How to Stay Safe and Healthy on Your South American Adventure

Machu-Picchu-in-Peru

From the mysterious Amazon rainforest to the golden beaches of the Rio, South America offers travelers a variety of spectacular adventure opportunities. The diversity of landscape and culture captivates travelers and lures them back year after year. But seasoned travelers will warn you that there are special precautions to take when making your way down south.
There is no need to be paranoid when traveling to South America, but you should be aware of potential risks. Here is the latest information to keep you safe and healthy on your big adventure.
Research and Prepare
Whether you are planning a trip to the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro or have mapped out Machu Picchu, it’s necessary to prepare before you even step foot on the plane. Don’t try to wing this one. Carefully consider which countries you will visit. Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Ecuador are all considered the safest countries on the continent, with Chile having the lowest crime rate. But even these countries have bad neighborhoods.
Thoroughly research your travel locations. Look for necessary vaccines and travel notices in effect, and learn about the food, water, terrain, people and tourist areas.
Have Your Wits About You
The key to being safe in any foreign country is to pay attention to your surroundings and adopt an air of confidence (even when lost). Opening a big map in the middle of the street immediately makes you a target. Take a more bohemian approach and go as minimal as possible to blend in, taking just the bare essentials on your daily explorations. Limit your alcohol consumption too, because it is easy to rob a drunken tourist.
When taking transportation, choose a bus over any other method. Taxis pose a safety risk, as often they are not legit. Don’t climb into unmarked vehicles; instead, select modern, licensed taxis and buses from reputable companies.
Protect Your Belongings
Don’t be careless with your belongings. Being travelers, you know not to expose your handbag or keep your wallet in your back pocket as you are just asking for pickpockets to strike. And they will, especially in the less safe areas of Peru and Brazil. Here are some tips to make you less vulnerable to thieves:
● Carry a lockable, side-opening backpack.
● Wear a money belt under your clothes with important documents, credit cards and cash.
● Don’t store bags in overhead compartments on buses.
● Be discreet with your camera and conceal valuable electronics.
● If you don’t need it, leave it in the hotel.
● Loop your bag around your leg when eating in public places. Never leave items on the floor or draped over the back of your chair.
Bring Essential Gear
With the dynamic landscape of South America comes a mixture of weather conditions that can drastically change from coast to coast. Bring essential gear necessary for any location at any time. Because South America has some of the strongest UV rays on earth, skin protectants like hats, long sleeves, sunscreen, bug spray and sunglasses with extra lenses are crucial on any adventure.
Vaccinations and the Zika Virus
The yellow fever vaccine is required for entry into many countries in South America, while malaria tablets should be taken if entering a malaria hotspot.
The Zika virus has been in the news as of late and for good reason. Over 30 countries have reported Zika outbreaks, so it’s especially important to be vigilant when it comes to avoiding mosquito bites. Apply sunscreen before DEET repellent and cover up with long sleeves and pants. The effects of Zika are mild for most, and the majority of people who contract the virus are asymptomatic. However, pregnant women and those planning to become pregnant should avoid the area due to serious risks of birth defects associated with the virus. The CDC regularly publishes updates on affected areas of the Zika virus.
Generally, South Americans are not out to get you. They are hardworking people who often rely on tourism for their livelihood. So, tango the Brazilian night away, but stay alert and be careful.

My Travel Agent Rocks

Shelly Reister is a travel agent who goes the extra mile to take care of her customers

She is the owner of Travel by That Girl in Birmingham, Ala., and the winner of ASTA’s 2015 Extra Mile Award. Here’s why she won the award for her dedication to her clients:

Earlier this year, Shelly had a client who was a deaf teacher who had returned to work after retirement to help support the family. She lived with her elderly parents and was caring for four young children. She wanted to take them on a Disney trip, but was on a strict budget.

The client made payments every month but when it came time to pay the balance, she was $792 short. But Shelly, saying she knows it goes against everything she is supposed to do, paid for the rest of the trip saying “all I could think about was how every day at my house is Disney World for my own daughter. I believe you can’t help everybody, but you can help somebody.”

But she didn’t stop there. Shelly then threw in a $50 gas card and learned a few words of sign language to bid farewell. If this sounds like the kind of professional you want as your travel agent, contact Shelly today at Shelly@TravelByThatGirl.com in Birmingham. She’ll go the Extra Mile for you.

My Travel Agent Rocks

ASTA Arizona Chapter President Staci Blunt is no stranger to adventure. Therefore, it is no surprise she is good at selling it! If you are a traveler looking for a destination where you feel safe, you want a destination you can get to fairly easily, but is just far enough away to rank on that “must-see exotic” locale, then Staci is a travel agent you want to call. And, it you ever wanted to go to Hawaii, then she definitely has a trip for you.  Staci is a Hawaii destination specialist and is known by dozens of the local hotels and other travel providers as someone they want to do business with.

When Staci was 3 years old, her mother took her on a cross-country road trip, and she still remembers the thrill of going somewhere new. Subsequent family vacations made similar impressions on her. After high school, a six-week European adventure clinched it: She knew she wanted a career in travel.

In 2004, Blunt launched Vacation Visions in Chandler, Ariz. Today, she works with a range of markets including families, romance travelers, honeymooners and couples planning destination weddings. A specialist in the Caribbean, Mexico, Europe and cruises, she is particularly passionate about Hawaii, her favorite destination in the world.

Lately, Blunt has noticed an increase in clients requesting Hawaii for bucket-list travel, especially from the U.S. West Coast. She discusses that trend here.

Why are more people asking for a bucket-list vacation to Hawaii?
I believe that many U.S. consumers are becoming more aware of and interested in experiential trips and activities, and less interested in materialism. Families want to spend quality time together, and a good vacation has certainly become a memory-maker.

Hawaii, better than many destinations, seems to offer something for everyone, from beaches and nature to culture, sports and adventure.

What types of clients are booking bucket-list travel to Hawaii?
Many travelers who consider Hawaii a bucket-list destination have traveled within the mainland U.S. and are curious about visiting our 50th state, which is made up entirely of islands. Or, they have been to international destinations first without yet making it to Hawaii, which isn’t international but feels that way.

Older travelers who have the time and money certainly go to Hawaii. Over the years, experiential honeymoon and multigenerational travel to Hawaii has grown. Younger millennials want to take exploratory trips there. And, the bucket-list cruising segment seems to be growing, since you can visit more than one Hawaiian island in the same trip.

Why is Hawaii a great place for bucket-list travel?
It’s safe, yet exotic at the same time. It offers familiarity, but it’s essentially different. It has offerings that simply cannot be found elsewhere in the U.S., such as tropical rainforests, humpback whales, unique culture and a national park with an active volcano. That in itself makes it a bucket-list destination.

How can bucket-list travel be profitable for travel agents?
Bucket-list travel can be very profitable for agents because for each client, they’re planning the trip of a lifetime. Bucket-list vacations usually include more exclusive accommodations, more unique cultural and/or adventure activities and more upscale dining options.

The bucket-list client wants a very special, customized trip, not just a week’s stay to lie on the beach and soak in the sun.

What’s on your personal Hawaii bucket list?
I have been very lucky over the years to do most things on my Hawaii bucket list. But I haven’t yet traveled to the Mauna Kea observatories on Hawaii Island, tried tubing the ditch on Kauai, ridden a mule to Kalaupapa on Molokai, stayed at the Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay or done a shark dive on Oahu.

Those all remain quests for me. I would also love to spend a week living like a “kamaaina” [longtime island resident] and getting to know the “real” Hawaii better from the local perspective.

To reach Staci at VacationVisions.com, call 480-777-7835 or 800-664-8918 or email her at Staci@VacationVisions.com.

