Tag: "travel"

Where would you go on solo holiday?

A while back Sharon wrote a travel plan for visiting Anguilla alone. Rereading that plan got me thinking and now I’ve been thinking about solo travel for the past few days. Mainly because I am jealous. I’ll be home with the dogs while my wife visits family in Korea about a month from now. She takes lots of vacations from me (admittedly she deserves them for putting up with me). She took that trip to Hawaii, she has been to Beijing, she has been to Hong Kong (that one is even since I went to Hong Kong without her).

My wife is usually meeting friends or family. I also want to meet some old friends that I don’t see often. But when it’s my turn to take a trip without wifey, I think I might do something by myself. Visiting friends and family is good too, but so is alone time and meeting new people. There are certainly places for it in Europe. They have tour operators specializing in singles holidays for solo travelers where they give you more structure or more free time depending on what you want. Some people take these holidays year after year, and each time they meet some new people an see some familiar faces from previous trips.

It may be a result of too much studying, but I might try to start off by writing objectives for a solo vacation. Then I would plan activities that align with those objectives. Just like I would while writing training materials to make sure trainees achieve their goals. Although I certainly realize it may be a little sad that I am trying to plan a vacation based on the instructional design process I am studying in school.

I will meet new people.
I will meet a friend I haven’t seen in a while.
I will move and shake and exercise and be active.
I will see something new and beautiful.
I will spend some time alone.

I think my solo vacation will be a European one. I have a friend who promised to take me swimming in the Danube in Vienna. She would probably introduce me to some locals. That takes care of objective 1 and objective 2. And the swimming helps with objective 3. Plus I have never been to Vienna so there is objective 4. After a few days in Vienna, Rothenburg is next.

Rothenburg is a walled medieval city. All the stone buildings here should also be beautiful and I’ve never been to Rothenburg. I like medieval towns and I think I could walk around for a few days and relax while taking in the sights. This would achieve the fifth objective, spending some time alone. I probably have to avoid certain times because Rothenburg is a tourist destination. I have nothing against tourists, but I don’t like crowds.

Riding a bike around Anguilla sounds good too, but I don’t know anyone there and it would be fun to meet at least one old friend and one new friend during a solo holiday. Where would you go on a solo holiday? Would you try to meet new people, old friends, or be by yourself? Would you see something new or see something again? How much physical activity would you aim for?

Travel idea: Camping at Dog Friendly National Parks

More than 40 million people in the U.S. go camping each year, and about the same number have at least one dog, as much a part of the family as the kids. When summer arrives, schools are out, and it’s vacation time for many families across America. Camping, a tradition since the late 1800’s and even before, became more popular by the 1930’s as Americans found the pleasure in exploring nature and spending time in the great outdoors. Visiting a national park sounds like a great idea, always educational and fun for the whole family, but dogs love a camping adventure and want to go too. Fortunately, most national parks permit dogs on a leash, 6′ or less, at all times, subject to Federal regulations and individual park rules and restrictions

Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine was the first national park established east of the Mississippi. There is a wide diversity of the environment from mountains and forests to lakes and shore within the group of islands which form the 45,000 acres of the park. Dogs will love camping at Acadia where they are allowed on more than 100 miles of trails, as well as on the 45 miles of historic carriage roads. They are restricted, however, from beaches, lakes, steep hiking trails, and trails where peregrine falcons are nesting.

You can camp with your dog at Blackwoods, open 1 May – 31 Oct, or Seawall, late May-Sep. There are approximately 300 campsites, restrooms, running water, a dump station, and shuttle bus service, but no hookups at Blackwoods. One vehicle, two tents, and up to six people are permitted at each campsite. Entrance fee – $20/night for 7-day maximum.

The Seawall campground on the western side of Mount Desert Island, the largest part of Acadia, is about a 10-minute walk to the ocean. Each of the 122 campsites allows tents and RVs up to 35′ long. Seawall has drinking water, flush toilets, campfire rings, and a dump station, with free showers and camping stores about a mile from the campground. Shuttle bus service is also available. Entrance fee – $14-$20/night, 14-day maximum.

Duck Harbor (Isle au Haut) is a one-hour ride on the ferry from the mainland. Although dogs are not allowed to stay in the Duck Harbor campground, it might be fun to take him along for a day trip of exploring. A $25 special permit is required to go to Duck Harbor.

(Note: Campsites are specifically marked.) Campground reservations – 877-444-6777

Visitor Centers:

Hulls Cove – 15 Apr – 30 Jun, 8:30am to 4:30pm; Jul & Aug, 8am to 6pm.
Park HQ – Open year round, 8am to 4:30pm; Apr – Oct, Mon thru Fri. (Winter camping hours vary.)
(Note: See nps.gov/acad for more information.)

Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is simply awesome. With a spectacular panorama of color at sunrise and sunset, an amazing variety of plant and animal life, and incredible scenery, it is truly one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The South Rim is open year round, subject to fire danger restrictions, weather conditions, and road closures. You and your dog are welcome to check out the view along the two ½ mile Greenway trail along the Rim. A well-behaved pet can go along with you on the 3/4 mile guided Geology Tour. Dogs are restricted, however, from park buses, lodging areas, and trails along the North Rim.

One of the most popular campgrounds that allows pets is Mather, located within Grand Canyon Village. Mather, about a mile from the South Rim, offers 327 camping sites among the Ponderosa pines for tents and Rvs. Mather can be crowded and is usually full by noon. Each campsite has room for up to three tents, a fire grate, and picnic table, with drinking water, dump station, and restrooms on the campgrounds. Laundry, showers, bank, pay phone, and other amenities available at the Visitor Center, a short distance away. Summer hours 8am-5pm. Campsites – $18/night, 7-day maximum. Reservations Required: 877-444-6777, or online at recreation.gov/

Desert View has 50 campsites for tents, small Rvs, and travel trailers, for a 7-day camping limit. Each campsite permits up to six people, two tents, and two vehicles or 1 RV/trailer, and your dog. Be sure and include water with your camping equipment and wood or charcoal for cooking on campsite grills only. Only certain types of firewood can be used, “certified” wood is sold at the Visitor Center. There are only two water faucets, no hot water, and no hookups. Showers are available for a fee at Mather campground, 25 miles away. Overall, you can consider Desert View offers very basic camping.

