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Active Travel Adventure Travel Health & Wellness Security

Tip: Carry These Translated Emergency Phrases When You Travel

Whenever you travel to a destination where the primary language is not English, it’s a good idea to learn a few phrases and key words in the local language. This can not only help to locate the nearest baño, salle de bain, or badezimmer when nature calls, it can help save your life.

Whether you take a language class, study a phrasebook, use a language app, or don’t bother with any formal preparation, you should bring an index card listing translations of key phrases you might need for getting help in emergency situations. Keep the card handy in a pocket or bag separate from your wallet (in case your wallet is stolen) that you can easily access at all times. You can also capture this information as a screen shot on your phone, but keep in mind that if your phone runs out of batteries or is stolen, you’ll be out of luck. This is one of those cases in which low tech may be better than high tech.

Choosing which words and phrases to include will be specific to your destination, activities, and needs. But no matter where you’re going, there are some standard translated phrases that are important to have on your translation card:

  • Help
  • Stop
  • Leave me alone
  • Call the police
  • I need the police
  • I need a doctor
  • I need to go to the hospital
  • I had a [car, bike, moped, etc.] accident
  • I have been robbed
  • I need a taxi
  • I need someone who speaks English

Beyond these basic phrases, look at your specific situation and think about other words and sentences that could help you. For example, if you are going sailing on vacation, you might learn some emergency terms associated with boating. Obviously it helps if you practice saying the words in advance, but the card is a good backup for when you’re stressed and not thinking straight. You can also point to the phrase if you’re having trouble pronouncing the word or phrase in a way locals understand.

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Products to Help You Stay Healthy While Traveling

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2008. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Beach Booking Strategy Family Travel

The Dutch ABC Islands: Affordable and Hurricane-Free

Contemplating a fall getaway to the Caribbean with your gang but worried about tropical storms? Consider the Dutch ABC islands—Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao—which are situated blissfully far from the hurricane belt in the Southern Caribbean. All three islands experience pleasant weather year-round, but the fall is an especially good time to visit the ABC islands because prices are lower.

Fewer visitors in the late summer and fall leave hotels and resorts scrambling to fill rooms. To attract more guests, most properties slash rates, promote special packages, and offer freebies. If you can travel to the ABC islands this time of year, you’ll likely save a bundle.

Where to Find Deals to the Dutch ABC Islands

divi divi tree on eagle beach aruba.

Aruba

Although tiny, this Dutch territory is the liveliest of the three ABC islands. It features huge resorts, dozens of casinos, a lively night scene, and miles of white-sand beaches.

To find accommodations in Aruba, visit the local tourism website, which includes links to hotels ranging from budget properties to luxurious high-rise resorts. The site also lists family promotions at select resorts. You can find offers good through most of the fall by clicking through to a property’s website.

Bonaire

Part of the Netherlands Antilles, Bonaire is renowned for its pristine environment and world-class diving and snorkeling. The island is a good choice for adventurous families who want to avoid high-rise resorts and crowded beaches.

Using Bonaire’s tourism website, I was able to find a directory that listed budget accommodations for North American travelers.

playa porto mari beach curacao aerial view.

Curacao

Curacao is the largest island in the Netherlands Antilles and is known for its shopping, European-style architecture and flavor, and friendly multicultural population. To learn more about the island, visit the Curacao Tourism website. Click on the “Stay” tab to find links to local resorts, hotels, villas, apartments, and other accommodations options.

Although flights to the ABC islands (and the Caribbean in general) do not experience the same kind of major seasonal price fluctuations as hotels, you can still find sale fares if you plan ahead. Sign up for airfare alerts with our sister site, Airfarewatchdog.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2008. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Arts & Culture Beach Booking Strategy

7 Affordable Off-the-Beaten-Path Beach Vacations

Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19 concerns, the U.S. State Department is encouraging potential visitors to reconsider travel abroad.

Need a break from the real world? There’s no better place to relax than on a warm, sunny beach—but for most travelers, it’s not relaxing to spend a fortune on your getaway. Luckily, there are plenty of off-the-beaten-path beach vacations that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Check out these lesser-known beach destinations that go easy on your wallet.

Tobago

fishermen on a dock in tobago

Unlike its metropolitan, party-hard big brother Trinidad, little Tobago is content to be a laid-back and natural Caribbean beauty. Nature lovers can explore its protected rainforest, marine parks, and secluded white sand beaches—and, even better, you can do it pretty cheaply.

It’s worth experiencing both Tobago’s beaches and its wild interior. Tobago was purportedly the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe, and even though the deserted beaches described in the novel were based on observations made almost 300 years ago, you can still find such beaches on the island today. Try going to Pirate’s Bay, which was used in the 1954 film version of the novel.

Where to stay: To see the rainforest and its many colorful bird species, stay in an eco-lodge or go on a day tour with a local guide. The Cuffie River Nature Retreat, a reasonably priced eco-lodge located on the edge of the rainforest, offers a variety of nature tours including birding walks and visits to secluded waterfalls and natural pools. If you’d prefer to stay near the beach, try the intimate Hummingbird Hotel.

Roatan, Honduras

An aerial view of a tropical beach in roatán honduras early the morning.

Roatan, a minnow-shaped island within Honduras’ Bay Islands, attracts divers who come to experience the world’s second-largest barrier reef and those looking for a cheap, off-the-beaten-path beach vacation in the Caribbean. The island is one of Central America’s once-hidden, now-on-the-rise beach destinations, but thankfully it still lacks big chain resorts and some of the other trappings of mass tourism.

Most Roatan tourists come for the diving and snorkeling, which is among the best in the Caribbean. Besides the coral reefs, you can explore shipwrecks and go on dives specifically to swim with sharks and dolphins. You can also visit a butterfly garden, go horseback riding on the beach, shop at local art galleries, or just relax at one of several open-air seafood restaurants and bars.

Where to Stay: There are numerous well-rated properties on the island for less than $150 a night, depending on your travel dates. Reliable options include the Splash Inn Dive Resort and the Seagrape Plantation Resort, both popular with divers.

Isla Bastimentos, Panama

hammocks on a dock in isla bastimentos panama

Looking for the next Costa Rica? Just head down the coast a few miles to Panama and the Isla Bastimentos, part of the Bocas del Toro archipelago in the Caribbean Sea, a 20-square-mile island that’s a microcosm of some of Panama’s top tourism offerings. Here you’ll find virgin rainforests home to sloths and monkeys, offshore coral gardens and mangrove islands perfect for snorkeling, and stunning beaches pounded by Hawaii-sized waves.

The island’s Parque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos, which encompasses rainforest, beaches, and coral reefs, is an essential stop for all visitors. Most people come to snorkel the coral gardens and Cayos Zapatillas, two little shoe-shaped islets off the main island. On land, guides can take you on hikes through the forest to see animals like white-faced capuchin monkeys and poison dart frogs. For the best beaches, go to the northern part of the island. Big waves and strong currents make the beaches unfriendly to swimmers, but the sight of the waves and the lack of bathers make for postcard-worthy strolls.

Grenada

View of saint george's town, capital grenada island, caribbean region lesser antilles

The “Spice Island” has something for everyone, including Afro-Caribbean culture, one of the Caribbean’s prettiest colonial cities, fragrant spice plantations, dozens of beaches and bays, and a mountainous national park great for hiking. In the capital of St. George, you can walk along narrow colonial streets lined with a rainbow of pastel-painted houses and shops and watch masted ships sail in and out of the harbor. While in town, browse the spice and food markets and visit the 18th-century French fortification Fort George.