Honeymoons: The How-To After “I Do”

So you’re planning your honeymoon? Congratulations! The honeymoon is an important part of the wedding experience, and a much-needed escape after months of exciting, yet exhausting, wedding planning.

Couple LaughingTo unlock the secrets of honeymoon bliss that will make all your friends envious, check out these tips from ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents). Some of the most travel-wise people in the world, ASTA members know that planning your honeymoon should be as relaxing as the honeymoon itself.

First Things First – Let’s Define Ideal
Most people grow up with a preconceived notion of what an ideal honeymoon should involve. However, a bride’s idea of tropical paradise and a groom’s idea of a ski resort could conflict.

Communication and compromise are needed from the start (and preferably the duration) of the marriage, with the goal to make your honeymoon romantic, memorable and stress-free. Consider these questions as soon as honeymoon talks begin:

  • What is most important? Suntan lotion, sand and surf or the privacy and seclusion a cozy mountain retreat?
  • Are you looking to experience new cultures in distant lands or do you just want to get away from it all?
  • Are you more interested in going around the corner or around the world?
  • Do you want to spend more on the wedding or the honeymoon?
  • Niagara Falls like your parents? The Caribbean like your friends? Europe like your ancestors?
  • What sounds better: a cruise, a package vacation or an all-inclusive resort?

Paradise Comes in Many Guises -Types of Honeymoons
When it comes to honeymoon planning, most couples try to select the destination first, yet travel agents suggest a more productive way to begin. Unless your dream destination has already been set in stone, first decide what type of vacation you want and then narrow down your list of destinations accordingly.

Couple beside PoolResorts are the most popular honeymoon destinations, for they transport you into another world for a miraculous escape from the daily grind. Often set in the most picturesque places in the world, they include pools, private beaches and golf courses, as well as culinary delights and relaxing spas.

All-inclusive resorts streamline the enjoyment process by including everything – your room, transfers, recreational facilities, meals and drinks – all in one price. Without the worries of wondering how much everything little thing will cost, you are free to live the high life and experience everything you want as often as you want it.

If an all-inclusive resort sounds tempting but too stationary, consider taking a cruise. Cruises are floating resorts that whisk you away to one exotic port after another. Whether you want a cultural cruise to the Mexican Riviera or a wildlife adventure up the Alaskan coast, your travel agent will match you and your betrothed to the perfect floating experience.

If the idea of lying on beach sounds about as exciting as a nap, then shift to a higher gear and take an adventure vacation, especially if you and your fiancé share a kindred spirit for outdoor exhilaration. Whether it’s white-water rafting in Colorado, hiking through the Alps or taking an African safari, sharing the experience will become a vital bond you both will share forever.

Cultural and historical trips are fascinating and romantic ways to reconnect with the past. Visit a famous European city – Paris, London, Rome…the list goes on – and inhale the culture, soak in the sights and experience the art of living. Or dive into the rich history of the old world country from which your family originated. The unique perspective you gain will become a central root for your future family tree.

Want Stress Free? Leave it to a Professional
Couple Entering HotelAfter “I do,” your two favorite words will be “stress free,” and we can’t stress that enough. Planning for the most important day of your life will be a wonderfully crazy time for you, so finding someone you trust to aid in your decision making will be a welcomed relief.

Would you try and bake your wedding cake yourself or ask a professional for help? For stress-free travel plans – especially those with multiple steps like a honeymoon – seek out the expert advice of a travel agent.

A good travel agent can save you money as well as time – two enormous factors for a couple trying to plan a wedding and a honeymoon simultaneously. Through incomparable experience and valuable resources, travel agents specialize in providing personalized suggestions to suit your interests and your budget. And visiting their office for a chat is absolutely free!

From Their Lips to Your Ears – Travel Agent Tips
Begin early and share the planning. To ensure that you both enjoy the honeymoon, make all the decisions together.

Make time for yourselves. Pad your honeymoon schedule with generous amounts of free time, for a rushed and overly organized honeymoon might feel too much like your wedding. Instead, plan a few enjoyable activities and leave lots of opportunities to just enjoy each other’s company.

Couple beside ShoreSet a tentative budget. Talk about your expectations and priorities from the very beginning and decide what you might splurge on and where you might cut corners.

Splurge on whatever accommodations you choose. No matter what type of vacation package you choose, you will spend an enormous amount of time in your room or cabin. Make it special = make it unforgettable.

Use your maiden name. Unless you’re taking a delayed honeymoon, you won’t have time to change the name on your passport and driver’s license. Use your maiden name on visas, airline tickets, etc., so they match as it appears on your official documents.

Tell the world you’re on your honeymoon. Stand up on every chair, on every rock and shout, “We’re on our honeymoon!” Everyone from strangers to airlines to hotels will take notice and cheerfully offer you such special treatment such as complimentary champagne in-flight or a gift basket in your room. Go ahead, it’s your honeymoon.

Starting Your New Life
Marriages should start out on the right foot, and there’s no better right foot than the perfect honeymoon that’s romantic, stress free and unforgettable.

Wherever you spend your honeymoon, ASTA members want you to remember to pack a good attitude and simply enjoy your time together. With a little TravelSense, a few guidelines and some helpful tips, your honeymoon will be love at first night.

Visit http://www.honeymoonspecialists.org/ and find a Honeymoon Specialist today!

Student Travel Tips

The permission papers are signed, your bags are packed and you’re, like, so ready to ditch the classroom and head out on your class trip. Travel is an exciting opportunity to experience different places and wondrous cultures, so the key is not to blow it by doing something that will ruin the trip for yourself and others.

While it’s tempting to forget about all the rules as soon as your chaperones turn their backs, you should keep in mind these tips from ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents). Some of the most travel-wise people in the world, ASTA members know that studying for your upcoming trip is a homework assignment you’ll actually enjoy.

student travel, what to know before you goBefore You Go
Before you go, learn about the local laws and customs of the countries you’re visiting, especially those concerning drinking age, drugs and curfews. You are not immune to a country’s laws just because you’re a visitor, and you can be arrested.

Bring an extra pair of glasses or contact lenses. It’s hard to enjoy the sights when you can’t see them.

Pack a simple first aid kit with bandages, antibiotic cream and pain relievers. It’s a good thing to have “just in case.” And tell your trip leaders about any medications you’re taking.

Give your parents the phone and fax number of your hotel, the cell phone numbers of the chaperones and a full itinerary of your trip. If anything changes during the trip, e-mail your parents immediately with the new info.

Pack all valuables, medications, travel documents and passport in your carry-on bag. Occasionally checked luggage gets lost at airports, so you want to have your important items on you.

While You’re There
Do not carry all your cash at once, especially if all you need is enough to buy lunch and a few sodas. And keep your wallet in a zippered pocket, preferably inside your jacket. If you need to exchange money in a foreign country, only use authorized vendors like banks.

Don’t be flashy. Wear an old, inexpensive watch and leave the bling at home. You don’t want to be a walking target for thieves. If you bring a fancy digital camera or an MP3 player, don’t flaunt them.

When you check in at your hotel, grab a card from the counter with the hotel’s name, address and phone number on it. Keep this card on you at all times.

Look both ways before crossing the streets. Yes, you’ve heard that a billion times, but you’ll be surprised how easy it is to step into oncoming traffic in foreign countries, especially the ones where they drive on the other side of the road.

Student Travel, be respectfulTravel with a buddy at all times and never wander off alone from the group.

Be respectful around, and ask permission before taking photographs of, churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and other religious sites. Also, ask permission before taking photographs of government buildings and military installations. In some countries you can be detained for taking a picture of the wrong building.

Talk to your trip leader or to a travel agent about types of food or beverages to avoid, and don’t buy food from street vendors.

