Solo Traveler: Features Tips
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Solo Traveler Features & Tips

Welcome Solo Travelers!lea

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.--St. Augustine

Whether traveling alone, with family or friends, on a girl-getaway or with a love -- just go! Here we offer solo travel trends, great destinations, interviews, and smart deals and ideas.

(And for timely, really special solo travel tours and opportunities, check out our popular Tours/Trips/Getaways section, written by travel expert Janet Rodgers.)

As Mark Twain (a sometimes solo traveler) observed, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness." So share comments and ask travel questions on our message board. Or blog with longer opinions, journals, anecdotes, email pass-alongs and travel stories.

Happy Travels!,

Lea Lane. The Solo Lady

And, see/hear some of my newest travel pieces in other places:

tips for a solo drive:: http://www.roadtripamerica.com/travelplanning/Soloing-Americas-Roads.htm

my trip to Greenland: http://www.roadtripamerica.com/GettingOutThere/Greenland-by-Plane-Boat-and-Dog-Sledge.htm

half-hour podcasts of my TV show, The Travel Show, with Lea Lane (shown in the New York area) www.ncctv.org

Scroll down to read all, or click on ... Green Portugal ... Skiing in the Canadian Rockies ... Autumn in Montana ... Deals, Deals, Deals, & Ideas to Save $$, Time, Hassle! ... Cruising Northern Europe ...About Solo Lodging ... Deluxe Vietnam ... A Sampling of Small Ships ... 6 Travel Trends ...Provence ... Basics About Travel to India ... Medical Tourism ... 10 Great Food Festivals ... Holland:1K Ideas ... What's New in Florida ... Baja California ... World's Top Trains ... S-l-o-w Travel ... Benefits of Group Tours ... Western Sicily ... Experts' Quick Tips on Soloing ... A Taste of Orient Express ... An Australian/NZ Sampler ... Travel with Fido ... Lea's Travel Faves ... Solo Advice from the State Dept ... Best Beaches ... Dozens of B&Bs: for Girl-Getaways, Wireless, Beaches, Green and Great Deals ... Guadaloupe & Martinique ... 10 Travel Insurance Tips ... 9 Savvy Cruise Ideas ... 50 British Budget-Busters ... 27 Ways to Travel Better ... Women's-Only Tours/Girl-Getaways ... Best Ways to Meet People Soloing ... Solo Travel Fears -- & Answers ... Travel Budgeting ... Solo Travel Wisdom: A-Z ... 10 Travel Picks ... Our Own Hotel Floors ... Fodor's Interview on Soloing, with Lea ... I-95 Road Food ...

(For past Solo Traveler entries, please click here for archives

 

Green Portugal

Can travel do any good aside from the great time we have doing it? Well, yes. Many solo travelers in these uncertain times look for ways they can do good along the way. Here are four ideas on visiting Portugal with an eye toward supporting our planet, saving endangered species and just doing the right thing.

How can spending time in Portugal make our world a better place? Portugal has made some important choices in its economic development. They include deciding not to build a dam, but rather to take a huge loss and save important cave paintings in a remote valley; Ripping down modern beach hotels to rebuild with an environmental resort that is smaller and more balanced; Visiting a place where the delicate balance of nature and humanity is vital to those who live there.

And, supporting the largest forest in southern Europe that might help stop the effects of climate change.

How is that for a good time!

1. Stopping the dam in Foz Côa
A decade ago, a wild, mountainous area of northeastern Portugal, along the valley of the River Côa, was going to be turned into a man-made lake with the construction of a dam that would bring electrical power and irrigation to the remote region.  However, the construction process revealed a vast amount of prehistoric cave paintings that needed to be saved, at the recommendation of archeologists. The Portuguese government then made a difficult and expensive decision. The dam project was abandoned and, in its place, a heritage park was created. The park is now a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.

Today it's quite a drive to get to the park, but many do it to see the cave paintings of mountain goats, horses, aurochs (wild bulls) and deer. These species are all typical of the large herbivores that were part of the ecosystem in the region during the Upper Paleolithic Age.  Engravings of fish are also among the collection, along with one image of a human form.  The engravings were etched using quartz or flint, the images being scratched into the rock walls using straight lines or zigzags. The Quinta da Ervamoira museum stands at the center of the heritage park, offering interpretations of the region and its customs.  The museum shows the art of bread-making and wine production through the ages. Throughout the area surrounding the park, new inns are opening to cater to guests. Visiting Foz Côa is a vote for preserving our shared human past and recognizing it as more important than a dam.

2. Alentejo: Drink wine and save the Iberian Lynx

Next time you open a bottle of wine that has a cork in it, think of the Iberian lynx. The Alentejo region of Portugal is home to the largest cork forests in the world, and those cork forests have served to protect all the species of plants, birds and animals that dwell within them. In more remote parts of these protected lands, the rare Iberian lynx can still be found.

Cork forests are protected by law. Cork is a totally natural product. It is environmentally friendly, renewable, recyclable, and biodegradable. Portugal has enough cork forests to last more than 100 years and, under a reforestation program, they're growing by four percent a year on average. The forests produce more than half the world's total cork supply. The cork industry also sustains more than 15,000 employees in remote areas.

To produce cork, a cork oak (Quercus Suber, or Sobreiro in Portuguese) must be at least 25 years old. To harvest the cork, the outer bark is stripped from a cork oak once every nine years. The tree is protected by an inner bark, which is always left on the tree. The harvested bark is boiled and purified A cork oak tree can live as long as two centuries.

According to a recent study by The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the use of natural corks by the world's wine industry sustains a variety of rare wildlife in the cork forests of southern Europe.

Forty-two bird species depend on the cork forests, including the endangered Spanish imperial eagle (with a global population down to 130 pairs), as well as rare species such as the black vulture and black stork. Smaller birds, such as robins, finches and song thrushes, migrate to the Iberian Peninsula's cork forests from northern Europe, along with blackcaps from the United Kingdom. In spring and summer, the cork forests are home to a rich variety of butterflies and plants, with more than 60 plant species recorded in just one square meter.

One particular tree in these protected lands is known as the "Whistler Tree" because of the many singing birds attracted to it. It is said to be 212 years old. This tree alone may have produced 1 million corks.

So, skip that petroleum-sourced "plork" or aluminum twist top for your own bottle of wine.  By choosing a wine with a cork, you're supporting these forests, which are supporting the planet. 

3. Authentic, unspoiled, and likely to remain so


A century ago, the Azorean islands were overpopulated and desperately poor. Today, they are sparsely populated and relatively well off. Faced with economic and environmental disaster, some 400,000 residents left the Azores over the course of 100 years, all of them searching for a better life. The ones who remained behind embraced the importance of being stewards of the planet. The National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations has named the Azores islands as the world's second most appealing islands destination in its fourth annual Destination Scorecard survey. A panel of 522 experts, aided by George Washington University, reviewed conditions on 111 islands and archipelagos. The Azores were out-scored only by Faroe Islands, and the Azores were described as "Authentic, unspoiled, and likely to remain so."

Judges in the Destination survey noted that the Azores are not exactly a "beach destination" and therefore are not likely to attract the tourist masses.  The mountainous and green islands seem "set to remain unspoiled," they wrote. Also noted was the infrastructure, the sophistication of the locals who have often lived overseas.  The main visitor type, the judges said, would be the independent traveler staying in B & Bs.
The ecosystem—from the beautiful hydrangea-covered hills of Flores to the rock-bottomed bays of Terceira—is in great shape. Whales are still a frequent sight off shore. The local culture is strong and vibrant. They noted that it is not uncommon to be invited to a person's house for dinner or welcomed into a communal meal during a festival."

Natural Reserve Parks are being created on four of the Azores islands--Santa Maria, Graciosa, Faial and Corvo. These parks, along with existing ones on the islands of Miguel and Pico, will help to maintain the natural beauty of the islands.  Tourism to the region will help sustain those efforts to preserve that natural beauty.

4. Erasing the mistakes of the past.


Ever see a beach lined with ugly high-rises and say "I wish they would just tear it all down and start over"?

Well, they did that on the Tróia Peninsula, in the northern tip of Portugal's Alentejo region, 30 miles south of Lisbon. The new Tróia Resort project involved destroying several ugly 1970s and 1980s high-rises. In their place is now a new, "green" low-rise resort, built to complement the landscape of this delicate place. The peninsula is an excellent location for golf and water sports. The narrow sand-strip lies 47 km south of Lisbon and boasts 18 km of beaches and some of the cleanest water in the region.

The TróiaResort offers two five-star hotels, two four-star hotels, a 184-berth marina, a casino, a conference centre, a beach club, a country club, a tennis centre and an equestrian centre. In the planning stages, the resort was assessed by the Maritime Research Institute, which carried out environmental impact studies, which are ongoing. The Eco Resort will provide a tennis centre, an equestrian center, a roman ruins archaeological center and an environmental center. The first phase, which includes three hotels, a marina, casino, conference centre, commercial facilities, restructuring of the golf course and delivery of the Marina and Beach apartments, just opened in September 2008.
More information: http://www.troiaresort.net/entrada.php and www.irgtroiaresort.com <http://www.irgtroiaresort.com/>  

www.visitportugal.com

Need a guidebook? Call 1-800 PORTUGAL. WWW.ORDERPORTUGAL.COM

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Skiing in The Canadian Rockies: Gorgeous!

Revelstoke Mountain Resort Readies for a Record Smashing Season on the Slopes: As the newest kid in town, Revelstoke Mountain Resort is garnering more than its share of buzz.  And there’s little wonder why.  In just its second year, the resort is set to unveil brand new terrain - and take its place in the record books in the process.  This season, Revelstoke will offer the longest vertical lift-serviced skiing in North America – at a whopping 5,260 feet - thanks to an 885-foot extension to the Revelation Gondola from the village base up to the Day Lodge.  Additionally, a new high speed quad chairlift, “The Ripper,” will be servicing the 1,240-acre North Bowl area, which has been extensively gladed and cut with new trails this season.  These developments, paired with an existing express quad chair, “The Stoke,” are sure to make for one memorable mountain adventure.  A difficult task?  Not really.  After all, the resort is nestled within the Selkirk Mountain Range in the Kootenay Rockies region – one of the snowiest, most legendary destinations in BC.  Off-slope, Revelstoke Mountain Resort has even more on its agenda this season, thanks to the opening of Nelsen Lodge.  Operating as the new base area for the resort, the lodge will offer skier services, rentals, retail, a café, a spacious, family-friendly 125-seat restaurant, and 59 ski-in/ski-out units.  Also calling the lodge home, the new Revelstoke Guides Bureau proves a perfect point of origin for any adventure on the mountain, including private guided trips, multi-day group adventures and backcountry educational programs.  Think that's it?  Not by a long shot.  Future development plans will make way for 18 additional lifts, over 100 ski trails, on-hill eateries and a host of residential units.  All ensuring that Revelstoke will continue to be the talk of the town for countless years to come.  www.revelstokemountainresort.com

It’s Sea to Summit at Mount Washington Alpine Resort on Vancouver Island: Think winter play is all about snow?  Perhaps a little face time with Old Man Winter on the wild west coast is just the thing to shake up your cool weather routine.  Here’s a start: Vancouver Island’s blend of rugged shores and alpine peaks make for an ideal marriage of snow and surf - and then some.  At Mount Washington Alpine Resort, set to celebrate its 30th year this season, a Summit to Surf adventure will blend both brilliantly with two nights at the resort and two nights at coastal Middle Beach Lodge in Tofino.  To understand why this makes for such an exalted mix, one has to appreciate a few fabulous facts.  First, with a backdrop that borders scenic Strathcona Provincial Park to the west and the deep blue waters of Georgia Straight to the east, Mount Washington is blessed with rugged west coast beauty amid a vast depth of natural snow.  Snow so plentiful that it can only be described as epic (Mount Washington is home to Canada’s deepest snow pack).  And in Tofino on the wild west coast, a mere four hour drive from the resort, winter months pledge only righteous waves; beaches here rank amongst the best in Canada for bringing out the long and shortboards.  Indeed, chilly temperatures, particularly November through March, routinely beckon the big ones (and the surfer dudes), to BC’s shores.  Snowboard.  Surf board.  Pack them both…and take in the best of the Island’s snow and surf.  www.mountwashington.ca

For a Big Mountain Experience, Head to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort: Soaring mountain peaks.  Expansive glades.  Immense snowfalls.  In case you haven’t heard, skiing in the Kootenay Rockies is all about big.  With a capital “B”.  And where better to rejoice in the grandeur than Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, a destination renowned by expert skiers and powderhounds alike for its bountiful backcountry scapes.  It’s amid this grand setting that KHMR has introduced Big Mountain Centre Programs, a new offering dedicated to educating enthusiasts on big mountain culture by providing them with the mindset ideal for backcountry exploration.  Examples?  KHMR guides show the best way to approach route finding lines, the proper use of the newest powder and backcountry equipment as well as avalanche gear, and even steer the snow-obsessed to the best stashes of the in-bounds white stuff. Opportunities to kick back and trade a few on-slope tales with your guides at the Red Bull Lounge prior to your outing are sure to prove enlightening and invigorating.  In addition, this big mountain experience also offers up the challenge to take on the Burton Learn to Ride Powder Program - a vigorous expert precision guiding adventure.  (KHMR is the only lift-access ski resort in Canada offering this program.)  And if you’re not quite seasoned enough to blow it out Big Mountain style, not to worry.  KHMR offers a range of sessions for all levels, including introductory programs for those new to the mountain. Either way, you’re in for one big, wild ride.  www.kickinghorseresort.com 

A Forest Scourge Carves a New Path for Skiers at Sun Peaks Resort:  In recent years, the Spruce Beetle has posed a threat to the forested areas of the Thompson Okanagan region.  And while this has brought about a marked change to the landscape, Sun Peaks Resort is determined to create life from what was lost.  Thanks to a partnership between the crews at Sun Peaks and a Registered Professional Forester, the resort’s Lonesome Fir Glade area has seen a distinct transformation for the 2008/09 season.  Extracting only those spruce trees infected by the beetle, the area has experienced re-birth as a glade paradise for both skiers and riders.  In a massive 70-acre section, 20 lines have either been created or expanded to allow all skill levels to revel in the dynamic feel of glade skiing; the new terrain means you can literally choose your grade of glade, with experts taking on the steeper, tighter lines, while intermediate and novice skiers have access to adjacent gentler pitches. And what’s become of the discarded trees?  Some 150 tonnes of logged spruce will be ground into shavings in nearby Kamloops for use as horse bedding, while additional remnants will be sawn at a mill operated by a local First Nations band, marketed for log home building, or pulverized for pulp. Back on the slopes, a trek up the Sundance Express Chairlift to the newly-expanded Lonesome Fir Glades is sure to showcase first-hand why Sun Peaks is renowned for its expansive terrain.  Even when the runs have been sculpted in a less conventional fashion.  www.sunpeaksresort.com    

Red Mountain Resort blends Free-spirited Festivals and Championship Challenges: When a powder haven is celebrated as Western Canada’s original ski resort, there’s little wonder why skiers and boarders flock to its slopes for a mix of play and hard-edged competition.  Add some 890 metres (3,000 feet) of incredible vertical, 1,685 skiable acres, abundant snow and big lines (without the big line-ups) and you’ve got the makings for a definitive on-slope adventure - Red Mountain Resort-style.  Situated in the west Kootenay region of southeastern BC, just five kilometres from Rossland (noted as Canada’s “Alpine City”), Red Mountain Resort draws the daredevils and fun-seekers with equal fervour.  First, the daredevils: Returning for its eighth season, the Canadian Open Freeskiing Championship will boast some of the world’s best competing for domination of the steeps, deeps, chutes and cliffs on rugged Mt. Roberts.  Last season, Red’s own Dane Tudor blew the competition away and claimed the title in the Men’s Open category.  This year, titles are open to new challengers, with the Junior event slated for January 8 – 10 and the Senior Open, January 14 – 18, 2009.  Presented by Ledcor, this is one gathering that promises plenty of thrills, serious competition and a great after-party.  Then, for the fun-seekers: Red’s Kokanee Spring Fest, March 14 – 29, is a two-week tutorial on all things Spring Break.  Think: boarder and skier-cross competitions, kid’s events, retro ski days, women’s camps and more.  Indeed, it’s back-to-back family fun tossed in with a few one-piece fluorescent suits (and straight skis).  So, c’mon.  Buckle those bindings and make your way to the resort that started it all.  www.redresort.com; www.canadianfreeskiing.com

Panorama offers up Powder-Packed Getaways for the Gals: If bonding with your best gal pals is less about fuzzy bathrobes and more about taking on the steep and deep, pack your boots and boards and head for Panorama Mountain Village.  Here in the Kootenay Rockies, you’ll find plenty of on-slope programs geared specifically for the gals, not to mention a plethora of off-slope play.  This season, the 17th annual Chicks on Sticks and Babes on Boards promises instruction from the Bilodeau School of Skiing and Snowboarding – top-notch tutelage sure to set you on the right track.  Beginning January 8 and running five consecutive Thursday afternoons, these outings are all about carving tracks and connecting with your girls, with a dash of après ski thrown in the mix.  For a bit of pampering, ladies can also indulge in a luxurious Spa Night at the resort, a gathering devoted entirely to manis, pedis and even a chick flick, or two.  Pass the popcorn.  Looking to take the adventure to higher ground?  Hook up with rk heliski for three memorable days and nights…and a bit of whirlybird action.  Your gal’s getaway begins with an intro to heli skiing at Panorama with the guides from Bilodeau, followed by a flight to Firlands Ranch, overnights amid a private lodge and three descents down the Purcell Mountain Range.  All menus, return helicopter transport and even an interactive cooking class with Chef Roderick Strike will ensure you hit the heights, both on and off the fat powder skis.  Go girl, go.  www.panoramaresort.com; www.heliskiingforwomen.com

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Autumn in Montana

Autumn in Montana is the season that locals relish… and a time of year that savvy solo travelers take advantage of the state’s amber hues and wide-open byways. Warm, Indian summer days are followed by crisp, nip-in-the-air evenings. Set against a backdrop of river-carved valleys or lofty – sometimes snow dusted – peaks, Big Sky Country serves up five iconic driving tours for travelers seeking a kaleidoscope of leafy colors.

Paradise Valley
They don’t call it Paradise for nothin’. Winding along the storied Yellowstone River - the longest free-flowing river in the lower-48 – head south via Highway 89 from the offbeat, artsy community of Livingston. Two hulking mountain ranges, the Absaroka/Beartooth’s and the Gallatin’s, flank the valley – Yellowstone National Park is just south. Stop for breakfast at the quirky Pine Creek Café, gaze at the Cottonwood trees as they turn to gold and make a few casts for rainbow trout. At the end of the day, book a room at historic Chico Hot Springs Resort and settle in for a calm, evening soak.

Anaconda-Pintler Scenic Loop
Nestled among the jagged peaks of the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, this 63-mile route begins in mineral-rich Anaconda and winds its way up to Georgetown Lake via Highway 1. Nearby you’ll find the charmingly restored community of Philipsburg where its gold and sapphire mining past has kept it teeming with a well-preserved western history. Be sure to sample some fudge at the Sweet Palace and stay at the kitschy Broadway Hotel where you’ll find themed rooms like “Route 66” and “The Andes Suite”.

Seeley-Swan Valley
Rolling through the Swan Range and the scraping summits of the Mission Mountains, Highway 83 is a tunnel of ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and larch…not to mention pristine alpine lakes. Bring your canoe and enjoy the Clearwater Canoe Trail just north of Seeley Lake and then settle for a few starry nights at one of the ruff-hewn cabins at the Double Arrow Resort.

Kings Hill Scenic Byway
71 miles of Big Sky Country await you on this winding ribbon of Highway 89. This route travels through the untrammeled Little Belt Mountains and scenic Lewis and Clark National Forest. Bring your road bike to experience this lonely highway or your mountain bike to partake in the area’s “super secret” singletrack. You can also stretch your legs on the short walk to Memorial Falls.

Fort Peck Reservoir & Dinosaur Trail
Upland bird hunters will be in winged heaven in this section of Northeastern Montana during the autumn months. Game birds like pheasant, grouse and Hungarian Partridge abound in the khaki-colored, wide-open fields and the fishing on Fort Peck Reservoir may well result in landing a lunker walleye. Don’t forget a stop at the Fort Peck Interpretive Center & Museum, featuring Pecks Rex (their complete T-Rex skeleton) and other dinosaur exhibits in this paleontological rich zone.

Warrior Trail
Highway 212 winds you through the wind-swept plains, which were the scene of many famous battles between Native American tribes and American soldiers between 1865 and 1877. Little Bighorn Battlefield, Rosebud Battlefield, and the Reynolds Battlefield Monument are slivers of preserved history along this scenic byway. Bring your hiking boots and a keen eye for elk and coyotes that also call this stretch of the Wild West home.

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Cruise Planning

So you booked a cruise. Can't wait to go? Great! You're likely have a wonderful time, given the cruise industry's high satisfaction rating among passengers.

But are you really ready? Too often people wait until just before departure to do things that should have been done weeks earlier. Then in the rush to get it all done, they sometimes leave tickets, medicines or other essentials behind.

After interviewing numerous travelers and travel agents, we've put together a checklist of "must do" advance tasks. These will help to assure your cruise planning and preparation goes as smoothly as possible.

Far Out as Possible:

If you don't have a passport, if your existing passport expires soon, or if you don't have enough pages left in your passport, you'll need a new one. New passport regulations for American citizens traveling abroad will be fully enacted in June, 2009. The good news is that the state department has staffed up so passports are currently being processed and delivered in as little as a week. Don't expect this to last too long, however, as the final deadline gets closer the passport office will get busier.

You can pay for expedited service to be sure you get your passport on time. Currently you can get a passport in as little as 24 hours, but in the future even VIP handling may take far longer than usual.

For information, visit http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html. Check with your travel agent or cruise line about whether any visas are required for your cruise itinerary. Start this process very early on as well.

Six Weeks to Three Months Out:

Shore Excursions: When you receive your cruise documents (your papers for boarding the ship), you usually will receive a shore excursion booklet describing the line's tour options in exotic ports of call. Don't set it aside: Read the booklet, make a decision, and book � usually online -- as soon as possible if you plan to take any of the line's shore trips. The majority of cruise line shore trips are now booked in advance, and there are two good reasons.

First, booking in advance means your shore tickets will be waiting in your stateroom upon arrival. Or they might be delivered while you're at dinner that first night. So you'll avoid standing in a long line at the ship's shore excursion desk after you board.

Second, by pre-reserving shore trips, you'll have a good shot at getting the ones you want. This is particularly important for such popular activities as swimming with the dolphins in the Caribbean or going dog-sledding via a helicopter transfer in Alaska. These excursions have limited spots available.

While the cruise lines say they save some spots for onboard bookers, travel agents will tell you it's risky to wait. Your chances improve with early pre-booking.

Spa and Salon Appointments:

If you have the chance to book these in advance, and know what you want, then pre-reserve. Otherwise, you'll have to run to the ship's spa desk right after you board, and even then you might find yourself in a line.

Try to pre-book your spa appointments on sea days, so you have time free in ports of call. Appointment slots fill up quickly. If you wait to book onboard, your only options may be port days or times during the dinner hour.

Embarkation Gifts: If you're celebrating a special occasion on the cruise, like an anniversary or birthday, your cruise document package will often include information on how to book gifts or special packages. If not, check the line's Web site.

It's a nice celebratory touch to pre-book champagne and hors d'ouevres for your stateroom on the day of embarkation. Or, you might pre-purchase "cruise line bucks" for your spouse or friend; that's basically a credit for onboard purchases such as spa treatments, photos or shopping. Most lines require that guests make arrangements for these "gifts" several weeks in advance.

Airline Tickets:

Travel agents often re-check their clients' air tickets (if purchased at the agency) to assure the tickets are correct. But if you bought your ticket directly through the cruise line or redeemed frequent traveler miles for a free ticket, you need to do this yourself.

Is the flight schedule correct? Is your name correct? The airline might refuse to board you if the ticket name doesn't match what's on your ID. Are you ticketed to fly on the right dates and at the right times?

It's not uncommon for tickets to be incorrect or for people to have mistakenly booked their flights on the wrong date or in the evening instead of morning. While you may incur a charge to correct the tickets, it's better to find out now rather than at the airport on your day of departure.

Also, check whether you have seat assignments. If not, try to book those directly with the airline. If they say they cannot assign a seat in advance, that means they're tight on space. Some seats are held for assignment on the flight departure day. If you cannot get a seat assignment in advance, check in early at the airport to assure you get a seat and are not bumped.

Credit Card Planning:

If your cruise documents have arrived, you're probably feeling great about having paid for the cruise in full. But start evaluating the credit you'll need on your trip. You'll need one credit card with a sufficient credit line, because the cruise line will ask for a credit card upon embarkation to cover the cost of your on-board expenses. At check-in, they'll run off a "credit card authorization" for a certain amount of money. Depending on the line's policy, length of cruise and type of journey (luxury, premium or contemporary), the line might get authorization for $50 to $200 in daily charges.

Why? Sometimes the cost of on-board incidentals might rival the price of the cruise itself. It's possible to run up over a thousand dollars in onboard charges for shore trips, alcoholic beverages, special onboard programs, casino play, spa treatments and onboard shopping.

That doesn't mean you'll be billed on your credit card for more than you actually spend. If you spent only $80 for the week, that's what you'll pay when you get off the ship. But that preliminary credit authorization will apply to your card until it expires. For example, if you have a $2,500 credit card limit, the card already had a $1,500 balance prior to your cruise, and the line runs off $800 in "authorized" charges as a security deposit, you might be left with little usable credit on that card, at least temporarily.

If you rent a car or stay a few days in a hotel pre-cruise, those suppliers might also run off a credit card hold that could extend through the first day of your cruise. Translation? You might not have enough for the incidentals "hold" charge at check-in.

So never go on a cruise with only $100 or $200 credit on a credit card. I've seen people incredulous at the purser's desk when their card is declined, saying, "but it had at least $200 on it." In reality, that isn't enough.

Also, the "hold charges" placed on your credit card onboard might interfere with your ability to use that card for purchases ashore. Savvy cruisers take along two credit cards � one for incidentals onboard, another for purchases ashore.

Arrange for a House Sitter:

If you want someone to house-sit for you while you're away, schedule it now. People's schedules fill up quickly, so start early.

Arrange for Child Care:
If you're not taking your children along on your cruise, arrange for child care. Would a relative let your kids to stay at their house while you're at sea? Would a grandparent consider staying at your home and handling cooking and supervisory tasks for your kids? Or will your children have to fly elsewhere to stay with a relative? All these issues should be dealt with well in advance.

Two to Four Weeks Out

Pre-Packing: Find a good spot in your home to open up the suitcase(s) you plan to take on the trip. Aim for one medium-size suitcase and one roomy carry-on bag. Travel agents say most cruisers tend to over-pack, and usually regret it later.

Put everything you might possibly want to take along in piles next to the luggage. Over the next few weeks, evaluate what you have and start to take away this or that. Don't procrastinate and pack the night before your cruise, as you'll probably throw everything in "just in case."

Susan Helfrich, director of Cruise Events in Richboro, Pa., notes that cruise cabins are usually smaller than most hotel rooms. "Some people pack a month's worth of clothes for a one-week vacation and thus the closets feel tight," Helfrich says. She says cruisers should read the dress code information the cruise line sends. The days of dressing up in formal attire every night are over. Usually no more than two nights on a one-week cruise are classified as formal. Resort casual has become much more the norm these days.

Even on formal nights, some cruisers leave their gowns and tuxedos at home and simply order room service or head for the buffet restaurant. If you like to dress up, by all means take a gown or tuxedo, but don't take two or three different ones.

Agents including Helfrich say savvy cruisers select five or six interchangeable outfits to wear throughout the week. Aim for two or three color groups and mix-and-match clothing. Black is always a good neutral color to team with other colors. Which jacket might go with two or three different outfits? What top might go with both slacks and a long skirt? Think layers. Something you might wear in the morning could be taken off to create a cocktail look in the evening. The black heels you wear with a formal gown can be worn other nights with less dressy attire.

Helfrich says if you haven't worn something in years, you likely won't wear it onboard. Try on any clothes you plan to take, as styles, weight and preferences change. Yesterday's treasures may look awful today. Also, have your kids try on their clothes. It's amazing how fast they grow out of clothing.

One secret Helfrich shares is putting clothes on hangers as they go into the suitcase. "Hangers allow you to take clothes directly from your suitcase and hang them in the closet within minutes," she stresses.

