Lisbon is the great ideas for vacation

Those in the know have been quietly enjoying Lisbon’s charms for years, but the city is currently having a bit of a moment. In recent times, it’s seen the opening of a slew of modern museums, trendy clubs, smart boutique-style accommodation and the regeneration of some of its more run-down areas – all while retaining a traditional atmosphere and friendly vibe.

Add to this some of western Europe’s lowest prices for food and drink and a politically stable background, and you can understand why it’s so popular. Here, Matthew Hancock, co-author of the new Rough Guide to Portugal, runs down a few of the things that make Lisbon one of Europe’s hottest city breaks right now.


There are lots of new openings

Though endearingly traditional, Lisbon can do hip as well as any other European capital – the recently renovated Ribeira Market is currently the place to eat and drink, with the city’s iconic Pap’açorda restaurant giving it a seal of approval by moving there.

The Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT) is a sleek new addition to the riverside in Belém, while 2017 will see the opening of a new Jewish museum in the historic Alfama district and a new viewpoint on the Golden Gate-like 25 de Abril Bridge.


It’s one of Europe’s most affordable places

The bottom line for most people’s city break is the cost – and Lisbon is still remarkably affordable. A room in a central guesthouse can be had for under €80 even in high season, and a dorm in a hostel is under €20.

Choose carefully and you can eat well for around €10 while a travel card on the bus, trams and metro is just €6 for the day.

Even more refreshingly, an espresso is under €1, a small beer is just €1.20 and you can buy a quality bottle of wine in a supermarket for under €5.


There’s an endlessly enchanting city centre

Lisbon has always been a place to get lost in. Head to the centre, put the map away and just wander. It’s the sort of city where you stumble upon wonderful tile-fronted buildings, little-visited squares and stepped alleys leading to tiny welcoming cafés.

Not that the city lacks sites. No visit to Lisbon is complete without enjoying the view across the Tagus from the hilltop castle, or admiring the astonishing stonework of the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Belém, or the amazingly diverse collections of art at the Gulbenkian Museum.

Amazing National Park Destination

America’s National Parks are not just the great outdoors, they’re the greatest outdoors. They are the wide open spaces and the wild places, where generations of Americans escape to marvel amid the Earth’s most wonderful playground of caves, caverns and canyons; of dry desert hills that stretch as far as the eye can see and geysers and waterfalls that conquer the air with water; of mountains, volcanoes and glaciers that make men look like ants and historic sites that remind us that some men become giants.

With 388 national park sites to choose from, picking one should be easy. At the tip of your travel tongue may be Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, but dig a little deeper and you will find many surprises. America’s National Grand Canyon NPParks are more than just hiking trails into mountain valleys, campsites overlooking sweeping vistas and unparalleled chances to watch moose and elk run wild. Many are famous historical sites, battlefields and small parks with big-time scenery.

Whether you want a wild adventure or an historical quest, follow these helpful tips compiled by ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents). Some of the most travel-wise people in the world, ASTA members know which parks to visit when, and they’ll gladly show you how to keep your “pic-a-nic” basket away from the pesky bears.

Follow Your Sense of Adventure
Choosing the park that’s right for you is as simple as choosing how you want to play, for the parks offer a nearly endless range of activities to explore and indulge.

In America’s National Parks, you can scale an active volcano in Hawaii; raft over class V rapids through magnificent gorges and valleys at Gauley River NationalGlacier NP Recreation Area; cap off a day on Alcatraz Island back at your hotel with a spa treatment before hitting the streets of San Francisco; embrace history by tracing footprints at Antietam National Battlefield or watching oil droplets bubble to the surface of Pearl Harbor above the USS Arizona Memorial; shine a solitary beacon of light into the dark depths of Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave; snorkel off the coast of Padre Island National Seashore; experience a mystifying sense of neighborly warmth around the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site; or conquer the ice age by hiking along Glacier National.

No matter which park you choose, you will find many options and many delights, so keep your mind open to the possibilities and your soul open to the experiences.

Redefining “Crowds”
Picking the park for you may depend on how well you like crowds, according to travel agents. Some National Parks reel in millions of visitors a year, though a crowded park is not like a crowded bus. There is plenty of room for everyone, and even the most crowded parks, like the Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee, have plenty of areas where your footprints will be the first ones of the day.