Class Dismissed
Going on an extended class trip may be the most fun you’ll ever have while actually learning something. If you follow the rules above and stay out of trouble, the only memories you’ll bring back are good ones.

For more information on your destination and additional tips for safe travel, visit the Student & Youth Travel Association at www.SYTA.org. Enjoy your trip.

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My-Travel-Agent-Rocks

What a fabulous job Susan Tanzman and her team at Martin’s Travel did for our family on our recent trip to Maui.

Susan made it special as it was a multi-milestone trip for our family, from birthdays to a silver anniversary, to a life celebration.  Susan knows Hawaii like no one else we’ve worked with.  Traveling with teenagers can be challenging, but Susan’s suggestion of the Kaanapali Shores condo and location was spot on.  We wanted to do a luau as this was our children’s first visit, and her recommendation in Wailea was perfect.  Restaurant recommendations were tailored to the family, from “special” places to moderately priced that would accommodate finicky children’s palates.

But the most special treat was when we told her we wanted to renew our vows.  Susan put us in touch with a local Hawaiian who conducts ceremonies, and we had the most special memory with our children as witnesses on a beach at sunset.  Her contact took the time to explain to us and our children the meaning behind the words and ceremony.  We got a personal touch at a cost that was much less than we were told by others a similar ceremony would run.

We have priceless memories and the logistics went without a hitch. Susan and her team were a pleasure to work with, even though we were 2,300 miles from her office.  We called numerous times with questions and never felt that we were a bother or felt anything less than her most important client.

Advice on Buying Travel Insurance and Travel Insurance Tips

Travel insurance can protect you from substantial losses that result from a variety of situations, including canceled trips, lost baggage, medical emergencies, supplier defaults, as well as other unforeseen circumstances.

TYPES OF TRAVEL INSURANCE COVERAGE

There are several general types of consumer travel insurance available. The coverage and limitations of each will vary depending on the insurance company issuing the policy. The following is a brief description of some of the general types of travel insurance.

Trip Cancellation: The most important and common type of travel insurance. Generally covers non-refundable payments or deposits if a trip is canceled or interrupted due to unforeseen circumstances.

Trip Delay: Provides reimbursement for expenses incurred when a trip is delayed.

Accident/Sickness Medical Expenses: Covers costs incurred due to injury or illness that occur while on a trip.

Medical Evacuation/Emergency Transportation: Covers transportation when a medical emergency while traveling requires transportation to a hospital or other medical facility.

Supplier Default: Covers deposits or payments lost due to the financial default of a travel supplier.

Baggage/Personal Effects Loss or Delay: Covers losses due to items lost, damaged or delayed during a trip.

TRAVEL INSURANCE ADVICE: SUPPLIER PROVIDED COVERAGE VS. THIRD PARTY INSURANCE COMPANIES

Many travel vendors (tour companies and cruise lines) offer their own protection plans and these plans may provide very different coverage than offered through third party insurance companies. In most cases, supplier-provided coverage won’t cover you in the event they go bankrupt. When considering a supplier protection plan, you should carefully compare the coverage with third-party travel insurance products.

Who should buy travel insurance?
Travelers who want to protect their travel investment should consider purchasing travel insurance. If an illness, accident or sudden change in plans forces you to cancel or interrupt travel plans, you face two major financial losses – money you’ve invested in nonrefundable prepayments, and medical expenses that aren’t covered by your health insurance.

How does trip cancellation coverage work?
It is designed to reimburse you for forfeited, nonrefundable, unused payments or deposits if you have to cancel your interrupt your trip due to a variety of situations, including but not limited to inclement weather, illness or another unforeseen event.

Depending on your policy, it may also cover:

  • Emergency medical expenses
  • Transportation ordered by a doctor to the nearest adequate
    medical facility
  • Reasonable accommodations and travel expenses for travel delays
  • Essential items you purchase if your baggage is delayed
  • Lost or stolen luggage

How much does travel insurance cost?
The cost of travel insurance varies from company and policy to policy. The more you have invested in your trip, the more you need to protect it. Travel insurance covers you for losses caused by trip cancellation and interruption, medical expenses, baggage, trip and baggage delay. When you consider all the protection you get, travel insurance is actually a great value.

Where do you buy travel insurance?
Most travel agents offer travel insurance and many may even require customers that decline insurance to sign a waiver form.

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Travelers Enjoying Voluntourism

There is no doubt that travel feeds the soul. Travelers return from trips often refreshed and a smidgen wiser for experiencing a new part of the world and a new culture vastly different than their own. The effect is reciprocated by those countries and cultures that thrive from the inward flow of money tourism brings.

But oftentimes those cultures need more than money. They need help building schools and shelters. They need help learning skills and languages. They need help preserving the fragile environments and historic sites that draw tourists to their small part of the world. That is where voluntourism steps in.

Asian FarmersVoluntourism involves people from all age and social classes traveling globally to give aid to communities in need and intimately experience the culture. This combination of exploration and inspiration is growing in popularity, mostly due to an increase in the number and variety of opportunities now available. No longer do travelers need to stay enmeshed in a foreign land for months to make a difference – they can now impact an entire community over the course of a week or two, or even during their honeymoon.

Regardless of how these travelers choose to contribute their time and energy into such a globally beneficial cause, they always return satiated, their souls well fed after making a lasting difference in the lives of their international neighbors.

Do You Have What it Takes to Volunteer Abroad?

Many of us have a strong urge to help others around the world, especially after witnessing such high-profile devastation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina or the 2004 tsunami off the coast of Thailand. Voluntourism is the perfect way for everyday people to make a difference; however, they should first know what they’re getting themselves into.

As a voluntourist, you must be realistic – you are not going to single-handedly save a village or build a new school. During a week-long stay in Tanzania, you may only build a few desks and paint a classroom, which will not seem like much at the time. But the schoolchildren who later sit in those desks and enjoy that classroom will appreciate your efforts for a lifetime. Every improvement – no matter how miniscule it initially seems – helps form an essential foundation for further social and economic improvements.

Voluntourism is more than an alternative to a standard vacation. It’s about offering your skills and time while being part of a team and interacting with diverse cultures. Anyone considering this line of travel should be flexible, take direction well and have both a sense of adventure and humor. No special skills are needed – you only need an intense desire to make a difference and experience a destination in a way few tourists ever will.

What to Expect on Your Trip

While each voluntour trip is unique, they generally share a few similarities when it comes to the services and amenities provided. Your fee will usually include meals, which will feature delicious and adventurous local cuisine; accommodations, where you’ll stay in a hotel, guest house, community center or private home; and ground transportation from the airport to the community site.

Asian FarmersThe program fees do not typically cover airfare, visas or medical and trip cancellation insurance. For those crucial components, many wise travelers turn to a travel agent. Travel agents also offer good advice when you’re considering various options during your free time. While the purpose of these trips is to serve the host community and learn from the local people, most programs include free time for their volunteers to venture outside the community and experience more of the host country.

The trips usually last one to three weeks, depending on the location, but travelers who wish to stay longer may sign up for additional programs, which are often offered in succession. As for the other people on your trip, you can expect a wide and diverse range of allies. People of all ages are traveling abroad, including families, grandparents and grandchildren, to experience this life-changing vacation together. Regardless of who else is on your tour, you all will automatically have several important traits in common: an innate desire to help others and a passion to experience the world.

Types of Voluntourism

The variety of programs is matched only by the variety of emotions each volunteer experiences during their stay.

You can teach English to Hungarian children, helping them fulfill their education requirements. You can nurture children in Ecuador, working at an orphanage. You can restore villages in the fabled Blue Mountains of Jamaica, restoring dignity to villagers. You can help care for disabled children in China and experience life through their eyes. You can repair Aboriginal homes in Australia, helping these proud indigenous people in their struggle for equality. You can help save lives by providing basic health-care screenings, such as diabetes tests, well-baby checks and prenatal exams, in Northern Greece.

