Friendly Planet Blog

Posts Tagged ‘How to’

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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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.

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.

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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