New Travel Magazine, AFAR

While browsing at the bookstore yesterday, I came across a travel magazine I had not seen before. I LOVE it! It jumped out at me because of its catchy name, AFAR, and the non-glossy cover. The look and feel of the magazine is a refreshing change from the high-gloss, luxury feel of the other travel magazines. This magazine feels organic, authentic. AFAR seems like it caters to people like me: wanting to have unique experiences with a destination’s people, culture and history. Not so much about the fancy amenities of a 5-star hotel, nor whether the rich and famous have made a certain locale their favorite vacation spot. Check out the article about the Russian Summer – outdoor festivals in St. Petersburg. Or, the article about Hoi An’s (Vietnam) street food, cao lau.

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Help! Too Many Travel Web Sites!

There have been online articles lately reviewing travel web sites and how social media can help the traveler with planning an itinerary. While it’s great that you have so many resources at your finger tips and while I agree that these web sites can help plan one’s trip, you have to be willing to invest a substantial amount of time navigating these web sites, comparing reviews, selecting hotels, and refining itineraries before deciding on the final plan. Many people have full-time jobs and don’t have the time to do the research, or find this process daunting and would rather pay for the service of a travel consultant who can make sense of it all. Especially challenging are family trips with young kids to overseas destinations. I am a travel consultant and can plan a trip from scratch or fine tune the details of an itinerary. An example of a 2-week, U.S. itinerary I’m working on for a client, so far, has taken me 18 hours — starting with three potential itineraries, narrowing it to one, then refining; contacting hotels and making reservations; and researching activities. The 18 hours does not include the time I will spend putting the itinerary into a format that my client can bring on the road with her. I’d love to hear how many hours you spend planning a family trip. Contact me.

Tech, Social Media and Travel

 Check out this article, “How Tech and Social Media Are Changing Travel”. Brought to you by Lab 42, it discusses the many apps and web sites used by the techie traveler before, during and after a trip. I can agree that travelers are now more savvy figuring out where to go, what to do, and can much sooner and easier share their memories with their friends and family.

Favorite Travel Web Sites

Planning trips has become so much easier for the at-home travel organizer. There are many travel web sites that can help you with different aspects of your itinerary. Here are my favorites.

Kayak.com for flights and air fares. kayak.com compares data from Expedia, Priceline, and others all at once, so you can do one-stop shopping.

Seatguru.com shows you which seats are bad, good on a particular flight for a particular airline. The best feature though, especially when traveling with children, is being able to find out whether a long, overseas flight has entertainment options for children. I always try to book my family on a 747 or 777, not caring which airline, because many have seat-back tv’s with personal controls — in coach!!

TripAdvisor.com for hotels, things to do, and discussion forums for your particular destination. See my previous blog Why I Love TripAdvisor for more detail.

i-escape.com for “boutique hotels and hip hideaways”. This web site gives you alternate accommodations (b&bs, houses for rent, boutique hotels ) to big hotel chains. These accommodations often times give you a more relaxed, authentic experience. For more insight, read my blog on Hotel vs. Bed and Breakfast.

Google Earth for viewing and exploring your actual destinations. You can get a birds-eye view of the town you’ll be visiting, or zoom down to the street that your hotel is on. Google Earth gives you a great visual of your travel path from one city to the next.

Why I Love TripAdvisor

I really do love TripAdvisor. It has become my Bible for travel planning. It is the first place I go to to start my search for accommodations and to refine our itinerary. It works for us, but it’s not for everyone.

My family does not have a favorite hotel chain, we like the flexibility of making our own choices of where we go and what we want to see, and we welcome adventures, big and small. I enjoy reading through reviews and don’t mind navigating the site to gain enough information so that I am confident in making my travel decisions. TripAdvisor is not for those who are dependent on ready-made tour packages and itineraries. Nor, have the time and energy to sift through tons of details. It can get mind-boggling.

Hotel Reviews

By reading through about 8 -10 reviews, I get a pretty good feel for the hotel or b&b. These reviews are invaluable. They are quite candid and honest, so I am comfortable basing my decision on what I read. And, I have yet to be proven wrong. If there’s a comment that I have a question about, like “The room was large enough to fit our family of 4”, I can send an email to the reviewer and get more specifics. Also, often times, the reviewer will provide more than just comments on the particular b&b. She’ll mention her favorite restaurant near the b&b, a preferred route to the center of town, or where to taste the best gelato in the world. I can then start getting a feel for the location and getting more ideas for our trip.

Forums

There is a forum for every destination you choose. This is an awesome feature because you can select a forum, then search for a particular topic, like ferry schedule, and you’ll get several discussions on that particular topic. In the end, you might decide that the ferry is not the right thing to do. Or, if you are trying to refine your itinerary, you can search for something general, like Tuscany, and be able to read through suggestions of which towns are most popular.

Give TripAdvisor a try for your next trip. Do you have favorite travel web sites? Please reply below.

If you don’t have the time to plan your trip, nor desire to manage the details, contact me and I can help you no matter what stage you’re in. It’s not too late for your summer vacation!