Packing efficiently can improve the quality of your cruise. Remember, if overstuffed checked bags are hand-searched by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at the airport, items may fall out, get lost or not fit back in the bag, causing a luggage delay. By packing efficiently, you also won't waste time in your stateroom unpacking unnecessary items and cramming them into closets.

You'll also have room in your suitcase to bring souvenirs home without having to pay fees for excess baggage at the airport. Helfrich has seen her clients opening bags on the airport floor and hastily transferring clothes between them to avoid a $50 excess baggage fee. "This is not a comfortable way to begin or end a trip," she emphasizes.

If you're on a luxury cruise, inquire about fee-based luggage services that many lines offer. A company will pick bags up at your home and the next time you see your luggage, it will be in your cruise cabin.

Medicines and Toiletries:

Many people take prescription medications. If you do, don't wait until it's time to depart to discover you need refills. Take care of this at least two weeks out. If you need a new prescription, there's time to handle the situation with your doctor.

And take along plenty of medicine. A good rule of thumb is one week's extra supply, just in case there's a flight delay, winter storm or some reason why you can't get home on time.

If you get seasick or carsick easily, talk to your physician about remedies or use of "the patch." Also, you might want to buy sea bands -- small, elasticized bands that cover both wrists and have proven helpful in preventing nausea. You'll find these in most drugstores.

Many cruisers want to pack toiletries or over-the-counter medications as well. If you plan to carry on these items, TSA says all liquids, gels and aerosols must be placed in a single, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag. Gallon-size bags or bags that are not zip-top (such as fold-over sandwich bags) are not allowed. Each traveler can use only one, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag, and each container must be three ounces or less. Visit www.tsa.gov for more information.

So put non-essential stuff in checked luggage, using zip bags to avoid any problems if a bottle accidentally breaks. Yes, you could just buy toiletries and over-the-counter medicines (like Pepto Bismol or cold medication) on the ship or in ports of call, but prices can be higher. Also, it might not be that convenient to spend vacation time searching for what you need.

Medical Records:

If you have significant medical problems, take along a copy of your records and tests. These could be extremely helpful if you need a doctor onboard. Last summer, my 81-year-old mother and I headed for Alaska on a cruise. We carried all her medical paperwork including copies of EKG and blood tests. Sure enough, she got an unknown infection in the middle of the cruise. The Princess Cruises doctor was able to treat her more effectively after seeing the paperwork.

Do this at least two weeks prior to cruising, three if you can. It may take a week or so for your doctor or other medical groups to provide this information to you.

Pets:

At least two to three weeks before departure, arrange for pet care, whether in your home or by boarding your animals. Put any instructions in writing and include pet care insurance documents and vaccination certificates for the caregiver.

Contact your veterinarian and make sure he or she understands that you have designated a particular person to act on your behalf while you're gone. If necessary, draw up a power of attorney so that person can legally make decisions about the pet on your behalf.

Arrange for Airport Transfers:

On a long cruise, you may want to book an airport shuttle transfer (leave plenty of time if you are booked with others; it could take an extra 60-90 minutes if the shuttle stops to pick up multiple people) or a limo ride.

If you're booking a car pick-up with a local limo company, do so at least two weeks in advance. Book even further out if your required transport falls during a major event period like prom season, Mardi Gras or Super Bowl.

More info: cruisemates.com

10 Reasons Cruising is a Great Value

Making every penny of the vacation dollar count: that is the goal of any solo traveler. Taking a cruise vacation makes that goal easily achievable. The consumer who does some research and takes advantage of expert advice will discover many ways to save and stretch the dollar by choosing a cruise.

“One of the top reasons cruises are so popular is the outstanding value they represent. And, because of the incredible variety of cruises, cruise ships, itineraries and destinations available, consumers can find even greater value and stretch their vacation dollar further by choosing the right cruise for their budget,” said Terry L. Dale, president and CEO of CLIA.

Here are some tips for planning a value-added cruise vacation:

1. Most cruise lines offer inclusive pricing. Accommodations, meals, entertainment, use of most ship’s facilities, and transportation from destination to destination are all included in the cruise price; this means the consumer is already off to a great start in realizing value for money spent.

2. Cruises are offered in every possible price category. Spend a little or spend a lot; it’s easy to pick the line that matches your budget.

3. Cruises come in every length, from three days to three months. If budget is a high priority, pick a shorter cruise.

4. Cruise lines operate all over the world. By picking an “off season” destination – the Caribbean this summer, for example – travelers can often save money without losing any of the fun, excitement and pleasure of vacationing in the tropics.

5. With a weak U.S. dollar, planning a European cruise and paying in advance, in dollars, often represents added value compared to a European vacation paid in local currencies.

6. On most ships, the price of your cruise is based on your choice of accommodations, nothing else. Most ships offer a wide choice of inside and oceanview staterooms, staterooms with balconies, even suites. If budget is a consideration, choose an inexpensive inside stateroom and enjoy the same dining, entertainment and use of ship’s facilities as everyone else.

7. Most ships offer a wide variety of accommodations. If spacious, luxurious accommodations are your top priority, choose a cruise line whose suites match your budget.

8. Cruises are an ideal choice for families, extended families and friends who want to share a memorable vacation. Put together your own group of cruisers and ask for a group rate.

9. There are more than 30 homeports for cruise ships in the United States. Wherever you live, pick a cruise you can drive to in order to save on the cost of airfare.

10. No type of vacation offers more variety than cruising; you’ll enjoy extra satisfaction – and that, after all, is what value really means – by matching your cruise with your tastes, interests and budget.

For more information about stretching the vacation dollar, visit http://www.cruising.org/ 

And here are some short cruises:

If “the longest journey begins with a single step,” then it may also be said that “a lifetime of cruising begins with a three-day trip.” Member lines of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) enjoy some of the highest repeat customer rates in the travel industry and many of those millions of vacationers began with a short cruise of less than a week. They loved what they experienced and have kept coming back for more.

“Over 12 million people cruised last year on CLIA member line ships,” said Terry Dale, CLIA’s president and CEO. “For the majority, it was a second, third, even 10th vacation at sea but for millions it was a first experience, typically on a short cruise. They got a taste of shipboard life, including in many cases fabulous entertainment, onboard spas and other recreational facilities, and a dazzling variety of dining experiences. They visited, perhaps for the first time, foreign countries or tropical islands. And, because consumers tell us that cruising offers outstanding value and a unique vacation lifestyle, those first-timers will be back, if not this year then in the years to come.”

CLIA member lines offer cruises of less than a week in all parts of the world, from the Bahamas, the Caribbean and the West Coast, to Europe, Scandinavia, even Australia. Many are on the newest, largest ships among CLIA’s fleet of 170 vessels; others offer a more intimate exploration of world on luxury, yacht-sized ships or restored vintage vessels. Many of the short cruises are offered from a rapidly growing list of American port cities ranging the entire lengths of the East Coast, West Coast and Gulf Coast. There is even one cruise line that enables passengers to plan their own length of cruise.

For more information about short cruises, visit CLIA’s Website at http://www.cruising.org/ or ask a nearby certified CLIA travel agent for assistance

_____

TIMELY, UPDATED DEALS & IDEAS TO SAVE MONEY, TIME, HASSLE

We've culled press releases and other sources for travel deals and ideas --whether you are traveling with others, or on your own

 

*Star* Deal: Ideas for Napa

Napa Valley is a vacation destination with abundant resources – incredible wineries, memorable cuisine, unusual cultural attractions, innovative spas and distinctive resorts. While the Valley has long drawn visitors from around the world, there is a persistent perception that the destination is always expensive. Not so, says the staff at Silverado Resort, an elegant resort that has been accommodating guests since 1968.

The resort’s staff offered these suggestions for trimming the costs of a Napa Valley vacation:

  • · Travel midweek. Monday-through-Thursday rates for Silverado Resort’s one- , two- and three-bedroom condominiums can be as much as 25 percent lower than weekend rates.
  • · Share a two- or three-bedroom suite with friends or family. The more people sharing, the better the per-person pricing.
  • · Just ask. Take advantage of the Silverado Resort’s free concierge service by calling in advance of a visit and inquiring about special events and discounts in greater Napa Valley. Or simply meet with the concierge upon arrival. The Silverado concierge also has coupons good for free wine tastings and other offers.
  • · Travel off-season. Napa Valley is a year-round destination, with moderate weather and activities during every season. Still, the majority of Napa Valley’s visitors travel during the summer months. Silverado Resort recommends off-season travel such as February, when the valley’s mustard is in bloom and the ever-popular Napa Valley Mustard Festival is staged. Among the many events, chefs from around the Valley show off their culinary creativity by developing cuisine that showcases the festival’s namesake – mustard. Room rates are significantly lower in the winter than in the summer.
  • · Book a package. Silverado Resort offers a variety of themed packages  featuring significant savings.
  • · Dine in at least once. The resort’s fully equipped kitchens make it easy to prepare a meal – simple or elaborate – and it can be significantly cheaper to make a meal or two at your home away from home than to eat every meal in a restaurant.
  • · Visit wineries that are open by appointment only. Though seemingly exclusive, these wineries often offer the most personalized and thorough winery experience, and they are never crowded. Silverado Resort’s concierge can make appointments for resort guests.
    • ·  Search online for deals and suggestions. For example, www.napavintners.com lists family-friendly wineries, including those with picnic areas. Another site, www.silveradotrail.com, provides special offers and tastings for wineries on the Silverado Trail, Napa Valley’s “Road Less Traveled.” Neighbors to the Silverado Resort, the Silverado Trail wineries also feature special events such as the biannual Silver Pass weekend, with special discounts and events
    • *****

    *Star Deal*: Skip Single Supplements

    Have you always wanted to take a singles vacation but don't want to pay the industry-standard single supplement? Problem solved! Singles Travel International is announcing our new Solo Super Savers vacation option!

    Our members have asked us for years about why they have to pay more to have their own room and Singles Travel International has always been on the lookout for ways to minimize the pain of traveling solo. We now have a singles-friendly partner who supports our powerful singles community and is offering vacations to STI members with NO SINGLE SUPPLEMENT!  Our vacations include all taxes, government fees and fuel surcharges, no hidden fees!

    Introducing Solo Super Savers!
    Our Solo Super Savers are winter departures that offer an excellent value and no single supplement – and it's great to travel with a group of singles!

    About Singles Travel International:
    With over 25 years experience in travel consulting, Singles Travel International provides worry-free travel that meets the unique needs of solo travelers to a variety of destinations in over 32 countries.  Reserve your place on one of these wonderful STI vacations today.  Call us at 877-SOLO-TRIP x 705 or visit us online at www.singlestravelintl.com.

    *****

    *Star* Deal: Divas Only at the Hotel Giraffe in NYC

    The "Diva's Only Weekend" includes:

    · Two nights accommodations in a deluxe guestroom, which features two double beds and French doors that open onto a private European style balcony adorned with fresh flowers.

    · A bottle of Prosecco and a box of decadent Lady M signature truffles presented upon arrival.

    · An Introduction to Pole Dancing Class for Two.

    · Two Diva manicures at New York's acclaimed Dashing Diva Salon.

    · Daily European style breakfast at the hotel.

    · Certificate for complimentary Sangrias and Tapas at Barna Restaurant adjacent to the hotel.

    Rates start at $445 per person, per day. There is a two-night minimum stay. Rates and packages are based on availability. Rates shown do not include tax or daily occupancy fee.

    To visit Hotel Giraffe's website, click here

    *****

    *Star* Deal: "Park the Car Getaways" in Virginia  

    Adventure seekers with a passion for filling a shopping bag or an empty stomach instead of a gas tank can find the "Park the Car" trip ideas on www.Virginia.org.  Virginia's convenient location, just 2-6 hours from major cities such as D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Raleigh make it the remedy for gas pump blues, with dozens of walkable cities, all-in-one resorts and other destinations that require little or no driving. 

    Walkable Cities
    Some of Virginia's best towns and cities are also the most foot-friendly. "Old Town" Alexandria, with its blocks and blocks of sensational shops, boutiques, restaurants and art galleries is entirely do-able on foot. Hop on the King Street Trolley for free transportation up and down Alexandria's main street or board the new Potomac River water taxi to visit George Washington's Mount Vernon.

    The city of Staunton, one of Virginia's many walkable Main Street communities, combines historic charm with a modern arts vibe. The stately Stonewall Jackson Hotel sits next to the American Shakespeare Center where professional actors present the best of "the Bard" in a recreation of the famous Blackfriars' Playhouse. Art galleries and outstanding restaurants line the city's streets. Drop into Sunspots for fine glass art and live glassblowing demonstrations.

    Roanoke, once Western Virginia's railroading center, is experiencing a new wave of excitement. Stay at the majestic Hotel Roanoke adjacent to a vibrant downtown. Catch a play at Mill Mountain Theatre, shop for art, fine jewelry and accessories and join in the bustle at some of Virginia's most popular new restaurants. And keep an eye out for the new Art Museum of Western Virginia, opening Fall 2008.

    Historic Richmond is easy to love, with many hotels right downtown, so visitors can walk up and down the cobblestone streets to lively restaurants, historic sites and shops, or take a hotel shuttle to the "Mile of Style" in Cary Town.

    Virginia Beach is a summertime favorite and perfect place to park and play. Stay at one of the many oceanfront hotels lining America's longest pleasure beach hugging the Atlantic Ocean. The three-mile-long boardwalk has separate lanes for pedestrians and cyclists and is a sunny conduit to sand castles and salty breakers. Stroll leisurely or rent a bicycle or 4-wheel surrey to and from Virginia Beach's excellent restaurants, shops and outdoor adventure outfitters for biking, fishing, parasailing and more.

    Close and Convenient Locations
    The early residents of Virginia's Historic Triangle – Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown, – did just fine without cars, and so will visitors today. Stay at the legendary Williamsburg Inn, the splendidly renovated Williamsburg Lodge or The Woodlands and the entire historic district of Colonial Williamsburg is within easy walking distance. Browse historic buildings, artisan shops and taverns and keep an ear peeled for the famous Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps. At the Visitor Center, board a shuttle that takes visitors along the scenic Colonial Parkway to Jamestown or Yorktown for exceptional modern looks at American history.

    Stay-n-Play Resorts
    Virginia's luxurious resorts are destinations unto themselves that pamper visitors so much that cars are unnecessary. Charlottesville resorts such as Keswick Hall and Boar's Head Inn are fine destinations to luxuriate in hospitable surroundings, rejuvenate with spa treatments, golf and indulge in delicious dining. How about a chance to take a hot air balloon ride? Balloon adventures embark right from the Boar's Head Inn's front door and soar with the breeze over area wineries and even Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.

    Lansdowne Resort in Northern Virginia has Greg Norman golf and the 12,000 square-foot Spa Minerale. The resort's fine dining is accentuated by its star sommelier, Mary Watson-Delauder, whose passion for wine makes the resort's food and wine camps a must for wine lovers. Talk about happy campers.

    The historic Homestead Resort in the Alleghany Mountains of Virginia has been a respite for travelers long before vehicles existed.  Since 1766, travelers have vacationed in luxury at the resort known for legendary golf, classic cuisine and natural warm springs that once soothed the "soles" of Thomas Jefferson himself.

    Williamsburg's Kingsmill Resort has a spectacular riverfront setting, a full-service spa, fine dining and championship golf.  For guests seeking nearby adventures, Kingsmill also offers in-season shuttles to neighboring Busch Gardens and Water Country USA and regular shuttle service to and from Colonial Williamsburg.

    "Park It" at Virginia's State and National Parks
    Put it "in park" at Virginia's state and national parks for a vacation low on fuel but big on fun. Virginia's State Parks are consistently recognized as America's best. Reserve a comfortable cabin, a tent site or even a yurt and spend a weekend fishing, canoeing, nature hiking, bird watching or simply unwinding. Check ahead for guided ranger programs for the whole family.

    Shenandoah National Park includes lodging from rustic to ultra-comfortable. Choose from more than 500 miles of scenic hiking trails, take a guided horseback trail ride or explore local flora and fauna in special park ranger programs.

    Visit www.Virginia.org for more "Park the Car Getaways" in Virginia.  Explore the Web site, discover your "passionality" and request a free copy of the 2008 Live Passionately – Virginia is for Lovers Travel Guide.  Travel resources are also available by calling 1-800-932-5827.

    *****

    *Star Deal*: New Scandanavian Rail Pass

    Visit www.scandinavianrail.com and find out what’s newly available from ACP Rail for traveling around Scandinavia.  Whether your goal is to fully explore Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway or to limit yourself to sampling a couple of countries, ACP Rail has a Eurail Pass that will work for you.

    The Eurail Scandinavia Pass allows flexible rail travel in all four Scandinavian countries for as few as 4 days or as many as 10 days within 2 months.  Adult second class prices start at a $344US.  New Eurail Regional dual-country passes allow you to pair Sweden with Denmark (from $307US), Finland (starting at $308US), or Norway (from $326US).  Prices quoted are for 4 days of adult second class travel within a 2 month period.  Options for up to 10 days of travel in Adult, Youth, Saver and First class categories of travel are also available for most products. Eurail still offers its popular passes for each individual country, as well.

    That willing to go that extra mile – or few - to the top of the world, will be richly rewarded with some of the most stunning scenery and it’s all most comfortably viewed through a train window.  Experience the enthralling wonder of the ‘midnight sun’, explore the brooding model for Hamlet’s Ellsinore Castle, enjoy the fabled diversions of the Tivoli Gardens, and much, much more.  Some of Eurail’s rail passes that are valid within Scandinavia offer extra bonuses like ferry rides, all of which makes traveling around the region seamless.  Visit your local travel agent, go to www.scandinavianrail.com or phone 1866 938 RAIL to get full details and order your pass today.

    *****

    *Star* Deal: BritRail Guest Pass

    The BritRail Guest Pass is a great opportunity for your Britain-based friend or relative to experience the flexibility and convenience of a BritRail Pass, which is normally not available to residents of Britain! 

    Buying BritRail Passes could not be easier.  Visit your travel agent or go to www.BritRail.com and choose the type of Pass which matches your travel plans.   For each qualifying BritRail Pass you purchase, you have the option of purchasing a BritRail Guest Pass.  But BritRail Passes are not sold in Britain so you must buy before you fly.

    BritRail is your passport to 19,000 daily train departures covering 2500 popular destinations in England, Scotland and Wales.   Whether you want to visit historic cities, explore film locations or just watch Britain’s verdant scenery slide past the window as you catch up on family news, the BritRail Guest Pass and BritRail Pass make it all possible. With this substantial discount, you can afford to savor the relaxing atmosphere of first class – less crowded, with wider seats and more legroom than standard class.

    With the 25% discount, prices for the all-access 4 Day BritRail Consecutive Pass start at just $194US for Standard Class or  $296US for first class; the 4 Day BritRail FlexiPass is $247US (standard) or $367US (first).  If you are only traveling within England, the 4 Day BritRail England Consecutive Pass is $157US (standard) or $236US (first).  The 4 Day BritRail England FlexiPass costs $199US or $296US.

    You must purchase both passes before your departure from your home in North America.  Passes cannot be mailed to Britain.  Travel may be completed up to six months after the date of issue.  The BritRail Guest Pass is available only for a British resident, who must be accompanied on his/her train travels by the North American purchaser of the matching BritRail product. The ‘Guest’ must provide proof of UK residence upon request.  This special offer cannot be combined with the BritRail Senior, Youth, Off-Peak, Family, Party Pass or any other promotional offer.  BritRail products are not sold in Britain.  Visit www.BritRail.com for more information.

    *****

    *Star* Deal: Under 1k for a Week at the Beach -- in Micronesia

    Kosrae is a remote, mountainous, tropical island with a diverse culture - somthing often missing from more popular tourist destinations. For those who are looking for a unique experience, Kosrae Village Ecolodge and Dive Resort offers packages that start at under $500. With the "Relax, Chill Out and Veg" package, guests can escape everyday life with seven days/six nights of sitting on the porch of a Kosraean lohm (cottage), watching the waves and listening to and the rustle of the trees, all for under $500. Packages that include more active pursuits like snorkeling, surfing, or even joining the Kosraean men on a hunting expedition are also available for under $1000. More information on Kosrae Village's popular (and very affordable) packages is available online at www.kosraevillage.com/packages.shtm 

    *****

    *Star* Deal: Ten "Bang for Your Buck"Ideas for an
    Orlando Family Vacation

    With millions of solo moms soon expecting a government tax rebate ranging from $600 to $1,200 and beyond, now is the time to plan a family vacation that puts the money to work. To stretch the dollars further, the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc. (Orlando CVB) recently introduced nearly 40 special values on accommodations and attractions at VisitOrlando.com. In addition, the Orlando CVB offers the following tips, to help families on a budget make the most of their vacation:

    1. Where to Stay – In Orlando, it isn't necessary to blow the majority of your vacation budget on a nice and comfortable place stay. Options abound ranging from budget accommodations starting at around $50 per night to value hotels at around $80 per night to vacation homes, campgrounds and more. For example, a family of four can enjoy four nights in a family suite at the Best Western on International Drive for $79* a night, totaling $355.50 once tax is added, leaving plenty of money for attractions and dining. For families looking for more comforts of home, the new Point Orlando Resort is offering a $129* per night rate and includes a fully equipped kitchen, washer/dryer and continental breakfast daily. For less than the amount a couple will receive for their government tax rebate ($1200) a family can get a Walt Disney World Resort vacation package that includes three nights at a value hotel and theme park tickets. For value examples, go to VisitOrlando.com.

    2. Attractions – Enjoy the world-class attractions in Orlando without breaking the bank. Buying tickets in advance online, can save not only money, but time as well. For example, the gate admission at Universal Orlando Resort for a 2-park unlimited pass is $119.28. However, if purchased online in advance of arrival the 2-park unlimited admission is only $85.95 and can be used for seven consecutive days. Visitors can also save money by purchasing attraction tickets through the Orlando CVB either online (orlandoticketsales.com) or at the Official Visitors Center. Tickets range from the major theme parks and dinner shows to airboat rides and more. It's also important to note that for most area attractions, children under 3 are free.

    3. Eating Out – Pay attention to three magic words, "Kids Eat Free." Loews Hotels (Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel and Royal Pacific Resort) offer a "Kids Eat Free" dining program during Extra Value weeks. With stays of three nights or longer, children ages 3-9 can dine for free at select onsite hotel restaurants, per paying adult. Other hotels with "Kids Eat Free" specials include: Nickelodeon Family Suites by Holiday Inn, Orlando World Center Marriott Resort, The Hilton Orlando Resort, Royal Plaza in the Walt Disney World Resort, Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Resort (as part of the "Summer Splash" program), Sheraton Safari Hotel & Suites and many more. Other Orlando area restaurants with "Kids Eat Free" programs include: Andiamo Italian Bistro & Grill, Gator's Dockside, Giovanni's Italian Restaurant, Lone Star Steak House and Roadhouse Grill.

    4. Getting Around Get a ride to major Orlando attractions for only $1? It's a reality on the I-RIDE Trolley, where a single fare is $1 and package deals are available for those expecting heavier usage. Running daily from 8:30 a.m. – 9 p.m., the I-RIDE Trolley serves hundreds of destinations within the International Drive Resort Area. If planning to navigate Walt Disney World Resort, their transportation systems (monorails, buses and boats) provide free door-to-door access to all four theme parks, water parks, Downtown Disney and all 23 resorts. For visitors to Downtown's arts, culture and dining scene, a free bus circulator called LYMMO offers guests rides along a 3-mile loop in the heart of Downtown Orlando.

    5. Timing Your Trip. Don't Overlook April and May – April and May have become an ideal time for a trip to Orlando. Not only will the crowds be reduced and weather sunny and warm, but special values blanket the destination. In addition, new must-see attractions open just in time for April/May visitors: the new water park – Aquatica by SeaWorld, The Simpsons attraction at Universal Studios, Jungala at Busch Gardens Africa and "Playhouse Disney-Live on Stage" at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

    6. Freebies. (Yes, they do still exist.) – Keep the little ones entertained without opening the wallet at the Lego Store at Downtown Disney where anyone is free to stop by the brightly colored bins just outside the store and make their own Lego creation. At the Peabody Orlando hotel, twice a day visitors can watch the March of the Peabody Ducks where the resident birds walk a red carpet to and from the Royal Duck Fountain. Every Monday morning from 9 a.m. – noon, admission is free to Harry P. Leu Gardens, a 50-acre botanical park with the largest camellia collection in eastern North America. The park also runs a free story time program on the third Monday of every month for young children.

    7. Insider Secrets – If planning a theme park visit, staying at a hotel on property has advantages. For example, guests at Universal Orlando's three hotels enjoy free Universal Express front-of-the-line access which means less waiting in line. Guests at a Walt Disney World Resort can take advantage of Magic Hours where each day one of the Disney Theme Parks opens an hour early or stays open up to three hours after regular park closing. Quench your thirst and take home a souvenir as most Walt Disney World resort hotels offer length-of-stay refillable drink mugs for $11.99, good for unlimited free refills of coffee, soda, iced tea and hot chocolate. At SeaWorld Orlando, kids can bring their own autograph book for Shamu & Crew characters to sign from 9 a.m. to noon near the front gate.

    8. Other Savings Tools – Save up to $500 with an Orlando Preferred Visitor Magicard™, the year-round discount card provided by the Orlando CVB. It is valid at 97 area establishments including everything from attractions and accommodations to restaurants and golf courses. Download the card at orlandoinfo.com/magicard or order one by calling 1-800-551-0181.

    9. Research – Planning ahead can not only help vacationers find the best deals, but ensure the most enjoyable vacation for the entire family. For those planning on visiting Walt Disney World Resort, free personalized maps are available for each park, so that families can isolate the shows, attractions and venues of the most interest. Maps are then mailed to their home address in full-color versions. Each theme park also lists height requirements for rides on their respective Web sites, so checking ahead of time will help quell possible disappointments.

    10. Packing to Save – A last-minute purchase or rental of certain items out of necessity can add up quickly. Pack plenty of sunscreen, rain ponchos, water bottles, band aids and even consider bringing along waterproof disposable camera or a stroller. Although many children once they reach a certain age will resist at first, after a long day of walking, he or she may end up begging to be pushed along.

    For more information about vacation experiences in Orlando, to order a complimentary vacation planning kit that includes a comprehensive Official Vacation Guide and Orlando Preferred Visitor Magicard™ or to purchase discount attraction tickets, visitors can log onto Orlando's official Web site at VisitOrlando.com or call an Official Travel Counselor at 1-800-551-0181 (United States and Canada) or 407-363-5872. While in Orlando, visitors may stop by the Official Visitor Center located at 8723 International Drive, at the southeast corner of International Drive and Austrian Row. The Official Visitor Center is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (closes at 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving, Dec. 24 and Dec. 31 and is closed Dec. 25).

    *****

    *Star* Idea: Use Bristol Airport Instead of Heathrow

    Cut out ‘Heathrow hassle’ when visiting the UK: Bristol International Airport is located in the heart of the historic South West of England, within twelve miles of the historic city of Bath, and close to attractions such as Stonehenge and the Cotswolds. With daily flights from Newark with Continental Airlines, US tourists can bypass London’s rip-off prices and its infamously crowded airports, arriving directly in the heart of the real England.

    *****

    *Star* Idea: Fly from Ft. Lauderdale to the Keys

    Try out the new direct, daily commercial flights from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to both Florida Keys Marathon Airport and Key West International Airport.

    Gator Air, a small Fort Lauderdale-based airline, began flying nine-passenger Piper Cherokee Chieftans with comfortable business jet interiors into each Keys airport twice daily. 

    Gator Air offers affordable rates with flights to Marathon scheduled to depart at 7:50 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., and flights to Key West leaving at 10 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. For more information about Gator Air's flights to the Florida Keys, call 1-888-359-4286 or visit www.flygatorair.com.

    *****

    *Star* Idea: Black Tomato Custom Tours with a Hip Twist

    Black Tomato, the award-winning London-based travel company that specializes in creating exceptional travel experiences with a hip twist, has launched its U.S. website: www.blacktomatotravel.com.  Based on the insight that "your time is precious, your time-off even more so,”  Black Tomato creates tailor-made experiences that ensure that women travelers make the most of every minute away and bring back a suitcase full of bragging rights.

    Catering to hard-working, hard-playing and discerning affluents with a taste for the unique and exclusive, Black Tomato travels to the four corners of the world, and countless spots in between, to find rare and wonderful experiences for its growing clientele. [The name, Black Tomato (“blák to-máh-to”), is inspired by a beautiful and rare species of the ubiquitous fruit.]

