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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

10 travel hacks every solo traveller should know



You’re bound to make mistakes on your first solo trip, but you can learn from previous travellers. Monica Stott, founder of thetravelhack.com, has learned a fair bit. Here she shares her top ten hacks.

Order special meals on planes

Pre-order a special meal, such as a vegetarian or vegan meal, on flights. Special meals are served first so you’ll get your food faster, allowing you to nod off sooner than your seatmates if you’re keen to get some rest. The vegan meals are usually healthy, light and delicious, which helps you to avoid that groggy, bloated, post-flight feeling that tends to be a by-product of indulging in a rich plane meal.

Dress up for airport check-in

Did you know that solo travellers are more likely to get upgraded on flights? You’re also more likely to be upgraded if you look the part, so wear the smartest clothes you’re travelling with to the airport (you can always pack a more comfortable set of clothes in your hand luggage to change into after you check in). It’s also worth asking at check-in if any upgrade opportunities are available. While it is more difficult to score upgrades these days unless you’re a frequent flyer, if you don’t ask, you don’t get!

Use airport lounges

Airport lounges aren’t just for first class passengers; you can often buy yourself into them for a bargain. In the UK, airport lounge passes start from around £25 and include perks such as unlimited snacks and alcohol, wi-fi, magazines, and a quiet and comfortable space to relax before your flight. Using lounges during long layovers offers particularly good value, as it doesn’t typically cost much more than you’d spend on food and drink elsewhere in the airport.

Pack a portable charger

You’ll undoubtedly use your phone a lot while you travel, so pack a portable charger. Make sure to have a way to contact someone in an emergency, and use your phone’s GPS for directions. Portable chargers are cheap and lightweight and you’ll thank yourself when you’re trying to call a taxi at 3am with only 2% battery remaining!

Disguise your gadgets

Flashy new devices with crisp, clean cases attract thieves, which is the last thing you want when you’re travelling solo. Avoid unwanted attention by making your expensive gadgets look less pricey than they really are – cover your camera in stickers, and buy cheap cases for your smartphone and your tablet and scuff them up.

Mark your baggage as fragile

Slap a 'fragile' label on your luggage to prevent it from being handled roughly in transit. Adding this label will typically also see your luggage delivered to the baggage carousel - it's often the case that special luggage and equipment is the last to be placed in the aircraft's hold, which means it will be the first to be taken out again.

Always carry a business card from your hotel

As soon as you arrive at your hotel or hostel, grab a business card from the reception desk with the hotel's address and phone number. If you get lost, you can jump in a taxi and give the card to your driver to ensure you get back to your hotel safely. If a business card isn't available, ask a member of reception staff if they could write down the address in the local language for you. Make sure to then keep the information somewhere handy when you head out to explore.

Travel with an unlocked mobile phone

If you have a contract phone, ensure it is unlocked before you travel. This means you’ll be able to use any SIM card from any mobile network across the world. Pick up a local SIM once you arrive and you’ll avoid roaming fees and enjoy cheaper calls and texts – you can find SIM cards at the airport and convenience stores in touristy areas.

Keep your travel essentials in your suitcase at home

Adopt this travel hack if you’re a frequent traveller and don’t want to forget those all-important essentials. When you return from a trip, leave key items in your suitcase. Items such as your passport, plug adaptors, miniature toiletries and insurance documents can stay in your case because you won’t need them at home, and leaving them in your case means you’ll never forget to pack them.

Use free walking tours to help you ease into a new city

Most cities have free walking tours, and these tend to attract other solo travellers. Solos usually stick together once the tour is over and go for drinks or dinner together, so it’s a great opportunity to meet like-minded travellers while simultaneously avoiding the anxiety of dining alone on your first night in town.

Extract from The Solo Travel Handbook

To find out more and get top tips for travelling solo, visit www.lonelyplanet.com/explore-every-day.