Active visitors should try hiking in Grand Etang National Park, perhaps climbing to the top of Mt. Qua Qua for a commanding view of the coast. For beachcombing, your first choice should be Grand Anse Beach, near St. George, a two-mile-long sugar-white sand beach with protected waters safe for swimming.

Where to stay: Regarded as one of the best affordable hotels on the island, the English-country-house-style La Sagesse is set on one of Grenada’s nicest beaches and offers easy access to nature trails.

Staniel Cay, Bahamas

pigs swimming in big major cay staniels the bahamas

There are more than 700 islands in the Bahamas, but the vast majority of travelers never get beyond the mega resorts of New Providence (home to Nassau), Paradise, and Grand Bahama islands. That means there are plenty of lightly trafficked “Out Islands” to choose from for off-the-beaten-path beach vacations. For glassy, gem-colored water, condo-free beaches, affordable accommodations, and some the best sailing grounds in the world, head to Staniel Cay, a two-square-mile island within the Exuma Cays.

Most of the action on Staniel Cay centers around the friendly Staniel Cay Yacht Club, where yachters and landlubbers alike stay, dine, and congregate. Here you can rent 13- and 17-foot boats that will allow you to cruise to some of the uninhabited islets nearby, see marine life like nurse sharks, and visit with the famous swimming pigs of Big Major Cay, which paddle out to sea in hopes of getting a handout from sailors. You can also rent snorkel gear to use at Thunderball Grotto, a natural fishbowl featured in the James Bond film Thunderball. Diving, kayaking, and fishing are other options.

Where to stay: The Yacht Club offers waterfront cottages and suites. All-inclusive packages are also available.

Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

beach in fernando de noronha brazil

While most Americans have never heard of it, Fernando de Noronha is regarded by many Brazilians as having the most beautiful beaches in the country—and that’s saying a lot coming from a nation full of sand and sun connoisseurs. With its steep bunny-ear hills that soar up from undeveloped white and gold beaches, Fernando de Noronha might look more at home alongside Bora Bora and the other islands of French Polynesia than it does hundreds of miles from mainland Brazil. But unlike those Pacific islands, Fernando de Noronha is cheaper and easier to get to, at least from the East Coast of the U.S.

At only seven square miles, the island is easily explored by dune buggy. Pack some snorkel gear and head to beaches like Baia do Sancho and Baia dos Porcos, where you’ll see stingrays, sea turtles, and a wide variety of colorful fish just feet from the shore. Without a doubt, the water surrounding the island—a national marine park—is Fernando de Noronha’s top attraction. Take a snorkeling or diving tour to experience it first-hand. In the evenings, head to Vila dos Remedios, the island’s historic heart, where you’ll dance the night away to traditional Brazilian music at the popular and cheap Bar do Cachorro.

Points East Coastal Drive, Prince Edward Island

East point lighthouse (point east coastal drive, prince edward island, canada)

Looking for a truly off-the-beaten-path beach vacation? Trade in tropical locales for the scenic sands of Atlantic Canada.

If the fictional Anne of Green Gables were to visit her hometown of Cavendish on Prince Edward Island today, she might turn her freckled nose up at the mini amusement parks, go-kart tracks, and other typical roadside attractions that have sprouted up since the area became a tourist magnet for Anne fans. She’d probably feel more at home on the underdeveloped eastern side of the island, Points East Coastal Drive, an area of rolling farmland, pine forests, tiny towns with white gabled country houses, and quiet red- and white-sand beaches.

“Nature has sculpted eastern PEI’s coastline with an abundance of points of land that frame the bays and shelter the beaches,” says Joan Perrin, owner of Moonlight Cottage By-the-Sea, a vacation rental near the town of Montague. “Going for a drive along the coastal touring route is the best activity. Each day, one can head out for an excursion in a different direction—go to a beach or two, stop at a craft shop, buy an ice cream, walk around a few wharves, talk to the fishermen, visit a lighthouse.”

Where to stay: Rodd Crowbush Golf & Beach Resort is a comfortable and reasonably priced gateway to the eastern part of the island.

What to Wear on an Off-the-Beaten-Path Beach Vacation

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel Road Trip Student Travel

Renting a Car Under Age 25 Is Possible, But Pricey


Youth can be a paradox: If you’re age 18 or older, you’re considered mature enough to be able to vote, pay taxes, and even go to war. But if you’re under 25, many rental car companies won’t trust you to drive their vehicles—at least not without hefty surcharges.

What’s the Minimum Age to Rent a Car?

Because drivers under 25 statistically get into more auto accidents than other age groups, car rental agencies have long penalized young drivers—even those with good driving records—by charging high daily underage fees, restricting the types of cars that can be rented, and even banning drivers (particularly those ages 18 to 21) from renting at all. So what’s an underage road tripper to do?

The picture isn’t as bleak as it was years ago, when many of the big companies didn’t allow any car rental under 25 years of age. Drivers ages 21 to 24 can now rent at most locations operated by Advantage, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Europcar, National, and Sixt. The minimum age to rent a car at Hertz, Dollar, and Thrifty is 20 years old at most locations.

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How Much Does Car Rental Under 25 Cost?

In the vast majority of cases, drivers ages 20 or 21 to 24 have to pay a daily surcharge that averages around $25 – $30 per day, depending on location. Pricier rental car categories such as luxury vehicles, vans, and SUVs are usually off limits to renters in this age group.

Drivers ages 18 or 19 are, for the most part, completely unable to rent from the big rental companies. The exception is rentals in New York and Michigan, where state laws require agencies to rent to drivers ages 18 and up. However, you’ll pay dearly for the privilege, especially in New York, where some companies may charge drivers under 21 an additional daily fee of more than $50. The age penalties in Michigan usually aren’t as high, averaging around $40 a day.

To avoid paying the highest rates, you’ll need to compare fees and restrictions at the rental agencies in the area where you want to rent, as these can vary by company. You may also want to check and see if you are eligible for corporate or organizational rates that may include underage fee waivers. For example, Hertz waives its Young Renter Fee for AAA members between the ages of 20 and 24, while Avis doesn’t charge underage driver fees for USAA members between the ages of 18 and 24.

If you’re under 20, you can try browsing online to find independent car rental agencies in your area or destination that may rent to you. You’ll have to call each location or visit its website to find out what its policies are.

One further exception to the under-21 rule is rentals to U.S. government or military personnel. Members of the military or government workers as young as 18 who are traveling on official business can rent from most agencies at special government/military rates.

If you have a job or are doing an internship and need to rent a car, see if your company has a corporate account with a rental car agency. Some companies have special contracts with rental companies that allow employees to rent at reduced rates and avoid paying underage fees.

[st_related]10 Hidden Car Rental Fees and How to Avoid Them[/st_related]

Overall, renting a car is going to be expensive until you’re 25 and difficult or impossible until you’re 21. Having your own vehicle may be convenient, but the expense may not be worth it if there are other transportation options such as public transit or ridesharing services. You’ll have to calculate the cost of the base daily rental fee plus the daily underage fees, the daily insurance fees (unless you already have coverage), and other mandatory taxes and fees, and then measure that total against the costs of other travel options. Once you’ve tallied the numbers, taking the bus or hopping in an Uber or Lyft might not seem like such a bad idea. You can always put the money you’ve saved towards buying your own car.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Adventure Travel Beach Family Travel

4 Hidden, Cheap Beach Destinations on the Gulf Coast

Last summer, when you were sitting in Miami traffic or laying down a month’s pay for a family trip to Maui, you may have wondered if your relaxing beach vacation was all worth it. There must be cheaper beach vacation alternatives, you think—and you’re right, there are.

