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Posts Tagged ‘Travel advice’

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Why Israel is a country with something for everyone

The first time I visited Israel, it was 1972, a full year before the Yom Kippur War. It was a far simpler place then, with no skyscrapers, no color TV anywhere in the country, and little in the way of luxury goods. It was a time when calculators were golden gifts for Israeli students; transistor radios were treasured by young army recruits; and wineries were known by a single name, Carmel.

I’ve been to Israel many, many times since that first trip more than 40 years ago, when my tour guide made me cry because I wandered away from my group and made everyone late for the next stop on our tour. With each visit, I’ve come to appreciate more and more the amazing diversity and dynamism of this incredible country.

Only 68 years ago, survivors of the Holocaust staggered out of the ashes of the death camps and made their way (mostly illegally) to the shores of the yet-to-be declared State of Israel. I realize there are plenty of political issues surrounding the founding of Israel the nation, and there’s plenty to say about the politics of the region. But despite all of that, no one can deny that so much has been done in so little time. Amazing hardly describes the place. You simply have to see it for yourself to understand what progress, in the face of adversity, means. (more…)

Recapping our Facebook travel chat with special guest Reid Bramblett

Thanks again to everyone who participated in our latest Facebook travel chat. Reid Bramblett and I had a great time answering your questions, debating travel best practices, and sharing our travel know-how. I want to recap the Q-and-A here on the blog for anyone who missed it.

Q: How is Friendly Planet able to send people to Cuba? Isn’t there an embargo against Americans visiting the island?

Peggy: The answer is a new license called ‘People to People’ which enables us to send American travelers to Cuba to engage in educational and cultural exchanges. This means that in Cuba you get to do all the things that you would long to do in any international destination — meet real Cubans, see how they live, work, study, and generally live their lives — in addition to visiting the important sites on the island.

Q: Hi there, I love history and learning when I travel, what would be some great historical places in Europe to visit that might be a bit off the beaten path or not as widely known as say, Stonehenge or the Colosseum?

Reid: It sounds like you’re interested in ancient sites, and Europe is full of them. For example, the Irish version of Stonehenge is Newgrange, a gorgeous passage tomb just an hour north of Dublin. The west coast of Ireland is filled with Celtic ruins as well. This year is a great time to visit Ireland because of the Gathering. There are many activities celebrating Irish heritage throughout the country. I recommend the Fleadh Nua in Ennis, the most participatory of the Irish music festivals.

As for an alternative to the Colosseum, the south of Italy is filled with ancient Roman and Greek ruins (much of it was once part of greater Greece), from ancient amphitheaters to temples. (more…)

Travel writer and actor Andrew McCarthy explains how travel can help you overcome fear and connect with others

Have you ever been in a foreign country and stopped someone to ask for directions? If you have, there’s a good chance you were greeted with kindness and helpful tips to get you where you needed to go. This simple way of engaging with others is one of the easiest ways to interact with people, which Andrew McCarthy uses as one of his tactics when traveling abroad to break the ice with locals, even if he knows exactly where he is.

This is just one of many parts of Andrew’s travel philosophy, who is the editor-at-large for National Geographic Traveler; an actor in such films as “Pretty in Pink,” “Weekend at Bernie’s,” and “St. Elmo’s Fire”; and a director. When we heard he was going to be at The Philadelphia Inquirer Travel Show to promote his first memoir, “The Longest Way Home,” we knew we wanted to hear more from Andrew on how travel has changed his life.

Andrew generously gave us a few minutes of his time after he spoke at the travel show to explain how going outside of your comfort zone can obliterate fear, the transformative power of travel, and how acting and directing has affected his writing. He also talked about how, contrary to first thought, travel actually makes him feel at home. Hit play below to listen to all the details.

Many thanks to Andrew for sharing a few minutes of his time to chat with us! Be sure to follow Andrew on his website and Twitter for the latest information on his travel adventures.

Traveler tips for a trip to Tokyo

Our staff at Friendly Planet is made up of many travel enthusiasts.  Most of us travel every chance we get, for both business and pleasure. When we return to the office, we often find ourselves having in-depth conversations with one another to share and compare our travel stories and experiences.

I’ve invited some of our staff members to share their travel experiences on the blog to give you a snapshot of some of the most fascinating places around the world, as well as their personal accounts from their trips. First up is Terence Foley, who works in product development here at Friendly Planet. Here’s his description of his most recent trip to Tokyo, in his own words:

“In September, I took a trip to Tokyo, Japan. This remarkable city is comprised of 27 special wards, each with their own distinct feel and attraction. From high-rise business centers and entertainment districts, to beautifully manicured parks and gardens, Tokyo has it all.