Lonely Planet’s Solo Travel Handbook
Published January 2018 / 168pp, full colour / H210 x W165mm, paperback / AUD $29.99

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Where to Scuba Dive in NSW



With more than 2,000 kilometres of stunning coastline, NSW has an abundance of impressive scuba diving spots. Dive with sea turtle in warm tropical waters in the Tweed region, discover the world’s most southerly coral reef at Lord Howe Island, and swim with seals at Montague Island on the South Coast. NSW has many licenced dive operators that offer dive training courses, dives, tours and equipment hire. Dive sites up to 18 metres are good for beginners and up to 40 metres are recommended for advanced divers.

Sydney sites:

Shelly Beach on Sydney’s Northern Beaches near Manly is a great beach dive, perfect for beginners, and is home to giant cuttlefish, wobbegongs and weedy sea dragons.

For experienced divers, The Leap in Botany Bay National Park at Kurnell is a thrilling shore dive that includes a 22-metre drop-off, populated with boulders and overhangs, some of the clearest water in Sydney, large schools of fish, lots of seahorses and some magic swim throughs.

Bare Island in Botany Bay (pic above) is a popular dive site for beginners; you might spot sea dragons, gropers and turtles in shallow water of between seven and 12 metres

Gordon's Bay near Clovelly is an underwater 600-metre nature trail marked by a chain connected to concrete-filled drums. There are information signs along the way as well as friendly gropers. 

Shelley Beach (diveplanit)
 
Up the Coast:

Broughton Island near Port Stephens has several spectacular dive sites. The popular Looking Glass is a narrow channel through the centre of the island that opens up into a natural fishbowl. Look for large rays, blue groper, red morwong, bullseye and bream. Nearby at Nelson Bay, the main feature of the Fly Point-Halifax Park Aquatic Reserve is a 100-metre sponge-covered ledge with schools of bream, nannygai and blue groper.

The Solitary Islands Marine Park in Coffs Harbour is home to a unique mix of more than 550 fish, 90 corals and 600 molluscs.

South West Rocks on the North Coast is home to Fish Rock Cave, running 125 metres through Fish Rock, teeming with sea life including black cod, black rays and giant cuttlefish.

At Byron Bay, in the Cape Byron Marine Park, Julian Rocks Marine Reserve is often ranked as one of Australia’s top dive sites with its fish, turtles, eagle rays and corals. During the Winter, whale song can be heard underwater.

Lord Howe Island is one of the best dive locations in the world with over 60 dive sites. The most spectacular is Ball’s Pyramid, where advanced divers can go on drift and cave dives, and follow a coral wall. Expect to see massive schools of violet sweep, amberjack, kingfish, silver drummer, rainbow runners, trevally and occasionally marlin, dolphins and wahoo.

The island’s shallow lagoon is great for snorkelers, novice divers and underwater photographers keen to see anemone, lionfish, slipper crayfish, the rare Coleman’s pigmy seahorse, spotted snake eel and beaked leatherjacket.

Down the Coast:

Jervis Bay, on the NSW South Coast, is a Marine Park with more than 20 shore and boat dive sites. The area has an abundance of kelp beds, large boulders, small caves, drop-offs, shear coral walls, sponge gardens, ship and plane wrecks, and swim throughs. Between May and October, you can dive with seals.

Bass Point, at the southern end of Shellharbour, is a marine aquatic reserve and one of the South Coast’s dive and snorkel hot spots. Good for beginners.

Off the coast of Narooma, Montague Island Nature Reserve is renowned for its 1,600-strong seal colony. You’ll also see stingrays, bull rays, blue gropers and wobbegongs. Divers can expect water visibility of between 20-30 metres year round, and it’s also a great place to see humpback whales heading south to Antarctica in October.

Monday, December 25, 2017

The avoidable tourist traps costing overseas travellers over $440 a year


  • Dining at overpriced tourist hotspots is the nation’s top travel money waster, costing Aussie travellers close to $1 billion in the past year
  • Dismal exchange rates and paying for medical treatment overseas among costliest holiday money wasters

Australian travellers are losing an average of $448 a year while holidaying abroad on avoidable money drainers including dining out at pricey tourist hotspots, poor exchange rates, mobile phone roaming charges and overseas medical treatment expenses, according to Mozo.com.au.