Camping fee – $12/night/7-day maximum. ATM machines are conveniently located near the campground restrooms. Reservations not required, so come early.
Entrance fee – $25/vehicle for seven days. Visitor Center – 8am-8pm (summer hours)
(Note: See nps.gov/grca.)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited and one of the largest in the U.S., encompasses more than 522,000 acres of forest, mountain trails, and an amazing variety of plant and animal life in this part of the Southern Appalachians. Free entrance to the park.

Located on both sides of the North Carolina and Tennessee state lines, the main entrances are at Gatlinburg, TN and Cherokee, NC. There are nine designated campgrounds including Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain, Big Creek, Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Cosby, Deep Creek, Elkmont, and Smokemont. Campsites have individual fire grates, picnic tables, and restrooms on the campgrounds, but no showers, hot water, or hookups. Fees vary from $14-$23/night at each campground. We will look at two of the largest, Cades Cove and Elkmont, with individual campsites for up to six people, two vehicles, and tents. Both require reservations for a maximum of 14 days and permit motor homes up to 40′ and trailers up to 35′. Both have food storage lockers and dump stations onsite or nearby. There are specific restrictions on firewood, but bundles of “certified” firewood can be bought at Cades Cove and Elkmont. Keep in mind this is bear country, and all food must be stored in your vehicle or storage lockers.

Cades Cove, in eastern Tennessee, is an ideal choice for viewing wildlife with more open areas in this part of the park. You can find everything you need at Cades Cove Campground Store from groceries, souvenirs, and camping supplies to a variety of express food and beverages. Hours – May-Jul, 9am-7:30pm. Aug, 9am-7pm. Sep-Oct, 9am-6:30pm.

Elkmont campgrounds, 8 miles from Gatlinburg, date back to the early 1900’s as a summer resort in the Appalachians. The 220 campsites range in price from $17-$23/night, 7-day maximum, and reservations should be made in advance for this popular campground open until 29 Nov. Limited selection of camping essentials available at the campground concession.

Your dog cannot be left unattended at the campsite, and he is allowed on only two trails in the park, the Gatlinburg and the Oconaluftee River Trail. The first trail follows the Little Pigeon River about 2 miles through the forest from Sugarlands Visitor Center to the edge of the town of Gatlinburg. Sugarlands is an interesting part of history, which you may want to explore further. Check at the Sugarlands Visitor Center if your dog can go along, or if any kennels is available. Visitor Center Hours – Jun-Aug, 8am-7:30pm. Sep & Oct, 8am-6:30pm. The Oconoluftee trail through the forest is about a mile and a half walk beside the river to the town of Cherokee. Visitor Center Hours – Jun-Aug, 8am-7:30pm. Sep-Oct, 8am-6:30pm.
(Note: Detailed information at nps.gov/grsm.)

Surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature, camping is healthy, inexpensive recreation. Whether it’s the shore, the forest, or the mountains, you’ll escape those hectic travel arrangements and the stress of everyday life. Leave behind the modern conveniences, and inconveniences; your dog will enjoy it as much as you!

Sharon L Slayton

Craft Beers across Canada travel itinerary

Please enjoy this guest-authored travel plan: I love micro-brewed beers & craft beers with intense full flavour and I’ve had the luxury of sampling them in almost all the provinces across Canada via my music touring. Canuck brewing has come a long long way in the last 10 or so years. I first developed my love of beer when in university in Belfast, Northern Ireland when I realized they all didn’t need to be kind of watered down bland-tasting pale brews catering to the broadest spectrum of palates possible. My hunch at the time (survey of one 1!) was that British and Irish people liked more flavour in their beer than North Americans but I’ve seen as the Canadian offerings have become more and more interesting that the uptake amongst my friends has been pretty significant. I think we were settling for mediocre mass produced brews because that’s what we could buy. But now, we’ve seen that locally made craft beers can be gutsy and bold and there are so many now that with some digging you can find a favorite. They can be extremely hoppy, or really bitter. They can even incorporate local fruit flavours or coffees if they want, and they know they aren’t there to please everyone – which is just fine by me and those who love them. They own their niche, and they own it well.

I’ve been able to pick a favorite or 2 in many of the provinces in Canada that I’ve toured to with my performing and I thought I’d share a few of them here. If you come across them you might want to give them a try. (Caveat: for all I know, some of these have been discontinued since I tried them! If so, try some other brews by these breweries – they’re all doing good things.) Happy Tasting! NOTE: I make no claim to be an expert. Rather, I’m merely sharing some beers that I enjoyed, and hope you do too.

If you were taking a Trans-Canada drive here is a bit of a beer itinerary I’d recommend, starting at the West coast and working your way East.

Monday: British Columbia: Granville Island Brewery (Vancouver) – Robson St Hefeweizen

Start your trip off with this fresh unfiltered wheat ale. It has some fruit overtones to it – and it’s often served with a wedge of lemon or orange: a nice start to your trip. You’ll be driving past the Okanagan Valley with all of its fruity goodness en route to Alberta so this seems a good fit.

Wednesday: Alberta: Wild Rose Brewery (Calgary) – Alberta Crude Oatmeal Stout

As you pull into oil-country after you’ve doddled through the beautiful Rocky Mountains, I’ll point out that you can only get this aptly named wonderful stout on tap. It’s not actually bottled! So go try it in the brewery’s taproom in Calgary as a treat. It’s got a nice complex taste and if you like Guinness this certainly gives it a run for its money.

