Helpful Tips for New Travelers

10538407_10203803739546650_7956103486814603514_nWhen I started out traveling more on my own – either as part of an escorted tour to now going by myself – I read a lot of guidebooks and sought a ton of personal advice from people I trusted.

Now, thanks to travel blogs, community forums and pretty much the World Wide Web, you can find information on just about any travel-related question you have. Yet there are still a few lessons you learn from traveling itself. Here are eight tips that are helpful for new travelers.

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Photo by Jasleen Kaur via Flickr.com

Don’t bring more than you really need.
I’m still a bit guilty of over packing but lugging around my bags has taught me to lighten my load. Depending on where you’re going, chances are that you will at least once have to carry your bags up a flight of stairs. So make it easier on you. With clothes, I bring clothing that are mainly conservative (in the case of going into a sacred place) and can be worn at least twice (think jeans/pants) and can be layered or removed easily. And that one or two pieces that could pass for semi-formal attire. For shoes, I mostly wear flats. With luggage, I prefer using nylon bags since they seem to handle getting tossed around and can also be easier to stack or maneuver into spots.

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Photo by http://www.directline.com via Flickr.com

Get familiar with first aid.
Accidents can happen, and it can be tricky to get to a pharmacy. It’s good to pack a small all-purpose safety kit with you for any small scrapes or cuts you might encounter. Having over the counter medicine like pain relievers or stomach aids is good too. Plus, it saves you money. When I was in Switzerland last summer, I had to buy ibuprofen for a throbbing toothache. The price of the smallest bottle I could find: Nine Francs. That’s roughly $9.30 US Dollars. And teach yourself a thing or two about first aid. I badly banged up my ankle during a trip to New Orleans in 2011 and thankfully I had someone with me who could tie a bandage on it the right way.

photo 1-2Grab a brochure or business card from where you’re staying.
In the excitement of being in your new destination, it can be easily to blank out on where you’re staying. Though you should still print out all of your info like with your accommodations, grab their business card or brochure when you get there. Put it in your pocket or purse. Personally, I’m terrible with names so it helps me to do this. Plus, after I get settled in my room, I often head out the door right away and can forget to take a mental note of where I started from. And as more people are using non-hotel accommodations through sites like AirBnb, keep a Google Maps printout of your digs with you.

photo 1Pace yourself.
There’s a term floating around now called “slow travel” and it means staying in one place longer to enjoy it. If your trip is limited, focus on spending time (perhaps a half or full day) in one particular area of your destination. Maybe it’s a museum or a national park or street market or a people watching public space. Typically, Americans only get a limited amount of vacation time, so it’s understandable to feel the need to “jam-pack” your itinerary or schedule. I’m just as guilty. But then, if you’re rushed to get through a place like a museum, focus on one wing. Or if you have only one day, let’s say, in New York City, focus on one district. And adopt a “go with the flow” attitude.

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Photo by gosheshe via Flickr.com

Be mindful of your money.
As a saver or a spender, you should be financially flexible with your money when you travel.  If there’s one thing, you should allow some wiggle room in your budget to not miss out on sudden discoveries like a walking tour or impromptu plan changes. Also, don’t carry all your cash and cards in one place in the case that you might be robbed like I was. I don’t mind using a money belt, but I also try to be creative in using hidden compartments like an empty trial-size bottle for keeping extra bills from getting lost.

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Shop locally.
Another way to delve more into the local culture is to go to the nearest grocery store. If in need of anything like a drink or a snack, it’s also a good source to get an item at a reasonable price. On the last day I was in Jamaica, our guide took us to a nearby supermarket where I was able to get a few items I could bring home (there are some foods you can’t due to US Customs laws) for much less than buying the same items at the airport gift shop. Even just browsing at the different shelves is neat. Food markets are a neat way to see what products are part of the local diet.

