Identify Your Travel Needs

Snorkel with Stingrays

Keira is about to snorkel with stingrays.

Everybody wants to get the most out their vacation. A great first step to that end is to identify your personal travel needs. Take a look at these four types of vacations and answer these questions: What type of vacation sounds like bliss to you? Which has you most excited? Perhaps more than one of these options has you salivating and itching to go. Take notes and let your travel agent know!

Are you sport-oriented? Does the sound of hiking, whitewater rafting, hang-gliding, skiing, etc. sound like adrenaline boost you’ve been craving? If you said “yes”, then you should focus on having adventure oriented trips. Tame is lame. Get your heart racing by learning a new sport like scuba-diving or abseiling. Go on big thrills like zip-lining, bungee-jumping, and sky-diving. Swim with dolphins, or like me, swim with stingrays! There are all sorts of highly specialized travel companies with a vacation package designed just for you!

Are you fascinated by history? If you like learning and seeing history in person, you will want to find companies that cater to that. You should seek out museums to wander and take hosted tours. Tour guides will be knowledgeable whether you are taking a historic walking tour, an art and culture tour, exploring a wildlife reserve or touring national parks. You will never go wrong if you visit famous landmarks, world culture sites, and world class museums.

Are you hungry for local flavor? The way to your heart is through your stomach. It is time to expand your palate with food and wine tours, cuisine classes, local fairs, famous festivals, and local famers’ markets. Experiencing an up-tempo night life and parties tastes sweet to you. A great resource for you is Food Reference, which has a comprehensive list of food festivals in the US and around the world, broken down by month. It’s good to plan ahead!

Are you interested in relaxation and leisure? Your ideal way to travel is first class all the way with little to no fuss. You are ready to get away and leave behind all stressors. The best vacations for you would include spa retreats and shopping excursions. If you could soak up some sun, that would be even better! Soft sandy beaches with bright colored and clear waters are calling your name. A cruise, where you only had to unpack once, would be just the ticket allowing you to explore the full amenities of the ship. It’s time to unwind, let go, and say “ahh” as you sip a fruity little number.

What to Look for in a Travel Agent

Snowed!

Oh Snowed!

You never realize just how valuable a travel agent is to your vacation until disaster strikes.

A few years ago, I was traveling to South America to take a cruise around the Antarctic Peninsula. This was the first time I had done something like that so my travel companion and I planned for eventualities. We booked our tickets with the cruise line (not recommended, because the travel insurance does not cover weather, which we thought it did) and planned to arrive in Argentina, a day ahead of boarding.

The cruise line booked us to fly north before heading south. It seemed extremely dumb at the time because we started at an international airport (MCO) and there was another south of us (MIA). Weather turned and we got stuck and then stranded in Atlanta as first our flight was delayed and then cancelled. We were shuffled out of the secure part of the airport to rebook and that was when having a travel agent worked to our advantage.

Our travel agent was booking us on flights as soon as one cancelled (and many did). She figured out how to get us out of the US when other travelers were giving up and figuring they’d get refunds on the cruise. Long story short, we managed to board a plane the next day and get to our cruise for a fabulous adventure at the bottom of the world.

I learned from that experience what to look for in a travel agent and the five most important items are:

  1. Knowledge: A knowledgeable travel agent is the first step for any strategic vacation plan. A good travel agent will know basics about areas where you want to travel, but a great agent will recommend places to go, things to do, what to pack, what to expect, etc.
  2. Willingness: If you have a knowledgeable travel agent, but your travel agent isn’t willing to work for you, then you are better off using Google to search the Internet for your travel needs. A travel agent willing to get you the best deal, to ensure you make it to your destination, or to assist in an emergency is worth her weight in gold.
  3. Ability: If willingness doesn’t match ability, you’re sunk. Your travel agent no matter how willing to help you also needs to have experience in her field. She should excel from start to finish concerning all aspects of your booking.
  4. Out-of-the-Box Thinking: When everybody else is stymied by the unexpected, your travel agent should remain cool, calm, and collected. She should be three steps ahead, coming up with alternative solutions while everybody else stews.
  5. Friendship: If you are friends with a travel agent, I would recommend using your friend at least once. Nine times out of ten, your friend will treat you better than any other travel agent you could find. They will go the extra mile for you and these are the miles that count!

