Archive for April, 2010

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Spend Summer Travelling Around the World!

April 30, 2010

Sydney Opera House

There are a few ways to get around the world in one trip, making several stops in far-off exotic locations. You could do something like Semester at Sea, cruising along at a good pace and checking out the sites at all the ports of call. You could get a sugar daddy/mamma to fund your dream trip. You could join the military… although that may not lead to much of a vacation right now.

Or, you can try to find a good deal on a RTW (round the world) ticket that will allow you to shape your itinerary and get where you want to go without paying for lots of expensive one-way flights. If the sugar daddy thing doesn’t work out, I highly recommend this option.

It’s pretty easy with smaller trips to hop online and search for a good fare, but RTW travel is a little different. Your costs will depend on which airline you choose, who their partners are, how many stops you want to make, where, and what time of year you plan on going. You also need to take other forms of transportation into account.

Maybe you want to fly to London then get a Eurail pass to visit several countries before flying out of Rome. Maybe you want to land in Sydney then do an Oz Experience trip up to Cairns, or a working holiday in Melbourne, before flying on to Auckland.

Really, what you need is a travel agent. An agent with RTW experience can help you put all the little bits together, help you decide what kind of discounts you can use to save some money (ISIC, IYIC, or hostel membership), and make sure that you give yourself enough time for each leg of the journey so that one missed flight doesn’t spell disaster for the rest of your trip.

Have a look at the round-the-world services offered by Travel CUTS and then give them a call to see what kind of incredible student adventure package they can put together for you. A travel plan this big needs the advice of an expert, and if you can find a student travel expert to help you , even better.

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Halloween at Hogwarts! It’s the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando

April 28, 2010

I’m such a geek, you guys. I’ve been looking forward to this new Harry Potter theme park in Orlando for more than a year now – at least since I started reading all the online chatter about it.

With opening day near I couldn’t wait to plan my trip. I’ve never been to Orlando before because there are always too many other, more exciting places to go, but no way can I pass up a chance to tour Hogsmeade, shop at Honeydukes and hopefully spot a few Weasleys.

Normally I’m very wary of package deals, especially when going somewhere as touristy as Orlando. Sometimes you’ll think you’re getting a good deal until you do a little research and find that booking everything separately on your own is much cheaper. The packages being offered by Universal Orlando (where Harry Potter lives – he’s not at DisneyWorld) are pretty good though.

If you want to stay at one of the three hotels and resorts on the Universal property, you’re going to pay a lot. But if you’re willing to stay at a nearby hotel, maybe a mile or two away – with free shuttle service – you can get four nights hotel and a three day pass for the Universal parks for less than US$350 a person. That’s based on two people going. If you can get a group of four, then it works out to about US$280 a person.

Grab a great student airfare and you can totally swing this trip with the earnings from your summer job.

In case you need even more incentive, if you book a package with Universal for travel between now and December 31, 2010, you’ll also get:

* Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
* Breakfast at the Three Broomsticks™
* A commemorative ticket

My friend and I decided we didn’t want to fight the summer crowds, and we were willing to wait until the fall when schools get back in so that there wouldn’t be so many little kids getting in our way.

As long as we were waiting that long, we brilliantly realized that there would be no better time to travel to Harry Potter land than Halloween, and we chose that morning for our free breakfast at the Three Broomsticks. Hopefully they’ll be serving up some special holiday treats.

I can’t wait to tell you all about it… five months from now. (At least I have something to look forward to, right?)

Accio October!
Lisa the Muggle

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Have You Always Wanted to Try That?

April 27, 2010

Your mom would look awesome in an orange life jacket.

Travel doesn’t have to come in big, month-long expeditions to the far reaches of the globe. Sometimes the thrill of travel can come in the shape of an afternoon doing something you’ve never done before, spending time with friends and learning something new about yourself.

And sometimes, adventure means taking your mom white water rafting.

It’s almost summer, and it’s almost Mother’s Day (May 9th!), and this year I think you should really surprise mom with something different. Maybe you can’t afford to take her to Italy for a week, but you can probably swing one of the day trips offered by Try That, a Canadian company that specializes in putting together unique experiences.

Has mom always wanted to drive a race car? Hang glide? Ride a horse or watch a whale? There are experiences for the very adventurous women in your life as well as the moms that would prefer to sip wine and watch butterflies.

Gift certificates are also available, so if you see something you like maybe you could hint that a Try That Freedom Voucher would make a great graduation gift.

Check out Try That now and start planning your special Mom & Me day.

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Winning a Trip to Britain Rocks!

April 23, 2010

britainrocksCheck out VisitBritainRocks.ca to enter to win a trip to London for you and three of your closest friends. The contest is sponsored by Contiki, Transat and Travel CUTS, so you know the prizes will include heaps of student travel perks.

The contest runs until April 30, 2010, so you have plenty of time to get all of your friends to enter.