270297_423430587766911_1575752810_nLearn Your Way Around.
It’s easy nowadays to pull up your iPhone ask Suri for help or use an app to get directions. But having a good sense of direction is important. Get your bearings by picking a local map from your hotel or even tourist office (which are also great resources). Another way to get better at getting around is to use public transportation. Often you will find ticket options such as daily/weekly/monthly passes, which can also help in getting a layout of your destination – even if it’s underneath or on a set of wheels.  Or brush up before you go by looking up information on sections or neighborhoods.

What tips would you offer a new traveler?

 

 

 

Seeing Kingston, Jamaica

DSCN4195In getting back to my experience with Jamaica Tourism’s “Bucket List” trip, my first two days in Jamaica were spent in Kingston, its capital city. Kingston is surrounded by mountain ranges like the Blue Mountains and a long natural harbor.

Kingston is also the center of the country’s culture and commerce. Like many cities worldwide, Kingston has its public attractions, shops and nightlife yet there are good parts for visiting and other parts where it might be best avoided.

Mainly two sections of Kingston get a lot of attention: its Downtown area and its Uptown (or also known as New Kingston) area. Each area has its own significance. In Downtown, you’ll find historic buildings, marketplaces, shops, galleries, and the waterfront. Uptown (where I spent my time) is more cosmopolitan with public parks, nightlife, restaurants, shopping centers, and main tourist attractions.

Here are some highlights I recommend seeing:

DSCN4285- The Devon House: In Uptown, this beautiful Georgian-style mansion and national monument was the home of Jamaica’s first black millionaire George Steibel. Also on the property, former horse stables and blacksmith posts now either hold a bakery, restaurant, or shop. At the Grogge Shoppe, you can order a sit-down meal of local Jamaican fare.  Even more so, the Devon House I Scream is an awesome ice cream shop with traditional and fruity flavors.

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Photo credit: Bob Marley Museum’s Facebook page

– The Bob Marley Museum. Unfortunately, the museum also in Uptown was closed for renovations when my group was there – we missed the reopening date by a few days – but it sounds like a good tourist attraction. Especially for reggae fans, you get to see Marley’s home up until his passing that’s now been turned into musical shine. See the musician’s awards, recording studio, and other personal belongings.

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Photo credit: National Gallery of Jamaica’s Facebook page

– National Gallery of Jamaica. I keep reading good reviews about this Downtown gallery, which features artwork by Jamaicans from throughout the country’s history, from the native Taino Indians through the colonial period to works by modern artists.

DSCN4307- Port Royal. Based at the mouth of Kingston Harbor, Port Royal was once a pirate’s haven in the 17th century, and in turn made this city pretty prosperous. Maybe too much, as the British navy ended up installing Fort Charles here. But Port Royal has seen hardship too, resulting from two major earthquakes, fires and hurricanes so much that a lot of the area was swept away. Fort Charles still stands, and visitors can walk through its lower and upper levels. Also head to the back of the fort to see, and attempt to walk through, a former artillery shed called the Giddy House. An earthquake in 1907 sunk part of the abandoned shed so when you walk through it, it’s literally like performing a balancing act.

For getting around Kingston, my group was lucky to have a local driver take us to and from places. If you are to rent a car and drive around yourself, it’s best to take an offensive stance. Traffic can get interesting as it often involves a mix of cars and pedestrians – sometimes together. I would recommend hiring a driver from a reputable company. This can help with not just getting from point A to point B, but someone who knows the area well can help in making more of our schedule.

From what I’ve read there are cabs available in Kingston too. They have a Red number plate with the letters PPV inscribed as their authorization to pick up passengers. Buses are also available, newer ones with A/C and older ones at different prices. Just do your research before you go!

 

Eurail Releases New 2015 Offerings

Photo: Eurail

For getting around Europe, it’s best to do so by rail. And depending upon your itinerary and finances, rail passes can provide a viable option.

Recently I went to a reception held by Eurail Group G.I.E., a cooperative effort that streamlines Europe’s national railway companies, to hear about new offerings for 2015.

