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Two Traveling | Travel Tips, Advice, and Planning for Couples, Partners and Friends Two Traveling

Deal or No Deal: Are Travel Packages Worth It?

I love getting the best deal possible on everything, especially travel, so naturally I’ve spend my fair share of time scoping out travel packages on Groupon, LivingSocial, TravelZoo, Jetsetter and many others. The hardest part of shopping for travel packages on deal sites is figuring out if the discount is significant enough to account for the hassle of additional restrictions and lack of flexibility. If that wasn’t hard enough in many cases you can’t rely on the sites listed retail value, and thus discount, as many travel packages have inflated retail prices. How do you decide if a deal is good enough to pull the trigger? I have a few simple questions to ask yourself to quickly determine if a travel package is right for you.

1. Do you need it?

Everyone likes a good deal. There is something about paying 50% off for something that is downright exciting. Unfortunately, you are only saving money if you were planning on purchasing that item or the combination of items for the travel package already. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a sale and forget that even if the price is discounted you are still paying money for it. Retailers are well aware of our affinity for savings and know they can lure us into buying things we never knew we wanted or needed by putting it on sale. Travel packages are no different. If there is a great deal on a local sunset cruise in your area, unless you have always planned on doing a sunset cruise and were just waiting for the right price, don’t be lured into buying it just because it’s on sale.

2. What is the true value of the deal?

There is a local clothing store in one of my favorite tourist towns, Solvang, California. Solvang is a cute little town built by Danish immigrants in the heart of the Santa Ynez wine country. If you happen by this clothing store while shopping for Danish pastries you be shocked to find they are having a store-wide 50% off sale. The woman at the door chants “Today everything 50% off-come on in” and the crowds wander in to take advantage of the great sale. As you probably guessed, every day is a store-wide 50% off sale. The store owners just double the prices on each item and then tell you its 50% off! And of course it works! Travel deals sites like to try this tactic as well by inflating the retail price of packages and then stating huge discounts. In many cases there is still a discount off the normal price, but in the neighborhood of 10-20% verses the 40-50% listed.

In the San Francisco Bay area limo wine tours are a classic example. Local travel package sites frequently have deals for 50% off a limo wine tour, but if you call the limo company directly the price they quote you will be the same as the deal site (sometimes less!) The prevalence of travel packages has really just encouraged companies to increase the list price so they can sell their product at a “discount” but maintain the same profit margin. In addition to verifying the retail price, review the prices for other similar services in the same area. You might be able to find another limo service or hotel that is priced below the discounted price for the deal. You should always check around for prices and travel packages are no exception.

3. Are the restrictions deal-breakers?

The fine print on some of these travel packages takes a lawyer to decipher. The most restrictive deals are only offered on specific dates that need to be preselected for purchase. Other deals are only valid on certain days of the week, exclude blackout dates, expire within a given time frame, and are subject to availability. This is when usage can get really tricky. What happens if you purchase a mid-week travel package deal for a bed and breakfast and then it turns out when you go to book the only week you could go they have no vacancy? Some sites offer refunds within a few days of purchase, so if you have very specific dates you want to use a deal it is best to reserve as soon as possible after purchasing. If you find yourself struggling to plan around using a certificate or travel package, is the hassle worth the savings?

4. Do you have time to use it?

Last year one of our friends found herself in a bind. She and her husband had purchased a two night mid-week travel package in Napa for $299. This was a nice travel package that included a say in downtown Napa, a bottle of wine, breakfast, and a certificates at the spa. They live in Washington, D.C. and bought it because they had always wanted to visit wine country. The only problem was they didn’t have the vacation time to take a week off for the trip, and so they held on to it for months. The deal was expiring in a few weeks and they weren’t going to be able to use it. We ended up purchasing their travel package voucher for $150 and had a great trip to wine country. Unfortunately for them, they were out $150 and never made it to Napa, but at least they didn’t lose $300. Before you buy ask yourself when are you going to use this deal? Take a good look at your calendar; if you can’t pick out several dates on your calendar when the travel package can be used before it expires its wise to pass this one by.

Conclusion

As deal sites continue to grow like weeds, consumers must be vigilant in assessing how good these travel packages are. With a little due diligence, planning, and a few quick Internet searches you can save a lot of money. Just be wary of the pitfalls these deals offer so you don’t send up with a night in Napa that you’ll never use.

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Foreign Tipping Guide – Customs and Etiquette for Restaurant Tipping Internationally

Since TwoTraveling has had a chance to travel a bit, we often get asked: “Do you know of a foreign tipping guide we could use when traveling?”  The confusion is understandable.  If you have travel guide books for individual countries or regions they’ll often cover the foreign tipping customs, but it’s nice to have a “all-in-one” guide that covers most regions you would travel to.

