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Monthly Archives: August 2016

Planning Trip to Europe, Here Its Tips

Before you can encounter credible Spanish tapas, piazzas in Rome or housetop patios in Prague, a vital schedule remains amongst you and your European get-away. The logistics required in arranging a trek to Europe may appear to be dull or overpowering, yet the more set you up are, the more prominent your odds of an effective excursion that satisfies your desires. That is the reason it’s imperative to make a beat up showing with regards to making an agenda, organizing transportation and handling the metal tacks before you’re headed toward the Continent.

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The following simple steps will help you engineer a well-planned escape to Europe — so you can spend less time worrying about your travel arrangements and more time staring at pictures of castles and men in kilts.

1. Get your documents in order.

If you don’t have a passport, it will take at least four to six weeks from the time of application for you to receive one. Expedited services can trim the process down to two or three weeks, but it will cost you an additional fee, so it’s best to take care of this well before your trip. Already have a passport? Check its expiration date. The last thing you need is to find out your passport has expired while you’re in line at airport check-in.

All car rental companies require drivers to have valid licenses in their home country, so you’ll also want to check the expiration date of your license. Some car rental companies also require an international driving permit for European rentals in addition to a valid driver’s license. For U.S. citizens, these can be obtained through the American Auto Association (AAA); in Canada, try the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA).

2. Establish a budget.

Establish a budget as early as possible — even before you know your destination, travel dates or itinerary. Some destinations are generally cheaper than others, but there are ways to save everywhere: travel in the off season, pick budget accommodations, plan a shorter trip. For example,London is an expensive city with an unfavorable exchange rate for Americans, but many travel providers and airlines offer affordable vacation packages to the city, and it’s not hard to find cheap air deals to London, especially during the winter.

Set your budget early on, and you’ll avoid any disappointment that could come from forging a fabulous itinerary, like two weeks in Geneva during summer, and then discovering you can’t afford it.

3. Pick a destination.

Now that you know how much you can spend, where do you want to go? If you’re like many travelers (including us!) and you have a humongous list of places in Europe you want to visit, this could be tricky. Some tips:

Pick a particular site that’s on your must-see travel list, and plan your vacation around that. Last year I planned a trip to Ireland centered on an excursion to remote Skellig Michael Island, a World Heritage Site I’d dreamed of visiting. The excursion turned into an unforgettable two-week Emerald Isle road trip.

4. Create a rough itinerary.

So you want to go to France, eh? Don’t go ahead and buy a roundtrip flight to Paris and a hotel room — at least, not yet. You’ll want to sketch out a day-by-day itinerary of your perfect trip to France before you book a thing. Research sites and cities you really want to explore, and then figure out which ones you have the time and budget to get to.

Check out alternative ways to travel in Europe. If you want to see multiple countries or cities but are on a tight budget, you may want to consider a cruise (exchange rates are naught for U.S. citizens onboard American ships). Walking tours, bike tours, camping and adventure tours are other interesting options worth considering.

5. Book your airfare.

Because airfare will probably be the most expensive part of your trip, you’ll want to book it before anything else (car rental, hotel, etc.). This will allow you to be more flexible with your dates, which is a great way to save money on your flight. You can also spend less by flying on international discount airlines like Aer Lingus or Norwegian.

Enliven your trip with a layover in a different country. Icelandair has a long-running program that allows passengers flying elsewhere in Europe to take a free stopover in Reykjavik for up to seven nights. Other airlines, such as Air France, offer occasional free layover promotions.

6. Book your accommodations.

It’s time to go back to that rough itinerary you jotted down and fill in some places to sleep. As is the case with pretty much everything you book for your trip, the earlier you make arrangements, the better — especially during summer high season.

Sure, you can just book a room at the local Hilton and be done with it. But do a bit of research and you could discover some funky lodging that’s almost as exciting as the attractions you plan to visit. Keep your eyes open for historic castles, tiny bed and breakfasts, houseboats, eco-friendly hotels or organic farms. Budget travelers take note: Vacation rentals, homestays, farmstays and house-swapping are accommodation options that can be shockingly affordable … or even free.

