The winter months of December through February — and sometimes through March — are notorious for flight delays due to bad weather. People risk delays during the holidays because they have long periods of mandated time-off and want to spend it with their families. But no one wants to request time off in February only to spend half of the vacation managing flight delays and bad weather.
But while February isn’t the best travel month for every destination, airlines offer some pretty sweet deals on flights during the year’s shortest month. With some trips discounted as much as 79%, travelers should take airlines up on their offers. We analyzed a year’s worth of Hipmunk flight and hotel pricing data, and the following February destinations are worth the bargain.New York, NY
Whether covered in snow or sunshine, New York is New York — a magical amusement park for both kids and adults. There will never be a shortage of indoor and outdoor winter activities. With flights and a three-night hotel stay averaging $962 in February, the Big Apple offers a steal. Take a horse carriage ride through Central Park as you admire the snow-covered terrain and monuments that make the city so enchanting. Ice skating is available through March at parks including the Wollman Rink in Central Park and Rockefeller Center. If it gets too nippy, be entertained at a Broadway show as you stay warm.Philadelphia, PA
With 67 National Historic Landmarks, Philly ranks third in the country for most landmarks, including the famous cracked Liberty Bell and the house of poet Edgar Allen Poe. But the city is also a modern metropolis with a striking skyline, impressive street art murals, and rich pop culture. Run up the long steps to the main entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and recreate the famous opening of the cult classic film “Rocky.” Philly has one of the oldest outdoor markets in the U.S. — Italian Market — and also boasts Terminal Market, a great indoor destination. Both sell everything needed to make delicious meals. An average flight and three-night hotel stay in February averaged $819, a savings of up to $80 compared with spring months.San Francisco, CA
Much like San Francisco’s weather stays constant, so do flight and hotel prices, averaging more than a $1,000 most of the year for a flight and a three-night hotel stay. But in late spring, the average was $953, making it the ideal time to head west. SF offers a multitude of varied activities sure to entertain all personalities. Pier 39 alone offers shopping, restaurants, Aquarium of the Bay, and a two-story carousel. But the most endearing attraction is simply observing the quirky sea lions lounge by the pier. In 2015 Walkscore.com gave San Francisco a score of 83.9, making it the second most walkable city in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Walk or ride the cable cars to get around.Dublin, Ireland
Flying to Europe from the U.S. in the summer will typically cost around $1,000 or more. But flights to certain European destinations are quite affordable in the coming months. Dublin is small and easy to walk around, ensuring travelers can see and do most of what the city has to offer in a single weekend. Admire the beautiful architecture of the famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Walk east for nine minutes to reach St. Stephen’s Green and appreciate the park’s original Victorian layout. Trinity College Dublin, one of Dublin’s most prestigious universities, is only a six minute walk north of the park. The college’s Long Room is eye candy for book nerds.Paris, France
Visiting Paris in the springtime is recommended, but it’s so much more affordable in February and March, with some flights ranging between $500 and $600 dollars. Much like New York, there is always plenty to see and do in Paris. Must do outdoor activities include riding to the top of the Eiffel Tower, admiring Notre Dame Cathedral, visiting at least one historical Parisian cemetery. Keep out of the elements at one of Paris’ many museums, the Louvre Museum being one of the most famous for housing Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and the Louvre Pyramid. For modern art lovers, visit the Pompidou Center or the Jeu de Paume.
This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on February 2nd.
South Carolina's long summers, unique Southern flavors, and geographic beauty make it a picture-perfect travel destination. To get the most out of your trip, get out your checklist and make sure you have all your unforgettables. As you pack, keep these five travel essentials at the fore of your mind.
South Carolina is in a subtropical zone so its summers are hot and humid. Winters are mild at about 60 degrees average but temperatures can certainly drop to the 30s in the early mornings and nights. Factor in the storm season, which runs from summer to fall, and sporadic rain throughout the year.
You’ll need light, breathable, cotton clothes for the humid months as well as sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats. Carry layers for the winter season so you can adjust to changing temperatures. Bring rain gear such as a collapsible travel umbrella and a thin poncho you can fold up and tuck out of sight in the corner of your handbag.
Most of the things you'll need will really depend on your itinerary and how you plan to spend your time. If you have your sights set on the beach, pack a bathing suit. A destination like Isle of Palms, a barrier island in the Charleston area, has miles and miles of raw shore for great strolls and phenomenal sunsets. Don’t forget your cover-up and several beach towels, plus your hat, shades, and healthy sun protection for your skin. Pack a stylish tote that can hold everything you’ll need for your beach outing.
Sometimes getting away is the perfect time to assess your fitness level and amp up your goals for physical health, so pack your fitness gear. A resort town like Hilton Head Island gives you a lot to tackle at once. It has 12 miles of beach, yoga studios, gyms, world-class tennis facilities, and over 60 miles of biking trails. Pack sneakers with great foot support, comfortable athletic clothes, a visor, sports shades, and extra cash for renting any equipment you might need.