Thursday: Saskatchewan: Bushwakker Brewpub (Regina) – Palliser Porter

Staying on highway #1, your next big urban centre (population 220,000!) is the queen city of Regina Saskatchewan. You’ve just driven through some insanely flat prairie turf and you’re a bit bored so you need a pick me up. I discovered Bushwakker brew pub in Regina years ago and keep going back. They brew fantastic delights. There’s a tiny bit of sweetness in their malty Palliser Porter. It’s pure deliciousness in a pint-glass. You can get this bottled too, but go try it right at Bushwakkers and check out this amazing brew pub on Dewdney Avenue.

Friday: Manitoba: Half Pints Brewing Company (Winnipeg) – Stir Stick Stout

An easy 6 hour drive from Regina and you’re in Winnipeg. Winnipeg never fails with this lovely brew on the menu. I discovered this after a gig at the Park Theatre. It’s pretty strong tasting stout (6% alcohol) and most of the flavours I get from this are of the locally roasted coffee ingredient, but there are chocolate notes as well. It’s delightful! I’ve only had this bottled. Not sure if you can get this on tap too?

Sunday: Ontario: Mill Street Brewery (Toronto) – Mill Street Belgian-Style Wit Beer

When you pull into Toronto after the drive from Manitoba you’ll be ready to collapse. But instead, take this advice & head on down to the actual Mill Street Brewery in the incredibly quaint distillery district. It’s like walking back in time. The Victorian industrial space is so well-preserved with it’s cobblestone and brick streets, and 1800s architecture. You’ll get thirsty just looking at it. Wind through the lanes to find the Mill St brewery and belly up to the bar. Their Wit Beer is unfiltered & cloudy, and pretty citrus-y. There’s a hint of coriander and actually banana (somehow). You can get this one bottled too. I’d be amiss to not mention their Tankhouse Ale which you can now get bottled all across Canada. It’s a go-to beer for me too but is almost becoming too common for me now. Hence me recommending the Wit! It’s different and worth a try.

Tuesday: Quebec: McAuslan Brewery (Montreal) – St Ambroise Oatmeal Stout

You’re likely in Montreal by now and you’d be crazy not to try this one. This stout is available both bottled an on tap. It makes a great creamy head and is super black in a pint glass. It has rich coffee and chocolate notes. It’s one of my go-to Quebec beers.

Thursday: New Brunswick: Pumphouse Brewery (Moncton) – Scotch Ale

I’ve had this New Brunswick brew in a bottle and quite liked it – my bandmate didn’t. All the more reason for you to try it. I’m pretty sure I tried it in Moncton and am not sure about it’s availability elsewhere in Canada, but I noticed elsewhere in NB. It’s a nice dark brown when poured into a glass and has a great smoky caramel taste going on – kind of a woody/peat flavour so you know what you’re getting into. I actually think the aroma is more robust than the actual taste when you sip it. The aftertaste is fairly strong too. Certainly unique and worth a try.

Friday: Nova Scotia: Propeller Brewing Co. (Halifax) – Propeller Porter

I tried this porter when in Halifax last year. Two words: So. Good. It has a nice thick creamy head and the flavours are that chocolately coffee goodness I tend to migrate to in a porter. This seemed to have a few dark fruity hints too. It’s actually a little lighter than some other porters I’ve had which was a nice contrast. Maybe a good entry porter if you’re not used to drinking them?

Saturday: PEI: Prince Edward Island Brewing Co. (Charlottetown) – Iron Bridge Brown Ale

You’ll drive the confederation bridge over to PEI and you’ll be ready to settle in that evening for a pint. The PEI brewing company brews it up in Charlottetown, the capital. I had this one in a bottle and it was medium bodied compared to other ales I’ve had – maybe a bit thin if you like them super full bodied. It had a yummy malty chocolate taste and there was something a bit ‘grainy’ (roast cereal?) about the taste too. I’m sure that’s polarizing for some tasters but I’d do this one again for sure.

There are some obvious locales of this Canadian beer trip that I’ve not mentioned yet. It’s either because they didn’t fit the route I just described or I’ve not visited yet and have yet to pick a favorite. One more worth noting is in Yukon though:

Yukon: Yukon Brewing (Whitehorse) – Midnight Sun, Espresso Stout

I had this from a bottle in Whitehorse when up in the Yukon for a show as part of the Western Canadian Music Awards a few years ago. This stout had a nice malt + espresso coffee flavour. It was really robust with chocolate notes. I remember the bottle being BIG too!

If you’re looking for brew thoughts from Newfoundland/Labrador, NWT and Nunavut you’ll need to wait for a future post. I’ve yet to try the brewed delights there. I can’t wait though, as it’s been pretty fun doing this trans-Canada tasting. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little post and if you get to try some of the beers I’ve mentioned please post/reply and let me know what you think.
Cheers! Jeffery

5-Day travel itinerary for Costa Rica: Monteverde Cloud Forest, Arenal Volcano

With so much to see and do in Costa Rica, it’s well worth having a plan in place before you arrive. 5 days may just be a short break, but you’ll be able to see plenty if you take a little time to consider your itinerary. Here, we give you a recommended plan for 5 days in the beautiful setting of Costa Rica.

Day 1: Arrive and settle in

Many itineraries that you find online will have you trekking all over on your first day, but it’s wise bearing in mind that you’ve got several full days ahead of you. This considered, we’d strongly recommend using your first day to settle into your hotel in San Jose and familiarise yourself with the surroundings. Head to a local shop to buy some water, and take a leisurely walk around the neighbourhood. You’ll stumble across many stands that sell exotic and fresh fruits that you should definitely sample.

On the evening, head over to the National Theatre and see a show if there’s anything on that you’d be interested in. You’ll have a busy few days ahead, so make sure that you get a reasonably early night so you’re well rested for your adventures!

