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International Travel planning

Inspiration

Never Put Off Tomorrow What You Can Do Today – Traveling On Your Own Terms

February 20, 2011 • By

Recently, I was asked to write a guest post at Baby Boomers Traveling by another travel friend, Doris Gallan.   I soon realized that it was actually a continuation of a post that I wrote last month, “How to get out of your own way and live the life you want“.  With Doris’ permission, I am posting it here.  I hope that it inspires someone to reach out and grab life with gusto:

I was raised in a household of ten kids with two parents and as you can imagine, freedom of movement was a scarce commodity. I think that is where my first yearning for wide open spaces came from. It’s difficult to live life feeling confined, so I suppose that gave rise to my desire to be unencumbered; unrestricted. I had always been interested in geography because I learned so much about places so far removed from the reality of my life. It was like a pleasant dream to politely acknowledge, but I never believed that it would or could possibly come true.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to visit Paris – the venerable city of lights. Like so many would-be nomads, I allowed the dream to sit unfettered in the deep recesses of my mind. I never allowed myself to believe that it could become a reality for me. It was safer to let the years drift by; to craft excuse after excuse as to why it was OK to not do a single thing that would get me closer to that elusive goal. Until one day, I had a ridiculously simple epiphany: “Just Do It”. Nothing was going to happen until I made it so. No travel agent was going to come knocking to see what my plans were. I believe so many of us are sitting, waiting for supernatural signs to tap us on our collective shoulders. It will not happen that way. As with anything worth having, you have to work for it, to plan for it….that is truly the only way it will come to pass. It’s about taking a leap of faith, of believing that you have as much right as anyone else to live dreams previously unfulfilled.

Traveling

That is my main purpose in starting my travel blog, A View To A Thrill. It is a call to action to anyone who has the desire, but perhaps, not the knowledge to explore this vast world that we live in. It is an appeal to believe in the possibilities; to believe in your own ability to navigate through this life on your own terms. Rest assured, there will always be naysayers; those that can think of every reason on earth as to why you’ve left your senses. You will be surprised to see that their protests are usually deeply rooted in their own self-doubts. And yes, there are those who will think that you see yourself as high and mighty simply because you want to expose yourself to different cultures, different experiences, different….anything. It goes against their predictable and limited expectations and some would even ask what are you running from?

When I travel, I never put restrictions on myself. If there is something that I want to do, I do it anyway…even if some folks thinks it’s for other people. If I want to go to a country music concert, I’ll go. You’d be surprised how many people (black and white) would find it odd that I enjoy country music. Never let others define you and tell you what you should be doing, do what pleases you. I think older people are probably most guilty about towing the party-line. Sometimes, you have to risk being judged or even mocked. If you have unconventional tastes, own it! You only go around once, live it to the fullest! I’ve always said, unless you pay my mortgage, utilities and buy my groceries, you don’t get a say in how I live my life. Conformity takes the color out of rainbows, harmony out of a song and the joy out of living.

Traveling

My goal is to reach out to those who want to travel on a budget without sacrificing comfort and also to provide guidance to those who want to travel, but never have. To that end, my blog focuses on the reality that most people are living paycheck to paycheck. In these economic times, it is even more important to share ways of traveling on a budget. It’s about making adjustments, even sacrifices to your current lifestyle. There are lots of tricks to save money without even trying to or learning how to deny yourself when you see that pair of jeans that cost more than a fancy winter coat. It’s not going to be a piece of cake, but the reward will be worth it. Just as important, is the person who wants to travel, but has no idea of how to get started. My desire is to share some of the things that I wish others had told me about when I was just starting out.


Budget Tips, Reviews, Travel Advice

The Best Search Engine For Finding Lower Fares, Hotel and Car Rentals?

November 24, 2010 • By

Search Engine

While attending the Travel Bloggers’ Exchange convention in New York this past June, I was invited to a presentation for a revolutionary, but relatively new flight search aggregator called Momondo.  I was vaguely familiar with the company because innovations in the travel world are usually spread like wildfire through the social media realm.  We (my daughter and I) were running a little late because we were caught in the moment while viewing the phenomenal skyline from the top of 30 Rockefeller Center.

Luckily, we weren’t very far from our destination at 1290 Avenue of the Americas.  The company hosting the event, Kintetsu International (the Japan specialist travel agency), was kind enough to provide saki libations and crudites, fresh fruit slices, sushi and sushimi for all of the invited travel industry professionals to snack on.  It was interesting to find out that the particular brand of saki that we were served was available in 50%, 60% and 70% proof.  Knowing my low tolerance for alcohol, I decided to sample the 50%, god help me if I had tried the 70.