We compiled this guide based on our individual experience & that of friends, filling in some of the country gaps with information elsewhere.  This post at Flyertalk was particularly useful. As in most situations when traveling internationally, if there are any questions, try to ask a local.  It’s always best to verify the appropriate foreign tipping etiquette so you don’t take an awkward misstep. Of course its best not to ask the person you are thinking of tipping, but observe what the local custom is and follow it. Just don’t ask this guy.

Foreign Tipping Guide – Region:

Asia: Culturally they are particular about gift giving and gratuities.  You could offend with your offer of a tip, so its best not to tip.

Central & South America: Similar to Europe, a service charge is often added at hotels and restaurants and additional tipping is not needed. If no service charge is added, 10% is the general rule for restaurant service.

Europe: The gratuity is often included as part of a service charge, added to the final bill in restaurants and some hotels. If there is no service charge, 10% is the general rule for restaurant service. Usually you just leave a few Euro coins and its fine.  Don’t overdo it.

North America: 15%

Middle East/Africa: It’s tough to generalize about this region due to so many different local customs, so try to follow what locals do.  When in doubt, don’t tip.

Oceania (including Australia/New Zealand): Not customary to leave any tip, but they are not insulted with a small amount left behind for good service.

Foreign Tipping Guide – Country:

  • Argentina: 10%
  • Australia: None.  In fancy restaurants 10% is acceptable.
  • Austria: 5% plus service charge
  • Bahamas: 10%
  • Belgium: 10% if no service charge
  • Brazil: 10% to 15%
  • Canada: 10%-20%
  • Cayman Islands: 15% if no service charge
  • Chile: 10% plus service charge
  • China: None
  • Colombia: 10%
  • Costa Rica: None
  • Czech Republic: 5% to 10%
  • Denmark: None
  • Ecuador: 10% if no service charge
  • Egypt: 5% to 10% plus service charge
  • Estonia: 10-15% for restaurants.  Travelers there say that in pubs you toss spare change into a big bowl shared amongst the wait staff
  • Fiji: None
  • Finland: None
  • France: 5% to 10%
  • Germany: 5% to 10% or round up plus a euro or two
  • Greece: 5% to 10% plus service charge
  • Hong Kong: 10% if there is no service charge
  • Hungary: 10% if no service charge
  • India: Usually service charge is on bill.  If not, 100-200 rupees
  • Indonesia: 10%
  • Ireland: 10% to 15%
  • Israel: 12% to 15% if no service charge
  • Italy: 10% plus service charge
  • Japan: None
  • Malaysia: None
  • Mexico: 10% to 15%
  • Morocco: Leave a few coins
  • Netherlands: 5% to 10%
  • New Zealand: None
  • Norway: 10% if no service charge
  • Peru: Up to 10%
  • Philippines: 10%
  • Poland: 10%
  • Portugal: Leave a few euro if no service charge (5-10%)
  • Puerto Rico: 15%
  • Romania: Round up
  • Russia: 10% to 15%
  • Samoa: None
  • Saudi Arabia: 10% to 15%
  • Singapore: None
  • South Africa: 10% if no service charge
  • South Korea: None
  • Spain: Leave a few euro if no service charge (5-10%)
  • Sweden: 10% if no service charge
  • Switzerland: Round up
  • Taiwan: None
  • Tahiti: None (in resort areas they will sometimes expect a tip)
  • Tanzania: 10%
  • Thailand: None
  • Turkey: Round up
  • United Arab Emirates: None
  • United Kingdom: 10% if no service charge
  • United States: 15% to 20%
  • Venezula: 10%
  • Vietnam: None

Obviously there are plenty of countries we are missing, and we could be wrong about some of these.  So feel free to let us know and we will correct them!

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Save money while traveling – move out and go homeless!

Many people want to travel more, but can’t do it. The top two reasons we get for not traveling are time and money. While we may not be able to give you an extra month off work, there are certainly a number of ways to save money while traveling. We’ve written about a few of the “penny smart” ways to save money, like self-catering.  However there are some other unconventional ways to save a ton of money while traveling.

When you search for money saving travel tips you’ll get links to cheap flights, cheap hotels, travel packages and such. There are hundreds of books, newspaper and magazine articles, and entire blogs devoted to that subject. A completely different but very substantial “hidden” cost is the things you are spending money on at home while you travel elsewhere. What do I mean?  Things like rent, mortgage, utilities, gym memberships, cable/internet, etc. While you can’t get rid of all of these costs, with some planning and effort you can actually reduce them pretty significantly to save money while traveling.

Let’s imagine a scenario where a couple living together wants to go on a trip.  They are your typical DINK couple, living in an urban area and making normal money at 45 hour-week jobs.  Their basic monthly costs might be:

  • Rent: $2000/month
  • Utilities/cable: $100/month
  • Cell phones: $200/month

Of course there are other expenses like going out, buying pretty things, etc, but we only care about the stuff they’d have to pay for even while traveling.  In this case there are $2300 of expenses they’d have to outlay if they were somehow able to take a month-long vacation.  That could be just as much as the cost of the vacation itself!