It’s worth noting that San Jose is divided into dozens of neighbourhoods, known as ‘barrios’, and some are obviously safer than others. Stick to the tourist areas and avoid the Coca Cola Bus Station. If you need to get from A to B and are unsure about safety, it could be worthwhile getting a taxi. It will only cost you a few dollars to be taken anywhere within the city, though bear in mind that you’ll usually have to provide the name of a landmark or building rather than a street address. It’s always worth carrying a map with you.

Day 2: Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

Set your alarm clock for an early start and take a guided tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. Having an expert guide on hand will be invaluable when it comes to making sure that you see everything. You’re likely to experience the hummingbirds just near the entrance, as well as the bat jungle and the frog pond.

It can easily fill up a whole day, so be sure to take plenty of sun cream. The temperatures can really soar during the warmer months.

Day 3: Arenal Volcano

Rent a car and take a drive up to the Arenal Volcano in the National Park. It’s an impressive site of natural beauty, and many people revel in the opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

There are several natural spas in the area, so be sure to call in for a relaxing treat. There’s also plenty of places to pick up souvenirs for your loved ones back at home. After a day that will inevitably include a lot of walking, treat yourself at a luxury restaurant. Benedictus Steak House comes highly recommended and offers fantastic views and excellent service.

Though it’s possible to get a good feel for the area in just one day, many travellers feel that it isn’t quite enough to really soak up the atmosphere. If you can stay a little longer, it’s well worth it.

It takes around three hours to get from San Jose to Arenal, so you’ll need an early start. The route is a fairly easy one, but be aware that roads aren’t always maintained to the highest standards, so watch out for potholes. Car crime is notoriously high in some places, so take a wheel lock just to be on the safe side.

Day 4: Boat tour

The waters of Costa Rica are absolutely beautiful, so schedule in a little time to get out on the open seas. There are many organised tours available that will call by all the main attractions, so look out for deals. Wherever you’re staying, you’ll find plenty of options available.

We definitely recommend just kicking back and relaxing on one of the many golden beaches, though if you’re more of the adventurous type, take your hiking boots and get exploring. There are many walks that cater for different abilities. Snorkeling is also popular, so keep your eyes open for boat tours that will take you to the hotspots spots.

Day 5: Fly home

You’ll be flying home today, so it’s worth factoring in a little extra time for organisation and any last minute things that you need to take of. Especially if you’re travelling with children, it can be a stressful day! Have a leisurely breakfast from a local café, then do any shopping that you still need before leaving.

Fly back home with plenty of happy memories and photographs to show your friends and family!

There’s room for flexibility in this itinerary, so if there’s something else that you particularly have you heart set on, just do a little bit or rejigging so you can fit in everything that you’d like to do.

If you like things to be taken care of for you, you might want to consider booking through a travel provider. Click here to find out more about offerings from The Holiday Place.

Have you ever been to Costa Rica? What would you consider to be the highlights?

This article was brought to you by Ruth Richards on behalf of The Holiday Place. Click here to read more about their exotic break options, including holidays to Cuba.

$400-600 off your next vacation: my new preferred travel rewards credit card

Actually, it’s $440 off your next vacation with the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard – $89 Annual Fee Card. I know. I must be crazy. What’s with the annual fee?

Well, the annual fee is waived the first year and it only takes 3 months for you to get the nice bonus – as long as you spend $1,000 in your first 90 days as a cardholder.

My plan is to get the card and pay for health insurance (about 3 grand next time it comes due). That qualifies me for the bonus 40,000 miles. You could redeem these miles for something other than travel but then you get a poor value. And it just so happens that I like to travel.

So I have 40,000 bonus miles plus about 6,000 miles from the usual card rewards (2 miles per dollar spent on the card is pretty good). 46,000 miles and counting – then when you redeem for statement credit on travel charges you get a 10% mileage bonus. So there’s another 4,600 miles (this bonus 10% back would have to be redeemed after the other rewards so may not apply to the one vacation I’m talking about – you might have to use the bonus miles for a future statement credit). 1 mile = $1 in statement credit for travel charges (as I said before, redeeming for anything besides travel charges probably isn’t worth it).

My wife and I plan a little trip in the $500-600 range and use the Barclay’s card to pay for it, earning another 1000-1200 miles in the process. We then use all those miles to pay for the vacation by applying them to the statement. The 500 – 600 dollar trip ends up costing almost nothing.

With the annual fee card, you get the better bonus and there’s no fee the first year. But if you plan on keeping the card forever and don’t care about the biggest possible upfront bonus, there is a no annual fee version: Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard – No Annual Fee Card. This no fee card still gives you 2 miles per dollar spent. You can still get 20,000 bonus miles, too. But I’m greedy and I have to go for 40,000.

Just keep in mind that this is a limited time offer and I don’t know when it ends. You need to act soon, but not too soon – it would be best if you have a big expense coming up in the next couple months that, when you pay, will qualify you for the bonus.

This information should be accurate for the annual fee card, but make sure you read the fine print before you start using the card.

