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Posts Tagged ‘Advice’

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Four steps to choosing the travel package that’s right for you

You know how everyone always writes in their travel ads to book now, because space is limited? Well, sometimes it’s actually the truth, especially when the space is for an awesome holiday travel deal that features gorgeous destinations and incredibly low prices. Even though we released our two December holiday deals just last week, they are already sold out.

To be perfectly truthful, there were some in the office who said it was too late to offer our special December holiday cruises in October. After all, that would leave only about four weeks to fill our allotments before having to release our blocked space. How wrong they were.

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We released our Mediterranean Highlights and Iberian Coasts cruises on Wednesday, Oct. 7, and as of this morning, both the Dec. 18 Mediterranean Highlights cruise and the Dec. 26 Iberian Coasts cruise are sold out. It isn’t really surprising to me, though.

So, while the December space is no longer available, departures later in 2010 still have plenty of space, including a Feb. 11-22, 2010 sailing of Iberian Coasts, which starts at just $1,399 including airfare, transfers, an eight-night cruise, and two bonus nights in Rome. Dare we say, book now, because space is limited?

But what if you can’t decide which cruise is right for you? They both sail through the Mediterranean Sea. They both stop at ports of call in some of the most beautiful coastal towns. And they both pamper vacationers with all the luxuries of the M/V Louis Majesty. How do you compare vacation packages that seem similar but have different prices?

People always ask me how to best make price comparisons of various vacation offerings. Sometimes, the trips seem identical, and yet the prices are vastly different. What can a traveler do to properly compare two or more trips, and determine which one offers the best value for the money?

Too often, I see travelers simply comparing the number of days of travel and the selling price. But these two details – while important – are very far from telling the real story of how one trip differs from another, and which is the one you should book for yourself.

I’ve put together four surefire steps that guarantee you’ll always be able to tell which package is the best deal.

1. Make a list of package features and line the list up feature by feature. Check items such as included flights, transfers, hotel nights, included meals, included touring, and hotels. Typically, the price differential has to do with any one, or a combination of these features. For example, Friendly Planet Travel usually includes all transfers if possible, while our competitors frequently do not. Sometimes, companies include no transfers at all, which could easily add a hefty sum of money to your trip’s bottom line.

Hotels can also make a big difference in the price of a tour, so be sure check the hotels by name. If the hotels listed for each tour differ, visit a site like TripAdvisor.com to see if you can ascertain differences in the service. Our hotels are always well-located. Hotels that are situated far from the action are typically less expensive than those with better locations, for obvious reasons. FP_vacancy.jpg

On TripAdvisor, you can see rates of hotels, and while you might not be paying those precise rates as part of your tour, you’ll certainly be able to figure out that one tour, using Hotel A, costs less than another tour, using Hotel B. If you see that Hotel A is selling on TripAdvisor for $50 per night, and Hotel B is selling for $200 per night, you can conclude that the cheaper tour is using cheaper hotels. And if those cheaper hotels are upgradable for a price, don’t forget to calculate the cost of the upgrade into your comparison. A tour that starts out hundreds less than the competition can end up being hundreds more, just by upgrading to an acceptable hotel.

Tours included in the vacation package can also make a big difference in a tour price. For example, a typical "trick" in pricing for tours with river cruises, such as the Nile or Yangtze River, is to sell the shore excursions as optionals. So, while the basic tour price includes the cabin and meals, the tours — the reason you are taking the cruise in the first place — are excluded from the price. These excluded shore excursions can add hundreds of dollars to the tour price, too. Be sure that the tours in your comparison group all have the same amount of included tours and shore excursions, and add the cost of these excursions where needed to get a realistic price comparison.

2. Call the company selling each tour and ask questions. How many people typically are included on a departure? If the group fails to reach the minimum number required for the tour to operate, when will the company advise those already booked, and what options does the tour company offer the travelers? If you find that the agents who man the phones are too busy to talk to you, look elsewhere. If you’re planning a tour, you’ll need to ask questions and service provided is the No. 1 value-added component. No service, no sale, is how you should view it.