Nez Perce National Historical Park (Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Montana
These 38 sites in the valleys, prairies, mountains and plateaus of the inland northwest honor the history of the Nez Perce people as they mixed with explorers, fur traders, missionaries, settlers, soldiers, gold miners and farmers. Several sites feature interpretive trails, and visitors will often see golden eagles, marmots, black bears and mule deer.

Isle Royale (Michigan, Minnesota)
You’ll escape crowds of people in these wild woods of the North, but encountering crowds of wolves, otters and moose is another thing. Roadless Isle Royale is a 45-mile long wilderness archipelago in the heart of Lake Superior, gloriously threaded with 165 miles of scenic hiking trails connecting historic lighthouses and shipwrecks, ancient copper mining sites and plenty of spots to observe wildlife.

Catoctin Mountain Park (Maryland)
You will not see the President on Catoctin Mountain, for his nearby, well-known retreat, Camp David, is closed to the public. But you will see plenty of white-tailed deer, wild turkeys and woodpeckers among the beauty of this rolling forest. Camping and hiking dominate the minds of visitors here, with relaxation in resplendent nature the ultimate goal for presidents and common folk alike.

When to Go
Even though parks are open year round, travel agents suggest you check with each individual park to confirm that it will be open to the public. The summer and winter months are generally the most popular times, depending upon when the scenery excels. To avoid the crowds, gain better access to the viewing areas and enjoy more time in leisure pursuits, travel during the spring and fall, as the rising and falling foliage will add to the splendor of the landscape.

Peak periods also follow school schedules, so avoid winter break, spring break and the summer holidays. Visiting during the week will garner you much more open spaces than weekends. That said, traveling during peak times, like most of us are forced to do, should never deter you from visiting, for the parks are well worth the trip 365 days a year.

Where to Stay
Deciding how you will spend your nights in America’s National Parks depends mostly on your individual needs and desires. Camping is the most popular option, whether in a tent, RV or in the backcountry. Most parks have cottages, cabins, lake houses or houseboats to rent. There are even hotels often located inside the park for those whose idea of roughing it is being forced to drink instant coffee instead of their usual blend from Starbucks.

Each park will have a different mix of options, so talk to your travel agent to see what’s available. And as with any trip, book your accommodations as far in advance as possible. More people want to sleep in National Parks than the parks can accommodate, forcing park officials to ration campground sites and backcountry permits. The National Park Service has a reservation system that rewards those who know the rules and know when to call—a system travel agents know well.

Fun for the Whole Family? Children, Yes. Pets, No.
National Parks are perfect for kids. Most of the larger parks run Junior Ranger Programs, allowing kids to participate in fun activities while learning about the area’s natural habitat and historic significance. Other parks offer nature walks and wildlife talks specifically geared towards children, to show them that nature has more to offer than video games.

While kids thrive in the wide-open expanse of National Parks, pets do not. Simply put, the wilderness is not pet-friendly. Some hiking trails prohibit all pets, while others demand that they remained leashed. Bears, wolves and mountain lions prey on small animals and will be attracted to your trail or tent if you bring little Fifi along.

General Tips
The first thing you should always do upon arriving is stop in at the Visitors Centers. Inside, the friendly park rangers will have the latest information about safety hazards, closures, weather and wildlife notices.

Always stay on the trails when walking and hiking to protect both you from the wilderness and the wilderness from you.Clean up after yourself. We all must do our part to preserve the parks, so that everyone can experience the wonders they have to offer for years to come. Get out of your car. Too many people drive through the parks, stepping out here and there for a quick view. To truly experience the park, get out and find a hiking trail.

Save on park fees by getting a pass. A National Park Pass costs $50 and is good at all parks for one year. This will allow you to pass through the entrance gates more quickly and motivate you to visit more parks throughout the year.

388 Ways to Say, “Wow”
The United States goes to great lengths to preserve the best of its natural and manmade heritage. With 388 National Parks to choose from, millions of Americans enjoy this privilege, while millions more are welcomed to explore.

Contact a trusted agent today to help you plan your visit to one or several of our wonderful National Parks. Travel agents can help you choose which park to visit, where to stay, and what you can do when you get there. And since most parks are unfortunately not in your neighborhood, travel agents can get you there with little cost and littler worries.

Some Holiday Tips At Winter

It’s no secret that winter and holiday travel can be the most stressful occasion. Especially when the hustle and bustle of holiday travel starts, people become more distressed with long waits and unexpected challenges. If you travel by air or car during the cold season, you can count on more delays than you’d experience in the summer. Once bad weather appears during the peak times for air travel, we end up with the lengthiest flight delays, cancellations and missed connections of the year.