Within the United States you can tutor the children of immigrants in Minnesota, construct playgrounds for Blackfeet Indians in Montana, help deprived Appalachian families start fresh in West Virginia, work with senior citizens on an Indian reservation in South Dakota, restore community buildings in Mississippi and more.

School ChildrenIf you’re a budget-conscious college student who wants to see the world, a volunteer abroad program overseas is ideal. Set your sights on the unforgettable scenery of Yorkshire, England, while taking part in a conservation program. Soak in the gorgeous South African sunset and learn how to protect dolphins, whales, seals and seabirds. Or venture to Costa Rica and get your hands dirty rebuilding homes. These trips are often less expensive than normal vacations, and you get more out of the travel experience than just a few souvenirs.

You will find many of these altruistic travel options and more at Global Volunteers, an organization that mobilizes teams of volunteers to live and work with local people on human and economic development projects.

Let a Travel Agent Help You Help Others

At the core of voluntourism is the desire to help others. When it comes to travel, no group of individuals understand that core principle better that travel agents, for helping others travel better, safer and smarter is what they do best. Travel agents can help you set up your voluntour program, save money with your airfare tickets and plan some exciting adventures for your free time.

Become immersed into another culture, build bonds of friendships with villagers in need and positively affect an entire community. Click here to find a trusted travel agent or click here for Global Volunteers and start planning a voluntour vacation that will send you deep into the heart of someone’s life.

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Destination Weddings

Congratulations! You’re getting married! Over the next year you will be making a million decisions about your wedding and honeymoon, and hopefully the process will be as enjoyable and stress-free as possible. One choice that many couples are making nowadays is foregoing the traditional idea of a wedding – a local ceremony in front of 300 family, friends and random strangers – for an intimate destination wedding.

HoneymoonA destination wedding, labeled by some as a “wedding moon,” combines the wedding, reception and honeymoon together in one location. The destination wedding is held at a desirable site, sometimes tropical, other times exotic, allowing the guests to enjoy a relaxing, activity-filled vacation while spending more quality time with the wedding couple. The couple invites only their nearest and dearest to celebrate the union. All events occur over a long weekend, along with other wedding activities designed to bring the revelers together.

If it’s hard to imagine what a destination wedding is like, picture this: you and your partner are in a warm, tropical setting, surrounded by friends and family toasting your success. The sounds of music and ocean waves peacefully blend together in the background, and a feast is prepared in your honor in the local traditions. Every single detail, from the setting of the service to the flowers, has been effortlessly arranged to suit your taste. And after the ceremony, you won’t have to leave this breathtaking locale, for you’ll have your honeymoon there as well.

To discover if a destination wedding is right for you, check out this advice from ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents). Some of the most travel-wise people in the world, ASTA travel agent members know that a special destination can make a special occasion extra special.

Reasons to Say, “I Do” to Destination Weddings

HoneymoonThe Beauty of Package Deals – Tourism organizations, resorts and cruise lines offer wedding packages to keep a destinationwedding stress-free and simple. Some offer the complimentary services of their on-site wedding consultant to help coordinate the essentials, like your marriage license and an officiant. All you have to do is show up. Your travel agent can sometimes expand these package deals to include fun activities for you and your special guests, such as sightseeing excursions, snorkeling adventures or shopping trips.

Avoiding the Awkward Invites – Because destination weddings are generally intimate affairs attended by only your closest friends and dearest family members, you can avoid being forced into inviting cousin Matt with halitosis or your best friend Jenny’s little brother you met once 10 years ago. You get to choose the level of intimacy you want for the ceremony and invite accordingly, or you can invite no one at all for a very romantic trip down the aisle.

No Reception with 250 People to Pay For – You do the math: 250 people, including co-workers and business contacts, at $75 a head equals too much money! A luxurious wedding weekend at a fabulous destination oftentimes costs less than a seated dinner at the local country club. Proper etiquette of a destination wedding calls for invited guests to pay their own airfare, while you’ll pick up the tab for the lodging, food and beverages. You can add a few perks for your guests if feeling generous, such as gift certificates to nearby spas.
It’s smart for a couple planning a destination wedding to contact a travel agent to negotiate a discounted rate for booking multiple rooms and group rates with airlines or cruise ships. If money is an issue, your travel agent can steer you toward domestic locations or countries with a favorable exchange rate.

No Extra Traveling Necessary – Destination weddings are perfect for couples with families and friends scattered around the country or even the world. If a good majority of your guests would have to travel to your hometown anyway, then getting married in a desirable vacation spot will make many of your guests happy.

Reasons to Think, “Maybe Not”

Long Distance Planning and Legal Red Tape
For those not getting married at a resort with a complimentary wedding consultant, you’ll have to juggle all the small details yourself long distance. You might experience complications when trying to get a marriage license in a foreign country or even another state. Many places require marriage fees and residency requirements.

It’s wise to hire a coordinator who specializes in destination weddings to help you navigate the twists and turns. A good wedding planner, like a good travel agent, can help keep costs in check by bargaining with vendors or utilizing professional relationships to obtain special discounts. The more exotic thelocale, the more necessary the wedding planner becomes. If at all possible, hire a local wedding planner who specializes in destination weddings, and let him or her work with an onsite planner. This usually does not translate into double fees, for the services of the local wedding planner are generally included in the overall price.

Where’s Granny? – While exotic locales are a great way to keep undesirables from attending your special event, it may also have the reverse effect with loved ones who may not be able to attend due to the expense, physical limitations or getting enough time off of work. Think about all the guests who are truly essential before deciding on the location. If money is an issue for your guests, simply tell them that their presence is the only wedding gift you need.

No Room for Impetuousness – With a destination wedding, advance warning and save-the-date cards are crucial. Send them off as early as possible, preferably at least eight months in advance, for your guests will need to work the trip into their budget and work schedules. Also, many guests, since they’re suddenly planning to visit an exciting corner of the world, take vacations before or after the wedding. Fair warning gives them time to contact a travel agent and plan the perfect trip.

Crowded Honeymoon? – With your family around, will you be able to enjoy a private honeymoon with romantic alone time? If you want alone time, you’ll have to schedule it. Arrive a few days before everyone else, which you may need to do anyway for marriage license requirements, or enjoy your honeymoon nearby on a different island or neighboring resort. If neither of these options is possible, plan fun activities, preferably of the all-day kind, to occupy your friends and family while you and your new spouse sneak away to a private beach or special restaurant.

I, Travel Agent, Take Thee (State Your Name) Anywhere You Want to Go
Once you decide a destination wedding is right for you, then say “I do” to a travel agent. Travel agents excel at making plans for multiple people from multiple locations, oftentimes at special, discounted group rates. Planning for the most important day of your life will be a wonderfully crazy time for you, so finding someone you trust to aid in your decision making will be a welcomed relief.

A good travel agent can save you money as well as time – two enormous factors for a couple planning their life together. Through their love of travel and reliable relationships with suppliers around the globe, travel agents specialize in providing personalized suggestions to suit both your dreams and your budget. Some travel agents can even set up a layaway plan, so you can make monthly payments for your special trip.

Wherever you decide to share your vows and spend your honeymoon, ASTA members want you to remember to pack a good attitude and simply enjoy your time together. With a little TravelSense, a few guidelines and some helpful tips, your destination wedding will lead to many, many destination anniversaries.

Click here to find a travel agent in your area and start dreaming of a barefoot wedding on a beach.

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My Travel Agent Rocks!

Note:  This blog is adapted from its original tumblr posting by Emmy Hermes, a former ASTA employee in the Membership Department who is now on a journey around the world.

