March - April
Note that Sunday March 27 is Easter day so the weeks before and after are going to be hectic for tourist accommodation and crowds (book early!) but equally hectic with festivals, though Carnival events are in February in 2016. If you want to confirm festival dates during February and March check our festivals listings here and April dates here.
The Northern Hemisphere is coming out of its winter depression, daylight hours are a decent length, grey skies are morphing into blue and spring flowers are popping up so it's time to celebrate! Now... where to go?
What a relief in Mexico's Palenque! Yes, Mexico has a lot more to offer than beaches, tequila and pyramids. This ruined palace relief still on the walls (as opposed to being in a museum) shows a king being dressed for battle, with hieroglyphs visible on the right. Photo by Jim.
Low cost vacation destinations in 2016
This continent is still cheap or possibly even cheaper due to terrorist and migrant issues. The chance of being involved with the former is about equal to being hit on the head by a coconut while the latter has little impact on tourists now that Angela's open invitation to immigration has been shown to be seriously flawed and police/military/intelligence services have upped their game considerably. And fences are being built...
Some of the most interesting and best value southerly European countries (the north will still be very chilly) are: Portugal; Spain (esp. Barcelona for Gaudi, Seville for very warm weather, beautiful environment and Semana Santa festival in March/Feria de Abril in April); Italy (esp. Rome, Florence, Venice); Czech Republic (esp. Prague); Hungary (esp. Budapest).
Interesting tourist destinations with low-value currencies at the start of 2016 are China, Russia, Japan, Bali (Indonesia), Vietnam, Cambodia, South Africa, Zambia, Morocco and Canada. If you care for a little risk Egypt is extremely cheap and wonderful in this season. Wow! Plenty of excellent choices there!
The Dominican Republic is consistently rated as the best value beach island in the Caribbean while Puerto Rico is supposed to be good value and of special interest to Americans as it's practically part of the USA.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival, March 20-April 17 in the US capital, Washington DC. The average best time when most of the blossoms are open is April 4. The best walk to view the trees is around the Tidal Basin (photo above by Al Jazeera), near the Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Martin Luther King Memorial. Try to visit in the early morning or early evening and avoid weekends.
Beaches in southern California should be reaching comfortable highs of around 69F (20C), lows around 50F (10C) while on the other side of the country north Florida - such as Panama City - should be a little warmer with Daytona Beach showing highs of 77F (25C) and lows of 52F (11C).
A glimpse of what goes on in Daytona during bike week.
The notorious American Spring Break, when a few lucky destinations are overcome by shrieking, maddened, semi-naked teens, runs through most of March (Spring Break full dates listings) so steer clear of these destinations during that month: Florida's Panama City and Daytona Beach; Las Vegas; South Padre Island, Texas; Mexico's Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco; Nassau and sailing trips in the Bahamas; and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.
Mexico & Caribbean
Mexico and the Caribbean will be good and hot for your dollars as usual, and coming towards the end of their best season. Easter is March 27th and booking accommodation will be difficult for the weeks before and after. Mexico offers a lot more culture (this is one of the world's most interesting countries) and low cost travel options than the Caribbean but budget Caribbean islands do exist and some - such as Puerto Rico - are even American territory so US citizens need only an ID card to get there, currency is dollars and flights are short and cheap. Unfortunately PR is currently in financial trouble, with high unemployment, high levels of poverty, rising crime and shopping costing around 20% more than most US cities.
An alternative choice for American visitors to the Caribbean is lovely St John in USVI, small and upmarket; visitors need to fly to St Thomas (also USVI) and then take a short boat ride. Still, St John is beautiful, no passport needed, it's safe and American visitors are - of course - welcome.
Bahamas residents taking a cooling dip off Vorobek beach. Photo by cdorobek. The climate of The Bahamas is warm year-round, English is the language and Americans find it easy to get to by plane, cruise ship, private yacht or even speed boat as it's near the coast of Florida, less than 50 miles/80kms in places. Most major airlines fly directly to Nassau (the capital) from Miami and other major US cities. The Bahamas is not technically in the Caribbean as most of its islands are in the Atlantic Ocean with only a few in the south bordering onto the Caribbean Sea, but the latitude is similar and the experience more-or-less identical.
The Dominican Republic is still the best value island with lots of activities and magnificent beaches; the island is huge so you should be able to avoid Spring Breakers on Punta Cana without difficulty.