    “Black Tomato sees travel as a lifestyle, not just a product,” said co-founder Tom Marchant in announcing the U.S. website.  “It’s about getting under the skin of a destination and off the beaten path. Let’s face it: Black Tomato is not your parents’ travel agency. We will make sure each Black Tomato journey is one of the most memorable and fulfilling experiences one can have while traveling.”

    Black Tomato was founded on the conviction that travel is a mindset and not just about the destination. Key to Black Tomato’s DNA is that while the world may have been discovered, it has yet to be fully explored.

    The Black Tomato experience begins in the planning with a trip to the website. Chucking commodity-oriented and conventional travel lingo for a friendly, conversational tone, blacktomatotravel.com is designed to get customers engaged and excited about creating a custom travel itinerary. With interactive features that are practical and easy to use, Black Tomato makes the planning process fun, starting with the playful “Panic Button” for the “under planned” traveler.  When activated, the “Panic Button” directs customers to last-minute vacation planning ideas and services that include a reassuring, knowledgeable voice at the other end of the line.

    For those stuck on where to go and in need of ideas, the “Departures Board” is a fun-to-use, yet highly practical, search function that generates travel suggestions based on the traveler’s desired pulse (activity level), perspiration (climate) and patience (travel distance).

    Putting the focus on what travelers want to do when they are away, Black Tomato’s website groups opportunities according to suggested potential (and “tweakable”) itineraries labeled “Escape Time,” “Action Time,” “Sports Time,” “Stylish Time,” “Intrepid Time,” “Inspiring Time,” “Hangout Time,” and “From Scratch” – the latter signifying the ultimate bespoke travel experience. Travelers can ask Black Tomato for advice on whether a trip is right for them by clicking on “Convince Me”.

    Incorporated into every Black Tomato trip are “Essential Extras” that include hand-picked music and reading selections based on the traveler’s preferences and delivered prior to departure. Back-to-reality pampering, meant to avoid the real world for a few more hours, includes either a complimentary pair of AMC Movie Theatre tickets or a month's free membership to Netflix with a predetermined DVD of choice awaiting their return.  To catch-up on current events while guests are away, the latest issue of TIME Magazine awaits their arrival.

    Thanks to a talented, well-connected team of travel experts and a website rich in content and creativity, Black Tomato has quickly risen to the forefront of the U.K.’s bespoke travel industry. It has won many accolades and widespread recognition including Condé Nast Traveller UK Hotlist’s “One’s to Watch,” Gentleman’s Quarterly UK “100 Best Things in the World,” “Part of Travel’s New World Order,” The Sunday Times and the prestigious Observer and Guardian best travel website of the UK for the last two years running. Vanity Fair has branded them “The guys who have zipped travel agents into the contemporary and are supremely professional in everything they do.”

    ABOUT BLACK TOMATO

    Award-winning and innovative, Black Tomato was founded in a London flat by three 26-year-old guys who ditched the corporate fast track to spend their days pursuing their passion for travel and sharing it with their peers. It has quickly risen to the forefront of the U.K. bespoke travel industry, thanks to a talented, well-connected team of travel experts and a website rich in content and creativity.

    In 2008, the company officially “crossed the pond,” launching a website for U.S. customers and laying plans for a New York sales office by the end of the year. www.blacktomatotravel.com 1.877.815.1497

    *****

    *Star* Idea: Reunited and it Feels So Good ... in the Canadian Rockies

    Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts is making it easier for solo women to stay connected. Through the development of a new program aimed at attracting those seeking to reunite with family, friends and clubs, the family-owned company hopes to bring people together in an age of email, voicemail, and video games.

    The ‘Reunions’ Program offers the organizer of a reunion a free room when 20 or more rooms per night are booked. A CRMR Sales Coordinator will assist with organizing private dining or meeting space for larger families and clubs, and there is a range of activities in the Rockies that groups can take part in, including hiking, canoeing, and skiing, depending on the season. A comprehensive Reunions Package can also be downloaded from CRMR’s website, www.crmr.com.

    “This is a great way to make it easier for people to plan a reunion and actually spend time with those they love, or who share similar interests. We’ve seen a huge increase in people wanting to get away from all the so-called ‘conveniences’ of modern life to just spend time relaxing and catching up, or getting outside and doing whatever it is they love, whether it’s knitting or hiking,” explains Lisa Vinderskov, CRMR’s Director of Sales and Marketing.

    *****

    *Star* Idea: "Itineready" New York

    This is a fresh approach to travel planning. They put together customized itineraries which are created to meet your specific wishes and contain only the things you want to do. Packed full of the most up-to-date information, you'll be ready to explore the city with ease. Info: www.itineready.com or gdobson@itineready.com

    *****

    *Star* Idea: Forecasting Aurora Made Easier

    From 24-hour predictions to by-the-hour precision, those at the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Geophysical Institute know when to look in the sky for one of the most requested sights in Alaska. The aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, may be a phenomenon, but researchers at this Alaska university can now forecast aurora activity by the hour - they are making the forecasts easily accessible to the general public on a new Web site, www.gedds.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast. For those planning a trip to Alaska, the site also offers a 28-day forecast allowing visitors to narrow dates for the best likelihood of catching the dancing sky, but please keep in mind that when activity may be high, variables such as cloud coverage and city lights may also effect the views. Once in Alaska, inquire as to whether your lodging provides an aurora wake-up call; you'll be surprised that many do. For more information on the aurora borealis or for accurate forecasts, visit www.gedds.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast.

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    All About Solo Lodging

    by Lea Lane

    Some people are adept at quantum physics. I know hotels. I've seen more hotel rooms than a New York City call girl on speed-dial. For years I've poked around lodgings throughout the world for consumer guidebooks, and one thing I've learned is that you never know what you'll find.

    Checking out a hotel room in St. Thomas, I walked in on a guy sitting at a desk, naked. He invited me to stay but I declined. In Bermuda, I opened the door and found a couple asleep in bed. I don't know who of the three of us was most surprised.

    That said, quirky isn't my thing all the time and it likely isn't yours. Sometimes I seek a cozy B&B that replicates some of the comforts of home; sometimes, a cookie-cutter chain room with space to arrange familiar clutter. In the end, think carefully about how prominently you want your lodging to figure into your solo experience. Here are a few things you might want to keep in mind.

    Before You Book

    Your needs and desires may change, sometimes day to day within a destination. If you're spending lots of time in the room, or you're on business where you'll be working with and hosting others, a large space with a plasma TV may work best. If you're in the Canadian Rockies, or near Lake Geneva, or the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, a room with a view might matter more than one with Internet hookup. When the weather's great, a balcony is wonderful. If you're hardly in your room, you may prefer to save money for other things.

    Budget

    How much can you afford to spend on accommodations? Obviously money goes further in Podunk than Paris, but even in most big cities you can work within that range, if you're careful. Think creatively about how you budget. If you allocate $100 a night, you don't have to spend that every night: Think about spending $50 for three nights at an inexpensive lodging, then, when it's worth it to you, splurge on a deluxe room with a balcony.

    Location

    Think about where you want to spend most of your time, especially after dark, and consider choosing a hotel nearby. Finding transportation door to door after that grand dinner or concert can be dicey. Walking alone at night is rarely advisable, and you don't want to be wasting time commuting or waiting for transport when a closer lodging will allow a quick walk or ride, and more time for fun.

    When You Book

    Book far in advance, especially if you'll be near a destination during holiday and festival times. Do you really want to retreat to the 'burbs after the Toronto film festival? Once, after disembarking from a ferry on the small Greek island of Limnos, I soon realized that I had arrived a week before the hotel opened -- and the few alternative lodgings were filled. I didn't panic. I called several hotels, just in case, told them my plight, and one volunteered to let me stay, even though it was in the midst of a deep cleaning, and not officially open. The manager gave me some linens, I chose a room with a dazzling view of the sea, and I had the entire place to myself. I went into the kitchen and found a spoon and bowl and had some yogurt and honey for breakfast, sitting in the enormous dining room by myself. It was a memorable solo experience -- and the closest I've come to spending a night on a bench. Lesson: never give up.

    Strive for best rates. Avoid paying the rack rate -- listed on price sheets -- the rate a place would hope for, but savvy solo travelers can almost always beat. Deal with hotels individually rather than through their toll-free number, as front desks have lots of latitude when it comes to negotiating; the higher the room price, the more the potential discount.

    Check the pet policy. If you're traveling with Fido, ensure that the lodging allows pets. Likewise, if you have no desire to mingle with animals, ask about the pet policy.

    A Few Words About Safety

    Safety first. Select a hotel with room-entry only through a main lobby, rather than separate entrances for each room (Marriott Courtyards, Hampton Inns, and Days Inn are among lodgings designed with security in mind). Avoid ground-level rooms. Even if they're only accessible through the lobby, their windows expose you more readily to thieves. Ask for a room in a well-lighted area. Book rooms with smoke alarms and fire escapes; if not, be extra vigilant: Don't accept a room at the end of a long, isolated hall with no exit. Choose rooms below the fifth floor for access to fire ladders.

    Don't let the desk blab your room number. If the hotel staff announces your room, ask for another and explain why. Alert them that you're concerned about security and that you need them to respect that. Have the bellhop accompany you to and from your room if you feel more comfortable.

    Avoid stairs. Stairwells may offer exercise, but are an ideal spot for crime. Elevators are generally safer, but don't board one if you're not wild about your car mates, and if you want to back out gracefully, pretend you forgot your key. Have it ready in the elevator so you don't have to fumble at your door. And if someone follows you out and tries to attack, knock on doors and scream for help.

    Don't advertise your whereabouts. Don't put the tag on the door that asks for maid service, but do use the "Do Not Disturb" sign and keep the TV on when you're out.

    Reject all pop-ins. Don't let a hotel staffer or anyone else in your room unless you're expecting someone; otherwise, call the front desk and ask the person to wait outside for clearance.

    Lock it all. Lock all doors, and windows, even when you're in the room. Lock valuables in a safe. Lock your luggage. If you're issued a spare room key or key card, don't leave it in your room for someone to take. Also consider bringing your own personal alarm, such as a motion sensor that hangs on the inside doorknob and will go off if the outer knob is turned.

    Be your own fire warden. Know where the exits are. In case of fire, stay low and cover cracks in doors and windows with wet towels; wait in your room for help if the door is hot, or break a window if needed, and use that fire escape. Know where your key is, and take it with you in case of emergency. And, on a lighter note, if you're really safety conscious, sleep in something you can run out in. (PJs with attached feet won't do.)

    Where to Stay

    Following are typical lodgings and lodging arrangements you encounter as a solo traveler.

    Resorts for Singles & Soloists: These informal, adults-only resorts have numerous activities and communal dining. Club Meds, among other single resorts, allow you to sidestep the single supplement if you take on a same-gender roommate.

    Concierge Floors in Major Hotels: Concierge (or Business or Executive) floors are havens for solo travelers. Security is often heightened, with a floor concierge and special elevators. The exclusive lounge is a comfortable area for schmoozing, reading newspapers, or grazing (usually with complementary nibbles and/or drinks), and a free continental breakfast may jump-start your morning. Ask if these floors are available when you make reservations at hotels catering to business travelers. Rooms are slightly costlier, but the payback is worth it. Chains with these floors include Doubletree Executive Hotels, Holiday Inn Select, Hyatt, and Radisson.

    Solo-Friendly Chains: You know what you?re getting when you stay in a chain, and that can be comfortable indeed. Frequently offering good deals for soloists are Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Four Seasons Hotels, Italy's Jolly Hotels, and Sonesta Worldwide Properties. Among the better budget choices are Country Inns & Suites, Microtel Inns and Suites, and the small Park Inn chain.

    B&Bs: Bed-and-Breakfasts are right-on for solo travelers. Among the standard amenities are a private room (and often a private bath), full breakfasts at communal tables, drinks in the parlor, the opportunity to trade information and travel stories, a friendly house cat or dog, and pastry and coffee anytime. When researching my book on B&Bs and inns in New England, I stayed at hundreds of properties, and what made or broke them most times were the owners: sometimes in your face, sometimes not around, always different. You never know when you'll come upon a Basil Fawlty or some other similarly memorable character, and traveling solo, you'll often connect.

    Homestays: To feel really at home, stay in a home, the easiest way for solo travelers to meet and live with locals. Others may be sharing the house as well, usually with the family, and often there's a minimum stay, maybe a week or so. This alternative varies from deluxe to less private, less charming, and less regulated than a B&B experience -- and less expensive. You may have to share a room or a bath, but if you're willing to spend a bit more, you can often negotiate this. Kitchen privileges are usually included, you'll probably have a key to come and go as you please, and sometimes a private entrance. The family may even guide you around -- maybe for a fee.

    Obviously, homes and hygiene vary, so check on this aspect, and get referrals before committing. Some travel packages cover air costs and lodging, and could include a couple of meals a day.

    Time-Shares: If you want a comfortable apartment or condo, this is a great way for a solo traveler to make friends and revisit them. And even better, you can probably swap your timeshare for another, somewhere else in the world. These lodgings are kept in good order, with ample space and generic taste, as maintenance is controlled.

    Resources

    General Lodging Sites

    Connecting: Solo Travel News. Network on the Web, find B&Bs, hostels, resorts, and discount hotels. Caveat: the network accepts site listings as offered and makes no independent effort to review or verify claims.

    SoloTravelPortal.com. Get the skinny on single rooms. An accommodations page is updated frequently.

    Small Hotel Chains

    Red Carnation. Choose from nine luxury boutique hotels in England, South Africa, Switzerland, and the United States. 877/955-1515.

    Relais & Chateaux. Strictly administered, deluxe group of independently owned chateaux, country houses, manors, and quality restaurants worldwide that cater to solo travelers. 800/735-2478 or 212/856-0115.

    The Springs Resort and Spa and Andalusian Court. Spanish/Moorish-style boutique resorts with spas and fitness centers. 619/297-0009.

    This article is excerpted from Solo Traveler: Tales and Tips for Great Trips (Fodors)

    _____

    A Super-Deluxe Trip in Vietnam

    by Lea Lane

    I recently set forth to traverse Vietnam from south to north with a traveling budget of almost unlimited resources. A dream trip for solo travelers or with others.. You can go for broke, or go for less. Either way, Vietnam is a great destination.

    Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

    I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (better yet, call it Saigon, as the locals do) after a flight on United ­Airlines, which flies directly from either Chicago or San Francisco via Hong Kong. The first thing I noticed upon hitting the ground: the city’s robust, almost frenetic energy.

    On a humid evening awash in neon, my taxi ­maneuvered through weaving motorbikes and three-wheel cycles before dropping me in center city at the newly refurbished Caravelle (011-84-88-234-999; ­caravellehotel.com). During the war, network bureaus headquartered here, and Vietcong rocket teams would sight their weapons on downtown Saigon by the neon Caravelle (sailing ship) atop — until auth­orities finally figured out to turn the damn thing off. Today, the ambience is decidedly more mellow, all sleek marble and quiet service.

    After having spent 20-some hours at 30,000 feet, I seized the chance to savor the panoramic overview of the city at the hotel’s Saigon Saigon Bar, the city’s premier hangout. A bracing shower and a deep sleep in my wood-trimmed suite later, I ventured into the neighborhood the next day for a glimpse of Saigon’s wartime history.

    Across the street, the refurbished Rex Hotel was once a military billet. The nearby Eden Building had housed journalists and spies; the coffee shop was the site of “Radio Catinat,” the political rumor mill and supposed target of the bicycle bomb in Graham Greene’s 1955 novel The Quiet American. And as I ­wandered into the Continental hotel, the setting for much of Greene’s novel, I felt the resonance of decades of violence.

    Still, my jet lag required additional pampering, which I received with a whirlpool in the spacious outdoor pool, and a deep-tissue massage at the gleaming spa. For dinner, I was treated to a bowl of steaming pho, the classic Vietnamese soup of ginger, basil, noodles and beef.

    Phan Thiet

    The transportation options in Vietnam are surprisingly robust: I could have flagged a taxi, hired a driver or helicoptered the ­hundred miles up the mountain-fringed coast to my next destination, Phan Thiet, Vietnam’s choicest sun-and-fun area. I decided instead on a first-class train ticket, a chance to doze for three peaceful hours as villages sped by.

    Upon arrival, I was chauffeured from the station to the secluded tropical gardens, emerald lawns and pavilions of Ocean Dunes Golf Club (011-84-62-822-393; vietnamgolfresorts.com). A full-service resort, Ocean Dunes offers sprawling suites that overlook a private beach and come with wireless Internet access.

    Golf magazine rates the ninth hole at the resort’s par-72 Nick Faldo bentgrass course one of the 500 best in the world. Throughout all 18 of the layout’s offerings, windswept dunes determine the natural contours — affording the feel of a Scottish seaside course, but one bordered in bougainvillea.

    One starry night, I was driven in a golf cart to a tiny ancient temple right off a green, where I dined by torchlight on delicate fish in a basil-infused broth with a side splash of nuoc mam, the pungent local fish sauce that tastes better than it smells. Young dancers entertained me as if I were a Vietnamese empress. You can’t experience that at Pebble Beach.

    As an alternative to Ocean Dunes, the city will soon also boast the Princess d’Annam Resort & Spa (011-84-62-682-222; princessannam.com) — which, upon opening this summer, promises to be the highest-end lodging in Phan Thiet. An all-villa luxury boutique resort, it provides a fusion of contemporary and traditional aesthetics, and prides itself on indulging any whim that its guests could wish for, such as . . .

    Da Lat

    . . . this one: For my 75-mile trip north to the cooler highlands of Da Lat, the Princess d’Annam arranged a motorcycle-sidecar caravan — a dashingly retro (if slightly reckless) ride. My motorcycle driver careened along the dramatic, winding roads, while villagers waved us on as if we were competitors in the Vietnam Grand Prix.

    To calm my nerves and soothe my soul, Princess d’Annam also arranged, halfway through the trip, a luxury lunch stop by a waterfall. There I relaxed with a full massage from one of the resort’s expert masseuses, followed by a seven-course classic French pique-nique with formal service and paired wines, crafted by the spa’s resident chef.

    Wind-whipped but refreshed, I arrived at Da Lat — which reminded me at first glance of an old-world European beauty spot, something like an Asian Baden-Baden. Created as a French colonial hill town early in the last century, its grand villas, hundreds in Art Deco style, face the wide boulevards.

    One piece of the past: the sublime course at Dalat Palace Golf Club (011-84-63-821-201; vietnamgolfresorts.com), which Golf Digest rates the best in Vietnam — and one of the finest in all of Asia. Bao Dai, the last emperor (and then the country’s most prominent hacker), spurred its construction in the 1920s. The classic layout meanders around a series of lakes, affording panoramic views from its undulating greens.

    If it’s pursuits of a more adventurous kind you crave, canyoning, rock climbing and kayaking are mere minutes away. But after 18 holes, I opted instead for super-soft adventure — a nap — at my hilltop hotel, the Sofitel Dalat Palace (011-84-63-825-444; sofitel.com). The guest room featured a canopied bed, working fireplace and spacious balcony overlooking a lake. At dinner on the terrace, I tried a chef’s specialty: stuffed baby squash and pumpkin flower, with crab nectar plated in a confetti of edible flora — not the heartiest meal of my life, but definitely among the finest.

    Ha Long Bay

    After a brief stay in Hanoi at the famed colonial-era Sofitel Metropole Hanoi (011-84-4-826-6919; sofitel.com)), then a bottle of Margaux and a medium-rare prime T-bone at the Western-style Press Club (011-84-49-340-888; hanoi-pressclub.com), I headed 100 or so miles east, a three-hour drive past rice fields and villages in a chauffeured Mercedes, to the destination I most wanted to experience: Ha Long Bay. (I could have opted for a helicopter flight, but catching a chopper in ’Nam seemed a bit too evocative.)

    There, my overnight accommodation was the Emeraude (011-84-49-340-888; emeraude-cruises.com), a floating replica of a three-level 1910s paddle steamer evoking the grandeur of colonial-era Vietnam. Book any of Emeraude’s private cabins, then cruise among Ha Long Bay’s hundreds of odd-shaped limestone islands. Me? I booked the brass-and-wood bow suite with the captain’s view. From my oversized bed, I gazed at endless craggy islands rising through the mist while my feet and neck were expertly massaged and my buzzy mango concoction readily refilled by smiling attendants.

    Hoi An

    One of the few villages in Vietnam to have escaped destruction from any of its recent wars, Hoi An is now a World Heritage Site that exudes charm from every covered bridge, pagoda and antiquity-filled ­museum. All that — and sublime accommodations.

    As a bonus, Hoi An is known most for exceptional handmade silk and wool clothing. Scores of stores advertise one-day tailoring. The city’s finest is Thu Thuy (011-84-05-108-61699), where beautiful shopgirls take your measurements with a smile, offer tea and ship the clothing to you if time is short.

    Life Heritage Resort Hoi An (011-84-51-091-4555; life-resorts.com), a tranquil haven on the Thu Bon river, offers a full-service spa and bilevel rooms. But the area’s — perhaps the country’s — finest respite is to be found a bit north, on a one-kilometer stretch of pristine China Beach, at The Nam Hai (011-84-49-286-630; thenamhai.com). With 60 split-level guesthouses and 40 grand pool villas — each boasting landscaped gardens and views of the South China Sea and Cham Islands — Nam Hai delivers a multitude of amenities: from flat-screen TVs to espresso machines to private, temperature-controlled pools.

    Indeed, Nam Hai serves, in a way, as the final ­confirmation of what can happen with intoxicating traditions and gracious people. And a dream budget!

    _____

    A Sampling of Small Ships

    From Antarctica to the Arctic, the Caribbean to Canada, Mexico to the
    Mediterranean, they travel the great rivers of Europe and North America,
    sail along Norwegian fjords and other scenic coasts, cross oceans,
    explore the globe's most remote destinations, and even embark on world
    cruises.

    Their size enables a small group of travelers, especially wonderful when you're traveling solo, to go where no other cruise ships go - to the inland capitals of Europe and Asia, tiny islands in the tropics, undiscovered ports in the Middle East, remote coves and bays in Alaska, America's Intra-Coastal Waterway and much more. The combination of out-of-the-way destinations and relatively small amount of passengers means that the lucky few onboard experience the world as though it was theirs alone to discover.

    Whether the shipboard experience emphasizes sheer elegance and luxury
    while visiting some of the world's most glamorous yachting destinations,
    or a more informal yet equally delightful and comfortable lifestyle for
    journeying through nature's most extreme environments, all small ships
    have other qualities in common.

    They enable guests to socialize easily and share experiences with new-found friends who share their interests and tastes. They provide a true and very satisfying sense of having a home away from home, feeling cared for by staff the guests come to know and enjoy. And, small ships virtually eliminate the hassles of travel. Getting on and off the vessel is effortless, with docking in the very center of the action of each destination or port, and sightseeing is
    crowdless, often in places where there are few other visitors.

    Here is a sampling of small ship cruise opportunities offered by members
    of CLIA:

    AMERICAN CRUISE LINES' four ships - American Star, American Spirit, American Glory and American Eagle - carry no more than 100 passengers and offer comfortable accommodations, a friendly informal ambiance and such amenities as onboard naturalist and historians, enrichment activities and entertainment, dining that features regional dishes and complimentary cocktails in the evening. Itineraries encompass the length
    of the East Coast, including the Rivers of Florida, the Antebellum
    South, the Mid-Atlantic Inland Passage, the Chesapeake Bay, the Hudson
    River, Maine and New England Islands.

    HURTIGRUTEN, formerly Norwegian Coastal Voyage, continues to offer a variety of cruises along the 1,250-mile coast of Norway with its
    majestic fjords on numerous small ships as well as journeys on the Gota
    Canal between Stockholm and Gothenburg on three Art Nouveau vintage
    ships. But among the most popular offerings are voyages to Antarctica, a
    North to South world cruise, and Greenland Exploration cruises featuring
    the 310-berth MS Fram, launched in 2007 and built specifically for
    adventure. As they visit such remote destinations at the southern tip of
    the world as Marguerite Bay, Whaler's Bay, Cuverville Island and others,
    passengers discover that the only ones wearing tuxedoes are the
    penguins.

    MAJESTIC AMERICA LINE offers voyages from Alaska to the Mississippi River. The intimate, 112-stateroom Empress of the North is small enoughto explore the wilderness and waterways of Alaska's Inland Passage. The142-passenger Queen of the West and the 75-stateroom Columbia Queen were built to cruise the rivers of the Northwest, including the Columbia andthe Snake. And, on the mighty Mississippi, the historic, 176-passenger Delta Queen is the last operational steam-powered sternwheeler reminiscent of those piloted by Mark Twain, while the 436-guest American Queen is the world's largest river cruise ship. In addition to capturing a romantic and unique era in American history, both glamorous ships are fully modernized for today's travelers.

    PEARL SEAS CRUISES' first ship, as yet unnamed, will begin service in
    2009 offering 214 passengers accommodations with private balconies
    equipped with flat screen TV/DVD systems, a well-stocked library, six
    lounges, a sports and exercise deck and multiple observation areas. The
    ship will sail on seven- to 11-night itineraries in the Caribbean during
    the winter months and a variety of voyages in North America during the
    spring, summer and fall. These include trips through the Canadian
    Maritimes, the St. Lawrence Seaway and Thousand Islands, a
    circumnavigation of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and the Great Lakes.

    SEABOURN CRUISE LINE also offers the very highest levels of luxury on
    its three 208-guest yachts, Seabourn Pride, Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn
    Legend. In 2009, they will be joined by the somewhat larger, all-new
    Seabourn Odyssey. With staff members almost outnumbering guests,
    Seabourn guests are treated to gourmet cuisine created by celebrity chef
    Charlie Palmer, a casino and spa, all-suite accommodations,
    complimentary wines, spirits and champagne and such signature
    experiences as "Caviar in the Surf." In addition to the world cruises
    and transatlantic crossings, Seabourn voyages take in the entire world
    from Asia to Europe to the Americas and Caribbean.

    SEADREAM YACHT CLUB offers a true luxury yachting experience on two 110-passenger ships, SeaDream I and SeaDream II. Facilities and
    amenities include fine dining with complimentary red and white wine, a
    casino, library, a piano bar and Top of the Yacht bar, a Main Salon and
    a water sports marina offering a full range of equipment for enjoyment
    right off the ship. From May through October, the ships offer
    seven-night itineraries to classical yachting ports in the French and
    Italian Riviera, Costa del Sol, the Amalfi Coast, Greek Islands, and the
    Adriatic and Black Seas. In the winter, SeaDream visits some of the most
    exclusive islands in the Caribbean, including St. Barts, Virgin Gorda,
    Jost van Dyke and the Grenadines.

    SILVERSEA CRUISES' new Prince Albert II is an adventure ship carrying no more than 132 guests on luxurious expeditions to the Arctic, Antarctica
    and many points in between. During its inaugural 2008 season it will
    feature special Sea of Cortez expeditions in September, complete with
    eight Zodiac boats for up close viewing of birds, dolphins, whales and
    sea lions. The company's other four larger ships also fit the small ship
    category, with Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper carrying no more than
    382 passengers and Silver Cloud and Silver Wind accommodating only 296. Offering worldwide itineraries, the vessels feature ocean-view suite
    accommodations, complimentary shoreside experiences, entertainment and
    onboard enrichment, complimentary beverages and in-suite beverage
    cabinets and other amenities for an ultra-luxury experience.

    UNIWORLD RIVER CRUISES is the leading operator of river cruises in
    Europe, offering intimacy and personalized service on a variety of ships
    that typically carry no more than 134 guests. Combining old world
    elegance with modern amenities, the vessels feature expansive views of
    passing countryside, libraries, a lounge with full-service bar,
    boutiques, a beauty salon and 24-hour coffee bar. Operating for more
    than 30 years, Uniworld offers itineraries on 12 rivers in 20 countries
    across four continents, including Europe, Russia, Egypt and China. Among
    the most popular European itineraries are Castles Along the Rhine,
    Danube Discovery, Enchanting Danube, European Jewels, Eastern Europe
    Explorer and Tulips & Windmills. One 17-day voyage features the Ukraine,
    the Black Sea and Istanbul.

    WINDSTAR CRUISES operates three sailing yachts - Wind Spirit, Wind Star and Wind Surf - known for offering a pampered luxury lifestyle and the
    ability to visit the hidden harbors and secluded coves of some of the
    world's most sought after destinations. Carrying just 148 to 312 guests,
    the ships visit 50 countries, calling at 100 ports throughout Europe,
    the Caribbean and the Americas. Windstar appeals to contemporary
    travelers with a casual onboard ambiance, alternative dining venues, a
    diversity of shore excursions, deluxe spa facilities and a complimentary
    water sports program. Popular with honeymooners because of the ships'
    innate romantic elegance, Windstar also offers voyages through the Greek
    Islands and in-depth explorations of Costa Rica.