If you’re new to Eurail, here’s some background info. Eurail Group G.I.E. sells different rail passes for travelers who reside within Europe (called Interrail) and those who don’t (called Eurail) for train travel to most major European countries that are available for certain periods of time. Interrail has just two types to choose from (One Country and Global Pass) and is valid for 30 countries. Eurail has four kinds (Global, Select, Regional, and One Country) with periods ranging from three days to three months and is valid for 28 countries.

Graphic: Eurail The various European railroads belonging to Eurail.

At their reception, Eurail revealed some new offerings and developments. They include:

  • Attica Pass: This new Eurail One Country Pass is designed in mind for those who want to do some hopping around the Greek Islands. The pass consists of six ferry crossings within one month: two international trips between Italy and Greece, and four domestic trips to the islands.
  • 1st Class Youth: To keep families together in first class: a 1st Class Option is now available for Eurail’s youth pass. Before this, youth travelers had to buy an adult ticket to be up in these cars.
  • Global Pass 5 days in 10 days: Since Spain, Italy, and Germany are popular destinations – particularly with Americans – and don’t border each other via a railway connection, this global pass gives with a shorter validity for those who require more flexibility. So with this pass, for example, you can spend two days in Berlin, Munich, Milan, Barcelona, and finally Madrid.
  • New Countries Participating: Four countries have been added onto the Eurail Global Pass, bringing the total number up to 28. They are: Poland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, and Montenegro.

Personally, I haven’t bought Eurail passes, but the closest thing for me was riding the D-Bahn (which is included in Eurail Group G.I.E.) on my trip to Germany and Switzerland last summer. Visit Eurail’s website to get further descriptions and prices on various rail passes.

Yonderbound: A Novel Travel Booking and Planning Tool

Yonderbound copyRecently, I joined a partnership with Yonderbound, a third-party hotel booking site, as a team member with their bloggers program. It’s novel in that goes beyond listing users’ opinions by letting them create their own mini-review site.

Let’s face it: Booking sites can get tedious — and really time-consuming — when you’re scrolling through post after post. Opinion after opinion. Yonderbound’s approach can be described as Pinterest meets Trover. Here’s how it works. After setting up an account, users create a Yonderbox in which they could share their travel stories by inserting information on the hotels they’ve stayed at. It’s like putting together a little scrapbook of your trip or a file for saving places to stay for your next one!

It’s pretty easy. On Yonderbox’s home page, you can search for specific hotels or type in a general request like hotels in Japan. Each result comes up with pricing, a map of the hotel, available amenities, and a description about the property. Trip Advisor is incorporated in

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Overall, I like Yonderbox’s simplicity with design. It’s very clean and it gives you what you often look for first: location and features. I made my first Yonderbox about Barcelona, featuring two hotels I stayed at in 2009: Regencia Colon in the city’s Gothic Quarter and Hotel America in the Eixample District.

You can also follow other travelers and travel bloggers on Yonderbound and check out their Yonderboxes.

As part of my agreement with Yonderbound, my followers receive a $10 Welcome Credit when they sign up on Yonderbound.com. Use this link to claim your credit. And if you want to follow me, this is my profile page here.

Disclosure: I am in a partnership with Yonderbound and I do receive compensation for my work with this company.

Intrepid Travel’s $1 Deposit Promotion

Intrepid - $1 ChallengeRecently I got a press pitch from reps for Intrepid Travel and thought it would be good for sharing. Now until February 28, 2015, Intrepid is holding a $1 deposit promotion to inspire people to consider booking a spot on certain adventure tour packages. The company caters mostly to independent travelers with different itineraries and excursions.

Intrepid’s promotion is being marketed as giving an opportunity for travelers to take on a new personal challenge for 2015: doing things outside of your comfort zone. And it’s for remote places that probably are on an adventurer’s Bucket List (or must-do list if you hate that term). According to their website, a sheer buck holds a spot on new bookings for select tours. They are for Polar Trips, Gorilla Treks, Inca Trail trips, and Peru trips operated by a local partner company called Dragoman.

