Topics:Travel Tips Healthy Travel Planning Budget Travel Locations Group Travel Connectivity Cancellation
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, travelers have vented their frustrations in countless pages of negative reviews. Many missed out on their vacations and lost money as well. As people start traveling again, should they use third-party travel sites to book flights, hotels, and other accommodations? Is it better to book directly with the airline or hotel? Travel experts weigh in on the pros and cons of online travel agencies. What are third-party travel sites or online travel agencies? Travel sites like Expedia and Travelocity are online travel agencies that give discount prices on airfare, hotels, and other amenities. Some sites specialize in airfare, like CheapOair, some in hotels like Booking.com, and others offer packages with many different accommodations. Many travelers each year find cheap flight, hotel booking, and car rental deals on these sites, but how are the prices so low? Sometimes you may notice ads on the site that drive revenue, but most of the time these online travel agencies make money by helping you save money. How do travel sites make money? Names of prominent travel sites, like Expedia, hold a lot of weight in the travel industry. Many hotels and travel accommodation companies want to be associated with these brands because they know a lot of people search for travel on these sites. Small hotel chains and boutique hotels need the extra online traffic to get more bookings. It also helps that many people trust the travel sites they know and are willing to book with hotels they haven’t heard of. When travelers book a hotel room, they pay a standard rate based on the hotel’s prices. Travel sites, on the other hand, book a group of rooms, flights, or tours at a time and get a discounted rate. These sites then turn around and sell the travel accommodations at a discounted rate to the normal price, but above the discounted rate they bought it at. In this way, consumers save some money and the travel site makes money as well. What are the difficulties of travel sites? Many travel sites became extremely popular in recent years for their great deals, but the disruption of the pandemic showed just how difficult to work with these sites can be. With future travel uncertain, Travel Expert Kendra Thornton shared some cautions to travelers looking at deals on travel sites. Kendra Thornton TRAVEL Expert Expert Tip I think these sites can sometimes offer compelling deals that are attractive to travelers, especially those on limited budgets. However, like everything — the better the price, the more restrictions they are that can make refunds, cancellations, or changes nearly impossible for travelers. Travelers need to weigh price versus flexibility when they book with these types of sites. Another disadvantage of travel sites is how difficult it is to cancel. High call volume and inflexible policies are what many people experienced after the coronavirus pandemic hit. Kendra Thornton also said, “If the traveler isn’t having luck getting through to the customer service agent at the travel site, then they could try going directly to the hotel reservations for assistance. If they booked airfare with the third-party site, then they would have to handle any changes directly with the source that first booked the ticket — going directly to the airline would not help per airline rules.” Travelers should also be aware that some travel sites are owned by the same parent company, like how Expedia owns Travelocity and Booking.com, among others. Searching on those sites could yield different results, but it’s also possible that the deals will be the same. Using a third-party site can also leave a larger margin of error in your vacation. Many travel sites seem to have a lack of transparency regarding where a traveler’s money goes and when a hotel or flight is actually booked. Using that third-party method can put a traveler at more risk of arriving without confirmed bookings. What are the benefits of travel sites? Like mentioned above, travel sites book rooms and other accommodations in bulk, so their prices are often lower than booking directly with the travel company. This comes with whatever restrictions the site puts in place, but travelers will often pay less. Most sites have some sort of cancellation policy — it just might not be the most flexible. Some sites will allow free cancellation for 24 hours and others up until a few days before departure. This does allow for some wiggle room when finding the best vacation deals. Another benefit of online travel agencies comes with vacation packages. Laura Mandala, CEO of Mandala Research, points out that a travel site might find a flight pattern that you may not have found yourself. Package deals with a hotel, flight, and rental car all included might also be much more expensive if you booked everything separately rather than in a vacation package. In this way a travel site deal might be worth it, but it depends on the traveler’s needs. Travel sites also get their fame from easy use. Rather than searching every airline and hotel for prices, picking dates will show options from all those sites at once. Travel sites can be a great place to start looking at travel opportunities because of this search capacity. Is it safe to use travel sites? If you do find a great deal on an online travel agency, how can you determine if it’s worth it? Utilizing reviews can make you aware of what travel sites might need more looking into. Things like cancellation policies, customer service, and value for your money are all great things to look up reviews about. Even though every customer’s trip and experience is unique, reviews can still be a good indicator of which companies are easy to work with and which are not. Re:spondelligent has analyzed recent reviews of hotels, restaurants, and campgrounds and found that around 10 percent contain Coronavirus-related feedback. In many reviews, it seems like travelers want to share their experiences to help future travelers choose their vacation accommodations wisely. While you may have to filter through many critical reviews to find the ones with good advice, it might be worth taking note if a site has lots of unhappy customers writing about negative experiences. To find reliable reviews, look to unbiased, third-party review sites. Travel Sites Read travel site reviews from real customers. Learn More
