Friendly Planet Blog

The true colors of Cuba: Part 1

Travel opens peoples’ minds, hearts, and souls, and allows them to form new, authentic opinions about the world. This sentiment couldn’t be truer than among our people-to-people program travelers who visit Cuba through our specially licensed program and experience a world that has been shut off to Americans for decades.

That exact experience happened to Barry Ostrow when he traveled to Cuba on Friendly Planet Travel’s Colors of Cuba tour. We caught up with Barry to get a personal account of his people-to-people excursion to Cuba. Here’s the first half of his story, be sure to check back soon for part two.

Day 1: On my first trip to Cuba, I legally arrived with 21 other travelers in Havana to begin my U.S.-sanctioned Friendly Planet people-to-people tour. The tour introduced us to the social, historical, and educational aspects of Cuba, and it certainly opened my eyes to life on the beautiful, yet troubled island. The narrative of the trip was frank with no holds barred. We saw all of the good things the island had to offer, as well as the bad.

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Friday’s Friendly Funny: Eat like a local

Check out this week’s Friday Funny from cartoonist Dave Blazek!

Friday’s Friendly Funny by Dave Blazek is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at blog.friendlyplanet.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://blog.friendlyplanet.com.

Friday’s Friendly Funny: Dad — Are we there yet?

Check out this week’s Friday Funny from cartoonist Dave Blazek! And happy Father’s Day to all of those amazing dads out there!

Friday’s Friendly Funny by Dave Blazek is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at blog.friendlyplanet.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://blog.friendlyplanet.com.

5 things I wish I knew before traveling to Brazil

With the Brazilian World Cup beginning in just two days, I wanted to take a moment to turn away from soccer and politics, and highlight the vibrant and passionate host country — Brazil. Brazil’s a destination that appeals to all types of travelers.

Adventure seekers can spend a day barreling through the rugged Amazon rainforest on a Jeep tour. Beachcombers can lounge on Rio de Janeiro’s famed Copacabana beach. Party animals can samba the night away at hot Brazilian clubs. Brazil is simply unlike any other place on Earth, and while it might be too late to book your trip to The World Cup, Brazil’s still a surefire bucket-list destination for anyone seeking beauty and excitement.

But before you book your flight, check out my list of five tips that you’ll find handy to know before traveling to Brazil. It’s sure to clear up some common misconceptions and help prepare you for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure:

1) Embrace the Brazilian culture

I’ve traveled from Chile to China, and dozens of countries in between, but Brazil stands out as a true cultural gem. The 3.288-million-square-mile country was built on a foundation of indigenous Brazilian traditions, Portuguese customs, and African influences. These independent cultures have shaped modern-day Brazil, creating a unique mix of food, music, religion, and local sights. Visitors can view the intersection of African and indigenous Brazilian traditions by attending a capoeira performance — a Brazilian martial art that combines dance, aerobatics, and music. They can indulge in European sophistication by sampling pastéis de nata, a Portuguese custard tart, in a Brazilian café. Finally, they can feel the unbreakable union of a diverse country by attending a Brazilian national team football game. Brazil has embraced its past to create a nation that accepts all traditions. My only advice is to leave all preconceived notions at the door before traveling to Brazil, as it’s unlike any other Latin American country.

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Friday’s Friendly Funny: Packing light is a science

Check out this week’s Friday Funny from cartoonist Dave Blazek! And read our latest blog post for some tips on packing light.

Friday’s Friendly Funny by Dave Blazek is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at blog.friendlyplanet.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://blog.friendlyplanet.com.

Peggy’s quick-and-dirty guide to packing light

If you’ve been paying attention to our latest Friday’s Friendly Funny cartoons, then you’ve picked up on my distaste for airline fees. While some are unavoidable, one of the easiest ways to keep your airline costs down is by packing light to avoid baggage fees.

If you’re a serial overpacker, here are some of my quick-and-dirty tips to help keep you underweight and fee free.

