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the persnickety pioneer!

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2 notes &

On Group Tours

If you’re planning on trying out traveling on a group tour, a good start is using one of the major tour companies as a peg, and going from there*

*This is mostly for people traveling from the Philippines, but the general stuff could be applicable to anyone who’s thinking of this type of thing~ :)

*Land tours, not cruises or adventure tours

Some Major Tour Companies & Their General Profile

Insight Vacations - booked through Rajah Travel Corporation in the Philippines - First class tours, usually the most expensive

Trafalgar Tours - booked through Pan Pacific Travel Corporation in the Philippines - First class tours with several low cost alternative tours (i’ll explain below), usually a good balance between first class and low cost

Globus - booked through Baron Travel Corporation in the Philippines - also First class and one of the most expensive; Globus’ low cost version is Cosmos

Cosmos Tours - also booked through Baron Travel Corporation - Globus’ low cost tour company, usually cheapest but missing lots of inclusions (i’ll explain below)

(Insight & Trafalgar are actually sister companies under the same umbrella, The Travel Corporation. Contiki and other familiar companies are also sisters)

Insight

 

Insight is usually the most expensive of the lot. Note that the marked price difference between each tour company is not necessarily in the quality of the tour or the number of places you go to, but in the hotels you stay at and number of included meals. You’ll notice that Insight usually uses a lot more Big Name hotels like Hyatt, Hilton, Radisson, Swissotel, Mariott, Conrad, and so on. Big Names do not mean best location, though. A lot of the time these hotels are located outside of the city centers and so walking at night might not be an option. Also, depending on the country or places you visit, hotels won’t always be Big Name ones (ie when going to small towns, it is possible that the best hotel there is actually a motel sort of place), or tour companies may opt to choose hotels based on capacity because group tours usually bring 30-50 people. Insight tour directors have been great so far (we’ve gone on a USA one and my sister has gone on a Europe one).

Trafalgar

  

Trafalgar is our most usual option. Usually it falls somewhere in the middle of a superior class and a low cost tour, and so far we’ve never really had any problems with them. Trafalgar is a first class touring option, but not a “superior” first class like Insight is, its more expensive sister. It is not a budget tour either. Again, don’t be fooled by the classes, because the tours are all essentially alike, differing usually in the hotels you stay at or the tour and meal inclusions. Trafalgar is a pretty good middle ground because it’s affordable enough that it gives you value for your money (sometimes Insight prices are quite exorbitant), while giving you the luxuries of first class travel—hotels are usually a mix of named and semi-named hotels. In certain cases, as with most, location is given priority over a hotel’s number of stars, but it’s a good compromise.

Low Cost Trafalgar

Trafalgar’s low cost brochure is essentially the same bunch of tours but with less named hotels and usually less sights included. What this means cost-wise is that you get a lower base price for the tour compared to the first class Trafalgar, with the freedom to add on the optional tours as your budget allows. Basically, if you go on all the optional tours that would give you the same itinerary as the first class version, you’re pretty much paying the same price. For example, a first class 10-day tour of Country X is USD2,750, while a low cost 10-day tour of Country X is USD2,250. The case, usually, is that the low cost tour will just make into optional tours some of the sights that are included in the price of the first class tour. So for USD2,750 you visit 10 sites, while in the USD2,250 tour 6 sites are included, and 4 are optional. I hope I explained that right. Hahaha

Globus

 

I have never been on a Globus tour, but its price range is nearer to Insight, and it is also the first class alternative of Cosmos.

