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Where you should travel with your tax refund

Tax season is officially over and you might be expecting a refund check in the near future. The average person will receive a tax refund of about $2,755, according to the IRS, which can come in handy if you want to get away on an international vacation. To help, I’ve broken down a few suggestions for where you can travel at a few different price points.

If you’re looking to stay under about $2,000 per person, I recommend:

  • A Taste of China or Beijing & Tokyo. Visiting China is the trip of a lifetime for travelers interested in exploring a culture truly different from their own. The country has impressive modern achievements and an ancient, rich culture. Beijing, China’s capital, and Shanghai, often called the “Paris of the East,” are two of the most dynamic cities in the world. And Xi’an, a large industrial city, is the site of one of the world’s most important archaeological treasures: the army of 2,200-year-old terra-cotta soldiers buried to protect the tomb of the first Qin emperor.
  • A Taste of Ireland or Discover Ireland. As I’ve said before, whether you have Irish roots or just a love of Irish culture, there has never been a better year to visit Ireland. That’s because The Gathering, a year-long celebration of Irish ancestry with clan gatherings, festivals, sporting events, music, and concerts, is going on this year. This event only adds to the lush countryside, friendly and wonderful people, and the array of beautiful destinations — Dublin, Kerry, Killarney, Kilkenny, Limerick, and more — in Ireland.
  • Captivating Costa Rica or Costa Rica Pura Vida. From jungles, cloud forests, and active volcanoes to its rivers and Caribbean and Pacific coasts, travelers need to experience everything that makes Costa Rica the jewel of Central America. This destination has beautiful resorts and adventurous travel opportunities — making it the perfect place for every kind of traveler. And the location is out of this world: the island contains 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity. (more…)

2 reasons why the Far East isn’t so far away for Friendly Planet travelers

We’re always trying to think of new, innovative tours to offer our customers at a great value. We’ve created two of these new tours in the Far East, which incorporate cities that are geographically close in proximity, but vastly different in history and culture. I wanted to fill you in on the details:

Tokyo skyline at night

Beijing and Tokyo: A Sale of Two Cities. On this 10-day tour, travelers visit two of the most attractive destinations in the world, Beijing and Tokyo, for an outrageously low price. The package combines two of Asia’s cultural and economic powerhouses that exhibit impressive modern achievements within ancient and incredibly rich cultures. Spend four nights in each city, with touring included, which provides just enough time to experience all that Beijing and Tokyo have to offer. Since we’re coming up on the cooler winter months, travelers will be able to take advantage of less crowds and incredible prices with this tour—a great perk! While the moderate temperatures in both cities throughout the winter months still provide an enjoyable climate for touring.

Taste of China and Hong Kong. This 13-day tour was created for the traveler who wants to see all of the sights and ancient culture that the vibrant international cities in China and Hong Kong have to offer. Visit three of China’s most awe-inspiring cities, ShanghaiXi’an, and Beijing, and then continue on to the beautiful, cosmopolitan city of Hong Kong. The best part? We’ve calculated that travelers will save over $1,000 with this tour, as compared to booking on their own. You simply can’t beat that for these attractive travel destinations!

Are there any Far East destinations that you’d like to see us offer next? Let us know in a comment below!

Win a free trip for 2 to China with Friendly Planet Travel!

Two trips to fantastic destinations given away, four more free tours to go. If you haven’t won a trip yet, then this is for you.

You might have seen that we’re giving away a trip for two to China on our Taste of China tour, and you might have already entered our sweepstakes. If you haven’t, there’s still time.

A Friendly Planet traveler and a guest will be on their way to see Beijing, China’s capital and host of the 2008 Summer Olympics; Shanghai, often called the “Paris of the East;” and Xi’an, where one of the most fascinating archeological finds in the world, the Terracotta army, is found.

Don’t wait to visit our Facebook page and fill out the entry form. If you entered to win the Best of South Africa tour or Amazing Peru tour, then your name is already in the pool and you don’t have to enter again. But referring your friends to enter will get you more chances to win!

Who would you take with you to China? Invite that person to enter, and that’s two more chances to win! I like those odds!

And if you’re still not convinced, I have lots to say about the fascinating country of China. It’s a beautiful place, full of fast-paced cities, ancient history, lots and lots of people, plenty of great shopping, and cultural experiences everywhere. I recently went to China, and it was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. You simply have to see it to believe it. I’ll be sharing my experiences on my trip in the future, so stay tuned.

The winner of our Taste of China tour and a guest will win round-trip flights from Los Angeles via Air China, including fuel surcharges, taxes, and fees; all intra-China flights and ground transportation; and deluxe and first-class hotels with a private bathroom.