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    Six Travel Trends

    Multitasking. Solo travelers need to multitask to save time, which can be more important that money. People would rather carry their own luggage to their rooms than wait for the bellman — although that practice also saves money in tips. Providing faster baggage collection after a flight lands would be a service most of us would pay for.

    People talk with their thumbs. Hotel guests might prefer to text-message their room service orders; it would also solve language barriers and order errors. We like the touch-screen menus that let you order; they’re in place at Heathrow’s otel pod hotel and on Virgin America’s Red inflight system, to mention a few.

    Thrill-seeking. This is “generation X-tasy,” and travelers today are jaded and always looking for fantasy experiences they don’t get at home. Normal is no longer good enough. Certainly the elaborate hotels in Las Vegas have been tapping into this trend, transporting guests to recreated ancient Rome or faux Venice; but even relatively mundane perks ─ fabulous tropical showers, supersized HDTV, and really expensive, supercomfy beds ─ help transport guests to dreamland.

    Voyeurism. Or, “voyeurgasm,” the flip side of the previous item: People are involved with reality TV programs and YouTube and they like seeing behind-the-scenes “real life.” Open kitchens where you can watch the chefs at work cater to this trend. We also like the "magic elves” who make our beds and leave us chocolates when we’re not looking.

    Looking for the fountain of youth. Solo women are looking to renew and reinvent themselves, citing the spa explosion. Spa-type amenities are a good start when a whole spa isn’t available. Very true; we’ll even pay $10 for tea if you claim it has anti-aging benefits.

    Digitality. Technology and gadgets are part of almost every traveler’s lifestyle today; travel suppliers need to make it as easy as possible for people to use them — and can’t assume that leisure travelers will leave their BlackBerries and laptops home. Plenty of hotels now offer iPod docking stations; we’d like free wireless, too.

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    Provence: Surprising, Southern France

    Being beautiful is important, but is no longer enough. In today’s world, where we are spoiled for—and by—choice, a holiday destination must provide more than beauty to stand out from the crowd. And Provence does.

    It’s true that Provence has spectacular scenery, a long, rich history, vibrant culture, nearly perfect climate, wonderful food and easy-drinking wines. But what makes it unique is the gift it has for taking you by surprise, by offering you those one-of-a-kind moments that stay in your memory and make living such a wondrous adventure.

    Provence surprises you in all kinds of ways. Only in Provence can you drive peacefully along a back road even in the height of summer. And only in Provence can you take a hiking trail and encounter just the faint whisper of the wind in the trees.

    The quality of the light, particularly in winter, will astound you, too. It is at its most brilliant after thefierce Mistral wind, amazing in its own right, has swept down the Rhône Valley, making temperatures plummet and blowing every cloud out to sea. The light takes on a cut-glass clarity that you find nowhere else and that has made Provence a painter’s paradise.

    Provence will surprise you, as well, with the warmth of its people, who are more than willing to spend time sharing their passions. Only in Provence can the simple act of buying a melon at the market turn into one of life’s special moments. Chances are the stall keeper will show you how to choose a perfectly ripe one, tell you how this year’s harvest compares to previous ones and finally send you away with several suggestions on how to serve it.

    Provence is also a dynamic, forward-moving region that shows a special talent for marrying the past with the present, bringing out the best in both. The originality of Provence lies in its contrasts: quaint and cutting-edge, ecological and high-tech, it is never completely predictable and always more than you expect. Provence has no end of surprises in store.

    If you want to get back to unspoiled nature:

    • Take a boat trip from Cassis, the deepest bay in Europe, overlooked by La Ciotat, the highest sea cliff, through the calanques, Provence’s fjords: 20 secluded inlets with dazzling white limestone cliffs and crystalline waters, where you can swim and snorkel.

    • Cycle or ride on horseback through the Camargue, the vast marshlands of the Rhône River delta, an astonishing landscape of endless horizons that is a wildlife sanctuary for 400 species of birds, including pink flamingos, where rice and sea salt are harvested and herds of black bulls and white horses splash through the shallows.

    • Go on an overnight hike to the top of the 6,200-foot-tall Mont Ventoux to watch the sunrise and enjoy the amazing, wraparound view from its bare limestone summit.

    If history intrigues you:

    • Visit the remains of the ancient city of Glanum, dating from the third century BC, with a magnificently preserved Mausoleum and Triumphal Arch at the entrance. Nearby is a troglodyte farm, now an agricultural museum, which was part of the quarries from which Glanum was built. A single 65-foot limestone monolith standing in the field is striking.

    • Tour the majestic Papal Palace of Avignon, one of the world’s greatest Gothic masterpieces, where seven popes resided in the 14th century and where an avant-garde theater festival now takes center stage in the great courtyard every summer, with hundreds of fringe productions and events all over town.

    If you have an ear for music:

    • Attend the opera festival in Orange, where you sit under the stars in the best-preserved Roman theater in existence, or go to France’s oldest, world-acclaimed opera festival in Aix-en-Provence, performed in several venues, ranging from the town’s 17th-century Archbishop’s Palace to its new, state-of-the-art Grand Theater.

    • Immerse yourself in the vibrant world music scene in Marseille, nourished on southern rhythms from places as varied as Spain, Cuba, Argentina and Africa.

    If you have an eye for color:

    • Walk through the ocher cliffs of Roussillon, a glorious burst of color that looks like a solidified sunset. At the Ocher Conservatory you can attend workshops that teach the secrets of using ocher and other natural pigments.

    • Plan a trip to Provence during lavender season, when you are treated to the unforgettable spectacle and perfume of a solid sea of vivid, purple-blue waves.

    If art inspires you:

    • Commune with the magnificent landscapes that served as models for the masterpieces of artists like Paul Cézanne and Vincent van Gogh. Then surround yourself with the life and work of Van Gogh in the Cathédrale d’Images, in Les Baux-de-Provence, a vast, former stone quarry transformed into a unique projection hall, where gigantic images cover the walls, floor and ceiling, immersing you in an amazing sound-and-light show, this year dedicated to Van Gogh.

    • Sign up for a vegetal painting class in Cavaillon, where the town’s best known melon chef

    Jean-Jacques Prévôt will show you how to make pigments from colorful vegetables and then help you paint your own organic masterpiece.

    If the slightly off-beat amuses you:

    • Go skiing or wander around in Barcelonnette, a Mexican village in the Alps.

    • Swim in the lovely calanque of Figuerolles, a self-decreed independent republic, where figs are the currency and the clocks are half an hour behind the rest of France!

    • Tour the Château d’If, the real island fortress off the coast of Marseille, where the guide will point out the prison cell where the fictional Count of Monte Cristo was imprisoned.

    • Stroll through an alchemist’s garden near Eygalières, where plants take on magic virtues an unexpected, symbolic meanings.

    If you are a food and wine lover:

    • Have your fill of fresh, seasonal specialties, with an olive oil tasting menu in Les Baux de Provence, a tomato menu in Avignon, or a melon menu in Cavaillon.

    • Go on a truffle hunt in Provence, which produces 80 percent of France’s truffles. Then learn to cook with the “black diamond” before indulging in an all-truffle menu.

    • Discover the delicate taste of fresh sea urchins, the briny, spiny delicacy of the Mediterranean. Still fished by hand, they are sold right off the boat in January and February during the sea urchin festivals on the coast.

    • Take the sensorial wine trail in the cooperative cellars of Cairanne and experience wine not just by sight, smell and taste—but also by touch and hearing.

    • Visit the vineyards of Provence, the cradle of the French wine industry, or the region’s Maisons des Vins, which represent the growers of each appellation. There is a strong trend toward organic wines in Provence, and the generous tasting samples that are still free of charge are yet another pleasant surprise.

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    Four Questions & Answers About Traveling in India

    India is emerging as one of the world’s must-see travel destinations, for solo women or anyone interested in a great culture emerging into the 21st century. Asia Transpacific Journeys, a luxury Asia travel company specializing in Custom Travel to India and in-depth Small Group Trips throughout India, sheds light on how to make sense of travel to India and its complexities.

    Q: Where does one begin in India?

    A: India is so vast and varied it’s best experienced on three different journeys. Begin with central India to explore stunning Rajasthan, sacred Varanasi and the sublime Taj Mahal—that classic India that you hold in your mind’s eye. On subsequent trips explore the tropical south and rugged northern Himalayan regions.

    Q: How are the south and the north different?

    A: The south feels like a different country, tropical and lush. This is the spice mecca Columbus sought. There is a languorous feel, and the ancient temple architecture is stunning. By contrast, the stark, snow-capped northern Himalayan region is home to ridge-top monasteries and contrasting Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu and mystic religious traditions.

    Q: What are the accommodations like throughout India?
    A: Not only is luxury travel to India possible, it’s superlative in every sense. In central India it’s possible to stay at restored maharajah’s palaces that rank among the world’s greatest hotels, breathtaking in scope and form. In the south most properties are traditionally appointed boutique hotels and converted private mansions. In the Himalayan region expect rustic lodges and a few luxurious spa retreats.

    Q: What are the benefits of private, custom travel to India?
    A: Going with a knowledgeable, reputable travel company will assure consistently excellent quality in lodging, transport, logistics and local guides. Additionally, a custom journey can be crafted around a traveler’s unique interests, such as the arts, yoga, cuisine, trekking, wildlife, tribal cultures, spas or schools.

    Asia Transpacific Journeys is the recipient of three “Top Travel Specialists” awards for 2007 from Condé Nast Traveler magazine. Journey Beyond the Ordinary ™ www.AsiaTranspacific.com

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    Medical Tourism -- A Trend

    The kind of traveling that involves a medical purpose behind it is generally termed as medical tourism. A medical tour can be concerned with any kind of health check-up or even for some major surgical reasons. It has been the trend to move to cheaper and similar equipped places for certain critical treatments or surgeries. Some major surgeries such as, cardiac surgery, cosmetic surgery or dental surgery and many more, are often opted to be undertaken in countries with cheaper medical facilities. And many solo travelers have been taking advantage of it.

    However, besides, the individual medical care and other such health oriented issues, the medical health tourism companies also go that extra mile in keeping with the luxury quotient of their esteemed guests and every single patient. They take special initiative in putting forth enough facilities and services for them, to keep them in ultimate comfort and a luxurious ambiance.

    Though coined quite recently, the term, medical tourism is a not-so-new concept, however. Thousands of years before, the Greeks were believed to be moving to a magical place called Epidauria. They believed it to be God Asklepios's abode, and continued to visit the spot to recover sooner from illness. The concept of medical tourism is thus quite an archaic concept that has been religiously going on since the beginning of ancient civilization.

    There are certain vital factors that have led to the wide dispersion of this unique kind of tourism among the recent travelers. With the easy and cheaper availability of international traveling, and the rising improvements in the field of medicine and technology all around the globe, a medical trip a year is now a common phenomenon. No one wants to take any risk on their health issues, thereby opting for the best in the business and heading for a short or sometimes a longer medical trip.

    An article by the University of Delaware publication, Udaily, speaks volume on this. "The cost of surgery in India, Thailand or South Africa can be one-tenth of what it is in the United States or Western Europe, and sometimes even less. A heart-valve replacement that would cost $200,000 or more in the U.S., for example, goes for $10,000 in India--and that includes round-trip airfare and a brief vacation package. Similarly, a metal-free dental bridge worth $5,500 in the U.S. costs $500 in India, a knee replacement in Thailand with six days of physical therapy costs about one-fifth of what it would in the States, and Lasik eye surgery worth $3,700 in the U.S. is available in many other countries for only $730. Cosmetic surgery savings are even greater: A full facelift that would cost $20,000 in the U.S. runs about $1,250 in South Africa."

    Some of the well-recognized and most medical-traveled places include, India, Lithuania, Cuba, Hong Kong, The Philippines, Jordan, Malaysia, Brunei, South Africa, Thailand, and recently, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Hungary, Colombia, Singapore, New Zealand to name a few. While these are the ideal places to go for a medical trip, some of the orgnizations, such as The Society for International Healthcare Accreditation (SOFIHA) and HealthCare Tourism International, are the non-profit organizations that help in providing the guest-patients with every possible means of comfort and cure.

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    Ten Great Food Festivals Around the World

    Whether you travel solo or with others, check out some of the most renowned food festivals of the world:

    International White Truffle Festival, Italy
    This festival has the smell of great Italian heritage. The chief attraction of this festival is the annual Truffle Auction. Famous chef Peter McNee of the Bay Area's Poggio Trattoria, visits Alba each year to attend this festival.

    Turks & Caicos Conch Festival
    The Caribbean people do prepare conch (the sea snail) in a number of delicious processes. This popular range of seafood is the main attraction of this festival in Turks & Caicos. The other interesting events in this festival are the "Conch Knocking, Skinning and Blowing" contest, and the Bacardi Mojito Drinking Challenge.

    Kona Coffee Fest, Hawaii
    Coffee lovers must not miss this festival of coffee being celebrated for more than 180 years. The spectacular beauty of the island of Kona attract more than 18000 visitors each year on this 10-day long celebration. There are more than 50 events on the schedule of the festival. There are parades, a Miss Kona Coffee Pageant, outdoor concerts, a golf tournament and tasting. 
     
    Festival del Mar, Anguilla

    Another paradise for food lovers is the Festival del Mar at Anguilla in the Caribbean. This festival is famous for fresh island seafood and the fishermen who provide it. It takes place on the Easter weekend.

    Mondial de la Biére, Montreal
    Want to challenge your senses with the variety of brews! Then Montreal's famous beer festival is ideal for you. You will be able to taste more than 350 brews and out of which there are 15 exclusive brews created just for this event.

    American Cheese Society Grand Tasting, U.S. locations
    This festival is based on cheeses. Around 1000 cheeses from the best of America's dairies represent this festival. So “say Cheese” and enjoy without worrying about those extra calories as this is available for one night only.

    International Mango Festival, India
    The Indian mangoes are famous for their color, smell and taste. The best quality mangoes from all over the country can be seen and tasted in the International Mango Festival in Uttar Pradesh. One will surely love the variety of taste provided by the same fruit.

    Sonoma County Harvest Fair, California
    This annual harvest festival consists of seafood fisheries and artisan producers. Other events are scarecrow-making contest, pig races and a cow-milking contest. In addition, another point of attraction is the front display hall with the pick of local wines.

    Iceland Food and Fun Festival
    This unique festival takes place during the frost. The cuisine by world class chefs are served at Reykjavik's top restaurants. The special and exclusive menus are made exclusively from the ingredients from Iceland. For the special event on the last day of the festival the acclaimed chefs visiting from other countries and who have never previously worked with Icelandic ingredients, are given one hour to shop for them at a supermarket and three hours to whip them into haute cuisine. The results are presented at the Reykjavik Art Museum.

    The South Beach Food & Wine Festival
    Celebrity chefs from Emeril to Giada make an appearance in the South Beach Food & Wine Festival. You will experience the taste of South Florida's culinary culture here. Tickets are sold at a range of $35 to $300.

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    Holland: A Thousand Special Ideas

    In 2008, solo travelers to Holland can expand your Dutch horizons with a visit to the country’s best kept secrets. Under the title “A 1000 Dutch Delights,” the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions (NBTC) has launched a series of tips on the most unusual locations in Holland, sites not well known to the wider community. These “delights” have been selected throughout the country in the areas of Culture, History, Gastronomy and Lodging.

    Holland offers cultural heritage gems such as beautiful historic towns, special regions, outdoor spaces, fortresses and waterlines. Half the country is below sea level and this has given Holland exceptional, but less well-known landscapes: wetlands, polders and moorlands unique in Europe. Holland boasts a growing list of restaurants with Michelin stars, and these and others can be found inside factories, towers and small castles.

    Among Holland’s “1000 Dutch Delights” are hotels offering artistic, historical or fun style rooms and B&B’s housed in country homes, monasteries and farms. Sleeping in a castle, boat, lighthouse or haystack, these unexpected delights are only a short distance away from Amsterdam.

    www.1000dutchdelights .com contains information on Holland gems which are unfamiliar to most foreign visitors. Travelers can get tips on unusual accommodations, restaurants, as well as original sites of interest and activities. All gems have been selected based on exclusivity, quality and originality. The website is extremely easy to navigate, shows beautiful images, provides suggested itineraries throughout six of Holland’s provinces, as well as recommendations on what “to do,” where “to eat,” where “to sleep,” and how “to get there” information.

    A few Holland gems:The charming town of Edam, less than an hour from Amsterdam - Spending a night in the Harlingen lighthouse - Cycling through the caves of Maastricht- Going on a canoe safari through “Noord-Holland”- Dining at Restaurant Auberge de Campveerse Toren in Zeeland, a town inn since 1400.

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    What's New at Florida Attractions     


    Ideas throughout the year, whether solo or with friends and family!


    BUSCH GARDENS TAMPA BAY (Tampa) In April 2008, Busch Gardens Africa introduces Jungala: an amazing combination of all the jungles of the world. Discover a colorful village, nestled among the towering trees, flowing waterways and elaborate stone structures. Explore the layers of the lush landscape from the jungle floor to the leafy canopy with three levels of exploration tunnels, climbing nets and mazes, soar above the treetops on a zip line adventure or launch into the sky from inside a 35-foot waterfall.
    Then, connect up close with exotic jungle animals. Come face-to-face with orangutans from treetop viewing platforms and test your strength in a tug of war with a Bengal tiger. Celebrate a jungle village where the inhabitants, both human and animal, live in complete harmony with nature. Swing by for an unforgettable adventure and an extraordinary mix of discovery and fun in the only jungle in the world that plays with you.
    www.buschgardens.com 888/800-5447 or 813/987-5082

    CENTRAL FLORIDA ZOO & BOTANICAL GARDENS (Sanford) The Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens will unveil the new George and Gretchen Smith Tropical Splash Ground. The new splash ground features unique water sources resembling some local favorites and residents of the Zoo! The splash ground was designed for those hot and humid days in Florida when you just want to cool off. The area includes a gator, frog, hippo, raining trees, water tunnel and a bucket dump is just waiting for children-of-all-ages to enjoy. Each year the Zoo hosts several exciting events including: Zoo Roo’s Birthday in April; Storytime at the Zoo, April, May, October, and November; Red, White and Zoo, July 4,5 and 6; Fiesta del Coqui, in September; Zoo Boo Bash during the last two weekends in October, and Breakfast with Santa on December 13. New events to the Zoo include Brews around the Zoo on March 15, 2008. There is always something to do at the Zoo! www.centralfloridazoo.org 407/323-4450

    COLONIAL SPANISH QUARTER MUSEUM (St. Augustine) The Colonial Spanish Quarter Museum consists of two separate interpretive exhibits, each with its own entrance. The entrance to the Colonial Spanish Quarter Museum has been moved northward to the Triay House at 29 St. George Street. There, visitors entering the Colonial Spanish Quarter Museum will be drawn into the living history village which features costumed interpreters practicing various crafts such as blacksmithing, carpentry, leatherworking, and calligraphy, reflecting the colonial city in
    the late part of the First Spanish Period, about 1740. The de Mesa Sanchez House, a rose colored, ashlar-scored building at 43 St. George Street, will provide a second interpretive exhibit. The restored de Mesa Sanchez House reflects in its décor and furnishings during the very early years of the Territorial Period, about the year 1830. Visitors may purchase a combined ticket to the two museum exhibits or a single ticket to either one. www.historicstaugustine.com/csq/history.html 904/825-6830

    CONCH TOUR TRAIN (Key West) The Conch Tour Train began service on January 18, 1957 by Bill and Olive Kroll. They later sold the operation to Wometco Enterprises, current owners of the Miami Seaquarium. In 1983, the Conch Tour Train was purchased by its present owners, Chris Belland and Ed Swift of Historic Tours of America. The Conch Tour Train carried over 20 million visitors including such luminaries as Miss Universe and Miss America contestants, Hal Linden, Barbara Eden, and Lou Diamond Phillips. Be sure to visit their new website at www.conchtourtrain.com to stay current on all of the events and promotions throughout the year! www.conchtourtrain.com 305/294-5161

    DEERING ESTATE AT CUTLER (Miami) Events include: Screen on the Green, SeminArt with Legal Art, “Celebration of the Arts” with Florida Classical Orchestra, An Evening of Poetry: presented by South Florida Writer’s Association, and the Moonlight and Music Valentine’s Concert. Ticket prices vary for each event.
    www.deeringestate.com or www.sobayfestival.com 305/235-1668

    FLORIDA AQUARIUM, THE (Tampa) New exhibits featuring unusual animals from the world’s oceans, with extreme colors, patterns, shapes and powers offer guests a look at the kaleidoscope of life found in our ocean depths. Interactive features like text and voice messages can be obtained from cell phones and downloadable Podcasts will enhance interpretive messages and allow guests to immerse themselves in the action. The Florida Aquarium’s popular guest dive experience, Dive with the Sharks, will continue in the new gallery where certified SCUBA divers over the age of 15 can come face to face with live sharks from around the
    world! www.flaquarium.org 813/273-4000


    JUNGLE ISLAND (Miami) Jungle Island’s newest birds are South African Penguins and they are the only ones in South Florida. Miami’s climate isn’t outside of their nature—of the 17 types of penguins in the world, only five are cold-weather birds, so they only needed a few days to acclimatize to the Miami sun. They are found in the wild off the coast of South Africa and Namibia. Jungle Island is a multi-faceted entertainment destination, see three spectacular shows: Winged Wonders, our world famous bird show; Reptiles of the Jungle, which includes cold-blooded reptiles that will send chills down your spine; and Tale of the tiger with awesome tigers. Encounter exotic animals, like our twin young orangutans; a 20ft, 2,000 pound crocosaurus; our Liger, he’s part lion, part tiger, the largest cat in the world, our baby red kangaroos and our famous Flamingos. For hands-on activities, visit our Petting Barn, feed our birds; and come see our newest
    attraction “The Hippo” the 168’ water slide, located on the beach.
    www.jungleisland.com 305/400-7000

    MEDIEVAL TIMES DINNER & TOURNAMENT (Kissimmee) North America’s longest running and most popular dinner attraction is about to “get medieval” all over again as Medieval Times in Kissimmee, Florida launched a new show in mid-December, the company’s first since 2003 – blending a two-hour live performance by two-and four – legged performers with a utensil-free meal served in a castle-inspired 1,000–seat arena. The new show first debuted at Medieval Times in Dallas, near the company’s new headquarters in Irving, Texas, with Medieval Times’ rolling out the 2007 production at eight other castles during the next four months. In addition to a new script, the production includes new lighting, choreography and battle scenes, new horse dressage elements – executed my Medieval Times’ famed Andalusian stallions – and a new soundtrack composed in the USA and performed by the Czech Republic-based Czech Film Orchestra. A new theatrical element, Medieval Times’ first use of a high-output snow machine, also adds an unexpected magical element to the guest experience.
    www.medievaltimes.com 1-888-935-6878

    MIAMI SEAQUARIUM (Miami) Miami Seaquarium opened its new dolphin interaction facility called Dolphin Harbor. The new facility, home to ten Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins and the park’s dolphin interaction programs, features a 12,000 square foot, 700,000 gallon dolphin pool surrounded by an 8,000 square foot facility that includes a reception area, education seminar room, changing facilities and rest rooms. Dolphin Harbor offers guests two different dolphin interaction programs. Dolphin Odyssey is a two-hour experience, which includes feeding, touching and learning about these magnificent animals plus the opportunity for a deep-water interaction with a dolphin. Guests at least 52 inches tall may participate in the Dolphin Odyssey program. Dolphin Encounter is a new program that allows guests to wade out into the pool and have a shallow water experience meeting the dolphins. The two-hour program features an educational seminar and the chance to feed and touch a dolphin as well as learn about dolphin training techniques. Program fees include one day’s admission to the park.
    www.miamiseaquarium.com 305/361-5705

    MOTE AQUARIUM (Sarasota) Both entertaining and educational, explore the secrets of the sea at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, one of Sarasota’s unique attractions. Mommy and Me at Mote, popular play programs for children ages 2-5 and their mommies or caregivers. Now offered on select Thursdays and Saturdays, these hour-long programs begin at 10:00 a.m. There is also a 3:00 p.m. afternoon program within each 4-week session. Participants can sign-up for individual programs or discounted session packages. Mote’s Education Division is also offering traditional field trips for preschool classes; preschool field trip programs are designed for students ages 2-5. Pre-registration is required for all education programs. Call 941-388-4441 ext. 229 or log onto www.mote.org/education to register. Mote members receive a discount for all educational offerings. www.mote.org 941/388-4441

    RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT! MUSEUM – ST. AUGUSTINE (St. Augustine) At the Original Ripley’s Museum in St. Augustine, you can thrill to our newest and proudest addition—an exact, ten-ton marble replica of Michelangelo’s David. Recently installed in a beautiful and tranquil viewing garden, this stunning work of art is freely accessible to the viewing public. Inside the museum it may chill your nerves to see our recently-acquired macabre memento of less civil times: an authentic garrote used as a form of public execution in old St. Augustine! After dark, thrill to our newest, Walking Ghost Adventure. With being voted the city’s “Best Ghost Tour” already to its credit, Ripley’s has introduced a walking-only version of the hunt for paranormal activity. Elegantly-dressed and knowledgeable guides lead guests through some of St. Augustine’s most haunted sites, recounting authentic stories and experiences of paranormal phenomena. Ripley’s of St. Augustine is where you can truly Experience the Unexpected in 2008! www.staugustine-ripleys.com 904/824-1606

    SEAWORLD ORLANDO (Orlando) Aquatica is a whimsical, one-of-a-kind waterpark that’s only in Orlando and could only come from SeaWorld. Where one river floats you through an undersea world of colorful fish and another races you into rolling rapids. Slides that spin and soak you, and our incredible signature ride – two awesome, enclosed tube slides that send you speeding through a lively lagoon filled with playful, black and white Commerson’s dolphins. Delight in the serene-to-extreme waters in the gigantic double wave pools and soak in the sun (or the cooling shade) on the white sand beach. Aquatica is where the fun is as endless as the sea itself. www.SeaWorldOrlando.com 407/351-3600

    TAMPA’S LOWRY PARK ZOO (Tampa) Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo is growing again! In addition to building greater depth in the animal collection and expanding conservation programs, the zoo is pleased to announce the addition of a water flume ride and albino alligator exhibit. Guests can enhance their outdoor adventure by hopping on “Gator Falls,” a water flume ride over the zoo’s Florida boardwalk. Hop in a log and explore Florida’s native wildlife by water, floating through some of the most enchanted parts of old Florida including a new albino alligator exhibit. Watch out for falling waters as the ride plunges almost 30 feet at the splash down. www.lowryparkzoo.com 813/935-8552

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    Four Top Attractions in Baja California

    The State of Baja California Sur, Mexico offers lots of special treats for solo women. Check out these four, for starters.

      Whale Watching
    • Baja California Sur is home to the migration of hundreds of whales from the waters of the arctic to the warm, calm waters surrounding the Baja Peninsula. From January - March, there is no better place to view such a spectacular event than Baja California Sur.
    • Spring Break - Off-the-beaten-path
    • For off-the-beaten-patch spring break options, Baja California Sur is ideal. From sportfishing and snorkeling to off-road racing, mountain biking and camping, Baja California Sur is an adventure seekers paradise.
    • La Paz
    • La Paz, the state capital, lures family, eco and romantic travelers alike. Take a day trip to Espiritu Santo and swim among the sea lions or scuba dive on this isolated island surrounding the bay of La Paz. Romantic travelers delight in this escape-from-it-all atmosphere with the perfect blend of quaint, small town Mexican charm and boutique accommodations among pristine beaches.
    • Loreto
    • 220 miles further north of La Paz on the eastern coast, Loreto is considered to be the first human settlement on the Baja Peninsula. Blessed with natural beauty, rich in history, Loreto is home to the largest sustainable community under development in North America - Loreto Bay. Loreto Bay's vision is one of integrating the process of conservation, protection, enhancement, and regeneration that balances the social, economic and environmental needs of the community.

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    The World's Top 25 Trains

    Trains are a safe, comfy way for solo women to travel. Here's a listing of "The World's Top 25 Trains," as determined by The Society of International Railway Travelers, an organization of travelers who love the comfort, romance and fun of great trains.

    Some on the list are over-the-top luxury, such as the all-first-class Eagle Trans-Siberian Express, Rovos Rail's Pride of Africa and India's Deccan Odyssey. Others offer the most stylish and comfortable way to see less-developed regions, such as the world's newest private train, the Danube Express, which offers week-long, rail-based "cruises" through Central Europe.