7. Consider travel insurance.

There are several kinds of travel insurance: trip cancellation insurance, flight cancellation insurance, medical insurance, etc. The best time to buy insurance is right after you put down the major deposits on your trip, whether that entails airfare, a package or prepaid hotels. Once you know how much money you’ve paid up front, you can insure your trip if you so choose. Many airlines and travel providers sell insurance that you can purchase along with your flight or tour package. Always, always read the fine print in your policy and compare it with other travel insurance policies before you make a purchase.

Check your medical insurance coverage to see if you’re covered overseas. If not, you may want to purchase supplemental medical insurance to cover situations like the cost of transportation back home for emergency care.

8. Book local transportation.

When in Rome, ride the Metropolitana. Find out how the locals get around the destination to which you’re traveling, and act accordingly. You won’t need a car rental in places like bike-friendlyAmsterdam or London with its convenient underground Tube, unless you plan to go outside the city.

A car rental is your best bet if you’re traveling to locales that can’t be easily reached by rail or plane (such as the Irish countryside). Be mentally prepared to drive in a foreign country, which can be a frightening experience when faced with incomprehensible traffic signs, narrow streets or sheep roadblocks.

To get from city to city or country to country, examine your rail options in comparison to routes and prices offered by European discount airlines like easyJet or Ryanair. Travelers embarking on extensive travel within Europe may save money by purchasing a rail pass that permits unlimited train travel within a specified region.

9. Tackle last-minute logistics.

A few weeks before your departure date is the right time to start taking care of a number of key logistics: money, phone, house-sitter, pet-sitter.

Call your credit card companies to let them know you’ll be traveling abroad. While you’re at it, find out if you’re going to be charged a fee for using your card overseas. Research the locations of ATMs in your destination, especially if you’ll be relying on cash.

Does your cell phone plan or equipment allow you to make calls overseas, and if so, how much will it cost you? Many cell phone companies offer temporary international plans that you can purchase for the month you’re traveling. While you may be tempted to leave the phone at home and really “get away from it all,” it’s smart to have an emergency phone with you if you’ll be traveling by car, or hiking or biking long distances.

10. Pack.

Instead of packing the day before your trip, start thinking about what you’ll need to bring at least a week before you leave. If your destination of choice is suddenly experiencing abnormal weather, you may need that extra time to go shopping for something like a packable rain coat. Plus, experienced travelers know that the chance of forgetting something essential increases the longer one puts off packing. (It’s only a matter of time until a scientific study confirms this.) About a week before departure day, check the weather, put together a packing list, and take a look at your suitcase to make sure its wheels work and everything’s going to fit.

Visit Seoul

A 5,000-year-old society mixed with startling innovation makes South Korea’s capital, Seoul, an intriguing spot to visit. You’ll discover antiquated bistros and hundreds of years old sanctuaries with elaborate rooftops sitting amongst high rises and brilliant shopping centers offering the most recent electronic contraptions, while the rough pinnacles of Bukhansan National Park frame a picturesque background.

Convention is vital to Koreans, and even among hip youthful Seoulites, Confucian standards like appreciation for senior citizens still hold influence. Going to a Buddhist sanctuary, examining some extravagant regal food or tucking into a tabletop grill are straightforward ways you can experience the nearby culture for yourself, even on a short visit. You may even hang out with the neighborly local people in the steam rooms and parlors of one of the prevalent bathhouses.

Not far from Seoul is the Demilitarized Zone, a fascinating spot that marks the divide between South Korea and its secretive northern neighbors.

