Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Off The Coast of Africa

Visiting Mauritius on a Budget

While Mauritius is often regarded as an expensive destination due to its popularity and location in the Indian Ocean, it is nevertheless quite possible to travel there on a budget. Obviously, travel agencies and tour operators are running a business, which entails them trying to sell you the most expensive package as soon as you inform them of your desire to visit Mauritius. However, Mauritius is in fact a very affordable destination as long as you know what you are doing and take measures to ensure your budget does not spiral out of control.

Choose the off-peak season

It sounds like an obvious advice and one that should never have to made this list but it is still amazing how people overlook the simplest of considerations. Most tourists still want to visit Mauritius during the December festivities or during the months of July to August when everybody is going on holiday. They consequently end up spending a lot on air tickets and accommodation. The off-peak season in Mauritius is from February to May and from September to October, and traveling to the island during these months will allow you to save a lot of money.

Stay clear from all inclusive travel packages

Travel packages that include the air ticket, the accommodation, and various other things important to a holiday in Mauritius are often regarded as a great way to avoid the hassle of looking for each thing separately. However, the fact remains that these packages are often much more expensive than if you booked everything separately.

Unless you get a package that you know is advantageous, it is always cheaper to find your ticket and hotel separately. With so many websites offering tons of information on Mauritius, it's not as if it can be very hard to find out everything you need to know about the famous Indian Ocean island.

Choose a reasonable accommodation

One of the biggest factors that will initially make Mauritius look extremely expensive is the rates charged by the tourist accommodation throughout the island. Due to their popularity, it makes sense for the famous Mauritius hotels and resorts to charge a lot to tourists. A lot of people thus book these without being aware that there are also cheaper options that will nevertheless provide great lodging during their holidays.

In addition to those popular 5 star or even 4 star Mauritius hotels, there exist various types of accommodation perfect for budget travelers. These include smaller boutique hotels such as the Paradise Cove Ile Maurice Spa, self catering villas and guesthouses, lodges, and even apartments that are only five minutes from the beach.

Changing your currency

Changing your currency to Mauritius Rupees in the island when you get there is another method of sticking to a lower budget. All the banks in Mauritius have better exchange rates and changing your currency there before dedicating yourself to your well-earned break is as straightforward as it sounds. In any case, you will save a lot of money if you rely on these banks instead of going to a private agency where the rates will be different.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Coping With an Emergency Abroad

While emergencies when traveling overseas are rare occurrences, it is still important to know what to do if such an event should happen. When you are planning a trip abroad, it is easy to be caught in the moment, whether you are organizing itineraries, packing or telling your friends and family about your plans. However, you will benefit from knowing what to do before an emergency occurs; you must research where you can turn to for help, especially if you are traveling alone and you cannot help yourself.

Where to Find Help
The U.S. Department of the State provides Consular Services (or ACS) that issue travel advisories containing warnings and alerts. The agency works with embassies and consulates across the world to provide services on an emergency basis to Americans who run into trouble while traveling overseas.

How Can Consular Services Help Me?

Arrest
Statistics show that over 2,500 Americans are arrested while traveling abroad each year. At least one third of these arrests pertain to drug offenses. Americans have the same rights as everyone else. Regardless of what crime is commited or the country you are in, the United States government cannot bail you out of jail. However, Consular Services can offer to get in touch with your family and friends, educate you about the legal system of the country you are in, provide you with local attorneys from whom you may receive assistance, visit you to make sure jail conditions are acceptable and look for any possible misconducts or treatments on your behalf.

Death
While most of the 6,000 American deaths that occur overseas every year are people who have moved to another country from the United States, tourists can also fall victim to fatal illnesses and accidents while traveling.

As they do for roughly 2,000 Americans every year, the ACS can assist with both the returning of the remains of the deceased to state soil and with any necessary documents or paperwork that may follow. The ACS will confirm both the identity and the death, as well as notify the family members of the unfortunate event. The process of moving the deceased’s remains from another country back to the U.S. can be costly and is solely the responsibility of the family. However, the ACS can provide various options and costs for either the return or disposal of the remains.