Guest Post by Hunter Van Ry When planning global travel, it's easy to be enticed by the biggest, most famous tourist destinations around the world. Everyone dreams of going to Paris, Venice, Hong Kong, or even Sydney. What about the lesser-known places that have equally stupendous sights and beautiful spots but are much less frequently visited? Here's a list of eight countries around the world that more people should add to their travel plans! 1. Georgia Left: Trinity Gergeti Church, Kazbegi, Georgia. (Photo by Iman Gozal on Unsplash). Top right: Tbilisi, Georgia. (Photo by Denis Arslanbekov on Unsplash). Bottom right: Map created with mapchart.net (CC BY-SA 4.0, cropped). A small, unassuming European country on the edge of Russia, Georgia is a mysterious, beautiful country with a rich history. Come for the food and wine, stay for the rocky seasides, breathtaking views of the Caucasus mountains, and lovely countryside. Additionally, history buffs will love exploring the historic districts like Tbilisi, Batumi, and Kutaisi. There's plenty to do. It also has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe – making it an incredibly safe tourist spot. 2. Slovenia Left: Predjama Castle, Predjama, Slovenia. (Photo by Omar Sotillo Franco via Unsplash). Top right: Boats on Lake Bled, Bled, Slovenia. (Photo by Jason Thomas on Unsplash). Bottom right: Map created with mapchart.net (CC BY-SA 4.0, cropped). This Slavic country is often overlooked largely due to its small size (and the fact that it only gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1990). It's also home to Postojna Cave, which houses a concert hall, aquarium, and even a small train running through it. Nearby, you can visit Predjama Castle which is the largest castle in the world and built seamlessly into the caves running beneath it. That's not all — Slovenia has plenty more gorgeous sight-seeing opportunities to take advantage of. 3. Nepal Left: Annapurna, Narchyang, Nepal. (Photo by Giuseppe Mondì on Unsplash). Top right: Swoyambhunath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Photo by Bikalpa Pokhrel on Unsplash). Bottom right: Map created with mapchart.net (CC BY-SA 4.0, cropped). If there's one thing that Nepal is famous for, it's mountains. Everest is undoubtedly the most famous, but the mountainous country is home to many more. Apart from those seeking to conquer some of the most deadly mountains in the world, tourists forget the rich culture, art, and architecture. A “cultural crossroads” between India and China, the country is home to some truly astounding architectural treasures. Additionally, Nepalese makers are prized around the world for their metalwork, clothing, paper-materials, tea, sculpture, and jewelry. 4. Finland Left: Helsinki, Finland covered in snow. (Photo by Alexandr Bormotin on Unsplash). Top right: Northern lights over Oulu, Finland. (Photo by Adrian Dascal on Unsplash). Bottom right: Map created with mapchart.net (CC BY-SA 4.0, cropped). For those who love cold weather and spending time outdoors — they have 39 national parks to explore —, Finland is a winter wonderland of gorgeous wildlife and beautiful vistas. In Finnish Lapland, the Northern Lights are visible every other evening, providing a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime view for many visitors to the region. The capital of Finland, Helsinki, is a tourist destination in its own right. It's the perfect destination for a relaxing vacation. The country has also been ranked as the happiest country in the world for the last few years. 5. Ecuador Left: Waterfalls near Giron, Ecuador. (Photo by David Torres on Unsplash). Top right: Turtles in the Galapagos Islands. (Photo by Nathalie Marquis on Unsplash). Bottom right: Map created with mapchart.net (CC BY-SA 4.0, cropped). While not as popular as countries like Peru or Brazil, this often-overlooked South American country has a rich history of its own. The year-round tropical climate makes it home to rainforests and beaches alike. Speaking of tropical destinations, Ecuador is home to the Galapagos islands, most famously known for being the birthplace of Charles Darwin's theory of Evolution. The islands also have some of the most pristine wildlife on the planet, including giant tortoises and black iguanas. Outside Quito, the natural hot springs, located with a view of both rainforest and local volcanos, draw in visitors from around the world. You'll probably want to learn some Spanish before heading to Ecuador. Learning the local language will enhance your travel experience. 6. Romania Left: Peles Castle near Sinaia, Romania. (Photo by Hari Nandakumar on Unsplash). Top right: Parachuting over Brasov, Romania. (Photo by Vlad Hilitanu on Unsplash). Bottom right: Map created with mapchart.net (CC BY-SA 4.0, cropped). This Eastern European country contains history that dates back to prehistoric times as well as a landscape like none other. With the most biogeographical diversity of any country within the European Union, outdoor lovers will find many beautiful destinations to visit. Although most of Europe is more expensive than other countries, your money in Romania goes further as it's rated as one of the least expensive European travel destinations. 7. Hungary Left: The Danube River runs through Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Bence Balla-Schottner on Unsplash). Top right: Matthias Church, Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Daniel Horvath on Unsplash). Bottom right: Map created with mapchart.net (CC BY-SA 4.0, cropped). Hungary has gained a bit of popularity over the years (particularly Budapest), but it still ranks far behind countries like France, Spain, or Germany. Budapest, the capital city of Hungary, is known for its impressive thermal baths which are enjoyed by both locals and tourists alike. If you're feeling adventurous, you can also visit the Aggtelek Caves, a large cave system that looks like something from a fantasy novel. 8. Laos Left: Le Trio Coffee, Vientiane, Laos. (Photo by Kristian Ryan Alimon on Unsplash). Top right: Buddha Park, a sculpture park near Vientiane, Laos. (Photo by or Chanthachak on Unsplash). Bottom right: Map created with mapchart.net (CC BY-SA 4.0, cropped). This South-East Asian country is often overshadowed by its neighbors Thailand and Vietnam and carries with it a surprisingly diverse culture due to its history as a former French protectorate. You'll find here Buddhist temples and French cafes, making you wonder if you're still in the same country. Although Laos is a relatively small country, it still has large areas of jungle untouched and unexplored by humans. Citizens of Laos have a very laid-back culture making it great for those who want to enjoy a slower pace of life. These are just a few of the lesser-visited countries rich in history, culture, and cuisine that can't be beaten. While there are untold options out there, you just might consider adding one to your travel plans. Hunter Van Ry is an avid language learner and travel enthusiast. After having spent significant time in both France and Canada, he now works for All Language Resources, a website dedicated to finding and reviewing language-learning resources for fellow language learners.
