Today we are focusing on National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures and Lindblad Expeditions. The main difference between the two is that G Adventures is mostly land based off the beaten path tours, while Lindblad Expeditions is mostly cruise based with several different small ship types. Either company will give you a great adventure vacation, choosing one over the other is going to base on what you want to do and see. Both companies operate small group tours that still cater to the individual with unique once-in-a-lifetime type tours.
Lindblad is about expedition travel, exploration, research and conservation. There tours are cruise based; their fleet is small scale, nimble expedition ships that are able to go where the big boys cannot. This allows you to get closer to our planet’s more remote locations and wildlife. Their tours consist of remote locations such as Antarctica; best accessed by ship locations such as the Galapagos Islands and Baja’s Sea of Cortez. Their ships are equipped with exploration tools which allow you to get a more focused look into the marine or terrestrial environment. Also on board is Lindblad’s fantastic expedition team whom help you understand and appreciate everything you are looking at and will not let you miss anything!
“You will see and do things that are cool. Watching killer whales circle a seal on an ice flow, devising hunting strategies before your eyes is cool. As is having a marine biologist with you when it happens. Having a gray whale calf surface alongside your Zodiac is cool. And having the world’s best whale photographer, National Geographic’s Flip Nicklin right there with you, is great too.”
~Exert from their website: www.expeditions.com
If expedition cruises are not quiet your thing, Lindblad also offers cruises on a 1931 hand-sailed tall ship that cruises the Caribbean and the Mediterranean Seas. She is called the Sea Cloud and she is beautiful. Sea Cloud has itineraries that focus on “off the beaten path” islands and provide authentic local experiences. Sail the Greek Islands, the Dalmatian Coast, or the Caribbean Sea on an unforgettable journey aboard the Sea Cloud.
Lindblad has expeditions from Antarctica, South and Central America, the Caribbean, Asia, Europe, Alaska, the Amazon, and the Galapagos Islands.
G Adventures’ slogan is “Adventure, Enhanced” which is what they do; they enhance your travel experience. Their small unique tours are “designed to take you deeper into the cultures and habitats of the places we explore.” Their tours with National Geographic are mostly land based, they include internal flights and private rides in order make transportation quicker, they also use a select set of accommodations that represent the area you are located in. The National Geographic G Adventure tours include more meals than G Adventures other tours; these can range from high end restaurants to meals with local families. One thing that is really great about G Adventures as a company is that they work in community development worldwide, and then you have the National Geographic Society’s non-profit work in conservation, exploration, research, and education. Thus by going on one of these tours you are supporting the betterment of the world.
G Adventures National Geographic tours are worldwide. They have a 9 day Morocco Journey tour, an 11 day Discover Sri Lanka tour, a 10 day Botswana Safari Experience, and a 10 day Burgundy by River Barge tour just to start. They take you to locations you didn’t even know you could go to and had only ever dreamed about. Would you like to learn the art of Flamenco? How about learn to cook in a Balinese chef’s home? What about take a tour of Petra with an actual archaeologist? G Adventures with National Geographic can make these things happen!
“Each tour includes opportunities to learn about our world through unique interactive experiences with local experts like historians, marine biologists, photographers, Buddhist monks, chefs, and others.”
~exert from their website
Now you are asking yourself how much can these fantastic trips cost? Can I afford them? The answer is “yes, you can!” For what is included these tours are very affordable, and there are a range of prices and length of travel, so there is something for everyone. I am itching to book one myself!
Street food is ready or quickly made food sold on the street or meant to be taken out to the street. Street food covers a wide variety of types of food, from exotic dishes in Asia to the gelato shop in Italy to the local food truck down the road. Whatever it is a lot of people are afraid of it. They fear that the food will get them some terrible stomach virus, aka Traveler’s Illness. Now this can happen but there are some tips to be able to enjoy these local delicacies and avoid the dreaded upset stomach. A lot of this is knowing what your stomach can handle; my stomach is sensitive so I follow a lot of these tips.
Some people believe that restaurants are safer that street food, but this is not always the case. You can physically see the kitchen at a street vendor so you know what is happening; you can better judge how well the food is being prepared. I know I have gotten food poisoning several times at an actual restaurant.