An Irish native, Evan has been a member of ASTA for years and is an active participant of the Young Professionals Society (a subcommittee of ASTA geared toward agents who are under the age of 40). When I told Evan that I was going to Ireland, he immediately jumped in to offer his services. Right off the bat, he suggested that Jen and I rent a car, which was not something that we had thought to do because of how expensive this can be in the states. I don’t know what it is about the vehicle renting process, but every time I show up to retrieve a rental car that I have put on hold, the price is triple the amount of what was originally displayed. When I expressed concerns to Evan, he simply said to give him a moment and shortly after sent me an email with everything planned and priced out to a tee. It was magic. He had done all of the work for me and in those brief moments essentially changed the entire dynamic of our trip. Because we wanted to see both the east and the west coast of Ireland, our car rental provided the ultimate form of flexibility that we didn’t know we needed. Split between Jen and I, it also turned out to be a cheaper investment than what our combined bus and train fares would have cost.

The most notable way Evan transformed our trip, however, was through our itinerary. Our original route started in Dublin and went to Cork then Kerry then Galway and back to Dublin. Upon reviewing our itinerary, Evan was quick to suggest that we ditch Cork altogether and add a town called Dingle. Wanting to cram as much as humanly possible into one week, Evan compared our route to The Amazing Race. Neither of us had ever heard of Dingle before, but after a brief internet search, we came to find out that Dingle was recently rated as one of the most photogenic places on Earth. This decision turned out to be a no brainer. In fact, when we arrived in Ireland and told the locals that we were going to Dingle, we received nothing but fantastic remarks about how beautiful the peninsula is. Whenever Cork was mentioned, it was usually followed by a reaction of neutrality. Cork is great, but nothing outlandishly special. Dingle, on the other hand, is stunning. This leg of the trip also turned out to be my favorite couple of days throughout the entire time spent in Ireland, hands down.

Unfortunately, I am unable to financially afford having Evan hold my hand throughout the entirety of my trip. However, his expertise and consistency in checking in on me throughout the week to see how I was doing was so appreciated. I think that if there is anything that I have learned about this process it is that the value of a security blanket is extremely underrated by young travelers today. It’s always a good thing to have someone on your side. With that said, Evan, your assistance was unmatched, and I’m so glad that we were able to reconnect in person in your home country! Thanks for everything!

 

Tips for Women Traveling Alone

Now more than ever, women are traveling by themselves for business or pleasure. And although their reasons for traveling are similar to their male counterparts, women traveling alone have very different concerns. From safety issues to cultural variations, women travelers encounter a variety of difficulties that can be avoided if the necessary precautions are taken.

woman with computer at airport gateTo learn how you can travel safer, read these tips from ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents). Some of the most travel-wise people in the world, ASTA members understand that while it pays for both men and women to be educated travelers, it is imperative for women to plan every step of their trip – from packing a suitcase to choosing a hotel room – to ensure a safe return.

Know Before You Go – Learn as much about the destination as possible, especially when traveling to a foreign country. An area’s religious or cultural beliefs can directly impact you, compelling you to adapt your dress and demeanor to comply with local customs. Also, what is regarded as sexual harassment in one country is part of the social fabric of another, so avoid form-fitting or revealing clothing to prevent unwanted attention.

Welcome to Hotel Safety – Get to know the staff, who will be familiar with guests and are able to more effectively monitor who enters and exits the building. Ask beforehand if a member of the staff will be available to escort you to your room if you arrive late at night. Ask for a room on a higher floor near the elevator but away from emergency exits, stairwells, and any renovation work. Never accept a room if the clerk loudly calls out your name and room number.

While at the front desk, grab a card from the counter with the hotel’s name, address and phone number on it, and keep this card on you at all times. Once inside your room, make sure the door has a peephole and a deadbolt. If it doesn’t, make sure you don’t open the door to someone you don’t know.

Travel Documents – Make two copies of important travel documents – one set for the trip, and one for friends or family to keep at home.

Packing Smart – Pack light so you won’t be weighed down and look weighed down, both of which would make you an ideal target for pickpockets. Avoid expensive looking baggage and clothing, lock all suitcases and only use covered luggage woman writing in journaltags with your office address written on it rather than your home. Carry only one credit card, and don’t keep all your money in one place.

Transportation – Explore transportation options available at your destination ahead of time, especially if you will be arriving late in the evening. Travel agents can help determine the safest choice and make the necessary arrangements. If renting a car, carefully examine maps, write out directions in advance and bring along a cellular phone.

Know Your Surroundings – Study a map of the area you will be visiting. Learn as much as possible about getting around the streets to avoid looking like a lost tourist. Ask the concierge about where – and, more importantly, where not – to go.

The Best Vacation Memories are Good Vacation Memories – There may be safety in numbers, but there is also safety in knowledge. With some advance planning and the advice of a professional travel agent, your vacation or business trip can be safe, hassle free and memorable.

Contact a trusted travel agent today and get professional assistance and advice for your next trip.

My Travel Agent Rocks!

While traveling to Cuzco, Peru, a client of Teri Goldstein of Sausalito, Calif.-based Travels With Teri became quite ill and had to remain in the hospital for more than two weeks. Teri’s ground operator alerted her to the situation, and Teri took it upon herself to connect the ill woman with her travel insurance provider. “I had Allianz immediately open a case on her behalf. As soon as Allianz got a hold of her, I had them connect me with my client at 1 a.m. so she knew I was there for her. She was so grateful to hear my voice.”

The client was relieved, knowing Teri was taking care of everything step by step. “She was alone and afraid. She asked that I contact her son and let him know what happened but not to scare him. I did as she asked and he was very grateful to have the info and clinic contact telephone number so he could speak with her. I spoke to her daily….I also made myself available to her any time day or night if she wanted to speak with me.  I put myself in her shoes—a woman sick and alone in a strange land.”

While the ill woman’s traveling partner left her to fly back home, Teri stayed “virtually” by her client’s side. Teri worked with Allianz to arrange for a medical escort all the way to her home. “My client says I was her life saver—but I tell her that I only did what every travel professional should do—be there for her every step of the way before, during and after the trip.”

Ecotourism – Global Traveling with Global Thinking

As travelers reach the far corners of the world, they are faced with the responsibility to preserve the fragile environments they visit. This idea of traveling responsibly is called ecotourism, conscientious travel to protect the environment and nourish its many cultures.

In the spirit of exaggeration, the neglect of eco-conscious travel is akin to filling in the Grand Canyon to build a coffee shop. While we all love a good no-whip, extra-hot mocha, our priorities should be aimed at the preservation of this planet’s natural and cultural treasures.

By focusing on the impact of our actions and using a little TravelSense, travelers can make the right decisions to positively affect the world around them. To start eco-traveling, please follow these guidelines compiled by ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents). Some of the most travel-wise people in the world, ASTA members know how special our planet is, and why we must take good care of it.

(1) RESPECT OUR FRAGILE PLANET
Sure the planet feels solid beneath our feet, and it can hold its own against the big boys in the solar system. Yet the Earth’s ecosystem “the scenic surface features which we stand next to in pictures” is a fragile infrastructure dependent on balanced and cyclical nurturing.

Think of it as the Earth’s hair. It looks great now, but the more we tread on it, the messier it becomes, until one day the planet wakes up completely bald. Unless we combine our efforts to help in its preservation, the unique and beautiful destinations we buy expensive cameras to photograph may not be here for future generations to enjoy.

(2) LEAVE ONLY FOOTPRINTS
Take only photographs, leave only footprints. These two simple phrases sum up the heart of eco-tourism. Do not leave litter of any kind, and do not take any souvenirs from historical sites and natural areas. In some instances, like taking a piece of the Great Barrier Reef, it’s a crime.