Hilton Head Island
South Carolina's seductive landscapes and coastal proximity offer great opportunities for adventure-lovers. Whether you're sailing in ocean waters among bottlenose dolphins, horse-back riding across golden fields, or canoeing among old bald cypresses in the Congaree National Park in Columbia, there are plenty of options that will get you closer to Mother Nature. Among the items you might need are: binoculars, waterproof footwear, a backpack, sketchbooks and journals, camera film and memory cards, insect repellant, hats, and long-sleeve shirts and pants for bug protection.
The South's urban vibrance combined with its significant heritage offers up unique experiences, from extravagant shopping tours to the stunning architecture that defines Charleston, and phenomenal learning experiences like those you'll find at the Boone Hall Plantation in Mount Pleasant. You’ll probably do a lot of walking, so you’ll need dependable walking shoes, a daypack, and a good plan for water and refreshments.
Most importantly, plan your itinerary for your entire trip. The more prepared you are when you get there, the more you can focus on creating amazing memories to bring back home.
This article is part of Hipmunk’s Destination Unknown travel series.
This post was published on Heart & Soul by Kemba Banton.
AUTHOR: Kemba Banton is a writer, artist, and mother, passionate about life, social change, and personal empowerment. She has a B.A. in Anthropology and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. She’s teamed up with Heart & Soul and Hipmunk to bring intriguing tidbits about travel destinations across the world.
Canada is an amazing winter destination due to its pristine beauty and wealth of outdoor winter activities. There is something for everyone here! Of course buying all your gear or forgotten items while on winter vacation is considerably more expensive than bringing them from home. So, if you are heading to Canada this winter, here is what you need for some of the most popular activities:
Getting to see winter animals in their native environment is a humbling, peaceful activity -- and a great opportunity for photographers. Edmonton, Alberta is home of the Elk Island National Park and offers some of the best winter Elk viewing in all of Canada. Don't forget:
Banff, Alberta is home to the Banff National Park and an amazing destination for adventurous winter activities such as dogsledding. To avoid expensive gear rental fees, be sure to bring:
Canada has no shortage of skiing destinations for people of all skill levels, however Whistler, British Columbia is consistently ranked as (one of) the top ski destination in Canada. It not only is fun for kids and adults, but also has plenty of non-skiing activities as well, including snow tubing and snowcat tours. For those who plan to go skiing, do not forgot to bring:
For seasonal festivals, shows and events, there is nowhere better to be than Quebec. Food festivals. Holiday shows. Performances and events a plenty. There is something new to do every day here during winter. However the pinnacle of all Canada's winter festivals is the Quebec winter carnival, Le Carnaval de Québec. It is one of the world's largest winter festivals and includes parades, parties, ice sculptures, sleigh races, shows, amusement rides and more.
What to bring to Le Carnaval de Québec?
Why your appetite? The carnival also includes the "Bain de Neige" or snow bath. The unique challenge is something unique that you won't soon forget!
When it comes to general outdoor activities and family fun, Mississauga, Ontario is a great choice. There is plenty of great ways to pass the days outside. Some of their most popular activities include tobogganing, snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice skating. Of course there are also lots of great festivals, events and even indoor activities as well. Just don't forget:
One final note: do not bring any cotton clothing. Cotton (including blue jeans) absorbs moisture and when combined with the cold, snowy Canadian winter, can easily cause hypothermia.
Ever a city of cultural convergence and commerce, modern Istanbul’s 11 to 12 million annual international visitors can find themselves beckoned into shops and restaurants in their native tongues. There are a great many things to see in Turkey, but for the traveler looking for a truly unique experience, the Grand Bazaar is a feast for the senses. Constructed in the 1450s following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, the Grand Bazaar is alive with color, smells, and sounds. With over 5000 shops, the market is open from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday, with closures on Sundays and bank holidays. Here are some tips having an optimal shopping experience in the Grand Bazaar, so grab some Turkish Lira (currently 0.36 to the US dollar) and hit the market where the wandering visitor can find everything from fortune telling rabbits, to vibrant textiles, rich spices, and much more.
If you’re looking for a place to stay in the middle of it all, at Niles Hotel Istanbul – Special Class, the rooms have Ottoman style décor, and air conditioning or the DoubleTree by Hilton Istanbul Old Town for modern chic with affordable prices.
Upon first entering the Grand Bazaar, expect to immediately see a dozen things you want to buy. It is a rookie mistake to commit to the first eye catching object, so try to refrain from buying the first thing you see. Instead, spend some time walking around and observing many shops (with a smartphone, it’s easy to pin the location to return later) to get an idea of price range and item selection. With some 5,000 shops stretching 60 streets, there is a lot to see. The high domed Cevâhir Bedesten at the market’s center was originally constructed by Sultan Mehmet II as a dedicated area for the trade of textiles. The building still stands, and continues to house some of the market’s most precious objects and antiques. There’s much to see, so consider staying at the Barcelo Saray Hotel for easy return trips.
Many shopkeepers will offer çay, or tea, to browsing patrons. To refuse is rude, though acceptance at some 16 shops might very well be a bit much. To avoid coming out of an afternoon feeling like a water balloon, politely accept and sip, accepting does not commit the shopper to making a purchase.
