Your bags are packed, the hotel is booked, the sightseeing trips are mapped and your guide is bookmarked for all the quirky markets and out-of-the-way art galleries you want to visit while you’re away. But how do you maintain a social life while abroad?
If you’re travelling alone, it’s especially important to find a few buddies along the way. Even if you’re with a group, it’s a great chance to extend your social circle while away from home, and mingling with a few new people will only enhance your experience.
Here are seven tips for how to make new friends on holiday:
How many times have you caught a stranger’s eye and then looked awkwardly away? This is understandable on the bus to work, but while you’re sitting poolside in Fiji, you might as well meet someone’s gaze instead. You might find them meeting yours.
Sign up to activities
You might be staying somewhere offering tours, adventure activities or mixers. Join in! You could find yourself on a walking tour of the backstreets of London, discovering the untold history of the Victorians who lived there.
Strike up a conversation
Are you enjoying that book? Have you been anywhere you’d recommend? Isn’t the room service here great? Try a few ice-breakers – there’s nothing wrong with small talk. You may pick up a great tip about a brilliant restaurant in Amalfi.
Stay in a hostel
Hostels are built for solo travellers – they’re not all for school leavers on their gap year, and some are very comfortable. It’s the easiest way to meet other people in the same boat. You could find a travel buddy for the next leg of your tour to Estonia.
Singles go on holiday too
Whether you’re on a dating website like eHarmony or doing it the old-fashioned way, a holiday is a great place to meet people in a relaxed setting. Plus, it will give you an idea of their taste in travel – it’s no use meeting someone nice only to find they’re a thrill-seeker and you prefer sitting on the beach with a good book.
Travellers love to recommend great places and warn against tourist traps. You can bond over shared experiences of hair-raising food in south-east Asia or incredible scenery in South America.
Discover new things
Whether it’s a local delicacy, an outdoor activity, or dancing before midnight, holidays are a time to strike out and discover new things. You might find someone special dating Brisbane travellers, or that you have a surprising aptitude for rock climbing.
Remember to always be safe while travelling and make sure you do some research about the local area. Let someone know where you’re going if you’re heading off the beaten track. Be mindful of local customs and always carry a map or smartphone, a little cash and a phrasebook. These are important elements to ensure a successful, memorable and happy holiday.
Along with the joy of the holidays, crime can also accompany the seasonal activities of shopping, traveling and donation solicitation.
The McHenry County Sheriff’s Office offers several crime prevention tips for this time of year.
- Avoid placing holiday gifts in plain sight from a home’s window, or in a car.
- Make sure to lock your doors and windows when you leave your home.
- When you’re not at home, keep a radio/tv and lights on, so the residency looks occupied.
- Ask a friend or relative to watch your house while you’re away on travel.
- Arrange for snow to be removed from your driveway and sidewalks when you’re away.
- Have mail and newspaper delivery stopped during your travels.
- Avoid leaving boxes from recent purchases outside on the curb for trash pickup, as those boxes give potential burglars an idea of what’s inside the premises.
- If you give to charitable organizations, choose them carefully and make sure they are legitimate.
- Beware of people who arrive at your home and tell you they are city employees or representatives of utility companies. If you didn’t ask them to check on your home, check with authorities to determine their credentials and purpose.
- Test your smoke detectors and don’t leave Christmas lights on while you are away from home, or sleeping.
McHenry Country residents are invited to request a Vacation House Watch for the period of time they are away for the holidays.
THERE’S plenty of good news for anyone looking to explore the world in 2012. Brian Johnston casts his well-travelled eye over the latest trends and hot destinations.
In response, tour operators and tourism boards are rising to the challenge by offering increasing variety, unveiling new attractions and revitalising old ones.
For Australians, the news is even better. Our dollar remains strong and, with finance-challenged Americans and Europeans staying home, hotel prices are dropping and bargains flourishing.
Here’s what’s hot and happening on the tourist scene for 2012. Get out and enjoy.
Explorer’s choice: Jordan
Unrest in the Middle East has put a pause on growing tourist numbers to the region, but Jordan – which posted a seven per cent increase in 2011 – bucks the trend.