Cosmos

 

Cosmos is the budget/low cost tour class of the Globus family of tours, and while I haven’t been on one, my family’s actually trying Cosmos next year when we do the Central Europe tour (we still prefer Trafalgar actually because we would also get a frequent traveler discount on top of a group discount, but the departure dates just didn’t work for us). My cousin’s been on around 2 Cosmos tours though, and she said it was great, so at least I can breathe a little easier on that front. When comparing tours, Cosmos is usually the most misleading for me. This is because they usually print the cheapest prices, but they exclude a lot of the sights. Meaning, if you compare a Country X tour of Cosmos with a Country X tour of Trafalgar, and you add up the prices of all the optional tours you have to go on with a Cosmos tour to match the same itinerary as that of its Trafalgar equivalent, Trafalgar sometimes comes out cheaper. Or the price difference between a low cost Cosmos and a first class Trafalgar is so little that you’d opt to go with the first class tour instead. Also, Cosmos does not have complimentary hotel/airport transfers, so it’s an additional USD200 per person for a roundtrip to the airport, whereas Trafalgar and Insight tours include it.

Common Terminology: SEE vs VISIT

Almost all of the brochures, you’ll notice, are pretty wordy, and go on and on in flowery sentences about all the wonderful countries and places you’ll get to experience. Don’t be fooled though, once you’re on tour, when you just see a castle from inside the bus or if a palace is just pointed out in the middle of a walking tour. You might argue that the brochures said you would get to go to those places in the itinerary, but these tour companies will tell you that the brochures state if you will just “SEE" a place (meaning you literally just see it or pass by it or spot it from a distance without actually going inside) or actually "VISIT" a place (meaning you actually get off the bus and do a proper visit of the site. There are also "ORIENTATIONS" which usually mean walking tours with a local guide, ie an orientation of a medieval city. We usually type up or jot down a quick table of what sights are "SEEN" or "VISITED" so that we won’t be under any illusions while on tour. You can also compare the SEEs and VISITs for parallel tours among the different tour companies to see which tour will give you the most value for your money. Sometimes the cheaper tours have more SEEs than VISITs, so you want to be careful with those.

OPTIONAL TOURS

In order to give you some free time, tour companies usually allot a number of hours for going on optional tours, which you can opt to join or opt to spend on your own, exploring the city or getting some extra shuteye. Optional tours range from cultural shows to walking tours to local meals and the like, and prices vary quite a bit. Usually tours which are packaged with a meal will cost more because they jack up the price of the meal, but in actuality the cost of the show or cruise is not that high. For example—a cruise only option is 35EUR, but it becomes 60EUR with a meal. And usually the meals aren’t even that good. In some cases, tour directors will allow you to cut out the meal, so always ask. Also, a list of optional tours is usually made available online so it’s best to do a bit of research on them so you know what to spend for. Sometimes the tour description sounds great but it turns out to be a tourist trap. It doesn’t hurt to do a bit of Googling :)

MEALS + ACCOMMODATIONS

While this is really dependent on the country you visit, most tours include all breakfasts and most meals, give or take a few. For example, in the Best of Turkey tour, all breakfasts and almost all dinners were covered, so you really just had to spend for lunch, which was usually at a traditional cafe in a gas station or pitstop where we would stop in the middle of the day. But for some other tours, such as a multi-country Europe tour or the Best of Italy tour we went on, all breakfasts and only a handful of dinners were covered, so you still had to spend for most dinners and all of your lunches. This can be a cramp in your budget considering that meals in Europe, especially the big touristy cities like Paris and London, don’t come cheap! Don’t think that going fastfood is going to improve your budget though—fastfood chains are really expensive too. The best thing to do is to stock up on food from breakfast! (Sneaky and a bit embarassing, but everyone does it—only not everyone admits it!)

There are a lot more topics to tackle but I think this bunch is a good start. Feel free to ask me anything else! :D Attempting sage wisdom.