Many Americans are inexperienced with haggling or bargaining, but it is typical in a great many countries around the world. It is common to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed when starting out, but trust us, it can be quite fun and exhilarating once you’ve had some practice and walk out of a transaction with a great price! Vendors will often intentionally inflate prices because they 1) expect patrons to bargain, and 2) generally charge more to tourists. To get a feel for fair prices and how to bargain, it can help to try to inconspicuously observe locals haggling. If the price is wrong, one might try thanking the vendor and moving to leave the shop, at which point, the vendor may counter by asking what price you want. Alternatively, the vendor may walk away, but if you refuse to cave, and the last price was not too far off from reasonable, they may return to resume haggling. It can also be helpful to find two vendors with the same item and play them off one another. While you should be confident and firm while bargaining, keep your tone light and friendly. The business owners often have families to support, so don’t be rude.
When a particular item catches your eye, avoid showing too much interest or enthusiasm, especially if that item is rare as the shop owner will know they have the upper hand as they know you cannot find another vendor with a potentially better price and will stay firm.
If haggling still feels uncomfortable, there will be shops with fixed sticker prices, but expect to pay much more at such establishments.
No trip to the Grand Bazaar would be complete without shopping for a Turkish carpet. However, this can be quite an expensive process, and it is very difficult to know the value of the prospects. If you want to be safe, try a trusted shop, as many carpets are now manufactured in China and it can be difficult to tell—there is a list of trusted shops here (though it is certainly worth while to visit small shops in the Bazaar). There is a range of materials, like silk or wool; designs, which are specific to the different cultures who hand-make the rugs (the more intricate the pattern, the more expensive); dyes, natural and chemical (natural dyes are less subject to fading, and do so more gracefully than chemical dyes); number of knots per square meter (the more knots, the better made, the more expensive); sizes (prayer rug sized to large).
Visit several carpet shops, where the vendors will treat you to a show of their wares (this can take hours). Do not buy on the first day, but rather, return to your favorite shop after having visited several, getting a sense for colors, patterns, and prices. Always buy handmade rugs. Again, definitely haggle for the price, but do so respectfully and with some humor.
Consider how to get a purchase home—a canvas duffel bag lined with plastic can help protect the textiles, though some shops offer shipping services.
While foreign visitors are not expected to dress according to local customs, when visiting any of the mosques, one must dress appropriately for admittance.
At the Aya Sofya or Blue Mosque, which are very close to the Grand Bazaar, men must wear long pants, and women must wear cover to mid shins. Women must also don a wrap or pashmina covering their heads. Wraps are supplied at the entrance of the Blue Mosque, free of charge or more stylish choices can be purchased easily in the Grand Bazaar.
A day of haggling can work up an appetite. There are incredible options available to the traveler, but we recommend heading over to the Galata Bridge for an Istanbul fish sandwich. Fishermen catch, grill, and serve their catches fresh on their boats so you can enjoy a delicious, fresh dinner while watching the sunset over the Golden Horn!
This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on November 1st.
No matter where you live, the version of a city seen from a tour bus bears little resemblance to the experience of actually living there. Nowhere is that more true than history-rich Europe.
You might see everything in London (The Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, The Globe, and The Sherlock Holmes Museum) without getting a true sense of what it’s like to live there. By the same token, a born Londoner will get coffee at their favorite cart (adjacent to Westminster Abbey) without giving the monument a second glance. A Berlin itinerary that includes the Reichstag building and the Berlin Cathedral but skips the Club Der Visionaere would be a waste of time to any music-loving Berliner.
Since we’re always looking for ways to have our cake and eat it, too, we picked the brains of a few well-informed European locals to bring you the very best hidden gems in some the world’s most fascinating cities. Consider it a local’s guide to off-the-grid musts. (Fair warning: some are naughtier than others.) With this expertly-curated list, you can explore Europe’s best underground offerings and still have time to hit the Eiffel Tower.
This sound and light festival happens once a year. Set in a converted abandoned power plant in central Berlin, the space is entirely cement, with 300-400 foot ceilings, multiple floors, and totally awe-inspiring. As you explore the space, you realize it’s a labyrinth. You’ll find more and more hidden rooms. It’s impossible to explore them all.
Upon arrival at this year’s festival, everyone went to the second floor, where it was pitch black and silent. (Picture that crazy party scene in The Matrix: It’s just like that.) Eventually, a man rose on a podium, raised his hands, and lights shone beneath him. Surrounding him, a choir began to sing.
Later explorations of the space exposed more bars within bars, rooms within rooms turned into art exhibits. At midnight, the place turned into a discotheque. Consider this a much more interesting alternative to the Berghain.
SpreePark is a true local secret. The story goes that a decade or two ago, the owner got into some trouble and had to close this amusement park. Now, it’s like a cross between Little Shop Of Horrors, The Boxcar Children, and Harry Potter. It’s enclosed by a gate which in-the-know ruffians jump over to sneak around and explore.
The place looks frozen in time — railways, an enormous Ferris wheel, cobweb-covered space cars, a merry-go-round. Circus tents and swamps that once were gorgeous ponds — it's a deserted wonderland.
You'll definitely see rebellious kids walking around, but everyone’s on tiptoe. Guards patrol the area to keep people out, though it’s an open secret that people do. From what I understand, the worst thing that happens is they write down your name and ask you to leave. Hiding in the bushes, sneaking around and exploring, it feels a bit like Mission Impossible. It’s magical, and a must-do for more adventurous visitors.