Research by the financial comparison site found that the costliest holiday money trap is dining in overpriced cafes and restaurants situated around the main tourist attractions. 1 in 4 Aussie travellers admitted to paying a premium for drinks and meals at tourist hotspots, adding around $380 to their annual holiday bill.

Eat like a local (www.likealocalguide.com)

“Overpaying for a meal or putting up with poor exchange rates can seem fairly minor at the time but the reality is these money leaks can add up over the course of a holiday. We found the average overseas traveller has blown over $440 on avoidable spending in the last year – this equates to a staggering $4.4 billion as a nation!” says Lamont.

“Our penchant for dining out at tourist hotspots has cost us close to a billion dollars in the last year. While on holidays, it’s easy to treat yourself to little luxuries like breakfast at a cafĂ© overlooking the Seine, but a lot of the time you’re paying exorbitant mark-ups simply for location – not quality of food. Often travellers can get more authentic foodie experiences for less by simply asking locals where they eat or consulting blogs for hidden gems.”

The most expensive holiday money wasters


Source: Mozo.com.au

With the Australian dollar floundering in some parts of the world, poor exchange rates came in as the second most expensive holiday money leak, with those affected losing an average of $250 in the last year.

“Travellers exchanging currency before they leave can minimise the pang of dismal exchange rates by comparing exchange rates from different currency exchange specialists. While abroad travellers should avoid exchanging currency at the airport, or risk exorbitant fees and margins eating into their holiday spending money.”

Despite medical treatment expenses affecting just 7% of travellers in the past year, it was found to be the third most expensive travel money leak, with those hit with medical bills paying a whopping $916 on average.

However, Mozo’s research found that many Australians are on the front foot when it comes to plugging this money leak with more than half of international travellers researching travel insurance before their holiday.

“When it comes to cutting down on travel costs, researching your destination and investing in crucial travel insurance is going to save you money in the long run. While no one likes to think about accidents and injuries abroad, medical bills have the potential to run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars in countries like the United States,” says Lamont.



Overseas ATM charges were found to be the most common holiday money leak with 40% of overseas jetsetters being slugged with a pricey overseas ATM fee in the past year. One third of international holidaymakers say they lost money from poor exchange rates, while fees for using a credit card abroad rounded out the top three most common holiday money wasters, affecting just over a quarter of travellers.

More than three quarters of travellers say they don’t research their card provider’s charges for withdrawing cash from an ATM before their trip, yet are twice as likely to research their carrier’s luggage allowance rules. Around 55% of travellers are neglecting to research local exchange rates.

“Mozo’s research found a large chunk of Australian travellers are losing money on completely avoidable travel charges. In fact, travellers can avoid two of the three most common money wasters simply by doing their research beforehand and taking out a travel friendly card that doesn’t charge fees for ATM use or transaction fees on overseas purchases.”

“Travellers might spend hours combing sites for the best deals on hotels or which airline has the most generous luggage allowance and at the same time lose money every time they whip out their card to make a purchase.”

When asked what kind of traveller best describes them, just over a third of Australian travellers say they have every detail of their trip planned out months in advance of their departure date, while 6 in 10 travellers say they plan elements of their trip like flights and accommodation while being spontaneous with other elements.

“Just 6% of travellers admit to planning their trip at the last minute and leaving a lot of the elements of their trip to chance which can come at significant financial loss. Our advice to travellers this peak season is to do your due diligence and research all aspects of the trip from what the best travel money option is for you to where the cheap eats are.”

Mozo’s tips for a money smart holiday:

  • Eat like a local: Avoid the tourist tax in restaurants and cafes in the main tourist districts by asking for recommendations from locals or consulting food blogs. Hit up the grocery store for snacks in between meals and don’t forget to take advantage of complimentary hotel breakfasts and happy hour.
  • Shop around: Compare exchange rates from different providers to ensure you’re getting the cheapest deal possible. Steer clear of foreign exchange booths at airports, as high commission rates will eat into your cash balance
  • Find the right plastic: Look out for prepaid travel and debit card options that don’t have a purchase fee and allow free overseas ATM withdrawals, like NAB’s Traveller Card or Citibank’s Plus transaction Account.
  • Get a travel friendly credit card: Credit cards can be an effective way to spread the cost of a holiday but most banks charge about 2-3% on overseas card payments. You can avoid these extra charges by packing a travel friendly credit card that doesn’t charge international transaction fees on purchases like 28 Degrees Platinum Mastercard.