Logos & brochure covers were Googled. Tour photos by my sister, Stephanie: Canon 450D + 10-22mm + 24-70mmL; post-processed by me; from our Best of Italy tour with Trafalgar

Filed under big group cosmos family globus group tour insight land tour tour touring trafalgar travel traveler traveling traveller travelling travels vacation travel planning plan a trip trip vacation vacay tour bus europe usa

17 notes &

Venezia, Italia, Part V

 

We continued to walk around, semi-aimlessly. Not really following the map but somehow just going with the natural flow of the city. It’s so much fun walking the streets of Venice~so many interesting characters and sights to see! (I love this spraypainted street sign. So out of place and yet a unique thing in Venice)

Then we stumbled across a Ferrari shop! My sister’s favorite F1 racing team!

Time was quickly passing, and soon after we had to start making our way back to the docks, where we would be rejoining our tourmates.

I don’t know why we keep doing this weird shadow/silhouette thing. We must’ve done this in almost every place we visited that had decent sunlight. Hahaha

Now a bunch of photos with me in front of Venetian scenery~

And some more last minute sights

Some goofing around while we waited for our boat

My brother could barely open his eyes against the harsh sun

The sights on the way back to Mestre were bathed in sunset light.

Til next, sweet Venezia! <3

Photos: Canon EOS 450D + 10-22mm + 24-70mmL, Sony P200, Sony W380

Filed under canal mestre piazza san marco sightseeing travels traveling travelling traveler europa travel trafalgar italia europe venezia venice italy italy 2010

13 notes &

Venezia, Italia, Part III

More sights as we walk through the narrow, characteristic streets of Venice, Italy. It is just as colorful as I remember from all those years ago, and every narrow alley and zigzagging side street made me feel like I was on the set of some renaissance film. All I needed was a huge adorned mask and some frou frou and I would’ve been all set.

The modern gondoleers

And of course I found one of the paperie shops I wanted to go to in Rome, Il Papiro, and ended up buying some really expensive wrapping paper (what to do with them, I do not yet know…)

Pretty piazza

And then we found Cafe Paolin! Supposedly it’s got some of the best gelato out there! (based on my sister’s pre-trip googling)

Got ourselves a huge cup

I think the flavors were strawberry, chocolate, hazelnut and something else.

More street views~

Cool shop front

And more streets

Gondoleer taking a break?

While his colleague looks on…

After a lot of walking, we finally reach the famed Rialto bridge!

Awesome and iconic view from the bridge

Such an awesome view, with all the archetypal venetian architecture lined up in rows that complete a paint-worthy scene. The banks of the canal are lined with little cafes and stalls selling glittery adorned masks, but if you were to invest a bit in an authentic, awesome venetian mask, then there is only one place that i fully recommend, which i shall share in the next post!

Photos: Canon EOS450D + 10-22mm + Sony P200

Filed under travels traveling travelling venetian gelato italian canal rialto rialto bridge il papiro paperie gondola gondoleer travel trafalgar italia europe venezia venice italy italy 2010

5 notes &

that itchy feet, itchy soul kind of feeling.

I’m starting to get that feeling again. The itchy feet, itchy soul kind of feeling. So many more places to visit :((

Some of my favourite destinations:

  1. Goreme, Turkey
  2. London, UK
  3. Positano, Italy
  4. Vienna, Austria
  5. Siem Reap, Cambodia
  6. Innsbruck, Austria
  7. Assisi, Italy
  8. Salzburg, Austria
  9. Savannah, GA, USA
  10. Uchisar, Turkey
  11. Urgup, Turkey
  12. Kayseri, Turkey
  13. Verona, Italy
  14. Nevsehir, Turkey
  15. Venice, Italy
  16. Ortahisar, Turkey
  17. Pamukkale, Turkey
  18. San Gimignano, Italy
  19. Orlando, FL, USA
  20. Florence, Italy
  21. Rome, Italy
  22. Naples, Italy
  23. Amalfi, Italy
  24. Sorrento, Italy
  25. Capri, Italy
  26. Melbourne, Australia
  27. Tivoli, Italy
  28. Las Vegas, NV, USA

Filed under map tripadvisor travels traveling bucket list travel map traveler travelling traveller wanderlust travel

10 notes &

Venezia, Italia, Part I

Long day in Venice. We started out with the group tours and had the rest of the day free to explore. I had a pretty vague memory of Venice from when I was last here, around 8-10 years ago, and I think its charm has remained the same. It was great to have had more time to explore and walk in and out of the alleyways and narrow streets. We left Mestre for Venice via boat~

Sights of Venice from the boat ride (geeky factoid: our tour director was telling us that it’s actually illegal to make waves in venice—significant waves, that is—because it will speed up the deterioration of its foundation, or something like that)

Arriving in Venice!