If you find a travel agent with all five qualities, do not let her go! I know I haven’t!

Share your best/worst experiences with a travel agent!

Jet Off to the Sunshine

florida pelican

Eastern Brown Pelican

If you want to escape the unpredictable British weather and get some Vitamin D, jet off to Florida! You’ll find a great range of tour operators’ deals at a price you can afford. So getting some much needed sunshine won’t cost you the earth.

Once you’ve decided to take the plunge and head off over the Atlantic, you need to plan where you are going to stay. If you want to be at the heart of the action, close to all the biggest tourist hot spots, but still have your own space, then look no further than Lake Buena Vista. Home to the famous Walt Disney theme parks, Lake Buena Vista holidays are what Disney magic is all about. The town is actually controlled by the Walt Disney Company, making a stay here a truly unforgettable experience.

There are many accommodation options available in Lake Buena Vista. First up are the hotels, which are out of this world. With countless swimming pools, luxury accommodation and delicious cuisine, you’ll want to spend the whole holiday at the hotel! Lake Buena Vista hotels are some of the best in the world, guaranteed to give you and your family the holiday of a lifetime. Some of them are within walking distance of the parks, but why bother when you can enjoy a ride on the free hotel shuttle services that ferry holiday makers back and forth to the parks, saving you walking in the heat and the parking charges at the theme parks.

If you want to experience American life, why not check into your very own villa for a week or two? There’s nothing like waking up in your own villa, taking a refreshing dip in your private pool then enjoying coffee and pancakes on the patio before heading back to the theme parks for the day. You will also have the freedom to enjoy family barbecues after a day of fun in the sun. The villa experience is truly unique, and with great deals from tour operators, they are an affordable option.

Photo Credits: Andrea Westmoreland

Festive London: Three of the Best Santa’s Grottos

santa claus grotto

“Mommy! When I went to Santa’s Grotto I saw Santa Claus!”

Those with kids will know that a visit to Santa’s grotto is a Christmas institution. However, choose carefully. There’s nothing more disappointing than a bad Santa, and one obvious beard can be enough to ruin the magic for little ones for good.

If you can get to London then you’ll be spoilt for choice for great Santa’s grottos, and can rest assured that there won’t be a single cotton wool beard in sight! Why not turn your Santa’s grotto visit into a festive mini-break for the whole family by booking a family room in a low cost, central London hotel? Now is the right time to book your ideal bolthole in the city.

Once you’ve got the accommodation sorted, all that remains is to find your perfect Santa experience. Choose from these top three Santa’s Grottos in the capital for a guaranteed magical time with the kids:

Kids can play in real snow in the ice grotto, visit the wish fairy, dodge Jack Frost and get into a snowball fight with a naughty snowman at the Ice Grotto at Selfridges, and that’s all before they even meet the big guy himself!

Visitors to Selfridges in London from the 3rd September should also spend some time in the Christmas Shop – the store’s biggest ever! A gorgeous fairy-lit shopping wonderland, you’ll even be treated to traditional Christmassy scents such as spice cake, marzipan and pine while you browse.

Hamleys is offering something more than your typical Santa’s grotto experience this year, with the ‘I Met Father Christmas at Hamleys’ attraction. During this hour long experience, which includes a meal (food provided depends on the time of day), children will get to meet Santa and his elves and enjoy some fun Christmas themed stories and activities. Each child takes away a small gift.

Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is a mesmerising Christmas experience for adults and children alike. A Christmas market, ice sculptures, ferris wheel, circus, ice skating rink and funfair rides all await, but those who want to meet the big guy himself should head straight to Santa Land where Santa waits in his cottage. All good little boys and girls get a small gift, making this a great value free grotto in the city. You may, however, find it hard to sneak little ones past the rides without putting your hand in your pocket!

The approach of Christmas presents a fantastic opportunity to make magical memories with your children. Make the best of those precious early years with a trip to our capital where you’ll find your pick of amazing Santa’s grottos.

Book your family accommodation, pack your camera and the kid’s Christmas lists, and you’re all set!

Why Buying a Ski Holiday for Your Spouse Can be the Ultimate Surprise

couple skiing

Plan a ski holiday for a great couple trip!

Everyone loves gifts, especially when they are from a special person. Men often want to surprise their wives with unexpected gifts, but at the same time they don’t want to be too predictable.

