Once just a sleepy desert enclave, Dubai has emerged from the sand and transformed into a glittering modern metropolis. Falling at the intersection of the azure waves of the Arabian Gulf and the barren sands of the Arabian Desert, Dubai has quickly become a lavish oasis for the world’s rich and famous.
Almost overnight, Dubai transformed into one of the world’s hottest international destinations, with more than 5.8 million travelers visiting the Middle Eastern kingdom in the first half of 2014 alone. Tourist activity is only certain to pick up as more and more travelers, including Americans, discover the wonders of this lavish city.
If you’re dreaming of a royal getaway, one filled with sunset desert safaris, world-class shopping, and awe-inspiring architecture, Dubai is the destination for you. Here are just four experiences all travelers must have when visiting Dubai.
1. Experience traditional art, history, and culture. If you hope to uncover some of the true gems of Dubai’s past, visit the trendy Bastakiya district. This neighborhood was once home to the city’s textile and pearl traders, and has since been built up to house quaint art museums, cafés, and shops. Explore the Dubai Museum to learn about the history of this desert oasis; walk along the last remaining section of the old city wall, which served as a defensive barrier in the 19th century; and stroll among the paintings at the Majlis Gallery, Dubai’s first art museum. The Bastakiya district is the perfect place to experience the true essence of this Middle Eastern metropolis.
Forget springtime in Paris and summer in Santorini. Off-season is the new hot time to visit your favorite European destinations. More and more travelers are ditching their summer vacations and opting to visit their favorite cities throughout the winter months.
From November to March, Europe takes on an entirely new persona. Gone are the large crowds, humid days, and high prices — leaving only the true cultures, histories, and sights of each destination for you to enjoy. If you’re interested in experiencing some hidden, off-season gems of Europe, here are just some of my reasons why the off-season is the perfect time to travel.
Sightsee at a fraction of the price. It’s no secret that off-season travel often means lower prices. Not only will travelers save on airfares, tours, and accommodations, but they’ll often find that restaurants, shops, and bars in high-tourist areas are also less expensive. This can help significantly pare down a tight travel budget. Also keep a lookout for bundled tours that take place during the off-season. Tour operators often make the most out of seasonal pricing and share the savings with travelers. By saving on the essentials, travelers can splurge on extra special events, like enjoying a Champagne dinner at the top of the Eiffel Tower or taking a dip in Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon, making their trips even more memorable.
With the Brazilian World Cup beginning in just two days, I wanted to take a moment to turn away from soccer and politics, and highlight the vibrant and passionate host country — Brazil. Brazil’s a destination that appeals to all types of travelers.
Adventure seekers can spend a day barreling through the rugged Amazon rainforest on a Jeep tour. Beachcombers can lounge on Rio de Janeiro’s famed Copacabana beach. Party animals can samba the night away at hot Brazilian clubs. Brazil is simply unlike any other place on Earth, and while it might be too late to book your trip to The World Cup, Brazil’s still a surefire bucket-list destination for anyone seeking beauty and excitement.
But before you book your flight, check out my list of five tips that you’ll find handy to know before traveling to Brazil. It’s sure to clear up some common misconceptions and help prepare you for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure:
1) Embrace the Brazilian culture
I’ve traveled from Chile to China, and dozens of countries in between, but Brazil stands out as a true cultural gem. The 3.288-million-square-mile country was built on a foundation of indigenous Brazilian traditions, Portuguese customs, and African influences. These independent cultures have shaped modern-day Brazil, creating a unique mix of food, music, religion, and local sights. Visitors can view the intersection of African and indigenous Brazilian traditions by attending a capoeira performance — a Brazilian martial art that combines dance, aerobatics, and music. They can indulge in European sophistication by sampling pastéis de nata, a Portuguese custard tart, in a Brazilian café. Finally, they can feel the unbreakable union of a diverse country by attending a Brazilian national team football game. Brazil has embraced its past to create a nation that accepts all traditions. My only advice is to leave all preconceived notions at the door before traveling to Brazil, as it’s unlike any other Latin American country.
My husband and I recently returned from an unforgettable trip to Brazil. The Brazilian beaches, nightlife, culture, and food were spectacular, but the true highlight was vacationing with our 14-year-old grandson, Ben. This was the first time my husband and I planned an international excursion with a grandchild — without his parents — and the experience was one we’ll never forget.
Travel opens a young person’s eyes like no other experience. It introduces them to foreign sights and sounds that free their minds and expand their world views. Travel teaches life lessons, like that people who look, speak, eat, dress, and behave differently are still people just like you.
By traveling to Brazil with Ben, my husband and I also expanded our own world views by viewing the country through his fresh, curious eyes and savoring new experiences through his enormous appetite for adventure. Ben’s excitement began the moment we stepped off the airplane, and he remained in a state of wonder for the entire trip. We watched him soak up every detail, ask questions, embrace a new culture and people, and try strange foods, and we were delighted as every one of his firsts transformed into our own.
The experience not only influenced our views of Brazil, but it also forged bonds among us that would never have been possible under other circumstances. Traveling without Ben’s parents allowed us to truly get to know one another in a new way, and appreciate each other far beyond the traditional grandparent and grandchild relationship.
International travel can seem like a luxury affair, but that doesn’t have to be the case. If you’re a budget traveler determined to see the world without breaking the bank, you’re in luck. Here are nine of my easy, money-saving tips for traveling overseas.
