Fellow traveler, are you fascinated by old history and curious to learn more about Morocco's rich cultural heritage? Are you in a process of planning a trip to this African country but don't know what to expect (cultural norms, shopping, tipping) when you get there? Then, this quick read is for you.
Driving almost 300 miles south, you will reach the town of Merzouga, set right on the border with Sahara. Seeing the sunset on the top of the dunes is a life-changing experience!
Now, with these essential travel tips in mind, you are equipped to start planning your Moroccan Journey!
A recent trip to India inspired this blog- hope you find it useful. Fascinated by Ancient History, GQ Travel mission is to bring world heritage sites to life through travel.
Traceable India history dates back to the third millennium BC when flourishing Indus civilization together with Mesopotamia, Pharaonic Egypt and Yellow River Valley formed the Four Cradles of the Ancient World. The fertile plains of Indus Valley were home to thriving major urban centers like Harappa and Mohenjo Daro that left their mark in the history. It is believed, that sometimes during the Bronze Age Hinduism came to existence and dominated the religious life of the populous until the 6th Century BC when the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama branched off from the mainstream and gave birth to the Buddhism. The Great Empires of Ancient India (such as Maurya & Gupta) bloomed until 8th Century AD when series of Muslim invasions weakened and led to the decline of the region. A new page in Indian history was written with the arrival of the Mughals and the founding of the Mughal Empire in 16th Century AD. In the span of three Centuries, Moghuls established multiple capitals in India, Pakistan, and Afganistan, including New Delhi, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Jaipur, Kabul to name a few, and left a remarkable cultural and architectural legacy that can be seen today in their well-preserved palaces, tombs, and forts. The mid of 19th Century marked the arrival of the British Raj which lasted until 1947 when India got its independence.
Traveling to India feels like traveling back in time- Mystic religious practices are still performed in Ancient Hindu and Buddhist Temples, Mughal Forts, and Palace complexes continue to amaze visitors with their beautiful structures, laborious ancient arts and craft works passed through centuries are still practiced within communities and on display in local workshops.
Today Hinduism is the predominant religion in India, with 80% of the population identifying themselves as Hindus. The rest of the country adheres to other religions (Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Jainism)
To enter India, you need a valid passport, return ticket and, if your visit purpose is travel for a period less than 30 days Indian Visa prior arrival (Electronic Travel Authorisation ETA)
Arrive in India with Pre-Planned Program
Whether you decide to travel with a partner or in a group, it is imperative to plan your entire stay in India a few months in advance with a travel advisor specializing in a cultural immersive travel. This will secure your airport transfers, preferred hotels, arrange your local guides and save your time in the destination.
Traveling with an organized small group or with a private guide/driver is highly recommended. Why? You will rarely see Western Tourists walking on the streets! The major Indian cities are densely populated and chaotic, the traffic is bad and driving rules/signs virtually non-existent. To make the driving experience worst, domesticated animals such as cows, dogs, goats are let to roam free on the streets and even can be seen on the highways. Fortunately, important highways connecting driving distance cities in the Golden Triangle( such as New Delhi, Jaipur, Agra) are modern, fast and efficient. As an alternative, India Railway system is cheap and trains, mainly preferred by the locals connect the entire country. When embarking on a train, one must be prepared for frequent delays and confined compartments.
Travel Tip: If you do like to experience how the locals get around the city, hop on a rickshaw ride!
Where to Stay
For the sake of comfort and hygienic purposes, staying at 4 or 5-star hotels is vital. In reality, due to local customs and traditions, you cannot simply get out of the hotel and walk to a store/supermarket/restaurant. A nicer hotel will provide you with a complimentary supply of bottled water ( The tap water in India is not drinkable), a clean room, Western Breakfast & various amenities. Majority of this properties are located in a close proximity to historical points of interest.
Travel Tip: If within your budget, staying at a Heritage Hotel displaying Indian History will completely transform your experience. Today, many former maharaja palaces are converted into luxury hotels.
Where to Eat
Eating at random street stands and restaurants is not advisable. India is a third-world country and the locals have poor hygiene in preparing street food. Unless your body is used to the local bacteria, you risk getting sick. However, buying peeled fruits from the street vendors is safe and you can enjoy tasty organic apples, bananas or coconuts.
Travel Tip: Unless your guide takes you to a trusted local restaurant that is known for its good hygiene, you will have no other choice than taking all of your meals in the hotel and unfortunately to pay Western Prices. On the positive side, a reputable hotel will serve a variety of Indian and Western dishes.
Travel Tip: Consult with your doctor for preventive medicines/vaccines you might need to get.
What to Buy
Support the local economy by purchasing locally made fabrics (such as silk, cotton), gemstone jewelry, marble & house goods, organic tea. Every city specializes in a particular art & craft. Your local guide will take you to cooperative workshops, where you can see the art of handmade goods in action, passed through generations and have an opportunity to purchase. New Delhi is famous for its Pashmina Shawls, Arga for its marble and leather goods ( local workshops employ the same inlaid marble technique used in the building of Taj Mahal), Jaipur is a world center of gemstone jewelry, Varanasi famous for its silk. These workshops are supported by the Indian Government and often an entire village is involved in the production and makes their living. The laborious, long and handcrafted process dictate almost Western prices, but you are buying with the peace of mind that you have helped to feed a local family and the uniqueness and quality are assured. Buying souvenirs or clothes from street vendors will be cheaper, however, a majority of the goods are Chinese manufacture and of low quality.