Money Math Matters

Annual Fee: $89 (waived the first year)
Foreign Transaction Fee: $0
APR: Intro 0% APR for first 12 months, then var 14.99%/18.99%
APR for Balance Transfers: 14.99%/18.99%
Balance Transfer Fee: 4%
APR for Cash Advance: 25.24%
Cash Advance Fee: 5%
Late Fee/Returned Payment Fee: $35
Over Credit Limit Fee: $0
Penalty APR: 27.24%, may apply with late payment


Bonus: 40,000 miles after spending $1,000 in first 3 months [20,000 miles after spending $1,000 in first 3 months]
2 miles per $1 spent on every purchase [2 miles per $1 spent on travel & dining, 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases]
Miles Worth: 1 mile = 1.10 cents (accounts for 10% back upon redemption), less when redeeming for cash back, merchandise, or gift cards
Rewards Limit: None
Rewards Expiration: None
Redeem Rewards For: Travel expenses such as airline, hotel, cruises, train, car rental, etc. Redeem miles through statement credit towards travel purchase. Do not transfer with frequent flyer programs.
Get 10% miles back when redeeming for travel

Fringe Benefits

Free TripIt Pro mobile travel organizer subscription (normally $49/year)
$0 Fraud Liability Protection
Purchase Protection: Yes, price drop protection
Travel Insurance: Yes. Up to $200,000 travel accident coverage, reimbursement for delayed baggage, and trip cancellation coverage.
Extended Warranty: Yes
Customer Service: 24/7 MasterCard Global Service

Be careful when using data or making calls when you travel

I’m about to write about a few people’s experiences with data costs, but first a personal note. I just set up my computer about 6 days after moving into my new home in Tallahassee. That’s why i haven’t been blogging – too many boxes to unpack and I didn’t want to do it on my phone. I have to watch my data usage and all.

Some people are learning that lesson the hard way when they travel. You may have seen the story about Casey Snook in the news, the teen with the $6,000 phone bill. My first reaction is to blast the evil corporate types at the phone company but they actually sound defensible here: “Once they had reached the limit of their data bundle, the customer actively opted out of our roaming data cap so that they could continue to use data, effectively removing the inbuilt protection from large data roaming bills.” Woops. Too bad for the customer.

If you have a kid traveling abroad, you might make sure the tour operator is on top of the phone situation. One traveler recently said, “My 18-year-old daughter just got back from a trip to Greece, and the tour sponsors did a great job in making phone options available to the kids — for $80 for 10 days, she was set up with a phone that allowed X minutes of calls and X texts and stuff like that, back to the US. Also, we had a program called Viber on our phones that let us text back and forth if we were all on wifi, and there’s widely available free wifi in Greece. It worked out fine.

Another person had a kid go to Canada, where the phone was used for navigation: “I got a call from AT&T explaining that his bill was over $3,000. Thankfully, the customer service rep gave me the AT&T international rate after the fact, so I only ended up paying $200. It is something to be aware of if traveling internationally. I’m not sure if all carriers will be as understanding as mine was.” Kudos to AT&T.

Another friend of mine was also happy with AT&T: I went to Toronto for a weekend in April to watch the Yankees and on the way to the airport I called AT&T and asked them to get me on a plan that would allow me to call back to the states and I’d just pay the difference at the end of the month. They said OK and I made a ton of calls and let my friends borrow the phone as well. When I finally got the bill it was at $500, I called to asked them what gives and they admitted to making a mistake switching me over, reversed all of the charges and then gave me a $25 credit on top of it for the trouble.

And it’s not just phones you need to be careful with as we can see from this reader’s story: Went on a Caribbean cruise last year for 10 days. Brought my IPad and left it on because I use it as a E-reader. Got back into Miami and my phone was off. Tracked down a Verizon and they claimed I had used over 2K of data over the last 11 days. Seems that the IPad was roaming the whole time and they wanted to rip me off with it. Was able to get it down to $100 and they told me to just let them know next time prior to leaving the country with it.

Do Credit Card Travel Plans Equal Travel Insurance?

Guest post from Damian Tysdal

Many travelers don’t want to purchase travel insurance because they think they already have it with their credit card travel plan. While the travel protection you get with your credit card is better than nothing at all, it’s important to take a good look at the benefits you get with each before settling on one or the other.

There are, in fact, four important differences between credit card travel protection and travel insurance, which we’ll explain, and some benefits that are nearly identical (we’ll explain those too).

1. Maximum trip costs are much lower with your credit card plan

Trip cancellation coverage means the ability to get your nonrefundable trip costs reimbursed if you have to cancel your trip. Some credit card travel protection benefits include trip cancellation coverage, but the maximum trip costs are low, typically $1,500-$2,500, when compared to a typical travel insurance plan, which can be $5,000, $10,000, and higher.

The maximum trip costs with your credit card travel plan may be fine if your trip costs are limited to a few airline tickets, but it won’t cover a more expensive trip like a cruise. Many hotels, inns, and B&Bs now have restrictive cancellation policies as well, so if you’ve pre-paid for lodging in addition to airfare, your nonrefundable trip costs could be higher than you expect.

If you pre-paid for a cottage on the beach and a hurricane heads that direction, it’s not likely that you’ll get that rental money back either because most property rental companies protect themselves with well-defined cancellation policies too.

2. Covered reasons are very limited with your credit card plan

The limitations of trip cancellation coverage are defined in the ‘covered reasons’, and these catch many travelers by surprise. A covered reason is a reason listed in the plan or policy as a valid reason for canceling your trip. If the reason isn’t listed in the description of coverage, then it’s excluded by default.

The covered reasons for canceling a trip according to most credit card plans is limited to:

1. death of you or a person in your immediate family
2. accidental injury or injury that results in medically imposed travel restrictions

By contrast, travel insurance plans let you cancel for a wider range of reasons (depending on the plan, of course), including: job loss, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, traffic accidents, passport theft, and more.

Of course, even travel insurance plans have limits. For example, you won’t be able to cancel your trip if your dog dies, or your baby sitter cancels, or you get pregnant. For those travelers with extenuating circumstances there is the option to add ‘cancel for any reason’ – a coverage that widens the scope to include canceling for reasons not covered by the standard trip cancellation coverage. Typically, ‘cancel for any reason’ increases the cost of the travel insurance plan although some plans include it if the traveler purchase their plan early.

3. No medical or evacuation coverage with your credit card plan

Unfortunately, many travelers don’t realize that their health insurance or Medicare plan won’t cover them outside the borders of the U.S. (although some Medicare Supplement plans offer senior citizens limited coverage for emergency medical care in a foreign country).