Hidden and Cheap Beach Destinations

Look to the Gulf of Mexico for ultra-soft sand, crystal-clear waters, and surprisingly cheap beach vacations. The following Gulf Coast beach destinations are still unmarred by development, with opportunities for adventure, culture, great food, and, yes, even reasonable prices. Whether you’re looking for cheap beach vacations in Florida or in other lesser-known states for tourism, this list of hidden and affordable beach destinations on the Gulf Coast will satisfy your desire for sun and sand—without breaking the bank.

Anna Maria Island, Florida

Beautiful sunny day in anna maria island

The hidden beach destination Floridians escape to, Anna Maria Island has somehow managed to keep condo towers, fast-food chains, amusement parks, and glitzy mega-resorts off its shores. In fact, no construction on this seven-mile long barrier island on Florida’s Gulf Coast is more than three stories tall, and 60 percent of its land is open beach. And it’s affordable, especially in the summer. You can rent vacation homes with water views and pools for under $1,000 per week and get seafood entrees at beachfront restaurants for less than $20.

“My trip to Anna Maria made me feel in a nostalgic sense what beach vacations must have been like 20 or 30 years ago,” says Tim Leffel, author of Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune, who visited the island with his family. “It has something other destinations have lost. It’s an old-fashioned place where you can just relax and hang out on the beach with your kids, without arcades and other distractions.”

While doing nothing is the island’s prime pastime, there are plenty of options when you want something to do. You can snorkel, kayak, or fish in the Gulf’s clear waters, or explore the island’s three small communities: Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, and the town of Anna Maria. A free trolley runs up and down the length of the island, making it easy to check out the island’s boutique shops or restaurants. For dining, you can try affordable local favorites such as the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe, which is known for its all-you-can-eat pancakes for $5.99, and Star Fish Company, whose dockside restaurant serves up the local catch at surprisingly cheap prices.

Where to stay: Most accommodations on Anna Maria are vacation rentals or small condo resorts. TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company) has Anna Maria Island rentals priced well below $1,000 per week. If you’d prefer to stay at a hotel or condo resort, reasonably priced options include Tradewinds Beach Resort and Pelican Post.

Getting there: A pair of bridges connects the island to the mainland. Anna Maria is about an hour’s drive from the Tampa airport and 45 minutes from St. Petersburg.

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Gulf Shores, Alabama

aerial view of gulf shores in alabama

When most Americans think of Alabama, sugar-sand beaches and palm trees aren’t the first things that come to mind. Many forget that Alabama’s heel nudges onto the Gulf of Mexico, its coastline a natural extension of the Florida Panhandle. In fact, this region, Gulf Shores, has miles of enviable waterfront real estate. The ignorance of others is a boon to the enlightened traveler.

The area has tried to make itself into a laid-back beach destination for families and outdoor enthusiasts, without the flash of theme parks, swanky resorts, and college spring break action. Most visitors come to spend a week relaxing on the beach with occasional forays out to visit the attractions. Nature lovers can explore Gulf Shores’ protected wilderness areas including the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and Gulf State Park. Those interested in learning about Alabama history can check out Fort Morgan State Historic Site, a Civil War-era fort. Playing golf at one of Gulf Shores’ championship golf courses and fishing are also popular pursuits.

Where to stay: The vast majority of accommodations in Gulf Shores are rental homes and condos. TripAdvisor lists hundreds of options. I found weekly rates in August starting under $1,000.

Getting there: Gulf Shores is located about an hour’s drive from the airport in Pensacola, Florida, and about 90 minutes from the airport in Mobile, Alabama.

[st_related]8 Surprisingly Uncrowded Beach Vacation Spots in North America[/st_related]

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

ocean springs mississippi

Just five miles east of Biloxi is the quiet coastal community of Ocean Springs, where small-town charm meets gorgeous white-sand beaches for an affordable Gulf Coast getaway. Outdoor activity options include stand-up paddleboarding, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. The town is popular with art lovers, too, thanks to its many shops and galleries, as well as the Walter Anderson Museum of Art downtown.

The town is near the Davis Bayou section of Gulf Islands National Seashore, where visitors can go fishing, hiking, or bird watching in a protected marshland area. Admission is free.

Where to stay: There were dozens of vacation rentals on TripAdvisor under $1,000 a week for the dates I checked, and hotels are equally affordable. Most of them are familiar chains, such as the Holiday Inn Express Biloxi-Ocean Springs, but you can also stay in independent properties like the Gulf Hills Hotel & Conference Center.

Getting there: Ocean Springs is just a 10-minute drive from Biloxi and about 90 minutes from New Orleans.

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Santa Rosa Beach, Florida

Santa rosa colorful houses

Tucked away on the Florida Panhandle between Pensacola and Tallahassee is a beach town where the waters are a perfect turquoise and the sand feels like soft, finely ground flour between your toes. Visit Topsail Hill Preserve State Park to try your hand at freshwater fishing, hike through well-preserved wetlands, or relax on quiet white sand beaches. You can hike or bike on the trails at Point Washington State Forest, which protects a range of coastal ecosystems.

You’ll find numerous shops and restaurants in the historic downtown area, including plenty of cheap eats. One local favorite is The Meltdown on 30A, a food truck specializing in grilled cheese.

Where to stay: Hotels in Santa Rosa Beach are relatively limited, with most visitors choosing vacation rentals instead. TripAdvisor has numerous listings, with summer rates starting below $1,000 a week. For budget hotels, your best bet is to stay in nearby Destin, which has a variety of affordable chain properties such as the Home2 Suites by Hilton Destin.

Getting there: The closest airports to Santa Rosa Beach are Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport and Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in Panama City, each about an hour away.

What to Pack for Your Florida Gulf Coast Trip

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Editor’s note: Sarah Schlichter contributed to this article.

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Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Booking Strategy Experiential Travel Money Outdoors

10 Africa Travel Tips for First-Time Visitors


Molly Feltner, a former senior editor at SmarterTravel, is the communications officer of Gorilla Doctors, an organization dedicated to providing hands-on medical care to sick and injured mountain gorillas living in the national parks of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Learn more at GorillaDoctors.org and Facebook.com/GorillaDoctors.

For many Americans, Africa is the final frontier. Sure, it’s home to amazing wildlife and natural wonders—but it’s also a scary place fraught with war, disease, and poverty. At least that’s what many of my friends and relatives told me when I announced in early 2009 that I was leaving SmarterTravel to move there and work for a nonprofit organization. Now that I’m back in the U.S., I can’t stop telling my friends about all the great travel experiences they’re missing out on by not visiting Africa.

If you’re thinking about a trip to the continent, I want to assure you that traveling there is not as challenging as you might think. I trust you’re sensible enough to do your research about visas, tour companies, required vaccines, and other basics, but there a few things important things you might not find out on your own. Here are 10 things I wish I’d known before my first trip to Africa.

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Senior Travel

Tours for grandparents and grandkids traveling together


With many seniors relocating to retirement destinations and grandchildren often involved in busy family lives, the best present you may be able to give your grandkids is your time. What better way to share that time and get away from the distractions of home than by going on vacation together?

Several companies offer vacation experiences designed especially for grandparents and grandchildren traveling together. While you can always arrange a trip on your own, tours have the advantage of being preplanned and guided by someone who’s already a pro at multigenerational travel. This makes it easier for both you and your grandkids to relax and enjoy one another’s company while discovering (or rediscovering) a destination.

Here’s a look at three travel organizations that operate grandparent/grandchild tours.

Elderhostel Intergenerational tours

The largest educational travel company for travelers ages 55 and up, Elderhostel also runs more grandparent/grandchild tours than any other organization I could find, with more than 100 different domestic and international itineraries currently scheduled. What’s more, its prices are among the most affordable, with rates starting at $353 per person for a four-night trip in the Poconos.