How do you eliminate some of these costs?  One option is to get off the grid: turn off your cell phone, utilities, cable, etc. A lot of companies will let you “pause” service so you don’t have to pay the typical activation fee when you return. You could downgrade your service while you are gone – as long as you don’t abuse this most providers will allow you to reduce service tiers and then spin back up when you return. This could save you a few hundred dollars depending on the length of your vacation.

Our favorite option is a bit more drastic and can be used in combination with the “off the grid” tactic:  move out. This clearly is best if you are already considering a move and you can time the end of the lease to when you want to travel. But its easier than you think to execute as long as you aren’t tied to your current dwelling long-term. The basic steps are as follows:

  • Plan to depart for your vacation a day or two before your lease expires.  Book flights and travel arrangements accordingly.
  • Rent a sizable storage unit and begin preparing like you would for any normal move.
  • Put everything you can in storage, donating/tossing all the useless stuff you have accumulated.
  • Make a hotel reservation for a few days when you plan on returning.  I prefer an airport hotel as they are typically affordable and easy to get to.
  • If you have a car, see if you can park it at a friend/family member’s house.  Failing that, you could use long-term airport parking.
  • While at the end of your vacation, take a few hours at the internet café or hotel business center to book viewing appointments for the days when you are back.

Most of the work in moving comes in the packing and sorting of your current stuff. By taking care of this up front, it’s actually easy to move once you find a new place. Finding a place can be tricky depending on the city, but in our experience being able to move right away is an advantage. We did this in San Francisco (arguably the toughest rental market in the country) during the current tech boom and were able to find a great place in one weekend. We only needed a hotel for two nights! If you strike out, get a short-term furnished apartment for a month or two, or go to an extended stay hotel. Make that your new home base while you continue your search.

If you own a home, this will be tougher to pull off but you could attempt to monetize that asset by renting it out while you are traveling, either as lease or vacation rental.  Of course you will need a trusted friend to manage it in your absence.

Getting back to our earlier example, how much could you save? You could potentially save all $2300 of the listed expenses, but you will need to take into account additional costs:  storage unit for a month, and hotel when you return.  Depending on the area this will probably run you around $300 total, so our hypothetical DINKS could still save $2000!

While certainly an unconventional way to save money while traveling, moving out definitely has a place for those who are flexible, want an extended period of time for their vacation, and are looking to save money.  With some good planning, you too could save thousands!  Any ideas of your own that are unconventional for big money savings while traveling?  Please share.

 

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Two Tramping: Hiking in the Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand

It’s no secret that the people of New Zealand love the outdoors. The Kiwi’s love of adventure is perfectly embodied in their expansive national parks network. The Abel Tasman National Park , located on the northern tip of the South Island is the smallest of these parks but is still an impressive 87 square miles. Hiking is known in New Zealand as “tramping” and is a favorite pastime. The Abel Tasman’s Coast Track is the countries’ most popular hiking track with over 200,000 visitors a year. The coast track is 32 miles and stretches from Marahau in the South to Wainui in the North. Hiking the entire length takes 3-5 days, with nights spent camping along the trail. TwoTraveling loves hiking and outdoor adventures, so we decided to tackle the Abel Tasman last March.

Unfortunately, we only have one day before we head off to our next adventure. After a lot of research and discussion with locals about the different hiking options, we decide to try a run/hike from Bark Bay to Coquille Bay. The distance is 13.5 miles and isn’t a concern, but time is a factor for this trek. We will have less than six hours from start to finish or we will miss the last boat back to Nelson, meaning a night spent huddling on the beach.

Swinging Bridge in Abel Tasman Park, New Zealand

Not exactly Indiana Jones, but still fun!

Why is timing so important? The Abel Tasman restricts traffic in and out of the park to foot or boat. We would be traveling via water taxi and there are no options to get out if you miss the last boat returning to Nelson. Our morning starts with an early shuttle bus from our hotel in Nelson to the marina. The earliest boat leaves at 8am and takes over two hours to get to Bark Bay. Its 10:30 by the time we start out form Bark Bay. We’ve packed lightly to optimize for speed: both of us have our packs with a few liters of water along with snacks to keep us well fueled. Given the hard deadline for our hike we’ve decided to try running the first 5-6 miles to ensure we have plenty of time to make the boat. The track is incredibly well maintained and despite the popularity isn’t overly crowded. Its very “runnable” in most parts with manageable hills and smooth packed dirt. We walked the steep climbs, ran the flats and downhill portions, and paused for a photo or 2 when the view was particularly impressive (which happened a lot!). We made it to Torrent Bay in about 50 minutes, well ahead of the pace we needed to make. We slowed it down to a brisk walk past the Torrent Bay village (about 20 small, private, unpowered homes) and kept tramping toward Marahau.