International hotels are taking notice. Hilton has just arrived and Marriott will follow.
No wonder. Long famous for the red ruins of Petra, Jordan also boasts one of the world’s best-preserved Roman cities at Jerash, crusader castles, ancient churches and an energetic and progressive capital.
The spectacular red desert landscape of Wadi Rum and outstanding scuba diving in the Red Sea are other top attractions.
Best ski resort: Banff, Canada
Whistler and its Olympics are so yesterday, Revelstoke no longer new. Could this be the year for Banff?
The mountain town near Calgary has a sophisticated range of restaurants, bars and boutiques and, because summer is its peak season, bargain winter accommodation.
Sure, you can’t ski in and out, but you get a choice of excellent ski resorts nearby, such as Norquay, Lake Louise and Sunshine Village, reckoned to have the best powder in the Rockies.
Banff also offers scenic drives and winter activities from sleigh rides around frozen lakes to husky encounters and ice climbing.
Best outback experience: Flinders Ranges, SA
The Flinders Ranges have been million of years in the making but its tourism infrastructure is just coming into its own.
The federal government plans to promote it on the international tourism stage in 2012 and local authorities are pushing the Southern Flinders’ great food and wine experiences, from cellar doors to farm-gates and pub grub.
Small companies are offering increasingly interesting tour options, such as Australian Walking Tours’ new, six-day guided hikes that combine rugged exercise and superb gorge scenery with creature comforts.
For a quintessential slice of Australian adventure, it’s hard to beat.
Coast with the most: Vietnam
Vietnam has been on the tourist radar for a decade, but count on it stepping into the spotlight in 2012 as travellers look beyond Hanoi and Saigon to explore the whole length of this marvellous country.
Nowhere is this trend more apparent than in the cruise scene, with more ships putting Vietnam on their itineraries. Orion Expedition Cruises has a new tour focusing just on Vietnam and stopping at Hue, Hoi An, My Son and Ha Long Bay.
The four World Heritage destinations demonstrate the combination of scenery and history that make this coastline so inviting.
Most musical: Seattle, USA
A cheap US dollar and holiday deals keep the USA firmly on the travel radar, with Seattle the hot alternative destination for its outstanding jazz and indie music scene.
In 2012, the Music Experience Project hosts a special exhibition on local grunge band Nirvana, including guitars smashed on stage by Kurt Cobain.
The extraordinary Project museum, a huge shrine to rock ‘n’ roll, is very interactive: see what it’s like to be onstage in front of thousands of screaming fans, strum on guitars, and spin the DJ turntables. You can even record your own CD in the mini-studios.
Best culture: Vienna, Austria
In 2012 Vienna is celebrating the 150th birthday of local lad Gustav Klimt, who created some of the world’s most celebrated paintings, with special exhibitions at its acclaimed Albertina, Leopold and Belvedere museums.
Culture comes alive year-round in Vienna, starting with its famous New Year’s Concert and continuing with classical music and jazz festivals, the mid-year five-week Vienna Festival, an international film festival in October, and Christmas concerts.
Then there are the permanent attractions, including the hip Museums Quarter and a city boasting effortless design and architectural chic wherever you look.
Best bargain: Ireland
While not good for the Irish, difficult economic times are a blessing for bargain-seeking tourists. Ireland has superb tourism facilities and hotels created during its good years.
Now top quality has never been so reasonably priced. Expect visitor numbers to boom in the land of emerald fields, haunting music and friendly, freckled people.
Northern Ireland is on the radar too: it will open a new visitor centre at the iconic Giant’s Causeway, and has just unveiled a $180-million Titanic Visitor Centre in Belfast (where Titanic was built) to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ship’s 1912 maiden voyage.
Most unexpected fun: Zurich, Switzerland
If you think Zurich is still just a city of boring Swiss bankers, then it’s time for another visit.
Zurich is now a city where you’ll want to linger, sometimes called the New Berlin thanks to its refreshing urban ideas, happening nightlife and experimental creativity.