In the wilderness never disturb anything that you can avoid disturbing. Leave all the pretty rocks where they are; your desk will survive without another paperweight. The “it’s only one rock” attitude goes out the window when a million people each take one rock from one forest.

(3) THE ROAD MOST TRAVELED
Following the basic rules of ecotourism can be as easy as following a well-marked trail, because on the well-marked trail is where you should be. Always follow designated trails and resist the urge to explore the forest.

Do not disturb animals, plants or their natural habitats, and hopefully they will not disturb you in return. You were told a thousand times as a child to not tap the aquarium’s glass, so consider each ecological wonder a special aquarium.

(4) EDUCATION IS A TERRIBLE THING TO WASTE
Increase the size of your brain and educate yourself about the geography, customs and manners of the region you plan to visit. The invasion of foreign values can damage a culture more than a bulldozer in some regards. Get to know the culture before you arrive and know which of your actions or standards may not be accepted smoothly.

Tourism provides a positive boost to local people. Attending local events encourages indigenous pride and cultural heritage, enabling many traditions to be preserved. These traditions present a more lasting, honest perspective of the destination than any postcard ever could.

(5) R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Respect the privacy of others and always ask before photographing people. Some Australian aborigines believe that photographs steal their souls. Why you may not believe this to be true, respect their beliefs slide the camera back into backpack.

Also be respectful of local people’s land by asking permission before entering buildings, shrines or sacred lands. Showing respect will gain you the most treasured of souvenirs’ trust.

(6) ECO-SOUVENIRS
Souvenirs are a vital part of every trip, special for their uniqueness and direct mental link to a fabulous vacation memory. As a concerned eco-tourist, do not buy products made from endangered plants or animals, such as ivory, tortoise shell, animal skins and feathers. Purchase souvenirs from local artists to keep cultural traditions alive.

Extend this idea and dine in locally owned restaurants’ exploring the gastronomic scenery is just as important as visiting the main attractions of a destination. Choose locally owned and operated lodges, hotels, tour guides, and take advantage of local taxis, buses and car rental agencies.

(7) ECO-FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS
The easiest ecologically saving action to undertake is to support conservation-oriented organizations already working to preserve the environment. Select responsible tour operators and guides whose practices are based on sound eco-conscious beliefs.

Maintain an eco-friendly attitude when choosing destinations to visit. Encourage organizations to subscribe to environmental guidelines. TravelSense urges organizations to adopt their own environmental codes to cover special sites and ecosystems.

(8) IT’S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL
Globetrotting with the world in mind provides a more satisfying way to travel; challenging you to learn about the places and people you visit and help sustain their fragile environments, economies and cultures.

Through increased awareness and an earnest desire to help protect natural and cultural resources for the good of the planet and for the generations yet to explore, you can trek to the four corners with a positive impact.

Travel with purpose.

My Travel Agent Rocks!

Paul Iacono, Journeys Beyond the Ordinary

Imagine this. It is approaching midnight. You and three buddies are in Scotland, thousands of miles from home. Roughly eight hours earlier your rental car blew a tire in the middle of nowhere. It took AA (the Scotch equivalent of AAA) about four hours to show up with a tow truck. They are towing you in the exact opposite direction of the small town where you have reserved rooms for the night.

There is no chance you can make those reservations. You have been scrambling to try to find a place near Glasgow Airport, but the world’s largest arts festival is going on, and there isn’t a room to be had within 100 miles at any price. You have resigned yourself to the painful reality that you and your buddies will be sleeping in your car by the side of the road. How can this story possibly have anything vaguely like a happy ending? Here’s the answer.

We had booked our Scotland vacation through our travel agent, Paul Iacono of Journeys Beyond the Ordinary. He did a terrific job planning and booking our itinerary, but we assumed that would be the only role he played. When we got into the jam I described, we called Paul to seek his help. After hours on the phone confirming that there were absolutely no rooms to be found, he called a personal friend, Bill Hill, a resident of nearby Edinburgh, to ask a favor. Could four complete strangers show up at his doorstep sometime between midnight and 1 a.m., and find a place to lay their heads for the night. Bill, himself a world class tour guide, and a true gentleman, tells Paul he’d be happy to help. When we show up, we are welcomed as old friends. We all enjoy a delicious glass of some of Scotland’s finest whiskey and then place our heads down on the beds he so generously provided.

I have run a very large company, where we prided ourselves in customer service, but I can assure you that we NEVER went to the incredible lengths that Paul went to. I don’t often write testimonials, because more often than not, they are not warranted. But this situation is the exception. We will always be indebted to Paul and Bill for their assistance, and I give both of them an unqualified recommendation.

My Travel Agent Rocks!

Hollie Schmitt, Memory Making Travel

This is the story of Hollie Schmitt of Memory Making Travel in Rubicon, Wis., who saved the day for an entire bridal party headed to Jamaica for a Destination Wedding. Hollie is the mother of 6, lives on a dairy farm, is involved with her children’s school and sporting events, and also drives a school bus.

Photo: Shutterstock, © wandee007

Photo: Shutterstock, © wandee007

The main bridal party was scheduled to leave together out of Milwaukee to get into the resort before the remainder of the group of 85 to prepare for the wedding. Hollie received a call from the airline at 11:30 pm the night before their flight was to leave, informing her of a three-hour delay. The group only had a 1.5-hour layover, so she knew she would have to do something to ensure they made their connection.

She had booked the group with Funjet and she immediately called and explained the situation. She was able to find 24 seats on a flight out of Chicago O’Hare for the same time as the flight leaving Milwaukee, allowing them to make their connection. She had Funjet reissue the tickets, and she then had to contact the bride and her bridal party—at midnight.

The wedding group had a bus lined up to take them at 3 a.m. to the Milwaukee airport, but with the change, they would now need to leave at 1 a.m. to get to Chicago. Hollie tried to reach the bus company to change the time, but was unsuccessful.

So Hollie took her own bus and prepared it for the trip to Chicago O’Hare. She met the bridal party at the bride’s home and loaded them all onto the bus. A few of the clients were a bit confused because they knew Hollie was their travel agent and couldn’t believe she would be driving the bus to take them to their wedding event. Hollie drove her group the two hours to Chicago, assisted them with check-in to ensure everything was taken care of, then hopped back on her school bus and got home just in time to drive her morning route. That is most definitely the ultimate definition of a full-service travel agent.

Travel agents make the travel experience BETTER. Expand your world. Go with the pros.
Find a travel agent at www.Travelsense.org/agents or www.ASTA.org/agents

Do you have a story about how your travel agent saved the day for you?
Are you an agent with a good story to tell? Please email it to us at PR@asta.org

My Travel Agent Rocks!

Travel Genie Ken Smith, Dreams Come True Travel

Once upon a time, in a land called Maplewood, N.J., lived a Travel Genie. He was referred to an IT professional who needed to go to a conference in Austria to learn key information about growing her professional skills. When he booked her ticket he informed her that she needed to get her passport.

Three months before her trip he called her and asked if she obtained her passport. She said she would.

Two months before the trip he called again and again he got the same answer…She would obtain her passport.

One month before the trip he called again and she said, “I will get the passport, stop calling me.”

Photo by Shutterstock, ©  Balazs Kovacs Images

Photo by Shutterstock, © Balazs Kovacs

Two days before the trip the client called in a panic. She said she was having trouble getting an appointment in New York to obtain a passport. Travel Genie Ken said, “Give me a few minutes.” He called her back and told her she could go to Connecticut and get a passport the same day. She said that would be a problem, for she had no car. He said, “You have no problem, you have a travel genie.” He then informed her that he would drive from New Jersey to Harlem, N.Y., and pick her up at 3 a.m. and drive her to the passport office. “After you get the passport, I will drive you to New York Kennedy and put you on the plane,” said Travel Genie Ken.