Programs range in length from a few days to two weeks and may focus on a single city or region or include a full-country tour. Like regular Elderhostel trips, intergenerational programs have some kind of educational component, but with decidedly kid-friendly themes. For example, a trip to Oxford, England ($2,516), explores literary sites associated with popular children’s books, such as those in the Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia series. There are also many soft adventure options, including a schooner sailing in Puget Sound ($580) and white-water rafting in the Grand Canyon ($799).

Because trip activities vary in difficulty and interest, programs are tailored for children in specific age groups, with options for kids as young as four and as old as 18. Packages include accommodations, most meals, and transportation during the program, gratuities and taxes, and sightseeing, activities, and educational programming. Rates are based on double occupancy and are the same for all ages. To learn more visit the Elderhostel website.

Grandtravel

Grandtravel is notable for its carefully researched itineraries and upscale inclusions. Each Grandtravel tour balances activities that are fun and educational for both generations with private time and some separate happenings just for the kids. The company offers about 14 different itineraries, with most trips scheduled during the summer, although there are a few options for winter and spring break. Tours are available in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Africa.

Grandtravel vacations aren’t cheap—prices for 2006 trips range from $2,670 per person for a six-day fossil discovery tour in Colorado to $8,990 per person for a 13-day Australia trip (with small discounts for kids under 12)—but the inclusions are high-end and itineraries are packed with top-notch experiences. For example, a five-night New York holiday program ($4,995) features four shows including the Radio City “Christmas Spectacular” and “The Nutcracker” at Lincoln Center, plus fine dining at restaurants like the Tavern on the Green in Central Park.

Trips are geared for grandkids ages seven to 17, with most trips designated for either seven- to nine-year-olds or 10- to 17-year-olds. Prices include airport transfers, accommodations, most meals, group transportation, the services of a trip leader and activities director, sightseeing, activities, and admission fees. Some tours also include airfare. For more information, visit the Grandtravel website.

Sierra Club

The grassroots environmental organization Sierra Club runs dozens of adventure trips around the globe every year, but it also offers family outdoors trips in the U.S., including a handful of multigenerational and “Just for Grandparents and Grandkids” tours. Prices are affordable, too, with rates starting at $495 per adult and $395 per child under 18 for the five-night “Just for Grandparents and Grandkids Tahoe National Forest” trip in California.

Some trips, like the Lake Tahoe programs, are laid-back and allow you to participate in organized hikes and other activities or plan some of your own outings. Others are more structured and education-focused. For example, the weeklong “Multigenerational Snorkel and Study in Everglades National Park and Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary” features snorkel trips and lab workshops with the Marine Resources Development Foundation. This trip costs $945 per adult and $845 per child.

Tour inclusions vary, but typically cover accommodations, most meals, activities, and trip leaders. Trips have a minimum-age requirement in order to participate and all trip participants age 18 or older must be Sierra Club members. You can join online for the senior rate of $25. Go to the Sierra Club website to learn more about its family trips.

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Adventure Travel Beach

Five Hidden, Affordable Beach Destinations


Last summer, when you were sitting in an endless traffic jam waiting to get on the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard or laying down a month’s pay for a family trip to Maui, you may have wondered if your relaxing beach vacation was all worth it.

[viator_tour destination=”671″]

Hidden and Affordable Beach Destinations

There must be alternatives, you think—and you’re right, there are. With a little guidance, you can still find beach destinations unmarred by development, with opportunities for adventure, culture, great food, and yes, even reasonable prices. After doing thorough research and consulting with numerous other travel writers, I found five affordable beach destinations in the U.S. and Canada that fit the bill.

Anna Maria Island, Florida

anna maria island

[st_content_ad]The hidden beach destination Floridians escape to, Anna Maria Island has somehow managed to keep condo towers, all-fast-food chains, amusement parks, and glitzy mega-resorts off its shores. In fact, no construction on this seven-mile long barrier island on Florida’s Gulf Coast is more than three stories tall, Subway is the only franchise, and 60 percent of its land is open beach. And it’s affordable, especially in the summer. You can rent vacation homes with water views and pools for well under $1,000 per week and get seafood entrees at beachfront restaurants for under $15.

“My trip to Anna Maria made me feel in a nostalgic sense what beach vacations must have been like 20 or 30 years ago,” says Tim Leffel, author of Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune, who visited the island with his family in 2006. “It has something other destinations have lost. It’s an old-fashioned place where you can just relax and hang out on the beach with your kids, without arcades and other distractions.”

While doing nothing is the island’s prime pastime, there are plenty of options when you want something to do. You can snorkel, kayak, or fish in the Gulf’s clear waters, or explore the island’s three small communities, Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, and the town of Anna Maria. A free trolley runs up and down the length of the island, making it easy to check out the island’s boutique shops or restaurants. For dining, you can try affordable local favorites such as the Cafe on the Beach, which is known for its all-you-can-eat pancakes for $5.99, and Star Fish Company, whose dockside restaurant serves the local catch with sides from $7 to $15 per meal.

Where to stay: Most accommodations on Anna Maria are vacation rentals or small condo resorts. Some Anna Maria Island rentals are priced as low as $500 per week. If you’d prefer to stay at a condo resort, two of the most well-know properties are the Tradewinds Resort and Tortuga Inn Beach Resort. Nightly rates start $263 and $206, respectively.

Getting there: A pair of bridges connects the island to the mainland. Anna Maria is about an hour’s drive from the Tampa airport and 45 minutes from St. Petersburg. To check prices from your city, use SmarterTravel’s price-comparison tool.

Online resources: Learn more by browsing the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce website and the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau website, which also covers nearby Longboat Key and the greater Bradenton area on the mainland.

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San Mateo County, California

mavericks-beach

The majority of leisure travelers who fly into Bay Area airports head into San Francisco, out to the wine regions, or down the freeway towards Monterey to explore Big Sur. Most skip over San Mateo County, the region in between San Francisco and Monterey. And that’s fine for those who do visit. Less crowding makes it easier to enjoy the region’s dramatic coastline, its charming small towns like Half Moon Bay and Princeton-by-the-Sea, and its bounty of locally produced vegetables, fruit, and flowers.

“There is so much diversity and so much to do here, especially if you like the outdoors,” says lifelong San Mateo resident Barbara Evers. “There are gorgeous long walking beaches along the coast and hundreds of miles of hiking trails in the Santa Cruz Mountains. You can hike through redwood forests and get spectacular vistas with the Pacific on one side and the Bay on the other.”

Half Moon Bay, an upscale but friendly little town, is nearby a number of good beaches. “Cowell Ranch State Beach is my favorite, a sort of hidden place that’s a half-mile walk off the highway,” says Evers. “My husband and I love to go there in the evening with a bottle of wine and watch the sun set.” You can see a spectacle of a different kind on the beach in Nuevo State Reserve, where the world’s largest mainland population of elephant seals comes to breed. Breeding season occurs in the winter and spring, but seals can be seen year-round.

In the summertime, visitors traveling through this rich horticultural and agricultural region can also shop at numerous farmers’ and floral markets, pick their own berries at organic farms, and go on nursery tours. Plus, the county supports area restaurants that use local produce, so foodies who like their meals farm-to-table fresh have lots of choices. Duarte’s Tavern in Pescadero is one of my favorites,” says Evers. “I love their cream of artichoke and green chile soups.”

