26 June 2009

Need some help with travel questions?

In an effort to drum up readership, from now until December 30 (when I start school again) I am offering to answer any travel questions that anyone has - in detail. As a former travel agent and a world traveler I have a lot of knowledge - and it can benefit you! For plane ticket help, itineraries, accomodation and culture questions asking me is wayyy better than posting on a forum and hoping someone answers. Let me know if I can help!

If I answer your question I only ask one favour in return....that you become a "follower" of my blog and post the link on your facebook and twitter page. :D


Joanna said...

I have a question: Rich and I are honeymooning in Italy at the end of July (!) and we have rail Italy passes...Is it better to just show up at the train station or should we pre-book?

so BAD It hurts said...

hey jess. so me and my band are in the works of getting work permits to tour the united kingdom. any suggestions on flights/airlines to go with and places to stay and anything else that will make it easier and more affordable for us to be there and what not?

Loving you. JT

Violet Dear said...

Joanna - awesome question!

First things first - head to the Eurail website and see which routes you are planning on taking actually allow reservations. Next, use your own judgement to decide whether you think you actually need one. A 3 hour slow train between Florence and Pisa? No need. An 8 hour fast train with multiple classes - definitely. Same for any sleeper on which you want to reserve a couchette (small bunk.)

July is crazy tourist month - a lot of trains will be pre-booked months in advance and if you have a specific itinerary that you need to keep to (ie: pre paid hotels in different cities) than you should have a look to see what the availability is now. A seat reservation is approximately 5-10 Euros and once you book it online (choose the option for passholders) they will mail you the hard copy.

For train routes with many options every day, my suggestion (and what I have always done traveling in the shoulder season) is to simply book the seat reservation for my next train the day that I arrive into each town, before I even leave the station. While it is tempting to get the hell out of the station as quick as possible when you are frazzled and tired, spend the extra 20 minutes and get the next seat booked - that way you can relax and do not need to take an extra trip to the station (which are usually far from the centre.)

If you are super busy and cannot navigate the eurail site, if you are willing to pay a booking fee a travel agent can easily do this for you.

Hope this helps!

Violet Dear said...

JT - that is a toughie. The cheap charter airlines like Transat and Thomas Cook will be your cheapest seat on a plane - but they only allow 20 kilos of baggage per person and charge huge fees if you go overweight. I could see this being a big problem with your gear, making that cheap seat more expensive in the long run. If you have more than 10 people in your entourage you can ask a travel agent to get you a group quote from the airline.

Other than that, all I can suggest is to keep an eye on the sales (websites like kayak.com and expedia.ca will send you an email when a flight you are looking for drops into your price range, called "tracking a fare.")

Book early! If you have dates that you have to stick to, you better get it cemented as early as possible to avaoid paying a huge last minute fare.

As for accomodation, hostels are the way to go in England. You can rent a private room in a hostel that can sleep up to 4 for way cheaper than a private room in a hotel - you just have to share a bathroom. Do check websites like Hotels.com and Hostelbookers.com in case you can get an actual hotel for cheaper -sometimes there are sales. Try to look into an apartment rental - if you are going to be in one city for a while this could be a good option as you can cook your own food. If you wanna be really on the cheap, couchsurfing.com is a great idea. You literally contact strangers in a city that you'll be in and then sleep on their couch for free.

Let me know if you need more specific info!

Marjorie said...

What is the best thing for jet lag? Do any of the products being sold, vitamins, etc. actually work? We always try to stay up the first day we arrive at our destination and make the adjustment to local time as fast as possible but end up feeling dazed for, well days. Coming home is equally exhasuting and we seem to always get sick. Any advice?

Violet Dear said...

Honestly - I believe that the tried and true method of no alcohol (even if it is free!) and LOTS of water works the best. It is also a good idea to try to get on the schedule of the city you are arriving in as soon as possible ie: do not head to bed at 7am just because you have been awake for 24 hours! Try to wait until night time to sleep no matter where you are. Other than that I have no new ideas - I think that jetlag must be nature admonishing us for figuring out how to break its rules!