Victim of a Crime
If you are a victim of a crime overseas, the Consular Services can help assist you. They will contact family and friends if you need them to, they can replace a passport that was stolen or even help to transfer funds from a bank account to your location in another country. If there is a medical emergency, they can help you obtain medical care but the cost is your responsibility. They will help you to find attorneys who speak English, should you need information about the criminal justice system or details about your particular case.

Terrorism
The best protection you can take against terrorism while traveling overseas is to avoid any country or area of unrest that has a history of terrorism. Extra protection can be found in gap year programs, which offer supervised travel opportunities.  If you do decide to visit one of these countries, you may be better off traveling alone with an uncertain itinerary, as solo travelers are often more random through the eyes of a terrorist. Avoid hanging out in areas where terrorists may congregate such as airports, bus stops or subway stations. Do not share your travel plans with anyone and avoid lingering in tourist areas for extended periods. Make sure you keep your luggage on you at all times and, above all, be aware of your surroundings. Your life may depend on it.

AdventuresCrossCountry.com provides gap year opportunities for young adults looking to expand their horizons abroad in a safer environment.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Travel tips within a budget – Saving your bucks and making your vacation memorable

In most cases we see that a vacation burns the hole in your wallet as you’re unable to save your bucks when it comes to sacrificing while on a trip. Everyone loves to go to a vacation as it means a change from the daily humdrum life but when you take into account the large amount of money that you spend during a trip, you may step back. You may follow certain travel tips so as to make sure that you save your dollars and travel on a budget. A budget is a necessity as it helps you keep a close watch on your finances so that you can monitor your savings and this is more important when you’re on a trip. Have a look at some tips that you may follow in order to travel on a budget.

1. Travel during an off season: You must be aware that there are particular seasons during which most people travel. This may be Christmas, New Year and other special occasions when people love to spend quality time with their loved ones. If you too travel during such a season, the travel fares will be higher than what you could get in an off-season. Thus, find out when the off-season starts and buy a ticket during that particular season to save money.

2. Try to curtail costs on rooms: When you’re travelling with someone, you must try your best to curtail the costs on the rooms by staying in a single room than booking two single rooms. This is one of the most overlooked travel tips. There are some particular hotels that charge huge amount on room costs and you must make sure that you avoid all such rooms so as to save money.

3. Try to get a cheap airfare: You can get a cheap airfare when it comes saving money while travelling. There are some tickets that are cheaper than on those that are booked on the weekends. People usually tend to travel more on weekends and therefore if you want to save your bucks while traveling, make sure you book the tickets on the weekdays to get them cheap.
Airport
Airfare Tip: Fly on weekdays.
4. Hire a travel agent: Before packing your bags, make sure you hire a travel agent so that he may help you throughout the entire process. He will have enough knowledge on the best places that can offer you a money-saving vacation and follow their advice so that it is possible to get the best deals while travelling.

Therefore, when you’re travelling with your loved ones, make sure you follow a budget and don’t stretch it while on the move. Carry a travel insurance policy so that you can get financial benefits if you come across any unfortunate circumstances. Follow the 4 travel tips mentioned above to stay on top of your finances.

KP: travel tips

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Orlando: Tips for your next vacation

Orlando is often regarded as the most kid friendly destination in the world. More than 51 million tourists visit this iconic landmark to enjoy world-class activities at Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Studio Orlando, Sea World and Gatorland. Besides, it is also a busy venue for corporate events and international seminars. In fact, most visitors complain that they don’t get the time to visit all the great attractions. Nevertheless, here are some tips to get you started.

Getting There

The Orlando International Airport is the second busiest airport in Florida. Most local airlines including Air Blue, South West and AirTran operate several daily flights from all across America. Foreign carriers such as Lufthansa, British Airways, AeroMexico, Virgin Atlantic and Air France also have daily schedules. The nearby Sanford International Airport is home to Allegiant Air.

If driving to Orlando, it is useful to avoid the morning rush hours between 7 am and 9 am. For passengers traveling by train, CSX Transportation and Amtrak offer interstate railroad services connecting Southern Florida and Northern United States, respectively. Moreover, a high speed railway network connecting Tampa and Orland is expected to resume somewhere in 2014.