A lot of people don’t know much about gift shopping or do not have the time to search for the perfect gift, so they just buy traditional gifts which seems rather dull and boring. Excitement should be a part of life at every point; your wife is the person with whom you are going to spend the rest of your life, so it makes sense to get her something special that she truly deserves. It doesn’t have to be too expensive or lavish, rather it should be something meaningful, something you could do together.

A ski holiday is a great idea for a vacation. She will be least expecting it, so the element of surprise will be there. Ski holiday’s are great fun and offer a chance to reconnect with your loved one.

1- Stress-free time

After working hard throughout the year, raising children and doing chores around the house, your wife is entitled to have some time for herself. A ski holiday does just that; it will provide her with a chance to get away from the busy everyday life and will be a great source of fun and entertainment.

2-Good Exercise

A lot of people might not know this, but skiing is excellent physical exercise. It gives you the chance to stretch your legs and get out in the open. Fresh air and a natural environment are conducive to better health.

There is nothing like getting a good workout while on holiday because people normally stuff themselves with food when on vacation.

3-Night Life

Skiing is more of an all in one outdoor experience. Not only can you get some family time together, but also benefit from the exciting night life on offer. Most Ski Resorts have great restaurants and bars for you and your spouse to enjoy.

Indulge in a delightful evening with your wife. Some resorts even have music and discos so that you can party late at night and relive the younger years.

4-Learn new Skills

If you presented a traditional gift to your wife like a necklace, it may lose its value overtime, but with a ski holiday you will make lasting memories.

Even if your wife can’t ski, it is not a big issue because the learning experience is so much fun that it makes you completely forget about the other problems in your life.

If you have kids then this could turn into a great family vacation as well.

5-Multiple activities

A ski holiday is an enthralling experience; not only do you get to ski, but also indulge in other recreational activities such as ice skating, sledding,  dog sledding and snowshoeing.

Your wife will have the time of her life at the ski resort and will appreciate your choice.

6-Memories

A ski vacation will leave a life-long memory and  you can look back upon it and savor the times you had. Be sure to take videos and photos of all the moments so that when your children grow up you could show it to them.

Any other gift or gesture may dissipate in thin air, but a ski vacation will always be remembered by your wife for the effort you put in.

Conclusion

Whenever you buy a gift for someone, you want it to be meaningful and memorable. A ski vacation is a great surprise for your spouse and is a non traditional way of saying thank you to someone who means so much to you.

Wander to Southeast Asia and Travel on the Cheap!

Elephant Ride at  Siem Reap, Cambodia

Elephant Ride at Siem Reap, Cambodia

As J.R.R. Tolkien wrote so many years ago, not all who wander are lost. Maybe those who wander are just filled with a little more wonder than the average person. If you think you are this person, well, the world abounds in low-cost places to travel. One such place is Southeast Asia — Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Once a very war-torn part of the world, these unique cultures are now more like paradise, offering you an oriental relief from the rigors of western society. Whether it’s one night in Bangkok or several in Ho Chi Minh City, these countries and their favorable exchange rates won’t break the bank!

The most expensive item you’ll have to purchase when visiting Southeast Asia is your plane ticket, but even this item is far cheaper than what it once was. You can fly from London, Paris or most major cities conveniently to Bangkok, Hong Kong or Singapore and then transfer flights if need be. These regions are isolated from the West no more. Once you’re there, you can lie upon the beaches of Thailand or ride an elephant in Cambodia. Or visit centuries old temples and learn about the lost long-ago culture that made this region one of the most advanced in the world at that time.

Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are also cities not to be missed and you can help yourself to some pho or other tasty Vietnamese cuisine. You’ll find your money will go far here and feel like your money will last forever. Adventure trips could include backpacking in from Bangkok and discovering villages few Europeans ever see. The opportunities are boundless in Southeast Asia and nothing will cost too much money. You’ll save so much money choosing this region for your next vacation you’ll want to come back again and again.

Anne Perkins is a freelance writer focused on how to live large on a little living. She writes financial savings tips and enjoys taking any idea and making it easier or cheaper to complete.

Travel Green: Ways to Offset Your Carbon Footprint on Your Next Cruise Holiday

cruise ship

Is Green Travel Possible on a Cruise?