As for feeling sick when you return - the rest of the world has bugs and germs that we are not used to! Traveling also brings out the tireless adventurer in most people, our diet and sleeping habits are different and we tend to rest and relax less when visiting interesting places - leaving us open to lots of sicknesses.

Try to remember that you will enjoy your trip more the less you see!

As for the plane, try popping a few ColdFX before boarding - and as always water water water.


Marjorie said...

I like to travel and expected to be able to do a lot more once I had retired. That's not quite working out the way I had imagined, mainly because we do like our creature comforts and are past the backpacking/hostel stage. What would you suggest as a good compromise between the hostel and Holiday Inn for someone who is on a budget but wants to travel more?

Violet Dear said...


I have a few suggestions!

1) Try a organized tour. While backpack and budget travelers will quibble that this can actually work out to be more expensive than if you research like crazy and do it all yourself (I would disagree a bit - an independent traveler does run into booked out hotels and trains and is sometimes forced to shell out a lot more than expected!), it definitely makes the cost seem less daunting. Everything is paid for in advance (except some meals)and finding hotels, transport and activities has been done for you. You are also placed with a ready made group of like-minded pals with whom to share taxi and meal costs!

For exotic locales, affordable companies like GAP Adventures (http://www.gapadventures.com) now offer 'Comfort' level tours with 3 star hotels and nice private transport - while still maintaining an eye on keeping it authentic. For Europe and Britain, Trafalgar Costsaver (http://www.trafalgar.com/content.asp?ID=2406) is a great option - the same tours that they regularly run but for much less - staying in 3.5 star hotels rather than 4 and 5 stars.

2) Bed and Breakfasts and pensions are a really interesting and often very nice option - and compared with the larger chain hotels have a lot of character. The oft-included breakfast also saves dollars! Rick Steves has been championing this type of travel for years - and he also runs group tours (not exactly cheap - but really cool nonetheless!) His collection of books and tv shows "Europe Through The Back Door" (http://www.ricksteves.com/)are a great resource for putting his money saving tips to good use without skimping on comfort or culture and definitely indulging in good local food and drink!

3) Location! Europe and Australia are two of the most expensive places to travel. Consider Asia or South America, where your dollars can go A LOT further. A 5 star hotel in Phnom Penh is pittance compared to a similar hotel in Paris.... Traveling in the developing world also affords you the chance to eat and drink in world class restaurants for next to nothing, and shop for extravagant gifts and souvenirs at a fraction of what they would cost at home.
4) Travel in the Low Season: Mexico in July? Europe in November? Wayyyy cheaper! Your flight, hotel and even guides will be a much lower price if you are not competing with other vacationers. It can also be a nice time to see the sights without battling the crowds.

5) Last Minute Deals: These do not always exist - but in the lower and shoulder season you can hop on a cruise, charter flight(not regularly scheduled - see here for the difference http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_airline) or sun package for half the cost. I have seen 1 week All Inclusive Packages to decent 3.5/4 star hotels in Puerto Vallarta and Cabo for less than 600.00 per person incl taxes (out of Vancouver) and even less for a 3 star (the food will be ...so-so at best - but you can sample lots of local restaurants for cheap and use your All Inclusive for free drinks and brekkie!)That includes flights, transfers and hotel - not too bad for a week away!

Peter said...

Where can I travel for two weeks in the busy (and expensive) Christmas break period without going broke? Wondering if there's any place to go where flights don't jump at that time. Or any suggestions how far ahead to book for the best price departing Vancouver (or Seattle)?

Places such as Iran, Morocco, India, Vietnam, Antarctica (I'll come visit you and bring pie), anywhere! Send me where I can experience people, food (I appreciate your food photos) history and culture!

Cheers and thanks, Peter

Violet Dear said...


I wish I had a good answer for you.....but I don't! There is NOWHERE you can fly cheaply at that time. It's a bummer.

Basically, the entire world has freebie vacation days at that time, and families with kids who want to minimize school absences are also keen to use this time. Also, every expat on the planet is trying to get home. The airlines know this.

