Category: Travel sites

Would you stay at an all-inclusive in Greece or go on a European cruise?

Every once in a while I like to raid a website and check out what kind of vacation ideas they have. Today I raid Travel Supermarket for discussion purposes. Cool name. As I was there, I came up with these questions:

1. Is it better to visit a Greek island and stay at an all-inclusive resort or a hotel that doesn’t include meals / drinks?

2. Is it better to visit one European city for two weeks, visit a few cities traveling via train in the same time, or take a cruise around Europe?

If you check out Travel Supermarket’s all inclusive holidays you can find a good number of resorts in the Greek islands (Sharon was kind enough to write about some of them for us). This got me thinking about the best way to see Rhodes, Crete, Zante, Mykonos, Corfu or any of the other islands in Greece. Staying at an all-inclusive might help you save money, especially for heavy eaters / drinkers, but you might be less likely to explore the island (particularly the local restaurants). I suppose the key is to make sure you don’t limit yourself to resort food only but that can be tough when you’re as cheap as I am.

Being a travel supermarket, they of course have some cruise deals as well. And one thing I plan to do at some point is cruise around Europe and/or northern Africa. Come to think of it, a cruise around the Greek islands would be nice but a more typical European cruise itinerary might be this one:

Day 1: Depart Southampton, England

Days 2 – 3: At sea

Day 4: Malaga, Spain

Days 5 – 7: At sea

Day 8: Cairo

Day 9: Port Said (Cairo)

Day 10: At sea

Day 11: Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey

Day 12: Athens (piraeus), Greece

Day 13: Katakolon (Olympia), Greece

Day 14: Valletta, Malta

Days 15 – 17: At Sea

Day 18: Porto (Oporto), Portugal

Day 19: Back where you started from

Something like this might be good for me because I’ve never been to any of those places. The disadvantage is that you don’t get a ton of time in any one place but you get to see several places and can always plan a return trip to ones you prefer and not be stuck in a place you don’t like for too long.

For example when I was flying back from Istanbul, I started a conversation with one Korean guy to get a little practice. Of course, his English ended up being better than my Korean so I didn’t get much practice but I did learn that he had spent his vacation in Cairo. However, he didn’t like it much at all and had the feeling that everyone he met was out to rip him off. Most people say they love Egypt though. Anyway a cruise is good for that sort of thing – you see it but you don’t commit the way you do when you fly and make hotel reservations and all that stuff.

But there are places I’m fairly confident I would want more time in, probably all of them actually, but I’m especially sure I’d want more time in Malaga.

An old miner in Tae-Baek

Today I share with you a different kind of travel story – one of my university students writing about a class trip he took in high school. I think you’ll agree that the author is an excellent writer with a powerful story to tell:

An old miner in Tae-Baek

How many people have had a travel experience that had such an impact on their outlook on life?

Rather than commenting on this blog, I encourage you to encourage my student by leaving your comments on his blog. It may require a WordPress account (I’m not so sure) so if you’re unable to leave comments over there, leave them here and I will make sure he sees what you have to say.

TravelGrove – a strong competitor in the online airfare search game

The following is a paid review:

Travel Grove seems to focus on airfare and they promise to find you

cheap filghts. Of course so do many other sites so I figured I’d see how they stack up.

They find cheap fares by comparing OneTravel, CheapOair, BookingBuddy, and Priceline. First, I tried Travel Grove’s cheap flights to Orlando page since I may be flying from Seoul to Seattle or LA and then on to Orlando.

5 or 6 pages popped up after I did my search. TravelGrove found me $1568/person from American Airlines, $2308 from JAL, and $2649 from Korean Air or a little more from Asiana. Yes, Korean Air and Asiana economy is really a lot more expensive than everyone else. The Priceline pop up turned out to be useless (no flights from ICN) and the BookingBuddy one was annoying because instead of showing me prices they made me click on links to more sites. The OneTravel pop up was interesting – over $1900 for American Airlines but just under $1800 for Asiana Airlines (normally about the same price as Korean Air).

