Rail Tours: Destination Checklist

If you thought rail travel was only about commuting to work or visiting family, think again. From desert odysseys to mountain adventures, city breaks to luxury safaris, railways holidays come in all different sorts of shapes and sizes.

Here’s a quick guide to just some of the many different kinds of trip on offer.

Short breaks

If you’ve only got a few days to spare or want to make the most of your weekends, a short UK railway break could be just what you’re looking for. Hop on a train in London or closer to home and be whisked to the Highlands of Scotland, the wilds of Wales or the beauty of Cornwall. Your travel and accommodation will all be arranged for you, so all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the view!

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Train station in Berlin

Historic journeys

If you have a love of trains and a love of history, taking a trip on a classic steam train through timeless countryside could well be your ideal summer break. All around the UK, steam trains carry enthusiasts to some of the most beautiful parts of the country, but if you’ve got more time then you could even visit Belgium, Austria or Germany by rail.

For anyone interested in the battles of World War One, a train journey to the sights and monuments of the conflict would be a weekend to remember. Your guides will talk you through the momentous events that took place in these now peaceful towns and villages and give you a real insight into what life was like back in the early 1900s.

Exotic excursions

Those who want to travel even further afield may think rail journeys are out of the question – but they’d be wrong! Go on safari in South Africa, visit the temples of Sri Lanka or walk round the imperial cities of China with sensational rail journeys throughout these countries.

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Tracks to adventures and travels still unknown!

Long haul breaks can last anywhere from one week to three weeks, but you can also arrange a custom-made trip and experience everything that your chosen destination has to offer at your own place.

If you’ve got a list of places that you want to visit, a rail tour is almost guaranteed to take you there. As train holidays let you travel around and experience cities, towns and villages at a more relaxed pace, you’ll come back with a deeper understanding and appreciation of what your destination has to offer.

From Spa Retreat to Golfing Paradise: The Allure of Punta Cana

Those searching for a luxurious family holiday will be pleased to know that the resort of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic boasts a modern-day paradise suited to all ages.

The area itself is positioned between 650 yards of private beach, beautiful gardens and a shady coconut grove. From enjoying a massage under a palapa to spending an entire day on one of the private golf courses, there’s an activity to suit all – possibly one of the reasons the area holds such a strong allure.

3190493796 dea0977477 From Spa Retreat to Golfing Paradise: The Allure of Punta Cana
Photo Credit: Flickr user Ed Yourdon via creative commons license.

 

Sports

Other activities include a variety of water sports, such as snorkeling in the azure blue waters, water polo, wind surfing and kayaking, as well as a number of land-based options. From volleyball to football, to yoga classes and an archery academy, there’s certainly something for everyone.

All-inclusive

Many of the packages available boast all-inclusive stays, which certainly takes the hassle out of your holiday. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at regular intervals throughout the day and for those who find themselves a little peckish in between, a trip to one of the open bars, where you’ll find an abundance of snacks, is sure to suffice.

3187855972 31f1832f33 From Spa Retreat to Golfing Paradise: The Allure of Punta Cana
Photo Credit: Flickr User Ed Yourdon via Creative Commons License

Local attractions comprise the famous Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park, which sits at the Southern end of Punta Cana and boasts over 500 species of exotic plants, as well as 11 natural lagoons. Those that wish to view an abundance of the area’s tropical birds will find them at the Manati Park, whilst many of the local companies offer excursions in the shape of jeep safaris, which take you on a tour of the nearby tropical jungle.

Punta Cana is renowned for its many luxury golf courses; in fact, it’s been given the title of the Caribbean’s golf mecca. With more than 12 courses in operation, many of which have been designed by famous golfers, there’s a level to suit all.

 

As well as the many excursions and activities on offer, many quite simply visit Punta Cana for its stunning beaches, which have been consistently ranked as some of the world’s best. When you wish to delve into an activity that boasts the ultimate in relaxation, a trip to one of the resort’s many spas is a surefire way to forget all of your worries and woes.

To find out more about this stunning part of the world, simply visit the Club Med website.

 

 

Top Three Winter Sun Destinations for Brits

With the worst winter in decades supposedly on its way to Britain this Christmas, it’s pretty clear that some of us will need to get out of here quick sharp if we can – unless you fancy hibernating in your bedroom after the boiler inevitably packs up. It might be in your best interests to treat yourself to a warm, sunny Christmas instead, perhaps.

Fortunately, there are plenty of continental locations for you to hop over to for some sun-soaked respite from the coming icy blasts. Winter sun destinations are simply the best thing when it comes to beating the winter blues. Here are our favourites.