Dine in chic restaurants, pedal a free bicycle, listen to avant-garde music in packed pubs and check out the astonishing contents of art galleries in trendy and ever-changing Zurich West.
Then gear up for Zurich Street Parade in August, a massive party for 500,000 that continues long into the night.
Best cruising: Rivers
River cruising is booming and the trend shows no signs of abating.
Indeed, 2012 looks set to be the best year ever to float merrily down a stream, with companies launching new ships (a record four for Viking River Cruises) offering five-star hotel amenities.
Expect more themed tours on interests ranging from gastronomy to golf, and more thought to the younger market, including more active and flexible shore excursions and family-friendly options.
There will also be increasing chances to take a cruise on Asian rivers and smaller European river such as the Douro in Portugal and Spain’s Guadalquivir.
Latest trend: Eco luxury
Global warming and other environmental concerns have put the green back into tourism, but that doesn’t means a return to camping.
It’s all about luxury safari lodges and eco-adventures that supply a call of the wild without sacrificing creature comforts such as Egyptian cotton, butlers and plunge pools.
South Africa may be the market leader, but even India now has its first safari-style resorts such as Pashan Garh near Khajuraho and Aman-i-Kas in Ranthambhore National Park, run by exclusive Taj Hotels.
Ecuador, Panama, Namibia and Botswana are other emerging luxury adventure hotspots for travellers seeking unusual eco-treats.
Travelling can be a frustrating experience, but we’re lucky to live in a world of creature-comforts and gadgets galore, all of which can make just about any travel hiccup or hassle more bearable. If you have someone who travels a lot on your holiday list, here are some ideas for any budget.
We asked some of the Calgary Herald’s frequent travellers and freelance contributors what they absolutely cannot travel without.
Travel essentials: Size does matter. Especially when you spend so much time schlepping your gear in and out of planes, trains, automobiles and hotels. With ever-shrinking baggage allowances, every ounce saved is critical. That’s why I love my Kindle. Instead of hauling around pounds of printed material, I can cram thousands of books, magazines, newspapers and even personal documents into an eightounce gadget. And pay a lot less per item. Plus, its built in Wi-Fi means I can shop, buy and start reading in about the time it’s taking you to read this.
It’s E Ink screen reads like paper, with no glare. Battery is life amazing to – up a month charge. on one
And if it were ever lost, stolen or broken, everything is backed up online and can be downloaded onto a replacement Kindle.
Amazon Kindle, Wi-Fi, 6″ E Ink Display, $109. www.amazon.ca 2012 travel wish list: I keep dreaming of Africa, even though I’ve already visited half a dozen times. In 2012, I hope to write about taking a flying safari over Namibia and volunteering at an African wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre.
MARK SISSONS IS A VANCOUVER-BASED WRITER AND PHOTOGRAPHER AND HAS BEEN PUBLISHED IN NUMER-OUS PUBLICATIONS.
- Cashmere or pashmina shawl – This is the most versatile piece of clothing/ accessory you can pack. It keeps you warm on chilly flights, can be used as a pillow, can dress up any outfit and fits into a small purse. When I’m not wearing my shawl, I drape it over a chair in my hotel room to make it feel more like home. $298 at Holt Renfrew
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10K Digital Camera – For when you want DSLR quality and point-and-shoot convenience (which for me is always). The big selling feature is the highquality Leica lens, but this petite camera also offers 14.1 megapixels, 16x optical zoom and a 3-inch Touch LCD. It shoots video and stills, does a pretty good job in dodgy lighting, has a rechargeable battery AND fits into an evening bag. Genius. $349.99, London Drugs
2012 travel wish list:
- Gadget – I really want an iPad because I hate lugging so much gear around. The iPad combines the features of my laptop and e-reader in one convenient, perfectsized package. And it just looks cool.
- Destination – Argentina. I’m intrigued by South America right now, especially the culinary culture. I’d love to taste authentic “asado” (barbecue) and sip a glass of high-altitude Syrah. Argentinean cowboys would be a bonus, of course!