How to Dress
Dress modestly. Avoid wearing tidy shorts, short skirts or tank tops. Adopt loose cotton pants, long light dresses and a shawl to cover up your shoulders (especially when you enter a temple)
Travel Tip: Most of the temples require taking off your shoes. If you don't feel comfortable to do so, bring a pair of socks with you.
Cash & Tipping
If most of your trip is prepaid ahead of time, you don't need to carry a lot of cash with you. Established and brand name hotels, restaurants and stores accept credit cards. You will mainly need small Indian Rupees bills (INR) to purchase offerings for the temples you visit, for restrooms (20 INR) and to tip pretty much everybody that provides a service for you(guides, drivers (on your discretion), hotel/ restaurant staff, room cleaners, bellboys 100-200 INR)
Travel Tip: Always carry with you a package of tissue paper/wet-naps, most of the restrooms don't have toilet paper!
Are you ready to start planning your journey to India?
Paris, The "City of Light" is a destination in itself and it is on every traveler's list. As one of the cultural centers in Europe and one of the most romantic cities in the world, the things to see and do are almost endless but without a proper planning, they can become easily overwhelming. However, it doesn't have to be this way. A few minor twists can completely transform your Parisian experience.
Learn a few basic French words
You may know, that France is one of the European countries where Engish is not widely spoken. If you are not prepared, the language barrier can easily create unpredicted and challenging situations. That being said, there are ways to go around this. Patience and learning a few basic French words like "Bonjour", "merci", "S"il-vous-plait"is a good start!
Choose a centrally located hotel
Paris is one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities in the world. Comprised of 20 arrondissements (neighborhoods), there are a variety of accommodations that can satisfy many travel tastes. If you are a first-time visitor, choosing a hotel that is either a walking distance to major must-see sights( Eifel Tower, Norte Dame, Louvre Museum etc) or near a train station can save you a lot of time and frustration. For our recent stay, my husband and I choose the boutique Louison Hotel located in Saint- Germain-des-Pres neighborhood. Also known as "Luxembourg", this arrondissement is home to the Luxembourg Museum and Gardens. This being our first time in Paris, we loved the location: steps away from multiple metra/train stations (including Gare Montparnasse for a short train ride to Chateau De Versailles), shopping, and a wide choice of restaurants and historical cafes including Le Procope, the oldest cafe in Paris. There was a nice mix of residential buildings and small hotels that didn't feel touristy.
Reserve your museum tickets ahead of time
Paris is home to one of the most visited museums in the world and if you don't reserve your tickets in advance you risk waiting on hours-long lines.
Travel Tip: Choose a ticket with a time entry/skip the line option. For some museums, you may have to do that a weeks in advance.
Travel Tip: If you are planning to purchase The Paris Pass, consider for how many days you are in Paris and how many museums you like to see per day (once activated, the Paris Pass have to be used in consecutive days and might not make a financial sense)
Give yourself an extra time to get to your point of interest
Paris metro is one of the oldest and one of the best systems in the world, but the complex metro system can be a challenge even for the most experienced traveler. Expect to take a couple of days to master the train system and to get lost a few times before getting used to it.
Travel Tip: If you can, just walk! You will get exercise and you will discover hidden neighborhood gems on your way.
Get an early morning start
Why would you get up early on your vacation? There are many reasons to do so, but the primary being is to avoid the crowds! Unless you book a "behind the closed doors/after hours entry" private experiences you will still wait on lines, but they will be considerably shorter compared to mid-day museum visits, also you will get better picture opportunities.
Are you ready to start planning your Parisian Escape?
Fellow travelers, with your hardly-earned vacation right around the corner, how many times these thoughts have crossed your mind?:
"Let me go with the flow and leave the planning of daily activities once I get there."
Well, this might have been the right approach in your 20s, but today's savvy travelers know that a bit of pre-planning is essential to be able to actually relax on a vacation. Of course, the variety of tricky experiences in my own travel adventures have served to reinforce this idea, and we generally pre-book the main points of interest ahead of time (while still leaving some free time for exploration), and would like to share a few key points learned from the process.