I visited most of Tokyo’s major attractions: Tsukiji fish marketMeiji ShrineGinza shopping districtTokyo-Edo Museum, and Asakusa Temple, just to name a few. I even went to Tokyo’s Sushi Academy and learned how to prepare fresh sushi. And, to top it all off, I also made a visit to the Tokyo Skytree’s observatory, 1,150 feet up, for a panoramic sunset view of the sprawling metropolis.

To be honest, I was a bit wary of using Tokyo’s metro system, especially after looking at the map, which looked like a plate of rainbow spaghetti. But to my surprise, it was actually quite simple. In fact, if you find yourself looking at a map for more than a few moments, a friendly Tokyoite is likely to approach you to offer help.

I’ve heard people planning trips to Japan say they were not interested in Tokyo because it’s just another big city. Well, Tokyo is big, but it is unlike any other major city I’ve ever visited. At times, I felt like I had traveled into the future, and other times back to the Edo period. The food was delicious, the people were friendly, and the culture was vibrant. I fell in love with Tokyo and I cannot wait to return!”

I share Terence’s enthusiasm for Tokyo, and can’t wait to return myself. Thanks for sharing about your trip Terence!

Recapping Friendly Planet Travel’s first live Facebook travel chat

CHAT AWAY: I was happy to answer your travel questions
during our first live Facebook chat!

Having traveled both professionally and personally for over 30 years, I am often used as a resource for a wealth of travel questions. So you might have seen that we held our first-ever live chat on Friendly Planet Travel’s Facebook page. I answered many of our fans’ travel questions in real-time, and had a great time doing so. I wanted to share some of the biggest takeaways with those who missed it.

Q: What are the benefits of booking with a travel agency versus booking on my own?

A: The benefits are various, but mainly, you’ll save money. We spend a lot of time getting great deals for our passengers and we pass those on to you. Also, you’re getting plenty of expertise. All that research you’ll need to do, we’ve already done it.

Q: Out of all the cruises you’ve taken, which is your favorite and why? 

A: Honestly, the very best cruise I have ever taken was on a small ship, part of the Cruceros Australis fleet, in Patagonia. I loved this cruise because it was an amazing adventure, not just fancy food each day — we visited some of the most pristine places in our hemisphere. Also, the size of the cruise was very conducive to making new friends.

Q: Do you save any money planning a trip far in advance? 

A: It doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes, especially with airlines and cruises, the best rates are not always available far in advance. However, with tour companies like ours, if we see opportunities to reduce cost, we always pass along the benefits, even at the last minute. The main reason to book early is to be sure you get the trip you want. If you wait, you might not get the space at all.

Q: Do you have any recommendations for traveling abroad, specifically to Ireland? 

A: If you are traveling on your own, perhaps with a rental car and some basic hotel arrangements, you’ll want to check in with the Irish Tourist Board. It has a tremendous amount of information, plus plenty of recommendations for restaurants, pubs, and fun events, many of which are completely for free. Since there isn’t a language problem, you’ll meet plenty of warm and friendly people among the Irish who will share their personal favorites regardless of where you travel. Ireland is one the most accessible destinations for Americans.

Q: What would you recommend for a good girls’ getaway trip, one with lots of sightseeing but also some relaxation? 

A: Go to Tuscany. It’s amazingly rich in touring opportunities; it’s gorgeous, friendly, with great food and plenty of opportunities to relax.

Q: Is it safe to travel to Greece right now? 

A: You bet it’s safe. There is no problem with safety in Greece today. Not a bit. The Greeks have their issues with their economy. Tourist are not only safe, they are major personas MUY GRATAS. The Greeks will treat guests like royalty, and there is no reason at all not to consider visiting Greece this summer.

Q: When is it best to exchange dollar for Euros? 

A: Never exchange money in the U.S. before taking a trip abroad. Your best exchange rate will be in the country you’re visiting. You can exchange some money when you arrive, usually right in the airport. That will get you started with local currency for tips or small purchases. Then you can check the local exchange places you’ll find everywhere or at the banks. You should check Travel.State.gov for information regarding specifics of customs, health requirements, alerts, and lots of other information. The site is for U.S. travelers, and it is very helpful.

I want to thank everyone who participated in our first of many live travel chats. If you missed it, we are holding our next chat on Sept. 7 at 1 p.m. EST. Join in and ask me your biggest travel questions. Just remember, it’s better to know before you go!

Flying to the 2012 London Olympic Games? Tips for maneuvering airline mayhem

The opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games kicks off in a few hours and that means London is bracing itself with an influx of millions of spectators. If you’re one of the lucky tourists flying in for the games, be aware that you’re not the only one. London airports are shuttling in loads of tourists and the crowds are sure to cause some airline mishaps.

That is why I wanted to lend some tips to all of the Americans traveling to London about how to manage the inevitable airline mayhem.

How to speed through security

U.S. airport security is sure to be backed up due to the increased number of people flying abroad. If you want to help keep the security line moving, here are my suggestions.

