Photos and Compact Guides
Nice, Côte d'Azur in winter. Photo by Chaska.
Travel Costs 2014
According to a new British Post Office report on Worldwide Holiday Costs the cheapest destination (presumably a regular vacation target as opposed to N'Djamena, for example) for Brits at least is currently Bali, Indonesia.
The lowest cost countries in Europe are Portugal, Czech Republic and Spain.
Also worth a budget visit are Turkey, South Africa, Vietnam and Mexico.
The cheapest island in the Caribbean is Jamaica (though still not very competitive compared to the previous countries listed), followed by Dominican Republic and Tobago.
The priciest countries are, in Europe, Italy
and worldwide New Zealand, followed by Australia, Singapore, China and Canada.
Montego Bay, Jamaica, Caribbean
Americas, March - April
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 and Daytona Beach showing highs of 77F (25C) and lows of 52F (11C).
We mention these
locations because Daytona Beach's Official Bike
Week - the world's biggest motorbike fest runs from 7 - 16 March, while the notorious American Spring Break, when a few lucky destinations are overcome by shrieking, maddened teens, runs through most of March, starting mostly on the 1st, 8th and 15th of the month.
Holidaymakers who are not delighted to be surrounded by rambunctious teens should avoid these Spring Break Hotspots: 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.
New Orleans' spectacular Mardi Gras goes over-the-top on 4 March but locals start celebrating up to two weeks before while the biggest party in Texas, Fiesta San Antonio, runs 10-27 April.
Other than those hotspots Mexico and the Caribbean will be good and hot for your dollars, though Easter is April 20th and booking accommodation will be difficult for the weeks before and after. Mexico offers a lot more culture (in fact this is one of the world's most interesting countries if you go to the right places) 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 don't need passports or visas.
The Dominican Republic is 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.
Further south if you're looking for an exotic Latin American experience then March - April should be fine in Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands, Guatemala, Peru and of course Mexico but the weather in the remainder of the South American continent is at its worst.
Semana Santa in Seville, Spain.
Although this style is clearly the source of the USA's infamous KKK dress code the original Nazarenos pre-Easter tradition involves pain, penitence and personal sacrifice and expresses no racism whatsoever. In fact exhaustion and melancholy are the primary attributes of those wearing this style of outdoor wear in Spain!
Europe Carnivals, March - April
Italy: The best is the classic Carnival of Venice, colourful, fascinating,
funny and a superbly costumed environment in spectacular St Mark's Square (15 February-4 March). For the full flavour, buy a mask, rent
a costume and go to a palazzo ball (the best is the Doge's Ball).
France: Nice Carnival on the Cote d'Azur is a brilliant
event on the lovely promenade of a terrific city, but not every day
and parades are basically the same so one is probably enough (14 February - 4 March).
Spain: Sitges Carnival near Barcelona is the wildest, gayest party of the year (25 February - 5 March. Parades on Sunday 2nd & 4th).
Germany has two carnival offerings, Cologne Carnival, Kolner Karneval, a huge Mardi Gras style event, the highlight being the Rose Monday parade (27 February - 5 March; 3 March is Rose Monday parade.
Then there's Düsseldorf Karneval, another outrageous and psychedelic occasion; Rose Monday Parade is probably the best
for weird dress code(28 February - 5 March).
But the craziest festival is Fallas de Valencia in Spain 15-19 March, a fiery, explosive event while the most somber religious event could be Semana Santa (Holy Week) in stunning Seville, Southern Spain.
Serious drinkers should perhaps head for Dublin for St Patrick's Day (actually celebrations run from 14-17 March), while drinkers who are partial to a funny smoke could do worse than hit the streets of Amsterdam on 26 April for King's Day/Orange Day.
Ait Benhaddou fortified village in the Lower Atlas Mountains, Morocco
Africa, March - April
North Africa will be brilliant in March/April, the last best months before the heat arrives, so madly colourful Morocco and Egypt's Sharm el Sheikh - a long way from troubles in the big cities on the other side - will be incredible value and should present blue skies. Morocco will be primarily for desert, wacky cities and exotic exploration while Sharm or Dahab are about beaches and snorkeling/scuba/boarding in the Red Sea.
Petra/Wadi Rum in Jordan and Israel
generally are also perfect in this season.
Central Africa is not so good now but South Africa's varied attractions, from beaches to wildlife to wines are at their best now, in Autumn.
Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India
Asia, March - April
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 the other monster destination, China, that's difficult to plan these days - too cold, too hot, too, dusty, too polluted!
Nepal is still fine in March, the skies are mostly clear, the ancient artefacts bizarre and the walks stunning.
Vietnam looks good in these two months as does but Thailand's beaches reach their peak in March and become less attractive in April. Early April is roughly Cherry Blossom time in Japan, a fantastically beautiful season if the weather is willing.
Hiking in Tongariro, New Zealand
Australasia, March - April
Southern Australia moves into Autumn during this time and sees less of the blue skies while up north in Cairns or Brisbane the weather is still extremely humid and cloudy.
Adelaide Fringe is the Australia's
largest, wackiest festival. A huge and unhinged
event - Edinburgh in the sun (14 February-16 March). Adelaide Pictures and Information. The more formal Adelaide Festival runs 28 Feb - 16 March.
Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (7 February - 2 March, Big Parade on 1 March) - a huge and world famous celebration of gay life,
with a stunning parade, shows and parties.
However! This is positively prime time in New Zealand for incredible walks, beaches, wine tasting, and insane adrenalin activities.
Whatever, wherever, happy holidays!
Special Deals and Vacation offers
Trek America discounts (USA, Canada, Central America)
Grand American Adventures (USA, Canada, Latin America)
Yinhe Street in Beijing, 2013, when things were not so bad!
Air Pollution in China, 2014. Aaaargghhkkahkah!
China is now suffering extensive and off-the-charts pollution, especially during the winter season from November to April when coal burning for heat increases, as does car use. Winter weather also traps smog in many areas but particularly the larger cites.
The most dangerous particles polluting the air are known as PM2.5. These are easily absorbed by the lungs and over time act like a 40-per-day cigerette habit, or worse.
The World Health Organisation recommends a maximum safe limit of 25 which London, for example, rarely exceeds. On February 26 2014 Beijing's official reading was 501, tho' the US embassy measured 542 and others say that readings went off the chart.
n.b. regular, cheap masks are of no use at all against PM2.5, as one of the main Chinese manufacturers recently admitted (explaining, in all innocence, that the materials were both expensive and very difficult to acquire). If you must be in China during winter bring a W.H.O. accredited mask or credible alternative (from Japan?).
Using bank cards abroad efficiently
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!
Secure your Social network!
Keep in touch with friends, family and collegues 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.
Making calls to family and friends while traveling used to mean looking around for a phone booth, using phone cards and spending a fat wad, especially for international calls, but these days varied devices are used not only for keeping in touch but also booking transport, entertainment, restaurants, accommodation and more.
The cheapest foreign communication options
1 - Cross-platform mobile instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp, WeChat, facebook Messenger and Snapchat which allows users to exchange messages or chat from anywhere worldwide free of charge, so long as each party has access to wifi. WhatsApp Messenger is available for smartphones, such as iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone and Nokia and uses the same internet data plan that you use for email and web browsing at no cost.
WhatsApp is not the only super-app on the planet, for example LINE has 50 million registered users in Japan and 300 million worldwide. LINE currently offers not only instant messaging but voice/video call for free. WhatsApp will soon allow voice service having been acquired by Facebook.
2 - Sign up with the new breed of free VoIP [Voice over Internet Protocol] providers such as Skype, Rebtel, Tango and Google Voice/Google+Hangouts which offer free or cheap international calls on a laptop/smart phone/or even iPod Touch.
These cost nothing user to user or a small charge for calling to non internet phones such as land lines or mobile numbers.
We're especially impressed by international video calls from an iPod Touch in a wifi zone to a PC via Skype, incredible sound quality and pretty good pictures, though the quality can be erratic depending on the strength of the signal. Use wifi or 3G connection where possible. Be aware that you cannot make or receive emergency services with VoIP.
3 - Travel with your own GSM cell/mobile phone if it works over the cellular data network type at your destination. Buy or rent a pre-paid sim card at home or on arrival and change the card over immediately.
The main drawback is the number will be new and you may have to own an unlocked phone so either get yours unlocked or buy an already unlocked extra phone. This system is convenient and you only pay for what you use if you buy the right package.
Alternatively check out your provider's deals for using the extended service outside of your registered country.
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 payphones are disappearing and 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!
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