The site also includes excellent information for planning a trip around one of the U.K.’s big music festivals, letting you know when and where to go and giving you some history on the English music scene. Sign up for the podcast and you can enjoy the musical flavors of the U.K. wherever you are.

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The Best Way to Keep in Touch With Travellers You Meet? Travel Cards

April 22, 2010

A while back I went to Vegas to meet up with my friend, Chris. Chris and I met seven years ago, Halloween night, in a backpacker bar in Noosa, Australia. We talked and danced and compared travel notes for a few hours, then went our separate ways. The fact that we’re still in touch and still friends after all these years comes down to one simple act:

Before we said ‘goodbye’, he handed me his card.

What, you don’t have personal cards? Not business cards that give away enough details about you to make you easily stalkable, but cards that list just your email or blog address so that you can keep in touch, if you want to.

Here are some options for creating your own, to help the people who you want to remember, remember you.

moocardMoo Cards
These cute little mini cards can be made using one of the Moo designs or by importing your own favorite photos. Pick one photo you really love or upload a bunch so you have an assortment. Moo can tap into your Flikr or Facebook accounts to pull those photos so you don’t have to waste time uploading the same photos over again.
Get 100 mini cards for $19.99, plus shipping.

minicardZazzle
Zazzle is a little cheaper and offers lots of designs and editing options. It also allows you to upload your own photos or designs, but isn’t connected to Flikr or any other site, so you’re starting from scratch.
Get 100 mini cards for $18.98, plus shipping.

buscardVista Print
Vista doesn’t offer mini cards, but you can get 250 free regular-sized business cards from them (if you don’t take any of the offered upgrades and you don’t mind having an ad for Vista Print on them – shipping is another $5+).

And if you want to be really thrifty, why not make your own cards? Use your printer, some photo or other thick paper, or some marker pens and a photocopier.

Meeting people as you travel is wonderful, but being able to keep those people as friends and travel companions for years to come is an even better reward. So keep in touch!

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Canberra: Australia’s Capitol & A Place You Maybe Want to See

April 21, 2010
Canberra Waterjet

Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra

Not all travellers make a point of stopping in Canberra, even though it’s Australia”s capitol. It has a reputation for being dull – full of stuffy museums, old people and politicians. That’s not entirely untrue, but it’s not the whole picture.

There are enough museums in Canberra to keep you busy for two or three full days and they aren’t all covered in dust and spider webs. In facty, Canberra has some of the most beautiful and innovative museums that I found in Australia.

In terms of scenery, Lake Burley Griffin is a beautiful place for a picnic or bike ride and City Walk is ideal for afternoon coffee at an outdoor cafe or a little shopping. But the fun doesn’t stop there. Oh no.

Now, granted, during the three days I spent there I had the benefit of my own personal tour guide. Tim isn’t an official Canberra tour guide, (I met him at a friend’s party in Bondi), but he’s lived in the area for a few years, which is more than enough time to know where all the good sights are. He’s a cool guy to hang out with, as long as you don’t mind planning your sightseeing around his cricket schedule.

Getting around Canberra by yourself, assuming you can’t find a spunk of your own to play chauffeur, isn’t too difficult. Many places of interest are within walking distance of the CBD (central business district) and several bus routes cover the surrounding areas.  Check the ACTion website or go to a local information center for a map of routes.

Where to Stay

Stay at Tim’s house. He cooks and has a lovely selection of movies. If his guest room isn’t available though, you do have a few other options.

The Canberra YHA is supposedly one of the nicest in the country. It’s not in the most convenient location, but if you have a car or if you don’t mind a short bus ride from downtown it’s doable.

There are several other hostels and a smattering of B&B’s around town. I chose the Victor Lodge because it was recommended in Lonely Planet, but I’m not sure if LP actually saw the place before writing it up. The Lodge is located in the Kingston neighborhood, about a 20-minute walk to Parliament House. It was clean-ish but the rooms are less than comfortable, even for a cheap hostel. It’s just a short walk from the train station though, which is a bonus.

The Sights

Parliament House

One of the best reasons to go to Canberra is that most of the things you’ll want to see and do there are free or very cheap. That means free places to sit and use a clean bathroom, something every budget traveller can appreciate. Donations are appreciated at some places, like the War Memorial and the National Museum, or you can drop a couple of dollars on postcards at the gift shops.

My first stop was Parliament House. Free tours start every half hour between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and last 50 minutes. If you don’t have the attention span for that then start your own tour outside and walk right up to the top of the building. Yes, it’s built into a hillside and you used to be able to have a picnic or just run and tumble all around it, but the hillside was blocked off as part of the capitol’s anti-terrorist program in 2005.

Stop by the Queen’s Terrace Cafe for a view of, well, trees and grass, since that’s most of what Canberra is, and get some of their yummy fries too.