Also included are 12 meals, including eight buffet breakfasts, three lunches, and one dinner; comprehensive touring programs, including entrance fees; and a professional, English-speaking tour director and local guides.

What are you waiting for? Hop over to our Facebook page and enter to win this fantastic trip!

The top 10 affordable destinations of 2012

I would never offer a tour that wasn’t a terrific value — that’s the core of our business at Friendly Planet Travel. But there are some tours that are so value-packed, I want to point them out specifically.

I had the opportunity to do just that at The Philadelphia Inquirer Travel Show last month. I named my speech “The Top 10 Affordable Destinations of 2012,” and delivered exactly what I promised. Check out my speech in it’s entirety below.

If you don’t have time to watch the full video, I’ve detailed a few of my favorites, as shared in my speech, below.

Pick #9: Ireland. Like Greece, Ireland has gone through some difficult financial times, but you would never know it from the incredibly friendly and welcoming people you’ll meet when you visit. Ireland has always been a popular destination for Americans, but in the coming years, Ireland is expected to see record numbers of tourists. That’s no surprise. The country is beautiful, with lush, green landscapes; picturesque towns and villages; castles galore; and plenty of pubs where you can mix with the locals, especially since they speak your language.

Pick #6: India. This wild, disorganized country of over a billion people is simply amazing. It has plenty of history and culture to experience and admire. It has an educated, entrepreneurial population that is rushing toward modernity at the speed of light. It has the most gorgeous building I’ve seen, the Taj Mahal, and believe me when I tell you that no picture does this palace justice. That’s how all of India is.

Pick #3: China. Each year, we wait to see if interest in China will finally drop among travelers, but it never does. This is a country that continues to amaze travelers, with its ancient history, gorgeous landscapes, incredibly welcoming people, and, of course, the food. Oh, and did I mention that you can buy an entire wardrobe for pennies on the dollar? Travel to China continues to be a terrific bargain.

Pick #1: Cuba. You might be thinking Cuba is a place that Americans can’t visit. But in the past year, the rules have changed, and a few tour operators are lucky to have been granted one of the new people-to-people licenses, including us. This tropical island is a 50-minute flight from Miami, but until recently, it could just have easily been on Mars. Thanks to a liberalizing of laws, Americans can visit Cuba legally. Visiting Cuba is like taking a trip back to the ’50s, and not just because of the cars. When you visit Cuba, you get to see how people have created a life for themselves with very little money or resources. The music is everywhere, street parties abound, and everyone is welcome to attend. It’s quite an experience.

What places are you planning to visit in 2012? One of these or somewhere different? Let me know here.

Read along as Farihah Ali searches for the perfect dumpling in China

If you want another helping of dumplings, err, I mean another helping of our podcast with Farihah Ali, you can download the transcript. Read along as Farihah tries to find the best dumplings on Friendly Planet Travel’s Taste of China tour.

Farihah Ali searches for the perfect dumpling on Friendly Planet Travel’s Taste of China tour

Spiced beef dumplings in Shanghai

Food and travel — they’re like two peas in a pod. I always enjoy trying the exotic foods native to the country I’m visiting.

In fact, I’ve told you plenty of times that Vietnam tops my list of countries to go to for the food. But it’s not the only country in Asia that foodies adore.

Let’s head north to China. Farihah Ali, from Atlanta, went on Friendly Planet Travel’s Taste of China tour in November and wrote about her time in the country on her own blog, Spice Bites. When I stumbled upon her blog posts, I asked one of our Friendly Planet Travel bloggers, Melissa, to get to know what mouth-watering food Farihah discovered in China.

In our podcast Farihah dives into what she saw and ate in the three cities she visited in China, ShanghaiXi’an, and Beijing. Dumplings where on the top of Farihah’s list to find. She tells us about her adventures to find the best ones in each city, as well as the other food she tasted along the way thanks to help of her tour guides.

Farihah breaks down what the hotels, escorted tours, tour guides, and transportation was like in each city. She also tells Melissa how it was easy to get around the cities when she only knew one or two phrases in Chinese, and much more.

After you listen to the podcast, I encourage you to flip over to her blog to read her posts about China and look at all the beautiful photos she took. If you’ve been to China and ate some amazing food, please tell me about it in a comment on this post.

Farihah in Suzhou, China

A first-hand account of Friendly Planet Travel’s Best of China tour

In case you’d rather read my interview with Ron Beller about his Best of China trip, I’m posting the transcript here. Don’t forget to take a look at his photos too.

Friendly Planet review: A snapshot of the Best of China tour

It’s nice to have a friend recommend a city, a hotel, and even a restaurant when you’re deciding where to travel. I know it makes me feel more comfortable knowing that someone else has been there and liked it.