I did a comparison search on Kayak. Kayak adds the option for flexible dates (which I like) plus you don’t need to deal with 5 popup windows. Kayak found me $1665 on American Airlines (2 stops), about the same as Travel Grove on Asiana ($2650), and was more expensive than Travel Grove on JAL ($2900 per person).

I wanted to check out the cheap flights to Rome section as well since Italy is one of my favorites. If you leave from JFK a month from today, British Air is Travel Grove’s cheapest with an $850/person price tag. Kayak also had British Airways the cheapest but at $890/person. Of course you have to see if the fees and surcharges are equal or not but it seems Travel Grove might be cheaper here.

In the end, if finding the cheapest airfare is important to you, you’re probably going to every site you can think of, comparing prices, figuring out what extra fuel surcharges and taxes get added on, and so on. Since Travel Grove is cheaper in at least some cases, I think I’ll think of them next time I’m searching flight prices.

Travel Grove also has a blog. This needs a little more love. The titles might grab your attention, like the “top 5 weirdest bars in the world” but with very brief descriptions, no pictures, and nothing about atmosphere inside the bar the article seems like it’s more for show than anything else.

Ideas for a low stress / low cost vacation?

As I finish up making hotel reservations and things for my upcoming 24 day Finland and Estonia adventure, I’m starting to worry a bit about the money. I’m not spending more than I have, but I am spending more than I want to. That goes for time as well – planning a long trip with multiple stops is kind of a pain – my wife and I negotiate where to go, where to skip, how long to stay in each place, how much is too much to spend, all that.

So to see what I was missing, I went to one website that promised to give me some cheap holiday deals and searched for Finland. It wasn’t even an option. I figured that’s just cause Finland and Norway are so expensive. I took this as a hint to give up trying to go cheap on this holiday and just plan differently next time.

Last summer we went to Tokyo for a week (instead of Europe for 3 weeks). That would have been cheap if not for the expensive hotel. But the airfare from Seoul to Tokyo is (of course) not too expensive and I do like short flights better than long ones since I always fly economy.

Interestingly, they did have a page for the USA – who knew America was cheap? It can be a little cheap for me since I can usually stay with family instead of spending on hotels but I didn’t know it could possibly be cheap for anyone else. Then again, when I was a kid I did the road trip / youth hostel thing or just slept in my car when I was being really cheap.

But to get back to what I saw on that website, they did have some nice air / hotel packages (departing from London or other UK airports since it’s a UK site). If you go for the cheapest ones, under 120 GBP you get 2 nights in Amsterdam. But if you’re willing to spend just over 200 GBP you can do 7 nights in Sunny Beach, Bourgas Region, Bulgaria or 7 nights in Altinkum, Bodrum Peninsula, Turkey.

After planning this European trip (seriously it seems like a part time job and not an easy one) the idea of just clicking a button and then spending 7 nights in a foreign country sounds pretty good.

Travel articles for your free time

I’m not sure how many of you have checked out the Reader’s Digest Canada travel section, but you should because it’s pretty good. I checked out 3 sections: traveling in Canada, travel health and budget travel.

If you have time for only one, check out the budget travel section for some cheap vacations. They have some travel deals, in this case places you can ski for under $50. According to that article, you don’t have to go to a big famous mountain resort to have fun skiing:

Nangle explains that the emphasis at smaller hills is on affordable fun, not glitz. Smaller hills tend to be places that welcome new skiers and families–and because of this they offer more incentives, including stay and ski packages like the ones found through Bellstar resorts in BC and Alberta, or ski week specials such as Ontario’s Blue Mountain $39 lift tickets.

If I were going to take up skiing, I’d be headed to the smaller hills anyway – my money would be wasted on paying for a big slope when I can probably keep my balance for a few yards.