Check on the Sargassum seaweed situation before booking in the Caribbean or Mexico! Most good beaches in the Caribbean and Mexico now use a large and efficient seaweed 'dozer to keep the noxious stuff off prime strands but verify before paying out. Ask for recent, dated photos?
Canada's currency is suffering so this is a good time to visit though tourist life there is still mainly about winter sports during these months with BC's Whistler and Quebec's Mont Tremblant at the top of winter destination list. Whistler's WSSF -World Ski and Snowboard Festival is Canada’s largest free outdoor concert series, snow and music/arts/sports combined! It runs 8-17 April. Hiking life etc. starts in May.
Miraflores district of Lima, Peru. Peru is an absolute must-see destination for any traveler interested in exotic surroundings with colorful people, amazing Inca structures, Andes Mountains, Amazon Rainforest, Nazca Lines and guinea pigs for dinner! Yum.
In Latin America (Central and South America) March - April should be fine in Argentina (esp. Patagonia or Bariloche hiking and Valdes wildlife), Chile (esp. Atacama Desert and brilliant hikes in Torres del Paine NP), Costa Rica (esp. wildlife + beaches +rainforest + volcanoes), the Galapagos Islands (wildlife) , Guatemala (pyramids and colorful people), Peru (everything! #1 must-see in the world!) and of course Mexico (magnificent Maya structures, brilliant beaches, great food and drinks, cheap!) but the weather in the remainder of the South American continent is at its worst.
The mosquito-borne Zika virus currently ranges across at least 20 countries in Central and South America including Brazil, Mexico and the Caribbean's Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Barbados, Martinique and Guadeloupe. The effects are generally mild but the concern is about a probable link with brain defects in babies.
Fallas de Valencia, Spain, from 15-19 March annually.
Arguably the craziest festival in Europe at this time is Fallas de Valencia, a madly explosive carnival/fiesta on the east coast of Spain. Locals spend 5 days partying with parades, pageants and modest fireworks until the last night when they set fire to hundreds of massive, spectacular papier-maché figures stuffed with fireworks. Kaboom.
No, not the KKK but Catholic penitents suffering for their sins in Seville 20-27 March, Spain.
For a more sombre but also spectacular few days in Spain head for Seville and Granada during Holy Week - Semana Santa - hundreds of pointy-hood penitents and torch lit processions up to Easter day in two gorgeous cities. Seville is much bigger. The premium time is during the night/early morning of Thursday-Good Friday.
Serious drinkers should perhaps head for Dublin St Patrick's Festival and St Patrick's Day Parade - a wild, green five days with main celebrations 14-17 March; folk who are partial to a funny smoke and drinks could do worse than hit the streets of Amsterdam on 26 April for King's Day this year (Orange Day); down in Italy Florence hosts a celebration known as Scoppio del Carro - Explosion of the Cart - in Piazza del Duomo on Easter Sunday, set off by a mechanical dove from the Altar during Mass; Mayrhofen in Austria is the scene of the Snowbombing Festival - a week long live music event, with bands and world-class DJs in a fantasy alpine setting. This 'Ibiza in the Snow' is regarded by many as 'the Greatest Show on Snow' and happens 4-9 April in 2016.
Koningsdag (Orange Day) in Amsterdam is the wildest day of the year. The city streets and canals burst with orange as locals and visitors enjoy this city-wide celebration.
Lake Yasmina, an irregular attraction in Merzouga, Moroccco, North Africa. Look carefully and you can see tourists climbing the dune, almost at the top on the right. Morocco is currently the safest North African country.
North Africa will be brilliant in March/April, the last best months before the heat arrives, so madly colourful Morocco and Egypt (if you have courage you can get incredible discounts in Egypt!) will present blue skies and fascinating exotic sights. Morocco is primarily about desert trips, wacky cities, Atlas Mountains hikes and beach life.
Holi Festival of Colour in USA! But more commonly in India and Nepal on March 23.
If you're in Japan at the end of March/early April for Sakura Matsuri or Hanami Cherry Blossom time (especially in Tokyo's Ueno park or Aoyama cemetery) then do consider a trip to Kawasaki, just south of Tokyo, to visit the hilarious Kanamara Matsuri (Iron Penis Festival) at Wakamiya Hachiman-gu Shrine in Kawasaki, between Tokyo and Yokohama on April 3. An hilarious, good-feeling event loaded with music, double-entendres, huge portable wangs and little willy lollies. Kanamara Festival Pictures.