Search Engines

Sherry Ott from Ottsworld.com and Stephanie Butler from Fodor’s share ideas with their colleagues.

Not long after, we were called into the conference room where we were introduced to one of the partners of Momondo, Martin Lumbye, who explained the company’s mission was and still is to create the most trustworthy price comparison search engine in the world.

Martin Lumbye discusses what his vision is for his company.

Momondo, which means “My World” in old Spanish, began in 2006 as a small flight aggregator in Copenhagen, Denmark.  Their interface allows them to compare prices from more than 800 suppliers because they do not limit their searches to major carriers, they include discounters too.    Aggregators like Kayak, only have 300-400 suppliers because they have narrowed their focus to the major airlines.  Kayak steers away from discounters like Airtran, RyanAir or Priceline, so their searches are limited to major carriers.

Momondo wanted to create a search engine that could be easily used by any customer.

According to Mr. Lumbye, “Momondo’s promise to customers is powerfully simple: to provide them with the fastest and most comprehensive plane ticket search available on the Internet.  Momondo makes this possible through leveraging its comprehensive network of travel industry relationships and the most cutting-edge search technologies available.  As a result, Momondo combines searches across hundreds of websites with hundreds of different interfaces to return relevant flight options to the consumer or business traveler whether they use low-cost airlines, the well-known national airlines, online travel agencies or ticket databases.”  This means that Momondo’s searches include data from the airlines’ own websites and online travel companies, as well.

Plug in your cities of departure and arrival and your preferred travel dates.

To that end, I was sold on the product; from a budget traveler’s perspective, it is never a good idea to cherry pick options for travelers.  We need to know and have access to all booking venues, not a select (and usually more expensive) few that the aggregator limits us to.    Conversely, I would think that little known concerns would benefit as well by participating on a more level playing field.

Once your search is completed, your pricing options are displayed in ascending order.

Momondo does not buy data from the airlines.  Instead, they employ web crawlers to search the internet for the best prices.  While they do have suppliers that pay them, they decided long ago to operate from a value-added perspective instead of a revenue generating standpoint.  They reasoned that if they only focused on revenue then they would have to use larger airlines in order to realize higher revenue streams and the everyday traveler would never have access to said discounters.  They realized that they must look at the big picture and provide the traveler with as many options as possible that would give them the best price in one place.  They couldn’t do that by limiting the number of carriers.

Once your selection is made, you can specify the number of tickets needed and you will notice that the supplier’s ratings are located on the left.  Here you can gauge other customer’s perceptions before pulling the trigger.

Should you decide to continue, you will be taken directly to the vendor’s website to purchase your tickets.

To bring this concept to even greater heights, Momondo launched a fully integrated train and flight comparison component to their website.  This move comes in a time with growing awareness of the environment-friendly high-speed trains that race between many of Europe’s big cities.“By displaying trains and flights together, we provide the consumers with even greater transparency, sending a green signal at a time where climate is of highest priority”, explained Mr. Lumbye.

I don’t need to tell you how frustrating it is to find a good deal on a rail ticket.  It’s nice to know that Momondo is realizing how important the rail system has become and will continue to be to the casual and frequent traveler and is providing a unique service as a result.  Additionally, the site has a hotel and car rental search feature  which intuitively uses the parameters that were set for the flight search and applies them to their hotel and car rental search engine component.  It simplifies what can sometimes be a daunting task.

After the supplier’s website is launched in a new window, you will notice that the Momondo site will display a short survey to record your experience.  You will be allowed to rate the supplier and give honest feedback.  This is particularly helpful for buyers who may not be as familiar with some boutique suppliers because they are small and relatively unknown.  This will give them some yardstick as to what they can expect from that particular vendor.  I’m most excited about this aspect of the site because it gives the traveler a way to instantly record his/her experiences.

At this point, I believe that Momondo has a leg up on the competition.  However, it won’t be difficult for competitors to adopt the same philosophy at some point.  Therefore, it’s essential for companies like this to continue to keep the customer at the forefront of their decisions if they want to grow their business.  All, in all…..I like the fact that Momondo believes in spreading the wealth and allowing the little guy the opportunity to compete with the big boys.  I can only hope that the competition will follow their lead because that will create a win-win situation for everyone.

Here’s Momondo and welcome to it!