On the other hand, road travel has its share of annoyances and risks. There may be road closings, slower speeds due to snow or sleet, traffic accidents and other obstacles to throw you off track. However, don’t let the winter and holiday travel season make you blue. Become a smarter and happier traveler for your next winter vacations — use TravelSense’s winter travel tips to make life easier as you journey to and from your destination.

Airline Travel Tips: Flying Doesn’t Always Lead to Disaster
Can you feel your teeth grinding as you imagine flying to your destination? If you’re traveling a great distance over the holidays, the last thing you need is a stressful airport experience to start your vacation on the wrong foot. Consider some of the simplest airline travel tips that can alleviate your worries.

Plan ahead for your own sanity. Waiting to the last minute always leaves a great deal of your trip up to happenstance. Of all of the top winter travel tips you may find, this is the one piece of advice that will be well worth spending the extra time and effort. Contact your travel agent to book your vacation in advance as soon as you can manage. Then, you’ll be able to avoid peak travel dates, get lower airfare, fly direct (or minimize your connections) and fly early or late in the day to avoid the bigger crowds.

Leave at least an extra hour earlier. As you prepare for your winter vacation, give yourself more time than usual in order to anticipate the peripheral delays that could occur. Remember to bring some reading material while you wait in the security line or at your departure gate. In cities with snow or ice, arrival delays can exceed two to three hours and de-icing procedures can take an hour before takeoff.

Pack as light as possible for your holiday travel. Since more airlines are getting stricter on baggage limits and weight allowances, packing less and lighter suitcases could save you money and time. If you’re planning holiday travel to be with your family and friends, consider shopping online and having your gifts shipped to your destination. This strategy will help cut down on luggage and minimize the risk of losing any special gifts.

Steer clear of influenza. Winter travel can be a frequent contributor to the cold and flu time of year, adding a miserable element to your winter or holiday travel stress. Before you leave, visit your doctor’s office to get the flu shot or nasal spray flu vaccine, which is only available for ages 5-49. Most germs will spread by contact, so wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer constantly.

Stretch your legs often. If you find yourself in cramped quarters or passing time on long flights, there’s the possibility you could develop Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), leading to blood clotting in your legs. So, remember this essential airline travel tip on your next flight — take some time to walk around and stretch your arms and legs once every hour.

Winter Driving Tips: Easier and Safer Winter Road Trips
For road travelers, winter can also be the most dangerous time of year. Motor vehicle accidents involving bad weather, mostly ice and snow, claim the lives of 6,000 Americans and injure 500,000 more every year (National Center for Atmospheric Research, 2005). The following winter driving tips will help you stay safe and a little less anxious on your next trip.

Have your car examined before you leave. This is one of the most crucial winter driving tips. It’s the climatic scene of many movies, where someone’s car breaks down in a strange town. The last thing you want to worry about is your car falling apart, leaving you stranded far away from home. Take it to your local auto shop for a quick once over, and make sure your tires are winter ready and properly inflated.

Be prepared for a change in course. Before you depart, become confident in knowing your route. It’s very important that you’re ready for anything on the road that could slightly change your plans, including construction, road closings and traffic hurdles. Remember to keep the directions as well as appropriate state map(s) handy, in case you need to reroute your trip.

Stay hydrated for the journey. It probably seems like dehydration isn’t very likely, but a recent Mayo Clinic study shows that a mere one- to two-percent loss of body weight can quickly lead to fatigue and decreased alertness, which could be deadly in icy winter driving. Also, your body requires more fuel in the cold — so rely on high-energy food including sandwiches, a thermos filled with soup and fruit.

Pack a winter safety kit for the car. Don’t leave without the essentials for a safe road trip — a cell phone (don’t forget the car charger); ice scraper; tow rope and jumper cables; sand or cat litter to aid with traction; blankets; flashlights, matches and emergency candles; first aid kit; portable radio; and a good book, in case you do get stuck.

Make frequent rest stops. Winter driving is much more fatiguing than in the summer, so you’ll want to make time to stop and stretch your legs. Just a few minutes off the road will make all the difference in improving your alertness when you’re back behind the wheel.