While your primary focus of taking a cruise holiday may be to experience the wonders of nature, laze in the glistening sun or do some on-board shopping, there are also a great number of environmentally friendly reasons to why cruising is a great holiday choice. Nowadays, more and more people are becoming concerned about their carbon footprint and how their holiday adventures may be impacting their surrounding environment.

Considering a cruise holiday as an eco-friendly way to travel may just sound a little ridiculous to some people, with the largest cruise liners in the world on record as producing more than 200, 000 gallons of sewage and in excess of 1 million gallons of grey water; all of this being discarded directly into the water. In more recent years, however, many cruise liners have raised the bar for environmentally friendly practices at sea, with many now boasting to have decreased their carbon footprint. So, are cruise holidays really the best way to travel green? Read on to discover the truths about eco-friendly travel and how you can offset your carbon footprint, during your next cruise holiday.

Research your Cruise Line

As aforementioned, a number of reputable cruise lines are now promoting green travel, with many implementing state of the art facilities to reduce their impact on the environment. Disney Cruise Lines, for example, have applied a non-toxic, non-resistance surface to the hull of their ships, in order to reduce resistance in the water and create greater fuel efficiency. Various cruise lines have implemented green solutions, in more recent years, so it is always a wise decision to do your research before boarding.

Recycle On-board

Travellers can always do their own part, by implementing their own green practices whilst on-board. This process is helped immensely, when cruise ships also do their party. The waste created on-board Carnival Cruise Lines ships is recycled, helping to reduce the amount of landfill and pollution created by travel.

Wasting water is also a thing of the past, with many cruise lines now using grey water purification systems, in order to minimise pollutants that are being discarded into the ocean. Purification of grey water also allows this recycled water to be used again, for purposes such as sewage systems.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines is another industry leader in the way of green travel, as they have eliminated the use of all plastic cookware, cups and plates on-board, in the hopes of reducing the amount of wastage on their ships, as well as encouraging passengers to refrain from dumping waster overboard.

Whether you are booking tropical Hawaiian cruises or heading to the nature loving paradise of Alaska, it important to focus on your surrounds. When in doubt about the environmental practices of any cruise line, always talk to your travel specialist such as Cruiseabout for recommendations and further details on cruise line policies.

Written by Barbie S. It is almost as good as dream comes true for Barbie when she got an offer as a travel writer, infusing her love for travel and her passion to share wonderful moments with her fellow travellers. Barbie also loves yoga and teaches part-time in a local studio.

Famous Roads in the United States

Last Stop: Hollywood Blvd!

If you were to take a tour of all the famous streets in the United States, you would find yourself jetting all over the country. There are plenty of famous streets that tourists flock to in this country, no matter what kind of vacation they are looking for.

St. Charles Ave Streetcar

A Streetcar Named Desire

New Orleans is full of infamous streets. St. Charles Avenue is home to the most famous vintage streetcar around, in addition to jaw dropping mansions. The Garden District also includes Magazine Street. Don’t miss out on Royal, which includes unique antique shops and art galleries. Of course there is also Bourbon Street, the most notorious street in the city for partying.

Lombard Street

Make sure your brakes are good before going down this street!

San Francisco’s Lombard Street is one of the most crooked streets in the world, featuring eight hairpin turns. This street runs from the Presidio to a neighborhood called Cow Hollow, but the crooked section is just one-fourth of a mile long.

ny stock exchange

New York Stock Exchange

New York is also home to numerous familiar streets. The history of Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange dates back to the seventeenth century. You also would not want to miss the fabulous shows on Broadway or the shops and attractions on Fifth and Madison Avenues.

vegas strip

A stunning view of Vegas at night!

A discussion of famous roads in the United States would be incomplete without mentioning Las Vegas Boulevard. The Strip, as it is often called, consists of casino resorts decorated to the hilt to keep the fantasy alive. This is a wonderland for adults who want to gamble and party the night away.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre

Nobody could forget the street that draws those dreamers looking for a cinematic big city adventure. That would be Hollywood Boulevard. Stay at one of the posh Hollywood or Santa Monica Hotels and head on down to the Boulevard to stroll along the 18 block Walk of Fame. Take a picture with your favorite super hero and board a bus to tour the city. A trip down Hollywood Boulevard is incomplete without visiting Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

Many tourists flock to other attractions on Hollywood Boulevard, including the Guinness Book of World Records Museum and the Hollywood Wax Museum. Hollywood & Highland also offers a tremendous number of shops and souvenirs in addition to a movie theater and a bowling alley.

hollywood

Who doesn’t love the Hollywood Sign?