Please note that this review was and is uncompensated and is a report of the presentation that occurred in the offices of Kintetsu International and any conclusions drawn from it are solely mine.


Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide To Applying For A U.S. Passport

August 27, 2010 • By
U.S. Passport

Photo credit: jamesheywood.com

Now that you’ve decided to take the plunge to do a little traveling across the border, you should know that there have been several changes regarding the issuance of U.S. Passports in recent months which will affect your travel plans.

All U.S. citizens are now required to have a Passport card in order to cross the borders to Canada or Mexico. To travel anywhere else outside the U.S., you will need a standard Passport.

When should I apply for a Passport?

My advice is to go ahead and apply for your passport if you have a reasonably good idea that you will be traveling internationally in the coming months.  You can never predict a delay of some sort happening, so don’t chance missing your flight by putting this off.

How long will it take to receive my Passport?

The standard processing time is between 4-6 weeks. If you will need your passport in less than two weeks, you will need to schedule an appointment with your local passport acceptance facility.   If you plan during peak travel seasons like the summer, be sure to apply within ten weeks of travel. Please note that in the rush to beat the July 13, 2010 price increase, that there has been a large number of renewals that has extended the processing time to a solid six weeks.  It will probably take that long for the foreseeable future, so plan accordingly.

What if I need my Passport sooner than that?

There is an additional $60.00 fee plus overnight delivery costs per application for expedited applications.  If you choose to mail in your request be sure to clearly mark the overnight package “Expedite” and be sure to enclose the aforementioned proof of citizenship documents in the package; they will be returned to you.

Where can I get a passport and how much does it cost?

U.S. Passport

Photo credit: The New York Times

All first time applicants (and all minors, no exceptions) must apply in person at a Passport Agency, Acceptance Facility, U.S. Embassy or Consulate to fill out Form DS-11: Application For A U.S. Passport. The U. S. Department of State has made it easier to apply for a Passport online by using this wizard that will help you to determine the correct form that you will need to fill out, how much you will have to pay and will allow you to complete and print out the completed application to take with you to the aforementioned agencies.  Be sure to leave the signature portion blank and do not sign the document until you are instructed by an agent to do so.

As a general rule, passport fees (which take into account price increases beginning July 13, 2010) are as follows:

• New Passport (first time applicants)
$110.00 plus $25.00 administrative fee
• New Passports for children under age 16 (yes, even newborns must have one!)
$80.00 plus $25.00 administrative fee
• Passport renewal
$110.00 (it’s not necessary to visit Acceptance facility; you can renew via mail)
• New Passport cards (first time applicants)
$55.00
• Passport cards renewal
$30.00
• New Passport cards for children under age 16
$40.00
• Passport cards for children under age 16 (renewals)
$15.00
• Extra passport pages
$82.00 (previously, they were free)

What items will I need to bring with me when I apply for my Passport?

In order to apply for a passport, you will need to submit one of the following items to prove U.S. citizenship:

  • Previously issued, undamaged U.S. Passport
  • Certified birth certificate (with registrar’s raised, embossed seal) issued by the city, county or state.
  • Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certification of Birth
  • Naturalized Certificate
  • Certificate of Citizenship
  • Additionally, you will need two 2” x 2” color photos (that you can buy from Walgreen’s for 8.00) where one will be affixed to your passport and the other will be kept on file at the agency.

What is an e-Passport?

 

U.S. Passport

According to the State Department, the U.S. Electronic Passport (e-passport) is the same as a regular passport with the addition of a small contact-less integrated circuit (computer chip) embedded in the back cover. The chip securely stores the same data visually displayed on the photo page of the passport, and additionally includes a digital photograph.

The inclusion of the digital photograph enables biometric comparison, through the use of facial recognition technology, at international borders. The U.S. e-passport also has a new look, incorporating additional anti-fraud and security features.

Since August 2007, the U.S. has been issuing only e-passports.  Passports without chips will still be valid for the full extent of their validity period.

When do Passports expire?

The Passport for children under the age of 16 years old expires after 5 years. The passport for adults expires after 10 years.  Please note that many countries require that you have at least six months to go on your passport before you can enter their country.  In fact, some tour companies won’t even book you nor will some airlines allow you to board if you have less than six months left on your Passport.  It’s advisable that you renew your Passport when there is about nine months left on it to avoid any six month deadline conflicts.

How will I know if a visa will be required where I’m going?