China travel guide

Today, more people visit China than ever, welcomed in by the profound changes that have swept the revitalized nation over the past decades. Here are 8 tips to for planning your trip to the fascinating, ever-changing country.


1. Eat well

Outside of China, impressions of Chinese food are still often defined by the sweet, balanced flavours of Cantonese food. Dim sum and other Cantonese dishes are delicious of course, but there’s a whole world of regional cuisines to discover: the fiery spice of Sichuan and Hunan cuisine; the freshness and sour funkiness of food from Guizhou and Yunnan.

Plus Hangzhou and Shanghai‘s light, refined dumplings and seafood, and the hearty quasi-Turkish kebabs and hand-pulled noodles from Xinjiang. You may want to travel for some of these dishes, but major cities will host restaurants from around the country.


2. Get online

Facebook, Youtube, Google Maps, and most Western email providers are difficult to access in China, so you may want to download a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which will help you get past the so-called “Great Firewall”.

Inside China there are a few extremely helpful apps: WeChat could simply be explained as a Chinese WhatsApp but in reality, it’s a combination of that, Facebook, PayPal, a food delivery service, and much more. Some of these features are difficult to navigate with limited Chinese, but you’ll need WeChat to talk to new friends, and you can “follow” magazines, museums, restaurants and more on the app to learn about special events and deals.

Baidu Maps is an excellent Google Maps alternative.

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3. Learn some Chinese

Chinese languages are undoubtedly intimidating, but attempting to learn a little bit of Mandarin (the most widely spoken, standardized language) will be useful. If you’re visiting for a while, consider taking a short language course.

Even quite basic Mandarin will help you get around, and people will be happy you’re making an effort. Writing down or printing out addresses in Chinese characters can make things easier.

Mexico destination for holiday

Times remain tough for Mexico, but the truth is that there’s never been a better period to visit Latin America’s most diverse nation – most of the country remains safe for visitors (despite the headlines), the peso is at historic lows and Mexicans are the some of the friendliest people in the region.

Away from the major sights in Mexico City and the resorts of Cabo, Puerto Vallerta and Cancun lies a land crammed with tantalizing but lesser-visited destinations.


1. Bahía Concepción, Baja California Sur

Mexico is blessed with an abundance of gorgeous beaches but there’s something special about the otherworldly scenery of Bahía Concepción. A pristine bay off the Sea of Cortez, halfway down the Baja California peninsular, spell-binding white-sand beaches line its shores for almost 80km (50 miles), hemmed in by forests of cacti and desert-fringed mountains. As far as kayaking goes, few places in the world can match it.


2. Real de Catorce, San Luis Potosí

Mexico’s most extraordinary “ghost town”, Real de Catorce is tucked away in a remote corner of the Bajío, a region once littered with booming silver mines. Since the mid-1990s, an influx of artists, artesanía vendors, wealthy Mexicans and a few foreigners have re-built the virtually abandoned colonial centre, with its narrow cobbled streets and elegantly faded mansions. Huichol pilgrims visit to harvest fresh peyote in the nearby desert.

3. Lago de Pátzcuaro, Michoacán

Most famous for its Day of the Dead celebrations (Nov 1–2), this enchanting lake is a worthy destination year round. There’s the gorgeous waterside town of Pátzcuaro itself, plus the tranquil island of Janitzio and its indigenous fishermen, throwing their traditional butterfly nets from tiny dug-out canoes. Each of the small villages that surround the lake specializes in different arts and crafts.


4. The Copper Canyon, Chihuahua

Known for its phenomenal railway, the isolated, beautiful region dubbed the Copper Canyon is best experienced on foot. The village of Creel high in the Sierra Tarahumara acts as a base for expeditions to remote valleys, waterfalls and Rarámuri villages, while the four-hour drive from Cerocahui to the bottom of the Barranca de Urique is mesmerizing. Here the town of Urique marks the start (or end) of the popular two-night, three-day trek to Batopilas, a sleepy village home to a ruined Jesuit mission.


5. Las Pozas de Edward James (Xilitla), San Luis Potosí

Having lived in the picturesque small town of Xilitla since 1947, English eccentric Edward James spent the 1960s and 1970s creating the jungle fantasy garden of Las Pozas, full of outlandish concrete statues and structures. James was a patron of the Surrealist movement (he was pals with Dalí and Magritte), and its influence is obvious here, with spiral staircases that curl up into the air, giant stone hands, a mosaic snake and “The House Destined To Be a Cinema”.