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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Uncommon Vacation Destinations 8.25.10

  • Thailand is a colorful and beautiful metropolitan country. They have great shopping and nightlife and amazing food. Once you get there, there is always something going on and the country is fairly inexpensive. In the hustle and bustle of the hectic city life, know that you can wind down by staying at places like Le Meridien Chiang Rai Resort. From only $74 per night, it is only 2 miles from the airport and located on a gorgeous property in a quiet neighborhood right on the Mae Kok River. The resort has a spa and fitness center to help you relax. They also offer shops, pools, several restaurants and shuttle service. You can take a river cruise or a day trip to the temples of Chiang Rai. This offer is good to Saturday from Tablet, though regular prices start at $114/night.
  • One day I will go to China and experience all the country has to offer…or at least all that Beijing or Shanghai have to offer, since the country is so big that it would be impossible for you to visit and soak in the culture in more than one or two cities in a two-week trip. For those of you who can go sooner rather than my "one day", you can stay for as low as $75 per night at the Novotel Beijing Sanyuan. Get 35% off and 4th night free! It is close to Tiananmen Square and the Underground, making it really easy to get to other parts of the city. The Novotel has a restaurant, 2 bars and a tourist information desk. We’ve stayed at other Novotel properties in the world and the rooms are much bigger than expected for the price and they have comfortable beds and great staff.

Everyone talks about going on a Hawaiian, Mexican or Caribbean cruise, but there are so many more destinations that you can choose from. Not all of them are expensive like going to the Greek Isles or Italy. What about the ones that are closer to home? Have you ever thought about going on a New England and Canada cruise? With much of the same kinds of landscape, these cruises can still be exotic and much cheaper. It’s likely that you’ve never even explored any of the cities that are included in one of these cruise itinerary, if you’re like me. There are many East Coast ports to choose from, such as Boston, Baltimore and New York.
  • Right now you can book a 7-night cruise from as little as $429 per person on great ships from Carnival Cruise Line and more. Visit amazing places like Nova Scotia, Saint John and Cape Libery. Get in some wonderful shopping and sightseeing and never have to take your luggage with you when you visit a new city. It’s the perfect way to see North America and still feel like you’re in an exotic locale. Book now for these amazing deals for travel this Fall.
Sometimes, you just need to rent a car to get around where you’re traveling. We rent when going on trips where we visit theme parks or family and friends or when we know we want to see a lot of scenery in a country, like we did in Ecuador. We were able to spend time in Mindo, Otavalo and Quito this way, without wasting time on a bus. It gives us the freedom to keep our own schedule and enjoy air conditioning and room to stretch out.

  • One of the best incentives for a certain rental company reservation is when you can book a great rate through another site that allows you to get rewards points or mileage for the rental. This gets you double points, if you’re a member of the rental car loyalty program (which I highly recommend), because you get credit on your rental company account and either hotel points or airline miles, too. Alaska Airlines is offering excellent rates for Dollar Rent A Car rentals, plus you can get triple miles on your Alaska frequent flyer account. You must rent between now and December 15, reserve a mid-size or larger car (I would reserve the smallest one that your party could comfortably fit in) for 3 days or longer. Use the code provided through the link and don’t forget to give them your mileage number, so you get credit. This same deal is available for American Airlines, Continental, Hawaiian, United and US Airways, just click on the preferred airline on the left-hand side of the screen.

Food is good…cheap food is even better, but only if it tastes great. I enjoy researching my many, many food options everywhere I go. I read reviews and menus and check out prices for all the areas I’ll be visiting and make a list. Anything I can make a reservation for before I leave is a plus, because it ensures that I will have a table waiting for me wherever I am when I’m STARVING, which is also inevitable in my case. Being outside in the fresh air and walking around really works up my appetite. I could probably eat five meals a day, but I try to control myself and carry some snacks in my bag, just in case. I also really like to try new cuisine wherever I go and I’m still a bit regretful that I never found a place in Ecuador that served cuy, which means I’ll have to go back someday. (Cuy is a dish made from guinea pig, which is a delicacy there, like we would consider filet mignon or lobster.)
  • Traveling in the U.S., it’s easy to read the menu, but just as easy to find good, local food. Inexpensive may be harder to find, especially if you want to go somewhere outside of T.G.I Friday’s and Burger King. I enjoy seeking out all the great, regional places that aren’t chain restaurants and offer you unique food, good service and reasonable prices. One way to do this is by purchasing gift certificates on Restaurant.com. Right now you can get 80% off their already awesome prices ($10 for a $25 certificate) if you use the code: CLEARANCE. The offer is good through 8/31, but you can buy as many as you want in as many offered locations as you want. These are especially handy on vacation when you are going somewhere new and might have a tight budget. The certificates can come in different denominations and just ask that you order a certain dollar amount of food (usually $35 for a $25 certificate – alcohol and gratuity are normally off-limits as well). We buy certificates from Restaurant.com for our local area, too, and for gifts! They make great stocking-stuffers and there are participating restaurants all over the country. Over 15,000 of them!

