Friendly Planet Blog

Archive for March, 2009

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See the world, change your life

I always say that seeing the world is the only way for people to understand it. And unless you experience a different culture for yourself, you’ll never truly grasp it. Traveling changes you forever; whether you’re touring ancient temples in Thailand, digging a well for a family in Borneo, or sipping wine in Italy.
And once you catch the bug — like so many of our vacationers have — you’re a traveler for life. That’s why I was thrilled when this particular customer testimonial rolled in last week. As always, here it is, completely unedited:
“I’ve been on six tours with Friendly Planet so far, and I have to say that those tours have opened up my understanding of the world. The thing about travel to foreign countries is that it changes you, leaving you with a much better understanding of the world, long after you’ve returned. Each tour I’ve been on has been exciting and different, even repeat tours to the same destination. One of the great things about the FP tours has been the amazing diversity of people on each tour; I’ve met everyone from newlyweds to retirees, all looking for adventure. Most of my fellow travelers on FP tours have tended to be well-read, well-traveled, and not fussy at all. They’ve come to taste the amazing foods and walk the amazing streets, not to buy trinkets and eat at McDonalds. Not surprisingly, many of us keep in touch long after the tours are over, and I’ve met more than one “repeater” on the trips to China. And I’m always surprised to find how nice the hotels are. One more thing is that going on these tours is really a good use of your time overseas, since you don’t have to waste time with paperwork, check-ins, deposits, etc. You just go have a drink or walk around the block and come back to pick up your room key. The guides are always funny, helpful, and go out of their way to make sure you have a good time. And there’s always plenty of time to explore on your own. Thanks again for the great experiences. I’ll be back in April to re-visit Thailand!
— Jeff Jenkins, Boca Raton, FL”

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.

A customer’s thoughts on Kenya Wildlife Safari

I already told you how receiving positive feedback from our travelers is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. Traveling is my passion, and when I know that everything we’ve done at Friendly Planet Travel has made for an unforgettable life experience for one of our travelers, well, there’s nothing better than that.
Here’s another one from our files, written by an experienced traveler after her first Friendly Planet Travel vacation on our Kenya Wildlife Safari. As always, we’ve done no editing to the original letter.
“Traveling to East Africa has been a long awaited dream for me. Last November, I was finally able to realize my dream by going on Friendly Planet’s 2 week jeep safari to Kenya and Tanzania. The trip was organized locally by Vintage Africa. I cannot sing enough praises for Vintage Africa, and especially our driver guide in Kenya, James Mungai. James was an extremely knowledgeable and attentive guide. His ability to intelligently answer all of our sometimes unusual questions and spot wildlife from miles away never ceased to amaze us. James went out of his way to accommodate our needs and was always patient with all our requests, from stopping to photograph every sunset and tree cluster to positioning his vehicle for the perfect photo opportunity. As a seasoned traveler, I can truly say that this trip has been one of my favorites and having James as our guide contributed to making it so memorable. I can only hope that my next group excursion will be as enjoyable and well organized.
— Magda Laska”

amNY points to Friendly Planet Travel’s Taj Mahal Express

Today amNewYork gave Friendly Planet Travel a friendly nod in their Travel Deals! column.
Our eight-day tour of India for $999 is proving to be just as popular with the press as it is with our Friendly Planeteers.

What do the U.S. passport changes mean for you?

If you have one ear pointed in the direction of travel news, you’ve probably heard about the U.S. government’s Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI).

The goal of the Initiative is to strengthen border security and facilitate entry into the United States for U.S. citizens and legitimate foreign visitors. It includes providing standardized, secure documentation so the Department of Homeland Security can quickly and accurately identify a traveler.
What it means is that beginning June 1, anyone reentering the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, or the Caribbean will now need to present their passport or another acceptable form of identification.

And what it means for anyone vacationing with Friendly Planet Travel is … NOTHING. Friendly Planet Travel does not travel to any of the countries that are affected by this new requirement. And everywhere we do travel already requires a passport for entry into the country, and reentry into the U.S. You can get more information about U.S. border entry here.

In fact, we require that anyone booking a vacation with us fax us all passport and identification information before we even fully finalize reservations. We want to make sure everyone is accounted for and ready to go long before you present your passport to security at check in. That way, if there are any problems with your passport, you have plenty of time to get it worked out.

Is the economy affecting your vacation plans?

International travel site Kathika put out a Twitter poll last week that asked “How is the economy affecting your vacation plans this year?”
You can see the results for yourself. What was most interesting to me was that the biggest slice of the pie (35 percent) was made up of people who are not canceling trips, but are looking for great deals. That’s good news for us because “great deals” is our middle name.
I just wrote about two of our sweetest deals, eight days in Ecuador for $1,259 and eight days in India for $999. So take a look!

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.
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.

A quick comment on Air India in the Washington Post

I was perusing the Washington Posts’ Travel Talk feature yesterday when I saw a question about our India trip!
Two soon-to-be-first-time Friendly Planeteers just booked their Taj Mahal Express trip, and wanted to know some more detail about Air India. This is a great question, since travelers will be spending a good 14 hours each way on an Air India flight.
Having just recently flown Air India myself, I commented on the article to hopefully give two of our newest members a better idea of the flights they’ll be taking. Take a look. If you’ve flown to India with Friendly Planet Travel, what was your experience like?

Eight days in Ecuadorian paradise for only $1,259

If you’ve been perusing the Friendly Planet Travel Web site recently, you probably know that our Exotic Ecuador trip is on sale for only $1,259 for the entire eight-day tour. The value bang for your buck with this trip is simply incredible.


A shot from one of the more “exotic” parts of the Ecuador trip from one of our Friendly Planeteers.

I told you how the economy is pushing many of our vendors to slash their prices. Well, our vendors in Ecuador have dropped their prices unlike anything I’ve seen in the 30 years I’ve been in this business. And we’re passing those savings on to you.
The press release announcing our Exotic Ecuador tour hit the wire today, so have a look for more information.

Amazing deal: eight days in India for $999 complete

I’ve already told you how we manage to come up with such low prices for such great locations. Now, as promised, here’s the first in a series of great exotic travel deals that you can find only at Friendly Planet Travel.
If the locales and amenities seem too good to be true at these prices, I encourage you to talk to our travelers. I’m happy to put you in touch with a long list of people who have experienced our tours, and can validate their incredible value and quality.
First up: eight days in India for $999. This is our famous Taj Mahal Express tour, and it’s one of our most popular destinations. In fact, in the first eight weeks of our reduced price offering, more than 900 people signed up for the trip!

The Taj Mahal, as taken by one of our Friendly Planet travelers.For even more breathtaking photos snapped on the Taj Mahal Express, take a look at our Flickr page.

This exquisite eight-day group tour package includes roundtrip airfare from New York, four-star hotel accommodations, and guided tours of India’s “Golden Triangle,” including the Taj Mahal; Jaipur, the “pink city;” Delhi; and Agra.
That $999 package price also includes all fuel surcharges, all transfers, a daily buffet breakfast, a farewell dinner, and no credit card surcharges. Compare that to about $1,400 for roundtrip airfare alone, a “deal” found on Shop around. Compare. You’ll see this is the best complete package deal to India available anywhere.
The sights, sounds, and smells of India are truly some of the most phenomenal in the world. And I promise you, the Taj Mahal Express is one of the most amazing cultural experiences of a lifetime.
Again, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, no matter how small, about the Taj Mahal Express, or if you would like to talk to some folks who have enjoyed the tour.
If you would book now, simply visit our online booking engine, or call us at 1-800-555-5765.

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