Getting Around

Several local tour operators and private shuttles offer fast access to major attractions. If touring with a small group, hire a small van as most companies adhere to ‘per shuttle’ pricing policy. The I-ride trolley is another price saving option. These colorful trolleys take visitors everywhere around the International Drive. The park and ride feature of these trolleys is a great way to save money and arrive at prime locations faster than other means.

Car Rental

Sheer competition among care rental agencies makes sure that visitors are able to find cheap car rentals. To further improve your chances of getting a great deal, always book at least 30 days in advance. If late for booking, always ask for last minute deals. Luckily, most car rental companies have last minute rates available even during the peak holiday season.

Amusement Parks

While all major attractions are located around International Drive, Walt Disney World Resort is situated along Lake Buena Vista. If traveling with kids, it is best to visit Epcot Center and Animal Kingdom, first. These theme parks offer variety of attractions within a small parameter. Leave other parks for evenings as they require you to walk.

For movie fans, a visit to Universal Studios is a must. The park is geared around movie themes providing thrilling cinematographic effects. Sea World and Wet’n’Wild water parks are the other main attractions. Children will also love Gatorland, which is often dubbed as the alligator capital of the world.

Recreation

For adults, Orlando offers world-class golf, nightlife and outdoor activities. Home to some of the most prestigious tournaments, Orlando has more than 170 golf courses and 20 training academies. Dinner shows, interactive entertainment and live music are hallmarks of the city’s nightlife. The Universal City Walk is a prime example of such an entertainment. Examples of outdoor activities include riding in an open cockpit airplane or using an air-boat to traverse swamplands.

Shopping

Downtown Orlando and Winter Park are prime spots for the best shopping deals. Besides, several specialty shops offer hard to find clothing and d├ęcor. The Florida Mall, Mall at Millennia and Lake Buena Vista Factory are major clothing outlets. Fit2Run, Jockey, Cartier, Tupperware Brands and Shepler’s Western Wear offer specialty products at factory rates.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Following Writers’ Footsteps in Oxford

Oxford has a long and rich literary history, having served as the stomping grounds for some of the most influential authors of the last century and a half. Here are a few of my favorite spots with significant literary associations that you can see walking from St. Giles all the way down the High Street all in a day—though I’d recommend taking a bit more time to enjoy the entire city.

The Eagle and Child
The main roads from North Oxford that feed into City Center combine on a street called St. Giles Terrace. On the west side of the road, you’ll find a pub called the Eagle and Child, known to locals as the Bird and Baby. In the main room, called the Rabbit Room, of the pub a plaque hangs on the wall that reads, “Until 1963 the great writers of the ‘Inklings’, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and others, met regularly on this spot. The conversations that have taken place here have profoundly influenced the development of 20th century English literature.” The literary genius of these giants has polished the dark wood interior of the Eagle and Child with a veneer of history that is only brightened by the greasy foods and stout pints that slip and slide between the kitchen, the bar keep, and the patrons. Cozy up in the midday with a cup or tea or in the evenings with a pint of lager; the cheerful, earthy atmosphere is absolutely palpable and a must-see for travelers.

Christ Church
One of the oldest and grandest colleges in the University of Oxford is Christ Church. The honey-colored, blue-domed quads on St. Aldate’s are easy to spot from nearly anywhere in the city. From the literary perspective, Christ Church is famous for inspiring notable fantasy fiction authors Lewis Carroll who wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy. Carroll, who studied at Christ Church and later taught math there, interested me most, and I had the chance to take a private tour of the Christ Church grounds with Mr. Stuart Fleming, Assistant Head Custodian while I was visiting. Christ Church’s grounds include a croquet field, a massive twisted tree, beautiful gardens, and secret passageways throughout the buildings. All of these elements and more inspired Carroll to write his timeless story for the real Alice, daughter of Christ Church’s Dean during Carroll’s tenure. You can pay a small fee for general admission (visit the dining hall and outdoor quads) or call in advance to arrange a special behind the scenes guided tour of areas normally frequented only by faculty, staff and students.

