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The fearless international traveler

2013 was quite a year for growth in international travel. For instance, Americans explored Cuba in record numbers and interest in active and volunteer tourism has reached new heights, further indicating that many people are very excited to explore our fascinating world in traditional as well as innovative ways.

We wanted to investigate further into this growth trend to determine just where people stand on international travel at the close of 2013. So, we conducted a poll on our website and gathered over 23,000 responses from travelers around the world. We also studied the research of top-tier organizations to get the full picture of the state of the international travel industry. We created the below infographic from our findings.

All in all, I believe we can bill 2013 as the year of the “fearless international traveler,” and I’m excited to see where our industry progresses in 2014.

The top holiday gift of 2013? You might be surprised – It’s water.

Think about how many times you’ve used clean water today. Did you wake up and take a sip of water from the glass on your bedside table? Did you take a shower, brush your teeth, use the bathroom and wash your hands? Did you make a cup of coffee, rinse off an apple before sitting down at the computer to read this article?

Many Americans don’t think twice about having access to safe, clean water, but for many more people around the world, access to potable water is difficult or even impossible. In fact, according to UNICEF, 768 million people worldwide do not have access to clean drinking water, and nearly 1,600 children die each day from lack of access to safe water.

Cambodia is one of those countries where people are in desperate need of clean water. So, maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself, but when we started sending tours to Cambodia, we thought the major reason to visit this small, Southeast Asian country, was the incredible site of Angkor Wat. This long-ago abandoned temple complex overgrown with jungle flora is a magnet for tourists, as well it should be. It never occurred to us that our tours to this coveted UNESCO World Heritage Site and important international destination would lead us on a different kind of journey, one that would bring us even more satisfaction than our visit to the fabled site of Angkor Wat.

Surrounding the site, there are many Cambodian villages where people struggle every day to find enough water, clean or not, for drinking, bathing, irrigating crops, and cooking. As you drive through the countryside, the lack of good water is as apparent as the magnificence of the Angkor temples.

Of Cambodia’s 14 million citizens, over 9 million suffer from intermittent diarrheal disease caused by contaminated water. On top of that, women and children often have the responsibilities of retrieving water, walking far distances for what little water they can access, and caring for the sick. These duties take up most of their day, leaving them unable to contribute to the workforce or attend school, which has contributed to Cambodia’s lack of economic growth.

But here’s the surprising truth: There isn’t a shortage of water in Cambodia — there’s plenty of it in the ground. Villagers simply lack the funding, infrastructure, and skills to dig the wells they need to access it. The cost to dig and install a pump well that provides clean, drinkable water? About $230, according to the Trailblazer Foundation, a non-profit that helps Cambodian villagers create self-sustaining economic and educational programs.

Once our Cambodia departures were established, we became keenly interested in projects to help out in this impoverished place. On one of our tours, the guide pointed out a well bearing a plaque hand-painted with someone’s name, a Western name at that. “That’s a Trailblazer well, donated by a tourist,” was his explanation. Some of the travelers on the bus wanted to know how much such a well could cost, how many people it could serve, and other details, and once the guide finished explaining the facts, several of the travelers on the bus offered to pay for wells. Thus began Friendly Planet Travel’s wells project and our association with Trailblazer.

But the Trailblazer Foundation was busy digging wells and helping in other important ways before we ever met them. In fact, the foundation has had a significant impact on Cambodia for over 10 years, with many Cambodians gaining access to clean water thanks to their efforts. And while Trailblazer’s impact is growing, there’s plenty of work to be done, especially by rallying the support of American tourists to Cambodia.

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Don’t miss your second chance to save on every Friendly Planet tour!

Cyber Monday at Friendly Planet was a whirlwind — many travel enthusiasts from all over the U.S. and Canada, too, booked incredible tour packages at our best discounted prices of the year.

But for all of you that didn’t get a chance to book with us on Cyber Monday (or want to plan another trip!), we heard you, and we’re offering a second chance to book your dream vacation this holiday season at highly reduced prices. We’re discounting all of our tours AGAIN for our “Second Chance Monday” sale on Dec. 9! Tours to 36 countries will be $100-$300 off per person.

Our 24-hour blowout sale will take place on Dec. 9, starting at 12:01 a.m. EST and ending at 11:59 p.m. EST.  Like Cyber Monday, we’ll be offering these deals for online reservations only, but feel free to call us at 800-555-5765 if you have any questions.

You can’t afford to miss these savings twice! Get a sneak peek at all of our discounts today by visiting our website.