India is also awaiting your visit but it's massive so focus, don't try to see everything at once! The biggest sights are in the Golden Triangle around Rajasthan, great in March, as is Holi Festival of Colour on March 23. This event involves
everyone throwing coloured water, powder or paint over everyone else, including
you. It's an iridescent madhouse. Especially spectacular Holi are held in Jaipur, Mathura, Braj Bhoomi and Sri Krishna in India and Kathmandu in Nepal.
The other monster destination, China, is difficult to plan these days - too cold, too hot, too, dusty, too polluted! But cheap now the yuan (local currency) is on the run, in fact near collapse. 13-15 April there is Poshui Jie, Water Splashing Festival in
Jinghong, beautiful Yunnan province, with dragon boat racing, fireworks,
dancing and throwing water over everyone, but everyone.
Nepal is still fine in March, the skies are mostly clear, the ancient artefacts bizarre and the walks stunning.
Over in Mexico March is a lively month with Noche de Brujas (Night of the Witches) on Cerro Mono Blanco, Catemaco as shamans, healers and witches gather for witchcraft ceremonies while down in the Yucatan the Kukulcan Snake God's shadow slithers down the side of the massive Kukulcan pyramid in in Chichen Itza during the equinox March 20/21.
In the Philippines the extraordinary Crucifixion in San Fernando takes place on Good Friday (March 25) when locals play out Christ's agony, all dressed up, beaten by whips and finally nailed - for real - onto crosses..
Hiking in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand.
Southern Australia moves into Autumn during these months and sees less of the blue skies while up north in Cairns or Brisbane the weather is still extremely humid and cloudy.
We don't want to discourage travel but should clarify for adventurous but novice travelers which parts of the world are problematical - troubled by disease, terrorist attacks, high levels of crime or aggressive disrespect for single women.
Egypt is off the tourist route for the moment though robust travelers who can find reliable, sophisticated flights (i.e. with proper safety checks) going to Luxor could mean the opportunity of seeing the incredible sights a) at low cost b) more importantly without the massed crowds that are normally there stuffing up the ambience.
Turkey has had a number of bomb attacks recently including the murderous Sultanahmet suicide bombing on January 11th 2016. Being close to the mid-east troubles is making security difficult. Best to avoid.
Here are some broad generalisations on where NOT to go on vacation if you have a nervous disposition.
Africa except for Morocco, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Madagascar, Mauritius.
Middle-East except for Israel, Jordan (if you're nervous about flights but really want to visit wonderful Petra, fly to Israel on the world's safest airline - El Al - and drive into Jordan), Oman, Dubai, Abu Dhabi.
Venezuela, Honduras, Haiti. Some drug-cartel regions of north Mexico are also off the tourist trail.
Solo women travelers should think twice before going to Pakistan, Philippines, North Korea, Indonesia, India, east China.
There have been mysterious killings on Thailand's west coast islands such as Ko Thao, always blamed on 'foreigners' and generally giving the impression that Thai police are either very corrupt, or very inefficient, or most likely, both. Budget island travelers beware, something psychotic is lurking in the soft, sandy darkness.
Whatever, wherever, safe travels!
Trek America discounts (USA, Canada, Central America)
Grand American Adventures (USA, Canada, Latin America)
Useful World Travel Apps
Easy to use and playful, Citymapper offers detailed journey planning, real-time departures and disruption alerts, as well as Uber integration and cycle routes. It is available in around 30 cities worldwide. Free.
A free and well-designed language learning app, though not a replacement for proper language tuition. The app is a fun way to get the basics or to freshen up on grammar and vocabulary before a trip abroad. Free.
XE is the go-to site for currency conversions on the web, so it's no surprise that its app is so popular. It has lots of business-oriented features but for the regular traveller it is most useful for the simple fact that it's able to convert every world currency. Free.
Tripit pulls together travel information from your confirmation emails for flights, hotels, rental cars, events bookings and converts it into a single itinerary. Just forward your emails to the app and it will do the rest. If you’re travelling with others you can easily share the plans, making this a useful app for coordinating a group trip. Free.
A simple 'Personal Flight Assistant' that offers excellent coverage of airlines and airports. It will keep you updated about flight status – even if you don’t have internet coverage – and helps you manage your time at the airport. Free.
This translator can be a useful tool to support your own, more serious language learning, but realistically, it’s most useful on a practical level quickly translating day-to-day words you come across on your travels. For example, you can hold your camera up to text – such as a sign, or a menu – and Google will translate it for you instantly. Free.