Agua is a multistory dance boat that’s permanently docked on the Seine. The entrance is definitely not asking for attention — you have to go down a winding staircase to get there. But if you like salsa, the dancing is unbelievable, and salsa on the Seine is an attraction in itself. One floor is devoted to salsa, one to Kizomba and Semba. The event happens every Tuesday, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.
At the top of Montmartre, this stunning work of architecture is worth a trip on its own merit. But if you put aside the religious and historical significance of the building, the basilica remains a slice of Paris that shouldn’t be passed over. Montmartre is a large hill in Paris’s 18th arrondissement that overlooks the city.
It’s the best place to watch the many fireworks shows that happen throughout the year, in celebration of things like Bastille Day. I suggest grabbing a blanket, getting coffee at the Café de 2 Moulins (Audrey Tatou’s workplace as the titular character in Amélie), and watching the sun set over the city. Fireworks or none, it’s an idyllic, romantic way to spend an evening.
There’s not much to do in Gosport, so adventurous types often take the ferry to Portsmouth (only partly because there might be a shop or two there that doesn’t card, but you didn’t hear it from me). Then, you fill a duffle bag with booze, and ferry to Hill Head.
You have to walk past a couple of police stations to get there, which adds to the manufactured sense of thrill. You know you’ve made it when you reach a rocky outcropping on the far side of some boulders. It overlooks The Isle of Wight, across the Solent, and has a beautiful view of Portsmouth, beyond the bay.
The liquor isn’t a requirement to enjoy the quiet and the view. You might see one or two fellow adventurers, but they’ll be enjoying their own private musings. If you’re visiting England, finding picturesque places to reflect, away from the noise and bustle of the city, is a lovely and necessary respite.
This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on October 22nd
Tipping is a hot topic in the United States these days, as rising minimum wages call into question the standard practice of making servers reliant on tips. For travelers abroad, tipping is an equally sticky issue. Figuring out what to tip when can all too quickly turn a relaxing vacation into a stressful one. Knowing what to tip, on the other hand, can empower travelers to navigate a foreign culture with ease.
Because tipping rules vary by country, region, and place of business, it’s important to research your destination’s customs prior to any trip. Start by consulting this guide, which outlines tipping customs in 20 countries around the world, for restaurants, hotels, and beyond!
Restaurants: While tipping at restaurants and bars isn’t considered a necessity, many tourists often tip around 10%.
Taxis: Tips aren’t expected, but consider rounding up to the nearest whole peso so the driver doesn’t have to sort out change. If they help you with your bags, add on a bit more as a token of appreciation.
Hospitality: Tip tour guides up to 20% and always give bag handlers a small bill or two.
Restaurants: Australian servers are paid decent wages and generally don’t expect tips. Recognize exceptional service by rounding up the bill. In upscale establishments only, tip 10%.
Taxis: While tipping isn’t expected, it’s common courtesy to round up to the nearest whole number.
Hospitality: For the most part, tips aren’t expected within the hospitality industry.
Restaurants: Canada’s tipping protocols are similar to those in the United States (although most Canadian servers are paid minimum wage before tips). Most restaurants expect a minimum 15% tip.
Taxis: It’s customary to tip cab drivers 10% upon arriving at your destination.
Hospitality: Tip concierges for exceptional service only, leave behind a few dollars (or more) for housekeeping, and give bag handlers $1-2 for each bag they carry.
Restaurants: Most places in the Caribbean islands follow the same tipping standards as the United States, so in general plan to tip 15% or more. One possible exception: If you’re staying in an all-inclusive resort, check to see if the service charge is included.
Taxis: Plan to tip around $1-2 for in-town fares. Tack on a bit extra for late-night or long-distance rides.
Hospitality: Most hotels include a service charge in the bill. If this isn’t the case, be sure to tip bag handlers ($1-2 per bag) and housekeepers ($2 per day). Many resorts discourage tipping, so use your own discretion.
Restaurants: China has a fairly strict no-tipping culture (though some finer establishments may include a 10-15% service charge), so there’s no need to tip at restaurants. If you want to offer a tip for exceptional service, do so out of sight of the server’s employer.
Taxis: Tipping isn’t expected, but it is appreciated (especially in larger cities). Because there’s no customary rate, use your own discretion when deciding how much to tip.
Hospitality: Tipping is usually not expected, although this is changing in more westernized establishments. A good bet is to tip tour guides, housekeepers, and bag handlers a few dollars per day (or bag).
Restaurants: Tip will be included in the bill at most Costa Rican restaurants. If you want to recognize exceptional service, add another 10% on top.
Taxis: Tips aren’t required, but it’s a friendly gesture to tip a few dollars or round up the fare to the nearest whole number.
Hospitality: Tip tour guides 10-15%, and give a few dollars to bag handlers and housekeeping.
Restaurants: While tipping wasn’t always standard in the Czech Republic, the custom has been catching on. There’s no need to tip if the bill includes a service charge (though feel free to add on another 10% for great service). If no service charge is included in the bill, tip 10-15%.
Taxis: Round up the fare to the nearest whole number.
Hospitality: Give bag handlers $1-3 per bag, housekeepers $3-5 per day, and concierges $20 if they go above and beyond.