Food allergies are a major concern for people that have them. There are a couple sites where you can get a translation card with your particular allergy, be it celiac (gluten) or peanuts, to show to vendors to make sure they do not add those ingredients. Which is another benefit of street food; you can customize it (usually without a fee). These cards also come in medical allergies or medical information. These companies have such cards: Select Wisely and Allergy Translation.
When you do get sick: Hydrate!!! Grab some oral rehydration salts (which if you do not bring with you, you can find in most pharmacies worldwide), which serious travelers swear by. Try to keep to a bland diet until it passes (which I know can be hard when you are away from home and do not want to miss out on new experiences), such as rice/bread and bananas. Water! And I mean bottled, the seal is still there water. I made this mistake in South Africa, I was sick as a dog and kept drinking the REFILLED bottle of water the hotel provided (as in LOCAL TAP WATER---AVOID!!!) and I stayed sick until I switched to sealed bottled water. It is also a smart idea to bring some probiotics with you, help battle those nasty bacteria with the natural good bacteria.
So that is my advice on street food, or food in general when traveling. For water, unless the country states it has safe tap water, like Italy does, purchase some sealed bottled water at the local convince store. General rule of thumb is knowing your limits and be smart about food, and this can change per location. Try new things! Be adventurous but be safe too! Enjoy!
Today we are going to talk about “how to use a travel agent,” this will be a guide of what we need to help you. For some people this will be an old hat, they have been working with agents for years, but most people either have not or have not in recent memory. So the following is what we like or need to have to start our professional research on your behalf.
Our first contact, by phone, email, through the website or Facebook, is all about gathering initial information. We need your name, your birthdate (this is for booking/holding reasons, and the names and birthdates of everyone traveling with you (or at least those on your reservation, if you are planning group travel). Contact information: phone and email, and how you would best like to be contacted. Have an idea of where you want to go or at least what kind of things you want to do. If you are not sure where particularly you want to visit but you want to go scuba diving or learn how to cook a fantastic pizza, that will give us a starting point and we can make suggestions based on our expertise on the best locations for those activities. Please have dates in mind. Spring of next year does not help us much. We cannot price things or even know when particular activities are happing without dates. If you are open all of June and want us to pick that is fine, but try not to be too general. On that note some flexibility is great too, maybe the day before you want to travel the price drops dramatically, in this case it would be to your benefit to be flexible. The last thing that is helpful to have at the beginning is preferences: do you want all inclusive, or what star quality are you looking for in hotels and the locations of them (do you want central to near locations, beachfront, a little outside of things to save money), times of flights (would you rather leave in the afternoon versus morning), and any other particular thing you want or do not want in your trip. After we have all this information please give us at least 3 business days to do our research and get back to you with our first results.
During the process: from the initial contact to booking. We prefer using email to communicate, it gives us a paper trail so we can go back and reread the conversations. If you don’t have email, which is fine we will work with you. When you need to come in, and sometimes this is the best way to communicate, especially with more complicated itineraries, please make an appointment. Having an appointment allows us to prepare to give you our full attention and we can have all of our research for you ready to go. Limit your own research; this is for both our benefits. You hired us, a travel agency, let us do our job. The prices listed on the discount sites are there for a reason. You are not getting the service you get from a website that you receive from a professional travel agent. We work with travel every day, we know when the best time to go and where to get the most for your money. Trust us. We are here for you. Try to be open minded: when you get so locked into a particular location at a particular time and the price is too high or it’s just not feasible you can end up missing out on a fantastic trip. If the price is too high because of the season at this location in Europe, let us try to find you something similar in a more economical location. If your heart is set on that one location though, we would suggest a different time period, for example Europe is great in the summer but less expensive and just as lovely (with less crowds!) in the spring or fall.
It is also smart to note that when we quote you prices that they can change. With flight prices fluctuating constantly and prices generally going up for accommodations the closer you get to your travel date there can be dramatic differences from when we quote you the price and when you are ready to book. Please keep in mind that this is not us but the nature of the beast.
So, that is how to work with a travel agent. We are here to help guide you through planning your travel and to be an agent for you when dealing with tour companies. We will try our utmost to get you the very best deal on your trip without sacrificing comfort, detail, and security.