Our “marker”/ meeting point

Giant Bulgari ad covering a canal

Iconic Venetian architecture

St. Mark’s Square

Our tour director, Gus (short for Augusto)

Cool birdbath. Reminds me of the hunchback of notre dame, even though that was Paris-based. haha

Next: Glassblowing factory, pigeon-feeding, more exploration!

Photos: Canon EOS 450D + 10-22mm

Filed under traveling travelling travels traveler traveller glassblowing travel trafalgar italia europe venezia venice italy italy 2010

7 notes &

Adventure-Seeking in Phuket, Thailand

We signed up for a 3-pack adventure program for our second day in Phuket~rafting, ATV, and elephant ride, all for just arounf 1700THB (thai baht) per person. The places for these activities were pretty far away (about an hour plus, and that’s at an average of 100kph i think), all in the nearby Phangnga, outside of the main town of Phuket.

Breakfast of champions:

Waiting for other tour-joiners to arrive

Going to visit a waterfall (but really it was a tiny miniature one). Me, hanging on for dear life as the truck was going megafast on barely-paved trails.

Hiking on foot (or rather, in my scuba shoes)

Cool effect these leaves make

We almost dropped our eyeballs when we thought this pathetic little stream was the waterfall. hahahahaha

But well, the actual waterfall wasn’t that great either. A cool nature/rainforest hike though! (Seriously, we have way better waterfalls here in the Philippines)

Going down from the waterfall

Back on the jeeps to go to the rafting place

Reenergizing with some Tropicana

At the rafting place!

Douche who conveniently ruined my shot

Going into the loading area

They just toss the things in from anywhere, huh?

Eating/drying area

Getting closer to the main attraction

All suited up!

Separating into “groups” for the rafts

They’re bringing down the rafts

and action! That’s tara and our raft guide, “Jim”. We think he had a bit of a crush on her.

I actually filmed the entire thing with my Fuji waterproof/underwater camera. Unfortunately, like all my other filmed adventures, I haven’t gotten around to editing them yet. Hahaha. Midway, we stopped at a wider portion of the river so people could swim, etc. Weird stop though, because it was only less than 5 minutes. So much for swimming.

The entire thing lasted less than an hour, and was around 5km i think? Or was it 15? Can’t remember. We got to take a shower and dry off and get fed (we were really ravenous after this. There’s just something about water activities that makes you hungry)

And tara made a new friend

(I realize that in our asian jaunt, I have more pictures of Tara in my camera than I do of myself. That’s what I get for being too photo-happy)

Now on the way to the ATV and elephant ride!

Again, I filmed the ATV ride, but no picture! Hahaha i must really remember to take pictures before I start filming next time :[

Poor elephant that we rode on~no picture taking allowed but we did buy a souvenir one that had a shot of us on the elephant and me on the ATV! (to be uploaded soon)

Watching an elephant show. Torn between loving the elephant and feeling really sorry for it :|

Sad elephant :(

Sad chimps :(

I felt so bad while watching this show :(

After that, we rode the long way back to Phuket Town, where our guesthouse was. Turned in early for the night. Our flight to Phnom Penh the next day was at dawn.

Photos: Sony P200, Fuji Underwater Camera

Filed under adventure atv elephant phangnga phuket rafting thailand traveler traveling travelling travels white water rafting elephant show chimp monkey asia travel asia 2010