Restaurants: The government requires a 10% service charge on all bills at restaurants, bars, and hotels. While it’s not necessary to tip more than that, you’re free to hand over a few extra dirhams to the server.
Taxis: Cab drivers don’t expect tips, but it’s polite to round up to the nearest 5-dirham note.
Hospitality: Because service charges are included in the bill, there’s little need to tip hotel staff unless you want to recognize great service.
Restaurants: Tip will be included in the bill at most establishments, but plan to tack on another 5-10%.
Taxis: Pay cab drivers 10-15% beyond the stated fare.
Hospitality: Give housekeepers $1-2 per day throughout your stay, tip $1 per bag for bag handlers, and give the concierge $10-20 at the beginning of your stay to ensure great service.
Restaurants: French law requires that service be included in the price, but most locals round up their bills with small change (or up to 10% of the bill).
Taxis: Plan to tip cab drivers about 10%.
Hospitality: Give bag handlers $1-2 per bag and housekeepers around $2-3 per day. Exceptional service from the concierge should warrant 10 or more Euros.
Restaurants: Germany’s tipping customs work much like France’s: Service is included in the price, but it’s customary to round up the bill to an even figure (this usually amounts to 5-10% of the total bill).
Taxis: Round up to the nearest Euro or tack on an extra few Euros if you’re feeling generous.
Hospitality: While tips aren’t required, it’s courteous to leave behind a few Euros for housekeepers and to pay baggage handlers around 2 Euros per item. Slip the concierge 10 or more Euros for great service.
Restaurants: Tip 10% for the waiter, even at upscale restaurants (where a 10% service charge is included in the bill).
Taxis: Tips aren’t expected for short trips. If you hire a driver for a long trip or multiple days, tip around 150-300 rupees per day.
Hospitality: Tip bag handlers around 20 rupees per bag and offer tour guides several hundred rupees.
Restaurants: Tips aren’t expected, but feel free to round up the bill or tip 10% for exceptional service.
Taxis: Tips aren’t expected, but they are appreciated. Use your own discretion.
Hospitality: Ditto the above. Tipping really isn’t expected in Italy, but who doesn’t like being appreciated for good service?
Restaurants: It’s unlikely that a server will accept your tip, so it’s probably most polite not to offer one.
Taxis: Tips are not at all expected. A simple “thank you” will suffice.
Hospitality: Tour guides don’t expect tips but are likely to accept them. Hotel staff may refuse a tip if offered; you’re more likely to transfer cash if you put it in an envelope and leave it behind for staff, rather than foisting cash into their hands.
Restaurants: When service is included in the bill, there’s no need to tip. Otherwise, plan to leave 10-15%.
Taxis: While tips aren’t expected, it’s courteous to round up the fare.
Hospitality: Many hotel staff rely on tips as part of their take-home pay, so be generous. Bag handlers, housekeepers, the concierge, and anyone else who performs a service during your stay warrants a tip. The amount is up to your own discretion.
Restaurants: Like Australia, New Zealand doesn’t have much of a tipping culture. Service and sales tax are almost always included in the bill. Tip only for exceptional service or when the menu states that service is not included.
Taxis: Tipping isn’t expected, but acknowledge great service by rounding up the fair or leaving behind a few small bills.
Hospitality: Ditto the above. Tips aren’t expected, but they’re a nice way to express appreciation for a job well done.
Restaurants: Locals generally leave small change or round up to the nearest euro, so go ahead and follow suit. If you receive great service or are dining at an upscale establishment, leave a 5-10% tip.
Taxis: Small change, rounding up to the nearest Euro, or a couple of extra Euros are all acceptable tips.
Hospitality: Pay the bag handler up to five Euros, the person who delivers room service 1-2 Euros, and housekeepers a few Euros for the stay.
Restaurants: In nearly all establishments, it’s customary to leave a 10-15% tip for the waiter.
Taxis: Plan to tip cab drivers around 10%.
Hospitality: Tip bag handlers around $1 per bag. Tip other hotel staff at your own discretion.
Restaurants: Expectations here vary widely: Some sources advocate for not leaving a tip, others suggest leaving 10-15%, and still others suggest leaving $1 per diner. Keep it simple by sticking with 10% or $1 per person, whichever is more generous.
Taxis: Tips aren’t encouraged, but a tip of 20 or 30 Baht is courteous.
Hospitality: It’s standard to tip bag handlers 20 Baht. While there’s no standard tip for housekeepers, it’s respectful to leave behind a tip (the size of which is up to you).
Restaurants: If a service charge isn’t included in the bill, tip 10% (or higher for exceptional service).
Taxis: Tip 10-15% for black cabs and licensed minicabs, or just round up to the nearest Euro. Tip extra for help with loading or unloading baggage.
Hospitality: Most hotels include a service charge, but it’s still customary to offer small tips to bag handlers and housekeepers.
No matter where you are in the world, remember that servers, cab drivers, and hotel staff are performing a tough (and often thankless) job. Be both appreciative and thoughtful—try to tip in cash and in the local currency so your server can put the money to good use. And practice discretion when handing out tips, particularly in regions where tipping may be frowned upon. Respecting local customs will go a long way toward make any excursion a positive experience.
This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Himpunk on September 9th.