Abel Tasman Park, New Zealand

View from the Coastal Track in the Abel Tasman

Past Anchorage, we took a brief detour to Cleopatra’s pool, which was a flat calm pool connected to one of the small, fast moving rivers flowing to the sea. There was a large group of folks enjoying a dip in the pool, but we only stopped briefly before heading back to the coastal track. We kept on through to Lookout Point near Yellow camp, where we stopped for a quick lunch of crackers, peanut butter, chips and apples. Stopping only for occasional photos, we made our way to Coquille Bay in good time, arriving at 3:20. With an hour to kill, we walked on the beach a bit, stretched our legs and waited in the sun for the boat to arrive.

Split Apple Rock in the Tasman Bay

Rough seas in the Tasman Bay didn’t prevent us from checking out Split Apple Rock.

The sea conditions started to worsen, with some high waves hitting the beach. The boat showed up right on time but due to the rough seas we had to wade out a bit to board. A little wetter, we headed back to Katierieri, where we transferred boats back to Nelson, again getting quite wet in the process. The cruise back to Nelson took longer than coming in thanks to very rough seas that had us rocking up and down quite a bit. Those prone to sea sickness may find this part of the journey unbearable, but we managed fine. Once back, we caught the shuttle bus back to the hotel. After a wonderful shower, we went out to celebrate with wine and lamb, before collapsing in bed exhausted after the long day.

The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is beautiful beyond words and worth the title of most popular tramp in New Zealand. We highly recommend braving the rough seas to spend a few hours or a few days tramping like a Kiwi.

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Running and Hiking Trails Outdoors in the Las Vegas area

TwoTraveling loves to party – but we also like to try and be fit and healthy when traveling. These two goals don’t have to be mutually exclusive even in the temptation filled city of Las Vegas. It can be hard to escape the clamor of slot machines and bright lights, but it will make you feel much better about your journey if you can get in some quality outdoor time.

Many readers of this blog have likely been to Vegas before. For the “bachelor party” crowd Vegas is usually a booze-filled sleep-deprived weekend whirlwind, with many stories that stay in Vegas. But for those who value being active and getting outdoors in addition to bottle service and gambling, the surrounding area outside of Vegas offers some great scenery.

Rock Rock Canyon

The red rocks of Red Rock canyon

Here’s a rundown of four great outdoor parks suitable for running, hiking, and sightseeing within driving distance of Sin City:

  1. Sunset park.  This family friendly park is good for anyone looking to be active.  It is quite close to the strip, and features a man-made lake stocked with fish.  It has a shaded playground but during the summer it can get brutally hot.  Thankfully there are many water fountains sprinkled throughout.  Sunset park also has plenty of sports areas, with tennis and basketball courts, fields, and even a disc golf course. If you are looking for a good run, there is a figure-8 course that is about 4 miles for the full loop. It’s pretty easy to add on more miles thanks to the different paths off the mainloop and paths within the park itself. More information here.
  2. Wetlands Park. This park is also fairly close to the strip off East Tropicana and Wetlands Park Lane.  While you can’t get a long run in here without a lot of repetition, the park has two miles of paved walking trails and secondary trails. While Wetlands park doesn’t have very long trails, it is more scenic than Sunset park. NOTE: Wetlands Park is currently under construction and many of the trails are closed as a result. Click here for more info.
  3. Red Rock Canyon. This land conservation area, run by the Bureau of Land Management, is well maintained and staffed and is only a fifteen minute drive from the strip. It features its namesake red rocks and canyons. There are many different walking & hiking options. For the casual sightseer, there is a scenic drive with various parking lots to leave the car and walk around to take pictures.  For the more adventurous, there is a 11.4 mile “grand circle” hike that encompasses the perimeter of the park area.  For those looking for elevation, try Turtle Point, which features 2000 feet of elevation gain in two miles. BLM Red Rock Canyon info here.
  4. Mount Charleston. The 8th highest peak in the lower 48 (by prominence), this is really for the more serious mountain climber. There are day hiking options available as well. When visiting during the winter months (November-April), winter climbing gear is recommended, as it can be snowy and icy at elevation. Although you won’t be able to see the Las Vegas strip from the summit, you will get a great view of the surrounding landscape. Be sure to check the weather and trail conditions before you go and be prepared to rent gear if necessary.

If you like to balance out your gambling and partying with some more wholesome fun, one of the options above is a good option for an outdoor adventure. And of course you can still make it out at night!

Red Rock Canyon

The white rocks of Red Rock Canyon, NV

Have suggestions on other outdoor areas worthy of visit close to Las Vegas?  Let us know in the comments.

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