And with that, a new level of service was born. Travel Genie Ken told her that, “By any means necessary, you will have a dreams come true trip!”

Travel agents make the travel experience BETTER. Expand your world. Go with the pros. Find a travel agent at www.Travelsense.org/agents or www.ASTA.org/agents

Do you have a story about how your travel agent saved the day for you?
Are you an agent with a good story to tell? Please email it to us at PR@asta.org

Advice on Buying Travel Insurance and Travel Insurance Tips

Travel insurance can protect you from substantial losses that result from a variety of situations, including canceled trips, lost baggage, medical emergencies, supplier defaults, as well as other unforeseen circumstances.

TYPES OF TRAVEL INSURANCE COVERAGE

There are several general types of consumer travel insurance available. The coverage and limitations of each will vary depending on the insurance company issuing the policy. The following is a brief description of some of the general types of travel insurance.

Trip Cancellation: The most important and common type of travel insurance. Generally covers non-refundable payments or deposits if a trip is canceled or interrupted due to unforeseen circumstances.

Trip Delay: Provides reimbursement for expenses incurred when a trip is delayed.

Accident/Sickness Medical Expenses: Covers costs incurred due to injury or illness that occur while on a trip.

Medical Evacuation/Emergency Transportation: Covers transportation when a medical emergency while traveling requires transportation to a hospital or other medical facility.

Supplier Default: Covers deposits or payments lost due to the financial default of a travel supplier.

Baggage/Personal Effects Loss or Delay: Covers losses due to items lost, damaged or delayed during a trip.

TRAVEL INSURANCE ADVICE: SUPPLIER PROVIDED COVERAGE VS. THIRD PARTY INSURANCE COMPANIES

Many travel vendors (tour companies and cruise lines) offer their own protection plans and these plans may provide very different coverage than offered through third party insurance companies. In most cases, supplier-provided coverage won’t cover you in the event they go bankrupt. When considering a supplier protection plan, you should carefully compare the coverage with third-party travel insurance products.

Who should buy travel insurance?
Travelers who want to protect their travel investment should consider purchasing travel insurance. If an illness, accident or sudden change in plans forces you to cancel or interrupt travel plans, you face two major financial losses – money you’ve invested in nonrefundable prepayments, and medical expenses that aren’t covered by your health insurance.

How does trip cancellation coverage work?
It is designed to reimburse you for forfeited, nonrefundable, unused payments or deposits if you have to cancel your interrupt your trip due to a variety of situations, including but not limited to inclement weather, illness or another unforeseen event.

Depending on your policy, it may also cover:

  • Emergency medical expenses
  • Transportation ordered by a doctor to the nearest adequate
    medical facility
  • Reasonable accommodations and travel expenses for travel delays
  • Essential items you purchase if your baggage is delayed
  • Lost or stolen luggage

How much does travel insurance cost?
The cost of travel insurance varies from company and policy to policy. The more you have invested in your trip, the more you need to protect it. Travel insurance covers you for losses caused by trip cancellation and interruption, medical expenses, baggage, trip and baggage delay. When you consider all the protection you get, travel insurance is actually a great value.

Where do you buy travel insurance?
Most travel agents offer travel insurance and many may even require customers that decline insurance to sign a waiver form.

To find a travel agent visit www.astatravelagents.org

Tips on Tipping – Tipping Etiquette

When it comes to your vacation, it’s the littlest details, such as tipping etiquette, that can become the most confusing. Whom should you tip? How much? Do you need to tip at all? Never fear! With this simple guide to tipping, we will take the guesswork out of tipping etiquette and help you focus on more important things – like enjoying your vacation.

TIPPING AT AIRPORTS AND TRAIN STATIONS

Upon arriving at or leaving from the airport or train station, tip the standard porter rate of $1 per bag; more if your luggage is very heavy. Typically, a $1 tip for hailing a taxi is appropriate for doormen. However, you may want to tip more for special services, such as carrying your bags.

HOTEL TIPPING ETIQUETTE

When you arrive at your hotel after a long flight, first things first: Tip the taxi or limo driver. Ten to 15 percent of your total fare is usually expected. If you drive your own car, give the valet parking attendant $1 to $2. If you take a shuttle van or bus, tip the driver $2 per person.>Download our wallet-size tipping guide and tipping etiquette

The bellman, who will be more than happy to assist you with your bags and the door, should receive $1 to $2 per bag. Tip when he shows you to your room and again if he assists you upon checkout. Tip more if he provides any additional service. The concierge, who can get you anything from dinner reservations to hard-to-come-by theatre tickets, deserves $5 to $10 for such feats. You may tip at the time of service or at the end of the trip. To ensure good service throughout your stay, add a $20 tip to the bill. Click here to download our wallet-size tipping guide

Add 15 percent of the bill to a room service charge, unless a gratuity is already added, then add no additional tip or simply $1. If you requested something delivered to your room such as a hairdryer or iron, tip $1 per item received. Typically, the maid deserves a $2 tip each day, as well.

TOUR TIPPING ETIQUETTE

If you’re taking a tour and a tip is not automatically included, tip a local guide $1 per person for a half-day tour, $2 for full-day tour. Tip a private guide more.

If you are on a multi-day tour with a tour manager – someone who travels with the group for several days and is essentially in charge – tour operators suggest anywhere from $3-8 per person per day. Don’t forget the bus driver either – $2 per person per day.

CRUISE TIPPING ETIQUETTE

When on a cruise, tip according to your comfort level and only on the last evening of your cruise. As a general rule, dining room waiters receive $3.50 per person/per day whereas the dining room assistant waiter should receive $2.00 per person/per day, the dining room maitre’d $3.50 per person/per day and the dining room manager $1.50 per person/per day.

The room steward, for all his efforts, receives $3.50 per person/per day. Other personnel, such as bar waiters, bellboys and deck stewards may be tipped as service is rendered.

RESTAURANT TIPPING ETIQUETTE

Although excellent service calls for 20 percent of the total bill, most U.S. restaurants accept 15 percent as the standard tip. In restaurants where you sit at the bar or the waiter is a small part of the meal (cafes or pubs), 10 percent is also acceptable. The bar tenders, themselves, generally receive between 15 and 20% when you sit at the bar. If the food or service is unsatisfactory, speak to the manager – don’t walk out without tipping. And pay attention to lunch and dinner bills in Europe and Asia, as some restaurants tack on an additional 15 percent (usually listed on the menu or check as a “service charge”) and do not expect tips.

At fancy restaurants, tip the maitre d’ between $5 and $10 if he gets you a table – more when the restaurant is full and you have no reservations. Tip $1 when you check your coat, and another $.50 to $1 for restroom attendants. For personal service from the wine steward, opt for 10 percent of the wine bill.

This tipping etiquette will hopefully give you a general idea of the standard tipping rate for different stops along your journey. You are always welcome to tip more when the service is excellent, and when you do, you are sure to see the red carpet treatment all the way. Enjoy your vacation, and don’t forget to tip!

The Great Barrier Reef

Weightless, you float around a stack of plate corals, twisting you body in the gentle warm current to catch mere glimpses of the sea life circus. Angelfish and wrasse ease by in an effortless flow of nautical traffic, and two lionfish with fins flaring like feathers cruise past your mask. You glance up and see the sun’s brilliant eye glaring down through 80 feet of crystal clear water, gently reminding you that you’re still on Earth.

Known as Australia’s Blue Outback, the Great Barrier Reef is a mesmerizing maze of 3,000 individual reefs shadowing the eastern coast of Queensland. Visible from outer space, the Reef is the largest living thing on our planet, stretching 1,250 miles to cover an area larger than Great Britain.