Those hoping to catch a glimpse of the Hollywood sign will find that this shopping area offers fantastic views that are great for photos. Travelers will have the opportunity to see clothes and props from classic and modern films in the old Max Factor building, now a museum. The Museum of Death is also a big draw.

Make Hollywood Boulevard the last stop on your next trip to southern California. Hollywood is the city of dreams, opportunity and hope for aspiring actors, singers and performers. The sense of excitement is always in the air and tourists want to feel that same glimmer, even if it is only for a few days. When it comes to touring the most famous streets in the United States, Hollywood Boulevard definitely takes the cake.

Austin City Limits Festival Tickets Promises to Delight

Austin City Limits Festival

Who’s going to the Austin City Limits Festival!

Austin City Limits Festival tickets are on sale for the 2012 event October 12-14 in Zilker Park. The festival promises to be even better this year, with a fantastic lineup of headline acts. The park will have eight stages and 130 bands. With legendary rock star Neil Young and his band Crazy Horse as one of the headline acts, the park is sure to be rocking.

Young caps the day’s performances on Saturday, October 13. Friday’s headline act is the Black Keys, while the festival concludes Sunday night with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Other top bands performing include Florence and the Machine, The Roots, Asleep at the Wheel, Weezer and Iggy and the Stooges. With so many bands making an appearance, every conceivable rock sub-genre is represented.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers are currently on tour to back their 2011 album “I’m With You.” The tenth album from the group is the first to feature new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. The tour runs through late January, 2013, with shows throughout the United States, Canada and Australia. The international tour has also been all over Europe and will make stops in Turkey and Israel.

Neil Young is also out behind a new album, “Americana.” The album is an exploration of the dark underbelly of the folk songs Americans learn as children. “Clementine,” and “Oh, Susannah” are turned into dark mysterious rock songs under the musical genius of Young and Crazy Horse. Another album should be out later this year from the reunited group.

The Black Keys released “El Camino” in early December, 2011. The album draws on rock influences like soul and rockabilly. The distortion and fuzz in the guitar work is reminiscent of club rock from the late 1960s. The band has been on the road since May. Their tour will take them all over the U.S., Australia, Europe and Canada.

Asleep at the Wheel is coming off their successful play “Ride With Bob,” the musical to commemorate western swing legend Bob Wills. Their most recent project has been “Willie and the Wheel,” a collaboration album between the band and Willie Nelson. The band is on tour through spring next year.

Jack White will also headline on Saturday on a different stage. His solo album “Blunderbuss” was released on April 24, 2012. The talented guitarist is only 37 years old, but is already ranked 70th on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All time.” White wrote, produced and recorded the album himself.

Legendary songwriter Steve Earle’s most recent album was released in 2011. “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” features tunes penned by Earle. Some songs were featured in other projects.

Austin City Limits Festival tickets promise numerous other activities to investigate between sets. There will be art and food vendors, a children’s area and a sports hideaway for the football fan. Google will provide an area with free WiFi. There’s even an organic farmers market!

Wish I Was Here: Blue Mosque, Instanbul, Turkey

I wish I was going to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey today. The classical mosque architecture was influenced by Ottoman and Byzantine styles. Just look at the interior shots below of the tens of thousands of blue tiles and you can’t help but be inspired to worship. The tulip mosaics are gorgeous!

blue mosque

Blue Mosque at dusk. This beauty is here because it was commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I.

Blue Mosque Instanbul

Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii) Interior. I’m awed by the craftsmanship displayed. Can you imagine the labor involved?

Blue Mosque

Courtyard of the Blue Mosque at night. Wouldn’t this be lovely to see light up against the night sky?

Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

Did you know that the six minarets caused a scandal? The sultan had to add a 7th to the holiest mosque in Mecca to make it better.

Blue Mosque Hall

Blue Mosque Hall shows off a few of the 200 stain glass window designs and tulip mosaics. What a great sight for visitors!

Sultan Ahmed Mosque

Sultan Ahmed Mosque in morning sunlight.

Have you ever been? What did you love most about your visit? If you haven’t been, do you want to go?