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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…)

Top 10 must-haves for international travel

You probably have your own personal list of travel musts-haves — items that you always want with you when going on a trip. Mine include a travel packet of wipes, moisturizer with sun screen, essential meds plus prescriptions just in case, and my international service-enabled cell phone plus charger. There are other items on my list, but these items always go into my carry-on bag first.

But there are also items that should be included on every traveler’s list, no matter who you are or where you’re going. Similarly, there are certain items that, for the most part, aren’t worth the space they take up in your suitcase.

Today I want to share my list of top 10 must-haves for international travel, and I’ll follow it up shortly with items that you can afford to leave at home.

  1. Medication. You should always carry all of your prescription medication in your carry-on bag, not in your checked luggage. I find the containers that are marked with the days of the week to be the most helpful. Fill them up so that you have all the pills you need per day in each little container. If you need more than a week’s worth, fill up a second container. Ziplock bags make for perfect storage for these handy containers. If one of the compartments should open, the pills fall harmlessly into the plastic bag, safe and clean. Also, I recommend carrying a small assortment of other medication, including those to treat a cold, sore throat, or upset stomach. Even if you’re not sick when you leave, it’s better to have medication with you should something happen while away. (more…)

The 8 questions you need to ask before booking your next vacation

Whether you’re making your vacation reservations yourself or working with a travel agent, there are some important questions travelers need to ask before putting their deposit down. I want to share just a few of them with you today.

I gathered some of the most common questions our travelers ask the Friendly Planet team, and I’ve also included some of the insights our travelers often share in return.

If you’re making your own travel arrangements, ask yourself:

  • Will I need a visa? This is absolutely the #1 question you should ask, whether you’re making your own reservations or working with an agent. Requirements for visas differ based on your destination and nationality, so it’s important to know what rules you’ll be subject to. The U.S. State Department website gives country-specific information on travel visas for Americans, and that’s a good place to start to see what’s needed for your trip. You can also do a quick check on our website by following this link. Visa Information for Every Country
  • Will I need any special vaccinations? It’s also important to learn whether or not you’ll need any specific vaccinations before traveling abroad. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has travel notices, clinic information, and destination-specific vaccine requirements on its website. You should also check with your physician for requirements you might need.
  • When is the best time of year to travel to my destination? It is summer in the United States right now — so that means it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere. And while it’s warm here, it’s the rainy season in Africa and it’s winter in Argentina. So make sure you do your research to learn about the weather in your chosen destination to know when the best time to visit is. This weather chart can be a good starting place to see what the seasons are like where you’re intending to go. (more…)

How to manage your money when traveling abroad

You probably have a lot of questions about your money when preparing for a trip abroad. Do you need traveler’s checks? Will you be able to find an ATM? Can you avoid pesky foreign transaction and other fees while enjoying some off-the-beaten-path destination?

The answers to the first two questions are no and almost always. The third I answered for Melissa Fiorenza, author of “Twentysomething Girl: 1001 Quick Tips and Tricks to Make Your Life Easier,” when she tapped me to share tips on how to save money while traveling abroad. She included five of my best money-saving tips in her recently published book.

While her book might target younger women, my tips apply to everyone who travels abroad. I’ll share my two favorites with you here.

  1. Never exchange money until you arrive at your destination. You will always get a better exchange rate than if you change money in the U.S.
  2. Let your credit card company know you’ll be traveling and where you’re going. That’s the best way to avoid the embarrassment of an overprotective security policy denying the charge.

To check out all of my tips, as well as the rest of Melissa’s advice for young women, you’re in luck! We’re giving away three copies of her book here on the blog. All you have to do is fill out the form below. One entry per person, please. Good luck!

UPDATE: Congratulations to our winners — Mike Nemecek, Maria Mazas, and Susannah Starkweather! Your prizes will be shipped out shortly. Thanks for participating in our giveaway!

Recapping our Facebook travel chat with special guest Reid Bramblett

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. (more…)

Join us for our next Facebook travel chat with special guest Reid Bramblett!