  • Have your passport and boarding pass out and ready to give to security officers.
  • Pre-pack your liquids in a quart sized bag and have them ready for inspection.
  • Don’t wear metal to reduce your chances of being patted down.
  • Wear easy-off and easy-on shoes.
  • Place your electronic devices in the bins for easy scanning.
  • Take your items away from the security line before putting them back on, in order to keep the line moving.

For more information on maneuvering airport security, flip to my blog post on how to navigate TSA security.

What to do if your flight is canceled

Cancellations are common, especially when there is a high volume of traffic going to one location. Know that this is a possibility, and be prepared to act if necessary. Here’s my advice for what to do if your flight is canceled.

  • Immediately attempt to book a seat on another airline, either online or through the airline’s toll free numbers.
  • Check in at the new airline’s counter with your new reservation number to ensure you’ll make it on the flight.
  • If the new airline attempts to charge you extreme fees, try to negotiate with them and know that the associates behind the counter have more wiggle-room than they let on.
  • If you can’t book a flight for that day, immediately book a hotel room and then start looking for flights leaving the next day.
  • Remember to stay calm and be pleasant towards the airline employees who are trying to help you. They’re far more likely to help if you’re easy to work with.

For more information on how to handle a canceled flight, hop over to my blog post on what to do if you’re stranded in the airport.

How to fly through customs

With the influx of people in the country, assume passing through customs will not be easy. Here are my tips for maneuvering a customs traffic jam.

  • Make sure to follow the green exit channel designated for non-E.U. citizens. The blue channel, although typically shorter, is designated for E.U. citizens only.
  • Bring a good book or some other form of entertainment to keep you occupied while waiting in the customs line.
  • Fill out your customs card before meeting with border control.
  • Have your passport out and ready for inspection. Also, make sure to take off sunglasses or hats, so that border control can easily verify your passport picture.
  • Know the name and address of the place you’re staying, how long you will be in London, and what you plan on doing while you’re there. Most of the time, the border staff will ask you these questions before letting you into the country.

By following these easy tips, you’ll be sure to make it through Olympic air traffic as quickly as possible. Although the mayhem might be frustrating, just remember to keep calm and carry on — you’ll be sure to have a fantastic Olympic experience.

If I could give one piece of advice to a first-time international traveler, it would be …

I’m often asked what advice I have for travelers who are leaving the country for the first time. While I have lots of advice of my own, like purchasing travel insurance, we also have a network of travelers who have some great knowledge to share.

What better way to tap into our travelers’ expertise than on our Facebook page? So, in an installment of our Mad-Lib Monday series I posed the question: “If I could give one piece of advice to a first-time international traveler, I would tell them _____.”

We got over 40 responses, and I thought there was great practical and thoughtful advice! Here are some of my favorites:

  • “Be friendly to the locals and be respectful … you are a guest after all!”
  • “Pack light!”
  • “Be flexible and don’t sweat the small stuff.”
  • “Keep your passport with you.”
  • “Eat local and try everything.”
  • “Bring an extra charged battery for your camera so that u can take pictures of all the memorable places and things u see along the way :)
  • “Keep an open mind.”
  • “Take public transportation and find your way off the beaten path.”
  • “Be patient. Pack only what you can carry. Learn ‘thank you’ in every language!”
I can’t resist mentioning a few thoughts of my own for a first-time international traveler: smile, smile, smile. There was absolutely no one, in any culture I’ve ever encountered, that didn’t respond positively to a sincere, friendly smile. And by the way, that smile will keep you in the right frame of mind to relax, ignore small inconveniences, and simply enjoy the adventure of being in a brand new place!

What would you add? Start the conversation here in a comment below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page to add your tips for first-time international travelers.

Travel consumer advocate Chris Elliott shares his best travel tips

I’ve shared the first interview with Chris Elliott at The Philadelphia Inquirer Travel Show, but I know you’ve been eagerly awaiting more. Everyone needs their Chris Elliott fix!

I’m here to give it to you. In this video, Chris and I discuss how travelers should prepare for a trip. Chris mentions the importance of using a travel agent when picking a destination (I swear I didn’t ask him too!), and we both said packing lightly is travel gospel.

Hit play to see what else we recommended as our “travel dos.”

Don’t miss part three, coming soon!

Tips for how to cruise safely

Any time there’s a travel disaster, the instinctive human response is to avoid that method of travel. This is a process known as cognitive dissonance, where humans have two conflicting viewpoints — we know travel is safe, but we worry because of the most recent disaster.

We wrote about this last year when we put together an infographic titled, “Is it safe to fly this holiday season?” Anyone who’s concerned about taking a cruise because of the explosion of news coverage around the Costa Concordia disaster should really take a second look at that infographic.

The reality is, you’re more likely to die driving your car to work then you are flying or taking a cruise.