After flight cancellations, hotel closures, and stay-home orders all over the world, will people want to travel again? The panic caused by the coronavirus pandemic has changed how we view the world, but the travel industry is largely using this pause in traffic as a time for improvement and adjustments. From flights to hotels to guided tours, every aspect of the industry is getting ready to accommodate travelers as soon as possible. Flights Given the uncertainty of how the pandemic will play out, airlines are going about business as cautiously but also as hopefully as possible. Each airline is implementing its own safety measures and the TSA has outlined a few as well. WIMCO Villas outlines some of these safety measures. They include spacing out passengers on the flight, recommended or mandatory masks in flight, temperature checks as part of security, and more. Some airlines are creating more stringent regulations, such as coronavirus testing before boarding, but this isn’t a widespread practice yet. While passenger counts are at an all-time low, airlines are hopeful for an uptick in air travel and are offering incredibly cheap fares. Scott’s Cheap Flights, a travel site that offers a free subscription for cheap flight alerts, has noticed a 50 percent increase in deals for peak summer and holiday season, times when flights are usually the most expensive. Until flight traffic picks up substantially, airlines seem to be offering low fares to try to increase ridership. While low fares won’t last forever, it could last longer than expected. A survey by FinanceBuzz states that almost half of Americans don’t plan to fly for at least a year. If this holds true, airlines could be offering cheap flights all the way through next summer. Hotels In the hospitality industry, hotels are seeing the biggest changes. From large chains to small boutique hotels, each hotel and resort is unveiling new and improved cleaning measures. These range from using UV technology to clean rooms between guest arrivals to intensive cleaning by hotel maids who then seal the room until guests arrive. Hotels are also changing the services they offer to guests. Some have closed swimming pools and gyms while others have changed the layouts of these areas to allow social distancing to be possible. As far as room service goes, guests might not experience the same luxury they had before the pandemic. At Crane’s Beach House, a luxury boutique hotel in Florida, room service is reserved for before and after checkout. If guests need their trash taken out or any amenities brought to their room, they will have to call the front desk. The staff will drop off what’s needed at the door and take away the trash without any interaction with guests. Another change coming to the hotel industry is an extended waiting period between guest reservations. Hotels are starting to leave 24–72 hours between reservations for each room. This allows time for more extensive cleaning and greater chance that surfaces will be free of viruses. Vacation rentals The popularity of vacation home rentals was on the rise before the pandemic hit. Sites like Airbnb and Vrbo can be a great resource for travelers who want to have the entire place to themselves, but cancellation policies are determined by each vacation rental owner. When the coronavirus hit, these platforms encouraged owners to allow guests to cancel their bookings, but that power still resides with the owner. Going forward, vacation owners will be more concerned about flexible cancellation policies in order to attract guests. In addition, owners know that guests are concerned with the cleanliness of their rental. Airbnb is rolling out new cleaning guidelines that hosts can decide to implement. If a host follows the new, extensive cleaning measures, they earn a badge on their listing that shows customers the cleanliness of their home. Tours Some cities have created initiatives to help citizens and tourists enjoy restaurants and activities while knowing they are safe. Columbus, Ohio has pioneered a program called Live Forward that is helping the city reopen in a safe way. Businesses can take a pledge to follow federal, state, and local health and safety guidelines. Once a business has pledged, it will receive a window sticker to show customers that the business is taking important health precautions. Walking tours around cities, though outside in open air, will also be making changes to promote health and safety. ExperienceFirst offers tours in major cities and will be implementing social distancing and sanitizing measures where possible. Attractions that offer paper tickets will likely have to digitize to reduce contact and handling cash will be limited. Destinations Although many travelers will want to visit big cities, it’s likely that most travelers will try to visit outdoor, remote places such as national parks. Lewis Krell at Inspirock, an online travel itinerary planner, said that trips centered on the outdoors, beaches, and wildlife have increased dramatically while trips based on relaxation and visiting historical sites have declined significantly. This isn’t to say that popular cities won’t see the same volume of tourists in the future as they did before the outbreak, but travelers may decide to diversify the vacations they choose with more outdoor sites. Another interesting phenomenon brought on by social distancing, Krell says, is that the average length of trips planned on his site has increased by 80 percent. Travelers seem to want longer trips rather than weekend getaways after being home for weeks. Overall Although the travel industry has been hard hit by the pandemic, it’s an industry that will bounce back to meet the needs of travelers. A recent Harris Poll showed that half of Americans are putting travel at the top of their list of big purchases after pandemic restrictions loosen. Whether Americans go abroad or domestic will likely depend on international restrictions and more Americans may decide to take road trips to local or in-state destinations. Wherever people decide to travel, it will feel a little different than they’re used to. With changes expected in every part of the industry, travelers should take extra time to prepare themselves before they go. It will be important to follow all health and safety precautions in whatever area they decide to travel to and be ready to adjust traveling mindsets to traveling safely and in a healthy way. For more on this topic, read some advice about healthy travel.
Since the shutdown in travel caused by the coronavirus outbreak, consumers are more aware than ever about how easily germs spread. Rising positive case counts showed everyone that there are a lot of germs hiding on common surfaces and in all public places. In a world that is more self-aware, how can we travel in a healthy, safe way? Hydrate and eat healthy foods An important aspect to avoiding sickness and fatigue is making sure your body is in the best possible shape it can be. If flying on a plane, be sure to drink plenty of water. Flying is extremely dehydrating, and you may need more water than the bottle given to you before a long flight. Take a refillable bottle on your trip, that way you can fill it up after passing through security and be sipping it all the time. When taking road trips, it may be inconvenient to stop several times for bathroom breaks, but staying hydrated outweighs the risk. It’s also a good idea to give yourself stretch breaks to walk around and get a little bit of walking in to help you feel better. It’s also important to have healthy travel snacks when going on vacation. Having nutrient dense foods will better equip your body with what it needs to fight off any virus or bacteria you come in contact with. Carolyn Scott-Hamilton, The Healthy Voyager, also recommends avoiding caffeine, alcohol, salt, and sugar before and during any flights. These foods and beverages contribute to dehydration and prevent getting restful sleep. Travelers should also be aware that alcohol also has 2.5 times the effect while flying. Buy travel insurance Booking vacations can already be expensive, so why pay more for travel insurance? Everyone who had a trip affected by the coronavirus will probably attest to the benefits of having a travel insurance policy. It may not cover everything, but having a good policy for the type of vacation you want to take will definitely be worth the extra cost, even if it just gives peace of mind. The price of each travel insurance policy depends on what it covers. The cheapest plans will only cover the basics while more expensive plans can cover more. According to VisaGuide, most basic plans will cover medical expenses, trip cancellation, stolen items, and missed flights through no fault of your own. More expensive plans can cover rental cars, natural disasters, and cancellation for any reason. Cancellation coverage will definitely give you some peace of mind when dealing with things like COVID-19. It’s important to keep in mind that travel insurance usually will not cover pre-existing medical conditions, expenses related to pregnancy, and any harm or injury brought on by your own actions. Travelers should also check for travel advisories and make sure their insurance plan covers the country or destination they want to visit. Have a health emergency plan In addition to having travel insurance coverage, travelers should also have a plan in case a health emergency arises. Whether it be pre-existing conditions or a new sickness that develops, vacation planners should take into account what healthcare is available in the areas they’ll be traveling to. It may also be helpful to research the