    Per-person prices for these mostly private-train tours rangefrom $2,895 for a week in Mexico's Copper Canyon aboard the Sierra Madre Express to $26,500 for a 16-day Vancouver-Montreal excursion aboard the exclusive Royal Canadian Pacific, which hosted the likes of Sir Winston Churchill, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth-and Bill Gates.

    Following, in geographical order, are the winning trains and principal countries or areas of operation:

    North America
    1) Canadian (Canada)
    2) Royal Canadian Pacific (Canada)
    3) Canadian Rockies Steam Express (Canada)
    4) Rocky Mountaineer (Canada)
    5) GrandLuxe Express (US)
    6) Sierra Madre Express (Mexico)

    South America

    7) Andean Explorer (Peru)
    8 ) Hiram Bingham (Peru)

    Africa:

    9) Blue Train (South Africa)
    10) Pride of Africa (Rovos Rail) (South Africa)

    Asia/Indian Subcontinent
    11) Palace on Wheels (India)
    12) Eastern & Oriental Express (SE Asia)
    13) ShangriLa Express (China/Tibet)
    14) Toy Train (India)
    15) Deccan Odyssey (India)

    Europe
    16) Danube Express (Central Europe, Turkey)
    17) Al Andalus Express (Spain)
    18) El Transcantabrico (Spain)
    19) Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express (Russia)
    20) Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (Europe)
    21) Glacier Express (Switzerland)
    22) Royal Scotsman (Scotland)

    "Down Under"

    23) Ghan (Australia)
    24) Indian Pacific (Australia)
    25) Sunlander (Australia)

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    Slow (The Best Way to Go) Travel
             by Lea Lane

    I remember a seven-country, 11-day speed tour through Europe, whizzing along with 40 assorted tourists (including bawling kids and folks on walkers who inevitably held up the bus going to the rest rooms).

    These quickie tours offered a tantalizing, frustrating taste of places that seemed impossibly foreign, even if Paris was just an elevator ride up the Eiffel Tower, a glance at Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa, and an evening cruise on the Seine.

    Rome included driving by the Coliseum and the Forum, pasta at trattorias with other tourists, and tossing a coin into Trevi fountain (just like the movie Three Coins in the Fountain, which I had loved). My wish as I tossed my coin, was to return, and experience more than just a blur.

    The “if it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium” attitude seemed to be “this may be the only overseas trip I’ll ever take, so I’d better see everything I can!” Roadways and rest stops, packing and unpacking were constants. Guidebooks were few, our culinary sophistication was pizza-level. We hardly heard anything but English, and rarely met a local, except at prearranged shopping sites. But it still seemed exciting, because this type of travel was all we knew

    Slow Down

    Speed tours are still around if an overview’s your thing, But today’s alternatives –and my preference -- include “slow travel,” where you settle in and take your time, often staying in one place and moving out a bit from there.

    Like the recent “slow city” and “slow food” movements, slow travel means savoring details, and appreciating uniqueness: focusing, learning, growing. Because you’ll better remember things, you can apply the slow travel experience to life in general. And with fewer moves and transport problems, safety improves and costs go down.

    For example, rather than spending three weeks in England, and France where I’d be overwhelmed with two histories, cultures and customs, I’d rather slow down and spend the same time concentrating in just one area. It’s quite enough just to learn the English kings and queens, and the best place for gingerbread, thank you very much. In fact, I’d likely stay in one region, such as the newly-hip Manchester/Leeds, Newcastle area, and soak up the museums and historic sites. I can plan to travel deeply in France at another time.

    Interested in the in-depth approach? Some specific slow-travel suggestions:                                   

     Prepare

    Read up, work on language basics, learn geography, history, culture, politics, foods. The more you know about a place, the better the slow-go, and the more chance for enlightening surprises.

    Your available time will dictate your pace. A week or so in Tuscany?  Maybe best to choose a hub and unpack only once, with day-trips from there. For example, stay in Florence and visit the countryside on daytrips.

    With a couple of weeks or more, you could easily move around a region, by train, bus or car, taking time to get a feel for each area. Just pack light as possible. You can luxuriate in your villa terrace overlooking grapevine-covered hills with a glass of chianti, or tool around on a Vespa, tasting vintages, dining gloriously as you go, and staying in charming pensiones along the way --or do both.

    Budget
    The better you know the bucks you can spend, the better you can decide where and when you go. And one benefit of slow travel is that you can get discounts for staying put, and finding out where locals eat, shop and play.

    Be Flexible
    With slow travel you could just book your arrival and departure dates ahead and play around with the middle, leaving room for discovery. That’s the glory of s-l-o-w.

     Lodging Options

    Buying
    The ultimate is to purchase a lodging: a cottage in County Cork, a casa in Cost Rica, an apartment in Manhattan or Singapore, to return to regularly till you know the greengrocer, speak his language, get the freshest produce, and hopefully share a joke and a friendship as well.

    Like Frances Mayes in Cortona, Italy and Peter Mayle in Provence, you could buy a grand fixer-upper, and maybe even turn the experience into a bestseller, and fame and fortune. You and your abode can indeed become a site for other slow travelers to visit!

    If buying is a possibility, be extra careful: What are your preferences? Mountains, beach? How about culture, climate? How much time would you/could you spend there? Economic and legal ramifications?  Your interests? Commuting costs and convenience?  How important is language? What are nearby towns like? Is the political climate friendly? Is the economy stabile?

    Write questions down, and then, if still interested, travel several times before you invest. Do not go by second-hand opinions, photos on the Web, real estate promotions, whims or dreams alone. Speak to  lawyer, Fiji is great, but….

    Long-Stay Hotels
    Nowadays many chains such as Executive.Suites and Hampton Inns offer long-stay suites and efficiency apartments for minimum cost and with adequate comfort. Usually there’s a separated living area and a kitchenette.  For a week, a month or longer, you’ll find discounted rates versus hotels, but you’ll often be located near office parks, in the ‘burbs. Big cities now often offer glam apartment hotels in city center for stays of a month or more.

    At any lodging, if you mention when booking that you’re interested in a discount for a long stay, you’ll often get it. Offer, as a last resort, to take a room or suite that would remains empty otherwise. When I stayed for six weeks in the Philippines, I got a great deal at a hotel near the airport.

    Renting/Leasing
    Whether a room or a villa, if you rent for awhile, you’ll probably get a better deal than at a hotel. You can find lists of rentals on websites like craigslist. And if you wait till you arrive, at airports and railroad stations. At ferry stations, renters will often meet the boats.

    My suggestion is to check carefully before saying “yes.” Check the bathrooms, the hot water, the lighting, the bed, the linens. Clean and simple are fine. And you should be near restaurants and in a safe neighborhood. Are you able to do some cooking yourself? Walk around? Are you near public transport, shops, entertainment? Is the setting attractive?

    When I lived in London for a year I rented a house near a tube station, 20 minutes north of the city. Got a better deal and more space, but I was still close-in.

    Time Shares
    When buying a timeshare, you can choose to return for a week or a month to your own place, or choose to swap for another place around the world. Ideal for those who don’t want to commit totally.

    Home Stays
    When other lodgings are few, you can often be part of a real home scene. I did this on the Isle of Skye in Scotland when I stayed in the former boys room in the house of the Laird of the McDonald clan. He wore a kilt and had a blonde wife who gave cooking classes. But home stays vary from low-down to high-end. Be especially careful to check out the surroundings, but these may be the only options if you go far afield..

    Home Swaps
    Don’t mind opening your place to others? Is it desirable? Then you may be able to swap lodgings. Paris? Hong Kong? Your South Florida condo may seem a great deal to someone out there. Just consider working through an agency, to be sure.

    Getting Around -- Slowly

    Like to cruise, but don’t want to be in port for only a few hours? Consider a freighter, which may stay at offbeat ports for days, loading and unloading cargo. Many freighters offer basic, comfortable space for about a dozen passengers Accommodations and schedules may be quirky and you’ll be at the whim of commerce. But if you have months rather than weeks to travel, you can enjoy this slow travel on the high seas, and make some new friends on the adventure.

    Or try a barge, where you float along rivers and canals more slowly than with other water travel; you can often go slowly enough to bike along paths and stay with the barge.

    Ferries are fab for slow travel. If you’re on a cruise ship, you have to leave a port after about a day, but many island/coastal areas offer ferry service to locals, and you’ll be able to stay as long as you wish, wherever you dock. Greece and Alaska ferry systems, and Norwegian coastal mailboats and fjord ferries are just a few good options.

    Railpass The Oriental express and Scottish Highlander are two luxury options. But Britrail and Eurail offer passes which allow you to get on and off, and take it slow, at a discount.

    Car
    Stay or go, slow or slower. A car is freedom to do as you wish. And if you really want maximum freedom, skip the driver and do it yourself.
     

    Bike. Today, groups do the lugging and you can enjoy the exercise, with luxury meals and top-notch inns,

    Walk
    No slower way to travel, and no better to get to know a place.
    For more info on slow travel, google any of the above categories for numerous websites, or check out www.slowtrav.com

    Favorite Hubs for Slow Travel, with Some Nearby Attractions

    I’ve slow-traveled in these cities/regions. Depending on the time period, I sometimes stayed in one place; other times, traveled around. Add your own favorites; slow-go—but in any case, do go!
    Amsterdam: Leiden, Haarlem
    Barcelona: Andorra
    Brussels:  Bruges, Ghent, Waterloo
    Cape Cod: towns, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket
    Rome, Italy: Etruscan tombs, Appian Way, ancient port of Citte
    Shanghai:  Suzhau, the city of gardens; Hangshou, the Lake City
    Sorrento, Italy: Naples, Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast
    Paris: Versailles, Giverny (Monet’s homes and garden)
    NYC: Long Island beaches, Hudson Valley
    Florence: Tuscan villages, wine country
    Vienna: woods and wine towns
    Marrakesh: desert villages, Atlas mountains,
    SF: Marin County, Carmel
    LA: Palm Springs, San Diego, Santa Barbara
    LV: Death Valley, northern Nevada, mining towns
    Hawaiian Islands: any or all
    Milan: Italian Lakes: Como,  Maggiori, Guarda
    Madrid: Toledo, and other regional towns
    Perugia: Orvieto, Assissi and other Umbrian towns
    Provence: Cannes, Nice, wine and art villages above the coast
    Italian Coast: Genoa, Cinque Terre, Rapallo, Portofino
    Salzburg: Lake District
    Any small country

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    Four Benefits of Joining a Group Tour

    The concept of couples seems seared into our genetic coding. But sometimes we single folks want to take that exotic journey even though we can’t find someone to travel with.

    Asia Transpacific Journeys (http://www.AsiaTranspacific.com), a US-based Asia travel and tour operator, suggests that solo travelers join a small group tour.

    “Traveling on a group program can provide another layer of support and assistance for all travelers, but for those going solo it also means joining others with whom you have a lot in common right off the bat” says Marilyn Downing Staff, Founder and President. She suggests considering the following:

    • Destinations off-the-beaten-path can work better in a small group program, where logistics and language barriers can be daunting to the solo traveler.

    • Visiting large, expansive countries such as China, India and Mongolia -- with cross-country flight travel -- can often be easier with a group than trying to book the same or similar trip on your own.

    • Groups often include solos who travel without their spouse or partner.

    • The camaraderie and support of a small group often facilitates wonderful exchanges, both within the group members and with the locals..

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    A Sampling of Western Sicily

    The history and traditions of Western Sicily date back 2000 years. A visit to the magnificent ruins of the Greek temples at Segesta and Selinunte is like diving into the past, while Erice offers the charm of the Medieval period and is, at the same time, a meeting point for scientists from all over the world. The magic island of Mozia and the salinas (salt pans) of Infersa complete the panorama of hidden treasures in Western Sicily.
     
    Mozia, a magical island
    The small island is the site of a very ancient Punic settlement. The ancient historians tell of the siege and destruction of the settlement by Dionysius of Syracuse, in 397 B.C. Following the ruthless military operation, the surviving inhabitants fled to the main island of Sicily, where they founded Lilibeo, the present-day Marsala. The island of Mozia covers 45 hectares (about 100,000 acres), facing the salinas (salt pans), and is completely flat, with fertile soil and an excellent climate.

    The oldest remains were discovered during the excavations carried out by the English owner, Joseph Whitaker, in the early years of the twentieth century, and consist of warehouses used for commercial trade, necropolises and votive sanctuaries. In addition to remains from the old and new excavations, the Whitaker museum is home to the beautiful statue of the Charioteer being crowned with laurel, which was discovered in a kiln a short distance away.

    The island, which is situated about a kilometre from the coast, can be reached by means of a pleasant boat trip lasting about half an hour.
     
    The majestic city of Selinunte
    Selinunte was a colonial city in Magna Grecia (650 – 409 B.C.) and was later an important trading centre for the nearby Phoenician city of Carthage in North Africa. The remains of four Greek temples can be seen in the Acropolis area and another three temples are situated on the western hill. A fifth temple was built on the Acropolis by the Carthaginians.

    A strong terraced wall beneath the Acropolis is all that now remains of the important defence system, which is striking for its geometric regularity. Apart from this unusual Greek and Punic mix that is a feature of the ancient settlement at Selinunte, there is the extraordinary scenic setting of the nearby Cusa Caves, the site where the Selinuntines used ingenious technology to extract enormous blocks of stone, still visible today, to construct the temples.
     
    From the past to the future: from Segesta to Erice

    Situated on Monte Barbaro at 304 metres above sea level, Segesta, like Erice, was founded by the Elymian people (13th century B.C.). During the Hellenistic period it was allied with Athens, and was later subject to Carthage for a short period; after the Punic wars it acquired great importance and prosperity as a civitas libera romana (Roman free city) through its control of the nearby port, the present-day Castellammare del Golfo. The Temple in Doric style dates from 460 A.D., while amid the ruins of the ancient city nearby, visitors can admire the Greek amphitheatre, which faces onto a majestic panorama; plays are staged in these impressive surroundings every summer. Archaeological excavations are still underway to bring to light even more of the long history of this fascinating place
     
    Erice, situated at 750 metres above sea level, is now a charming medieval town with an inviting romantic walk to the Castello di Venere (castle of Venus), which houses the Altar to Venus Erycina from the 13th century B.C. Here there is an amazing view over almost the entire province of Trapani. This small town, which once extended as far as Monreale, is the home of the Ettore Majorana Centre of Scientific Culture, a place for meetings and encounters between scientists from all over the world.
     
    The Kempinski Hotel Giardino di Costanza
    is in the province of Trapani, not far from Mazara del Vallo and easily reached from Palermo airport in less than one hour by motorway. Its “Hidden Treasures” package includes: 2 nights in a double De Luxe room with views over the countryside; buffet breakfast; one three-course dinner (drinks excluded) by candlelight in our Dubbesi restaurant; use of the pool, sauna, and gym; a private car with driver for a maximum of eight hours; shuttle service to and from our private beach (from May to September). Prices for the entire package for two people start from 1,282 euros and are valid for the whole of 2007. www.kempinski-sicily.com

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    Experts' Quickie Advice on Traveling Alone

    The Solo Lady was quoted as a solo travel expert in an article appearing on cnn.com, complied by Heather Eng:


    (Budget Travel Online) -- People who have experience traveling alone share some tips for doing it right.
    Packing "If it's your first time traveling alone, remember that you'll be carrying your own bags. Pack stuff that can do double duty: I've used a velour dress as a towel but also dressed it up with a blouse and belt to dine out." --Diane Redfern, founder of Connecting: Solo Travel Network
    Approachability "You may not meet people if you're listening to an iPod. So many people have started a conversation while I was reading or sitting alone. But they wouldn't have done that if I were plugged into an iPod." --Doug Lansky, The Rough Guide: First-Time Around the World.
    Lodging "Hotels in remote locations, while romantic for couples, aren't great for people on their own. Instead, stay in areas that get lots of foot traffic, where there's lots to do." --Teresa Rodriguez Williamson, Fly Solo: The 50 Best Places on Earth for a Girl to Travel Alone
    Staying in touch "Text-messaging is great for avoiding loneliness. I texted my wife from atop Mount Kilimanjaro, and she wrote me back right away." --Donovan Pacholl, adventure-travel specialist, BootsnAll Travel Network
    Safety "When making plans with new acquaintances, go for coffee -- and say you're meeting friends afterward, so you have a reason to leave. Before heading out, tell the hotel's front desk where you're going and when to expect you back. Leave a note in your room, so if something happens to you, there's evidence detailing where you went." --Tammy Weiler, founder, Singles Travel International
    Dining "Eat at a restaurant bar or a diner counter. Singles usually dine there, and you're likely to chat with the workers. Cafés and B&Bs with meals at shared tables also provide an opportunity to interact." -- Beth Whitman, Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo
    Cruises "Choose a cruise with assigned dinner seating because you're guaranteed to meet people. Also, take organized excursions. They're safer than going off on your own, and you don't have to worry about missing the ship if something happens. And show pictures of your dog. You think I'm kidding, but it works!" --Rick White, founder, SoloCruiser.com

    Instant glamour "Sunglasses are a great prop. When you wear them indoors, people see you in a different light because you look mysterious. Sunglasses are also great for people-watching discreetly and avoiding eye contact with folks you don't want to engage." --Lea Lane, Solo Traveler: Tales and Tips for Great Trips.

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    A Taste of The Venice-Simplon Orient Express

    by Lea Lane

    Want to experience one of the greatest trains in the world, The Venice-Simplon Orient Express? Think it's too expensive? Well, maybe if you train all the way from London to Istanbul it would be out of your price range. But if you want the experience the ultimate in train travel without shelling out the big bucks you can do what I did. Take a taste!

    The luxury train offers many daytrips in Great Britain. I left from Victoria Station in London, late morning, heading to the Orient Express' first stop, a few hours eastward: the resort town of Folkeston on the English channel. Most of the passengers were continuing on to France, through the Chunnel, but I was happy enjoying my delicious daytrip.

    The Orient Express luncheon car recreates the elegance of the 1920s, with rich woods, plush fabric and carved detailing. At each seat is a fully set reserved table, with linens, crystal and silverware. A fine, gourmet lunch with champagne and wines is served by gloved waiters on the way to the coast. And a high English tea with sandwiches, scones and pastries is set before you on your return to London.

    While in Folkestone I strolled around the seaside a couple of hours, enjoying the fresh air, bright flowers and turn-of-the-century architecture, then reboarded the train, returning to London in the late afternoon. A bus shuttles you to and from the train, if you want.

    What a marvelous way to enjoy the English countryside-- eatmg well, relaxing, and experiencing the magic of the Orient Express. I can only imagine how fabulous it would be to take the train all the way through Europe!

    Further info: www.orient-express.com

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    What's Doing Down Under?
    An Australian/New Zealand Sampler

    by Janet Rodgers

    Cook
    Award-winning chef, Elise Pascoe is an international star chef and teacher at five-star hotels in Europe, North America and Mexico including Venice's Gritti Palace Hotel, Rome's Grand Hotel, and The Phoenician in Arizona.  She has become the most popular “food ambassador” of Australian products over the last decade.

    Her International Cooking School, a gorgeous two-hour drive from downtown Sydney, is set in the sea-side town of Kiama, high on the north side of Saddleback Mountain with breathtaking views of lush dairy country and virgin rain forest.

    Click on www.cookingschool.com.au/ for full details.

    Hike
                …all the way from Katherine Gorge to Edith Falls Australia’s Northern Territory.  The 66-kilometer (41-mile) hike wends through many of the 13 gorges along the Jatbula Trail and requires both an adventurous spirit and strong muscles as well.  Water and simple camping sites are available en route.
    http://www.krta.com.au/

    Ride
    Snowy River Horseback Adventures in New South Wales can make a dream come true if your dream includes riding.  From October to May they escort small groups (12 max.) on 2 to 5-day horse riding treks through the high country of the magnificent Snowy Mountains.  Not totally rough.  Amenities include soft beds, hot showers, good food and wine, and an authentic oilskin coat.  And for bragging rights alone: how many of your friends will also be able to boast of having seen Mt. Terrible?
    http://www.snowyriverhorsebackadventure.com.au/

    Study
    The Undersea Explorer takes small groups of divers, snorkelers and researchers out to the remote Great Ribbon Reef with professional guides for six-day trips to swim with (!!) and study the adorable 20-foot long, five-ton young female Dwarf Minke Whale who will perform water ballets, vertically, on their tails, amidst millions of bubbles.  (Performance schedule unpredictable.)

    Their quote:
                “Seeing a whale from above the water is amazing, seeing a whale whilst in the water with it is incredible, close and prolonged eye contact with a whale is a lifetime experience, and eyeballing a whale while its vocalisations reverberate through your chest is as good as it gets!”
    http://www.undersea.com.au/

    Deliver mail
    Desert Diversity Tours delivers mail through the vast, odd territory known as the Outback in South Australia.  The one-day run (by 4-wheel jeep) starts in the opal mining town of Coober Pedy and bumps along through the historic towns of Oodnadatta to William Creek, passing cattle stations and farms. This is the chance of a lifetime to also see ancient marine-fossils in the inland sea bed, today called the Moon Plains -- a gold mine to all paleontologists, budding and professional.
    http://www.desertdiversity.com/mail.htm

    Tired yet? How about a dig-it-yourself spa?
    Originally discovered by Captain James Cook in 1769, and today cited as one of the top beaches in the world, Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula of New Zealand’s North Island is geo-thermally busy.  For two hours before and after low tide, you can create your own personal spa pool by digging in the sand for hot spring water.  As the tide comes in, cooler waves trickle over the hot pools.  Hot Water Beach is also popular with surfers. Click http://www.thecoromandel.com/  and look for Mercury Bay.

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    Travel with Your Pet? You Bet!
    by Lea Lane

    Want to roam the world with Fido? (Kitty may be tougher; find a good sitter or cattery, as most cats don’t enjoy moving around unless it’s to a familiar second home, or such.).

    The Travel Industry Association (TIA) reports that about 15 percent of us travel with pets – around 40 million households. And solo travelers, especially, enjoy the company of four-legged companions.

    Size matters
    On the road a small pet can be more fun, with less effort. I place my cat Sweetie in front of my seat on a plane in a special soft carrier bag, twice a year. Most airlines allow several pets in a cabin for each flight, but they must remain in their bags, and you’ll need to reserve and pay a fee of at least $50, one-way. Check rules, too.

    Many lodgings only allow pets less than 20 pounds. So if you travel lots and have a Yorkie or Maltese, you’re in luck.  If Hamlet, the Great Dane, is already a member of your family, to be is probably not to be – unless you’re staying on the road. (You could go the RV or camping route with a big dog—but hey, this is your vacation. Is that what you really want to do?)

    One Fido is enough
    Many lodgings won’t allow more than one pet, and can you blame them? And having to deal with eight-legs and two black noses can be a bit much even for seasoned travelers.

    Know your puppy’s personality.
    Retrievers are gentle but rambunctious; chihuhuas are tiny but trembly. If your dog tends to act out, run away, shiver or bark a lot, think twice before booking a ticket. You expect a “time-out” from a terrier who’s wired to run and yap.

    Learn transport info
    I once lost my poodle, Apricot, when Delta airlines said he had never been placed in  cargpo on a flight from Miami to New York. Seems they overlooked him de-planing, and Apricot flew on to Hawaii! He was returned a day later, dazed, and seemed to have had enough of tropical paradises, thank you very much.

    To avoid my predicament, check the pet travel guidelines posted online by the Air Transport Association, www.airtransport.org. As for cars, use the same sorts of caution as you would with a child—lots of breaks, no leaving the pet in a closed car, water available. You know. Buses, trains and cruise ships don’t encourage pets, although the Queen Mary 2 has luxury kennels.
     
    Choose pet-friendly accommodations
    Some of the world’s ritziest lodgings cater to travelers with pets. Pet-friendly chains include Four Seasons, Starwood, Hilton, Loews, Sheraton, Marriott, Holiday Inn and Ramada. Many other hotels and B&Bs and inns will also welcome Fido, knowing how many of us bring pets along. Even if you find accommodations on a pet-friendly list, be sure to double check. And be prepared to stay on a pet floor or in a pet-designated room.

    Nowadays many places go all out to provide VIP doggy delights. Many offer bowls, treats and walking areas., and some go all out. The St. Regis hotel in LA offers Fido a customized mahogany bed with down pillows, and special poolside lounges. Las Ventanas al Paraiso in Los Cabos Mexico offer special patios and doggy massages, a dog cabana and full-time chef for custom meals. Go know.

    Dine with doggy
    At cafes and restaurants with open-air dining areas, Fido may be a welcome guest, under the table. So if you want to dine with your pet, sit al fresco and enjoy. Room service and picnicking are other options. Overseas, dining rules are sometimes more lax. Do bring your dog’s favorite food and bowl, and consider bottled water, wherever you eat. Doggie tummies can get turista too. And on that note, prepare for pooper-scooping at all times, and think ahead for doggy relief areas.

    Prepare for pitfalls.
    Dogs can be great travel companions, who don’t hog the sheets and insist on pay-per view, but they sometimes slobber, sniff, chew, and pass gas at the wrong place and time. (Then again, so do two-legged companions.) You do have to walk them, get someone to do it, or cross your fingers with newspaper spread on the floor. You may have to pay a lodging deposit for damages -- and you may lose it. Your entertainment, or lack thereof, may be subject to Fido’s needs.

    Download info on pet quarantine, and health requirements: www.aphis.gov; www.customs.gov; and www.state.gov. All offer info about traveling with pets, when requested. And you can always google “pets/travel.”

    And, this, from The New York Times:

    If you do choose to fly, Kim Salerno, president and founder of Trips With Pets, has some tips. “It’s recommended that you book a nonpeak flight,” she said, “which means typically less passengers and more cabin room. Less people means less stress on you and your pet.”

    She also noted that owners should have a travel label on the pet carrier and travel ID tags on the pet with the details of your final destination. Keep in mind, said Gayle Martz, founder and president of Sherpa’s Pet Trading Company and author of “No Pet Left Behind” (Thomas Nelson), that there are certain times of year when you won’t be able to fly with your pet unless it’s small enough to travel inside the cabin with you. “It’s too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer,” she said.

    So be sure to consult the airline; most have special staff to facilitate pet arrangements. In addition, organizations like the International Air Transportation Association (www.iata.org) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (www.avma.org) offer pointers on their Web sites.

    Although car trips require less paperwork, owners still need to prepare their pets for a long journey. “If your dog or cat gets anxious driving around town and you want to get them to be comfortable, start putting a crate in your house with their favorite things in there,” Ms. Salerno suggested. “Once they have a comfort level with the crate, put it in the car and let them go in it in the car. Then the next step is to drive around the block and gradually increase the duration of travel.”

    Ms. Martz agreed. “It’s all association and taking the time with them,” she said. “If you put them in a bag and take them to the vet for a shot, they’re going to associate the bag with an unpleasant experience.” Instead, put your animal in its crate or bag and drive it to the park or a dog run.

    Once you arrive at your vacation home, take the same time and care to acclimate the pet to its surroundings. Bringing a few comfort items, like its bed or favorite toys, will ease the transition. “It’s just like bringing kids,” Dr. Walter said. “You bring something that’s familiar from home.”

    The one new thing you should secure is a local vet, and you should provide that vet with health records (especially if the animal is older or chronically ill) or your home vet’s contact information, just in case the two need to connect.

    “Like with people, the stress of travel can lower your immune system,” Dr. Walter said. One of the most common ailments she sees falls under the umbrella of what she terms “dietary indiscretion.” So be sure to keep an eye on your pet’s “alternative” snacking habits and check with your neighbors about any toxic plants that may grow in the area. Then simply give your furry friends time to adjust. Don’t leave them alone right away and risk their wrath, which may be shown through inappropriate elimination or sudden shyness.

    “It sounds dorky, but giving them a tour and showing them where their litter box or bed is — that goes a long way,” Dr. Walter said. “And then just being around. I think most animals appreciate being around their people. I don’t think they care where they are.”

    _____

    A Few of My Favorite (Travel) Things

    by Lea Lane

    I've been around a bit (over 120 countries) and I know what I like. The range is wide. I will be adding here (ongoing, as I think of them) many of the special big and small experiences, places, things and destinations that have especially appealed to me over the years. And as a solo traveler these treats are really special.

    River Cruises -- I've taken many of them. In Russia from St. Petersburg to Moscow; France, on the Rhone and Soane; along the Danube to Bulgaria; on the Rhine and Moselle, from Germany to the Netherlands. I find river cruises an exceptional way to relax, get a feel for the countries, enjoy good food and meet interesting people. Plus, you avoid the hassles of the road, and only unpack once. Most river cruises stay in ports at least a day and you can take guided tours or go off on your own. You are usually near the heart of a city. My favorite line is Peter Deillmann, but check out all.

