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Here at Amazing Journeys, we’re lucky have the best jobs in the world—and we think our good fortune is worth sharing. So, when your next journey seems like a distant dream, take a few minutes to explore our WANDERLUST blog—it’s chock full of engaging tales and helpful tips from our travels around the world. Check out the most recent entry (at the top) or search by your preferred criteria. Consider it motivation for your next embarkation.

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Tips on Saving Money When Traveling Abroad

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

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Did you know that over 72 million Americans traveled outside the country in 2016, where they spent more than $140 billion? While much of that money was used to create memories that will last a lifetime, a portion of it went to financial fees that might well have been avoided.

Here are five tips for keeping costs low and managing your money during your next trip abroad.

Steer clear of transaction costs

Most credit and debit card issuers charge foreign-transaction fees, which typically run between 2% and 3% of the purchase price, as well as ATM fees. That might seem like a minor expense per transaction, but all those extra charges can really add up.

Look into the fees imposed by your banks and credit card companies. (The overall fee is often a combination of two fees, one from the issuing bank and one from the card company.) And note that even if you have a fee-free card, there may still be circumstances in which ATMs or merchants themselves charge a fee. Always check your card’s terms and conditions to find out exactly what fees you’re responsible for.

Find the best exchange rate

Airport currency kiosks may be convenient, but they also tend to be pricey, often charging as much as $10 for exchanging any amount under $500. Even so-called no-fee exchanges tend to make a profit off their highly unfavorable exchange rates. All told, Fodor’s estimates that travelers pay an extra 4% to 9% when exchanging currencies at such convenient but costly locations.

Cash withdrawals from ATMs are generally the best choice for day-to-day funds—but, again, beware transaction fees. Some banks impose a flat fee per withdrawal, while others do not and may even refund those levied by others.

money 1Watch out for “dynamic currency conversion”

Many travelers are enticed by the convenience and familiarity of receiving bills – at restaurants, for instance – in U.S. dollars. But this new trend, called dynamic currency conversion, often comes with an unfavorable exchange rate, transaction fees or both. So when asked if you want to pay a bill in the local currency or in dollars, go with the local option – unless you can verify that the cost is negligible and worth it, to you, for the familiarity factor.

Secure your information

Nothing ruins a trip like a lost or stolen wallet, so take a picture of the contents of your wallet, including the fronts and backs of credit and insurance cards so you can find all those important phone numbers to call in case of emergency. Keep a copy on your phone – or better yet, in the cloud – along with pictures of your passport and any other important documentation.

Also, be sure to activate fraud alerts for all accounts that offer them so you’re notified right away of suspicious activity. Sophisticated cybercriminals are often able to capture your financial information even if your cards stay in your possession.

Take advantage of built-in benefits

Before you book your trip, see if your credit or debit cards offer travel-related perks that can save you money or ease your journey. For example, many offer help with hotel and restaurant reservations, free Wi-Fi access on eligible flights, and even discounts on certain types of accommodation and transportation. Review your cards’ benefit terms or call your providers for full details.

 

Edited from Charles Schwab

Ask AJ

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

We get questions all the time about our travel preferences, our favorite places and what we like to do in certain countries, so we thought we would answer some of the questions here.  Take a look at the Q&A’s below and feel free to send other questions our way for the next edition of Ask AJ!

When packing for a trip, I can’t leave without my __________
Stacey:  Snacks and my camera.
Michele: AJ windbreaker and a bathing suit!  Rain or shine, always be prepared!
Erin:  A camera and comfortable walking shoes.  If I don’t have either of those, it will be a rough trip!
Malori:  Packing cubes! Especially for land trips, it organizes your suitcase so well. It’s like having a set of drawers inside your suitcase!
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My ideal vacation spot is ___________
Erin:  Anywhere that I get to experience a new culture.  Being able to interact with people from different countries and finding our similarities is so interesting.
Michele: Anywhere where I can have sand between my toes!  White sand in the Keys, black sand in Costa Rica, pink sand in Bermuda … it’s all welcome!
Malori:  Hiking in a majestic mountain setting dotted with lakes.  Take me to the Canadian Rockies, Patagonia, Switzerland, Alaska or Colorado and I will be beyond happy!
Stacey:  Anywhere with intriguing architecture and patterns to photograph – ancient columns in Greece, cobblestone streets in Ireland, intricate arches in India, lanterns in Vietnam, pebbled beaches in Argentina – always keep your eye out for a great shot!