3. Are you being charged extra for credit card payments? This is different from getting a reduction for cash payments or early bookings. Some companies advertise extra-low prices and then add fees for using a credit card. Your credit card payment provides a layer of protection to you as a consumer. You can decide later if you wish to take advantage of a cash discount if the agent is someone you know and trust, but if the advertised price requires you to pay by check or else pay a surcharge for your credit card payment, look elsewhere.

4. Ask for references. Any good company that operates ethically will have plenty of previous travelers who are willing to provide references and talk to (or e-mail) prospective passengers about the tours. If you are greeted with an incredulous "we don’t provide references" reply, look elsewhere. It’s your right to know that others who have worked with the company can attest to their service and the quality of their tours. And any company in business to sell travel should be delighted to share those references with potential future travelers. It’s actually part of the service you deserve to receive.

Five things that should never be inside your carry on bag

FP_CarryOn2.jpgI know how important a well-packed carry on bag is to a traveler. In fact, I’ve seen situations where it’s been a life line, especially in cases where checked luggage has been misplaced. That’s why I gave you my top five things that should always be packed in your carry on bag last week.

But, as I said in my Examiner.com post today, when packing for a trip, what you leave out of your bag is just as important as what you put in it. Don’t waste space with unnecessary items, and always keep airport security standards in mind. If you haven’t flown in a while, I’d suggest reviewing some of the rules and regulations on the TSA Web site to help you decide what to pack and what to pass over.

And for a quick list of tips, check out my post, where I give you my list of five things that should never be inside your carry on bag.

The five most important things to pack in your carry on bag

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Everyone has their own packing preferences. Clothes folded or rolled, shoes on top or on the bottom, duffel bag or rolling suit case. But no matter how you prefer to pack your bags, there are certain contents that should be inside them, no matter what.

If you travel often (especially internationally), you know a properly packed carry on bag can make a big difference that could have lasting effects on your entire trip. On the Examiner today, I put together my list of five things that should always be inside your carry on bag. Head on over and have a look!  

How to choose the right travel guide for your trip

One of the best ways to prepare for a trip to somewhere you’ve never been is to do some research and pick up a travel guide on your destination. A good travel book will give you the inside scoop on things a regular tourist probably wouldn’t know. Like where to get the perfect stew in Dublin, or what to wear dancing in Barcelona, or even how to find a room for under $30 in Auckland.

There’s a ton of choices when it comes to choosing a reputable travel guide, and with aisles of options staring you in the face at your local bookstore, that could be a little overwhelming. But on the Examiner.com today, I gave my two cents on how to select a guide that’s right for you. So mosey on over to the Examiner and check it out!

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Travel insurance versus travel protection. What should you do?

If you’re considering travel insurance for a trip that you’ve booked (and you should), there are a few key vocabulary words that might seem like common sense, but could snag you up in the end. Particularly, the difference between the words "insurance" and "protection." At first glance, you might not think there’s much difference between the two. But there is, and it’s significant.

To put it simply, travel protection providers offer cheaper policies than travel insurers for coverage that appears to be about the same. The trade-off? Travel protection is not regulated by the state. That means that when it comes down to it, the company you purchased protection from could refuse to pay your claim, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
 

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Concerned about whether your policy is the real deal? The Internet is your best friend, because every state insurance commissioner has a Web site that provides all the information you could need. Travel organizations will also provide information about insurance providers, including ASTA.

If you purchase coverage through the company that booked your trip, find out what due diligence that company has done regarding insurance providers. To be safe, travelers should always buy travel insurance and not the travel protection offered by a supplier.

That’s why we only work with major insurance providers, and are always ready to follow up every claim if needed to be sure the passenger is properly protected. It’s what I sign up for when I travel, so I’m always sure our customers are offered the same services.

Just like all the components of our group tour packages, the insurance rates we offer are low. Most of our passengers pay anywhere from $99 to $129 per person. If you have any other questions about travel insurance, don’t hesitate to drop us a line.