France — and especially Paris — has a love/hate relationship with tourists. Tourism is an important industry, but if you’re not careful, you can make a nuisance of yourself with locals. Here are five ways you can avoid being that tourist:
Remember, to the French, France isn’t a tourist destination, it’s home. You’re the guest and the one who has to adapt, not them. Try to fit in, and you’re sure to have a great time.
This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on August 19th.
If you’re going to try to see the countless amazing sites across America, you’ll need to get started now. And if you’re hoping to remain within a budget, you should definitely follow these tips.
Some cities are always going to be expensive, but if you think ahead and buy a Federal Recreation Pass, you can enter federally-funded recreation areas throughout the United States for free. This includes places like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone Park. You can even have some friends tag along!
If you’re driving across the country, a cooler with lunch meats, soda and condiments can come in handy at rest stops. Even when you’re staying at a hotel, it’s best to have food stored in the refrigerator. Save eating out for those special restaurants that you just have to try.
Even if you don’t pay for a pass to see national landmarks, there are countless sites you can visit for free. From the National History Museum in D.C. to the French Quarter — which also has low cost hotels in New Orleans like Historic Streetcar Inn — there are definite stopping points that can be accessed on a shoestring budget.
If you’ve opted to see the country via automobile, one of the best ways to stay within your budget is to bring friends along. Not only will you get a better value on your Federal Recreation Pass, but you’ll also be able to split the cost of fuel and your lodging. Just imagine, for instance, how much more affordable a trip to The Big Apple would be if you weren’t footing the bill for New York hotels and taxis alone.
Online travel sites have become a popular way of saving money. Using travel aggregation sites like Hipmunk, which seek out the lowest prices from all the top travel sites, is an ideal way to save money on traveling.
Imagine if you knew which gas stations along your route had the lowest-priced fuel. Just think of how much you could save! That’s exactly what GasBuddy does. You can check out their website or download the app, and never overpay for gas again!
When you do opt to buy food from a restaurant, it’s best to place your order to go. This will minimize the necessity of tipping. Even if you find a cheap hotel in cities ranging from Chicago to El Paso, tipping can quickly wipe out the money you’re saving on a low-cost hotel.
Traveling across the country doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition. There are now many methods for saving on cross-country trips. Fortunately, this means great travels without breaking the bank.
This article was posted by The Hipmunk on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog on August 11th.
As the sultry summer rolls in, the desire to travel peaks for many. According to a TripAdvisor survey, 67% of U.S. travelers are planning to embark on an international leisure trip this year. In 2014, only 50% of the travelers were reported taking one. The survey also revealed that 95% of travelers from the country have plans for a domestic trip this year.
The survey features 44,000 global responses from hotel sectors and travelers, including over 6,700 U.S. respondents. It also indicated that the travel budgets in the country are likely to average $8,700 in 2015. One quarter of the respondents in the U.S. are planning to keep their 2015 travel budget similar to last year, whereas 43% have plans to spend more and another 23% are anticipating cutbacks.
The TripBarometer "Global Travel Economy" report from TripAdvisor also names the “Top 5 Dream Destinations for U.S. Travelers” in 2015:
These are places that U.S. travellers said they would like to visit, if money is no object. But for many travelers money is an object and therefore we have created this list of 5 international budget vacation destinations:
Since Italy is one of the top dream destinations of the U.S. travelers, we could not help but include it in our list. 2015 is indeed the year if you have always dreamt about visiting this land of art and ancient ruins. Expo Milano, from May 1 to Oct. 31, is expected to bring in over 20 million visitors to the country.
But we are not just talking about big cities like Rome, Venice and Milan. There are several other breathtaking beautiful cities in Northern Italy that deserve all your attention. Visit the Roman Theatre in Aosta; the beautiful Lake Como; the magical seaport city of Trieste with its scenic Città Vecchia; the mediaval city of Udine and its Venetian-Gothic style buildings and castles, and hundreds of other tiny picturesque towns that are literally begging to be explored.
If you are foodie and have budget constraints, visit this gourmet paradise this summer. The colorful Georgian life of Tbilisi awaits you. Don’t forget to savor a healthy portion of their scrumptious meat dumplings (locally known as khinkhali) and khackapuri, which is the Georgian equivalent to the pizza and wash it down with some of the finest rich red wine. You will be surprised to know that the tradition of wine growing in Georgia goes back to 6000 BC and the country has some interesting grape varieties.
Apart from being a gourmet paradise, Tbilisi has a rich history. This ancient city was founded in the 5th century and has been rebuilt 29 times. For all the history buffs, the city offers an exotic mix of classical, medieval, Art Deco and Soviet structures.
Explore the 4th century Persian citadel, the churches and museums all day through and relax in the steam of the famous sulphur baths in the Old Town. The summer weather makes it a perfect vacation destination and its insanely low holiday prices are added bonus.
This Pacific paradise has good news for budget travellers this year: hotel prices in Bali are down 12 percent, as per Hotel Price Index. The Island of the Gods is popular for its distinctive black sand beaches and rugged coastlines. If you are inclined to it, enjoy the island’s world-class surfing and diving and explore the jungle interior that houses 10,000 picturesque temples (including the renowned hillside temple Pura Luhur Batukau) and volcanoes.