For European trips it is best to start planning well in advance, the average being eight months out. With that in mind, if you are planning a spring trip to Europe now would be the best time to start planning it. I have comprised a dreamy spring itinerary with several fabulous locations. For this itinerary I recommend starting your journey in mid to late April.
Amsterdam: 3 Nights. We start in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The reason I would start in mid to late April is because that is when the tulips in the Holland region are blooming. Imagine a carpet of color as far as your eye can see! The best place to view the tulips is at Keakenhof Park where they have seven million bulbs blooming. In the city of Amsterdam I suggest a walking city tour, where a local guide will walk you through some of the most famous locations in the city. Also recommended are a canal tour and the Van Gogh Museum.
Bruges: 2 Nights. The second stop is Bruges, Belgium. Bruges is a fairy –tale medieval city that oozes charm. The city is lit up after dark where you can really appreciate the beautiful old architecture. While here, you must try the chocolate, the waffles, some fries, and beer, Bruges has some of the best in the world.
Paris: 3 Nights. Paris, France is our next stop because you cannot do a spring tour of Europe without a stop in Paris. Start with the usual sights, including the Eiffel Tower which is glorious in the spring against blue skies and the Norte Dame Cathedral with its stunning rose windows. Then head over to Jardin du Luxemburg and lounge in the grass, tour the gardens, or play with a little wooden boat in the pond. Relax at one of the city’s many cafes; the Café Branly has excellent views of the Eiffel Tower. For a day trip out of the city I would recommend taking the train over to the Versailles Palace. The coming of spring marks the beginning of Les Grandes Eaux Musicales (the Musical Fountain Show), where the fountain movements are set to classical music. Other recommended tours: a city tour, a cooking class, or a wine tasting class.
Provence: 3 Nights. Provence is an area in southern France and well worth a visit. You can choose which city/town to stay in but here are my choices: Avignon because of its history (the Vatican relocated here for a bit), St-Remy-de-Provence because it is considered the heart of Provence (Van Gogh’s Starry Night was painted within this city), or Marseille if you are more of a city person, being the second largest city in France. No matter where you stay the three towns mentioned are a must see among the other charming towns in the area.
Nice: 1 Night. From Provence I would rent a car and drive to the next few locations, it is better time wise and you can really get a feel for the French and Italian Riviera. Nice, is a lively coastal town on the French Riviera and is famous for its opulence. Nice has fabulous restaurants, mesmerizing architecture, and interesting old town. The reason I only suggest one night is because it will be crowded, traffic isn’t the best, and the beach is all pebbles, but it is still a great little city worth a visit on the way to Italy.
Portovenere: 2 Nights. Portovenere, Italy is a small town on the Italian Riviera that is often considered the sixth town of Cinque Terre but less crowded. Cinque Terre would be another great option for this stop but with the new restrictions on the amount of people allowed into the area I feel that Portovenere is a great choice; it is a colorful seaside village and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a pedestrian heavy town (just like Cinque Terre) and bring your walking shoes and just explore this little gem on the coast.
Florence: 3 Nights. I would continue driving to Florence with a stop in Lucca (maybe for lunch!), which is a charming Renaissance walled city with cobblestone streets. Drop the car off at the beginning of this stay so you do not have to find parking. Florence has been continuously voted by travel magazines as one of the best cities in the world. The city itself has plenty of things to do or see but there are also many day trips you can take to the neighboring towns (Sienna, San Gimignano, and Pisa being a few). Florence is a city made of art, from street art to the glorious masters (including The David by Michelangelo). The don’t miss spots include: the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio (Bridge), and the Uffizi Gallery.
Rome: 3 Nights. It is a quick hour and half train ride from Florence to Rome. If you have the time I would stay in Rome a little longer just to be able to see the sights and get a good feel of the city. The obvious sites include: the Colosseum (I would take a guided tour that includes the underground portion), the Vatican, the Forums (yes there are multiple ones!), the Pantheon, and the Trevi Fountain. Outside the city you can take a half day trip to see the aqueducts and crypts or take a 2 hour train to Pompeii (full day), both are highly recommended. The best restaurants and cafes in Rome are the ones located in neighborhoods; so walk behind the touristy areas and find where the Romans eat/drink, the food is 100% better and so are the prices. A note about the Vatican, go early! Book a before they open tour to be able to see the museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Cathedral before the crowds (avoid Sundays or Wednesdays because they will be having service and the chapel and cathedral won’t open until later), believe me it is worth it. I do have a blog post dedicated to just Rome if you need more information.