Magdalen College
On the High Street running east from City Center lies Magdalen College, pronounced maudlin. A small admission fee (even smaller for students) grants admission to the grounds where The Chronicles of Narnia author C.S. Lewis taught as Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English. One of my favorite walks through the Magdalen grounds follows the River Cherwell that winds through a few fields and a stand of trees. In one meadow, a fenced off area called The Grove, a herd of deer (a literary cousin of Mr. Tumnus, perhaps?) make their home during the dry months. When the rains come, the meadow floods and fills with pools of water that are sure to have inspired a scene early in Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew. On May Day, the first day in May, the Magdalen choir sings hymns from the top of the college’s tower at 6am, just in time for sunrise. The festivities are free to attend, though they’ll cost you a few hours of sleep.

Botanic Garden
Just across The High Street from Magdalen College is the University of Oxford Botanic Garden. The University charges a modest admission fee for visitors on the weekends, but during the week guests are free to frequent the garden as they like. Towards the back of the garden by a stone wall, there is an immense black pine that towers into the sky with thick, rough-barked arms. This pine was planted in 1800 and was the favorite tree of J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; indeed, one of the most popular photographs of the writer shoes him reclining against its trunk. The large trees that pepper the garden inspired Tolkien’s Ents—talking guardians of the forest. Behind the wall are more botanic exhibits including a low branched tree spreads over a wooden bench; someone has carved “Lyra + Will” into the arm in memory of Pullman’s His Dark Materials protagonists. And to the southeast, where the garden is bordered by the Cherwell, a stand of glass domes house tropical and desert plants; Lewis Carroll’s illustrator Sir John Tenniel incorporated the greenhouses into his illustration of the Red Queen and her Court meeting Alice.

Black Pine in the Botanic Garden
There are hundreds of other sites to see in Oxford, especially literary ones. The city deserves at least a few days of your time to properly enjoy them all.

Analise Marcus is a voracious fiction reader and anglophile. Analise lived in Oxford for four months as a cost-conscious student; she advocates the use of an Orbitz promotion code to plan travel adventures both domestic and abroad.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How to Get Into Business Class on Your Mates

Many years ago, as I was carefully planning my honeymoon, Lady Luck appeared in the form of cheap business class flights with Singapore Airlines. It feels like a lifetime ago (well before my current days of enjoying one of the many perks of business travel that are the much revered business class flights) and at that point in our lives, bargain basement economy seats were all we knew.

We baulked at first for two reasons: one, because we were ignorant to the heaven-in-a-seat that is business class; and two, because even at their heavily discounted price, these seats were still not what we would have generally considered to be “cheap”.

Fortunately, as we were not overly excited by the idea of receiving bed linen and cutlery as wedding gifts (nor were we thrilled by the idea of wasting the full day in Myers that is required to successfully complete the registry trawl through their home wares section), we had set up a gift registry system with our travel agent that invited our wedding guests to contribute the money they might have put into a wishing well, into our honeymoon fund instead.

Thanks to this bit of foresight (and a bit of luck) we were able to splurge out, snap up those tickets and hence have our first taste of business class and our first experience flying with Singapore Airlines. These were both life-changing events (relatively speaking).

Flying business class is a massive eye-opener to the humble cattle-class traveller, so it’s not hard to understand why my life’s motto became, “once you go business, you never go back”. Well, at least you never willingly go back to economy and if you do have to, then you may shed a little tear as you board the plane and turn right (towards the arse-end of the plane), rather than left (towards that shining beacon of comfort and civilised flying up the front).

Flying Singapore Airlines was also a massive eye-opener. This airline is renowned for being the best in the business and they have bagged a heap of industry awards including Best Business Class Airline Seat at World Airline Awards, and Passengers Choice awards. They are hugely deserving of these accolades and they are my first choice of airline when it comes to holiday or business travel.

These days my business class bum is flown around the world courtesy of my obliging employer. For their generosity in providing business class flights in my budget I thank them dearly… and I also work that little bit harder to close the deal. For at the back of my mind is that niggling thought… the thought of potential budget-cuts reverting my flights to economy. Oh the horror!