medical facilities around to know what to expect. Domestic travel might not have health care much different than what a traveler is used to, but going outside the country could yield different results. Every country’s healthcare system is different. Travelers can check the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers website for information on healthcare around the world. Some important things to consider when looking at a country’s healthcare system include the availability of facilities in the cities you’ll be visiting, including hospitals, emergency rooms, and pharmacies. You should also know how hospitals take payment in the country you’re visiting. Some countries will require upfront payment, even if a traveler has health insurance. If you get sick on your trip, call your travel insurance provider first and the provider can assist you on protocols for the country you’re in. Travelers may have to pay the bill and receive a reimbursement later. Bring your own travel essentials These days, bringing your own disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer is always a good idea. When it comes to hotel rooms, rental cars, restaurants, and other locations throughout your vacation, you can never really know how clean any surface is. It’s best to keep some disinfecting wipes with you in a carry-on or personal item. On an airplane or in a rental car, a quick wipe down of any touch screens, arm rests, trays, or other common surfaces could prevent coming into contact with a lot of germs. Hotels should be stepping up their cleaning game, but you can never be too sure how clean your room will be. In the case of an Airbnb or Vrbo rental, you can’t really request new sheets. If you want to be sure your sheets are clean, Raymond, The Travelling Foodie, recommends bringing your own set of sheets. This might seem inconvenient when it comes to luggage space, but having a dedicated set of clean travel sheets, even if you’re in a hotel, could protect you from contact with all sorts of germs. If you prefer a certain type of sheet or pillow over another, bringing your favorites could also help you get a better night’s sleep! Get enough sleep Similar to staying hydrated, getting enough sleep is another measure to take when trying to prevent disease and sickness. Traveling often disrupts our sleep cycles, leaving us fatigued and our immune system compromised. search Highlight: Sleep can help your immune system. "Many body systems don't function very well on low sleep; among other things, the restorative nature of sleep is necessary to keep pain management, cognitive functioning, and the immune system running. This is why adequate sleep is beneficial to boost the immune system to fight off infections. Studies show that getting more than seven hours of sleep makes people four times less likely to catch a cold compared to people sleeping less than six hours. While poor sleep leads to a weakened immune system, being well-rested enhances the response of the microscopic cells that are vital to fighting viruses, bacteria, and other sources of disease," says Dr. Patricia Celan, M.D. Working around your sleep schedule can be difficult when you’re traveling, but it’s definitely worth it. If you’re changing time zones on your trip, start adjusting your sleep schedule a few days prior to leaving. This will help adjust your circadian rhythm, the internal clock that tells our body when to sleep. The Sleep Foundation studies the effects of sleep on our bodies and notes that our circadian rhythms crave consistency. Starting to adjust your internal clock before you leave will help you better adjust to the new time zone and get good, quality sleep while you’re traveling. Stay healthy It’s not easy to avoid germs and sickness while traveling, but there are a few things you can do. Keeping your body in the best shape possible will maximize your chances of fighting off any disease or sickness you encounter. It’s important to hydrate, watch what you eat, and get enough good sleep. You can also be prepared by bringing your own sheets, blankets, and pillows when you travel to give you peace of mind about the surfaces you’re touching. As always, disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer are travel musts in any carry-on or personal bag and can be used to clean common surfaces. Travel insurance is also a great investment and can give peace of mind to any traveler and be a great part of an emergency health plan while abroad.
Guest Post by Hunter Van Ry Traveling to a foreign country is an exciting experience. Visiting a new place that is so different than what you’re used to is unforgettable for most people. One thing that often comes with traveling to a foreign country is being faced with an entirely new language that you may not speak. Most tourists neglect to learn the language of the country they are traveling to before their trip, opting instead to get by with phrase books or simply with English as a common language. Learning the language of the country you’re visiting, however, will certainly enhance your experience and ultimately make your vacation more enjoyable. Let’s take a look at six reasons why learning a foreign language will improve your foreign vacation: 1. It helps you appreciate the country you’re visiting The culture of any given country is heavily rooted in its language. Because of this, a foreigner simply cannot understand certain aspects of the culture without having at least some knowledge of the language. When you visit somewhere new without knowing the language, you only get a surface-level understanding of the culture which can leave you unfulfilled and feeling like you never really visited the country at all. Having even a basic understanding of the language can give you a lot more insight into the country you’re visiting than what most tourists receive. 2. You can visit spots where other tourists don’t go Every country has their hot tourist spots that everybody loves to visit. Although there is nothing wrong with visiting these places, it can certainly be compelling to visit places in the country that only the locals know about. The issue that arises, however, is that if the lesser-known spots don’t receive a lot of tourists then it is much less likely that there will be someone there who speaks English. In France, for example, the main tourist destinations all have staff who speak English, whereas the ones that don’t receive tourists typically don’t. So if you are looking to travel to France then learning to speak French is highly recommended. If you’re traveling to a foreign country for an extended period of time or just going back for a second visit, then taking the time to see the less-popular attractions may be something you would enjoy. 3. Locals will appreciate you more We’ve already established that most tourists fail to learn any amount of a country’s language before visiting. Many locals expect this and will naturally assume that they can’t use their mother tongue to communicate with you. However, if you set yourself apart from the pack and give their language a try, you’re certain to receive a much warmer welcome than those who don’t. After all, learning someone else’s language is a big commitment and shows appreciation for the country and culture. By putting in the effort, you may just get special privileges among locals that others only wish they could receive. 4. You have the opportunity to meet new people Most citizens of a given country do not work in the tourism industry or live in areas that receive a lot of international visitors. Because of this, they may or may not be proficient in English (or whatever your native language may be). This makes it hard to have any sort of meaningful conversation with people should you come across the opportunity. If you are proficient in the language of the country you’re traveling to, you open up the possibility of making new friends that you can not only communicate with, but who can also help you to explore the country. 5. You’ll be prepared to handle situations that other tourists can’t Many countries that receive a fair number of tourists are prepared to help guests with the usual tourist-related activities such as sightseeing, checking into a hotel, or asking for directions. However, you may find yourself in a situation that falls outside the realm of what most tourists encounter such as a visit to the doctor or an unfortunate car accident. Should you be involved in such a situation, knowing even just a bit of the language can go a long way. 6. It can help prevent embarrassing situations Because many embarrassing situations stem from miscommunication, it only makes sense that these sort of situations would arise much more often when different languages are involved. Learning even just the basics of a foreign language can help prevent awkward situations of receiving the wrong meal at a restaurant or having a store clerk get the wrong item for you. This can help your vacation be more relaxing and take away some of the social anxiety that people often experience from being outside of their own country. Vacationing to a foreign country is something that everyone should do at some point in their life. Learning a foreign language before going can make an already exhilarating experience all the better. Put in just a little bit of time and you’ll be thankful you did. Hunter Van Ry is the owner of Frenchplanations, a French-learning website dedicated to those looking to improve their French-language skills. After having spent significant time in both France and Canada, he devotes much of his time teaching others everything he knows about the French language.