Where to stay: San Mateo County has a wide range of accommodations options, many quite affordable. Hostelling International runs an all-ages-welcome hostel with private rooms at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse in Pescadero. Dorm beds start at $28 per night, while private rooms start at $82. You’ll find a number of reasonably-priced B&Bs in and around Half Moon Bay, including the Victorian-era San Benito House. Summer rates start at only $99 per night. For outdoor lovers, Evers recommends staying in the tent bungalows at Costanoa, an “eco adventure resort” 25 miles south of Half Moon Bay. Summer rates start at $93 per night. “They have everything from horseback riding and guided hikes to kids’ activities and a spa,” says Evers.

Getting there: Half Moon Bay is about a half-hour drive from San Francisco International airport. To compares fares from your city, use SmarterTravel’s price-comparison tool.

Online resources: For more information, visit the San Mateo County Convention and Visitors Bureau website, the Half Moon Bay Chamber of Commerce website and the California State Parks website.

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Points East Coastal Drive, Prince Edward Island

prince edward island coast

If the fictional Anne of Green Gables were to visit her hometown of Cavendish on Prince Edward Island (PEI), today, she might turn her freckled nose up at the mini amusement parks, go-kart tracks, and other typical roadside attractions that have sprouted up since the area became a tourist magnet for Anne-fans. She’d probably feel more at home on the underdeveloped eastern side of the island, Points East Coastal Drive, an area of rolling farmland, pine forests, tiny towns with white gabled country houses, and quiet red- and white-sand beaches.

“Nature has sculpted eastern PEI’s coastline with an abundance of points of land that frame the bays and shelter the beaches,” says Joan Perrin, owner of Moonlight Cottage By-the-Sea, a vacation rental near the town of Montague. “Going for a drive along the coastal touring route is the best activity. Each day, one can head out for an excursion in a different direction–go to a beach or two, stop at a craft shop, buy an ice cream, walk around a few wharves, talk to the fishermen, visit a lighthouse.”

If you want to be more active, you can bike the Confederation Trail, which passes across the top of Points East Coastal Drive and runs all the way to the other side of the island. For not much money, you can also camp in one of the area’s five Provincial Parks, go on a seal-watching tour, golf, or kayak.

Scottish and Irish roots run deep for many area residents, and, according to Perrin,”ceilidhs” or gatherings with traditional music, happen in different towns almost every night in the summertime. Perrin says outsiders can usually attend for a fee of $6 to $10.

Where to stay: To get a better feel for the countryside, rent a vacation cottage or stay in a B&B. The official PEI visitor’s website has extensive listings of all the various accommodations in Points East Coastal Drive, including individual rental homes. You can search by weekly or daily rental rate, which makes it easy to find something in your price range. You’ll also find listings for cheap B&Bs, such as the Bubbling Brook Cottages in Mayfield, where nightly rates start at $67.

Getting there: Set above Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, PEI is a good 630-mile drive from Boston, so you might consider flying into the airport at Charlottetown. To check prices from your area, use SmarterTravel’s price-comparison tool.

Online resources: To learn more, go to the official PEI visitor’s website or the Points East Coastal Drive website.

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East Hawaii

family vacation destinations in 2017 hawaii

The Big island’s visitor’s bureau has dubbed East Hawaii the “Wild, Wild East” — the underexplored half of the island where Hawaii’s volcanoes make the beaches black and the rainforest conceals delicate tropical flowers and towering waterfalls. Most Big Island visitors just pass through this part of the island on their way to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but East Hawaii has charms not found elsewhere.

“It’s a great destination for the traveler who wants to see the ‘real’ Hawaii, as opposed to another beautiful resort that could be in any warm climate,” says Hawaii-based writer Leslie Lang, who wrote Exploring Historic Hilo. “The type of people who’d enjoy it here are more adventurous; they like to meet local people, try local foods, and don’t require room service or fancy drinks with umbrellas.”

Using the town of Hilo as a base, you can go in search of the perfect black- or green-sand beach or hike to waterfalls. Alternatively you can get a great view of the heavens by visiting the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy, the world’s largest observatory for several types of astronomy, on the slopes of Mauna Kea. “Every night of the year at 6 p.m. there is free public star gazing at the visitor center,” says Lang. “They roll out portable telescopes and tell you about what you’re seeing–it’s unbelievable.” You can learn more about astronomy and the role it plays in native Hawaiian culture at the Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo.

To see wilder country, drive down to Puna, a place known as the Big Island’s “outlaw” coast thanks in part to the lava that periodically flows down from Kilauea. Outdoor enthusiasts can experience the volcanic action up close for free, checking out Puna’s geothermal ponds, lava beds, steam caves, and vents.

Everyone should visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the realm of the volcanoes Mauna Loa and Kilauea, which is a 30-mile drive from Hilo. Looking down into volcanic craters and watching active lava flows is well worth the $10 admission fee. You can also hike and bike around the craters.

Where to stay: East Hawaii has no five-star resorts, but is home to smaller hotels, inns, and B&Bs. Some affordable places worth looking at are the Hilo Reeds Bay Hotel in Hilo where rates start at $82 per night and the Seekers’ Hive – Orchid in Orchidlands Estates, where rooms start at $60 per night.

Getting there: You can compare fares from your departure city using SmarterTravel’s price-comparison tool.

Online resources: For more information, check out the Big Island Visitors Bureau website and DowntownHilo.com.

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Gulf Shores, Alabama

alabama beach

When most Americans think of Alabama, sugar-sand beaches and palm trees aren’t the first things that come to mind. Many forget that Alabama’s heel nudges onto the Gulf of Mexico, its coastline a natural extension of the Florida Panhandle. In fact, this region, Gulf Shores, has 32 miles of enviable waterfront real estate. Once again, the ignorance of others is a boon to the enlightened traveler.

“Gulf Shores is a bit of Florida mixed with southern charm and hospitality,” says writer Andrew Der, who visited the area in 2005. “It rivals any Florida destination I’ve seen, but without the expense or the crowds.”

The area has tried to make itself into a laid-back beach destination for families and outdoor enthusiasts, without the flash of theme parks, swanky resorts, and college spring break action. Most visitors come to spend a week relaxing on the beach with occasional forays out to visit the attractions. Nature lovers can explore Gulf Shores’ protected wilderness areas including the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and Gulf State Park. Those interested in learning about Alabama history can check out Fort Morgan State Historic Site, a Civil War era fort. Playing golf at one of Gulf Shores’ championship golf courses and fishing are also popular pursuits.

Going out to sample some of the local cuisine, fresh seafood with a southern flair, is a must. “Gulf Shores is known for some of the best seafood in the country–you should not eat anything else while there,” says Der. Try the highly acclaimed Gulf Shores Steamer, where a steamed platter of shrimp, crab legs, oysters, and mussels costs $35 for two people. Or, try a shrimp, oyster, or soft-shelled crab po’ boy from King Neptune’s Seafood Restaurant for around $18.

Where to stay: The vast majority of accommodations in Gulf Shores are rental homes and condos. On the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau website, you can search and link to the websites of available properties and rental brokers. One of the most well-reputed condo resorts, Gulf Shores Plantation, rents studio and multi-bedroom condominiums, plus a variety of beachfront vacation cottages. I found weekly rates in July starting around $1,000 with all the fees included.

Getting there: Gulf Shores is located about an hour’s drive from the Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida, airports. You can use SmarterTravel’s price-comparison tool to check for the lowest airfares from multiple travel providers.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2009. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Women's Travel

Ten empowering women-only vacations


“After years of being scared of drowning, I made the decision to learn to surf on vacation,” says New York-based acupuncturist Michelle Helfner. “I wanted to learn in an environment that would be supportive. I had considered co-ed surf camps, but I truly wanted this trip to be about my empowerment and relaxation. The idea of choosing a women-only camp ideally meant being surrounded by like-minded women. In co-ed surroundings there can [sometimes] be too much testosterone or a sense of competition and always the potential for drama. None of that appealed to me.”