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My favorite travel experience is ____________
Malori:  I call it my favorite day of travel and it’s in Cairns, Australia: hot air ballooning in the morning with kangaroos hoping below and snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef in the afternoon.
Erin:  The day in India where we were driving to Jaipur.  First, we came across a roadside dance party, so we hopped out of the bus and joined in.  The same night, we were dressed in saris and henna for dinner and randomly joined in a wedding procession in the streets, complete with the groom riding an elephant and a 12-piece band marching us down the street!
Michele: Meeting new people and finding new adventure.  There is nothing quite like creating new friendships across the globe.  Travel provides unbreakable bonds with people you otherwise may have never met, embrace it!
Stacey:  Hiking the Inca Trail in Peru with an active group of travelers.  Hiking for four days, through countless different ecosystems (in the rain) and ending at Machu Picchu was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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Although I am a professional traveler, I am still guilty of ____________
Michele:  Triple checking my packing list to make sure I didn’t forget anything!
Erin:  Leaving behind my “dress up” layers.  I assume that if I am going to Italy in July, it will be hot – I forget that if I am on a cruise, it will be chilly on the ship at night.
Stacey: Forgetting to pack pajamas.
Malori:  Leaving hotel frequent flyer points behind. I know I should be more fastidious, but sometimes I just don’t think about it like I do my airline miles.

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When I am in a new city, the first thing I do is __________
Stacey:  Drop my bags off at my hotel and explore the area!  I like to check out fun things to do, cool places to visit and the bar and restaurant scene.
Michele: Hit the ground running!  I love to check out the area and find a local café where I can sit and take it all in.  I enjoy meeting locals and hearing what they like to do most and go off the beaten path.
Malori:  Walk around and notice the daily life of the people in the neighborhoods. I notice the differentiation in architecture which sets one city apart from others in my mind.
Erin:  Stroll through town and get my bearings.  I usually explore the area, pop into a grocery store to pick up some snacks and learn what is around.

 

Travel is an Art

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

Where do you go to let go?

Monday, January 9th, 2017

Please share with us – where do you go to let go?

India Recap

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

Let me just take a minute to tell you about my favorite day of the trip.  We hopped on the bus in the morning to make the drive from Udaipur to Jaipur.  Along the way, we were looking out the window and all of a sudden, we came along a parade on the side of the road.  Turns out, a baby was born in the village and they were having a parade (complete with a DJ bus) and were dancing from one village to another.  So what did we do?  We jumped out of the bus and joined the party!20161208_104859

Once we made new friends and danced beside the blaring music truck, we hopped back onboard and made the rest of our ride, still dancing in our seats.  That night, we dressed up in sari’s and had henna done so we really looked local and were ready for dinner.  Back on the bus and on our way, we came upon a wedding procession, complete with a band, lights and the groom riding an elephant.  And who are we to miss a party, so we hopped out and joined the next parade!  The groom’s family invited us into the procession so we danced and jumped around, looking flashy and wearing our sari’s well.

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With the dancing of the day complete, we arrived at our home hosted dinner at the home of the descendants of royalty.  We were given the opportunity to ask questions of their life, have a tour of their gorgeous multi-generational family home and then have a homemade dinner with the family members themselves.  It was a truly unique experience, not to mention a delicious meal!

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This trip was amazing and with a great group, every day was one to remember.

 

Wildlife Encounters and Sensitivity to Animal Exploitation

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

Passport Tips From The Experts at Amazing Journeys

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

Thoughts For a New Year

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

12 Lies You Tell Yourself While Traveling

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

1. I Burned Off All That Food by Walking Around

“I must have walked for miles today. That totally justifies this pizza, beer, and ice cream dinner that I’m about to demolish. I mean, I’m probably going to lose weight because I’m getting so much exercise on this trip!”

2. This Bag is Totally Carry-On Sized

“I can’t really lift it, and the zippers are hanging on for dear life since it’s so overstuffed, but it’s totally going to fit in the bag sizer at the airport. Man, I’m such an awesome packer.”