10 tips for stress-free travel this holiday season

When traveling during the holiday season, you can expect to find higher fares, larger crowds and lines, and a bit more hustle and bustle than any other time of the year. But don’t let these factors stress you out or influence you to alter your travel plans.

I travel throughout the year, but can attest that preparation is especially key to staying stress-free during holiday travel. So, I’ve compiled my best advice for booking your vacation, packing your suitcase, and keeping your cool when traveling this holiday season. Read on for my ten stress-free holiday travel tips.

Book early

  • When I say early, I mean YESTERDAY. The longer you wait, the more it’ll cost, assuming you can find space at all. So make your plans ASAP to get the best deal.
  • If you know that you want to get away, are on a budget, but don’t know where to go, I suggest traveling to a European capital, like Paris, Rome or even Prague. There are plenty of great airfare and hotel deals around Thanksgiving, especially.   
  • This next tip may not work for everyone, but if you can travel ON a holiday, you’ll usually find space and save some money. For example, Christmas Day is often the beginning of low season (and hence, costs less) for some destinations. However, Dec. 24, Christmas Eve, is still peak season. There can be a big cost differential there, so weigh your options carefully. (more…)

Save $$$ on EVERY Friendly Planet tour during our Cyber Monday sale!

You might not believe what I’m about to say because it’s a little crazy, but get ready! Today we’re announcing our Cyber Monday sale, where we’re discounting EVERY Friendly Planet tour by at least $100, with some discounts of up to $500 on select tours and departures.

That means that we’re discounting tours for travel to 36 countries. From going on safari in South Africa, to exploring the fascinating cuisine in Thailand, to climbing to the top of Machu Picchu in Peru, to kissing the Blarney Stone in Ireland, to exploring the culture of Cuba, or going down under in Australia, it’s all on sale. If you’re been dreaming of taking that vacation and exploring a brand new country and culture, the time to book is on Cyber Monday during our 24-hour blowout sale.

Our prices are already deeply discounted for travelers, but our Cyber Monday discounts push the envelope even further. We’ll be offering these deals for online reservations only, starting on Dec. 2 at 12:01 a.m. EST and ending at 11:59 p.m. EST. But you can feel free to call us at 800-555-5765 if you have any questions about our deals. So talk to your family and friends now and decide: Where are you going in 2014?

We encourage early booking on Monday because space is limited, and we expect many departures to sell out quickly! Get a sneak peek at all of our discounts today by visiting our website.

The miracle of Israel that touches travelers of all walks of life

The following is a guest post from Dr. Steven Derfler, who just returned from Israel with a group.


Traveling to the ancient land of David and Solomon, Sarah and Deborah, the ministry of Jesus, and 3rd holiest place in Islam, is to be profoundly touched by history. The art and archaeology of this biblical world “puts flesh onto the bones” of the literature and religion that shapes the 3 great western religious traditions.

As an archaeology professor who has been a part of many excavations in Israel, and served as the American director of 2 projects, I try to bring the passion of rediscovery to those who travel with me. As a result, in-depth explanation on an archaeology and history-oriented study tour brings the biblical world to life again. Then, when you add in the opportunity to visit the sites with fellow archaeologists involved in the process itself gives a first-hand perspective not often found in study tours.

This was lure of our program this past October. Perhaps the signature site for archaeology and history of ancient Israel is the mountain-top monolith of Masada; overlooking the Dead Sea. The fortress citadel of King Herod over 2000 years ago, this site later went on to become the rallying point of Jewish identity and self-preservation — as defenders were the last to hold out against Rome in 73 CE. Having worked on the mountain myself, one of my closest friends in Israel is the Director of Masada National Park, Eitan Campbell. He would greet the group personally, and offer his own eloquent description of the fortress initially excavated by Yigal Yadin in the mid-60s. It has been the focus of his entire adult life in Israel, and his love for the site came through in his discussion — a fact not lost on the group. (more…)

Announcing the winner of our Exotic Malaysia & Thailand Sweepstakes

Can you believe it? It’s time to announce yet another winner of a free Friendly Planet tour! This one has to be one of my favorites: our Win Exotic Malaysia & Thailand Sweepstakes will award one lucky traveler a free trip for two on our Exotic Borneo & Bangkok tour.

Our winner will get to explore the fascinating culture, natural beauty, and unique history of these Southeast Asian destinations. Whether it’s walking the streets of Bangkok in Thailand, a bustling metropolis with to-die-for cuisine, or exploring Borneo in Malaysia, where a mosaic of indigenous tribes, intriguing history, ancient rainforests, and diverse wildlife await — trust me, this winner is lucky indeed.