Eventually, Helfner booked a weeklong package with Pura Vida Adventures’ surf camp based in Malpais, Costa Rica. She was drawn to the camp’s promise of a women-only environment, a safe destination, and surf instruction coupled with yoga, healthy meals, massage, and other activities.

“The trip was challenging and life changing,” says Helfner. “The [instructors] all made me feel comfortable and safe. Once over my fear of the ocean, I felt accomplished at facing a fear and moving right past it. It was amazing to be in the water surrounded by a group of the most supportive women. The best part of the trip was the group of women I met—my ‘surf chicas’ who I still surf with today. The Pura Vida vibe is still with me a year and a half later. I cannot recommend this trip strongly enough.”

Helfner is one of a growing number of women who’ve discovered the joy of women-only vacations, a travel trend that’s been strengthening since the early 90s. Her feelings about why she chose such a trip also echo the thoughts of others, who’ve cited having the chance to try something new—an adventure sport, a spiritual practice, immersion in a different culture—in a noncompetitive, supportive environment.

Women-only tours also appeal to solo women travelers. Not just those without a travel partner, but women with lots of personal and work commitments who want to be in an atmosphere where they can express themselves more fully, free from the requirements and judgments of everyday life. “I find seeing the world from a woman’s-only perspective to have fewer boundaries, less inhibitions and to be much more supportive,” says Ellen MacDonald, a Colorado nurse who’s gone on several women-only trips without a companion.

With these factors in mind, I’ve selected 10 women-only providers and trips that promise to give female travelers an empowering and rejuvenating vacation experience.

Surf camp in Costa Rica

Provider: Pura Vida Adventures
Price: from $1,675

The fact that adventure activities tend to be at the heart of many women-only vacations comes as no surprise to Tierza Davis, founder of the Costa-Rica based Pura Vida Adventures surf camp. “I think it’s now acceptable to be a girlie girl and a sporty girl at the same time,” says Davis. “I always have women at camp saying that they grew up at the beach watching the boys surf, never trying it themselves, but now they want to.”

Davis, like other women-only travel operators, also knows that women approach sports differently than men, so she created an active vacation experience that’s empowering and well-rounded, not a test of physical prowess. On a typical seven-day Pura Vida camp, you’ll receive surf instruction tailored to your level (including private sessions) interspersed with daily yoga classes, massage, freshly prepared meals, and cultural activities like Spanish lessons and salsa dancing.

“Pura Vida is a spectacular vacation, one that will keep bringing a wealth of inspiration, empowerment, and pleasure long after your vacation ends,” says Wanda Simmons, another acupuncturist and Pura Vida alumna. “I tell all my friends to book now, no thought necessary, it’s an excellent investment for your soul and well-being.”

The details

Packages cover shared accommodations, surf instruction and equipment, all meals, a one-hour massage, and yoga and cultural activities. Trips run most weeks November through April. For the lowest prices you must prepay 60 days in advance. Winter flights from Miami to San Jose, Costa Rica’s main international gateway, start at $138 round-trip plus taxes on American. Shuttle bus transfers from San Jose to the hotel cost $35 each way.

Categories
Student Travel

Travel between London and Paris or Brussels: Your options


If you’re traveling between London and Paris or Brussels, there are two reasonably priced transportation options available: a low-cost, intra-European airline such as Ryanair or EasyJet, or the high-speed Eurostar train. Deciding which service to use for your trip depends on how much money and time you’re willing to part with. While opting for the cheapest ticket seems like a no-brainer for most student travelers, you might rethink that idea when you learn how much time and hassle you’ll have to go through to save. Here’s what the options look like:

Low-cost air carriers

Heated competition between various budget European airlines has made intra-European flights astonishingly cheap. However, most of these no-frills airlines fly from minor airports located outside city centers, which require a time-consuming bus or train ride to reach. (For instance, EasyJet flies to Paris from London’s Luton Airport, located 32 miles from central London.) You’ll have to factor the cost of this additional transportation into the total price.

Here’s a break-down of the cost and time expenditure involved in an air journey between London and Paris, and London and Brussels:

  • For travel between London and Paris, we found midweek flights on EasyJet from London’s Luton airport to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris for around $33 round-trip, including taxes and fees. Before you fly, you’ll have to get from London’s center to Luton Airport, a trip that entails an hour-and-45-minute bus ride ($14 round-trip). The flight itself is only about an hour and 15 minutes, but you should plan on spending around two hours checking in, going through security, and picking up your bags. From the Charles de Gaulle airport, it’s a 35-minute train ride to the center of Paris ($19 round-trip). All told, your journey will cost $66 round-trip and take about five hours and 35 minutes each way. Purchase fares on the EasyJet website.
  • For Ryanair’s route between London’s Stansted airport and Brussels’ Charleroi airport, we found midweek fares for $40 round-trip, including taxes and fees. To get to the airport, it’s a 45-minute ride on the Stansted Express train ($42 round-trip). The flight takes an hour, plus two hours for security, check-in, and baggage claim. From Charleroi airport, it’s a quick bus transfer to the Charleroi train station and then a 45-minute train ride to central Brussels ($25 round-trip). Your travel total comes to $107, and the journey will take about four hours and 40 minutes each way. Purchase fares on the Ryanair website.

Fares were researched on January 5, for flights departing January 22 and returning January 29. Fares for other routes and dates may be different.

Eurostar

Facing stiff competition from the budget airlines, Eurostar recently reduced its youth fares to as little as $90 round-trip ($112 with taxes and fees) for travel between London’s Waterloo station and either Paris’ Gare du Nord or Brussels’ Midi. This fare is good for customers under age 26 traveling Monday through Thursday. A limited number of adult fares are also available at this price. For travel on the weekend, round-trip youth fares including taxes and fees are $172. Though these fares are higher than the airline prices, you will not need to purchase additional bus or train service, as the Eurostar stations are centrally located and connect to each city’s metro system.

As for time and convenience, Eurostar beats the airlines hands down: You’ll speed from the center of London to central Paris in two hours and 35 minutes, or to central Brussels in two hours and 20 minutes. You should arrive at the train station about 40 minutes before departure to check in, but security is minimal and there is no baggage claim since your bags ride with you. Total cost is still only $112 round-trip, with a journey of three hours and 15 minutes to Paris or three hours to Brussels each way.

Purchase fares on the RailEurope website.

How you can save

Overall, flying between London and either Paris or Brussels is the cheapest mode of transportation, but a Eurostar journey requires a much smaller time commitment.

For the journey between London and Paris, the EasyJet flight and connections, costing only $66 round-trip, is half the cost of the Eurostar trip, and worth the longer journey if you have the time to spare. If you only have a few days in the city you’re visiting, or hate the hassle of flying, the pricier, but much faster Eurostar ride may be a better choice.

For travel between London and Brussels, the cost of the air trip ($107 round-trip) and the Eurostar trip ($112 round-trip) is about the same. Since you’ll save an hour and 40 minutes by taking the train rather than flying, Eurostar appears to be the most logical choice for your journey.

Keep in mind that this pricing applies to midweek, round-trip travel. If you’re traveling one-way, or on the weekend, the price may be different. What’s important is that you plan ahead and price out the different options as we did, so that you find the mode of transportation that best fits your budget and time frame.

Categories
Airport Travel Technology

Don’t Get Hacked at the Airport


Airports are a hacker’s dream come true: loads of people, especially business travelers, using laptops containing valuable information to connect to the Internet. One common scheme hackers use to catch unsuspecting airport Internet users is to create free ad-hoc wireless networks that look legit, but are actually traps that allow hackers to view what travelers are doing online and steal any information sent, including passwords and credit card numbers. Hackers can also plant spyware on a computer and turn it into a “slave” that sends spam to other computers.