Shrink your shoe collection. First and foremost, limit your shoe obsession to two pairs. All you need is one casual pair and one that’s slightly dressier. This will lighten your luggage immensely. Next, pack your shoes on the bottom of the bag, but don’t leave them empty. You should stuff sneakers with socks, belts, and other small items to save space.

Pack early. Don’t wait until that last minute to pack your bags, since rushed packing usually leads to overpacking. Packing efficiently is like a science, so take time to really assess what you’ll need and what you can leave at home. My favorite rule is to lay out everything you want to bring — then cut it in half.

Leave it behind. Leave toiletries at home. Hotels usually provide shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, and anything else you need you can easily pick up in a convenience store at your destination. Also, forget your hair dryer. If you’re staying in a decent hotel, they’ll have one for you. Insider tip: Toiletries and hair dryers might be hard to come by in places like Cuba and Cambodia, so double check before visiting an “exotic” destination.

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Friday’s Friendly Funny: And now for a word from our sponsors

Check out this week’s Friday Funny from cartoonist Dave Blazek!

Friday’s Friendly Funny by Dave Blazek is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at blog.friendlyplanet.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://blog.friendlyplanet.com.

6 tips for traveling internationally with your grandchild

My husband and I recently returned from an unforgettable trip to Brazil. The Brazilian beaches, nightlife, culture, and food were spectacular, but the true highlight was vacationing with our 14-year-old grandson, Ben. This was the first time my husband and I planned an international excursion with a grandchild — without his parents — and the experience was one we’ll never forget.

Travel opens a young person’s eyes like no other experience. It introduces them to foreign sights and sounds that free their minds and expand their world views. Travel teaches life lessons, like that people who look, speak, eat, dress, and behave differently are still people just like you.

By traveling to Brazil with Ben, my husband and I also expanded our own world views by viewing the country through his fresh, curious eyes and savoring new experiences through his enormous appetite for adventure. Ben’s excitement began the moment we stepped off the airplane, and he remained in a state of wonder for the entire trip. We watched him soak up every detail, ask questions, embrace a new culture and people, and try strange foods, and we were delighted as every one of his firsts transformed into our own.

The experience not only influenced our views of Brazil, but it also forged bonds among us that would never have been possible under other circumstances. Traveling without Ben’s parents allowed us to truly get to know one another in a new way, and appreciate each other far beyond the traditional grandparent and grandchild relationship.

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Friday’s Friendly Funny: Baggage ransom

Check out this week’s Friday Funny from cartoonist Dave Blazek! Safe travels this Memorial Day weekend!

Friday’s Friendly Funny by Dave Blazek is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

Based on a work at blog.friendlyplanet.com.

Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://blog.friendlyplanet.com.

9 tips for budget-conscious travelers

International travel can seem like a luxury affair, but that doesn’t have to be the case. If you’re a budget traveler determined to see the world without breaking the bank, you’re in luck. Here are nine of my easy, money-saving tips for traveling overseas.

1. Avoid foreign conversion fees. Sneaky foreign conversion fees can put a dent in a travel budget, adding an additional 1 to 3 percent to every transaction made with a debit or credit card overseas. Before traveling, research if your bank charges a fee for international debit or credit card use. If so, consider applying for a card like the Capital One Visa or any of the other cards that are free of transaction fees.

2. Document your expenses. It’s easy to get swept up in the romance of travel and end up paying 50 euros for a hand-pressed bottle of olive oil or 100 euros for a carafe of local wine, but expensive impulse buys can quickly add up. Instead, create a budget for yourself before departure. Try to decide in advance approximately how much you’d like to spend on food, tours, and even those unexpected items. Then document your daily spend as you travel. This simple strategy will allow you see how much you’re spending, and help curb excess purchases along the way.

3. Shop off the beaten path. Traveling on a budget doesn’t mean you have to forgo souvenirs. Rather than picking up trinkets at the entrance of well-known attractions like the Great Wall of China or the Coliseum, shop at local street markets instead. Not only will you purchase more authentic gifts, but you’ll have fun putting your bartering skills to the test.

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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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