Do your thoughts about taking your family on vacation automatically trigger feelings about your current debt status? Do you want to treat your family to a quality getaway without risking putting yourself further in debt? If so, you are not alone. Consumer debt reached approximately $4 trillion at the end of 2018, with the average debt being roughly $12,000 per capita. This means that mounting debt is a factor for many American families. The cost of taking the family on vacation can add a considerable amount to the debt level of American families. According to NYU, 30 percent of families spend an average of $2,000 to $5,000 on family travel. This statistic shows that the fear of family vacations adding to the debt is genuine for many Americans. Here are ten tips to help you plan a budget-friendly family vacation. 1. Decide on a family-friendly destination When deciding on a vacation experience for your family, begin by narrowing down your vacation to a specific destination. This process begins by compiling a list of potential destinations that would be ideal for family travel. Do your research on the family-friendliness of the destination and discuss each option with your loved ones. 2. Avoid peak travel seasons When you book a vacation during the peak travel seasons (spring break, summer vacation, winter break), you can expect to pay the premium across the board for everything from car rentals to lodging. Avoiding these times will yield significant savings on your family vacation. 3. Establish a vacation budget Plan ahead by establishing budget goals for your trip. Decide how much you need to save and how long it will take. Create a weekly or monthly saving plan to cover your trip expenses. 4. Save by planning short trips You can save a ton of money by planning short trips that are packed with fun and excitement. Spending an action-packed weekend can be just as entertaining as spending a full week if you properly plan all aspects of your trip. 5. Look for great deals Hunt for the best deals you can find on luxury destinations, and take your family on a dream vacation for less than you thought you could. You can get a cheap package on a vacation to an exotic destination by looking for a great deal. 6. Get group discounts There is strength in numbers. You can increase the power of your dollar by planning a group vacation with other families. Travel agencies, resorts, and cruise lines often offer discounts for groups. 7. Get creative with lodging options Thinking outside of the box can yield tremendous benefits when planning for your lodging accommodations. Resorts, bed-and-breakfast locations, and the like, may give the enriching, yet cost-efficient options for the lodging you seek. 8. Manage your family’s expectations When traveling, family members can be quite demanding. If you are not careful, meeting the numerous minor demands and requests of your family can end up sending you way over your proposed budget. Avoid this by discussing exactly what is in the plan before leaving for your trip. 9. Plan your activities ahead of your trip Plan plenty of fun activities and get your family’s input during the planning process. This will help create a dynamic experience without the need for excessive spending. This will also help to manage your family's expectations. By planning, you can make sure your family gets a chance to see the best that the destination has to offer. 10. Be flexible Deals will often come in unexpected ways. You may be able to secure tickets at an unbelievably low price or pay half off on some other aspect of your vacation if you are willing to be a bit flexible. Flexibility may mean that you are willing to take your trip on a specific date determined by the deal provider. Many deals are not frequently offered to the public, but with a little inquiring, you may be surprised what you can secure with a few friendly questions. Find out if there are any special time-sensitive rates when planning your trip. The bottom line Don’t let the fear of mounting debt keep your family from enjoying a luxurious vacation in the destination of your choice. Careful budgeting and creative planning can provide the perfect opportunity for your family to set sail on the vacation you all deserve.