    Balconies on Cruise Ships -- While I might get a smaller cabin, I'll always spring for the balcony. Stepping out on your own space on a moonlit night (in the nude or whatever) and listening in peace to the slap of the waves and feeling the breezes is simply divine.

    Views -- I like to open a window and see something special. You don't have to have a fancy room. Just be sure you specify when you book. Otherwise, you might as well be home. A view punctuates your experience, whether it's while you are dining, standing at a scenic point or sitting in your guestroom.

    Talking to Locals -- Chatting people up, you'll find out the real deal. How they feel about America (eek), what they really eat for breakfast, how old women typically are when they marry--whatever you're curious about, and the things you won't find in guidebooks. I prefer talking to locals rather than tourist-oriented staffs and shopkeepers. I sometimes just stand around by a bus stop (daytime, in a safe area) and choose my prey. And waiters make great talking companions.

    Eating Typical Cuisine in Typical Surroundings -- I try to have at least one meal at a local place, preferably one with charm and decent food. I'll try almost anything, if I see others eating it, and it looks and smells ok.

    Cooling Off in Cathedrals. Amazing how they have natural air con. Plus lots of seating, gorgeous artsworks, and great people-watching. Perfect for a break, especially if there's a choir or organ concert.

    Visiting Great Hotels. You don't have to stay to enjoy. Sit in the lobby or garden. Have a drink or tea or meal. One of my faves is the Sofitel Grand in Amsterdam, the former city hall.

    The "Front of the Plane." I don't often travel that way, but when the flight is long, it's worth the Frequent Flyer upgrades, or even the $$. On a recent Qantas flight to Australia I managed to sleep nine hours in a comfy bed, flying over the ocean. Try for this experience -- at least once.

    Travel Assistance . Whether I solo or go with others, I feel safe and secure with assistance to cover my trip and my health. It's not expensive, considering you get complete security, including evacuation. I use On Call International.

    Gay Cruises. If you're traveling solo, think of trying an RSVP tour/trip. You'll be doted upon by most of the gay guys and feel ageless and safe. I just did it and loved it (even though I'm straight).

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    Traveling Alone: State Department Advice

    Increasing numbers of Americans travel abroad - especially women traveling alone either for business or pleasure.

    Each country and culture has their own views of appropriate behavior for women. Although you may not agree with these views, it is wise to abide by the local laws and customs to avoid problems. Please become familiar with the laws and customs of the places where you wish to go. For example:

    It is illegal in Laos to invite Lao nationals of the opposite sex to one's hotel room.

    Foreigners in Saudi Arabia have been arrested in the past for "improper dress."

    Women traveling alone can be more vulnerable to problems in certain cultures. A brochure has been prepared by the U.S. State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs to provide general information for women traveling alone. Keeping in mind the following information can help make your trip as safe and rewarding as possible.

    Passports & Visas: Make sure your passport is still valid or apply for a new one long before you plan to travel. Make sure you have the right travel documents and visas for your destinations. For information on individual countries' entry and exit requirements, refer to our publication Foreign Entry Requirements.

    Your Destinations: Make an effort to learn about the locations you plan to visit, their culture, and any problems that might be occurring there.

    The Bureau of Consular Affairs constantly updates its published and on-line information to reflect developing situations in each country. http://travel.state.gov

    Many exciting and exotic destinations may have very conservative views about women. Being a foreigner makes you stand out; a woman traveling alone can be even more of an oddity in some places.

    What to Leave Behind: Leave a detailed itinerary and a copy of your passport's identification page with a friend or relative at home. Include names, addresses and telephone numbers where you will be staying. Leave a copy of your flight and ticket information with them as well.

    You may wish to establish certain check in dates when you will either call, e-mail, fax, etc. to let someone know that you are all right. But remember that if you happen to miss a check-in, your loved ones may assume that you are having a problem or are in trouble.

    Leave any valuables, extra credit cards and jewelry - even fake jewelry - at home. Thieves often won't know the real from the fake until after they take it, so why risk your personal safety?

    Health: Make sure you have adequate health insurance coverage while abroad and that your coverage includes medical evacuations. Your policy might not cover you overseas and you may need to purchase traveler's insurance. See the publication Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad.

    If you have any condition that might develop complications- especially if you are pregnant, check with your doctor before you go abroad. If you experience complications, a medical evacuation might still take several precious hours to arrange.

    If you take prescription medication, make sure you have enough to last the duration of the trip, including extra medication in case you are delayed. Always carry your prescriptions in their labeled containers as many countries have strict narco-trafficking laws and might be suspicious of pills in unlabeled bottles. Bring your prescription information and the names of their generic equivalents with you just in case.

    Safety and Security: Use common sense and be alert and aware of your surroundings. If you are unsure in general about the local situation, feel free to check with the American Citizens Services section of the local U.S. Embassy or Consulate for the latest security information.

    Don't announce that you are traveling alone! Some guides for women even advise wearing a wedding ring if you're single. If you feel like you're being followed, step into a store or other safe place and wait to see if the person you think is following has passed. Do not be afraid or embarrassed to ask for someone to double check for you to see if all is safe. Display confidence. By looking and acting as if you know where you're going, you may be able to ward off some potential danger.

    Ask for directions before you set out. No matter how modest your lodgings are, your hotel concierge or other hotel staff should be able to help. If you find yourself lost, do not be afraid to ask for directions. Generally, the safest people to ask are families or women with children. Getting the right information may save you from ending up in a potentially unsafe area.

    Hotels: Choose a hotel where security is good and transportation is readily available and nearby. Check that all the doors and windows in your room have locks and that they work. If you feel uncomfortable, ask hotel security to escort you to and from parking lots or your room at night. Always use your peephole and common sense about letting strangers into your room.

    Clothing: There is no doubt that fashion makes a statement. Unfortunately, not everyone will interpret how you dress the same way you would. What you consider casual clothing might be seen as provocative or inappropriate in other cultures. Thieves might choose you over another potential target based on your style of dress or the amount of makeup or jewelry you are wearing. Other might single you out for harassment or even physical violence because they find your clothing offensive, based on their cultural norms. By taking your cues from local women, or at least by dressing conservatively, you could save yourself a great deal of trouble.

    _____

    Our SL Choice of World's Best Beaches

    Panama City, Fla. is located on the panhandle of northwest Florida on beautiful St. Andrews Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Panama City is known as a popular tourist location year round offering a comfortable climate and friendly atmosphere. It's known for its fishing and water sports, arts and entertainment.

    This is not Florida -- yet if brought here blindfolded, it would be hard to convince you otherwise. Floribama has white sand, blue water, heat, palm trees -- all the ingredients necessary for a subtropical experience are present -- but this is Gulf Shores, Alabama and it looks more like Florida than much of Florida.

    Turks and Caicos claims to be the home to the best beach in the world, breathtaking hues from inviting waters, and legendary diving, snorkeling and fishing. Just a short flight from the east coast of the U.S., the Turks and Caicos islands boast tropical relaxation, world class hotels, spas, and restaurants, as well as stretches of uncrowded beaches and vibrant coral reefs.

    Costa Rica is Central America's jewel. It's an oasis of calm, making it one of the best places to experience the tropics with minimal impact. It's also mostly coastline, which means great surfing, beaches galore and a climate built for lazing around.

    A 90-minute flight from Perth, Esperance is the last of Australia's unspoiled beaches and a haven for resort-weary travelers seeking a genuine brush with nature.

    The east coast of Tasmania has been a well-kept Aussie secret for some time -- and for good reason. Thanks to sheltering hills and warm offshore currents, it's the antipodean alternative to the Mediterranean, with one of the country's best year-round climates.

    How do you know when a destination hasn't been trammeled by Americans? When it's a challenge to find locals who speak English. Such is the charm of the Dominican Republic.

    For years, St. Lucia has been that charming out-of-the-way Caribbean island. It won't stay unspoiled for long.

    Visits to this Greek island by celebrities is a sure sign that this haven of P áros will be the next of the Cyclades to hit the big time.

    Zanzibar, an Indian Ocean island, 25 miles off the Tanzanian coast, is renowned for its historic 19th-century Stone Town and beautiful beaches.

    Like much of the sea pine-dotted coast within a few hours of Bangkok, Hua Hin started out as a little-known village where the only commuting involved the local fishermen sailing to and fro.

    For years, St. Lucia has been that charming out-of-the-way Caribbean island. It won't stay unspoiled for long.

    The Azores' easy access from Europe and the United States has recently brought an influx of luxury hotels.

    Visits to the Greek island of Antipodes by celebrities such as Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson and Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston (pre-breakup) are a sure sign that this haven off the coast of Páros will be the next of the Cyclades to hit the big time.

    Sri Lanka, an Indian Ocean island, 25 miles off the Tanzanian coast, is renowned for its historic 19th-century Stone Town and beautiful beaches.
    ____

    B&Bs: Girl-Getaways, Wired, Beachy, Green -- and, Best Deals!

    BedandBreakfast.com’s Top Ten Picks for Girlfriends’ Getaways

    Austin, TX – Each year women plan to love ‘em and leave ‘em; going where the boys aren't for a quick break from family and housekeeping responsibilities. Some call them adult slumber parties, most call them girlfriends’ getaways. Either way, women want to be spoiled and pampered, and they’re choosing B&Bs for the perfect girls’ getaway.

    BedandBreakfast.com innkeepers have posted nearly 130 girlfriends getaways in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. From customized shopping trips to spas, Feng Shui classes and pizza, PJs and Pictionary, these B&Bs offer creative itineraries for the sisterhood. For a complete list, visit www.BedandBreakfast.com and click the Girlfriends Getaways link on the home page. Below are some top picks from BedandBreakfast.com’s editors for girlfriends’ getaways that groove.

    Note: All packages include daily breakfast; unless otherwise specified, rates do not include local or state taxes and are for double occupancy. Packages cannot be combined with other promotions or discounts.

    The Ruby of Crested Butte, Crested Butte, CO: Cowgirls don’t get the blues here, when they arrive to find gift baskets filled with Boss Lady smokin' hot bath and body products and luxurious guest rooms. The day starts with a country gourmet breakfast and an adventurous day of horseback riding at Fantasy Ranch. A massage follows a day in the saddle, then fine dining out on the town and another perfect night sleep at the inn. The package, offered through October 5, 2008, starts at $450 per person including a two-night stay, gift basket, daily gourmet breakfasts, horseback riding, one-hour massage, and dinner at a Crested Butte restaurant.

    Avenue Inn B&B, New Orleans, LA: Here’s a guilt free way to love ‘em and leave ‘em in New Orleans. The “No-Guilt Weekend” package includes three nights’ accommodations in a guestroom with two full-size beds perfect for sharing with up to four girlfriends, continental breakfast, massage, manicure and pedicure at Belladonna day spa and salon (includes tax), $250 in Riverwalk Marketplace coupons, a welcome gift and map of the city, and antique shopping on Magazine Street complete with innkeeper Bebe’s best-kept secrets and bargain hunting advice. Additionally, two tickets for two for the Original Cocktail Walking Tour, two streetcar passes for unlimited riding to the French Quarter and all the exciting venues of the city are included in this package for $399 per person.

    Classic Rosewood, A Thorwood Property, Hastings, MI: Girlfriends will enjoy a choice of complimentary three P's (popcorn, Pictionary game, and pizza) or the three M's (manicure kit, chick flick movie, and facial masks) when six or more giggly girls of any age book two or more rooms here. Throughout the stay, breakfast is served according to your schedule, and 24-7 access to the pantry including hot and cold beverages, a bottomless cookie jar and ice cream are also featured. Rates are $97-$277.

    Black Sheep Inn, Hammondsport, NY: Grab a girlfriend and learn feng shui from a master practitioner as you use color to improve your life. Each day, you’ll spend time enjoying meals prepared with local and organic products, relax in nature and go home refreshed and peaceful while learning how to improve your life through feng shui. Your visit includes a two-night stay, indulgent organic breakfasts, a fireside dinner, a picnic lunch in the courtyard, and plenty of time with our Feng Shui practitioner, starting at $595 per person through 2008.

    Andon Reid Inn, Waynesville, NC: Call your girlfriends and plan a fitness getaway with two Certified Personal Trainers with 30 years of combined experience. Your trip will include two nights in a B&B with breathtaking views of the mountains, daily fitness routines and tips personalized to the interests and skills of the group. The package includes healthy daily breakfasts, daily workout sessions, nutritional tips, healthy snacks and a full body massage. Package rates start at $599 per person.

    Passages Inn, Gettysburg, PA: This inn and many area B&Bs offer Gettysburg Girlfriend Getaways TM for two to ten women. Topics include "Hearth & Home," focusing on Civil War era civilian life; and “Body & Soul," delving into Gettysburg's reputation for the paranormal and its active church legacy. Contact participating inns for more information and pricing.

    Look for nearly 130 girlfriends getaways on BedandBreakfast.com, the best resource for B&B “BFF getaways. BedandBreakfast.com is the leading online bed and breakfast directory and reservation network worldwide, listing nearly 7,000 B&Bs and inns. A variety of search functions and extensive maps enable inngoers to find the perfect B&B. Travelers can make reservations online, purchase The Getaway Gift Card from BedandBreakfast.com, welcomed at nearly 4,000 B&Bs in the U.S. and Canada, subscribe to free newsletters, read and write independent reviews, and post questions on expert-hosted message boards.

    Want to be wired? Stay here.

    Find a high-tech inn at www.BnBFinder.com/AdvancedSearch  or choose from BnBFinder.com top picks:

    Villa Saugerties, Saugerties, NY
    www.BnBFinder.com/VillaSaugerties  

    Considered “a modern country escape in the Catskills,” the Villa Saugerties offers you an outdoor adventure and keeps your laptop plugged in and online while you’re out. With these former Manhattanites as your innkeepers, you are sure to relish in modern conveniences while the serene setting lulls you into complete relaxation.

    Inn at Parkside, Sacramento, CA
    www.BnBFinder.com/Parkside  

    Step inside the Inn at Parkside and leave the hustle and bustle of downtown Sacramento at the door. All of the guestrooms at this chic and elegant boutique hotel and spa offer high-speed wireless internet, spa robes, DVD players with iPod docking stations and ensuite bathrooms. Some rooms also offer flat screen HDTV, fireplaces and spa tubs. Complete with gourmet breakfasts, Italian arias, and candlelit evenings, the Inn at Parkside is a magical experience that goes beyond lodging.

    The Mill House Inn, East Hampton, NY
    www.BnBFinder.com/MillHouseInn   

    When zipping away to the Hamptons for a quick weekend getaway, stay at the Mill House Inn, a 1790’s style inn that still allows you to ind! ulge in the modern world. Not able to bring your own computer? Use the guest computer to check your e-mail. Want to unwind after a grueling day on the beach? Spend a night in and catch a movie on the flat screen in your room, or plug in your ipod so you can listen to the music you like to relax to.

    Burlington’s Willis Graves Bed and Breakfast, Burlington, KY
    www.BnBFinder.com/WillisGraves  

    The town & country setting and atmosphere of Burlington’s Willis Graves Bed and Breakfast provides you with the comfort of whirlpool tubs and fireplaces as well as quick access to adventures in nearby metropolitan areas. Sit down with warm chocolate chip cookies that are left on your pillow every day and get some work done.

    Hit the beach for a fun-in-the-sun bed and breakfast getaway at the following. 

    Waldo Emerson Inn Bed and Breakfast
    Kennebunk, Maine

    www.BnBFinder.com/WaldoEmerson
    This New England inn is just blocks from Kennebunk Beach.  The historic inn used to be a ship builder's mansion and was once even owned by the family of Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Stroll to the beach and stop at shops and art galleries along the way, or use one of the inn's complimentary bikes to get there. Beach chairs and free parking passes are also provided for guests to use for their day at the beach.  

    WildSpring Guest Habitat
    Port Orford, Oregon

    www.BnBFinder.com/WildSpring
    WildSpring Guest Habitat is a small boutique resort overlooking the ocean in Port Orford, Oregon.  Walk to the ocean to search for sea treasures or whale watch over breakfast.  Located on five acres of secluded, naturally beautiful Native American grounds, WildSpring Guest Habitat overlooks Port Orford Bay. With its chocolate-colored sand, the bay is one of the most beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean in the U.S.

    Barclay Cottage Bed and Breakfast
    Virginia Beach, Virginia
    www.BnBFinder.com/BarclayCottage
    Just one of only two remaining Victorian cottages at the Virginia Beach oceanfront, Barclay Cottage will be your home away from home at the beach.  Only a couple of blocks to the ocean and the exciting resort area, Barclay Cottage is just minutes from the wide sandy beach and boardwalk. Within a short walk you will find over 20 restaurants, shopping, the Virginia Beach Fishing Pier and Old Coast Guard Station.  Complimentary beach chairs, umbrellas, towels and boogie boards are also available for guests during their stay.  

    Beachfront Bed & Breakfast
    St. Augustine, Florida

    www.BnBFinder.com/Beachfront
    Submerge yourself in the beach front! Not on! ly is th e Beachfront Bed & Breakfast literally steps away from the magnificent white sands of St. Augustine Beach, but each guest room features ocean, dune or garden views.  Enjoy spectacular sunrises and stunning ocean views, the heated oceanfront pool and Jacuzzi, or take it easy in the over sized hammock.  The boardwalk over the dunes transports you from the wide sandy beach and sparkling surf to the oceanfront Beach House.  Bikes, beach chairs, umbrellas and boogie boards are all available for guest use for an enjoyable time.

    Old Yacht Club Inn
    Santa Barbara, California

    www.BnBFinder.com/OldYachtClub
    Experience turn-of-the-century charm by the sea at the Santa Barbara Old Yacht Club Inn.  Located within a block of beautiful East Beach, the inn provides beach chairs and towels for guests. East Beach has been rated as one of the world's ten best beaches and is clean and safe for swimming.  The beach way runs next to the beach and is a great place to run, walk, or bike for several miles and the long, wide beach offers a large area for dining, sunning, beach volleyball, and swimming.

    Coastal Dreams Bed & Breakfast
    Galveston, Texas
    www.BnBFinder.com/CoastalDreams
    Pack your bags and hit the beach.  Coastal Dreams will provide you with all your beach necessities...chairs, towels, umbrellas, sun screen and bottled water.  You can even order a ! picnic l unch to take with you for the day.  Enjoy a leisurely walk to Galveston's 32 mile long beach and be sure to also check out the area's popular East Beach and Stewart Beach for live music, miniature golf and drive-in movies.

    SPECIALPACKAGE ECO-ESCAPES AND GREEN GETAWAYS
    http://www.bedandbreakfast.com/Specials.aspx?ctx=ecoescapes

    Villa Pape, Trogir, Croatia: Stay for three and more nights at this eco-conscious inn, use public transportion or walk at least one whole day instead using a car and 20-percent will be deducted from your meal when you dine at the Villa Pape. Be sure to show proof of eco-friendly transportation to receive your discount

    BEDANDBREAKAST.COM HOT DEALS
    http://www.bedandbreakfast.com/HotDeals.aspx?ctx=S

    Retailers hold January sales, but BedandBreakfast.com Hot Deals guarantee sales on fabulous B&B getaways every week of the year. Travelers can sign up for free BedandBreakfast.com Hot Deals emails featuring a variety of special offers -- all 20% or more off regular rates -- making last-minute travel planning both easy and affordable, romantic and relaxing. Each Wednesday, subscribers are treated to a variety of special deals in the states where they most enjoy traveling. Can't wait until Wednesday? Check online any day for full details at http://www.bedandbreakfast.com/HotDeals.aspx?ctx=S.

    For a complete list of specials offered by BedandBreakfast.com members visit www.BedandBreakfast.com. BedandBreakfast.com is the leading online bed and breakfast directory and reservation network worldwide, listing more than 7,000 B&Bs and inns. A variety of search functions and extensive maps enable inngoers to find the perfect B&B. Travelers can make reservations online, purchase The Getaway Gift Card from BedandBreakfast.com, welcomed at nearly 4,000 B&Bs in the U.S. and Canada, subscribe to free newsletters, read and write independent reviews, and post questions on expert-hosted message boards. To view BedandBreakfast.com’s video library, visit http://www.youtube.com/user/BedandBreakfastcom. For great B&B story ideas and to view BedandBreakfast.com’s press release archives, go to http://www.bedandbreakfast.com/about/pressRoom.aspx.

    Additionally, for information on a range of independently-owned distinctive lodging, visit BedandBreakfast.com's sister site, www.Inns.com.

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    http://t7.mailperf.com/r3.aspx?gv1=xE46bu4YV3Oc1aTkASP0 Guadaloupe and Martinique: Jewels of the Caribbean


    Guadaloupe: Beaches and Sugar Cane

    Located in the French Caribbean, Guadeloupe is actually two islands that are narrowly separated by a sea strait known as the Salée River.
     
    Grande Terre, on the eastern side, has beautiful white-sand beaches that surround vast fields of sugarcane and tropical fruits. Basse Terre, to the west, is mountainous and covered with a lush tropical rainforest.
     
    The smaller islands of Les Saintes, Marie-Galante and La Désirade sit to the south with St. Martin and St. Barthelemy a bit further to the north.
     
    Along with many water sports and seaside activities, Guadeloupe offers exciting eco-tourism adventures that include hikes to the top of the still-active volcano, La Soufrière. With over 200 marked trails, nature enthusiasts can venture under the forest's canopy, over suspension bridges and through luxurious vegetation to towering waterfalls, grassy wetlands and mangrove-covered coastlines.

     
    In the port city of Pointe-à-Pitre, the Darse open-air market is always bustling and is great place to find local crafts and specialties. The place de la Victoire is lined with Creole houses, 100-year old royal palms, cafés and small shops. The lively nightlife is centered around the Marina where bars and restaurants line the waterfront.
     
    The people of Guadeloupe are proud of their cultural heritage and traditions. Music and dance reflect their African and European origins and a large number of festivals are held throughout the year. Carnival has been celebrated since the 17th century and the Cooks Festival features the excellent cuisine of the island.  Cod fish fritters, Creole black pudding, poached crayfish and conch are among Guadeloupe's signature dishes.

     
    For a quieter, hidden-away stay, the off-islands of Les Saintes, La Désirade and Marie-Galante can be reached by ferry or plane. These charming islands offer fishing villages, old windmills, friendly people and simple fare.
     
    Though some 150 miles to the north, St. Martin and St. Barthélémy are officially under the administrative jurisdiction of Guadeloupe.St. Martin is the smallest island in the world ruled by two countries, France and the Netherlands.The story goes that Frenchman started walking from the north and the Dutchman from the south where they met became the international boundary. The island boasts beautiful beaches and fine French restaurants.

    St. Barthélémy, or St. Bart, is considered to be one of the chicest islands in the world. This long-time hotspot for the rich and famous only covers eight square miles, but is the place to rent an upscale villa or small beach-front hotel.

    ***

     http://t7.mailperf.com/r3.aspx?gv1=xE467lKhu3Oc1aTkASP0Martinique: Lush and Lovely
    Martinique, a Caribbean island with a strong French history and culture, finds roots in Creole joie de vivre -- the excellence of its cuisine, the beauty of its landscape.  Martinique's history -- rich in romance, drama and tragedy -- and its warm and inviting citizens with their lust for life, make a visit a truly memorable experience.
     
    Touring the Island

    Book a tour or hire a taxi at the pier.  Most drivers speak some English.  Driving north from the city, you see old wooden structures give way to modern suburbs with sleek apartments and office buildings.  After the town of Schoelcher, the road climbs steeply, edging the sea, then twists and turns through picture-postcard villages like Case-Pilote and Bellefontaine.Le Carbet is next on the itinerary. 

    This is where Columbus landed in 1502, discovering Martinique on his fourth trip to the Americas.  It is also near here, in Turin Cove, where Gauguin lived and painted for five months in 1887.  His home was a hut built in the shadows of an old viaduct.  Today you will find a museum honoring the great artist with displays of his memorabilia and reproductions of his Martinique works. 

    Just outside Carbet, on a long beach below the St-Pierre highway, there is a tiny spot called La Datcha, a simple bar-restaurant, one of many in the area.  Have a quick swim and quench your thirst with a cooling planteur or a potent punch, both concocted of local rum.  Follow this with a house specialty -- freshly caught langouste, or lobster, boiled or broiled -- and the euphoria is complete.  That is, until you enter St-Pierre itself, nestled under towering, cloud-shrouded Mt.-Pelée.
     

    f

    Eruption

    The town has a sobering feeling.  It was once a cultivated city of 30,000 until the morning of May 8, 1902, when Mt. Pelée suddenly erupted in an avalanche of fire, gas, and molten rock.  Three minutes later, the little "Paris of the West Indies" was a New World Pompeii, with all its inhabitants dead, but one - a prisoner named Auguste Cyparis who was jailed in an above-ground dungeon and survived to become a Barnum & Bailey Circus curiosity.

    Today, about 8,000 people live in St-Pierre, now designated an official "City of Art and History" by the French Government.  A small museum houses dramatic relics of the tragedy: unrecognizable forms of familiar objects, such as fantastically shaped glassware and distorted clocks melted by the heat, all stopped at the fatal hour of 8. Inaugurated on February 7, 2004, the "Centre de Découverte des Sciences de la Terre" is also located in St.-Pierre.  In the garden area a memorial to the 28,000 victims of the 1902 Mt.-Pelée volcano eruption can be visited.  A serene Pelée now sits under the blue sky as though nothing had ever happened. 
     
    The return drive from St-Pierre is inland, first leading northeast to cool-aired Morne Rouge, then to La Trace, the spectacular route south through a tropical rain forest.  The road, bordered by plunging valleys, has hairpin curves and writhes past lime, banana and breadfruit trees.  There is a nice surprise at the last point before journey's end -- a miniature version of the famous Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Paris.

    Sightseeing in Fort de France

    Back in the capital, stroll around the green Savane, people-watch from a terrace cafe, or wander the busy little balconied streets, lined with boutiques, restaurants, and pastry shops.  Stop to visit the Schoelcher Library.  Named for Victor Schoelcher, the abolitionist, this gem of rococo-style architecture was built for the Paris Exposition of 1889 and reassembled here shortly after.
     
    On other half-day tours, one can visit the birthplace of Napoleon's Empress Josephine near Trois-Ilets, called La Pagerie.  Its museum, once the family kitchen, showcases mementos of the Creole Queen including a passionate letter from the lovelorn Emperor dated 1796.
     
    d Attractions in the south include Le Marin, with a top notch marina and plenty of restaurants. Not far away is Ste-Anne, renowned for its beaches, notably the Plage des Salines.  This quiet and pretty village has lots of good dining spots, a tree-shaded main square that is typically small-town French, boats galore, and a pier where one can board the Aquascope for tours of the island's underwater world.
     
     Full-Day Tour

    Since the landmass of Martinique is 425 square miles (50 miles long and 22 miles wide), there is an incredible wealth of exploring to do.  On a full-day tour of the north, for example, one can visit Le Prêcheur, the northernmost village on the Caribbean, whose magnificent Habitation Céron takes you into the 17th-century, with walks through the forest gardens, visits to cassava and sugarcane buildings, and delicious dining in a historic setting.  Nearby are hot springs of volcanic origin, and the Tomb of the Carib Indians.  Inland are the Gorges de la Falaise, mini canyons along the Falaise River leading to a lovely waterfall. 

     

     
    Also on the northern Atlantic is the town of Trinité and the Caravelle Peninsula where the ruins of Château Dubuc stand.  Returning home to Martinique after schooling in Nantes, Aimée Dubuc de Rivery was captured by pirates, sold into slavery, then given as a present to the Sultan of Constantinople.  Like Josephine, she too became a "royal" -- Sultana Validé, mother of Sultan Mahmoud II. g
     
    In addition to the multitude of beautiful sites to visit and discover, Martinique is alive with festivals and events throughout the year.  Don't miss out on Martinique's Carnival celebrations in February.  All business comes to a halt. Streets spill over with parties and parades, and a "Carnival Queen" is elected. Dimanche Gras, or Fat Sunday, features bands in the streets singing and dancing, and revelers costumed as "red devils" parade around La Savane in Fort-de-France on Mardi Gras.

    For further information, visit www.martinique.org

     

    Top Ten Reasons Why You Need Travel Insurance

    Most of us don't hesitate to insure our life, car or home. But what about the trip you've planned and purchased? You may have budgeted for it or tapped savings to pay for it, so shouldn't you spend a little extra to protect your travel investment? Or, what if you suddenly need medical care while traveling outside the country -- will a primary health plan cover it? Travel Insurance Services, specializing in travel-related plans for over thirty years, offers these 10 situations when you'll be glad you have it: Especially if you travel alone.