3. I Don’t Need a Hotel, I’ll Sleep on the Plane/Bus/Train

“Let’s see, if I get the overnight bus between cities, that takes nine hours. I’ll instantly fall asleep the minute I get onboard, and I’ll sleep deeply sitting upright and surrounded by strangers. I’ll wake up refreshed after a solid eight hours of sleep and will be rejuvenated and ready to explore my new destination as soon as I get there! I’m so much smarter than all those suckers who pay for an extra night in a hotel.”

4. I Won’t Check My Work E-mail

“I’ve got that out of office message on, and I’m not checking in until I’m back in the office! Except my boss needed an answer on that one project, and I’m not sure that the other project is getting taken care of…”

5. This 6:00 a.m. Flight Won’t Be So Bad

“It’s $100 less to take the early flight instead of one that leaves at a respectable time. I’ll just go to bed super early and have everything packed and ready to go the night before, so getting up at 3:00 a.m. to get to the airport two hours ahead of time won’t be a problem at all!”

6. This Hotel Duvet has Totally Been Washed

“I’ve read all those news stories about hotel duvets being reused without being washed, but this roadside motel looks pretty legit, and I’m sure that stain is just a part of the pattern. I’m going to snuggle up under it and tell myself that it’s been washed recently.”

7. Of Course I’ll Wear This

“I’m definitely going to need this [swimsuit/pair of heels/fancy dress/out-of-season piece of clothing] on this trip. I mean, what if I get invited to a last-minute pool party/black-tie gala and I don’t have anything to wear?”

8.We Won’t Spend Any Time in the Hotel Anyways

“We’re going to be spending all of our time out and about exploring, not holed up in the hotel room anyway, so booking this fleabag hotel to save a few bucks won’t have any impact on the quality of our trip at all!”

9. These Shoes Won’t Give Me Blisters

“I mean I just bought them yesterday, but they’re really cute and I’m sure they won’t give me blisters after wearing them on a day-long walk.” See also: “These flip-flops are a very practical choice for walk around a city!”

10. It Won’t Be That Cold

“Sure, the forecast is in the 50s, but that’s practically the 60s, which is kind of warm. And I’ll be walking around all day, so I’ll heat up and won’t need to bring a jacket.”

11. I’ll Only Spend X Amount

“Okay, if I go to the ATM just once at the beginning of the trip and take out exactly $100, I won’t spend any more than that while I’m here.”

12. I Won’t Get on Social Media the Whole Time

I’m so tired of constantly being on Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat. I’m going to use this trip as a time to unplug from technology and just be present! Except this train ride is really boring and they have Wi-Fi…”

By Caroline Morse, edited from smartertravel.com

 

Airfare Hacks Even You Didn’t Know About

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

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There’s so much advice today on how to find rock-bottom airfares that it can be difficult to filter out the noise. Here are three flight-booking tips, though, that I can almost guarantee you weren’t aware of. They’re outlier tips — meaning they’ll require a bit of time and energy (and, in one case, flexibility) to employ — but when used properly, they’ll almost definitely save you a big chunk of money.

1. Get (almost) free travel when using your miles.

United Airlines has the most generous and flexible policy on round-trip, international award tickets (flights booked with miles), allowing for a stopover and two open jaws (flying into one airport and out of another). This allows for many possibilities if you’re looking to visit more places than a regular round-trip ticket would entail — including a way to essentially travel free one-way, anywhere in the United States.

Let’s say you’re flying from New York to Berlin this fall: A round-trip ticket on United will cost 60,000 miles plus taxes and fees. But what if you’d like to spend a little time in London, too? You can book a round-trip flight to Berlin with a three-day stopover in London built into the ticket. That will still cost 60,000 miles, even with the stopover.

Now let’s say you make that same trip from New York to Berlin, but instead of returning on the same route, you book an open jaw so you can return from Prague to New York. The cost to you is the same: 60,000 miles. In this scenario, you’re responsible for getting from Berlin to Prague on your own.

An even better way to take advantage is to use both of the permitted open jaws. Instead of flying from New York to Berlin and open-jawing from Prague back home, you can also open-jaw at your destination. If you’ve been meaning to visit your mother in Chicago (hi, Mom!), you can fly to Berlin, then from Prague to Chicago on the return for the same 60,000 miles. You pay to get back to New York.