# Seoul has several ancient palaces.Gyeongbokgung, the oldest and grandest, was once the center of the important Joseon Dynasty and incorporates old Chinese and royal court architecture. Though the palace was established in 1395, the present building was constructed in the 1860s, the original having being destroyed during Japanese occupation. Nearby is UNESCO-listed Changdeokgung, which was completed in 1412 and once housed the royal family. It’s built on Confucian principles and features a lovely “secret” garden designed for scholarly reflection.

The National Museum of Korea includes some beautiful artifacts like Buddha statues, calligraphy and an intricate 5th-century gold and jade crown. Admission is free.

# Full- and half-day tours to the Demilitarized Zone or DMZ outside Seoul are popular. This is the weapon-free no man’s land that has separated North and South Korea since the Korean War ended in 1953. You can descend into the “Third Tunnel,” which North Korea is believed to have dug in an attempt to breach the border and peer across to the neighbors through telescopes. Some full-day tours will also take in Panmunjom, the site of the armistice signing, where, under the gaze of soldiers, you can walk around a conference table into North Korean territory. You will need to book in advance and bring your passport.

# Looking for a pleasant day trip? Check out the seaside atmosphere of Wolmido Island , which has a fun fair and stalls selling seafood, including dried octopus tentacles.

# If you are interested in the Korean War, take a stroll in Jayu (Freedom) Park in Incheon, which features a monument to General MacArthur, who organized the pivotal U.N.-led Incheon landings. There’s more information in the Incheon Landing Operation Memorial Hall. In Seoul, you can visit the War Memorial of Korea, which includes a Korean War exhibition. Admission to both is free.

# Buddhist Jogyesa Temple in Seoul gives tours and offers visitor activities like lotus lantern-making.

N Seoul Tower is a landmark on a forested hill with fine views over Seoul. At the top are a restaurant and an observation deck decorated with thousands of padlocks left by lovers, inscribed with their initials.

# Seoul’s Bukchon heritage district showcases traditional hanok houses. You can wander the streets, popping into cafes and museums.

# Experience one of Seoul’s traditional bathhouses, where you can alternate between hot and cold water and steam, relax or get a massage. Those called jjimjilbangs offer more comfortable facilities — even places to lounge watching TV in your pajamas. Among the most famous is Dragon Hill Spa in Yongsan, which includes a rooftop cinema, an arcade and horseback riding simulators.

# Once covered by a highway, Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon Stream is now part of an urban park lined with walkways and crossed by 22 bridges. At night, waterfalls and fountains are illuminated at several points. For a respite from hot weather, join it at Insa-dong, and follow the locals strolling or even paddling.

# The carved tablets at UNESCO-listed Jongmyo Shrine are thought to house the spirits of dead kings and queens. Each May, the ghosts are honored with food offerings, mass ritual bowing and dancing.

# Despite being majorly reconstructed in the 1970s, the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress is UNESCO-listed for its faithful recreation from 18th-century records. The massive walls stretch for more than three miles.


Visit Hongkong

There’s one consistent in Hong Kong – change! In the event that you went to a couple of years back, you may not perceive the spot. So how did Hong Kong get to where it is today? There are about 5,000 years of Chinese history and customs there, overlaid with 150 years of British pioneer impact. Surrendered back to China by the British in 1997, the city remains a “free-advertise zone” inside the comrade Chinese framework. Local people still allude to the “fringe” of territory China, and guests from the West should procure visitor visas keeping in mind the end goal to cross – despite the fact that visa directions appear to be in steady flux, so make sure to affirm the present circumstance.

In terms of cultural diversity, architectural innovation, infrastructure and cosmopolitan edginess, it’s hard to beat Hong Kong. The city is also one of the most vibrant commercial centers in the world. Hong Kong is the foremost deep-water harbor in Asia, a fact evidenced by the scores of cargo vessels carrying manufactured goods to the rest of the world.