Take a walk around Ubud, the Balinese bustling metropolis, to explore its stunning royal palace and soak your soul in the heavenly gamelan music; the traditional local market is a shopper’s paradise.
If you want a laid-back vacation, the hotel pools are great places to laze around. After all Bali, with its natural beauty, cultural attractions and unique music, is a place to sooth your mind and body into a state of perfect relaxation.
If you think Istanbul is the only place to visit in Turkey, İzmir will stun you with its liberal and laid-back feel. Located along the Central Aegean coastline, this historic and happening port city lives by its seafront kordon. Visit the hip bars in the Alsancak District or its collective art exhibition spaces if you want to experience İzmir’s distinct culture.
June is a great time to visit the city when it hosts the International Izmir Festival, where you can enjoy classical and contemporary ballet, music and theatre performances. The city with its Mediterranean Europe atmosphere is a chic alternative to other popular and more expensive Turkish destinations.
Porto or Oporto is one of the most charismatic cities of Europe. In fact, you won’t find another European budget spot finer than this second largest metropolis of Portugal. The motto of this picturesque city, where Port Wine was named and originated, is: “You’ve tried the wine; now try the city!”
The Ribeira Square, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and lies next to the Douro River, is the place to start off. Enjoy the art of people watching from a quiet corner while sipping your morning ‘bica’, which is the Portuguese espresso. The Crystal Palace Gardens are just a short walk away from the Ribeira Square where you can see roaming peacocks along with other love birds. Head towards the Romantic Museum or explore the city’s renowned architects.
Don’t forget to indulge in the culinary feast of a classic Porto lunch, the ‘Francesinha’, a meat-delight served with layers of various meats and melted cheese and drenched in tomato sauce. It is served with a chilled Portuguese beer.
The romantic Porto awaits you this summer with its intriguing and majestic beauty for that ultimate budget European vacation.
While these are some of the best international budget holiday destinations you can think of this summer, you can further cut the cost by opting for a budget hotel and bargained deals instead of staying in a luxury resort. Whether you are looking to explore a royal European city or relax on the beach, we have tried to include vacation options for every budget and taste.
I've been on more than my fair share of cruises. I'm actually not certain how many I've been on. More than 100. To be fair, I worked on cruise ships. And yes, some days it actually was work. Really, the amount of time you spend working depends on your job. The first three years I worked quite a bit. I was a youth counselor.
The last two years I spent on ships were as a "Computer Lecturer." I taught computer classes to passengers. I was technically a crew member with "Passenger Status." It was the best of all worlds. It meant that when I wasn't working, I was playing. I got to use the pools and hot tubs, fitness facilities and eat in the dining rooms. I got to play in the ports and explore fantastic new places. Things that normal crew members aren't allowed to do. Also I was able to have a guest sail with me for free nearly every cruise. It was the perfect job. Truly.
Over five years I worked on ten different ships for two different cruise lines. It was life-changing. And eye-opening. So if you're planning a cruise, take advantage of my industry insider experience to help streamline your process.
Cruising has become a huge vacation industry. And by huge, I mean just look at the sheer tonnage afloat these days. Before airplanes, one had to sail across the seas to travel. Inter-continental traveling was a lengthy and difficult affair. One group of my ancestors immigrated from Sweden to the US in 1866. They traveled from Stockholm to Hamburg and then from Hamburg to New York. The journey from Hamburg took nearly nine weeks to complete. The ship had only provisioned for three to four weeks at sea. It was a harrowing journey to say the least. These days you can hop on a plane in New York and be in London in six hours. Current Cruise liners make the journey using massive propulsion systems in five days, laden with enough food to feed their passengers and crew for nearly double that time and stocked with amenities enough to keep even the most finicky traveler happy.
(Titanic Image from the deep, dark recesses of the interweb....)
The Titanic was said to have been the largest ship afloat in her day, a "modern marvel." Titanic and her sister ship, the Olympic weighed in at 46,328 tons. In 2010, Royal Caribbean line launched their new ship Oasis of the Seas, which is the largest ship built to date. It weighs in at 225,282 tons, more than five times the Titanic!
The Oasis of the Seas boasts living luxury at sea with it's Spa & Fitness center, four pools, ten hot tubs, surf machines, sport courts, mini-golf, zip line, casino, theatres, nightclub, and youth and teen centers. And don’t forget the FOOD, FOOD, FOOD. Aside from the traditional dining rooms and buffets there are also cafes and fine-dining restaurants galore.
There are more cruise ships sailing today than ever before and that translates to price drops for passengers. The most expensive suite on Titanic cost around $4500 per person, given inflation, in 2008 that would have been the equivalent of $95,860 USD! Today, depending on the cruise line you sail, you can sail a transatlantic cruise in a luxury suite (but keep in mind, a standard room isn't exactly steerage these days either!) for between $2500-$5000/person or only $500-$1000 for a basic, inside cabin.
With the huge number of cruise ships sailing the seas these days, it is safe to say that just about anyone can find a cruise they will love. To help streamline the confusing process of finding your perfect cruise, let's walk through a few things:
1. Is This Your First Cruise? First-time cruisers could potentially set sail in a bucket and love it. As you go on more cruises you become much pickier. It's just a fact of cruising. So if you've never been and don't know what to expect, I'd recommend sailing a less expensive itinerary/ship to get your sea legs. Also, go on a shorter cruise -- a two or three-day itinerary, just to see if you like it.