Eight meaningful travel resolutions for 2018 - or any year

A new year means new opportunities for personal betterment, so as January 1 fast approaches, many people are creating their New Year’s resolutions. In that spirit, global luxury travel network Virtuoso® offers eight ways travel can lead to a more meaningful life in 2018.

Travel more. Travellers report that the very act of visiting somewhere new makes them happier, healthier, more creative, more relaxed and more successful at work. But many people leave some of their hard-earned vacation time on the table. To escape the office, pick a slow time of year and book in advance to commit. If time and money are issues, even weekend getaways will scratch the wanderlust itch. 



Volunteer. Voluntourism is rising in popularity as people welcome the chance to do good, learn and travel at the same time. In a year plagued by natural disasters, opportunities exist to help popular travel destinations. Grace Bay Club in the Turks and Caicos Islands can arrange for guests to help with local recovery efforts in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Learn a new skill. Master Italian cooking in Tuscany (2018 Virtuoso Luxe Report cites food and wine travel as a top trend). Whether dusting off high-school French in Paris or honing photography talents while capturing memories of the trip, travel comes with a built-in education and the ability to learn at every turn.

Be kind to the environment. Discover how to make a difference as a sustainable traveler and put your knowledge into practice. El Silencio Lodge & Spa, an eco-luxury hotel in Costa Rica, offers 500 private acres of carbon-offsetting cloud forest, hidden waterfalls, and organic cuisine. Each suite sits on above-ground pillars to respect the forest’s natural topography and features bamboo ceiling tiles, energy-efficient lighting, and an energy-saving electric heater.

Conquer a fear. The beauty of travel is that it can push travellers beyond their comfort zones. From the more adventurous, such as swimming with sharks in Mexico or skydiving in New Zealand, to something less extreme like traveling solo or voyaging to an off-the-beaten path destination, the options are endless for broadening horizons.

Deepen a friendship. Travel brings people together and strengthens relationships through shared experiences. Consider those beyond immediate family – a college roommate or favourite cousin makes the perfect travel companion. Spending quality time together deepens existing bonds and creates a lifetime of memories.

Get in travel shape. Combine travel with the ever-popular improved fitness resolution. If your style is yoga, meditation and massages in a Zen-like setting, visit a wellness resort for relaxation and rejuvenation. If you prefer a high level of activity, plan an adventure to help you shape up or burn calories. That could be anything from skiing in Switzerland to kayaking in Canada.

Become a global citizen. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation reports that more than one billion tourists cross international borders each year. Travel fosters greater appreciation of other countries and cultures, and makes one realise they are part of a larger global community.

Virtuoso is offering you additional help to stick to your 2018 travel resolutions. One of its expert travel advisors can partner with you to create unforgettable experiences that bring one or more of your pledges to life. If you don’t have a Virtuoso travel advisor, resolve to find one in 2018 by visiting www.virtuoso.com.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

What's Hot for 2018? The travel destinations for next year



World traveller Len Rutledge offer his predictions


The travel and tourism industry is booming as more and more people take advantage of low airfares and increased opportunities to see new places. While there has been some resistance to increased visitor numbers in some European destinations, much of the world is still welcoming visitors with open arms.

The following destinations are sure to please if you visit in 2018.

The Philippines

Brilliant green rice fields, teeming cities, colourful jeepneys, stunning beaches, and smiling, happy-go-lucky people are all part of the Philippines scene. With more than 7000 tropical islands to choose from, you can find what you are looking for. Divers have long known about the country's underwater attractions while Northern Palawan is perfect for sea kayakers, and Boracay is a world-class kiteboarding and beach destination.