Are you ready to find out who this winner is? Here it comes! The winner of our Exotic Malaysia & Thailand Sweepstakes is …

Sara Morgan from Oregon — Congratulations!

We called Sara to let her know about her prize, and she was so sweet. She loves traveling to explore different cultures and experience new things, but doesn’t get the opportunity to do so often. She’s never been to Asia, and works with some Asian species of bears in her role at a zoo, so she’s looking forward to getting to see them in person! She’ll be taking her husband on her exciting adventure to Southeast Asia!

Congratulations again, Sara. I know you’re just going to love your vacation.

Thanks to everyone who entered our sweepstakes. Although you couldn’t all win, we have some great news for you about our super Cyber Monday sale, which will make it possible for you to save BIG on every Friendly Planet tour, so stay tuned. More details coming soon.

Exploring the wonders of Thailand with a devoted and passionate local guide

I always look back on my trip to Thailand with fond memories. One of the biggest reasons why I had such a memorable experience is due, in large part, to our local tour guide Lek, who was warm, welcoming, and extremely knowledgeable about Thailand’s history, attractions, and culture.

Now, as we end our Exotic Malaysia & Thailand Sweepstakes, is a good opportunity for Lek to share with our readers what makes Thailand special from a native’s perspective, and what travelers can look forward to seeing when they visit. Read on for our Q-and-A with her.

Q: Lek, could you please share a bit of your background with us?

A: I was born, raised, and educated in Bangkok. After graduating from high school, I attended the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus [for college]. I was a secretary major, and then joined the travel industry. I’ve worked for several agencies, but I’ve been with Exotissimo, Friendly Planet’s local supplier, for almost ten years!

Q: What made you decide that you wanted to get into the travel industry?

A: When I was young I had contact with foreigners because I attended Catholic school. The nuns who came from abroad taught me English, and I got to know them. My interactions with the nuns and priests sparked my interest in travel, and I envisioned joining the travel industry by possibly becoming a flight attendant.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about being a tour guide? (more…)

Finding the spiritual side of Thailand

Most visitors to Thailand are struck by the obvious spirituality of the place, a paradox in a way, because life, particularly in Bangkok, is as frenetic and modern as anywhere in the world. Over 93 percent of the population in Thailand practices Buddhism, according to the Pew Research Center, and this religion permeates almost every aspect of life there – from the culture to the architecture to the people.

It’s a very special place, and one lucky traveler will get to experience it for free through our Win Exotic Malaysia and Thailand Sweepstakes. Be sure to enter to win a free trip for two now if you haven’t.

Visiting Thailand was also a very special experience for Liz Hutchins, a member of the Friendly Planet Travel Reservations Team and our resident SE Asia expert. We shared her first-hand account of her trip to Vietnam earlier this year in a blog post, as well as some of her photography and her review of authentic Vietnamese cuisine. But her trip to Thailand was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Liz, and you’ll see why when you read her account of her trip to this fascinating destination.

“My trip to Vietnam last year helped me realize that I absolutely love traveling to Southeast Asia. Once I was advised I was being invited by the tourism board to see Thailand, I literally jumped at the opportunity. The spiritual side of Asia has always been a big part of its draw for me. I was brought up as a Christian, but I have always appreciated and respected all religions, Buddhism in particular. Getting to immerse myself in the Buddhist culture was very eye-opening, and as you can see, was right on time, for I was about to enter a new chapter of my life …

Our tour started in the busy city of Bangkok. Here we saw popular sites like the Grand Palace and the Reclining Buddha. Because of their enormous significance, each site had more tourists than the last, which made our experience feel very fast-paced and exciting. But my favorite temple that we visited was Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep.

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The top phrases you need to know before traveling to Thailand and Malaysia

If you haven’t already heard, we’re giving away yet another free trip! This one is for our Exotic Borneo & Bangkok tour to Malaysia and Thailand — a true treat for any traveler who wants to experience everything Southeast Asia has to offer.

If you’ve never visited this part of the word, it’s a juxtaposition of new and old, modern and traditional, exotic and familiar. The languages of Malaysia and Thailand, however, are usually difficult for travelers from the West to navigate.

Consider, for example, that there are virtually no similarities between English and Thai or Malay. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a few key words and phrases that will help you get around and earn you lots of smiles and big-time approval from the locals when you test your skills.

We’ve put together a chart of some of these common words and phrases. Click on them for an easy-to-print version and keep them in your wallet for easy access on your trip! (more…)

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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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