Hong Kong is composed of three main districts. The Kowloon Peninsula houses the famed Ladies’ Market and Temple Street Night Market, the upscale shops on Nathan Road’s “Golden Mile,” several museums and the busy, tourist-friendly Tsim Sha Tsui area. Connecting Kowloon to mainland China are the scenic New Territories, where you’ll find elaborate temples and woodlands. Hong Kong Island, across Victoria Harbour, contains the city’s financial district. Dubbed the “concrete forest,” Hong Kong Island offers a stunning juxtaposition of imposing skyscrapers set against the towering slopes of Victoria Peak. But travel to the other side of the Peak, and you’ll find beaches, islands, an amusement park and Stanley Harbor — with yet another renowned market.

# The Star Ferry can be found just a stone’s throw from the Ocean Terminal, where cruise ships dock. Connecting Kowloon to Hong Kong Island, the ferry is used mainly by commuters and is an extremely affordable way to begin a tour of Hong Kong Island. The highlight of the island is Victoria Peak, the tallest mountain in the city, and the most popular tourist attraction in all of Hong Kong. The Peak Tram funicular railway takes visitors to the summit for a fantastic panoramic view of Victoria Harbour, Kowloon and the New Territories.

The Peak Tower and Galleria complex atop the summit is filled with restaurants and even a Madame Tussauds Museum. There’s also a walking trail that encircles the summit, offering a pleasant stroll through lovely gardens and, of course, a breathtaking 360-degree view on clear days. If you’re visiting on your own, it’s best to get an early start. Crowds can cause the wait to be an hour or more.

# In Kowloon, the Tsim Sha Tsui area offers vibrant shopping districts, colonial architecture, modern high-rises and lovely parks. It is home to Nathan Road — a must-see, especially at night, when clubs, restaurants and hotels switch on their gaudy neon signs. Kowloon Park, which is on Nathan Road, is a lovely refuge in the middle of the bustling city, with fountains, a rose garden, a waterfowl exhibit and more. In the morning, you’ll encounter folks of all ages performing Tai Chi exercises near the outdoor sculpture garden and lake.

# If you’ve maxed out your credit cards, consider visiting one of the three museums along the harbor: the Museum of Art, the Cultural Centre or the Space Museum. Banners announce special shows. A bit farther away, you’ll also find the Science Museum and the Museum of History.

# The Hong Kong skyline is transformed each night at 8 p.m. into a tapestry of colored light by means of computer-controlled lasers. The show is synchronized with music and narration. The best spot for viewing the Symphony of Lights is along the Waterfront Promenade, just beyond the Star Ferry terminal.

# In addition to its three districts, Hong Kong encompasses an array of outlying islands within an hour’s ferry ride. Each offers a number of outdoor activities that are a marked contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city. Cheung Chau is a perfect getaway for biking enthusiasts, as there are no cars on the island.Lantau Island is home to the ultra-modern international airport. You’ll also find superb beaches, scenic walks and a monastery with the world’s largest outdoor sculpture of the seated Buddha. Visit Lamma Island for great seafood and scenic surroundings. Sai Kung, referred to as Hong Kong’s “back garden,” offers numerous outdoor dining establishments.

# If you’ve got a few days in Hong Kong, consider a trek to Macau. The former Portuguese colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1999. The island is about an hour from Hong Kong by “jetfoil” boat, and makes for an amusing excursion. Macau’s primary claim to fame these days is its Las Vegas-style casinos, some operated by Las Vegas gaming consortia. It also has a historic sector that is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Macau is jammed on weekends and holidays with folks coming to party from Hong Kong — and long waits at customs — so it’s best to visit during the week.

# If you’d like more adventure, take a visit to mainland China. It’s pretty easy to get to the city of Shenzhen, a special “economic zone” in the southern coast of Guangdong Province. You’ll need a visa, obtainable in Hong Kong, though it can take a day or two to process. A 45-minute train ride will take you to the Chinese border, or you can opt for a one-hour jetfoil ride instead. Shenzhen is a haven for those interested in fake designer goods, and it also has a few noteworthy amusement parks, in addition to thousands of years of history.