Friendly Planet Travel on air on Around the World

Yesterday I had the great opportunity to join Arthur Von Wiesenberger on his radio show Around the World for the Santa Barbara News-Press.
During the program, I explain how to pack for an eight-day trip to Around the World listeners. I wrote about my six packing tips here on the blog, but it was incredibly fun to talk about it live on the air too! And Arthur is quite the charmer.
You can watch the full Around the World with Arthur Von Wiesenberger segment, or just tune in to my part of the show. Either way, enjoy!

You CAN breastfeed your baby on a crowded flight

As a follow up to Tuesday’s "Flight Fright" post, I wanted to broach the subject of breastfeeding while traveling. If you’re a mom who breastfeeds or has breastfed your babies, you know that breastfeeding in public can be a tricky subject. When the "public" is a crowded plane, it can be even trickier.
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In my opinion breastfeeding can be done elegantly and easily, without exposing your body to strangers. And if you aren’t in puritanical America (we often treat women who breastfeed as though they’re hookers on the street), you have even less to worry about.
Not to mention that when traveling with a baby you breastfeed rather than bottle feed, you’re actually traveling with a lighter load in your baby’s diaper bag. And what mother isn’t looking to lighten the load?
My daughter-in-law has a routine that allows her to travel anywhere. She has a scarf or shawl that she carries with her. It’s a very light and porous material, so it allows air to circulate freely, making it a perfect drape for the baby while she’s nursing.
She wears the correct nursing bra, and always, while nursing, a top that has easy access, like a button or zipper, so that she only has to open up her top as much as is absolutely necessary. She holds the baby in her arms, drapes the shawl or scarf over herself and the baby, and the cover allows her to nurse the baby in privacy. Plus, the very same scarf or shawl you use to cover up while breastfeeding can serve duel purpose as an accessory for your wardrobe.
Viola! Breastfeeding on the go is a snap.

Travel Tips: When is the best time to book a flight?

Working in the travel business, I naturally get a lot of travel questions from people. And a question that comes up fairly often is when is a good time of day to schedule a flight to ensure on-time arrival and lower fares?FP_Flight.jpg
Flights that take off in the morning and originate at your departure airport are going to depart and arrive as timely as possible. As the day goes on, flights tend to back up, and you run the risk of arriving later.
Morning, however, is not the least expensive time to travel. Typically, if you’re flying to places that are business destinations (New York City, Boston, L.A., etc.), the Monday through Friday early morning and early evening flights are going to be the most expensive.
The best way to get the very best fare is to call the airline and ask about the lowest rate between Point A and Point B, and what you have to do to get this price. If you’re flexible, make sure you tell them so, and you should only offer up the approximate time you need to travel.
For example, "I’m flexible. I want to go from Philadelphia to Miami sometime in March." The agent will tell you the best fare available, and if you call several airlines operating that service, you’ll soon discover what the best rates are and how to get them.
The same works for online booking sites. By clicking the "I’m flexible" button, you can compare the various fares available at the cheapest times. If you’re willing to do your homework, chances are you’ll be able to find a great deal no matter where you’re headed.

How to shop for the best travel bargain

Planning a vacation is exciting. Of course, once you’ve decided on a destination, there’s still the transportation, food, and accommodations to consider, at the very least. And, of course, you want the best bang for your buck for all of these things. So how do you shop for your next vacation, confident that you’re getting the greatest value for the lowest price?
Those who want to find truly valuable bargains need to look for packages, especially online. Even if you’re an independent traveler who doesn’t want to travel with a group, booking a package that offers set departures means you get the benefit of the group rates on some important features, especially transfers, which can be very expensive for people if you have to go from an airport to a city by taxi.
Usually these packages offer some flexibility as to your return date, typically for a small fee. So you can easily extend your stay and return on a different day from the package return date. But even without the benefit of set departures, these packages are incredibly economical for travelers.
Every volume-based online marketer of travel (like myself) has access to excellent prices for all the different services a traveler needs. That includes discounted airfare; plenty of hotel choices in all different categories and locations, all at great prices; and other extras, such as car rentals, transfers, and optional touring.
In order to get a really great deal on a vacation package, even without the benefit of a group, you should book a package that includes air, some hotel nights, and, (if possible) transfers. All of those services — if bundled into one package — will generally be less expensive than booking all the services separately. At the very least, you’ll save the separate mark-ups on the separate services.
There is one caveat, however. You should very carefully compare the features of various packages because they vary widely and can be tricky. Don’t just go for the lowest published price. That price might not include some of the most important features that will end up costing you big time once you get to your destination. I’ve seen packages that don’t include elements such as the hotel location, transfers, and city tours. If included, these things give you a terrific overview of what the city has to offer so you can explore independently afterward.
So happy shopping! And, as always, if you have any other questions about what to look for when planning your next trip, leave it in the comments below, or feel free to drop me an e-mail.
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How to pack your bags for an eight-day trip