Here are few steps you can take to avoid these scammers:

  • Before you leave for the airport, check your computer’s network connections settings and make sure it is set up to not automatically connect to any available network. If it is, your computer could connect to a hacker network on its own, before you even notice. Turn off any file-sharing features, too.
  • Once you’re at the airport and have your computer turned on, go to your network connections and carefully look at the list of available wireless networks. Some may have legitimate sounding names like “Free Airport Wi-Fi” or even something like “Secure LAX Network,” but check the little icon placed before the network name before you connect. If it shows two computers sending signals to each other, it means it’s a computer-to-computer ad hoc network, very likely set up by a nearby hacker who’s broadcasting a wireless signal from his or her computer. It’s a safe bet to not connect to any computer-to-computer network.
  • When you’re online, avoid using your credit card or doing any other task involving sensitive information. Once you’re finished using the Internet, manually disconnect from your wireless connection.

Do you have any pointers for avoiding getting hacked while on the road? Share your tips below.

Delta Increases Baggage Fees by as Much as $300


Delta announced Tuesday afternoon that it will raise its checked baggage and overweight baggage fees on both domestic and international flights. Increases apply to travelers who book after July 30 and travel after August 4. As expected, Delta said the new charges were necessary to offset fuel prices.

On domestic flights, fees will increase to $50 (up from $25) for second checked bags, $125 (up from $80) for third checked bags, and $200 each (up from $80 to $180) for the fourth through 10th bags. On international routes, you’ll soon have to pay $200 (up from $150) for the third checked bag, $350 each (up from $150) for the fourth and fifth bags, and $600 each (up from $300 to $600 each) for the sixth through 10th bags. In addition to these increases, fees for overweight bags will also rise for bags weighing 51 to 70 pounds from $80 to $90 on domestic flights and from $80 to $150 on international flights. Bags weighing 71 to 100 pounds will go up from $150 to $175 on domestic flights and from $150 to $300 on international flights.

The good news: First checked bags remain free on domestic and international flights, as do second checked bags on international flights, so the lighter packers among us will still be able to sneak by without paying extra. Given travelers’ strong aversion to first-checked-bag fees, Delta’s current baggage policy may help it gain or retain customers who’ve sworn off flying other airlines that charge this fee. We’ll follow the situation and see if Delta is still able to avoid this dreaded charge, and, if it does, if other airlines will seek to emulate its model.

Categories
Money Senior Travel

Bereavement fares: Little consolation for mourning travelers


To assist travelers needing last-minute flights to attend the funeral or bedside of a loved one, many airlines have special bereavement fares that offer a discount off published fares and have flexible travel rules. However, while this concept is a good one, bereavement fares may not be the best choice for you, as they are often much more expensive than other, more restricted fares. Read on to learn more.

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What are bereavement fares?

Most major U.S. airlines offer bereavement or “compassion” fares for travelers needing to attend a relative’s funeral or be with a very sick or dying relative. Bereavement fares do offer a discount, usually around 50 percent, but only off the highest unrestricted fares, which are often exorbitantly priced. Even at half price, these fares may still be quite expensive. However, most airline seats—with the exception of some distressed inventory for last-minute weekend travel—tend to be most expensive at the last minute. Thus, you should expect to pay high prices for any fare type you purchase.

The benefit of bereavement fares is that they usually have flexible travel rules that you cannot get with other last-minute fares. Most are refundable and allow date changes and open returns, meaning that you do not have to determine your return date at the time of booking.

While policies vary from airline to airline, most will only grant bereavement fares due to the death or sickness of an immediate family member, not friends or distant relatives. Most also require the name of the deceased or ill family member and contact information for the funeral home or attending physician in order to prove that your claim is legitimate. A copy of a death certificate may also be required. Other restrictions may apply, so be sure to check an airline’s website or call the reservation line to find out its full rules. Note that many of the small budget carriers, such as Southwest and AirTran, do not have a bereavement policy because their fares are already discounted and allow for one-way travel.

Do bereavement fares offer the best price?

To gain some insight into this question, we attempted to find the best deal for a round-trip flight between Boston and Atlanta booked only three days in advance. We first searched online for regular last-minute fares from three travel-booking websites—Orbitz, LastMinuteTravel.com, and Expedia—and every airline that had available flights between the two cities—AirTran, American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United, and US Airways. We then called the reservation lines of these seven airlines to inquire about the prices of bereavement fares (travel booking websites do not offer bereavement fares).

Overall, the bereavement fares were much more expensive than the regular last-minute fares—a full $400 more in one case. The lowest bereavement fare was $360 from Delta, which was twice as expensive as the lowest regular fares, also for Delta flights ($183 to $188). Of the seven airlines we called, only one, American, offered a bereavement fare ($398) that was lower than its cheapest regular fare ($438). However, this price was still over twice the cost of the low Delta fares, which were offered through Delta ($183), LastMinuteTravel.com ($183), Expedia ($187), and Orbitz ($188). AirTran, being a low-cost carrier, did not offer bereavement fares.

The fares we found, including all taxes and fees, are listed below. The lowest fare from each provider is marked with a star (*), and the price difference between fares is noted in the fourth column.

Air provider Bereavement fare Lowest online fare Price difference
LastMinuteTravel.com N/A $183* (Delta) N/A
Expedia N/A $187* (Delta) N/A
Orbitz N/A $188* (Delta) N/A
Delta $360 $183* $177
American $398* $438 $40
United $410 $208* $202
Northwest $416 $323* $93
US Airways $457 $435* $22
Continental $729 $329* $400
AirTran N/A $425* N/A

Fares are based on flights between May 10 and 17 and were found during a search conducted on May 7. Bereavement fares were found by calling the airlines’ reservation numbers, and online fares were found on the providers’ websites.

During our search, we also found a fare for $181 round-trip on Hotwire. However, because Hotwire uses an “opaque” booking system, you won’t know the exact airline or flight schedule until after you pay. Since you will likely be pressed for time, it may not be a good idea to use this or any other opaque-booking site under these circumstances.

Based on price alone, we would not recommend using bereavement fares in this case. While bereavement fares did poorly in our test, you may find different results for flights between other cities and for different dates.

What should I do in this situation?

Should you be in the unfortunate situation of needing to find last-minute flights to attend a relative’s funeral or bedside, we’d recommend checking several options before booking. First, search online for regular fares. You can quickly search for fares from multiple providers by using SmarterTravel’s price-comparison tool.

Once you find a low fare that fits your schedule, try calling the airline directly to see if a lower bereavement fare is possible. In our experience, most agents will tell you if lower regular fares are available. Keep in mind that some airlines may permit open-ended returns with bereavement fares, which might be a benefit worth paying for in some instances. If you are unable to do this research on your own, enlist the help of a friend or call a travel agent.

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Categories
Senior Travel

Online cruise agent unveils new senior rate shopper


Late last year, the online cruise agency 7 Blues Seas unveiled its “Senior Rate Shopper,” the Internet’s first cruise pricing tool that displays fares for multiple lines discounted for seniors ages 55 and over. While certain cruise lines make senior fares available to travel agents at the last minute as a way to fill up their remaining berths, these fares have generally not been publicized to consumersuntil now.

The Senior Rate Shopper was the idea of 7 Blue Seas’ CEO and cofounder, Daniel Kwoh, who, frustrated with the inability to compare senior cruise fares online while shopping for a friend, decided to create a system for his site that would display these exclusive rates. Kwoh wanted to give seniors “a bird’s eye view” of the fare options available to them, fares that he claims “are usually the lowest available rates anywhere” for a particular cruise stateroom.