This means that an accident or illness resulting in a visit to a medical care facility in a foreign country will not be paid for by your insurance company, and you’ll need to hand over your credit card in most cases, just to be treated at all.

With the cost of medical care rising around the globe, even a relatively minor accident could cost a traveler hundreds, even thousands of dollars. Get into a traffic accident in a foreign country and you could end up bankrupt.

By and large, credit card travel plans do not include any coverage for medical care or for medical evacuations, but travel insurance plans do. A medical evacuation can cost upwards of $100,000 or more depending on your condition and location and how far you have to travel to receive medical care. Travel medical coverage is very inexpensive and most experts consider it a must-have if you’re traveling outside your home country.

4. Exclusions can’t be overcome with your credit card plan

Credit card travel protection plans come with a number of exclusions, just like travel insurance plans do. The difference is that many travel insurance plans have options to overcome those exclusions.

For example, travelers have no coverage for losses that occur due to pre-existing medical conditions. This is true of credit card plans and travel insurance plans, but many travel insurance companies allow a traveler to waive this exclusion if they purchase their plan early and disclose the condition.

Some exclusions simply can’t be overcome at all. These include:

    1. Cancellation with a voucher for future travel – when a supplier cancels but offers the insured traveler a future voucher, it’s not a true financial loss (because you could go later) and you won’t get your money back.
    2. Accidents caused by drinking too much – all travel protection plans exclude losses caused when the insured is under the influence of drugs or intoxicants.
    3. Really lousy weather – unless the weather gets to the point of a natural disaster or a mandatory evacuation is ordered, no unhappy traveler can make a claim for a trip ruined by the weather.
    4. Tickets you never paid for – if you use frequent flier miles to book a trip and then have to cancel, you won’t receive a full reimbursement. (Some plans do, however, pay to re-bank the miles.)
    5. Extreme or stupid behavior – unless your plan specifically includes coverage for high-risk activities like parasailing, bungee jumping, rock climbing, etc., you won’t have coverage for a loss that occurs while doing it. Stupid behavior, such as committing an illegal act, will also invalidate your coverage.
    6. Losses due to mental illness – losses due to nervous disorders or mental illness, suicide or self-inflicted injuries are never covered.
    7. Medical tourism – if the purpose of the trip is to obtain medical care in a foreign country, losses due to botched medical treatment or trip cancellations are never covered.

Just as you should carefully review and understand your credit card agreement, you should also carefully review and understand your travel insurance plan to avoid unhappy surprises.

Where Credit Card Protection and Travel Insurance are Similar

Then of course, there are coverages that are similar between a credit card plan and a travel insurance plan. The following are coverages that are so similar between credit card travel protection and travel insurance plans as to be nearly identical:

    1. Lost or delayed baggage coverage – secondary to what a common carrier like an airline provides, and subject to a number of rules and restrictions, this coverage is still very similar to what you’ll get with a travel insurance plan.
    2. Travel accident coverage – while the amount varies from card to card, the protection is the same as you’ll get with any travel insurance plan. This coverage basically amounts to additional life insurance and AD&D.
    3. Car rental collision coverage – many credit cards offer their cardholders car rental collision at no extra charge and allow a traveler to skip the high rental company charges. There are limits, of course, and the amount of coverage varies from card to card. This coverage does not include personal liability, but that’s a restriction you’ll find in any travel insurance plan as well.
    4. Global travel assistance – worldwide travel assistance services is often free with a credit card travel plan and the benefits are similar to those offered by a premium travel insurance plan.

It’s important that travelers recognize their credit card issuer may have a specific agreement with the credit card company. That means a Mastercard(R) offered by one bank, for example, may or may not have the same travel protection benefits as one offered by a different financial institution.

Every traveler and every trip is different. Depending on your trip costs, your destination, your relative health, and other factors, a travel insurance plan may offer you more comprehensive coverage than what you’d get with your credit card travel protection plan. In some cases, you can rely on your credit card plan and avoid the extra expense. Either way, it’s worth a cold hard look before your next trip so you understand what coverage you have and don’t have before you leave.

Author Bio

Damian Tysdal founded Travel Insurance Review in 2006 on the belief that travel insurance should be easier to understand. See Travel Insurance 101 for a plain-language tutorial on travel insurance and how to compare plans.

Travel Plan Idea – Destination Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, offers travelers a look at the culture, the maritime history of Portuguese explorers, and a romantic ambiance. All types of music, especially Fado the folk songs of the poor, are an attraction for many travelers to Lisbon. Although the Mediterranean climate is generally pleasant year round, Spring may be the best time to visit this beautiful city. This itinerary should work in any season.

Day 1 – Arrive La Portela Airport and taxi to the Sofitel Lisboa Libertedad hotel, only 4 miles away and centrally located on one of the main avenues in Lisbon. Check in to a tastefully decorated room with a pleasing combination of historic and modern amenities and decor. Dine in at the hotel’s elegant Ad Lib restaurant and begin sightseeing tomorrow. The menu offers a variety of a la carte Portuguese and French gourmet cuisine such as quail and foie gras appetizers, seafood, pasta, and meats, as well as an extensive wine list. Avg Prices (entrees): $28-$50. Dinner Hours: Mon-Sun, 7:30pm-12Midnight. The restaurant is also open for weekend brunch and lunch, Mon-Fri, 12:30-3pm Avg Room Rate: $126.

Day 2 – Out and About

Buffet breakfast at the hotel and off to explore. Take Tram 28, the best way to reach St George’s Castle, a 6th century B.C. fortress on a high hill overlooking the city and the Tagus River. Hours: Mar-Oct, 9am-9pm, Nov-Feb, 9am-6pm. Entry: $8
(Note: Trams avg fares $2-$5.) Wander through the narrow streets of the historic Alfama district before a tram ride to the 16th century Belem Tower, a former lighthouse, fortress, and prison, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hours: 10am-5pm daily except Monday. Free admission.

