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Photo’s taken, L to R, Luxor, Dresden, New Orleans, Newport RI & Jaipur.

Useful Travel Planning Resources

This section contains the details of the suppliers, operators and agencies used.  (Disclosure : in some cases I might earn a small referral fee if services used).

 

Booking.com

The United States, State Department web site, whilst intended for US Citizens provides a wealth of international information.

The Center for Desease Control & Prevention, is also intended for US Citizens but it provides the best travel health information.

Preparation

Preparation:  So I do do quite a bit of planning, so as to get the most out of the time and visit.  I will often get a book or guide about the background and especially  history, if it is somewhere I know little about.  Somehow I’ll get a good map or maps.  (No, Google Maps just does not cut it!).  I will then decide the main places that are the target of a visit and options of places to stay and ways to get around.    

Pace

Pace :  Less is more!  Having raced around as we all have for work and pleasure, now I always, always add extra hours or days simply to see what happens; to wander the streets; to sit in a coffee shop or on the river bank  or go to the end of the tram or bus route for fun….just to see what it is like and what is there, on that ‘Route Beyond. So the opposite of ‘Its Tuesday it must be Brussels’ most certainly applies.

Mode(s) of Travel

Full disclosure:   I have worked in the rail industry, or alongside it for many years and thus, yes, if I can, I will take the train.  The train has many advantages for the cultural traveler:

  • You’ll travel with and likely meet locals. You’ll get a sense of daily life
  • Trains enable you to see the countryside and country, even if sometimes a car is faster
  • In many places the rail station is a place worth visiting as they are sometimes historical gems. Think St Pancras in London, Union Station in Washington DC or Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai, even if you are not travelling by train.
  • Trains are generally safe and less stressful (OK so when you are standing in the corridor I know I know – it happens)

To Pass or Not To Pass – that is the question?

  Often, but not always a Rail Pass is the best option.  Assuming you are doing a fair bit of travel the following are worth considering:

  • Best value of all The Japan Rail Pass (things like the East Japan Rail Pass are OK too). Great price, amazing frequency, fast, and on time of course.  (By the way the Shinkansen system has had just one accident since it started in the 1960’s!).
  • If you are avoiding France and high speed compulsorily reservable trains, then one of the many variations of Eurail Passes is still good value
  • BritRail Pass – with no need to reserve and lots of trains you can really rack up the miles in Britain with this offer. With total flexibility you can use the network to tour, avoiding back tracking and tour, as it is really supposed to be done
  • Whether in Hong Kong with Octopus or London with Oyster the regional, often multi modal passes or discount cards, which most cities have are nearly always money and time savers.
  • The main bit of advice on train travel ? Travel as light as possible!

Coaches & Cars

Coach travel has improved dramatically in the last decade or so, so that even I consider it !  I have not just been surprised but amazed at just how nice a coach journey was recently in the following places:

  • From Nelspruit in South Africa to Maputo in Mozambique
  • In Mexico the coaches have various classes and styles

………….who would have guessed those would be on my good experience list.

Car Rental: The ultimate freedom?  In theory at least.  In much of North America it is decent value, simple and not stressful (and of course essential for State Parks and so forth).  Outside the cities in Europe it can really aid exploration but in most of the rest of the world – generally don’t bother, except in specific rural areas.  In India your car will anyway come with a driver, thankfully!  

Guided or Not?

I’m independent and inquisitive.  So the answer is yes and no. Often you can happily learn, arrange and implement yourself.  But a Guide and , or a Tour Operator is sometimes  the best option.

The first time I went to Egypt I saw a lot of ruins and stones .  Subsequent times, visiting with an Egyptologist I saw Ancients Egypt complete with its marvels and mystery’s.  There is no question what’s needed in these cases. 

Safari’s:  I’ve driven in some African Parks myself and had fun, but in terms of finding wildlife, seeing and understanding it – here too a Guide is vital. 

Less far afield a walking tour with a professional or qualified Guide of New Orleans Garden District, or Princeton, or Bath (UK)  is so interesting and well worth the investment.

In some parts of the world, eg much of Africa, it is simply not feasible or viable to travel by public transport so a car (with driver) is much preferred!  And in India and much of Asia a car with driver is really vital and not that much more costly.

Sometimes Car Rental turns out to be more challenging than planned …ascending Mt Kenya in Kenya.

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