Most of the articles are of the tips variety (6 tips for luggage, 5 tips for all-inclusives, and so on). But one I thought was especially interesting was about how to get the most from your travel agent (just remember the poor thing is probably already stressed). I know we’ve had this discussion before, but it seems like it’s been a while. Some of the advice might actually save the travel agent some stress – like go in there with a good idea of what you want. They also suggest finding deals and challenging the travel agent to match. If the travel agent can do it for the same price why would anyone choose a website instead?

Anyhow, plenty of articles over there. I did see a button for posting comments but I don’t really see much discussion.

Tahiti to Bora Bora, Bangladesh, & Portugal travel articles

It’s been a while since I searched for interesting news articles to share so I figured I’d see what’s out there.

Here we have a Portugal “itinerary” – it’s not specific but they do mention a few things to do in each place: Lisbon, After Lisbon, Sintra, drive to the Alentejo region and Evora. Or Lisbon, Oporto, and then the winemaking region of the Douro River Valley.

Here’s an old one from this blog.

This article has some interesting stuff on traveling in Bangladesh. I don’t know why they start with this quote though: “The south Asian country seems an unlikely stop on a budget traveller’s itinerary…” because poorer countries have always been attractive to budget travelers. But the rest of the article is great and really sells Bangladesh for not only the low cost but also the high adventure:

Even a four-day all-inclusive cruise through the world’s largest mangrove forest on a traditional wooden boat will only cost around 150 dollars, far cheaper than a comparable trip in neighbouring India, experts say.

Bangladesh is one of only a few places left in the region that still offer the original pioneering travel experience, according to Lonely Planet’s Bangladesh author Stuart Butler.

This article talks about including a few South-Pacific islands on your itinerary. Papeete in Tahiti, a trip to the “wild coast”, Moorea, the private island of Vahine, Bora Bora, and then Tahaa. Of course the author talks about how beautiful everything is. The article does note that a travel agent is the way to pull this off. They recommend one but it may be one that gave them a special deal in exchange for the recommendation in the article.

Anyone ever been to Sansepolcro?

Here’s an interesting site that deals with villa rentals in Europe and the Americas, but I went straight for the villas in Italy – mostly because I’ve been thinking about going back to Italy for a while now (see this post on nostalgia tourism or this one on possibly finding a small town to visit).

So it should be no surprise that I went straight to the Italy section. I then went to Tuscany, or at least to find Tuscany villas where they had a bunch near Florence and Pisa. But most of these seemed to be pretty big – 1 bedroom is plenty for me. So I noticed this one bedroom villa in the middle of nowhere so to speak. It sounds like the kind of place you might be able to go in summer even if you hate crowds (which I do):

With its spectacular hill towns and scenery, Tuscany is Italy’s top holiday destination. Its rich artistic legacy, great wine, fabulous food and stunning countryside certainly pull in the tourists. But with this brings crowds…imagine all of the above but minus the masses and you get Le Caviere.

Le Caviere is special because it is located in a relatively undiscovered part of Tuscany; the Upper Tiber Valley. The valley is rich in art, history and culture. Piero della Francesca was born in Sansepolcro, the valley’s main town and is still home to many of his most important works.

Surrounded by semi-alpine mountains and national parks, the valley is also known for its outstanding natural beauty.

Everything sounds good. Not too crowded. Pretty, Historical stuff to see. It’s about 1400 to 1800 euros per week which is quite a bit more affordable than Palazzo Firenze.

I did check out Umbria, because my wife would love to be in Perugia for the chocolate festival (I think we were there in October, 2001). There are some luxurious villas not too far from Perugia, but they might be out of my price range.

Travel news videos: Lasers distracting pilots, Noah’s Ark in Kentucky, huge waves battering cruise ship

Over the past 24 hours or so I’ve seen 3 travel related news videos make it to the front page of Yahoo!