Leaving the Tower, visit Jeronimo’s Monastery, part of the same World Heritage Site. Built by King Manuel I during the Age of Discoveries to give thanks for Vasco de Gama’s safe journey to India. A unique mix of architectural styles can be seen throughout the entire monastery, in the halls, cloisters, and tombs. Hours: May-Sep, Tues-Sun, 10am-6:30pm. Oct-Apr, 10am-5:30pm. Adults – $9. Under 14 – Free.

For lunch head over to Flor dos Arcos for gazpacho, the local specialty “bacalhau” cod fritters, and a glass of white wine. Cozy, good service, reasonable prices.

A few hours left before dinner and time to take the 40-minute train ride to the nearby town of Sintra to visit the Pena Palace and Park. Designed by King Ferdinand and Queen Maria II and completed in 1847, it became a World Heritage Site and one of the “Seven Wonders of Portugal.” Tourists will be intrigued by the different, somewhat gaudy architectural styles and pastel walls of the exterior and the lavish interior furnishings. Stroll through the splendid gardens and see the Chalet of the Countess of Edla, built for Ferdinand’s second wife.
Hours: Pena Park – 9:30am-8pm, Palace – 9:45am-7pm, Chalet – 9:30am-7pm. Closed 25 Dec & 1 Jan.
Ticket Prices: $15 – Palace & Park. Guided Tours: $7

After a full day of sightseeing, return to the hotel before dinner tonight at Café de Sao Bento, perhaps the best steakhouse in Lisbon and a long-time favorite of politicians and celebrities. Excellent place for delicious steak and fries! Hours: Mon-Fri, 12:30–2:30pm, 7pm-2am. Sat & Sun, 7pm-2am. Main meals: $40

Day 3 – Visiting Cultural Attractions

Fado Museum – Following the history of Fado or “destiny,” music, the museum features exhibitions, interactive information panels, audio-visual presentations, wax figures, and other memorabilia. Live performances of Fado are given by the Visitas Cantadas, Singing Tours. Gift shop & café onsite.
Hours: Tues-Sun, 10am-6pm. Closed 1 Jan, 1 May, & 25 Dec. Admission: $5

Maritime Museum – Not to be missed, this museum traces Portugal’s maritime history with model boat exhibits, memorabilia from ships and famous explorers such as Vasco de Gama, as well as nautical devices and uniforms. Hours: Tues-Sun, 10am-5pm, Oct-May. 10am-6pm, May-Oct. Admission: Adults – $5, ages 6-18, $2.50.

Lunch at the highly recommended Gambrinus restaurant in the city center before going on to the Tile Museum, a short distance from town. Specialties include shellfish bisque, gourmet appetizers and shrimp, lobster, sea bass, and spicy chicken. Expensive, great food, excellent service. $27-$47 (full meal).

National Tile Museum – Known for exquisite ceramic tiles or “azulejos” throughout Portugal, Lisbon’s Tile Museum in the Convento Madre de Deus is definitely worth seeing. Housing collections and history of tiles and tile making dating back to the 15th century, the museum features Lisbon in 1738 with a 7′ long landscape masterpiece of 1300 tiles. Cafeteria & gift shop. Hours: Wed-Sun, 10am-6pm, Tues, 2-6pm. Admission: $7

After a full day, return to hotel. Go Italian tonight with pizza, pasta, or risotto at the small, romantic Come Prima restaurant. Dinner Hours: Mon-Thurs, 7-11pm, Fri & Sat, 7-Midnight. Prices: $12-$22.

Day 4 – Shopping Day

Explore and spend money in the Chiado district of numerous boutiques, designer label shops, and second hand clothing stores. Among those recommended are A Vida Portuguesa for unique gifts, the beautiful Ourevesaria Aliança for silver and gold, Bertrands, the oldest bookstore in the world, and Voa for perfumes, textiles, and ceramics.

Lunch at A Brasileira café on Rua Garrett, the famous café/coffeehouse popular with visitors, poets, writers, and artists. From the bronze statue of poet Fernando Pessoa at the entrance and the art deco interior of chandeliers and mirrored walls to the outdoor umbrella tables, A Brasileira is the place to socialize and people watch, or join friends for late night drinking and conversation. Be prepared to pay a bit more here because of its popularity, over $6 for a cup of local coffee “bica” or a pastel de nata “custard tart.” Hours: 8am-2am.

Return to hotel with full shopping bags, relax before dinner and cocktails at the Ad Lib hotel restaurant.

Day 5 – Tours

After breakfast, join the 3 1/2 hour guided tour of the old parts of Lisbon including the Alfama, Graça, and Castelo districts. Walk through the Martime Moniz Square and the traditional neighborhood of Mouraria while learning about the Moorish conquests. Other highlights of the tour include the spectacular view from the Chapel of Our Lady on the Hill, the Castle Citadel, and the Casa dos Bicos palace. Price: $20.

Lunch at one of the many cafes and spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the sights in town.

Return to hotel to pack before joining a small group for the Fado and Tapas 4-hour tour beginning at 7pm. Visit neighborhoods and listen to music with a glass of beer, wine, or Lisbon’s Ginjinha liqueur. The tour ends at a small restaurant with a live performance of Fado and a plate of tapas. Price: $52

Day 6 – Leaving Lisbon.

Sharon L Slayton

Brief visit to Ireland advice

Reader question: I’m making a brief visit to Ireland next week, flying into Dublin because I found some cheap Air Canada tickets online, driving to Belfast for dinner and staying the night there, and then potentially free the next day and evening before flying out of Dublin again late the next morning. I have not been to Ireland before. Looking for advice. Should I spend my free evening in Dublin? (which would seem to make the most sense since I’ll be flying from there the next day). If so, where? Or is there someplace between Belfast and Dublin compelling enough to stay the night there instead? And any advice on not to miss (given my very brief stay). Thanks!