JOANNE SASVARI IS BASED IN VANCOUVER AND WRITES ABOUT COCKTAILS, TRAVEL, FASHION AND FOOD.
Travel essentials: A recent acquisition has converted me from being an over-packer to someone who now has a lot more luggage space for important things – like shoes.
How did it happen that while I was thinking about all the time I had to do my holiday shopping, suddenly it was less than two weeks before Christmas? If you’re as bad a procrastinator as I am, you’re in luck. Not only are there sales to rival Black Friday’s in the weekends preceding Christmas, but I have some tips to help you sift through the interminable options and find the perfect last-minute gifts for everyone on your list.
For Mom: Forego the department stores and head to Perfume Kraze; not only does it lack the eye-watering overabundance of samples, but the prices are generally better and they carry just about every brand. Check your mother’s current collection for ideas to narrow your search. If she’s more of a foodie, check out Sur La Table for fun electrics like a frozen yogurt maker or popcorn hot air popper.
For Dad: If your dad is like mine, he’s impossible to shop for. Spice up his old watch with stylish new straps from J. Crew. You also usually can’t go wrong at Barnes Noble: check the bestsellers (there’s a new Stephen King historical novel out!)
For Him: Brighten up family gatherings and long trips alike with games from Marbles: The Brain Store. Magnetic backgammon is perfect for travel, and Appletters is a compact apple-shaped Scrabble you can play on the go.
For Her: Help your aunt or sister downsize her giant purse with a tiny technocolor magic wallet from J. Crew (great for holding all those gift cards). The OPI Muppets Collection glitter nail polishes make great festive stocking stuffers, and are available at Essentials and Beauty Plus Salon.
For Techies: House those beloved tablets in a classic tartan iPad case from Banana Republic or a kitschy version from Francesca’s Collections.
For Grandma: Personalize something heartfelt at Laser Xpressions or Things Remembered. I once got my grandmother a wall clock with photos in each hour and the family name engraved in the center, and it stands over the mantle to this day.
For Grandpa: Give him something to marvel over with an innovative As Seen on TV gift. Slap Chop for the cooks, Snuggie for the bookworms, Shake Weight for the fitness buffs.
For Kids: Little girls will love the Disney Princess Animator’s Collection dolls, and perhaps their own princess dress to match, both at The Disney Store. Both boys and girls can get their video game fix from GameStop, which sells new and used games so you get the most for your money.
For Anyone Else: If you’re really stumped and wandering around with that look on your face that elicits salespeople to ask if you’re lost, keep it simple. Bath Body Works is pretty foolproof for any woman and some men. Old Navy has fun and affordable winter accessories like gloves, hats, and umbrellas that anyone can use. And when in doubt, who doesn’t like something decadent from Godiva?
For the Very Last Minute: When all else fails and time has almost run out, or if you just can’t bear the crowds, a gift card always fits. Buy them for the giftee’s favorite store, and jazz them up with an accessory: AMC Theaters gift card with popcorn bucket and their favorite candy, Sephora gift card with cute compact, Abercrombie gift card inside a new wallet, etc.
We all know it’s the thought that counts, but if your thought at this daunting task is “PANIC,” just follow these simple suggestions for a pain-free and distinctly merry holiday season.
Charles Casey / UGC
Cranes, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Charles Casey captured this image in early December at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge just outside Socorro, N.M. The birds pictured are sandhill cranes; about 15,000 make their home at the refuge each winter, according to a local volunteer group that supports and promotes the refuge.
“My wife and I enjoy exploring areas of wonder and natural beauty, especially the treasures that are in our backyards,” Casey, who lives in Albuquerque, told TODAY.com.
Casey and his wife, along with out-of-town friends, parked on the side of the road and enjoyed a sunset picnic as they watched the moon rise.
“Sunrise and sunset are probably the two best times to see the birds in flight as they move to and from roosting to feeding areas,” Casey said. “It was an unseasonably cold evening and much of the area was frozen over, which added to the beauty of the landscape and the experience.”
Casey, who considers himself an amateur photographer, said that one of his “pleasures is trying to capture life in its element.”
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