Most recently, it was this one on the increasing number of lasers being aimed at the cockpits of landing airplanes. Pilots are reporting burned retinas and of course, the landing requires full concentration so you don’t want this kind of dangerous distraction.

We’ve also got this one on a bible-themed tourist attraction. Nothing wrong with that of course, except that it will be built with state money (sort of – 40 million in tax breaks for the developer). It’s an expensive project but it projects to bring in lots of tourist money. I like the quote that goes something like, “I wasn’t elected to argue religion – I was elected to create jobs.” And while the Ark would replicate the one described in the bible, it would certainly not be a one man project…

Finally, some scary footage of a cruise ship getting tossed around by huge waves.

Gagudju accommodations & tours in Kakadu National Park: website review

The following is a paid review:

I’ve been asked to review Kakadu Hotels, which are all located in Kakadu National Park in Australia. Never having seen the hotels, I can’t give them a true review but I figure this is a good opportunity to talk about visiting Kakadu National Park. Let’s check out their website and see where on my list of places to go Kakadu ends up.

The first thing I wanted to do was get away from the accommodations page and check out the itineraries but I figured first I ought to learn something about the area. The official website says it’s currently monsoon season, a great time to visit! Apparently the platforms for bird watching are covered but the walking trails do say 4WD only – does that mean walking in Monsoon season is a no go?

Monsoon season probably isn’t for me, but I do like that the park is run by the government and the Aboriginal traditional owners. So back to the itineraries. I’m guessing the best part would be the cultural center but it’s hard to guess how much you really learn there. They talk about stories from the elders but are they recordings or is there interaction? And what kind of stories – folklore or personalized so we can actually learn about their lives?

I then checked out the tour section but it’s hard to tell how much interaction you get with Aborigines. It’s also hard to predict how much nature you’re going to see. They say the flora comes alive during the wet season and I do like flowers but seeing animals is more exciting. So far I’ve read about birds and “the elusive red and blue Leichardt’s grasshopper.” The photo section shows birds and crocodiles. That sounds alright but not as cool as what you might see on an African safari or Corbett National Park in India. Maybe Kakadu National Park has lots of wildlife but I’m not sure what you should expect to see.

So back to the hotels. You’ve got the Gagudju Crocodile Holiday Inn, which is shaped like a crocodile and the most luxurious. You’ve got a plainer hotel with air conditioning, and you’ve got a campground though I can’t tell if they have tents available for rent or if you need to bring your own. Also, I see no prices which makes me nervous.

In the end, I’m missing too much information to replace any of my must-see destinations with Gagudju accommodations or tours in Kakadu National Park. I don’t know how much you interact with and learn about Aboriginal life, I don’t know what wildlife I should expect to see (beyond lots of different birds, a red and blue grasshopper, and crocodiles), and I don’t know how much a trip might cost me. If I did know those things and liked the answers then I’d reconsider.

An Idiot Abroad – travel show review

An Idiot Abroad is kind of a travel show though in the beginning the people running the show call it a practical joke because they are sending a guy who doesn’t enjoy traveling to all these great places. I don’t really see the humor in sending someone to places he doesn’t appreciate.

I only saw one episode – they sent the idiot, Karl Pilkington, to Mexico and Chichen Itza. First there’s a festival going on and he starts running around because he’s scared of the fireworks. Then he meets some Mexican wrestlers and works out with them a bit. Then he meets some cowboys who get the idiot to eat a tequila worm and fail to get him to ride a bull. Then he meets some Mayans and then goes to Chichen Itza.

Throughout the show he makes lots of comments that show he’s not really trying to “get” Mexican culture and he keeps trying to buy Mexican jumping beans.

I was looking forward to the show because it came highly recommended by a friend. In the end I found the show uninformative because the host doesn’t care much about the culture he’s visiting and not funny – why do I need to watch someone having a bad time seeing things that for me would be a great time?

But to each his own so see for yourself. An Idiot Abroad is a 2010 light entertainment travel documentary television series broadcast on Sky1.