I followed up with Intrepid’s PR reps to see if the promotion had any other limitations or requirements. Nope, I was told. The response: Normal booking conditions still apply.  Those booking a trip will pay the $1 deposit and have the option to (1) pay the trip cost in full or (2) pay later, with final payment due 56 days prior to travel.

Editor’s Note: I was neither paid nor solicited by Intrepid Travel to write this post.

Why You Should (or Maybe Shouldn’t) Date a Traveler

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Photo by JD via Flickr

Recently a number of stories based on the topic of why you should date a girl who travels have been floating around the web. These pro-dating pieces are on mark but to be fair there can also be counter arguments.

Trust me: I’m all for being with someone who is all about seeing the world. I would want that for the guy I’m with and I automatically expect the same thinking from him about me. Yet the reality is that the people we’re dating might have a hard time with our long-term traveling. Or trying to be a good sport about it.

These realizations should be kept in mind too. Heck, even the best travel writers can relate to the delicate balance between maintaining relationships while being on the road.

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So here are some factors to keep in mind about why you should–or maybe shouldn’t–date a traveler:

  • We need – or feel the need – to keep going. Whether for business or for pursuit, travelers are always in motion: making sudden or long-term plans. If we see a mistake airfare sale or a travel opportunity such as conference or event that’s too good to pass up, we don’t. And like with just about any evolving career, if you work in the travel sector in some way, shape or form you have to stay current on what’s happening. And life is short, so we don’t want to dwell on “what ifs.”
  • We could be a part from you for a while. This is a biggie. From a week or two to even a month, or in between weeks, we might be heading out. Or we might be back home for a few days and then be taking off again. With professional travel writing, our assignments with publications or business agreements with companies require us to get the job done. We don’t mean to sound, well, mean but we have to shuffle off. However, we also know when it’s necessary to stay or come home (much desired rest, catching up on routines and projects or when our loved ones need us).
  • Technology can keep us connected. Just because we can’t be there with you in person doesn’t mean we can’t talk to you. As long as there is a good Wi-Fi signal, the beauty of Skype and FaceChat enable us to have conversations wherever we are. Even IMing through Facebook or Google Chat works fine. If we’re posting pictures, it’s for social media reasons along with a bit of excitement in being there.
  • Please don’t get jealous. Yes, we know it sucks to hear when we’re off to a wow destination like Italy or Australia or any place that you’ve always wanted to go (but can’t or haven’t just yet). Note that in many cases our travels involve a lot of planning (research and financial) and preparing (looking at resources, weather or even availability) on our part. My story: An ex of mine assumed I hit up my folks for the cash I would need to go to London. Nope! I did a lot of budgeting, saving, watching flight/hotel prices, and taking on odd jobs for getting extra cash. With press trips, it’s work. Fun, but still work.
  • Maybe you come join us. Depending upon our arrangements, it might be possible for you to come along on our ventures. But remember, if it’s a business arrangement we there to work. Especially with press trips, daily itineraries are made with set times for outings, departures, and arrivals. It’s not likely or even a good idea for us to blow off our work (don’t even suggest it). If all else fails, perhaps we can meet up when we get back or post-press trip in our destination. Or if timing and location are in both our favors, perhaps you can come meet us.

Be assured that we still go places together, unless you don’t like to travel.

On Location Tours Unveils Romantic Movie Moments Tour

cafe-lalo-webresIf you’re a big fan of romantic movies or you really “heart” NYC like I do, here’s some news that might make you swoon. Since the Big Apple has provided the scenery for many memorable tearjerkers and rom-coms, On Location Tours has launched its “Romantic Movie Moments Tour” that takes you en route to famous Manhattan sites featured on the big screen.

Led by a local actor, this tour goes to sites such as the bookstore where Billy Crystal spots Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally”; the venue where Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw almost marries Chris Noth’s Mr. Big in the film series of “Sex and the City”; and the cafe where John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale share a frozen hot chocolate in “Serenity.”

Without giving too many scenes away, other film spots featured include ones in “Sweet Home Alabama,” “You’ve Got Mail,” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

The tour departs Saturday and Sunday afternoons throughout February at 3 p.m.