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Posts Tagged ‘Advice’

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Cash, traveler’s checks, or credit? What’s the scoop on money when you travel?

FP_Creditcard.jpgIn today’s world, it’s hardly ever worth it to carry traveler’s checks. You can find ATM machines in many destinations, even those considered "off the beaten track" where you can get cash, in local currency, using your own credit or debit card.

Typically, the exchange rates charged by your credit card company or bank will be better than those charged by local banks, and the convenience goes without saying. You get money as you need it, without having to carry around lots of bills, and without having to pay commissions and fees to cash the traveler’s checks.

If you simply can’t imagine taking a trip abroad without traveler’s checks, by all means get the ones that are free. If you belong to AAA, or your bank offers free traveler’s checks to their depositors, get them. But make sure you get them in small denominations. Typically, you pay fees based on the amount you’re changing. If you’re like me, you’ll bring them home with you again to redeposit into your own checking account. That is, of course, if you have anything left!

When I travel abroad, I usually bring about $300 in cash so I can quickly convert some dollars to local currency on arrival. That gives me time to find out where the ATM machines are located, without having to stress about not having money in local currency.

I also carry enough $1 bills to take care of incidental tipping, too. Having $20 to $30 in single dollars buys me time to figure out what a good tip should be in local currency (and I can assure you that tips paid in dollars won’t be refused).

I use the hotel in-room safe to store extra cash, so I don’t need to walk around carrying a bundle of bills in my purse. I also take two different credit cards with ATM capabilities, but I only carry one at a time. I leave the second card tucked away in the room safe. If I ever lose my purse or if it gets stolen, I have another card on hand.

And remember, before you even depart the U.S., it’s a good idea to call your card companies and bank to let them know when and where you’re going. The last thing you want is to have your bank account frozen while you’re abroad.

I always call my card company before leaving for any trip. The trip details go into my credit card file. If you’ve ever been in another country, tried to make a purchase, and had your card declined, you know why the preemptive call is important. In today’s security-conscious world, where identity and card theft is rampant, cards are often declined because the charge doesn’t fit a normal profile. If your credit card profile is annotated with your travel details, you’ll never face this embarrassing inconvenience.
 

Five tips for avoiding passport hassles

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You can’t travel abroad without a valid passport. Everyone knows this, and everyone planning a trip can find out how to easily get a passport issued. But that’s not the end of the story. Here are five important tips for avoiding passport hassles that can ruin even the best planned vacation.

1. Make a photocopy of the signature and photo pages of your passport to carry with you as you travel. Keep it in a safe place, but keep it in a separate compartment or bag from your actual passport. If your passport gets lost or stolen, that photocopy will be helpful in getting a replacement.

2. Check the passport to be sure it is valid for at least 180 days AFTER your return date from your trip. Most destinations have rules about passport validity, so don’t assume that because your passport is valid when you depart, it’ll be sufficiently valid for your return. For example, if you’re going to India on Nov. 1 and returning Nov. 15, your passport should be valid though May 15, 2010. If it’s set to expire before May 15, 2010, get the passport renewed before you travel.

3. If you’re planning to visit a destination that requires a visa, and you need to get your passport renewed for this trip, do the renewal BEFORE you apply for your visa. The visa will be stamped into your passport, so if you get the visa first, you’ll have to apply (and pay for) the same visa all over again when you get your new passport.

4. Check to be sure you have enough visa pages in your valid passport, as many destinations require a certain number of blank visa pages for you to be able to enter the country. This is different from getting a visa in advance. In this case, the visa is stamped into your passport at passport control upon your arrival. Sometimes it’s free and sometimes you have to pay a fee. But regardless of cost, the pages need to be available. Typically, If you are short on visa pages, you won’t be able to board your flight in the first place, and that means plenty of disappointment all around, not to mention plenty of lost money trying to catch up to your tour or paying penalties to change flights, etc.

5. Unless you’re traveling daily from one city to another, use the in-room safe or the hotel’s safe deposit system, and store your passport together with your other valuables. In some countries, it’s virtually impossible to easily replace your travel documents, and in most places, you won’t need to carry your passport with you all the time. For identification, consider carrying your driver’s license or other small document that identifies you. Even a driver’s license will be replaced more easily than a passport. And unless you plan to do extensive banking transactions or purchase very expensive items which qualify for VAT reimbursement, you will hardly ever need your passport as you travel, except to cross borders from one country to another or to board your flights.
 

Jennifer Michaels talks food, safety, and fun on family vacations

Some parents are a tad overwhelmed at the thought of traveling with their baby or young children. Others can’t wait to strap on the baby carrier and go, go, go. No matter which style of traveling you prefer, sooner or later, chances are, you’re going to be navigating an airport, highway, or foreign destination with your kids in tow. And according to family travel and mamma maven Jennifer Michaels, the best way to do travel with kids, is to do it prepared.

Jennifer is the woman behind Family Travel Planet, and the Family Travel Examiner column. She’s also a former television producer and Family Travel Expert for VisitFlorida.com. If anyone knows the inside scoop for saving money and keeping kids (and, let’s face it, that means everyone) happy while traveling, it’s Jennifer.

As you know, Friendly Planet Travel is currently offering some pretty incredible prices on the Mediterranean Highlights and Iberian Coast cruises, with the opportunity for up to two children to travel for free (just pay for airfare, taxes, and port fees).  So what better time to stock up on tips and tricks for traveling with kids? I recently had the chance to talk to Jennifer, and know that everyone could benefit from her family travel experiences.

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.

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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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