Travel agents know that with over 900 islands above the sea and 1,500 species of fish below, the Great Barrier Reef is the premier destination spot for diving and snorkeling. The tropical climate and clear waters enhance the experience, creating the perfect watery atmosphere for you to gaze at and grasp every subtle color on the carapace of a loggerhead turtle swimming just within your reach.

Beginners and experienced divers alike will find the perfect dive scenario at the Great Barrier Reef, depending on your fondness for submersion. Mainland vacationers enjoying seaside towns like Cairns and Cooktown can take dive boats out to the reef—which is anywhere from 12 to 185 miles offshore—for an afternoon of coral exploration.

Serious divers, the kind who wear their scuba mask to dinner because they like the way it looks, prefer live-aboard dive boats that go out for several days, visiting remote—and remarkable—spots. These divers can swim with minke whales at Ribbon Reef, hand-feed hordes of giant potato cods at Cod Hole, or encounter manta rays, turtles and barracudas at the Heron Bommie.

Diving down into the depths is a great way to experience the Reef, but hardly the only way. At most places the clear water is only 10 to 20 feet deep, allowing snorkelers to soak up the entire spectrum of coral and color. Snorkeling in such a vivid environment is hallucinogenic; where shapes interact in a dazzling display of motion, highlighted with fluttering fireworks of oranges, greens, reds and fuchsias.

To stay close to the aquatic action, check into a Dive Island Resort. Even though there are nearly 1,000 islands along the Queensland coast ranging from tiny coral cays to tropical islands, only a few contain resorts, with one resort per island in most cases. While each island resort is unique, they all enjoy the blessing of the Queensland sun and the warm hospitality of the locals.

Heron Island is a nature-lovers retreat, where you can step right off the sand and into coral gardens. Lizard Island visitors enjoy the magic formula of 80 divided by 24, for 80 is the maximum number of guests who can stay at the resort and 24 is the number of idyllic beaches at their disposal. Odds are you’ll have a beach to yourself.

Guests on Green Island, a true coral cay that can be circumnavigated on foot in less than an hour, stay at the five-star Green Island Eco Resort; while visitors on Bedarra Island, Australia’s most intimate and exclusive retreat with only 15 handcrafted timber villas, enjoy picnic lunches and chilled wine on secluded beaches.

Many enjoy the Whitsundays—a chain of 74 islands of which only 12 are inhabited. Most are drowned mainland mountains whose peaks are all that remain above the surface following millions of years of rising waters. The Whitsunday Passage, one of the smoothest bodies of water in the world, winds between the islands, making exploration a simple pleasure.

Making your way through this great coral maze has not always been easy. After badly damaging his boat twice, famed explorer Captain James Cook had to climb to the highest point on Lizard Island, to a perch now known as Cook’s Look, and carefully chart a safe passage to sail.

For you to navigate the Great Barrier Reef and find your ideal vacation, just contact a trusted travel agent. A travel agent will help you explore your options and possibly save you money by combining your reef trips and accommodations into one great package. Travel agents also know the great secrets of the Reef, like which helicopter tour to take and which island-hopping expedition lands on the best beaches.

There is a lot to see around the Great Barrier Reef, both above and below the sea. Thankfully the waters here are some of the clearest in the world, with an average visibility of 65 feet. Apart from curious schools of colorful fish, there is little that will come between you and the view.

Find a Travel AgentMake your next vacation crystal clear. Find a travel agent and start planning your vacation to a unique wonder of the world—the Great Barrier Reef.

Cruising Scandinavia’s Capitals

Vikings held a great respect for the Baltic Sea. Those daring Norse explorers, the first to conquer the Atlantic, would boldly cross the Baltic waters in knarrs, long, high-walled wooden vessels, slicing through the waves with the wind in their beards. And they would smile—huge, toothy grins. From the tip of Norway, around Denmark, past Sweden and up to Finland they would smile. For the Baltic coastlines shine like treasures in your eyes, and the bays and inlets beckon to all seafarers a hearty welcome.

The legendary enjoyment in cruising the Baltic lives on, magnified by majestic cities that now occupy the banks. Intrepid cruise lines retrace the old Viking routes, allowing you to crest the deep waters, conquer seaside villages and pillage for exotic treasures during an exciting, whirlwind tour of Scandinavia.

Cruising the Baltic Sea allows you to taste the many flavors this unique region of the world has to offer. Everyday will bring a new adventure, whether it’s browsing the elegant shops of the Stroget during an overnight stay in Copenhagen, sailing along the scenic fjords of Oslo, visiting the incredible Vasa Museet museum in Stockholm or investigating the historic Lutheran Cathedral in Helsinki’s Senate Square.

To get fitted for your Viking helmet and conquer these mysterious lands, you should visit your trusted travel agent’s office. Travel agents know the ports well, along with tricks to book the best shore excursions. They can even dispel the myth that Scandinavia is a bitterly cold destination, knowing full well that the warming effects of the Gulf Stream create relatively mild winters, comparable to New England.

Of all the Scandinavian capitals, the kingdom of Oslo is the oldest and the coziest, a provincial city with a touch of glitter sparking from the royal palace still in the heart of town. Situated at the tip of a 60-mile fjord, Oslo is beautifully framed by a vast expense of woods, moors and lakes, while the city’s interior is wonderfully decorated with a blend of 19th-and 20th-century architecture adorned with woodcarvings and vibrant frescoes.

Visitors to Norway’s capital flock to the 9th-century sea vessels at the Viking Ship Museum, while photographers race to snap pictures of the distinctive statues at Vigeland Sculpture Park. Others enjoy a spectacular view of the city and the fjord from Akershus Castle, a cliff-perched fortress originally built in 1300. The present structure dates mainly from the 17th century and features quaint buildings and beautiful grounds.

Sailing south down the Kattegat Strait, the next port of call is Copenhagen, an elegant city abounding in history and tradition. Cathedrals and canals, castles and crown jewels, galleries and museums—sightseeing is a special gift in this city. With a full day off the ship, you should head straight to Tivoli Gardens, a unique combination of picture-perfect gardens, lakes and more than 100,000 colored lights.

Afterward, take a stroll along the water down Langelinie Promenade, skirting the 300-year-old citadel near the celebrated statue of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid. The photogenic Mermaid is not shy, so have your camera ready. The city’s famed canals—which you can enjoy from a sightseeing boat, your own kayak or simply a waterfront café—truly frame this fairytale of a city in charm and beauty.

It doesn’t take a Nobel Prize winner to appreciate the stunning grace of Stockholm. Often referred to as “Venice of the North,” Sweden’s capital is blessed with beautiful islands laced by an intricate system of waterways and bridges, snuggled between a freshwater lake and the sea. Gabled houses lean out over narrow alleys in the old town, while just blocks away a magnificent 17th-century palace overlooks the wide harbor. From your cruise ship, head straight to the Gamla Stan for shopping and then visit the Vasa Museum, home to the world’s oldest preserved ship.

Helsinki is an elegant city of spectacular architecture, beautiful gardens and parks that border the harbor. The heart of Helsinki is the bustling market square, also known as the fish market. Let yourself be drawn to Havis Amanda, the stunning mermaid statue and fountain just west of the fish market. The statue was designed in 1908 by Finland’s most beloved artist, Ville Vallgren. Also known as Manta, it is commonly regarded as the symbol of Helsinki, if not all of Finland.

To experience just one of these cosmopolitan cities is a dream. To visit them all while in the pampered care of a luxurious cruise ship is divine. Contact your trusted travel agent today and discover the Viking spirit within you. Your agent can even expand your itinerary, adding additional destinations like St. Petersburg in Russia, Tallin in Estonia and Gdansk in Poland.

Enjoy a cruise on the Baltic Sea and open up a whole new corner of the world. Click here to find a travel agent near you today and start dreaming of your epic Viking adventures.