The Philippines was colonised for 400 years and vestiges of the Spanish era can be seen in exuberant town festivals and centuries-old stone churches while huge shopping malls, fast-food chains and widespread spoken English come from the influence of the Americans.

Manila, the capital, is a pulsating hub that blends the quaint with the modern, the mundane with the extraordinary. Cebu is a choice tourist destination with balmy weather, pristine beaches, crystalline waters, and luxurious resorts. Banaue is a place for nature adventures and cultural immersion and the rice terraces are quite extraordinary. Palawan has thick green forest, white-sand beaches, sparkling water and magnificently sculpted jade islands.

Philippines Airlines flies from Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin, Melbourne and Sydney to Manila

South Africa

Go almost anywhere in South Africa and you can experience a combination of nature, wildlife, culture, adventure, heritage and style. During these tough economic times, it's good to find a bargain destination where you can even afford luxury and have spending money left over. There is natural beauty in mountains, forests, coasts and deserts and world-class facilities.

It is not possible to talk about South Africa without mentioning wildlife. Everyone wants to see the Big Five, but there are also whales, penguins, meerkats, wild dogs, birds and much more. If you are looking to experience wildlife viewing in luxury, Tintswalo Safari Lodge (http://tintswalo.com/safari/), in the pristine private Manyeleti Game Reserve could be the answer. It shares an unfenced boundary with the renowned Kruger National Park and suites are decorated to reflect colonial times.

The same company has beach-side Tintswalo Atlantic, a 5 star, award-winning boutique lodge nestled at the base of Table Mountain National Park near Cape Town. This is one of the city's hidden gems. The views of a wild sea crashing below contrasting with a roaring fire and fabulous welcome drinks will set the tone for a memorable stay.

For a city location, the all-suites Michelangelo Towers (https://www.legacyhotels.co.za/en/hotels/michelangelotowers) in Sandton, Johannesburg appeals because it is directly connected to the Michelangelo Towers Mall and the Sandton Convention Centre, and is located directly opposite Sandton City and Nelson Mandela Square in the in heart of South Africa's  Richest Square Mile.

Monaco

Situated at France's southeastern corner near the Italian border, occupying an area of just 2.8 sq. km, Monaco might be the second smallest country in the world (after the Vatican), but what it lacks in size it sure makes up for in attitude and variety.

There is an ornate opera house, Michelin-starred restaurants and casinos, palaces, cathedrals, supercars, mega yachts, deluxe hotels and designer boutiques. There are also museums and galleries, festivals, nightclubs, and gardens with exotic plants and sea views.

The country is one of the most surprising and rewarding destinations in Europe. It is just 30 minutes by car, bus or taxi from Nice Airport through hairpin bends and along rocky cliffs. Monaco enjoys over 300 days of sunshine a year and a temperate climate.

Los Angeles

Many readers will have been to Los Angeles, USA but most will not be aware of the wide range of museums, art galleries and concert halls that are spread throughout the city. In the downtown area, the futuristic Walt Disney Theatre is an architectural masterpiece and is right next door to the city's newest cultural and design showpiece, The Broad. L.A.Live is another vibrant entertainment complex offering restaurants and live music venues.

The Westside perhaps has even more attractions. There is the Getty Center located atop the Santa Monica Mountains then on Museum Row there is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Pettersen Automotive Museum, the Craft and Folk Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. In Century City you will find the Annenberg Space for Photography.

Hollywood, known as the entertainment capital of the world, is an essential part of the L.A. experience. Film enthusiasts will love the renovated TCL Chinese Theatre and you can tour the Dolby Theatre, home of the Oscars. Not far away is Universal Studios Hollywood with its rides, shows and tours.

If you consider L.A. nothing more than a gateway to the USA, you had better re-think. It is one of the top picks for places to visit in 2018.

www.LenRutledge.com

Words: Len Rutledge

Images: As supplied

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

Images

1.     Boracay - The Philippines
2.     Tintswalo – Atlantic Coast South Africa
3.     Monaco
4.     Downtown LA – Walt Disney Concert Hall. Matt Marriott

 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

An unforgettable safari experience at Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater




Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater and surrounding highlands together form one of Africa's most beautiful regions. Volcanic craters form stunning backdrops to some of the most fertile and richest grazing grounds in Africa. The most famous of these without question, is Ngorongoro, the world's largest intact volcanic caldera, and home to the highest density of big game in Africa.