You can get even more creative by combining the stopover and open jaws. Remember that initial sojourn in London? The above itinerary with two open jaws — New York to Berlin, and Prague to Chicago — can have a stopover in London built into it for, that’s right, the exact same number of miles.

Here’s where things get fun: You can manipulate these rules to essentially wrangle a free one-way ticket anywhere in the United States. Let’s take our original itinerary, New York to Berlin. You can still use one of your open jaws and return to New York from Prague. (We’ll have to forgo the stop in London — we’re using our stopover stateside.) Now, use New York as your stopover, and resume your trip anywhere in the country (using the second open jaw) at any point in the coming year. You read that right: Even if you’ve lived in New York City your entire life, you can treat it as your stopover, and resume that trip anytime, anywhere in the United States, for up to a year later.

Let’s say you know you want to go to Alaska next spring: Fly New York to Berlin, Prague back to New York, and then New York to Anchorage in, let’s say, April 2017. The cost will be — you guessed it — 60,000 miles. You can spend a few more miles and go somewhere like Honolulu or Cancún. That will run you slightly more — 65,000 miles — but it’s still a great bargain to fly to Hawaii or Mexico for only 5,000 extra miles.

2. Use the local currency.

You may not speak a foreign language, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use the local version of an airline’s website to get a discount. Savings can be substantial if you purchase a ticket in local currency, as opposed to U.S. dollars. Looking on the American portal for Norwegian Air Shuttle, the low-cost European carrier (norwegian.com/us), I found a round-trip ticket from Kennedy Airport in New York to Oslo for $688.30 — a decent price.

I then looked on the website for Norway-based passengers (norwegian.no) and searched for the same flight. It takes some work — there are lots of o’s with slashes through them, and you’ll need to know that “hvor vil du dra” means roughly “destination,” but I found it simple enough to negotiate. (Tip: Keep two browser tabs open, the Norwegian and English versions. Then you can compare if you get stuck. Google translate, for whatever reason, works on the initial landing page then stops working once you’re actually booking.

I found the exact flight for 4,394 Norwegian kroner, about $538. That’s a substantial difference — $160, or 23 percent. You’ll need to create an account, which I recommend you do on the United States site first. Also, use a credit card that doesn’t have a foreign transaction fee — you don’t want that eating into your savings.

3. Book at the last minute.

The conventional wisdom is to book tickets well in advance — preferably at least two weeks, otherwise you’ll pay many times what you ordinarily would. This is no longer the case: Priceline.com now gives steep discounts on next-day — and even same-day — flights within the United States. (This is available for some international routes, too, but I’ve found the savings aren’t as consistent.)

This, of course, requires flexibility. You’re always rolling the dice with Priceline: You won’t know exactly when you leave, or the airline you’re flying, until you commit to buy. But you do get some information: You’re guaranteed a nonstop or one layover and you typically get a window for arrival and departure times. You’ll also receive a warning (a little moon-and-stars icon) if your flight could be a redeye.

As I’m writing this, the lowest published next-day, round-trip ticket from Boston to Los Angeles costs a little over $500. By booking a Priceline deal, you can buy that trip for less than $360. Next-day from Seattle to Dallas is currently $428, round-trip. On Priceline it’s $285, and you’re guaranteed a departure between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., maximum one layover.

Booking same-day can yield even greater savings and, ironically, greater control over when you leave. The current lowest published price for a same-day New York to Los Angeles trip is nearly $900. On Priceline it’s $428, saving you over 50 percent. Best of all, depending on what time of day you book, you can more closely deduce your flight times. If you book your same-day ticket in the early afternoon, you will get only flights that depart after you book. Be ready to get going to the airport immediately, however. (Good luck with the T.S.A.!)

I’ve booked Los Angeles to New York tickets on two occasions, same-day, and paid around $350, saving hundreds of dollars. In both instances, I’ve gotten nonstop flights on Delta. Booking at the last second isn’t optimal, and this is by no means a recommendation of the practice — I’m simply pointing out that, if something last-minute comes up, you’re not doomed to pay exorbitant prices. In fact, you may actually end up paying less than if you had booked ahead.

By Lucas Peterson, edited from nytimes.com