From Dec 10 - Jan 15 it is nearly impossible to get a reasonable fare. Even Vancouver - Toronto can go to 1K. My partner and I may be in Sydney at Xmas and we are getting ready to pay 3K to fly home to see our families. 3 K!

But because people like me are willing to fork it out to drink nog and eat stuffing, chances are you will not see anything go on sale.

Unfortunately, the countries you named can have the highest fares! (Large diaspora in the West means a lot of people traveling home.) They also use the busiest hub airports in Europe and Asia. Antarctica books up up to a year or 2 in advance.

I suggest Mexico or Central America. The flights will be higher than usual, but still hopefully in the 1K range (try flying from an American city if you can - will be cheaper) I got my friend a ticket from Seattle to Costa Rica last year Dec 26 - Jan10 for 800!

Booking NOW is imperative - closer to the date you will not be trolling for good prices, but available seats!

Try El Salvador, Honduras (GREAT beaches) or Costa Rica. The fancy hotels will be priced high for the season, but quirky offbeat places should still be affordable.

Hope this helps!

Doli said...

Hi Jessica,

Just going through all your posts one by one :) Just loving your experiences and the way you have written. I wanted to go on a trip with my boy friend to a quiet place on a lake or beach...

Do you have any suggestions for the US?

Alanna said...

Dear Violet,

Your blog is awesome. My question for you is kind of simple and silly, but I was wondering what you think of taking a lap top traveling. Obviously, you decided it was the way to go, and I'm wondering what influenced that decision.

My boyfriend and I are traveling to Southern/East Africa for six months starting in January, and I hadn't really thought about actually BRINGING my lap top until recently (maybe since I started reading your blog). When I was in Europe, this sort of seemed to be the thing to do: most hostels I stayed in had free WiFi and everyone was hooked-up. At the time I sort of scoffed at them, but I can definitely see how it would be nice. Africa, though? Do I really want to be lugging it around, run the risk of having it stolen or broken? Not really. But I also don't want to spend a good portion of my trip seeking out Internet cafes, paying for my time, only to be frustrated when I can't upload photos or send an email home. Anyhow, HELP ME, Violet! I need your wisdom!

Violet Dear said...

Alanna - if you plan to blog, take the laptop IF it is one of those small dealies. That way, if you lose it or it gets stolen it won't be the end of the world ( I think they are about 300 new) It also makes photo uploading wayyyy easier.

If you are not doing blogging, I say leave it at home. Internet cafes are so easy to find, and I dont think Africa is as hooked up with wifi.

Hope this helps!

Violet Dear said...

Doli - hmmmm. I am not sure about lakes in the US, but I do know that the Oregon coastline can be an affordable and BEAUTIFUL beach getaway. My cousin was just there and his photos show beaches nicer than some of the ones here in Asia!

StephanieC said...

Hi Violet
I was wondering about staying in and booking homestays. It is very appealing as a way of really getting to know how people live and i am definitely up for doing it. Where do you find out where they are? Do you need to book in advance? Is the price all inclusive (so to speak) Also, i have annoying dietary needs, i am gluten intolerant, and Indian food is normally quite easy for me. But do you think that would cause problems in a homestay?
An avid reader

Tennille said...

Hi Violet,

I have a question about India - and Delhi in particular. I am moving there for work and struggling a bit with my packing. I am just wondering exactly how conservative I would need to dress over there to get around with the minimum of fuss (if that's possible)? I know clothes are probably really cheap there, but I would like to have an idea so the stuff I do decide to pack doesn't just sit in my suitcase.

Thanks so much!

Violet Dear said...

Tennille - A few things.

As covered as you can be is good - no cleavage, nothing above calf length, nothing sleeveless. (Going out at night to the bars will be a different story!)

As for shopping in India, Indian suits (salwar kameez) and saris (prefectly acceptable for work) are plentiful, bit stylish Western woman's wear is NIL! It is really hard to find nice ladies stuff - even casual wear - and when you do it is Western prices. A tailor is an option, but again - they are used to making Indian garments. Bring a basic wardrobe from home - you will not regret it.