Ngorongoro forms the centerpiece of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located 180 km west of Arusha in the Crater Highlands area of Tanzania. Formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two to three million years ago, the crater is 610m deep with a floor covering almost 260 square kilometres, and home to a huge diversity of animals.  

Boasting an extraordinary population of predators, it is also one of the best places in Tanzania to see 'The Big Five'. A healthy population of black rhino and some of the largest tusker elephants left in Africa today are prize sights, but the crater is also home to good populations of lion, leopard and hyena, along with healthy herds of wildebeest, buffalo and zebra. Other wildlife here includes serval cat, cheetah, jackal, Grant's and Thompson's gazelle, flamingo and bat-eared foxes, as well as approximately 400 species of bird.

WHEN TO GO?

Since the wildlife mainly stays in the crater all year round, there is really bad time to visit. However, given that the crater floor does get busy with vehicles, it can be more pleasant to visit during low season, when higher water levels in Lake Magadi (in the centre of the Crater) also result in higher concentrations of flamingos. But whenever you visit to Ngorongoro, you are guaranteed excellent safari action.

Image: Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania by Steve Campbell

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

European Train Travel Hacks



Rail Europe <http://www.raileurope.com.au>  has released eight train travel
hacks that aim to help travellers with their European holiday plans and
budget.

Commercial Director Ingrid Kocijan says while many travellers are aware of
the benefits of rail travel in Europe, many may not be aware of the
different ways they can and should take advantage of rail passes to maximize
their time and money's worth.

Here are her top hacks:

1.      Consider Multiple Day Trips
                Passes such as the Eurail Select ones, which include one,
two, three and four countries as well as the Eurail Global Pass, allow
travellers unlimited travel each given "day" on the pass within the 24 hours
from midnight to midnight. Depending on the places of interest, travellers
can often visit two or three small towns in one day without having to rush
around.

2.      Use the SaverPass
                Groups of up to five people travelling together and on the
same itinerary (i.e. making the same stops) qualify for the SaverPass, which
is a discounted Eurail Pass. Booking the passes together as a group
translates to significant savings.

3.      Apply Discounts and Bonuses
                When booking any rail pass, travellers should be aware that
numerous travel bonuses and discounts on buses, ferries, private railways,
hotels, sightseeing tours and WiFi come with the pass. These are updated
each year, so it is advisable to check the items on offer before making
accommodation and tour arrangements.

4.      Free travel for kids
                Up to two children from the ages of 4-11 years travel for
free with their parents travelling with any Eurail Pass. In Switzerland,
children under 16 years old travel for free when accompanied by a guardian
using the Swiss Travel Pass.

5.      Swiss Travel Pass
                The Swiss Travel Pass <http://www.myswitzerland.com/rail>
grants the holder unlimited access to all Swiss public transportation
including buses, trains and boats; allows up to 50% discount off mountain
railways and cable ways; and free access to 500+ museums around the country.
This is unsurpassed value for money!

6.      Avoid Seat Reservations Where Possible
                Travellers embarking on routes serviced by both high-speed
and regional trains may like to consider the latter option to save on seat
reservation costs. (Note however that seat reservations are mandatory on all
high-speed services and inter-country connections).

7.      Travel During Off-peak and Shoulder Seasons
                Travelling during the quieter months (usually spring and
autumn) will also help with the savings in general. There is also the luxury
of space on the trains as crowds usually tend to swell significantly during
the peak seasons of summer and winter.

8.      Book in Advance
                Travellers who plan ahead can save up to 70% off their rail
bookings. Eurail passes can be booked up to 11 months in advance, and seat
reservations up to three months prior.


For more tips, deals, information and booking, head to
www.raileurope.com.au.
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