Summer is vacation season, and Best Company Finance (@BestCoFinance) has been sharing tips for savvy travelers all June, including ways to prevent identity theft, find the best flight deals, and secure wallet-friendly travel packages. We’ve compiled the gist of the advice in this article for your information — if you save wisely for your next trip, you could have money left over for another! Plan with the mission to save money If you want to save while you travel, the key is always planning ahead. You should budget for a vacation like you budget for your everyday and monthly expenses: Sean Fox, Freedom Debt Relief“Start by deciding what not to do: go into debt. While it’s important to take a break, it’s more important to avoid taking a trip you cannot afford.”Acquania Escarne, The Purpose of Money“Have a vacation fund and each paycheck deposit money into this separate bank account for your next vacation. This ensures you always have money set aside for traveling. When a good flight or hotel deal comes along, you have the money to pay for it. I would set an amount that you know you can afford. If your monthly income is limited, start small will $25–50 per paycheck. Then increase the amount you save as your income increases or you get bonuses.”Devon Nagle, Priceline“Research destinations that are beginning to capture the imagination of savvy travelers, but have not reached peak popularity. Establish the criteria that matter most, then research destinations that are on the rise. Rates often fall below those found in the most popular destinations, and the experience of being in-the-know — and avoiding crowds — is its own luxury.” Ben Watson, Dollar Sprout“Instead of just giving yourself a lump sum for the whole trip, break the funds into manageable pieces for travel, lodging, eating, excursions, and unexpected items. From the larger categories, consider dividing it up into daily spending limits so that you have money left over for the end of the trip instead of having to scrape pennies or go into debt just to get home.” Tweak your travel timing You may be limited by your professional and social obligations, but flexibility offers the best travel deals. Choosing off-season, off-day, and off-hour agendas will lower your costs:Alexandra Demosthenes, Investment Advisory Professionals, LLC“Traveling on shoulder months, months just before and after peak season months, is a great way to get more value out of your vacation plans.”Andrew D’Amours, FlyTrippers“Either you're flexible on the dates or you're flexible on the destination. If you don't prioritize finding a cheap flight, you won't find a cheap flight. I keep a list of a couple destinations I'm interested in instead of just one like most people do, so I am exponentially more likely to find a deal.”Sean Fox, Freedom Debt Relief“Make lunch the main dining-out experience. Lunches are often less expensive than dinners at restaurants, so take advantage of that.Look at online calendars of zoos, museums and botanic gardens to see if they offer free days while you are visiting. Also check the websites of local libraries where you’ll be visiting. Many offer free or discounted tickets to attractions when you sign up in advance.”Devon Nagle, Priceline“If your schedule allows, try to plan a vacation for a mid-week stay, rather than one that spans a weekend. The rates should be more reasonable.” Research transportation options To get a deal on flights, cars, and taxis, you need to know what the transportation typically costs and whether it will be worthwhile: Danielle Desir, The Thought Card“I recommend establishing a flight price baseline. . . . do some research to figure out how much on average it costs to go to a destination. After determining the average, aim to beat that price. Bonus points if you turn it into a game!” Acquania Escarne, The Purpose of Money “I recently visited Panama and decided to rent a vehicle to get to the beach but took local transportation in Panama City. The train was only a quarter per passenger and taxis were a couple of dollars. It was much cheaper taking local transportation in the city than renting a car. However, to get to our beach hotel it was going to cost about $100 to get to the beach, one way. We spent $100 to rent a car for the entire time. So in that case, it made sense to rent a car and then use it to get to all the tourist activities, restaurants, and hiking sites near our beach hotel.” Bundle your travel costs On a vacation, you want to live a stress-free, luxury lifestyle anyway. Take out the hassle and added costs by bundling: Devon Nagle, Priceline“‘Bundled’ or ‘packaged’ bookings — securing a flight, hotel and/or a car simultaneously, versus separately — can yield hundreds of dollars in savings. Exclusive rates can often only be secured when used in a bundled transaction. On Priceline, the average traveler saves $240 per transaction when booking a bundle. The savings can be applied to experiences, such as restaurants, day trips and other attractions, that elevate its ‘luxury’ feel.” Work with your credit cards A credit card can be your best friend or your worst enemy on the road. This will largely depend on the type of card you use: Alex Tran, WeLoveEatTravel.com“Want to save even more money? Book the discounted fare through your travel/rewards portal on your travel credit cards. I have CSR (Chase Sapphire reserve), which gives me 30 percent off points when I book travel through their portal. So instead of paying $213 for my flight, I actually only paid $138 using points!” Alexandra Demosthenes, Investment Advisory Professionals, LLC“If you are travelling abroad make sure to use a credit or debit card that has no foreign transaction fees. There are many cards on the market now that offer this benefit with no annual fee.” Ivan Chong, Lazy Finances“Pay for everything with a credit card. Here’s why: Fraudulent charges are easier to resolve on a credit card than a debit card; . . . easier to track spending against your budget; some credit cards have trip insurance; get cash back!” Keep your bank in the know You don’t want your card to get locked when you’re abroad, particularly if you don’t have access to your phone internationally: Erica James, EricaJamesTravel.com“Prior to departure, I contact my bank and my credit card company and notify them of my travel destination and travel dates to avoid banking issues while traveling. One time I did not do this and tried to use my credit card in Mexico and my bank declined me and cut off my card. I had to call to get it turned back on. I never made that mistake again.” Protect your money and your person While a lot of your financial security is now done digitally, you also need to remember to protect your physical cards, documents, and cash: Carrie Pasquarello, Global Secure Resources“Make sure to understand local scams and crime trends. One of the most common techniques used by criminals in tourist spots around the world is the ‘distraction method.’ Be alert to anyone trying to distract your attention. Blend in with the local population, avoid looking like a tourist and leave your USA T-shirts at home. Purchase an under-clothing money belt to keep your passports and money safe and secure. ” Secure your Wi-Fi connection While you’re wary of getting pickpocketed on the street in another place, you also need to be wary of open virtual spaces: Justin Lavelle, BeenVerified.com“It’s likely that while traveling, you’ll use free Wi-Fi to access the internet, possibly at the airport, hotel, coffee shops and other public places. If you are using free Wi-Fi, be sure to log out of all personal accounts and never make transactions or pay bills while on public Wi-Fi. A better option is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN).“ If you want to travel more often, find ways to reign in your spending with each trip. Protect your assets, be creative, and follow the experts for more advice on planning your dream vacation.
Glamping Hub, an online leader in upscale camping, recently shared some of its best listings near Game of Thrones filming locations for superfans to take advantage of, should they need some closure.These offerings will prove to be a unique and memorable experience, with accommodations like yurts, teepees, dome tents, tree houses, and more. Kings Landing Photo: Dubrovnik, Croatia. Source: Unsplash Some of Kings Landing is filmed in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Glamping hub has an incredible tree house location near Dubrovnik for fans to soak in the sun. Not only will you be soaking it in, but the rental, located south of Dubrovnik, is the first solar-powered tree house in the country. Photo: Breathtaking Tree House Rental in an Adventure Park near Dubrovnik, Croatia. Source: glampinghub.com North of the Wall Photo: Thingvellir National Park, Iceland. Source: Unsplash Want to take a trip north of the Wall, just like your favorite wildlings? There are lots of sites to be seen in Iceland. Consider upping your adventure with a stay in this beautiful cabin, about a 30-minute drive from Thingvellir National Park and several other Game of Thrones filming locations in Iceland. Photo: Gorgeous Glass Cabin with Northern Lights Views near Reykjavik, Iceland. Source: glampinghub.com Spanish Gems If you are the type of person that loves to visit the filming locations of your favorite tv shows and movies, there is lots for you in this Iberian bliss. Many Game of Thrones filming locations are located in Spain. GlampingHub even breaks up a variety of nearby accommodations, based on filming locations. What GoT location would you love to visit?Here is my favorite: Photo: Footbridge on the islet of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Spain. Source: glampinghub.com This crazy beautiful footbridge in San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Spain stands in for exterior shots of Dragonstone and was featured in recent seasons.