Ron with his wife Jan and trusty camera in China 

So when Ron Beller was deciding to travel to China, one of his friends recommended Friendly Planet Travel’s Best of China tour. His friend just returned from the tour and was raving about it. That was enough to sell Ron on the trip.

Ron and his wife Jan booked the tour for October 2009. They had an equally amazing time in China traveling to Shanghai, Yichang, Three Gorges, Guilin, Xi’an, and Beijing.

When he returned, Ron e-mailed us some fantastic photos he took in China. If a picture says a thousand words, these pictures said all that and more.

I had to give him a call to get the stories behind the photos. He told me he was a nature photographer, so he was practically born with a camera in his hand. He was always lagging behind the group trying to capture just a few more photos. He had taken 1,600 by the end of the trip!

We talked about what it was like traveling to China in late October, seeing the 2,200-year-old terra-cotta soliders, the Yangtze River cruise, the camera he used, and more. So if you’re considering traveling to China, listen to my podcast with Ron and then view his photos. He’ll give you a first-hand look into Friendly Planet Travel’s Best of China tour.

Ten days on the Taste of China tour for $1,099

China has become one of the most attractive travel destinations in the world. Its modern achievements interwoven with an ancient culture, and a recorded history spanning over 5,000 years, entices savvy travelers from all over the globe.

But with its popularity comes rising travel costs. Other tour companies are scaling back their accommodations and trip durations to maintain their pricing — not Friendly Planet. Once again, we’ve maintained our high standards for price and quality with our $1,099 10-day Taste of China tour.

We didn’t cut any corners to get you this price. In fact, we were able to book a better hotel in Xi’an. We’re constantly negotiating better pricing for travelers while maintaining a high level of hotels, service, and programming. It’s not easy to do, but it’s my job to look for new ways to make our trips even more exquisite.

Let me refresh your memory on the attractions Friendly Planeteers will see while in China. Beijing, China’s historic and cultural capital, and Shanghai, often called the “Paris of the East,” are probably two of the most dynamic cities in the world.

Xi’an, which at first glance may appear to be a typical city, is actually the site of one of the world’s most important archeological treasures, an army of 2,200-year-old, terra-cotta soldiers. It includes more than 8,000 life-size ceramic soldiers, chariots, and horses buried there to protect the tomb of the first Qin emperor.

On this tour, travelers will be introduced to the all of the most significant treasures of China, from the Forbidden City to the Great Wall of China to the Temple of Heaven. They’ll also get a taste of what life is truly like in China, when we stop by picturesque villages, a traditional school, and bustling street vendors.

Here’s what’s included in the price: round-trip flights from LAX via Air China (including fuel surcharges), all ground transfers and intra-China flights, deluxe and first-class hotels, 12 meals, comprehensive cultural touring with a local guide, a professional English-speaking tour director, and more.

While you’re in the neighborhood, why not take advantage of your already-included airfare and visit exotic, frenetic Hong Kong, where East truly meets West, for only $599. City-lovers worldwide rank Hong Kong among their must-see destinations, and for good reason. With its glorious harbor, excellent shopping, renowned restaurants, and some of the best nighttime skylines in the world, Hong Kong has it all.

I encourage you to read my previous posts about the Taste of China tour, and also see what our travelers have said about it. It sells out fast, so book our 10-day Taste of China tour for $1,099 by June 30.

For complete details about the tour and the Hong Kong extension, visit our website. Have any questions? Write to me directly.

Customer Testimonial: From Ecuador to China

I know I’ve done my job when I hear from customers who want to return for another tour. Or when travelers keep coming back to experience a new exotic destination. These next two testimonials are from opposite sides of the globe. They loved every part of their trip, and I hope they’ll become Friendly Planet Travel frequent flyers.

You know by now how much I love reading these. So don’t hesitate to let me know how your exotic tour went!

A Taste of China

This was our second tour with Friendly Planet the first being India 3 years ago. We just got back from China and wanted to tell you how amazing the trip was and what a great time we had. Our guide David was fantastic and all the accomodations were perfect. We are so glad that we went and we will do more tours with Friendly Planet in the future. 

-O.R. Nasseri, San Diego, Calif.

Exotic Ecuador

I just returned and wanted to let you know that this trip was absolutely wonderful. It was very well put together; had a great itinerary, involved no surprises; and was a great value. The hotels were outstanding and I truly enjoyed the variety of activities expecially in the Amazon Region. Based upon this great experience I will definately consider Friendly Planet again.

-Theodore Lattanzio, New York, N.Y. 

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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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