Time Out app is a great directory of ideas of things to do in cities around the world. With coverage from Accra to Amsterdam, Edinburgh to Singapore, the app covers everything from bars, restaurants, attractions and events. The event finder is a particularly useful tool, meaning you’ll never struggle to find the most popular concerts, festivals or one-off happenings going on around you. You can also book restaurants and concert tickets through the app and create a customised travel guide for your holiday. Free.
Splittr is geared up for travelling, providing a simple platform to share costs between friends. You can enter expenses as you go, including who paid what and the app will do the rest. A nice touch for longer, multi-destination trips is that all currencies are supported and you can mix currencies without having to do the conversion yourself. $1.99/£1.49.
Buy goodies or pay bills (checks) with credit cards when on vacation as they provide insurance as well as delayed repayment but don't draw cash out from ATMs with them (unless it's a new-wave, no-fee card). Interest starts accruing immediately and bank exchange fees in addition to the ATM fee may be unreasonable.
It's better to buy foreign cash at home from a commission-free provider though, of course when you travel you'll have to carry a fat wad around, so the best solution depends on the security of your holiday destination. If you travel a lot and want to get cash from an ATM do some research on transaction fees and get the lowest fee debit (not credit card) card you can find.
Gap Year travellers might consider also acquiring a prepaid Travel Money Card (aka Currency Card) which can be loaded with any amount of any currency before travelling and then topped up by family or friends while the Gappist is still in the big nowhere. Compare prepaid Travel Money Cards.
And of course never pay for anything abroad in your home currency (the exchange rate will be absurd), insist on paying in local currency.
To summarise, buy stuff abroad with a credit card, but try to pay off the balance each month before interest charges blow the wheels off your trolley; get cash from ATMs with a debit card.
Finally, don't go short of travel insurance if you're going to be participating in any kind of marginally dangerous activity, or even a non-dangerous activity in a third world location, that's NOT the way to save money! Use your brain while it's intact!
Social networking while traveling
Keep in touch with friends, family and colleagues while traveling abroad has become so much easier thanks to the internet and social networks.
Travelers logging onto social networks while abroad should ensure that they properly log out before leaving an internet café or similar because in some areas of Africa, East Europe and India it's not unknown for a watcher to access a tourist's Facebook (or similar) account after they leave and send a desperate message to family members about an accident/hospitalisation and needing money urgently. Money transferred of course disappears into a mystery account and no one's the wiser, for the time being.
Best way to communicate while travelling (updated December 2015)
1. Using your own mobile/cell phone
- Check out your provider's deals for using an extended service outside your registered country and check if your phone works over the network at your destination, as well as the cost.
- If your trip is long or you use the phone a lot, the best way to save money is:
If your phone is unlocked, get a local sim card and buy prepaid credit, possibly with data too so that you can use 3G or 4G. The downside of a new sim card means the number will be also new.
If your phone is locked, either get it unlocked or buy a cheapo unlocked local phone.
2. Using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services such as Skype, Facebook Messenger, Google+Hangouts, WhatsApp, Viber, LINE and Tango with your devices.
This involves contact via the internet, though nowadays it's not only speech or video calls but all sorts of communication ranging from instant messages and chats to sharing images and videos from anywhere worldwide free of charge, so long as each party has access to WiFi.
Although WhatsApp is only free for the first year - with cost of a dollar per year after that - WhatsApp is a brilliant service and currently the most popular app on the planet, with 900 million users worldwide.
3. Sign up with a global WiFi internet service such as Boingo and Fon WiFi.
You pay a small fee per month (from US$4.98 for the first months then $9.95; a higher price for laptops) for access to WiFi hotspots such as airports, stations and cafés worldwide.
- For those who need to be connected to WiFi or data all the time, you can rent a portable WiFi-enabled device or a pocket WiFi. This is a wireless modem from companies such as XCom Global and Tep wireless that gives have access to high-speed Internet at a flat rate (from €8.95/$9.95/£6.50 a day).
4. Not a cheap options but if your purpose is limited to emergencies, buy or rent a prepaid phone, online or at the airport on your arrival.
5. Old fashioned but check out the new generation phone cards to call just about anywhere, though public pay-phones are disappearing so it's hard to find one that works properly when you need to make a call! Also others can't to reach you, unless that is precisely your point!