Guest Post by Akib Amin Traveling alone isn’t for everyone. It can be boring, expensive, and unsafe. At GAFFL, our mission is to help our users find a travel buddy no matter where they are traveling. In the last two years, we have worked with users from more than 150 countries. Here are the five things you should consider before finding a travel buddy online: 1. Identifying the right fit The ‘Who’ is the most important aspect when it comes to finding the right person to travel together. You need to find the type of person you will be comfortable with while traveling together. For multi-day road trips or adventure travel, you might be sharing cars and lodging as well. Are you looking for someone who is like-minded and very similar to you? Or are you looking for someone who is very different than who you are? These should be the first questions you ask yourself. 2. Asking "why?" Next, ask yourself why you want a travel companion. Are you looking for a travel buddy to splits costs, to have a shared experience, or to make new friends while traveling? You may want to have a shared experience but you do not really care about the budget. You want to stay in 4-star hotels, but if your travel buddy is only traveling with you to lower costs, they may not want to spend too much money on hotels. There will be a conflict. After connecting to someone, while you are on the planning phase, talk freely about the ‘Why.’ 3. Accomodating flexible schedules Some travelers are super flexible. But, some are not. They may have tocatch a flight, or have a list of places they want to be in on particular dates, etc. If you are a flexible traveler, you should look for someone who is just as flexible as you are. 4. Paying costs upfront Before you actually meet up with your travel buddy, you may book hotels or rent cars together. If you have paid for all the expenses upfront, what will you do if your travel buddy for some reason never shows up? To protect users from this ‘no-show’ event, GAFFL recently built ‘Splits’. Before paying all the costs, you can create a Split Request for your travel buddy. Once your travel buddy pays you, the system holds the money until the trip starts. This way you and your travel buddy both are protected economically. 5. Meeting a real person Fake profiles are something we cannot ignore anymore. It’s really important to do your own research. Your travel buddy should have a genuine profile pic, social account verification, and ID verification. If they have not completed those steps, you should ask them to do so. You should always meet up with your travel buddy in a public location. If you feel unsafe, you can easily say ‘thank you’ and leave. As a solo traveler, trust your gut feelings. Akib Amin is the Founder of GAFFL, a travel buddy web-app connecting travelers with similar itineraries to share costs and experiences around the world. You can email him directly at [email protected]
The sharing economy model is not just a buzzword used to spark discussion of Uber’s latest developments. It is a real way to use technology to your advantage. It is a way of identifying where time and resources intersect. Applying the “sharing is caring” principle learned in kindergarten, we can save money by directly interacting with someone else. Both parties benefit. We have compiled some suggestions to enhance your next vacation with the sharing economy. These sharing ideas will help you immerse yourself in the culture, make friends, and have invaluable travel experiences. You can use many of these tools right here in your home country, as well as abroad. You don’t have to travel halfway around the world to benefit, but if you are, consider these suggestions to move your trip outside the standard travel industry. Staying outside the box Rather than staying in cookie-cutter hotel rooms, you can use a vacation rental from online platforms like Airbnb, Wimdu, 9Flats, HomeAway, or VRBO. This allows you to rent either a room or a whole dwelling. You can upgrade your style, be right in the action, or live like a local, rather than sleeping in a bland, expensive hotel in strictly touristy areas. It can also help you save money, especially if traveling with your family, reveals Alexis Tchuise from World Travel Adventurers. She visited Iceland with her family of four and used Airbnb to stay on a farm complete with horses, rabbits, and kittens. She explains, “By staying at Airbnb’s, we could prepare some of our meals at the Airbnb. Grocery stores are much more reasonable there than restaurants, so Airbnb is a great option for Iceland. In addition, many of the hotels there allow a maximum of 3 people per room, which would have required us to rent 2 rooms and split up, which we didn’t want to do. Staying at Airbnb’s allowed us to all stay together and have more space to relax.” A variation of the Airbnb experience is Couch Surfing, a hospitality network that offers not only a place to stay, but a way to be more integrated into your travel experience through first-person interaction with your hosts. Solo traveler Daisy Li from BeyondMyBorder explains, “Having used Couchsurfing during most of my travels, I definitely believe that the platform enhances my trips. Most hosts were eager to show their city or provide guidance for the must-visits within the area. I've not only been able to travel more locally based on these suggestions but was also given the chance to better understand the culture of the country as I spend my time with local residences. This has definitely led to trips that were more enriching. And not to the mention the hundreds of friends I've made along the way!” Shel Horowitz from Going Beyond Sustainability suggests trying a similar experience with Servas: “In 1983, I discovered Servas, founded in 1949 to break down barriers between cultures by facilitating homestays around the world. As a peace organization and registered UN NGO, it offers homestays in about 150 countries. The US office is in northern California. Back then, we had to write postal mail way in advance, and wait for a yes or no. Now, of course, it's much easier with email. Unlike Couchsurfing, Servas requires all members to be interviewed and screened. Unlike Airbnb, no money changes hands between the host and traveler. Usually, when we travel, we contact Servas hosts first, and if we can't find one, we go to Couchsurfing.” Horowitz is such a proponent of Servas that for the past couple of years, he has even served as an interviewer for the organization. If you love pets, want to stay somewhere for free, and get a more local experience, consider booking your travel around a house or pet sitting gig to up the ante. Kelly Hayes-Raitt, author of How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the HouseSit Diva says, “When I started housesitting 10 years ago, I had no idea I was a "sharing economy" pioneer. For the past decade, I've lived in people's homes at no cost and cared for their pets while they vacation.” She has used housesitting to vacation in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America, including Ajijic, Mexico, where she visits every spring and fall. With housesitting, the options and savings are endless. Travel Blogger James Cave from Portugalist says, “I've saved thousands and possibly