From Rome we head home. Note: Take the train between Amsterdam to Bruges to Paris to Provence, then rent the car and drive to Nice to Portovenere to Florence, and then take the train to Rome.
And that is our spring tour of Europe (or at least one version!). If you do not have the time to do a full tour maybe you will be inspired to go to one or two of the places listed. Come in and talk to us at Travel Pros about planning a Spring European Trip!
Most of us have dreams of travel but how many have actual travel goals. What I mean by travel goals are thing you really plan to do, something to aspire to. There are a lot of lists out there of things you should have as your travel goals. But they are YOUR travel goals, so shouldn’t they be about you? For example, I read a list that included an epic train trip, but I am not a “the journey is the trip” person. I want to get to my destination and be there. Other travelers might relish in a vintage train trip and then it should be on their travel goals list. So, what is this post about? I am going to talk about mine and my co-travel consultant’s travel goals and maybe they will inspire you. The following will include the questions I asked and our answers.
Q: What do you believe every traveler should do at least once?
A: Immerse with the locals. This is the “when in Rome” concept. Ask your cab driver, the hotel staff, any local really where they would go or what they would do. Want to know what kind of tacos real Mexicans eat? Just ask. Most people are more than willing to give you ideas of where to go and what to order. What an excellent espresso? Find the café with the longest line of Italians; they are bound to have what you are looking for. (Just a tip for coffee in Italy: do not drink cappuccinos after 11am, it is a breakfast drink.) Where is a nice beach without the hordes of tourists and people hawking goods? Ask your cab driver or hotel staff, they will send you in the right direction. While in Phuket, Thailand we got tired of all the people and every five minutes someone trying to sell us something while trying to relax on the beach, so we asked our cab driver where he goes. He took us to a fabulous beach, barely anyone there and it even had a beach bar on the sand. So if you want to actually experience the destination you traveled so far to get to, ask the locals.
A:Go on your own pilgrimage. This does not have to be a religious trip, but whatever you’re passionate about. For example, I am what they call a “history nerd”; I majored in history at university and have been passionate about it since I was young. So my “pilgrimage” was to Rome. Seeing the Colosseum was practically a religious experience for me. If you are into French cooking you should take your pilgrimage to Paris and take a cooking class, they offer so many options there! If your passion is Harry Potter, go to London, see where it was based, they even have tours geared particularly for Harry Potter fans. It could be a homecoming pilgrimage as well, traveling back to where your family is from. If your ancestry is Irish go to Ireland, if it’s German go to Germany, and so forth. And of course there are the religious pilgrimages where you can follow an actual pilgrimage route or just go to a destination that is the center of the religion of your choice. So, go where your heart takes you. Nothing beats seeing your passion unfold in front of your eyes.
Q: What is a travel goal of yours? Something you have not done but is high on your list?
A: South African Safari or Monaco (James Bond Style). Safaris are fantastic trips, for couples or families, and they appear on most people’s bucket lists. South Africa is friendly, easily navigable, and quiet affordable. Monaco is an uber fancy microstate bordering France and the Mediterranean Sea. It has popular casinos and hosts the prestigious Grand Prix motor race. It is a great destination to get all dressed up and take on the town. I suggest visiting Monaco within a larger French or Mediterranean itinerary.
A: Camel Trek in Morocco or the Christmas markets across central Europe. Morocco camel treks start and end in most major towns; you ride the camels, visit exotic locations, and camp under the Sahara stars in Berber style tents and sleep on carpets. These treks can be 1 day up to two weeks and may not be the most comfortable way of transportation for everyone. The Christmas markets can be found from the beginning of December through New Year’s in a lot of cities and towns in Europe. They vary from location to location, some have light displays, some of mini plays or live displays, most have mulled wine and hot chocolate, and of course lots of Christmas shops. My choices would be Munich, Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.