Despite the fact that cruises are mostly safe, accidents that sometimes lead to tragic events can happen to anyone at any time. I thought Wendy Perrin’s list of cruise safety tips was excellent, which is what I wrote in the comment I left. I also plan to include her list in the documents we give to all cruise travelers. After you’re finished reading my tips for cruise safety, click over to Wendy’s post to read hers, because I think they’re really helpful.

Cruise safety tip #1: Talk about scenarios with your family. When was the last time you practiced a fire drill at home? Probably not recently. It’s the same idea with cruise safety — it’s better to be prepared before something bad happens. It’s good to know how to find the muster stations, but also talk to your family members about how your family will handle an emergency. If members are separated from each other and an emergency occurs, everyone should head to a previously decided upon muster station and meet up there. Trying to find your entire party before heading to the muster station can waste valuable time.

Cruise safety tip #2: Carry your cell phone. Most of the time, I tell travelers to unplug from their electronics while on vacation to enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime sights around them. But, in the interest of safety, it might be best to keep that cell phone on your person. You can turn it off and keep it in your pocket or backpack, but you’ll have it with you in case of emergencies. Although cell phones don’t get reception while in deep water, the Costa Concordia disaster took place right on the coast of Italy, where it’s possible to get reception.

Cruise safety tip #3: Have portable FM radios. Having your cell phone on hand is important, but it’s also a good idea to carry a small FM radio or walkie-talkie, because cell phones aren’t close enough to cell towers to work in the middle of the ocean. Your family can use them to communicate while on board, and if you need them in an emergency, they’ll be there. Remember to put fresh batteries in them every morning and you’ll be good to go all day.

Cruise safety tip #4: Enjoy your cruise. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You’re more likely to get struck by lightning (about 40 people per year) than be killed on a cruise. So follow procedures, be aware of your surroundings, and then enjoy the vacation you’ve worked hard to take. Don’t spend your entire vacation worrying about what might happen. Instead, take the time to appreciate the wonderful places you’ll see, people you’ll meet, and the experiences you’re having.

Alright, what did I miss in this list? Anything that you would add? Tell me in a comment!

Costa Concordia: What does it mean for you and cruising?

The tragedy of the crashing of the Costa Concordia on the coast of Italy has been front page news for over a week now. This has been perhaps the most deadly cruise disaster since the sinking of the Titanic.

There have been 16 confirmed deaths so far and even one death is one too many. There’s no excuse for the cruise captain’s negligence. I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the disaster and what it will mean for the future of cruising. I answered some of them when I was interviewed by the Los Angeles Times about how the Costa Concordia incident will affect the travel industry, but I wanted to expand upon those answers here.

Q: How will the Costa Concordia incident affect the future of the cruise industry?
A: Although the incident might not deter avid cruisers, other vacationers might avoid cruising for some time. Incidents like this are rare in the industry, and all eyes will be on the cruise liners to see how they handle this and implement changes to improve passenger safety. Officials are reporting that this incident was most likely due to a misjudgment on the part of cruise captain. I predict cruise liners will be closely scrutinizing safety protocols and will be filling any potential gaps they see to ensure the utmost safety of their passengers.

Q: Does Friendly Planet Travel have any travelers booked on the Costa Concordia?
A: Friendly Planet Travel hasn’t sold any trips on Costa Cruises for a few years now. However, we do offer cruises on various cruise lines owned by Costa’s parent company, Carnival Corporation. Among the Carnival-owned cruise lines that we offer are Carnival, NCL, Royal Caribbean Lines, Celebrity, and Azamara.

Q: Should I cancel my cruise booking because of the Costa Concordia?
A: Avoid the urge to cancel a cruise you have booked because of this incident. Cruises are historically safe — safer than driving a car. The U.N.-affiliated International Maritime Organization lists 38 incidents involving passenger ships since 2005 in which more than 60 people died. Compare that to car travel, in which more than 100 people die per day. You have a better chance at getting struck by lightening — about 40 people die every year from lightening strikes, according to the National Weather Service. No one has called Friendly Planet Travel to cancel an existing cruise booking. Right now, Carnival Corporation and nine leading cruise lines around the world have announced a comprehensive audit and review of all safety and emergency response procedures, so they’re taking extra precautions to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Q. What can I do to be a better-prepared cruise passenger?
A: The very best thing that travelers can do is prepare themselves for various scenarios while on a cruise ship. This includes finding out where you should go on the ship in the event of an emergency, determining the location of life boats, and discovering the storage spots of extra life jackets and other supplies. Wendy Perrin, writer of the Perrin Post on Condé Nast Traveler, recently published a comprehensive list of things that travelers can do to prepare themselves while cruising. I suggest that anyone planning to cruise check out Wendy’s tips.

If you have any more questions about cruising, please feel free to leave a comment here and I’ll do my best to answer it for you.

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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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