Do you have questions about travel, and you’re just not sure whom to ask? Well, why not ask the man who wrote the book? We’re hosting our next Friendly Planet Travel Facebook chat, and this time around, special guest Reid Bramblett will be joining us! This chat will be on Thursday, March 14 at 3 p.m. EST on Friendly Planet’s Facebook page.

Reid Bramblett has authored or contributed to more than 30 guidebooks, and has worked as a travel editor at Frommer’s, Budget Travel, and MSNBC.com. He’s also appeared on various news and cable television shows; spoken at the Smithsonian; and is the man behind ReidsGuides.com, a comprehensive travel advice website. With all these credentials, Reid is the perfect person to join us for our next travel chat!

I’ll be chiming in with Reid to help answer your questions and share travel advice. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some questions that we’ve gotten in the past:

  • When is the best time of year to visit Italy?
  • What types of things should I do in my spare time in South Africa?
  • Is there any way to avoid single supplement fees when booking a cruise?
  • If I want to get the best deal on airfare to Europe, how far in advance should I book?
  • Is it possible for me to visit Cuba legally?

Make your list of travel questions and join us for answers, insights, and more. We can’t wait to see you there!

Lucky #13: 13 travel resolutions for 2013

It’s the time of year to resolve to do things better in the new year. For many of us, this includes eating better, exercising more, and being kinder to one another. And let’s not forget my favorite — sticking with our resolutions beyond the second week of January.

As for me, I’m adding 13 travel resolutions to my list for 2013. I describe them all in my latest contribution to the Huffington Post. Click over for the list in full.

What are your travel resolutions for 2013? Let us know in a comment below or on our Facebook page.

My big upset with the big upsell

One of the open secrets of the travel industry is what we call “the big upsell.” You are probably familiar with this sales technique, just didn’t know it had a name. The “big upsell” is the term coined for a “bare bones” vacation package that is sold at a dirt-cheap price. Travelers who fall for this trick end up paying extra for everything, like transfers or an upgrade to a decent hotel, and they typically end up paying much more than they originally intended.

The “big upsell” is one of my biggest pet peeves in the travel industry, because it is designed to lure you in for a price you’ll never actually pay. And it’s so unnecessary to market this way. Friendly Planet doesn’t need to resort to tricky pricing, because our deals, while including great hotels, transfers, and much more, are always carefully priced with a focus on huge value for money.

Anyone who takes the time to read our inclusions and make even a superficial comparison with other similar packages can see that they actually provide everything a traveler needs to have an amazing vacation. Our travelers don’t have to worry about paying for extras later, and we take pride in this.

Before you fall for a tour price that is simply too good to believe, please check out “The Big Upsell” piece I wrote, which was published on the Huffington Post last week. Read it to find out more about ‘deals’ that trick travelers into over-paying.

Have you fallen victim to an upsell when booking a trip? We want to hear your story — leave a comment below.

Travel Talk: Pairing backpacking with lending a helping hand to those in need around the world

Do you dream of seeing the world and inspiring good along the way? That was the dream of Jessica Festa, the woman behind the travel blog Jessie on a Journey and the next guest we’ve invited to join us for our Travel Talk blog series.

Jessica has traveled all over the world to help people, including teaching English in Thailand and orphanage work in Ghana. She is also a backpacker by nature, and has backpacked through Europe and South America, studied abroad in Australia, and toured Southeast Asia and China.

She writes about her philanthropic travels on her blog to inspire others. We think Jessica is pretty inspiring herself! Read on for how she got started volunteering and traveling, misconceptions she often hears about solo women travelers, her best budget tip, and more.

1) When did your love of traveling begin?
I’ve been traveling my whole life, as my parents also are avid travelers, just with a different focus. When I was younger, we would do a road trip every summer driving to different amusement parks. Then as I got older, we started doing the whole cruise thing. It wasn’t until I studied abroad in Sydney, Australia, that I realized I wanted to go abroad more. Now my travel style is a mix of volunteering abroad, international solo backpacking, and U.S. road trips.