even tens of thousands in accommodation costs by house sitting.” He goes on, “House sitting means looking after someone else's home (and usually pets) while they're away on vacation. You walk the dog, feed the cat, and keep an eye on the place, and, in return, you get to stay there for free. Aside from the membership prices of the house sitting website (which varies from around $20 to $120 per year), no money is is involved. Free accommodation is obviously the main benefit, but it isn't the only one. You also truly feel that you're "living like a local." Looking after the pets, although it's the work aspect, is actually a lot of fun as well.” You can check out postings via Trusted Housesitters, House Carers, Nomador, or Mind My House. Check out the Portugalist guide for tips and tricks. Plan a volunteering vacay One trend that lets travelers do some good while seeing the world is to volunteer on vacation. “Volunteering while traveling gives an individual immense self-satisfaction that he/she is giving back to the community or the environment rather than just adding to the carbon footprint,” explains Kunal Jain from totravelwith.com. “Volunteering also gives you a perspective on how things work and don't work in other cultures and countries. By volunteering and by being in the field, you come out cherishing what you have more than ever and don't take things for granted.” Some volunteering programs even let you earn room and board abroad in exchange for your services. Check out Volunteer HQ, REI, Diverbo, and HelpX for some ideas about how volunteering can make your trip more meaningful and easier on the pocketbook. You can take this strategy a few steps further and just go ahead and find a job in a foreign country. Many programs and positions cater to people willing to help teach English, like TEFL and ESL Cafe. You can also look for a touristy job through AdventureWork. Whether you decide to volunteer or get a job, this option can help with your travel budget while giving you opportunities to share your experience in a myriad of ways. As an alternative, you can also trade help with gardening or housework for a free stay through WorkAway. This site is a way to find families, communities, and causes offering to host you for an exchange. Don’t eat a meal — share a meal What better way to acclimate yourself to a new environment than with a home-cooked meal with a local family. By sharing a real cultural experience through Meal Sharing, Urban Adventures, or Eat With, you can find new friends and experience authentic, traditional cuisine. Consider BeWelcome and Hospitality Club for the best of both worlds. Similar to Couchsurfing, these services help you save money with free meals or accommodation while getting a true cultural experience and meeting actual locals. Join the e-scooter mania Another way to use the sharing economy while traveling is by taking advantage of e-scooters. Scooter-sharing networks are all the rage, with a newly approved program in San Francisco, and ongoing availability in cities around the world, like Washington, D.C.; Paris, France; Barcelona, Spain; and Santiago, Chile. Depending on your location or destination, you will have to double-check to see which apps to download. Companies like Scoot, Bird, or Skip require an app download. Once you download and set up payment info, you can use an electric scooter to get around town in lots of urban and tourist-heavy cities. This way, travelers can conserve energy for more important things, like eating ice cream and walking up to Quasimodo’s bell tower at Notre-Dame. Car rental alternatives An alternative mode of transportation “provides more convenience, flexibility, and choices for travelers,” says Fang Meng, Associate Professor at the Univesity of South Carolina's School of Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism Management. Meng explains that car sharing and alternative rental services “can be cheaper and better fit your travel schedule and location en route and on-site at a destination.” One alternative way to share your travel experience is with a carpool. You can use services like BlaBlaCar, Karzoo, and Waze Carpool to find people headed your way. Catch a ride and split gas money costs. This works great for those who may be traveling between two cities that are a bit un-navigable or that don’t have direct public transit routes. Jessica Armstrong from Glamping Hub explains, “[U]sing applications like ride sharing make for excellent options to get from destination to destination as many of our sites are off the beaten path and are in rural locations, so by driving and offering your seat in your car up to a traveler or as a traveler, hitching a ride to get to where you need to go, saves time and money.” Ridesharing is a great way to meet new people and get a more personal experience than a bus ride, according to travel blogger Priyanka Dalal, who used BlaBlaCar for a trip from Lisbon to Seville last year. Her driver—who was originally from Turkey—shared “insider tips into Turkey as well as Portugal.” Likewise, the “diversity of conversation” during the drive was also aided by two other passengers from Germany along for the ride. “The whole ride was very relaxed and comfortable,” she says. If you prefer more autonomy or would rather drive yourself, consider using a car share. You can avoid the typical rental car experience by renting through peer-to-peer networks like Turo, Drivy, and Car2Go. Rather than using a car owned by a rental business, these networks offer an online marketplace for a fee to rent the car of regular locals living in an area. You benefit from an expanded vehicles selection, while the car’s owner makes a few bucks on the side. Whether you want a luxury or vintage rental, or just cheaper rental rates, this is a great option. Forget driving. Did you know that there is even a Turo-type peer-to-peer sharing site for boats and yachts? Samboat has 30,000 boats from around the world for consumers to browse and book. Find your travel tribe If you are a solo traveler, you don’t have to be. Just because your partner, friends, or family aren’t traveling with you, doesn’t mean that you have to go it alone. Find like-minded individuals through services like Globetrooper, TripTogether, Travello, and GAFFL, a platform that helps people find travel buddies to split costs with. Akib Amin from GAFFL shares an experience on a recent trip to Arizona: “I found three other travel buddies on GAFFL to share costs and explore the Grand Canyon together. It saved us a lot of money and we all became really good friends.” With these communities, you have a variety of options: look for people to join in your entire trip or find fellow globetrotters to do day trips with when you reach your destination. The benefits of either are available for millennials and baby boomers alike. Whether traveling at home or abroad, you can broaden your horizons geographically as well as culturally and socially through these shared experiences. Whether you opt for short-term rentals, volunteering and working to save money, or utilizing the shared economy for scooter or car travel, you can always find a helping hand and an open door to improve your experience. Try our suggestions and let us know how your trip was enhanced.