? Will it be back soon?
Peggy: Thanks Karen. We love you, too. And please don’t be disappointed. We’re just working on an improved program to Morocco. It’ll definitely be back very soon. When we put together our tours, it takes a lot of work to check out everything, to make sure the itinerary makes sense, and that all the hotels and services are up to our standards. We’re almost ready with our revised Morocco tour, and if you’re subscribed to our Hot Deals mailers, you’ll be the first to know when the new tour is ready. Hope to have you with us on tour in Morocco!
Q: How is luggage handled on your tours?
Peggy: Very nicely. One of the joys of group travel with Friendly Planet is giving your luggage to the porters, who do the schlepping for you. You can bring one checked piece and our luggage handlers will take care of it for you throughout the tour.
Q: Once we receive our travel documents for a Friendly Planet tour and see our seats ….are we allowed to change or upgrade them?
Peggy: The best time to make changes is before your tickets are written. Once tickets are issued, the airlines charge for changes (even upgrades). However, seats are easy. If you don’t like the seats you’ve been assigned, you can definitely call us (or even the airline) and request your changes.
Q: When traveling to Costa Rica and renting a car, how difficult is getting around if you don’t speak Spanish? Is it safe to do so?
Peggy: If you really want to rent a car, go with a 4×4, especially in the rainy (green) season. Or, make life easy for yourself and book a trip that includes the transportation from place to place. We offer a couple of options in Costa Rica that packages the flights, hotels in various places where you’ll want to stay, and most important, the comfortable transfers in an air-conditioned minibus. You’ll be on your own in the various places you visit, so don’t think of this as a group tour. But the hassle of getting around in a country where you don’t speak the language can easily be avoided, without ruining the experience.
Q: I’ve found that, in reality, hotels charge by the room – one or two people. So I just don’t know why there is a single supplement. The hotels seem to charge a flat rate.
Reid: Actually, hotel room occupancy rules depend on the destination. Here in the States, you can cram as many as will fit into a room (though some hotels have a policy against this). In many European countries, however, local laws state require hotels to charge by the person, not the room (though not everyone pays the same; usually, each person beyond two in a room costs about 30-40 percent more).
There’s so much more travel information to share! If you have any more questions, feel free to leave them in a comment, and we’ll be happy to answer. And many thanks to Reid for joining us!