 

The Canaries

Visiting the Canary Islands is great value for money. They offer some of the most diverse holiday destinations in Europe and if you can visit more than one of the islands, you’ll really benefit from the variety. Cheap holidays to Fuerteventura are particularly popular.

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Image Credit: NASA Goddard Space Center

There are seven islands on the peninsula in total and they all have their own individuality and particular charms to offer as well as enjoying year-round sunshine.

If you want to spend your Christmas indulging in wild parties, head down to Tenerife for its legendary party atmosphere. On the other hand, if you prefer more than just nightlife, head to Lanzarote, which offers more family-friendly activities, like the Submarine Safari and the Guinate Tropical Park.

 

Cyprus

For such a small island, Cyprus is chock-full of local culture and history, and importantly, some impressive nightlife to enjoy. It’s a great Christmas getaway: you’ll be able to justify your cheeky little break with all the culture and have your New Year’s Eve party fun, too.

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Photo courtesy flickr user Chany14

Limassol, Larnaca and Ayia Napa all have famously exciting nightlife scenes – particularly the latter, which plays host to over 20 nightclubs on the main strip in town alone. The only thing about visiting Cyprus during Christmas time is that you may not want to return to Britain; the sunshine, warm lapping seas, halloumi cheese, wine and all the fresh seafood will make you forget all about going back to reality.

 

Madeira, Portugal

If you’re thinking of a later winter escape – around February (when the cold is at its worst and there’s nothing to look forward to), then consider heading over to the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira. But never mind the (admittedly excellent) beaches and the cuisine; your priority will be Madeira’s version of Rio’s famous Mardi Gras Carnival.

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Photo courtesy flickr user Gertrud K.

Traditionally, there are two Carnival parades in Madeira. The first one takes place on the Saturday of the Carnival Weekend – expect a riot of Samba dancing and the most outrageous and vibrant, colourful costumes. The second parade follows on Shrove Tuesday.

 

Staying in chill, grey Britain over winter is not an appealing prospect for most people. But when there are so many gorgeous and sunlit locations so close by, it’s not necessary to suffer the chill. There’s simply no sense in enduring it when you could be enjoying yourself in much warmer climes. So make sure you make the right decision this winter – you certainly won’t regret it!

 

 

 

With Elephants It’s Complicated – Win a Trip to Thailand

Riding on an elephant sounds a bit exotic doesn’t it?  I certainly think so. Immediately I visualize riding atop a majestic animal decked out in Southeast Asian silks and gems like some ancient Maharajah’s wife.  Ok, that’s a bit far, but you get my drift.  The thing is I’ve had the chance to ride atop and elephant, and not just at the zoo, and I passed.  That’s right, I gave up my opportunity to – for at least a moment – sit atop one of these beautiful animals and imagine myself as some exotic Asian ruler. Why?

 

elephantsdrinking With Elephants Its Complicated   Win a Trip to Thailand

Because I couldn’t guarantee their safety.  Yes, their safety.

The thing is, I wasn’t scared about falling off or hurting myself, I was afraid of being a part of the big tourist machine throughout Southeast Asia, the one that practices animal cruelty in the name of tourism and conservation.  You see, elephants are BIG business in Southeast Asia.  You can hardly get through a major city in Thailand, Laos or Cambodia without someone offering you an elephant riding tour or an elephant painting tour.  And some of these tours even  claim to be to conservation centers.  To me, there is nothing about conservation that puts an elephant on display like a circus animal performing tricks, and carrying humans around all day for their entertainment and enjoyment.  And so, offer after offer I passed on my dream.  And the more I heard about the way these animals are treated in the name of tourism, the better I felt about my decision.

 

elephantbutts With Elephants Its Complicated   Win a Trip to Thailand

Cruelty in the Name of TourismSave the elephant foundation With Elephants Its Complicated   Win a Trip to Thailand

As we traveled around the world we saw animals of varying species being used for transportation, work and entertainment.  Like the animals in a circus, we saw animals performing tricks in city squares, monkey’s chained to an owner performing for coins, larger animals hired out for transportation and in the case of Southeast Asia elephants being used for entertainment.  In some cases these were wild animals domesticated for human use, in others they were animals born and bread in captivity.  Sure, many of them were well fed, and in many cases beloved and well treated by their owners.  However, we had heard too many first -hand stories about what happens to the elephants in Southeast Asia to be willing to take a tour.   In fact, things are so out of control that elephant orphanages, rescue centers and homes for abused elephants exist in Thailand.