2. Luxury Vs Budget Cruise (Is budget a large factor?) If so, stick to larger cruise lines and larger ships. Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian are good bets for finding great deals. But keep in mind, with the larger, budget cruise lines you will have more passengers per square foot than on other lines.
When you book will play a big part in determining the price of your cruise. If you plan your cruise a year in advance you'll be able to ensure you get the room you want and the itinerary you want, but you'll pay full listing price. If you can wait until 60-90 days within sailing, the prices drop, sometimes a drastic 50-70% below list price.
A resource I use to help find cruise deals for friends is vacationstogo.com. Sign up for their newsletter and they'll send you weekly updates on all of the great deals happening at sea. (Again, no sponsorship on their part. And no animals were harmed in the making of this guide.)
Lastly, don't forget to figure in your airfare. If budget is a determining factor, stick to a homeport near you. If you live in Seattle, you can find cruises to Vancouver/Victoria and even Alaska that sail out of your home city. Omit airfare entirely, if possible, to help push your hard-earned cash further. If you have to fly to meet a ship, find a ship that departs from an airline hub city like LA, Miami, Fort Lauderdale or New York. Flights to those places will be immensely less expensive than flying to a small island in the South Pacific to meet a ship.
If flight price isn't really a big deal to you, try flying into San Juan, Puerto Rico or Bridgetown, Barbados to catch a Southern Caribbean cruise. They're my absolute favorite Caribbean cruises. If you're able, spend a few days in the city you're sailing out of before or after your cruise and explore.
If money is no object, try a very small luxury ship or yacht. Seabourn, Crystal and Windstar cruises are all very highly rated small luxury lines. Some of these lines include alcohol in the price of your cruise. FYI: These lines often have strict dress codes.
3. Large Ship vs Small Ship (And Age Group) Size does matter. If you're looking for a cheap, spring break cruise go for a larger ship in a region that is ship-dense (ie: Caribbean or Alaska in the summer). But if you want to go to places a bit off the beaten path, smaller ships are often the only ships that will take you there (because the big ones don't fit into port!)
Large ships offer more stuff. More pools. Ice Skating rinks. Rock Climbing walls. More stuff to do on those days at sea. If you're sailing with children/teens, you want a ship that has a diverse offering of things to do. Disney cruises are ALWAYS a great idea for children, but you will pay a premium to sail with Disney. Other cruise lines offer phenomenal childrens' centers and activity programs to keep your kids occupied and having fun the whole cruise. Generally the larger (and newer) the ship, the better the kids facilities.
Small ships are great for a quieter, more intimate cruise. Less people, less crowding = more relaxation time and less regiment. Smaller ships will offer more traditional cruise activities like quoits and shuffleboard and group games to keep you entertained.
Age Specific Cruise lines cater to specific age groups. Carnival and Royal Caribbean go for the younger crowd. Celebrity and Princess cater best to the 25-50 crowd. Holland America is generally known for retirement cruising. No matter what the age target for the cruise line, every ship will offer something for all age groups.
4. Do Ship Amenities Matter? Some people simply like to spend their vacations reading or sitting by the pool. If this is you, you'll want to ensure you find a ship with a larger passenger to square footage ratio. Less passengers = less crowding = less crowding in ports and easier access to ammenities. Generally you can look to smaller ships on cruise lines like Holland America, Princess or Cunard for great passenger to space ratios. These are your best bet to finding a quiet hideaway.
Enjoying a nearly empty ship whilst anchored in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
5. Cruise Length It's up to you, really. For that quick getaway you can find cruises that run 2-3 days. If you've got time on your hands, try an around-the-world itinerary (90-120 days). If seven days isn't enough you can sail two seven-day cruises on the same ship in the same cabin back to back. Personally I like 10-day cruises. In my time working on ships I met several elderly passengers who were full-time cruisers. Basically, instead of going into retirement homes, they lived on ships. Pretty great idea. And fairly cost-effective. For about the same price as a retirement home they received a luxury home with extremely attentive service.
6. Destination & Timing Where you want to go will often limit when you can go. Ships are generally assigned to a specific region for a season, but some can be assigned a region indefinitely. For instance, the Oasis of the Seas is currently dedicated to cruising the Caribbean. It offers several itineraries in the Caribbean. On the other hand, in 2010, the Splendour of the Seas will sail South America, Transatlantic, Europe, Transatlantic and back to South America.
Generally in the winter ships move to warm places; in the summer they sail Alaska, Europe and the Baltic. Spring is the season for Hawaii and Mexico, and in the fall you can find cruises to Canada and New England. When the seasons change, the ships reposition. Repositioning cruises are generally a bit longer and have more sea-days.
Regardless of where or when you cruise, I always recommend cruising a newer ship, or an older ship that has been dry-docked recently (within the last year). Ships are taken out of service every few years and put into dry dock. Dry docks usually mean a ship will be gutted and redone. Sometimes the ships in drydock will have major structural work done – enlargements or complete renovations to certain areas. When dry dock is over, ships return to service good as new, sometimes better.