Pre-planning will optimize your vacation time
In the today's busy world, time is money -- and time at your vacation destination is especially valuable -- so leaving that to the last minute to "go with the flow", will mostly result in last-minute stress, missed opportunities, and an unsatisfactory experience generally. Picture this: After one or two typical international flight connections, you finally have arrived in the destination. The last thing you'd like to do at that point, is to start exploring ideas what to do and not to do and when/where to go. Yes, most likely there will be an excursion desk in the hotel or nearby ready to book you on a tour for the "best rate" according to them. The chances are, that's just another tourist trap. ...Just to cite a recent an "eye-opening" example from my last family vacation in Malta, we reserved the one of the popular Captain Morgan Cruises for a day tour to the Blue Lagoon and the island of Gozo (you can see Captain Morgan booths almost at every corner of the sea promenade in Sliema, where is the main foot traffic). The total tour was 8 hours, out of it, we've spent 1 hour "beach time" at the Blue Lagoon and 1 hour touring Gozo (including the bus transfers). We ended up with 6 hours on the boat "cruising" between the islands, considering the fact that the distance between Malta and Gozo is less than 14 miles!). What a time-waster!
Special interest activities typically require -- or benefit from -- an advance booking.
Did you know? Exclusive museum/ special interest entrance tickets require an advance registration (the Tomb of the Pharaoh Seti I in Valley of the Kings in Egypt is one of the best-preserved tombs just recently opened to the general public and allows only 150 ppl per day with a special permit), or Scuba Diving Trips (limited number of divers in a group, in addition, most dive shops require reservation at least one day ahead).
Tip: Using a travel specialist to assist you with special interest tours will save your time and will enhance your vacation experience by leveraging relationships with local tour operators.
Save $ reserving in advance online
Did you know? Many local tour operators offer two type of rates- An online rate and a walk-in rate. Sometimes the price difference is significant.
Skip the long lines to must-see sites
Majority of must-see historical sites are notorious for their long wait lines (the walk-in entrance to the Vatican museum can easily be a couple of hours). However, a travel expert will tell you that there is two type of travelers: those that wait in lines, and the other ones, who don't. Many museums offer a skip-the-line pass for an upcharge which is totally worth it in terms of a value and time-saver.
Pre-planning helps to reduce your stress
Unfortunately, stressful situations do occur when you are on vacation, especially due to a lack of coordination and planning to stay ahead of the game. Quite often, nailing-down a couple or a few key, high-value, items can work wonders in helping to create the best, most-optimized experience for you and/or friends and family.
Are you ready to plan your stress-free journey?
The land of the pharaohs is a destination that has fascinated travelers since antiquity. Egypt is the "Gift of the Nile" remarked the Greek historian Herodotus when he visited in the 5th Century BC. There are not enough words to describe the magnitude and ingenuity of the Ancient Egyptian Engineering and the stunning colorful religious scenes carved in the temples and tombs -- you have to see it for yourself.
Travel Tip: As a Muslim country, the locals are conservative, but you will soon find that they are also genuine and helpful. The US dollar and the Euro are strong and go a long way.
Travel Tip: Renting a car is not really an option: The country roads are extremely busy, most of the directions are in Arabic and traffic lights are a rare occurrence. In order to travel, the Egyptian Tourism Board must issue you a road travel permit. In the countryside, there are security checkpoints every few kilometers.
Travel tip: If the purpose of your vacation is to party, reserve an all-inclusive resort in Sharm El Sheikh or Hurghada (Egypt's popular resort towns), where you can find trendy bars and nightclubs in a short distance from your resort.
Are you ready to plan your journey to the "Land of the Pharaohs"?
Do you check your luggage every time you travel? Even for shorter getaways?
According to the Airline information technology company, SITA, and their new baggage report for 2018 mishandled luggage rates has reached a record low-70 % drop since 2007 with the help of new technology implementations.
However, the biggest ongoing problem is luggage mishandling between tight flight transfers with a large number of the bags being misplaced in this process.
Here are five reasons to avoid checking your luggage
Reduce your risk of missing a connection
Some airlines (especially the budget ones such as Ryan Air), will require getting your luggage between flights. In any event, that you have a tight connection you can easily miss your next flight.
Protect your luggage
Often luggage is mishandled by careless airline employees that can result in broken wheels, handles or dirty spots. If you have invested $$$ in a quality, brand name bags seeing your luggage mistreated is not a pretty sight.
Saves you time
When checking your luggage you have to add automatically an additional hour to your travel time. As a savvy traveler to save time, you will have either printed your boarding pass ahead of time, or you will have it on your mobile phone. In this scenario, you should be able to go straight to your gate after the immigration wheeling your carry on bag, instead of waiting on a line to check it in a heavy suitcase. In an event that your luggage got lost, you will have to spend at least a day of your vacation shopping for "must have" items instead of enjoying your time in the destination.
It can reduce stress
Have you ever thought how much stress is associated with a lost luggage? Think about the multiple phone calls, waiting on lines to make a claim, waiting for the luggage delivery etc., in my humble opinion, this is really something that can ruin your vacation.
Save $ on baggage fees
In the last years, unfortunately, most airlines have adopted the pay for check-in luggage policy, and this is one of their main profit sources. Unless you have a credit card issued through the airline you are flying with, which might wave the fee, you should expect to pay if you want to check your bag. In addition, the budget airlines are notorious for their business policy of charging for a carry-on bag as well. So, a key takeaway is to keep a sharper eye on baggage policies generally, especially when flying with a different airline with whom you might not be as familiar.
Thanks for reading and share your comments below!