 

U.S. Passport

While U.S. citizens do not need a U.S. visa to travel, you may need a visa to travel to the country that you plan to visit.  The Department of State has a list of every country that requires a visa.  Use this searchable database to determine whether or not your destination will require one.  You will also be able to find out any travel advisories, crime stats/penalties, traffic info, medical facilities, etc. relating to that country by visiting that website.  Additionally, visas will not be issued if there is less than six months left on your Passport.

Remember when you are traveling that your Passport is your proof of U.S. citizenship, so take care not to lose it.  Your friendly TSA agent and most assuredly, Immigration, will want to review it as you enter their country.  Most travelers tend to store their Passports in their hotel safe and carry photocopies of the Passport on their person.  Or you may want to scan it and email it to yourself.  Happy Travels!

 


Travel Advice

How To Dust Off Your Old Traveling Shoes…… When It’s Been Awhile Since You’ve Hit The Road

May 10, 2010 • By

It’s been longer than I care to admit since I’ve traveled period, much less, internationally. As avid travelers can relate, you will begin to get stir-crazy and feeling the walls caving in on you after awhile. So, what should you do when you have neither the time nor money to make that hop across the ocean or even across state lines?

Traveling Shoes

Photo credit: open.salon.com

You dream, plan, ruminate about your next adventure that will take you far away from the maddening crowd! After a lot of soul searching and absolutely too much time on our hands, we decided to try a less “citified” locale for our next adventure. Initially, the plan was to visit Ireland until my daughter suggested that we try Latin America this time around. She didn’t have a particular preference but she made a good point that we’ve been there, done that now it’s time to take a break from Europe.

Traveling Shoes

Photo credit: Transitions Abroad

We are considering Peru, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Argentina and Brazil. Whenever we travel, we try to maximize our stay by visiting nearby locales. We figure if we’re going to travel that far, we may as well make it count! It’s just a small matter of checking out online travel agencies (or a local travel agent that you trust) for deals to multiple cities within close proximity. You will be surprised to see what’s available and how much money you end up saving.

Traveling Shoes

Photo credit: Overseas Adventure Journey

Get inspired!

Sometimes, you have the desire, but no clue as to where you want to go. Think about your favorite foreign language. Mine is French and as corny as it sounds, it inspired me to make getting to Paris a major goal for myself. Are you into foreign films? Where is the setting of said film? That could be a potential spot for your next getaway!

Traveling Shoes

Photo credit: Contiki.com

Start checking out travel magazines at the library or go to travel websites like Lonely Planet, Frommer’s and Fodor’s among others. You will find yourself whisked away to faraway lands and will be able to visualize being there. Allow yourself to explore places that you not only probably would have never considered, but maybe never even heard of. This is the time where you must resolve to be open to all of the possibilities. The world is a big place and there’s so many wonderful places to pick from.

Traveling Shoes

Photo credit: San Francisco Sentinel

Focus, Focus, Focus!

By now, you should have a general idea about what part of the world you’d like to visit. Hopefully, you’ve narrowed your choices to a select few. Try to learn as much as you can about, say, your top three picks. Do your own legwork; learn as much as you can about each location; ask friends who are in the know for advice.

Traveling Shoes

Gradually, begin to start a process of elimination for each place. Ask yourself why either place wouldn’t work out. Is one too expensive? Is another area experiencing unseasonably bad weather? Is one location better suited for the activities that you are interested in? This may seem a little backwards, but when challenged with lots of great potential vacation spots, you will find yourself having to find reasons to disqualify certain candidates from consideration. Focus on what it is you truly want to do and select accordingly.

Traveling Shoes

Get with the program!

First of all, get your financial house in order. As soon as you’ve made the decision, start putting money aside if you don’t already have a vacation fund set aside. Take inventory of what you will need to get ready for your adventure. Will you need to apply for a visa? Is your passport (assuming that you have one) up to date? Remember most countries want you to have at least 6 months left on your passport or you may be denied entry.

Traveling Shoes

Photo credit: www.fitforeurope.com

Arrange to have the post office hold your mail for delivery until the day you return, or if you are concerned about the mail carrier skipping your house everyday and thereby causing others to become suspicious of your whereabouts. Alternately, you can have a trusted friend come by to get your mail. However, in my opinion, that would be even more of a red flag to me. Board or arrange for the care of any pets that you may have. Making sure that you have covered all your bases on the home-front will assure that you will be able to have a wonderful worry-free vacation. Bon Yoyage!

Traveling Shoes

Photo credit: www.zawaj.com