    10. You or your family member gets sick or has an accident before you leave. It doesn't have to be life-threatening -- something like a broken leg can keep you from enjoying your vacation.

    9. You need a medical evacuation from a foreign country. Serious accidents can happen--even to the non-adventure traveler (examples -- a car accident, a fall). The combined cost of local ambulance and an international medical evacuation can be substantial -- and your health plan from home may not cover the expense.

    8. You have Medicare coverage and you're traveling abroad. Medicare won't cover you if you're traveling outside the United States, including close trips to Canada or Mexico. Unfortunately, many people with Medicare take trips without travel medical insurance -- and it can cost them big bucks.

    7. You arrive at your destination, but your bags don't. With today's tight security, more people than ever are checking luggage. If your bags are misdirected, you can be left with only the clothes on your back. Travel insurance can help cover the costs of buying clothing and other necessities until your bags are returned.

    6. A delay by your carrier has you stuck in a city where you didn't plan to stay overnight. Avoid getting stuck with this hotel cost.

    5. The airline, tour operator or cruise line you've booked a trip with goes bankrupt, and stops providing service. If it happens and you don't have travel insurance, you could be out the portion of your trip that is booked with the bankrupt carrier, or worse--stuck somewhere without assistance to get back home.

    4. You're planning to live in another country -- even for a short period of time. Perhaps you're in college and you need student travel insurance for studies abroad. Or, you have a job opportunity or vacation home that that takes you out of the country for a few months. If you wouldn't live in the States without medical coverage, certainly don't risk it when you're overseas. Look for a plan with 24-hour assistance, to help you get past the language barrier and help you find a physician.

    3. You have family or friends visiting from outside the United States. Anytime they plan to visit you, they most likely need coverage to protect them from the high cost of U.S. health care during their stay.

    2. You need to cancel a trip due to a death in the immediate family. The cost of a trip may be insignificant in the event of an immediate family member's passing. But, by insuring your trip, you can avoid experiencing this extra stress or disappointment in an already emotional situation.

    And the number one reason you'll be glad you have travel insurance...

    1. Any reason. If you buy a trip cancellation plan with a Cancel for Any Reason option, any reason for canceling a trip can be covered. A new hurricane heading toward your destination, an important business meeting or a child's unexpected school function are all valid reasons. Planning ahead (you must purchase this plan early to qualify) allows you to recoup 75% of your pre-paid trip costs.

    Because no two trips are alike, there are a variety of travel insurance plans you can choose from. Finding the right coverage for your situation is easy -- just visit travelinsure.com. You can get a travel insurance quote and enroll online.

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    Nine Fine Cruise Tips

    ...and cruising is wonderful for solo travelers

    by Mike Thiel

    • Each cruise line has its own theme, charm, and character. Find one that most closely matches your personality.
    • When choosing a cruise line, be sure to consider the on-board ambiance of the vessel. What type of guest does the cruise line cater to? Primarily families? The mature traveler? An eclectic international clientele? Believe me, there's something for everyone. Some cruise lines' on-board activities are simpler because their guests require less entertainment, or they're more destination-focused. Others add roller rinks, rock-climbing walls, etc., to appeal to a broader clientele or because they have several days at sea and need to keep guests entertained.
    • The size of the vessel often determines the itinerary. If you want to visit unique, hard-to-reach ports of call--the inner reaches of Alaska's Inside Passage or the narrower track of the Amazon River--look for one of the small-ship cruise lines. Larger ships won't be able to dock at--let alone get to--those out-of-the-way places.
    • The longer the cruise, the fewer children there are on board and the more exotic the itinerary (typically). The cruising trend is toward the longer "grand voyage" of two, three, even four months.
    • Yes, there is a cruise for every budget. I, however, feel it's worth the extra money to book an ocean-view cabin at a minimum. I highly recommend a private veranda or suite for even more space and amenities, which translates to increased comfort.
    • sIf you don't care about traffic outside your cabin, choose one near the elevator or stairs for ease in getting around. And if you want the least rocky ride, choose a cabin near the middle of the ship and as low as possible.
    • Frequent cruisers can earn additional discounts for repeat travel with the same cruise line. Discounts also are offered for back-to-back cruises.
    • If you don't do well with the concept of structured dining, choose a ship with an open-seating policy in its dining room. You'll have more flexibility as to when--and with whom--you eat. If the maitre d' is good at his job, he'll match you up with some interesting and like-minded people.
    • Exotic voyages (non-Caribbean, Mediterranean, or Alaskan) can sell out a full year in advance. And while you may find a "good deal" at the last minute, you most likely won't find good airfare and might end up with a cabin over the engine room. Book early.

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    Great Britain, Good Value (50 Budget Ideas)

    A Solo-Friendly Destination

    by Bob Barton

    Whether you want to watch a Shakespeare play, see some of the world’s finest works of art, visit a clutch of historic houses, castles and gardens or travel around Britain for a fortnight soaking up the atmosphere, there are ways to do it all that won’t break your budget.

    You can spend a fortune on a trip to Britain, but it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, you may be surprised to find how many top attractions, particularly in the cities, are free to visit. With a little bit of planning, and by keeping your eyes open when you arrive, it is possible to get excellent value for your hard-earned money. Whatever your taste – whether it’s museums or galleries, grand historic houses or simply sightseeing – here are 50 ideas for seeing Britain on a budget.

    1. Enjoy London’s free attractions.The capital has some of Europe’s best museums and galleries, filled with priceless treasures and intriguing art in landmark buildings both old and new.   Among those that offer free admission (except for special exhibitions) are the National Gallery, the British Museum, Tate Modern, Tate Britain and the National Portrait Gallery (marking its 150th anniversary). In South Kensington are the Victoria and Albert, the Science and Natural History Museums, while Thames-side Greenwich has the National Maritime Museum.                        Website:http://www.visitlondon.com/city_guide/budget/f_free_museums.html

    2. Buy theatre tickets for half-price.Theatre-lovers should head to the Tkts ticket booth in Leicester Square or Canary Wharf, which have seats for many West End productions available on the day of performance at half the box office price. www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk/tkts

    3. Get around London with a Travelcard.To get about, the smart visitor buys a one-day travel card from Underground stations. They cost from £4.90 for a whole day’s travelling around central London after 09.30 a.m. on the buses, Underground and Docklands Light Railway (DLR). 

    4. Ride the Docklands Railway.Not to be missed is Docklands, east of Tower Bridge, with its towering glass office blocks and other modern architecture, surrounded by the water of the former docks. The semi-automated DLR trains (included on the Travelcard) give a great view from their elevated tracks -- and there is a free commentary on some weekend services.

    5. Stroll in a Royal Park.Dine on a picnic and watch the world go by in one of the city's Royal Parks: beautiful at all times of year and there’s a programme of free events, too. www.royalparks.gov.uk 

    6. Bag a bargain in a market.Check out London’s open-air markets, of which the latest is the Sunday (Up) Market in the Old Truman Brewery, off Hanbury Street, E1. The market is a platform for designer-makers selling unique goods direct to customers and joins the others, including Old Spitalfields, E1; Camden Lock, NW1; Greenwich, SE10 and Portobello Road, W10, as ‘must see’ attractions for   shoppers.

    7. Get a pass to Britain’s heritage.The Great British Heritage Pass provides unlimited entry to almost 600 castles, stately homes and gardens all over the country. There are four, seven, 15 and 30-day options, all offering considerable savings if you plan to visit several properties. www.gbheritagepass.com/.  

    8. Stay on campus. The country’s colleges and universities have accommodation in student halls, hostels, college or university-owned lodgings during the summer. These are often centrally located and comfortable, but don’t expect hotel-type facilities. www.venuemasters.com

    9. Visit a pub.  Places in which you can meet the locals, and enjoy good food as well as drink, in a friendly, informal setting. Found everywhere. An expanding chain of pubs called J.D. Wetherspoon specialises in low-cost drinks and meals. How about a pint of beer for under £2; or two hot meals for £5.99? www.jdwetherspoon.co.uk.      

    10. Take the National Express.Don't confine your visit to London, there is so much to see outside the capital. The biggest express bus company, National Express, reaches every corner of the land at prices between a third and half that of rail travel. Visit any of the 1,000 destinations served with one ticket, the BritXplorer Pass, available in three configurations covering different time periods. www.nationalexpress.com   

    11. Ride the train.The railway network is extensive and trains are frequent and speedy. The go-anywhere BritRail Pass is such a good deal that it must be purchased before you leave home – it is not available to the locals in Britain. www.BritRail.com.

    12. Cruise the Thames.The River Thames now offers a practical addition to the capital’s Underground and red bus networks for sightseers in central London. Two new boat services have been launched by Thames Clippers and there is a new ‘hop-on, hop-off’ ticket called the River Roamer. The services complement the ‘Tate to Tate’ boat which links the Tate Modern and Tate Britain art galleries. The network has been rebranded as ‘The Riverline’ and its network map bears more than a passing similarity to the famous Underground map. London Travelcard holders get a discount. Website: www.thamesclippers.com 

    13. Walk London. London’s first Walking Pass gives visitors five guided walking tours of the capital for £12. Valid for two days, pass holders are led on themes including The Da Vinci Code, James Bond, movie locations and ‘ghosts by gaslight’. The pass is the idea of the Big Bus Company, and customers of its London bus tour (£20) get the walks free of charge. Bookings, tel. 020 7233 7797. Website: www.bigbustours.com.

    14. Watch a Shakespeare play for £5.Yes you can, and in an accurate replica of Shakespeare’s original Elizabethan Globe Theatre, on the South Bank of the Thames near Southwark Bridge.   Ask for a ‘groundling’ ticket: you have to stand throughout the performance, but you are in amongst the action at the front of the stage. The season runs from May 5 – October 8. www.shakespearesglobe.com.

    15. Sample a festival.Music, theatre, literature and comedy are just some of the art forms on offer as more than a hundred festivals are planned all over the UK each year. There are usually a number of free or low-cost events at each festival – and the atmosphere is electric whenever a festival is happening. You can find out details of them all at the British Arts Festivals Association’s website: www.artsfestivals.co.uk

    16. Explore Liverpool.  This city in North-West England will be European Capital of Culture in 2008 and has opened a free, ‘one-stop’ centre, ’08 Place in Whitechapel, as a showcase for its 2008 preparations. There is also a multi-media experience on Liverpool’s attractions and events, both current and planned.   The city has eight museums of national importance, including the Tate Gallery (free). Website: www.liverpool08.com.

    17. Stroll the Avenue of the Stars. Britain’s answer to Hollywood’s Walk of Fame is being created in London’s Covent Garden. One hundred stars of stage, screen and TV are being immortalised on the Avenue of Stars. The first recipients, including Sir Laurence Olivier, Alec Guinness, Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock and Rex Harrison, are represented by silver stars in the walkway, situated outside St Paul’s, the Actors’ Church in Covent Garden. Free.

    18. Visit a film location.Many visitors come because of a film they’ve seen, and it costs nothing to stand where the actors and directors have stood. The 1983 film Local Hero, starring Burt Lancaster and Jenny Seagrove, shot in the Scottish village of Pennan, Aberdeenshire, came top in a 2005 film critics’ poll for the best use of locations. Others included: The Full Monty (Sheffield, Yorkshire); Trainspotting  (Edinburgh); The Railway Children (Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, Yorkshire); An American Werewolf in London (Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, London Zoo); The French Lieutenant’s Woman (Lyme Regis, Dorset); Brassed Off (Barnsley, Doncaster, Halifax, Birmingham); Brief Encounter (Carnforth, Lancashire); Kes  (Barnsley, Yorkshire); and Shadowlands  (Oxford and the Wye Valley).

    19. Visit Glasgow’s 13 museums and galleries.The Scottish city is full of stunning Victorian architecture alongside Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s art nouveau buildings. Visit the Gallery of Modern Art, housing four floors of modern painting. There is also the Burrell Collection, with over 8,000 varied art objects; and the Peoples’ Palace, telling the story of the city’s last 250 years. In summer 2006, the magnificent Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum reopens with 8,000 exhibits after a £28 million revamp. All free. www.seeglasgow.com 

    20. Stay in a budget hotel.The budget hotel chain Travelodge is making £20 million of price cuts   this year. The company’s Internet-based price-cutting strategy means 500,000 rooms are being sold at £26 per night and other price cuts are available on standard room rates across all 280 hotels. Locations range from key out-of-town sites on the main road network to city centre and airport hotels. Rooms are en-suite, with TV and coffee-making facilities, and they sleep up to a family of four. Another chain, Premier Travel Inn, has 470 hotels and rooms from £47 per night. www.travelodge.co.ukwww.premiertravelinn.com.

    21. Overnight in a youth hostel.There are more than 200 hostels with excellent facilities   in the towns, cities and countryside of England and Wales. All age groups are welcome and you don’t have to be a member. Prices start at £15 per person in London, or £11 in the countryside and the chance to meet other travellers also makes them a good choice. A new offer, YHA Hostel Hopper, provides seven, 14 or 28 day’s travel by coach and the same number of overnight vouchers for hostels – all from £165 per person. www.yha.org.uk.     

    22. Stay in a Scottish hostel. The Scottish Youth Hostel Association’s (SYHA) rustic hostels, in remote locations amid some of Scotland's finest scenery, are ideal for visitors who want to get off the tourist trail and enjoy outdoor pursuits such as walking and climbing. Accommodation costs from £11 - £17 per person per night. There is also a range of activity holidays: from walking the West Highland Way long-distance trail to climbing the challenging Skye Munros (mountains over 3,000 feet) and a range of watersports, mountain biking and pony-trekking trips. www.syha.org.uk

    23. Jump on a Routemaster bus.This red, double-deck bus – an icon of London for more than 50 years – has begun a new lease of life as a travelling landmark on heritage routes nine (Royal Albert Hall to Aldwych via Piccadilly Circus) and 15 (Trafalgar Square to Tower Hill via Fleet Street). They run every 15 minutes from 9.30 am to 6 pm, passing many of the best-known attractions and, because all valid Travelcards and bus tickets are accepted, it means that travellers can enjoy their own mini sightseeing tour for £1.50. http://www.tfl.gov.uk/buses/ini-heritage-buses.asp

    24. Enjoy free entertainment.Look out for free musical and dance performances in the foyers of major arts venues or tourism centres, such as London’s Covent Garden and Edinburgh’s Princes Street. A free open-air showcase of theatre performances, West End Live, takes place in and around London’s Leicester Square on June 17-18. www.westendlive.co.uk.

    25. Cycle the national network. Britain has a remarkable National Cycle Network – well signposted and much of it traffic-free – which makes an excellent way of seeing town and country and keeping fit. Beg, borrow or rent a bicycle and sample some of the growing 10,000 miles of route, managed by the charity Sustrans. www.sustrans.org.uk.        

     26. Join the rat race.The annual Rat Races in Edinburgh (July 15-16), Bristol (June 17-18) and Manchester (Aug. 5-6) are sporting spectaculars, with hundreds of participants navigating the streets on mountain bike, kayak, on foot, down ropes and even using space hoppers. Live bands entertain the crowds – there is no charge for spectators. www.ratraceadventure.com.

    27. Stroll on a seaside pier.The seaside piers around the coast of Britain stand as a powerful reminder of the achievements of Victorian engineers and are traditional attractions. There are dozens of them, often full of amusements and fairground-style rides, and admission is usually free. Among the best are those at Blackpool, Brighton's Palace Pier, Southwold on the East Coast and Llandudno, North Wales, Britain’s Pier of the Year for 2005. www.piers.co.uk

    28. Visit an artist’s studio.  Twenty-one artists in West Wales will open their studios this summer for a rare chance to see their work being created. The Cardigan Open Studios weekend (August 26-30) is free, and one of several similar open studios held around the country, such as South-East England (June 9-25) and Northamptonshire (Sept. 2-17).  www.westwalesartists.co.ukwww.southeastopenstudios.org.uk.

    29. Explore an Open House.Five hundred architecturally significant--and often private--London buildings will open their doors for the annual Open House event (September 16-17). They include government buildings, historic houses, arts spaces, banks, medical centres and schools: all entry is free.  www.openhouse.org.uk.

    30. Get a free newspaper.To find out what's happening every day, help yourself to a free morning newspaper, Metro, from the blue racks at rail stations and other key points. The paper now has editions in 15 British cities and a million copies are printed. 

    31. Buy a discount pass.Many of the major cities sell a pass that gives entry to attractions, discounts at restaurants, theatres and tours and sometimes free use of public transport for one payment. It helps you jump the admission queues, too. Look out for the London Pass, Edinburgh Pass, Cardiff Welcome Card and York Pass, and many others. www.leisurepassgroup.com.

    32. Pack a picnic.A great British tradition. Several chains such as Marks & Spencer and Pret a Manger sell a delicious range of take-away foods such as sandwiches, salads and soups which are ideal for creating your own picnic, which you can take to the local park, riverbank or other public area, just as the locals do.

    33. Take a two-for-one.  Two people can get entrance to attractions for the price of one, or two night’s hotel accommodation for the price of one, using a dedicated website. There are conditions attached, such as travelling by train, but substantial savings are possible. www.2for1entry.co.uk.  

    34. See how far you can go for £1.Megabus, a low-cost bus service, offers online bookings and, for as little as £1 (plus booking fee), travellers can book a journey on the growing network – from Plymouth, South-West England, to Inverness, Scotland. www.megabus.com.

    35. Shop at a discount.Designer label fashions can be purchased at a discount at chain stores such as T.K. Maxx and Matalan. If you are prepared to forsake the brand names, cool clothing can be bought for low prices at the popular Primark stores. There are branches throughout the country.

    36. Stay in a wigwam.Budget accommodation with a difference is available near the scenic coast of North-East England. Pot-a-Doodle-Do Wigwam Village contains wooden ‘wigwams’, each accommodating up to five people, at a cost of £16.50 per adult per night. A good base for touring, including Holy Island, the Countess of Northumberland’s Alnwick Castle garden, and the frontier town Berwick-upon-Tweed. www.northumbrianwigwams.com.

    37. Taste good food at a farmer’s market.Not only do these markets sell the freshest, tastiest and healthiest produce, but there are plenty of opportunities for free sampling before you buy. There are well over 120 markets, in towns and cities all over the UK. www.farmersmarkets.net.

    38. Dine in a gastropub.These are the biggest thing to happen to British food and drink in the last few years as they offer diners high quality meals in an informal pub setting, at reasonable prices. These offer value for money rather than being cheap, and beers and other long drinks are available as well as full wine lists. www.squaremeal.co.uk.

    39. Become a Scottish ‘trail burner’.Rabbie’s Trail Burners is a company that uses mini-buses to tour ‘off the beaten track’. It takes backpackers and others on a limited budget, from place to place, and is a great way to see Scotland and meet like-minded travellers. The expanding programme includes a five-day trip to remote Hebridean islands. www.rabbies.com.

    40. Reclaim tax on purchases.If youlive outside the European Union you’re entitled to claim back the Value Added Tax (VAT) on any purchases made. VAT within the UK is charged at 17.5% on most goods bought in shops so obtaining relief from it means quite a saving.  www.globalrefund.com.

    41. Visit a remarkable open-air art gallery.The Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield features modern and contemporary art in a newUnderground Gallery, set into a hillside with a covering of soil and turf. Other exhibits are set out in 500 acres of 18th century parkland. Admission is free. www.ysp.co.uk.

    42. Explore a new landmark in Wales.The Wales Millennium Centre in the capital, Cardiff is a state-of-the-art entertainment venue and a landmark on Cardiff Bay. Listen to music, visit the hands-on, interactive gallery, listen to daily lunchtime concerts, take in an art exhibition, or join a creative workshop – all free of charge – and some weekend performances are free, too. Behind-the-scenes tours only cost £5. www.wmc.org.uk.  

    43. Go to Baltic in the North-East.Baltic, the centre for contemporary art housed in a former flour mill beside the River Tyne in Gateshead, is the biggest gallery of its kind in the world and admission is free. As there is no permanent collection there is something new to see on each visit, from international exhibitions and performances to events and workshops. www.balticmill.com.

    44. Tour a whisky distillery. Scotland – and particularly Speyside – is the home of ‘the water of life’. Most distilleries offer free entrance but make a small charge for a tour (including tasting) while free tours are available at The Glenlivet, Glenfiddich and Glen Grant distilleries. Follow the world’s only malt whisky trail to find out more. www.maltwhiskytrail.com.  

    45. Dine in a cathedral. Britain’s cathedrals are not only places of worship and magnificent, historic edifices, many of them contain superb cafés and restaurants selling wholesome, tasty food (including breakfast), home made cakes and good coffee at reasonable prices.

    46. Enjoy the pageantry.The traditional events of pageantry, such as Changing of the Guard in London and Windsor are free, to be seen from public thoroughfares. This year there will be even more going on as Queen Elizabeth is marking her 80th year. http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/page3741.asp 

    47. Hunt for sale bargains.  The traditional seasons for sales in department stores and high street shops are the days following Christmas and through January; and throughout July, but the UK’s competitive retail environment means you are likely to find sales at many other times too. 

    48. Go night-clubbing in Brighton.The larger seaside resorts are often the best destinations if you’re in search of free or low-cost night-clubs. Brighton on the South Coast is renowned for its lively night-life and competition between clubs ensures that a large number have free admission. http://whatson.brighton.co.uk/Clubs.asp 

    49. Visit a designer outlet.These out-of-town retail centres are treasure troves of famous brands with discounts of up to 50 per cent off  normal high street prices. McArthurGlen runs seven centres, including those in Ashford, Swindon and York in England, Livingstone in Scotland and Bridgend in Wales. www.mcarthurglen.com.             

    50. Last but not least,see VisitBritain’s impartial website which is a good starting point for anyone planning a trip and includes searchable databases of accommodation, attractions and events. Great Britain doesn't have to mean great expense. www.visitbritain.com

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    27 Ways to Travel Better

    Especially useful when you travel alone

    by Mike Thiel

    Great travel doesn't just happen. Truly memorable vacation experiences are a combination of being in the right place at the right time and having the right insight, expectations, and attitude. And.... .

    1. Read brochures and Web sites with a healthy dose of skepticism. Both tend to stretch the truth (especially the relatively anonymous Internet).

    s2. Choose your travel companions carefully. I've experienced a few less-than-totally-wonderful vacations resulting from mismatches. Know your companions and their idiosyncrasies.

    3. Go light! My mother, a career world traveler, always said, "He who travels lightest travels farthest." My personal rule: "Take only what you can carry yourself." You'll have more flexibility.

    4. Take a book. Beat boredom at the airport, the train station, etc. with guidebooks and fiction or non-fiction books related to the area you're visiting.

    5. Real travelers don't let a lack of language skills stop them from visiting foreign countries. If you don't know French, Thai, or whatever, you can still visit some interesting parts of the world. The power of sign language is amazing. That said, please note #6.

    6. You get twice as much out of travel when you know the language of the country you're visiting. Try a quickie, taped language course before heading off or, at the very least, take along a phrase book and practice on the plane.

    s7. It usually takes at least three legs of travel to get to a true hideaway. Remember, the destination is usually well worth it.

    8. For the most relaxing vacation, go to a place that has no in-room TVs, Internet access, or telephone. While you're at it, take off your watch and throw it in a bureau drawer.

    9. Check the spare tire when renting a car. There's nothing worse than being in the middle of nowhere, getting a flat, and realizing there is no spare--or that it's flat!

    10. Sporting vacations are among the most relaxing. I have fond memories of skiing in Europe, scuba diving in Honduras, and fly-fishing in Montana. The combination of focus, simplified decision-making, and pleasant routine will take your mind off your worries.

    11. Avant-garde, minimalist hotels often come with "attitude." At least, that's been our experience. Not only are the furnishings and decor "cool", the staff often is, too.

    d12. Bridge the cultural gap at a new destination. Just bring a curious mind about things local, an open attitude, a nice smile, and at least a few phrases of the local language.

    13. Don't let first impressions put you off. The drive from the airport and your taxi driver, often your first impression of a place, can be negative but shouldn't become your lasting view.

    14. Take local public transportation whenever possible. Whether it's Paris' Metro or Mexico's inter-city buses, you'll learn more about a place and its people by traveling as they do.

    15. When in a questionably safe area, be alert and walk with confidence and determination. The right attitude says a lot about whether you're an easy mark.

    16. Learn to say "No!" nicely, firmly, with a smile, and preferably in the local language. It will get you out of lots of precarious situations.

    s17. You can get Montezuma's Revenge just as easily from a Michelin Two-Star restaurant as from eating at a street vendor's stand. Use good sense, but go ahead and enjoy the truly local cuisine. That said, please note #18.

    18. Eat everything, and ask questions about it later! It's a learning experience. If it hasn't killed the natives, it probably won't kill you.

    19. The best meals are in the company of locals. If you have, or make, local contacts in the place you're visiting, invite them to lunch or dinner. Let them choose the place and order.

    20. The most memorable meals just happen . . . and they're often at the most inexpensive restaurants. An unforgettable meal is as much about the setting, circumstances, and your dining companions as it is about fine cuisine and service.

    f21. Film is cheap and with digital photography it's virtually free; the experience is expensive! It took planning, time, and money to get to where you are, so take lots of photos.

    22. It always looks better in its local milieu. In some places, you are accosted with great buys on local crafts. Remember, it may look better in its local setting than it will in your home.

    23. Real travelers are flexible. Do your research, but don't over-plan. Leave time for spontaneity. And if you run into difficulty, adjust your plans, laugh about it, and get over it.

    24. It's all about expectations. If you get what you were expecting, or more, you'll be happy . . . so head off on your travels with tempered expectations that can be exceeded.

    25. Plan for exotic purchases. Pack an "expansion bag" into your regular luggage for "finds." I take along a featherweight but sturdy, mid-size duffel made of rip-stop nylon.

    f26. Villas are not hotels. When renting a villa, bring along a small flashlight (good for finding your way in the dark), a travel alarm clock (good for waking up early to catch the sunrise), all those little toiletries a hotel might provide, an open mind, and a flexible attitude.

    27. Be adventurous. If the beaten tourist track heads right, head left. Don't be afraid to get lost . . . some of my fondest memories are experiences I've had while trying to find my way.

    Mike Thiel is Founder and President of Hideaways International, www.hideaways.com.

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    Escapes for Women Women's-Only Tours: A Growing Trend

    Want to travel with other solo women? About 30 companies run women-only tours, up a third from five years ago. Hotels and lodges offer women's-only packages ranging from touring around to learning or improving skills like skiing or painting. Some reasons for the trend:

    Women have more money and freedom.. Failing to address our cravings is simply bad business.

    Women's-only tours fill a niche for females who lack traveling partners. Many of us don't prefer solo vacations, yet don't want to risk booking a package that could be loaded with couples or lecherous singles.

    Women traveling alone find activities that may be lacking in packages that cater to mixed groups. Women and men often have different travel approaches. For example, they both may want to hike to the top of the mountain, but men tend to want to reach the peak efficiently, while many of us don't really care how long it takes, preferring to meander through villages and markets on the way.

    Some trips are hard to plan for a single person. Activities such as hiking and sailing are excursions you might not want to attempt alone.

    The comfort level of women's-only trips appeals to solo women
    . Many of us are not interested in meeting a potential mate on a singles' trip; others don't want to worry about joining a group that resembles Noah's Ark, or is filled with kids.

    Women have more fun. Especially with women only! We can let our hair down, get grubby, giggle, yak and bond. Here are eightg more reasons why:

    1.        Offers a mental health break and a sanity check. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the stress of everyday life. Today’s women wear so many hats and often make taking care of themselves a “last” priority. We want to change that priority list.

    2.        Busts stress when work and family demands are too high. If you keep going at breakneck speed, something will eventually break. Going away with the girls allows you to recharge your batteries and stay in top form so that you can keep doing it all.

    3.        Reunites friends who can do wonders for your life. A week at the beach with your high school best friends might be just what you need to put all the pieces of your life together.

    4.        Reminds you of you. We all love our kids, but if you’re feeling trapped in the “mom version” of Groundhog Day, it’s time to grab your girlfriends and go. You were a wonderful person before you were a mom — your girlfriends will help you remember when.

    5.        Pampers your mind, body and spirit. When is the last time you read a book without interruptions? Took a walk by yourself? Relaxed in a bubble bath? The time is now, girlfriend! Give yourself permission to go!

    6.        Solves life’s dilemmas. Comparing notes with your BFFs on everything from sex to finances during an all-girl getaway can provide just the right setting to solve life’s dilemmas. Issues that cause marriages to fail are more easily discussed among girlfriends.