Older travelers can now display senior fares when using 7 Blue Seas “Deal Shopper” to price cruises. This tool allows you to hunt for the best cruise prices in the agency’s database using detailed search criteria including cruise line, date range, itinerary, duration, departure port, theme, and availability of senior rates.

The Deal Shopper itself is a powerful comparison tool and is unique from other online cruise agents’ pricing systems in that it evaluates how good each cruise fare is based on the cruise’s “Fare Market Value,” not its brochure price. Rather than comparing a discounted cruise price to artificially high brochure rates, the Fare Market Value (FMV) system used by 7 Blue Seas attempts to give consumers a more realistic starting price to gauge the true savings.

Kwoh, an award-winning entrepreneur with a PhD in physics, developed a complex formula to evaluate a cruise’s value, similar to the process used to determine the Blue Book value of a car. The formula takes into consideration dozens of factors such as seasonality, location, pricing history, and cabin category to come to the “fair market price” of a particular cruise stateroom.

When the results of a Deal Shopper search are displayed, sale prices that beat the cruises FMV by 30 percent or more will be noted in red, while prices that are 15 to 29 percent less than the FMV are noted in green. Sale rates discounted by less than 15 percent are printed in black.

Senior Rate Shopper put to the test

To see how well the new Senior Rate tool works, we performed several test searches with the Deal Shopper, looking for all the available senior fares in 7 Blue Seas’ system. Currently, the system searches for cruise rates from eight major lines: Carnival, Celebrity, Crystal, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean. (Costa, Cunard, Radisson, and Windstar will be added in the future.)

The system benefits last-minute travelers the most. As with the senior cruise fares made available to travel agents, all the senior fares we found were for cruises departing in the next few months, with the most distant departure date in mid-April. As for destinations, the vast majority of the senior fares were for Caribbean or Bahamas sailings, with a few Hawaii, Mexico, and Panama Canal itineraries. There were no senior fares for cruises to Europe, Alaska, or other destinations popular with older travelers.

Of the eight cruise lines searched, only Carnival, Celebrity, and Royal Caribbean had senior fares, and most fares were for Carnival sailings. Notably, no Norwegian Cruise Line senior fares were displayed, which seemed unusual because Norwegian lists senior fares on its own website. However, as a 7 Blue Seas spokesperson explained, the agency has access to cheaper any-person rates for the same Norwegian staterooms and displays those rates instead.

While the senior fares we found were not for the most desirable types of cruises for seniors, the savings on those fares were significant. (Most of the fares are for cruises popular with young families, which more mature cruisers may see as a drawback.) We picked 10 senior fares found with the 7 Blue Seas search tool and compared them with the lowest any-person rates listed on websites of the individual cruise lines. In all cases, the senior rate on 7 Blue Seas was the lowest price, with a maximum savings of $585.

The results of this comparison are noted in the chart below. The savings for fares that beat the cruise’s Fare Market Value (FMV) by more than 15 percent are noted in parentheses.

Cruise 7 Blue Seas senior fare Cruise line lowest any-person fare Savings
Three-night Bahamas cruise onboard Carnival’s Fantasy, departing January 29 $179 (37 percent off FMV) $279 $100
Four-night Mexico cruise onboard Carnival’s Ecstasy, departing February 2 $199 (21 percent off FMV) $249 $50
Four-night Bahamas cruise onboard Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas, departing January 26 $249 (16 percent off FMV) $354 $105
Seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruise onboard Carnival’s Paradise, departing February 1 $349 (outside stateroom, 38 percent off FMV) $549 (outside stateroom) $200
Seven-night Western Caribbean cruise onboard Carnival’s Elation, departing February 1 $359 (25 percent off FMV) $479 $120
Seven-night Western Caribbean cruise onboard Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas, departing February 1 $699 (outside stateroom, 18 percent off FMV) $929 (outside stateroom) $230
11-night Eastern Caribbean cruise onboard Celebrity’s Horizon, departing March 1 $750 $850 $100
12-night Hawaii cruise onboard Carnival’s Carnival Spirit, departing April 18 $899 $949 $50
11-night Southern Caribbean cruise onboard Celebrity’s Summit, departing March 15 $950 $1,150 $200
12-night Panama Canal cruise onboard Royal Caribbean’s Splendour of the Seas, departing February 7 $949 $1,534 $585

Fares were researched on January 8 and were found on the websites for 7 Blue Seas, Carnival, Celebrity, and Royal Caribbean. Fares may have changed or sold out since this date. Many other sailings are available.

Prices are per person, and unless otherwise noted, are based on double occupancy in interior staterooms. 7 Blue Seas’ fares include port fees, but not taxes. Fares found on the cruise lines sites do not include taxes or fees, meaning that the savings amount listed above may be greater. Senior fares are for travelers age 55 and over. In most cases, companion travelers of any age staying in the same stateroom can use the senior rate as well.

Whether you purchase a senior fare or not, the 7 Blue Seas Deal Shopper can help find discounted fares previously unavailable online. And even if you are aren’t ready to purchase a cruise, the ability to compare rates using the Fare Market Value can help you be more informed about cruise value and pricing when you do decide to buy. You can also use the search tool to research rates ahead of time, and then make a reservation through an agent over the phone if you’re more comfortable booking with a real person. Overall, finding the best price for the best cruise for you will still be a challenge, but this new tool promises to cut your research time, at least a little bit.

To search for cruise fares or make a purchase, visit the 7 Blues Seas Deal Shopper. Be sure to click on the box next to “Senior Rates (55+)” when selecting your search criteria. Senior rates will be highlighted in yellow. You can reach a 7 Blue Seas cruise agent by calling 800-242-1781.

Categories
Travel Technology

New TripIt Web tool makes organizing trips easier


Whenever I’m about to leave on a trip, I always have to triple-check that I have my three essentials: passport, wallet, and trip folder—my collection of confirmation emails, printouts of maps and directions, notes on potential restaurants and shops I want to check out, and important phone numbers and addresses. I’m sure most of you have trip folders too. They may be bulky and a pain to organize, but the information is too important to be left in cyberspace.

That’s why I was intrigued to learn about TripIt, a new online trip-organization tool that can put your confirmation emails, maps, notes, and other planning details into one easy-to-read document you can print out and take with you. The site was co-founded by two former Hotwire executives, Gregg Brockway and Scott Hintz, and it officially launches to the public today.

I got a sneak peek in advance, and can tell you I think many travelers will find TripIt to be quite useful. With TripIt, you can create a profile and then build itineraries for future trips. You can forward confirmation emails from more than 70 travel providers (including most of the major airline, hotel, car rental, and online travel consolidator brands) to your TripIt account and the site automatically puts the information into a dynamic itinerary and adds Google maps and driving directions, weather data, and links to travel guides that list events going on while you’ll be there, among other details. You can manually add in other travel plans.

The site has some other nifty features, including links that allow you to check into your flights and view SeatGuru (a SmarterTravel.com sister site) seat maps of the aircraft you’ll be flying. TripIt also has a social component, so you can invite friends to view your itinerary, and even add their own details to collaborative trips.

The site is still a work in progress. It can’t read confirmation emails from any small independent providers, any cruise lines, or many major international airlines, hotel chains, and car rental companies. It will still post the contents of these emails to your itinerary; it just won’t be able to integrate the content dynamically. In a phone conversation, Brockway told me TripIt is working on adding more providers and making other improvements. But even as it is now, the site is definitely worth a test-drive.