If you hear these words, you haven’t prepared yourself well enough for your trip. If there’s downtime on our vacation, it’s to eat, rest our feet or veg out before going to bed and doing it all over again the next day. I don’t like to have lulls in the day that weren’t planned for. If we go do laundry, we bring a game. If we are hanging out in the hotel room, we have a movie or a book or the iPod cranking out some tunes. If we’re standing in line waiting to get on a train or an amusement park ride, we have a card game that can be easily played. I don’t think we’ve ever just been sitting around thinking, “What now?” or “I’m bored.”
  • Last time I told you about Fluxx 4.0. As fun as that game is, you can’t always play it everywhere or you might want some variety. This game is great for people with kids, too, because it’s fast and easy, but also makes you think. From the makers of Cranium comes the card game called Zigity. A game can be played with the plastic cards in 5-10 minutes, but you can easily play several games to fill up an hour and not get bored. The premise of the game is simple: Be the first player use all of your cards. Use “Action Cards” in your hand to change the rules of the game to spell a word, complete a puzzle or add up to a certain number. It’s easy to learn and fun to play.

  • Another fabulous way to do more on vacation is to take advantage of included freebies with stuff you are already doing. Take Eurostar, for example. If you plan to take it into Paris, Brussells or London, your ticket includes Eurostar Culture Connect, which gets you 2-for-1 admission to participating art galleries and museums in your destination city. This can save you a fair amount and maybe even get you to do something you hadn’t planned on doing in the first place.

Packing. I just love the word. It means I’m going somewhere, hopefully fun, and I get to decide what comforts of home I want to take with me. I like to see how much I can do without, so I can pack my clothes and my husband’s into our regular carry-on bag and then any overflow, which is generally electronics and toiletries, in a smaller roller bag that can fit under the airplane seat. Maybe no one else thinks this challenge is a fun one, but I pack and repack until I’m satisfied have used up any empty spaces in my packing layers. A carry-on bag can be like Felix’s Magic Bag of Tricks…there is always free space to tuck something small in a corner or in a shoe. People are amazed what I can pack in my luggage, even without a compression bag. If the item is small unbreakable, I can find a space in my bag for it. My friend often has me pack her bag to get back home, because I can get everything she came with AND all her souvenirs into her carry-on, that seemingly had no extra space on the voyage to her destination.
  • We’re going to talk about toiletry bags and how to get everything you need in one, without having to ship anything to your destination or buy it there. I have two words for you: Travel Size. I know you hate having to go all over trying to find your favorite products in smaller containers, but think of how much space and money you’ll save if you don’t take your full-size products and don’t check a bag. Sure, some stuff you’ll have to buy those little plastic bottles and jars for, like your special moisturizer or hair gel. For everything else, check out Minimus.biz. I love, love, love travel-sized products. They’re like baby shoes: adorable. Minimus has the largest supply of items that are TSA approved: shampoo, conditioner, lotion, shower gel, toothpaste, etc. You name it, they have it. You can even buy sewing kits and sleep masks if you want. Even better than not having to track them all down yourself is that Minimus offers free shipping on orders over $20. That’s SO easy to do, even if you have to buy multiple items to stock your travel supply for more than one trip. It’s worth it.

Travel gadgets just make trips and packing that much more fun. I have a set list of the things I take on every trip (Kindle, iPod Touch, netbook, iGo) and then a list of other things that I pack for different kinds of trips (GPS, travel towels, travel adapter). Since there are so many out there, I like to spend some time each entry to tell you about one or two of my favorites. Right now, it’s a travel adapter. Even though I have a set of adapters, I saw this and immediately bought one of my own, too, because it is convertible and I only need to take the one with me instead of 2-5!
  • You NEED a travel adapter for all these great places you're going, but you have to jump on this offer, because it won't last forever. Shop4Tech has a universal travel adapter with built-in surge protector for only $3.95 with free shipping. Use the code SV15 to get an extra 15% off. That makes it a whopping $3.36 shipped! Most electronics are now dual-voltage, so you shouldn't have to worry about getting a converter, too. Convenient!
Even though I’ve posted some great deals above, I had some others that I thought I would throw in that caught my attention and made me think that now might be the time to visit any of the following places and relax, go shopping, take pictures and just generally have an enjoyable time.
  • I hear that Singapore has great shopping and sightseeing. They also have some great rates on hotels, making it a pretty affordable option between now and the end of Spring 2011. In May they have the Great Singapor Sale, where you can get clothes and other items up to 70% off! There are more festivals and incentives to get you to visit than I can list, but if you're interested in going for whatever reason, here's a beautiful hotel at only $112/night. Includes daily breakfast and is in an excellent location.
  • The Treasure State is waiting for you. For those of you who aren’t familiar with all our states’ mottos, that one is for Montana. Has it been on your must-list for travel? It should! You can take in the beautiful scenery, check out the local boutiques and art and sample some regional cuisine and beer. And if you book before November 1, for travel between now and June 30, 2011 (you have LOTS of time), you can save $100 on a flight and hotel package of 3 days or more from Travelocity. If you don't need a flight, just make hotel reservations, starting as low as $68/night.
  • Superbreak has some sweet discounts on hotels in Paris. One of the hotels I found is called the Alane Hotel. It's close to tourist attractions, shops and the Metro. Prices from £39.50 per person, per night. Search their site for even more great hotels like this at low prices.

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