    7.        Boosts satisfaction in life. The whirlwind of life rarely leaves time for focusing on what we’ve achieved. Too often we spend our time concerned with what isn’t done. It’s important to review our past and appreciate what’s been accomplished, rather than always living life in fast-forward mode.

    8.        Benefits the entire family. Life is good – and will be even better after you’ve taken a break. Getting your break means you’ll come home refreshed and less bothered by the dirty dishes, loud TV or other irritations of daily life. Yes, a getaway is a gift to yourself, but the rest of the family will benefit too. A happy mom leads a happy family.

    Seven companies that organize tours for women:

    Adventure Women specializes in safaris, skiing, sailing, trekking in the American West, Botswana, Greece, the Himalayas and beyond. Rates incl meals, lodging, activities; air sometimes extra. From $2,395 (7-day Glacier National Park trip) to $7,595 (14-day, air-inclusive Zambian safari). 800-804-8686, www.adventurewomen.com.

    Canyon Calling focuses on hiking, glacier walking, jet boating, kayaking in southwestern US and abroad. Rates incl meals, equipment, lodging; air extra. From $1,595 (5 days in Sedona, AZ) to $3,985 (18 days in Fiji & New Zealand). 928-282-0916, www.canyoncalling.com

    Explorations In Travel is noted for its New England trips: cross-country skiing, hiking, whale watching. Rates incl meals, lodging; air usually extra. From $595 (4-day Vermont trip) to $2,795 (8-days in Ireland). Ask about "Girlfriend Getaways" and "Multi-Generational Trips." 802-257-0152, www.exploretravel.com.

    Gutsy Women Travel has adventure, food and wine and famous homes and gardens tours in great destinations. From $1,799 (6-day Savannah & Charleston tour) to $3,999 (12- day "Mystical Peru"). Incl lodging, some meals, transfers. Air may be extra.866-IM-GUTSY, www.gutsywomentravel.com.

    Womanship runs learn-to-sail programs in Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, New England, Long Island Sound, Florida, the Pacific Northwest, British Virgin Islands, with special mother/daughter courses. From $1,175 for 3 days aboard a ship in the Florida Keys. 800-342-9295, www.womanship.com.

    WomanTours has bike trips in the US, Canada, New Zealand, France. Weeklong outings (incl lodging and most meals) start at $1,590. Air extra. 800-247-1444, www.womantours.com.

     
    The Women's Travel Club specializes in smallgroup cultural tours around the world (plus wine, golf & spa trips). First-rate accommodations. Annual membership, $35. 800-480-4448, www.womenstravelclub.com.

    (Research: Marcy Ross)

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    Meet People While Soloing: An Article Lea Wrote on fodors.com

    _______________________________________________________

    There ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them. -- Mark Twain

    ________________________________________________________

    LEA.jpg The biggest fear of solo travelers is being lonely, Here are some surefire tips on how to meet others while traveling, adapted from my book, Solo Traveler: Tales and Tips for Great Trips (Fodors)

    Be Approachable
    Eye contact and a smile are starters for meeting others, wherever you may be. If someone looks your way, look back and smile, and chances are they will too, the world over. (OK -- there are exceptions: you probably shouldn't grin at the hairy dude in the back alley in Marseilles, or the six-foot hooker on the corner at 3 a.m. But if you do want to meet people, you can make a quick gut judgment, and then smile away.)

    Chat it Up
    When you've got someone's attention, that's the time to reach out and talk. And because English has become the world's go-to language, you can chat up people just about anywhere. When you're on line, in a restaurant, at a museum, or sitting next to someone at a ballpark, or at a movie. Make a break-the-ice comment -- "Is it always this hot?" "Where did you learn to speak such good English?" You know, basic stuff. And even if there's a language barrier, you can back up your simple words with a phrasebook, hand signals, and facial expressions. In Warsaw, I managed to order a meal and have a kind of conversation with my waiter just by hand signals. You may not be able to discuss the Big Bang theory, but you may find a fun companion for the moment.

    Follow it Up
    Focus on questions that elicit preferences and opinions, something more than a "yes" or "no," to keep the conversation going.

    "Where would locals eat?"

    "What can't I miss, here?"

    "What's the best place to ...?"

    This sort of thing leads to conversation, which may lead to sharing further experiences as you travel along. In northern Greece I was on the road researching a Fodor's guide, and I asked directions to a local pastry shop from a nice young man, walking a cute poodle. He started to tell me the way to go, then finally said, "It's easier to walk you there. It's right around the corner." I trusted my gut and said, "Sure" (hey, the guy had a poodle!). Turns out he knew the owner of the shop, and stayed to join me for tea -- and insisted on treating me. It was a public place, in daylight, and I trusted my judgment. If I felt I didn't want to walk with him I would have said something like, "Thanks so much. I'm meeting my husband there, but I want to shop first." Safety trumps truth, so always have an excuse about meeting someone, and do carry a cell phone.

    Network
    Most of us have networked for business purposes, and we can apply these same skills as we travel. Friends, acquaintances, family, and business associates may offer connections. Traveling to Mexico? How about the owner of your favorite Mexican restaurant? He might have connections where you're going. Consider people who you know even slightly, and who may offer invitations and contacts as you go. I sat next to a famous architect at a dinner party, and knew he had designed many buildings in Buenos Aires. I mentioned I was going there on my own, and he immediately gave me a list of half a dozen creative acquaintances in BA. I was wined and dined for a week -- just because I mentioned my trip to him.

    Travel to Friendly Places
    We all have places where we feel most comfortable -- maybe it's because of the language, or our studies, or family ties. Being somewhere we like, around friendly locals, it's easier to meet them. Some of my favorite folks live in the Greek Islands, southern Italy, the Philippines, and Canada, and I know I can easily connect there. Conversely, I stay away from areas where for political or safety reasons, I don't feel welcome. (Check out my book, Solo Traveler, for more notes on safety.)

    Where to Meet People

    Over Drinks
    Bars are classic "meet" markets, but be careful if you're not interested in romance, because bars are filled with people who are looking to hook up -- and who may misinterpret your desire to make friends as a desire to make love. (Then again, you may be interested in a fling. If so, be cautious; moi, I stick to friendship when I'm traveling alone. It's complicated enough at home!)

    ff Over Food
    Share a table, eat at a bar, linger in a cafe and you'll meet others. Something about food and talk and easy, comfy interacting. Maybe it's other patrons who will chat you up; maybe the waitstaff. Go to one place a few times, and you'll probably be treated as a regular.

    On Projects
    If you're away on business or taking a class, you'll discuss, assist or commiserate, and that means connecting then, and sometimes, after.

    In Transit
    Public transport is an easy way to meet people for casual chats. If you're sitting next to someone, start with that smile. By the end of the line, you may have made a new acquaintance.

    During Special-Interest Travel
    Shared interests are ideal when you want to meet others, and can lead to long-term friendships. Join a group or tour for a day or an entire trip, doing just about anything from snorkeling to cooking to biking to antiquing to bird-watching, to . . . you name it. Google your interest to find out about travel opportunities.

    Where People Congregate
    Hang around bookstores, museums, airport lounges, and upscale hotel lobbies, and you're making yourself available to meet certain types. Hang around casinos, bars, and you'll find others. Malls, concert halls, hairdressers, houses of worship, coffee shops -- pick and choose.

    Over the Internet
    Sites like fodors.com can lead you to other travelers, looking to meet and share from all over the world. Just be cautious, as the web universe is just like the real world -- filled with all types of people, great to awful.

    More Specific Tips for Meeting Others

    Dress Uniquely
    Want people to notice you and start a conversation? Wear something like a colorful scarf, interesting cap, unusual pin. (But stay within your comfort level and local customs, or the wrong people may be the ones who notice.)

    Share Suggestions
    Carry a Fodor's guide, pipe in if you hear others talking and can help, and have tips handy.

    Carry Useful Items

    Umbrellas, sunscreen, bug spray are easy-to-share props to meet others. And you can offer your paperback to someone nice when you've finished reading it.

    Walk a Dog
    Fido can be an excellent conversation starter, and an excellent protector as well, when needed. (See my Solo Traveler chapter on traveling with pets -- a huge trend, great for soloists.)

    Offer to Take a Photo
    Folks traveling together don't get many chances to be in photos together, so offer and you'll make some quick acquaintances. Or ask someone to take a photo of you (preferably someone with their own camera -- no need to hand off something expensive to just anybody).

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    Six Big Fears About Traveling Solo --And Six Solutions

    Here are some common concerns about solo traveling – and some honest answers, taken from my book, Solo Traveler: Tales and Tips for Great Trips (Fodors).

    I'll feel lonely. Yes, you might. But sometimes you'll be lonelier traveling with others. The worst trips I've taken were with an incompatible traveling companion. (Not only did I feel lonely, I felt frustrated, angry and several unprintable adjectives.)

    Shopping

    I'll be in trouble if I get sick. Being sick is especially difficult if you're alone. So build yourself up before you go, take sanitary precautions, carry meds, eat and drink wisely, get adequate insurance coverage and at the first sign of illness, consult a health-care pro.

    I'll be afraid. You might be, at times. Traveling solo is a major achievement filled with unknowns that can breed fears, unwarranted or not. Conquer them and you'll feel courageous. And the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

    I'll get lost. Count on it. So carry a map, a phrasebook and a cellphone. Study ahead and ask for directions if needed. And remember that getting lost often leads to the best memories of a trip.

    I won't have anyone to share wonderful moments. Maybe not, but you can connect by cell and later recollect with photos, journals and video.

    I won't have anything to do in the evening. Why not? Movies, concerts, plays, museums that stay open late, dining out, shopping – all are great solo nighttime activities. And often there are night tours. Just be sure to plan transportation home and bring your lodgings address with you, especially handy when you call a cab.

    L.L.

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    Recharge -- (But Don't Charge!) and Other Budget Ideas

    As friends and coworkers rhapsodize about their upcoming cruises and road trips, it's easy to start thinking you have a "right" as a solo woman to a vacation of your own. And that, says financial planner Diane McCurdy, is when the temptation to whip out the credit card starts to seem reasonable.

    McCurdy believes that vacations should never be "charged." If you can't pay cash for your dream vacation, then figure out an inexpensive alternative and postpone that lavish trip until next year--and start saving for it right now. This is especially vital for those of us with one paycheck.

    Her three-step plan for breaking the vacation entitlement mindset:

    · Step 1: Recharge without breaking the bank.
        - Vacation in your hometown. If you live in a big city or within driving distance of one, there are likely lots of local tourist destinations you haven't explored. Give them a try. You might be surprised how wonderful your own backyard really is.
        - Instead of taking a whole week off, plan several long weekends. Use them to take the kids camping or go hiking in a local state or national park or check into a nearby bed and breakfast.
        - Consider trading houses.
    If you live in the mountains and would like to visit the beach, consider trading houses with a seashore dweller. Numerous websites are devoted to helping you explore the wonderful world of house swapping. "Be creative," urges McCurdy. "Get the whole family involved in brainstorming cheap or even free vacation ideas. You might discover that a day at the local water park is as satisfying to the kids as a week at Disney World."

    · Step 2: Start saving for next year right now. First and most obviously, create a budget. After you take care of your immediate financial needs, start paying down your debt, and create a savings plan for your future; the rest is yours to spend as you see fit. It's all about priorities and goal-setting.
        - Cut out the "un-necessities" that add up. Do you really need that $5 latte every morning or could you make do with a thermos of homebrewed coffee? Could you switch to no-name detergent and/or clip coupons? Could you get rid of the gym membership and dust off that treadmill in the basement?
        - Look for cheaper "entertainment" options. For instance, renting a movie instead of taking the kids to the cineplex can easily save you $20.
        - Institute the "48-hour rule" before you buy anything. If you're tempted to make an impulse purchase -- a big-screen TV or an expensive jacket -- give yourself a couple of days to think about it. After the initial buying fever cools, you'll realize you can easily live without more "stuff."
        - Consider taking a not-too-stressful part-time job. A night or two a week working at the bookstore or the occasional pet-sitting gig can help you fund your trip.  

    Step 3: When you are ready to vacation, continue the cost-cutting. So let's say a year has passed and you have a nice vacation nest egg saved. Keep the thrifty mindset in full swing and you can wring the maximum pleasure out of your trip for the minimum amount of money.
        - Use traveler's checks instead of your credit card. It's easy to go a little crazy on vacation and start spending like there's no tomorrow. But if you've banned credit card usage, you'll have to limit yourself to "cash in hand" spending--and that makes you think twice before buying.
        - If you're flying, pack lightly. You'll likely pay a fee for overweight luggage.
        - Know your route from and to the airport. It will help you avoid being a victim of "creative" taxi routes.
        - Limit yourself to one keepsake. Do you really need five T-shirts and a backpack full of trinkets?
        - Befriend the front desk people. They can direct you to the best places in town to eat, drink, and be merry (rather than pricey tourist traps). And you never know: a clerk dazzled by your friendliness might "upgrade" your room or offer a discount.
        - Don't order room service. Don't eat or drink anything from the hotel mini-bar. Don't make phone calls from the hotel phone. Enough said.
    Finally, don't try to cram too many activities into the vacation," says McCurdy. "Allow some down time to sightsee or lounge around the hotel pool. Not only will you save money, you'll actually be able to relax--which is the whole point, after all."

    Diane McCurdy, CFP, is a financial planner with more than twenty-five years of experience. She is a member of the Million Dollar Round Table, a group of the top 30,000 insurance and financial service professionals from sixty-one countries. McCurdy has appeared frequently on TV and radio and is the author of How Much Is Enough? Balancing Today's Needs with Tomorrow's Retirement Goals (Wiley, 2005).

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    s Lea's Solo Travel Wisdom: A-Z

    Succinct, sensible, alphabetical bits of solo travel advice, expanded regularly.

    Avoid DVT. That's deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot which can be fatal, and you can get it from being cramped for hours in a plane seat. Get up, move around in your seat, and wear knee-high elastic stockings (about $8 in a drugstore). They're not cute, but I wear them under pants and nobody sees them.

    Bring photos. Of loved ones, to keep you smiling.

    Carry-On, with wheels. It's always better, but when you're on your own, it's imperative. A carry-on with wheels and a backpack can take you around the world. And in today's ever-changing world of airport security checks, be up-to-date on what you can carry on!

    Destroy your plastic hotel keys. These little cards contain much of the information you gave the hotel, including address, credit card number and expiration date. A person with access to a card reader, or employee of the hotel, can easily access all that information.

    Double-check. Being on your own means you're responsible for just about every decision, so you don't want to make mistakes. For example, when you're leaving a hotel room, look again. When you're reading a map, check your route --twice. Better to be safe.

    Engage others. Ask questions. You'll meet more people that way.

    Find a home base to eat. When you're on your own, it's nice to choose a restaurant or cafe to return to each night, and even a favorite waitperson to talk to.

    Fix things ahead. When you're traveling you don't want to deal with luggage that doesn't zip, clothes missing buttons, and other odds and ends.

    Get travel insurance. Especially for trips far away, you don't want to take a chance!

    Go off-season. Fewer crowds, better choices in lodging and restaurants, more real, good rates.

    Hide your valuables. Wear a pouch around your neck, under your clothes. Better yet, don't take anything you don't want to lose.

    Inns and small hotels--think small . When you're on your own, small lodgings are great ways to make friends.

    Join a group. Whether for a half-day tour or your entire trip, you can join others for companionship.

    Keep a journal. Writing, sketches, photos, whatever. Collect them together, easy to reach, in chronological order and you'll have priceless memories and mementos to pass along.

    Leave info with family and friends. So that they can contact you and know where you are.

    Memories are great --take photos, record sounds. Especiallu when you're on your own, these mean alot.

    Note details. When you're traveling alone, nobody else will point them out.

    Offer to take photos. You often see people taking photos of each other who'd rather have photos taken of both/all of them together. Your chance to do a good deed, and to have a nice moment and maybe even make a travel acquaintance. (And if they offer to take a photo of you? Well, I 'd hand over my camera only if they have one that's as good or better! :>) )

    Prepack basics. Keep a kit of toiletries and other necessities that you usually need when you go. Silly to have to pack them each time.

    Prepare. When you're going it alone, it's especially important to have as much info about where you'll be going as possible. This saves time, stress -- and leads to more possibilities.

    Question. That's the easiest way to start a conversation.

    Reserve tables through a concierge. You'll get better ones.

    Smile. It helps in all ways.

    Stay near your interests. If you're going to a concert, or shopping, or spending time at museums, choose a lodging where you'll be close by. This is especially convenient at night.

    Take the stairs. Travel means indulging, and there's not always time for walks, swims or gyms. So take the stairs instead of elevators, and you compensate for those extra calories. I prefer non-enclosed, pleasant stairs, and small hotels are more likely to have these.

    Use a cell. It's important to stay in touch. And learn the emergency number equivalent of 911.

    Vitamins and veggies -- down 'em daily . Two ways to stay healthy on the road. But aim for peeled or cooked veggies, or wash them carefully, if raw.

    Wash your hands. You're touching who knows what, so wash up. I carry anti-bacterial gel or wipes, just in case. No need to get sick going solo, and hand-washing is a proven health-maintainer.

    Water, water, water --carry it . Preferably bottled. .

    Wear sunglasses while you eat alone. It glams you up, and you can look around without people realizing it. A winner.

    X-rays, meds -- prep. Arrive prepared and healthy, with all needed tests, vaccinations, and extra meds. It's no fun to be sick on the road, so head it off.

    Yoghurt --eat in some form. I usually spoon some up for breakfast while I'm traveling. Sometimes I enjoy yoghurt as a smoothie or a snack. Something about the bacteria breakdown, but I think it helps keep my stomach calm.

    Zoos zing -- enjoy. So do other animal situations, such as safaris or snorkeling. You can commune with the animals for as long as you want, one on one.One of my favorite solo things.

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    Floors of Our Own -- And One Women-Only Hotel!

    In response to increasing numbers of single travelers, here's a constantly updated list of hotels offering women-only floors or wings with enhanced security and female staff. In some cases there are peepholes and chains on the door, and surveillance cameras.On the decor side, soft colors, special hangers, toiletries and reading material are part of the pampering for solo women.

    Beijing Kempinski Hotel

    Berlin The Artemesia is a "frauenhotel" – a whole hotel for women only

    Dubai The Jumeirah Emirates Tower Hotel

    Durban Royal Hotel

    Jakarta Alila

    London Hilton Park Lane or The Rubens at the Palace (as in Buckingham) and Grange City Hotel (5*)

    Mexico City The Presidente InterContinental

    New Zealand The Wellington

    Singapore Gallery Hotel

    Tokyo The Shibuya Mark Hotel

    Vancouver Le Soleil has three "Elle" rooms

    Zurich Lady's First Design Hotel (two floors)
    And one of the first in the US: Minneapolis Airport Crowne Plaza By The

    And in Saudi Arabia...

    eTurboNews Media Line reports that a women-only, 25-room hotel, Luthan Hotel & Spa, is designed to encourage Saudi businesswomen to invest in the tourism industry.

    The hotel provides services for female guests, especially businesswomen who need to sleep over in Riyadh during their business trips. Nevertheless, women who would like to reach the capital from remote cities will still find this task difficult to accomplish, The Media Line's analysts say.

    Last year, The Media Line reported on a group of Saudi women, who submitted a petition to the government demanding they be allowed to drive cars, denied to Saudi women by law for religious reasons.Grounds are that it would expose them to unfamiliar men on the roads and endanger the strict separation between men and women in the kingdom.

    In January 2008 Saudi government officials confirmed the government had taken a decision to issue a decree allowing women to drive by the end of the year!

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    Solo Travel Picks, Insights: Fodor's Interview with Lea

    1-4000-1400-X.gif

    Lea's Top Ten Picks for Soloists
    1.
    Amalfi Coast , Top budget pick.
    2.
    Canada, Top budget/solo-friendly pick.
    3.
    Thailand, Top budget pick.
    4.
    Grand Canyon, Top solo experience pick.
    5.
    Canyon Ranch, Top spa pick.
    6.
    Cliffside Inn, Top lodging pick.
    7.
    New York, Favorite solo city/domestic.
    8.
    London, Favorite solo city/ foreign.
    9.
    Peter Deilmann Cruises, Top river cruise line.
    10.
    Windstar, Top small cruise line.

    A recent Fodor's survey reveals that a clear majority of Americans recognize the benefits of traveling alone.
    In her new book, Solo Traveler: Tales and Tips for Great Trips, journalist and intrepid solo sojourner [and our own Solo Lady] Lea Lane examines the bugaboos that keep solitary souls from packing suitcases and offers advice on how to overcome them. Fodor's editors recently sat down with Lea:
    "The best way to overcome the stigmas is to get out there and have fun traveling solo," says Lane. Here are some of her savviest suggestions:.

    lealane.gifWhy travel solo?
    Soloing isn't just a different way to travel---it's the ultimate way. Undiluted. Totally in the moment. Undistracted. Just what you want, how you want it, and when you want it so you can experience all you can. You will have more freedom and meet more people.

    What's the most important advice?
    Don't fall for the negatives you'll hear from those who can't imagine soloing. As a solo traveler you are special and will be able to deal with almost anything with thorough planning, good judgment, an open mind, and a smile. The world is filled with great people and things, and by soloing wisely you'll get to experience them to the fullest. Just trust your instincts and use your head.

    How do I avoid loneliness?
    It's a cliche by now, but "alone" and "lonely" are different words. Separate them. You can be far lonelier with an incompatible travel partner. Just do what you enjoy, go where you want to go, and try to seek out like-minded, interesting people as you travel. A smile and a question work wonders. Seek out places with lots to do and lots of other soloists, like cities, or spas or cruises. Or join groups for all or part of your trip.

    What tips do you have for eating alone?
    Eat in informal places, like cafes or pubs. Have your main meal at lunch. Stay at lodgings with dining on premises. If you go to a fancy place, reserve ahead if possible, arrive early, and don't settle for a bad table. Bring something to read, do some writing, and enjoy being in the spotlight. This is your chance to be a diva---so dress up and act as special as you are. You'll have others envying your free spirit.

    How can a soloist save money?
    A big problem for solo travelers is the single supplement, a surcharge often tacked on to a room when you travel alone. To avoid this, look for special deals, off-season times, and groups that offer discounts or roommates. You can compensate by trying for upgrades, bargaining in the marketplace, and focusing on what's important: Should you spend on food or film? Room or shopping? When you're on your own you can budget the way you want, without an argument.

    What is the key safety issue for women traveling solo?
    The same as anywhere---people who have bad motives, and who will try and take advantage of you in some way. Try to blend in as much as possible, and remain cautious and skeptical. Don't let a cute accent and smooth line fool you. Keep a low profile, don't be flashy, and stay in public places. Safety trumps truth---have a line ready that will discourage jerks.

    What is the most unexpected experience you've had on a solo trip?
    One of the joys of soloing is that options are endless, and you'll have many wonderful, surprising experiences. I was gazing at a painting in a museum in Erfurt Germany. A director of a European travel show saw me and was so impressed that I was on my own he decided to shoot a segment around me, on the spot. So for the rest of the day I was a star, and was treated to dinner as guest of honor at a medieval banquet. You never know!

    Read an excerpt from Lea Lane's Solo Traveler: Tales and Tips for Great Trips. (Reprinted from fodors.com)

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    Eating Up (and Down) the Miles on I-95    

    Almost 45 million of us drive back and forth (some of us traveling solo) to Florida every year, and have to eat somewhere (not to mention all the others who drive some section of I-95 daily or regularly). While logging the miles between Boston and Florida and back multiple times to research their book, Drive I-95: Exit by Exit Info Maps History and Trivia, Stan Posner and Sandra Phillips-Posner preferred not to eat at the generic eateries, seeking more interesting choices. Some discoveries:

    Since coffee is a must, the Posners not only chart every Starbucks at exits, but they introduce you to Wawa, around for over a 100 years. Bring in your own mug and they will refill it for only $.69 for a 10 oz size. The coffee is brewed every 20 minutes and comes in original, dark roast, decaf, and cappuccino as well as flavors like Irish cream, hazelnut and fat-free French vanilla or apple cinnamon. Wawa’s gas prices are great too.

    Food and fun can go together if you stop at the Strike Zone bowling alley in Brunswick, GA and sample their lip-smacking barbequed chicken; or check out the re-vamped JC Penneys in Florence, SC, now Redbone Alley, an indoor two-story Charleston street scene complete with balcony seating, an ice cream truck with free samples, an arcade and a play space for toddlers. Enjoy the cheesy grits mixed with strips of ham, mushrooms, spicy shrimp and chicken, or try the cajun fried quail.

    At Mike's Famous Harley-Davidson in New Castle, DE, you can browse through the showroom and climb aboard the Harleys, and then stop for a bite of food at their grill. Down in Richmond, VA, you can wax nostalgic at the River City Diner with its 50's decor, including a juke box, Howdy Doody on the wall, a TV airing the Dick Van Dyke Show, and stools and a counter for your malts. They're known for breakfasts which are served all day (seafood omelet with crab, shrimp, tomatoes, scallions and two cheeses or banana pecan pancakes), and the signature Rochester Garbage plate (hot dogs, chili, cheese, baked beans, home fries, cole slaw and potato salad). They offer a "cruise-in and carry-out" service, where you can call in your order from the road and they will bring it out to your car. You can check out the menu online ahead of time and order from an exit away.

    Gadsby's Tavern was on the main stagecoach route between Boston and Williamsburg. Open since 1785, the tavern was the center of political, business and social life in Alexandria, VA. George (his favorite duck entree is on the menu) and Martha Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and his son John Quincy, James Madison, James Monroe and the Marquis de Lafayette all dined here.

    The mind-numbing monotony of driving on a highway all day comes to a wonderful halt as you pass through the 103-year-old grand-columned portico of Abingdon Manor in Latte, SC, into a world of gracious dining and elegant surroundings, rated by AAA as 4-diamonds for both. Upon arrival you are offered a complimentary sherry in front of a warming fire. Breakfast and dinner are served on silver, crystal and china surrounded by fresh flowers and soothing jazz. In the style of a private dinner party, there is one set meal each day.

    People have been making a pit stop for 90-years at Furlong's Cottage Candies in Walpole, MA, for the famous stemmed cherries dipped into fondant and then milk or dark chocolate. They offer 18 different cream centers (including pineapple, ice cream drop, pistachio, marshmallow, and coconut) or chocolate-covered apricots, orange peel, brazil nuts, ginger and prunes. People who love hard and chewy candy will enjoy molasses sponge, peanut butter bolsters and caramash. Sugar-free treats are also available here, and most everything can be shipped home.

    Wooster Street in New Haven, CT, is famous for Frank Pepe's clam pizza and for other Italian joints on the street, but a lesser-known and more comprehensive Italian food selection can be found in the Federal Hill area of Providence, RI. Discover family-style Italian food the way momma would have made it. For an inexpensive meal head to Angelo's Civita Farnese, where the third generation is still cooking up escarole & beans, baked pork chops, and veal & peppers sandwiches. Perfect for a road trip stop are Venda Ravioli's prepared dishes-to-go: rolled eggplant, stuffed portobello mushrooms, frittata, arancine and lobster ravioli. For dessert at Scialo Bros. Bakery (open since 1917), the daughters Carol and Lois are baking the sfogliatelle, anise slices, cassata cake, tiramisu and torrones.

    The book includes a new style map-guide offering 102 simple exit-by-exit 30-mile North or South maps. In addition to detailed exit information (gas stations, motels, pet accommodations, radar traps, radio stations, ATM machines, golf courses, auto mechanics and shopping), there are 90 pages of stories about offbeat museums, parks, walking towns and places for kids to play. Find out about the Alexander Hamilton/Aaron Burr duel in NJ, the four errors in the Declaration of Independence, and how explorer Giovanni de Verrazano got gobbled up by cannibals.

    I-95 Roadfood Trivia: Did you know...

    ? Both hamburgers and pizza were invented in New Haven, CT.
    ? There is American caviar, and you can buy it at Walter's Caviar in Darien, GA.
    ? At Sonic drive-ins, you can still get your meals delivered to your car by roller-skating servers.
    ? RIers drink coffee flavored "cabinets"; try one at Modern Diner in Providence
    ? In VA, you can stock up on greatly discounted Russell Stover chocolates at their outlet store.
    ? At the Culinary Archives & Museum in RI, you can find rare cookbooks, cruise ship menus, the evolution of the stove, and the history of the eating habits of our Presidents. You will also delight in Morris Nathanson's neon/stainless diner decor.
    ? In 1897, in Camden County, NJ, "condensed" soup was cooked and then canned, eventually becoming the famous Campbell's Soup.

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Solo Traveler: Tales and Tips for Great Trips, 1st Edition (Special-Interest Titles)

 

 




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