1. Avoid foreign conversion fees. Sneaky foreign conversion fees can put a dent in a travel budget, adding an additional 1 to 3 percent to every transaction made with a debit or credit card overseas. Before traveling, research if your bank charges a fee for international debit or credit card use. If so, consider applying for a card like the Capital One Visa or any of the other cards that are free of transaction fees.
2. Document your expenses. It’s easy to get swept up in the romance of travel and end up paying 50 euros for a hand-pressed bottle of olive oil or 100 euros for a carafe of local wine, but expensive impulse buys can quickly add up. Instead, create a budget for yourself before departure. Try to decide in advance approximately how much you’d like to spend on food, tours, and even those unexpected items. Then document your daily spend as you travel. This simple strategy will allow you see how much you’re spending, and help curb excess purchases along the way.
3. Shop off the beaten path. Traveling on a budget doesn’t mean you have to forgo souvenirs. Rather than picking up trinkets at the entrance of well-known attractions like the Great Wall of China or the Coliseum, shop at local street markets instead. Not only will you purchase more authentic gifts, but you’ll have fun putting your bartering skills to the test.
It’s almost Mother’s Day, and as a mother and grandmother, I wanted to take a minute to share some motherly advice. While all moms appreciate the traditional Mother’s Day flowers, cards and the occasional breakfast in bed, the ultimate present has always been spending time with our children and yes, our grandchildren. I’ve watched my kids grow from wobbling toddlers to successful adults, and looking back over the years, the moments that bring the biggest smiles to my face are those spent enjoying time together.
With that in mind, I suggest rethinking the traditional Mother’s Day gifts this year, and consider giving Mom a present that will create lifelong memories for your family — a mother-and-child trip to an exotic destination that both of you are dying to visit and enjoy together.
In my more than 30 years in the industry, I’ve heard countless stories about how travel has built bonds and strengthened relationships. In fact, a lot of those stories are mine, having traveled internationally with both my own kids and grandkids. Not only do families learn about new cultures, they learn about each other and gain a new level of appreciation for one another. In case you haven’t discovered any mutual travel “must visits” of your own, here’s my Mother’s Day gifting guide to help you choose the perfect destination for you and your mom.
The first-time-traveler mom: Italy
Italy is a perfect destination for first-time international travelers. Your mom will fall in love with the welcoming Italian people and feel completely at home in the relaxed culture. Stroll through the winding cobblestone streets of Venice, a city that floats on water, and watch gondoliers serenade patrons as they glide along the city’s 177 canals. Travel to Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance, and shop for gold, jewels, and art on the Ponte Vecchio, a walking bridge lined with high-end stores. Then gaze upon Michelangelo’s famous statue of David. End the trip sipping bold red wines at a café in Rome and wandering through the ruins of the famed Coliseum. Whether you and your Mom love cooking, art, music or just plain strolling, you’ll find boundless opportunities to make memories that will last a lifetime.
FAMILY TRAVEL: International family travel from Friendly Planet broadens minds and expands horizons
Forget Epcot’s World Showcase. Families today want to go beyond the ‘been there, done that’ summer vacation to see the real China, Italy, Japan, and Africa. You might be one of them — a parent who has always dreamed of traveling internationally with your children, but didn’t think it was possible because of the cost, stress, and planning required to put a trip together. There’s a lot to consider: choosing hotels, scheduling intra-country travel, knowing what sightseeing spots to visit, not speaking the local language, and the ultimate question: Will my children be OK (and actually have fun!) on this trip?
That’s why I’m so excited that Friendly Planet now offers families safe, affordable options to travel internationally this summer with our new family-friendly group tours. We handle the details, so you can concentrate on enjoying the spectacular beauty, culture, and history of some of the most jaw-dropping places on Earth with your kids (along with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, too!), making memories that will last a lifetime.
You might be thinking: Is international group travel right for my family? One of the best parts of these tours is that every detail has been thought of. We’ve selected kid-friendly hotels with amenities that they’ll love, scheduled touring that kids and parents will enjoy, and picked talented guides who specialize in making sightseeing interesting for the entire family. And, by traveling with other families in a group, you and your kids will have plenty of opportunities to make new friends and share this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
But there are many more reasons to travel internationally with your kids. Here are just five:
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.
- 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…)
I recently shared my top 10 must-haves for international travel. In that post, I mentioned that I’d follow it up with a list of items that you might think you need to pack, but aren’t worth the space they take up in your suitcase.
Here’s my list of travel leave-behinds. Keep these items at home, and save some space in your suitcase for souvenirs and travel essentials.
- Traveler’s checks. Traveler’s checks used to make it easy to securely travel with a large amount of money. But using traveler’s checks today can be a big, expensive hassle. Even if you don’t pay anything to get them issued, you will definitely pay a hefty service fee when you cash them. Since many establishments no longer want to deal with travelers checks, you may have to fit finding a bank into your itinerary in order to cash them. Stick with your credit/debit card and cash instead. (more…)
If you’ve arranged your international vacation months in advance, it can be difficult to know what to do if an incident, such as a protest, strike, or even riot, occurs in your destination close to your departure date. Should you go and “see what happens,” or should you cancel, despite impending penalties, because you want to err on the side of caution?
I cover this topic in my latest contribution to the Huffington Post, and offer my advice for ways to stay safe if you decide to take your trip. Would you add anything to my list? Let me know in a comment below.