2) What is the most memorable destination you’ve visited and why?
Probably Sydney. I was there for six months and had an apartment, gym membership, favorite cafe, designated grocery store, a part-time job, etc. These things made me feel as though I was truly a local, and helped me to get to know the place. Another very memorable place was Ghana, Africa. I lived with a family and worked at an orphanage for a month, and really fell in love with the culture.

3) What’s the biggest misconception people have about traveling solo, especially women who travel by themselves?

That you can’t do it. People still tell me “you can’t go to Bolivia by yourself” or “Quito is too dangerous for a solo woman traveler.” Well, I’ve done both and lived to tell the tale!

4) What is the best piece of advice you can offer to someone traveling solo to a country they’ve never been to before?

Don’t give up as soon as you start to feel lonely. There will inevitably be times you feel a bit more lonely than others, but there are also ways to combat it. My favorite thing to do is use the CouchSurfing forum, not for sleeping on couches, but to plan meet-ups and dinners. For example, if you’re going to Buenos Aires, search for the city group, join, post a note saying when you’ll be in the city, and ask if anyone would be interested in grabbing a drink, sightseeing, etc. It worked out very well for me.

5) What’s one travel item you can’t leave home without?

My LUSH Godiva shampoo bar. It’s moisturizing, compact, and takes up much less space than a shampoo and conditioner together.

6) What’s your best budget travel tip?

Go local! Skip the touristy restaurants and shops and opt for local eateries and markets.

7) You’ve written in the past about a travel philosophy. How would you define yours?

To me, your travel philosophy is about your beliefs on travel and travel goals. It’s all about experiencing local culture and getting to know new people and places with an open and welcoming mind.

8) Are there any stereotypes of places you’ve visited that you can disprove based on your travels, especially for women travelers?

One thing I’ll say that’s usually wrong is when people stereotype an entire country. For example, I heard over and over about how dangerous Brazil was. However, while Rio and Sao Paulo may have been a bit rough, the areas of Paraty and Ilha Grande felt very, very safe.

9) When you meet other women solo travelers, have you found that there are any common personal or cultural characteristics that you share?

I think women solo travelers seem to be easy-going and adventurous. I mean, you have to be to go against the warnings of your friends and family and do what’s best for yourself.

10) Where in the world are you headed next?

I’m going on an adventure-focused trip to Ohio this week, which I’m excited about, as well as a two-week road trip from Melbourne to the Outback in Australia. Then, I’ll be driving around Kentucky for two weeks exploring the hiking and bourbon offerings. I definitely have some exciting things coming up! :)

Thanks for sharing your amazing adventures with us Jessica! Be sure to check out Jessie on a Journey for the latest news on where she’s going next.

Travel Talk: What would you ask someone who’s been to almost every country in the world?

When you’ve visited almost every country in the world, there are probably few surprises left to be seen. But that’s not stopping Lee Abbamonte, who is on track to become the youngest American to visit every country in the world. At the age of 34, he’s visited 306 out of 321 countries and unique destinations in the world per the Travelers Century Club list.

With so much travel experience under his belt, Lee has a ton of advice for blog readers, and we thought he’d be the perfect interviewee for the blog series we’re kicking off today — Travel Talk. Our series will feature travel enthusiasts from around the globe who will share their knowledge and insight with you.

Read on for our interview with Lee about his amazing travel adventures and the record he’s trying to break. Right now, it’s held by Charles Veley, who visited all 321 countries in 37 years, 9 months, and 17 days. At 34 years old, Lee hopes to beat that record with room to spare!

1) When did your love of traveling begin?

I always loved discovering new places in the small town in Connecticut I grew up in, but never even thought about traveling the world until my junior year in college when I studied abroad in London. It changed my life and I fell in love with travel.

2) What is the most memorable destination you’ve visited, and why?

(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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