If you’re a first-time (or second-, third-, or fourth-time) international traveler, you probably have a few questions about some of the elements of traveling abroad. One of the most important (and often overlooked) aspects, is how to properly pack a suitcase for a journey to another country.
Fear not, Friendly Planeteers, because I’ve put together my top six tips for packing for an eight-day Friendly Planet Travel trip. Keep in mind — and I cannot emphasize this enough — if you’re going on an eight-day trip, you only need one suitcase. I promise, if you are packing more than what fits in one bag, you are packing too much.
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And away we go:
1. At least one pair of broken in, comfortable walking shoes appropriate for the destination. If you’re traveling to a hot climate, good walking sandals are a good idea. If you’re going somewhere cooler, a sturdy pair of hiking or walking shoes are crucial. You never know what type of terrain you are going to encounter, and you want to be able to tackle it all in comfort. New shoes are nice, but don’t bring them on vacation. The last thing you want is a blister holding you back during a walking tour of the pyramids of Egypt.
2. A second (and only other) pair of shoes. For eight days, you shouldn’t need more than two pairs of shoes. The second pair should be your “nicer” shoes for evenings spent going to dinner or casually exploring town. Keep in mind though, that no matter your destination with Friendly Planet Travel, you don’t need anything fancy. Men should pack a pair of loafers, for example. And for women, a pair of shoes that works well with slacks, or whatever pants or skirts you might choose to wear.
3. A lightweight, all-weather jacket with zip-out lining. This type of versatile outerwear is the perfect travel companion, no matter where you’re going. A good jacket is especially important for countries with diverse climates, such as Argentina. One day you might be way up north in the chilly mountains, and the next, paddling across a warm lake. There’s not one brand I would recommend over another, but outdoor outfitters such as Lands’ End, REI, or North Face all have great selections.
4. A variety of easily layerable clothing. Whenever I travel, I always pack a pair of jeans, a number of t-shirts, and a sweatshirt or two. This way, I’ll always be able to add or subtract layers to ensure I’m comfortable at all times. On a Friendly Planet Travel vacation, comfort is everything. If you’re a woman, make sure you have at least one good pair of jeans or khaki pants. Personally, I never travel with shorts. There’s two reasons for this. First, do you really want to be riding that elephant with bare legs? And second, it’s always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to cultural differences.
5. Underwear, underwear, underwear! When I pack for an eight-day trip, I usually pack 16 pairs of underwear. If you don’t want to worry about laundry while abroad, always be sure you have plenty of underwear. It doesn’t take up much room in your suitcase, and I guarantee after a rigorous day of touring, a fresh pair of underwear will make all the difference in the world.
6. Medicine, cosmetics, and toiletries. Remember, you can’t bring more than three ounces of each on your carry-on, but you can bring as much as you want in your suitcase.
Best of all, if you follow this outline for packing, you’ll definitely have a little bit of room in your suitcase for souvenirs! Or, if you plan on loading up, fold a small duffel bag into your suitcase that can serve as your souvenir bag on the way home.
Of course, if you do forget something, don’t panic. No matter where you are in the world, you will be able to find a tube of toothpaste, or contact solution, or anything else you might need along the way.

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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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