My answer (or rather a friend’s answer since I have never been to Ireland). If anyone can add something useful, please comment below.

Dublin is great, especially Grafton Street. Temple Bar district in Dublin is very cool. There are better places than Dublin in Ireland BUT it is still a great city. I worked as a journalist in Belfast back in the ’80s, but Dublin is where I would go for a great weekend night out. It’s hard to top. My favorite Dublin night spot is The Brazen Head, which may very well be the oldest pub in the world (12th century). It’s a great place for a good pint and live music.

Belfast is a great, great town. The city center has come a long way. It’s a small city but one where you can have a lot of fun. Take a Black Taxi Tour in Belfast. Driver takes you out to all the former hotspot areas in the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. Very knowledgeable guides, fascinating tour. I’ve been to Belfast a half-dozen times and would go back in a heartbeat. A bit of a drive from Belfast but the Giants Causeway is really close to the Bushmills distillery.

In the end, if I was flying out the next day I would want to stay in or near where I was leaving from. One, that is a lot of traveling in one day between the car and flight. Two, who wants to drive hung over? Get on that plane and sleep. So a plan might be, and this is what i would do on the free day, the Black Taxi tour around Belfast, then drive down to Dublin, and walk around Temple Bar shooting photos and pub crawling till I can’t drink anymore (with an if found return to The Morgan Hotel stamp on my forehead). But stay sober enough to make sure I got to the brazen head at some point.

If you had the time, Book of Kells at Trinity College. James Joyce Tower. Pilgrimage to St James Gate (Guinness Brewery) or O’Connell Street.

January 5 to 9 travel itinerary for BCS College Football championship in Miami

Magellan Jets is giving us an example of how we might take advantage of their service to Miami for the January 7th BCS Bowl Game:

Day one (January 5th):

    Arrive to Miami Beach, FL aboard Magellan Jets recommended private aircraft.

    Hop into your complementary luxury airport transportation and check into W South Beach Hotel to begin your getaway. (Magellan Jets and W South Beach Hotel have partnered to deliver the ultimate in first-class travel package.)

    Start your stay at the W Hotel by heading down and relaxing along one of two sun-kissed pools, or dig your toes into the sand. The Beach Ambassador will secure the perfect spot on the sand, setting up your umbrella, chaise lounge and picnic box-and will even deliver your favorite cocktail. They also provide refreshing treats including frozen towels, eye masks and face mist while lying by the pool.

    After a long day of soaking up the sun, head down to Mr. Chow’s and enjoy new and creative recipes by Executive Chef Shao Xiao Lei, known as one of the best chefs in China.

    If you’re a Notre Dame fan you’re going to want to check out the official Notre Dame Pep rally happening on Ocean Drive. The Notre Dame Marching Band, cheerleaders and the Leprechaun will be in attendance. Location is at Ocean Drive – between 6th and 9th Street and starts at 7pm.

Day two (January 6th):

    If you had a late night out on the town, stay cuddled up in your comfy bed for as long as you like. W South Beach Hotel provides WHATEVER/WHENEVER service. Just push the WHATEVER/WHENEVER® button on your phone and they will deliver whatever you desire directly to your guest room.

    Your hotel is only a few miles away from the premier golf destination in Miami Beach. The lushly landscaped Biltmore Golf Course was designed by the legendary Donald Ross. Completed in 1925 and now meticulously restored, the exquisite Biltmore Golf Course has challenged the likes of Walter Hagen, Tiger Woods, Babe Ruth and Gene Sarazen.

    Once you’ve built up your appetite after a day on the course enjoy some casual dining at The 19th Hole. Choose from an array selection of the “Best Ball” brews of the world and simply relax in a casual environment.

    You might want to call it an early night tonight. You do have a BIG game to attend tomorrow…

Day three (GAME DAY):

    Right on the famous Lincoln Road you can grab a delicious breakfast to start your day. Balans has been a favorite hang out amongst the local residents for years.

    Head over to the stadium to begin your football tailgating early. Luke Bryan will be kicking off the BCS Championship game with a pre-game concert at Sun Life Stadium.

    After the rocking concert, find your seats and enjoy the game!

    If you’re ready to keep the celebration going after the game, put on your dancing shoes for a night out at South Beach’s most sought-after nightclub, WALL.

Day four (January 8th):

    Wow, what a fun-packed few days you have had! Head to the Bliss Spa for a much needed relaxing massage and body treatment. Visit Bliss on the second floor of the hotel to enjoy one of these signature treatments:

    Triple Oxygen Treatment – their most popular all around complexion reviver
    Blissage75 – a tension taming massage that targets your most ‘troubled’ muscles
    The Hot Milk and Almond Pedicure – takes feet to the pinnacle of ‘pedicuring’

    Sure South Beach has sugar-sand beaches, hot clubs and beautiful people. But what good would a visit be to South Beach without a luxurious day of shopping? Collins Avenue/Washington Avenue: make up Miami Beach’s designer district, with all of the big names (Armani, Nicole Miller, Diesel) within walking distance.

    Wrap up your wonderful trip to Miami by experience dinner at the extremely popular Prime One Twelve steakhouse. Prices are very high, but the steak and seafood are among the best you will find. Their wine selection is top-notch, and desserts are heavenly. If you plan to have this stop on your itinerary, make reservations well in advance.

    Go out with a bang by checking out the massive dance club LIV at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach

Day Five (January 9th):

    Before you head out to catch your charter flight, stop by the W Store to gather any last minute gifts and souvenirs.

    Once you settle onto your flight, Magellan Jet’s flight support team will have complementary full-service catering on board for your trip.

    Sit back and enjoy your flight home!