Walking out of Parliament House you can walk straight ahead to Old Parliament House. There is an admission charge here, so if you aren’t up for more history, skip it and go across the street to the way cooler Aboriginal Tent Embassy. These two shacks have been here since 1972, although the Australian Government has never officially recognized them.

Aboriginal Tent Embassy

The National Gallery is a short walk from here and it’s another freebie. Exhibits range from African tribal art to Monets, Pissaros, Rothkos and Warhols. There’s even a Man Ray! Take that New York!

Around the CBD

For the downtown area of a world capitol, the few blocks of the CBD are fairly dry. There’s a shopping mall (with a really good food court) and a Target, but it’s still a very small town. There aren’t any skyscrapers, no roaming gangs of teenagers and not even a whole lot of graffiti.

Around the mall is City Walk, a pedestrian mall (every Australian city has one) with a series of bookshops, cafes, music stores, pubs, fancy restaurants, skateboarders and plenty of benches. It’s a pleasant place to sit and people watch while you’re sipping a smoothie and waiting for film to be developed.

If you’re tired of walking by now, bus 34 will take you from here downtown and on to the Botanic Gardens, but it only runs every half hour so keep a schedule handy.

From the CBD, bus #3 runs directly to the (very cool and very free) National Museum of Australia. Once there you’re treated to all the air-conditioning you can handle and a short introductory film in a revolving theater. I liked it. It’s a ride, but it’s a show, but you learn stuff too.

The museum was written up in all my guidebooks as being modern and innovative and breathtaking and it lived up to every word. You could spend half an hour just outside the museum, taking in its shape and colors and the huge map of the Northern Territory you can climb and run around on in the courtyard. Inside, the exhibits are big and bold and interactive and there’s so many things to look at and do I hardly knew where to look next. You can sit in a cave-like room and listen to Aboriginal fables and folklore, watch Vegemite commercials from the past 50 years, or study the heart of racehorse Phar Lap, preserved since his mysterious death in 1932. I had no idea horse hearts were so huge.

Australian War Memorial

The Australian War Memorial is a must-see and two of the bus lines go there. It looks simple, almost small from outside, but inside is room after room of artifacts, dioramas, planes, trucks, tanks and information about every major conflict the Australians have had a part in. The courtyard houses an eternal flame along with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and two walls of names of soldiers who died in battle.

My last official act as a tourist was to drive (ok, to look out the window as Tim did the driving, which is good since the whole left-side-of-the-road thing would be a disaster for me) past the row of embassies on Adelaide Avenue. Some look like regular homes or office buildings but others are works of art. The Chinese embassy is highly decorated and well maintained, the U.S. embassy could be a mansion from a southern plantation and the High Commission of Papua New Guinea was built as a Haus Tamberan, or Spirit House. This one is a Tim Tour special, as it so happens he grew up in PNG and speaks Pidgin English. Did you even know it was a real language or that they spoke it there? Liar.

We went in and chatted with the ambassador’s assistant (well, they Pigeoned, I smiled and nodded and thought about doing the Bert and Ernie p-p-pigeon dance) then took a peek at all the masks and instruments and other artifacts on display in the visitor’s center. All beautiful stuff.

Nightlife

Well, it’s Canberra. So if you can find a VCR or DVD player, that’s a pretty good plan for an exciting evening. If you’re still riding high from nights out in Sydney or Mellie then try one of these “hot spots” around town.

In the CBD you’ll find several pubs and bars, an art house movie theater and a few decent restaurants. If you want cheap, the Pancake Parlor is nearby and that’s where Tim the Tour Guide took me on my second night for a meal that put IHOP to shame.

The Monuka area has a variety of restaurants: Thai, Indian, Italian, Australian (roo burgers and lamb’s brains) and another art house theater. It’s an up-and-coming kind of area with lots of young people sitting outside sipping margaritas and martinis, enjoying the last hours of sunlight.

If you want to keep up the sightseeing after the sun goes down, head to Mt. Ainslie.  During the day you can see all of the big landmarks, but at night the stars look close enough to touch from the lookout and the roos come out to play.

The Telstra Tower is another lookout point. It’s a crazy alien-esque structure that you can see from most places in town. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it take off on a mission to Mars, straight out of the hillside.

Canberra Quick Links:

Sightseeing:

Places I Missed, But You Shouldn’t:

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Take a Free Walk in the Park

April 16, 2010

Looking for a cheap way to get some fresh air this month? The U.S. National Park Service has announced that they’re offering free admission during National Park Week, April 17 to 25. Other free days this year are:

  • September 25, 2010
    (Public Lands Day)
  • November 11, 2010
    (Veterans Day)

Normally, 146 of the 392 U.S. national parks charge entrance fees ranging from $3 to $25. The other 246 do not charge for admission.

So hop in a car, hop the border if you have to, and enjoy some free nature.

Find a free national park near you.