So what can we do?

Thankfully there are responsible organizations out there that protect these animals from abuse.  One of those organizations, Save the Elephants Foundation operates in Chang Mai, Thailand.  The provide safety, love and rehabilitation for elephants and open their doors to responsible tourists who want to learn about these majestic creatures without participating in tourism cruelty.  Although I never took a chance at riding an elephant, I do wish I had the opportunity to visit this organization and meet the elephants they’ve saved.

elephantlove With Elephants Its Complicated   Win a Trip to Thailand

Win a Trip to Thailand

The good news is – you can!  We’re working with a group of travel bloggers to raise awareness about the Foundation and collect donations to support their efforts!  100% of the proceeds go to supporting the foundation. And here is the best part, every donation enters you to win a TRIP TO THAILAND worth $3300.  Thanks to the support of companies like Flight Network, who is donating a $2000 flight voucher, and Where Sidewalks End, who is donating a Thailand tour for two people, you will be able to support responsible tourism in Thailand including elephants.  If you win, don’t forget to send us a picture of you with the elephants your donation supports!

Win a trip With Elephants Its Complicated   Win a Trip to Thailand*A donation entitles you to raffle tickets that will be used to raffle off a trip to Thailand.  Full details are available at: http://www.travelbloggingcalendar.com/about/

 

Why I Opt Out of TSA Body Scanners at the Airport

I think all Americans will spend some amount of today reflecting on the events of September 11, 2001.  For me, as a frequent traveler, I seem to do this every time I go through a TSA body scanner.  I was in Washington, DC at the time of the 9/11 attacks and remember them quite well but not knowing anyone, personally, who was killed that day, the TSA security procedures act as my reminder.  Each time I go through a TSA checkpoint, I am shocked and dismayed that I am the only visible person opting out of the TSA body scanner. My reasons for doing so are many, and it is frustrating to see so many pass through these machines without stopping to think about what they are doing.

There are many arguments against these TSA body scanners with most being a matter of privacy (they take a naked photo of your body) or safety (they blast your body with radiation). I think I was able to get past both of these issues until I watched the below video, taken from my home airport. The author of the video currently has a case pending in U.S. court system but he makes it quite clear that these machines raise some serious questions, but do little to enhance our safety.

The response of the TSA to this video, was quite telling in my opinion. More telling than this is the change of heart TSA officials have had since leaving the agency. A former director of the TSA now calls for a complete reversal of many of the TSA’s current practices because they do not add significantly to our security yet continue to raise privacy and safety concerns.

Basically, for me, it comes down to a few basic factors:

  • I am a law-abiding citizen and do not deserve to be submitted to inspection as though I am a criminal.  Although the ‘nudo-scope’ machines are not currently in use, they may return to use.
  • We really don’t know the long term affects of this radiation but there is significant research out there suggesting that these are not as safe as the government might have us believe.
  • TSA body scanners are very expensive and I don’t like paying for it with my tax dollars.
  • As the video above showed, TSA’s body scanners don’t really help to make us more secure but are just one piece of the ‘security theatre’ currently employed.
  • Many of the TSA agents I’ve spoken to, one agent each time I opt out, agree with my decision to opt out and tell me their reasons for doing the same.

I recently came across an article in the New York Times in which the author was very critical of the entire program. Although I am also critical of the program, I have to disagree with nearly everything this author wrote in BodyScanner Why I Opt Out of TSA Body Scanners at the Airporthis piece. Ever since I’ve educated myself on the program and decided to opt out I have repeatedly found TSA agents to be both friendly and understanding of my choice. Generally, they work to get me through security with minimal delay and usual confess they tell their friends and family to do as I am doing. One in Detroit recently told me their standard office joke is that there will be commercials in 30 years asking: “Did you or someone you know work for the TSA before the year 2020 who might be suffering from fill in the blank radiation disease, if so, call this number!”

I do generally believe that most people in government are in their chosen career because they have a desire to serve their country, hence my personal experiences with TSA agents are generally quite pleasant. This doesn’t mean that lobby dollars aren’t in play (feel free to do your own research on the staggering amounts spent to get these machines in airports) nor does it mean that anyone on either side of the debate truly knows the long-term health impact of these machines. For my money and time, I view it in my interest to opt out and I wish others would do more of the same. I have always assumed that opt out statistics are tracked by the TSA (I’ve actually seen daily counts) and the more people opt out, the sooner TSA PreCheck will be available to everyone.

 

image credit – NYTimes.com