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Sunday, January 29, 2017

How to Travel: Part 1 - Make Your Own Plans

Disclaimer

Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 if the copyright act of 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.

This review is my personal opinion. I am not paid by anyone. I do not receive any amenities (free or discounted).

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HOW TO TRAVEL - PART 1: HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN PLANS




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How To Make Your Own Travel Plans

Making your own plans involves the patience and time to explore all options. If you love to shop and browse, you already have this mindset. The more you travel and make your own plans, the quicker the process, even when you start to explore new destinations.

1. How to Get Started

Be able to use the Internet with a desktop computer, a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone. This is essential and crucial. Create accounts on various sites and to purchase with your debit or credit card online. To minimize hacking and if you're concerned with security issues, you may want to designate one card for purchases. Third, for some alternative lodging (like vacation rentals), you may need a PayPal account.

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You also should have access to a printer and a scanner. There are some units that are all in one. If you read my article about how to obtain a visa to India, you will see that a scanner was necessary.(http://www.mcraytontravel.com/2017/01/an-intro-toindia-part-1-getting-visa-to.html).



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2. Where to go? 
That depends on the reason, the time of year and your budget. Talking to people is one way to get ideas; watching travel shows is another; you'll get ideas watching movies, going to an event, following hobbies (your favorite team, performing artist or fan conventions). Still others have a mission: the top roller coasters, every water park, waterfalls, lighthouses, national parks, etc. You may want to golf the most famous courses or you may be a food or wine connoisseur. Finally, there is the wish or bucket list: all the major cities, every continent, all 50 US states, you get the picture. Whatever the reason, all trips have three basic components: how to get there, where to stay and what to do or where to go.




3. Do Your Research

Guidebooks are still a great investment. My favorite series are Rick Steves, Lonely Planet, Moon, Frommers, and Fodor's . I buy one of the pocket versions and buy two of the electronic versions either through Apple's iBooks (®), Barnes and Noble or Amazon. You don't have to own a Barnes and Noble Nook (®) or Amazon Kindle (®) specifically. You can order on a desktop computer and then use their apps on your tablet or phone. Many people take guided tours. They do the thinking for you. 


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How To Get There
4. How to get there? 
If you are cruising, I recommend going directly to the cruise line of your choice. Cruise.com and cruisecritic.com can be good search engines to filter through. Cruising combines the where and how efficiently. It gives you a taste of places by way of boat and a place to stay at the same time. 

If you are flying, there are tons of search engines. These sites will scan all the possibilities for you without you having to go to each individual airline's website. Popular sites are Kayak, Orbitz, Cheapoair, Expedia, Travelocity, Hipmunk, Hotwire and Hopper. Most will let you set notifications so that you can keep track of prices. 

If you are sure of which airline you want, you may get the best price directly at that site. I usually view the prices on a search engine site and then I usually go to the airline and book it. This is because I like to make sure I get any rewards. 

If you are taking a bus, there are also many options. I do not travel by bus but others do. I would only recommend this for short journeys, especially if you do not drive or taking your car is not feasible. Greyhound and Trailways are still around but traveling by budget bus has become very popular: Megabus, BoltBus, etc. Budget Travel's website has some suggestions: http://www.budgettravel.com/feature/6-best-budget-bus-companies-in-the-us,7430/

Finally, there is driving by automobile, whether it's your car or a rental. AAA, Map Quest, Google Maps, Maps.Me and every GPS app known to man will give you any type of directions you need. 


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Resort, Hotel or Apartment?

5. Where to stay?
Resort, hotel or motel or rented apartment: the above-mentioned search engines have lodging information also. There's also Hotels.com, Getaroom.com and Hotel Tonight. 



  Articles to follow: how to use Google Maps for traveling, how to book an apartment.



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Saturday, January 28, 2017

An Intro to...India: Part 1 - Getting a Visa to India

An Intro to…India: Part 1 – Getting Your Visa

Disclaimer

Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 if the copyright act of 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.

This review is my personal opinion. I am not paid by anyone. I do not receive any amenities (free or discounted).

As this article is written, the current 2017 President of the United States has just signed an executive to detain refugees from certain countries attempting to enter the United States. As a traveler, I am saddened by that order, as well as concerned. As the title implies, I recently traveled to India, where although the most practiced religion is Hindu, there are Muslim worshippers that reside there. However, as of this writing, all that is required to enter India is a tourist visa. I am hopeful that travel to other countries from the USA will remain as they are now or even become easier.

This was my first visit to India. I was traveling with a group for a friend’s birthday. We journeyed to Agra and Jaipur, by way of Delhi. By the way, this was also my first visit to the Asian continent.

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Arriving at Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi, India

First, get two passport type photos. You could potentially take the photo with your phone but they are specific about the quality. Also, it cannot be the photo you have currently on your passport, it must be different. If you don’t have access to a scanner, then you will have to take a very good photo of the picture with your phone and email it yourself or download it to a computer. If you do this, make sure it is a clean shot, without reflections, in good color, and cropped correctly. In addition to the cropping, the photo has to be a certain file size and must be JPEG. If this is beyond your capabilities, you will need someone to do this for you. Have them save the file on a flash drive or email it to you. You must be able to access it (browse to find it) and upload it.

Next, get the visa. The entire process will be a nail biter, it’s complicated and you must be computer savvy. You will have two choices: the traditional visa, good for 10 years with multiple entries, and an electronic version, where you are approved online and then your passport is stamped upon arrival. The e-visa is good for a month and valid for one entry. This means you plan to enter and leave once rather than coming in, perhaps jumping to another country and then coming back in.
 
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Artwork in Indira Ghandi International Airport


Before you begin your visa process, you will need someplace to stay. This is because you will have to enter information for a reference in India, usually the name of the manager of your hotel. 

You should not complete this application on a phone. I would not even recommend a tablet. You have to apply online with a persnickety website guaranteed to freeze up or crash at any time. Cox & Kings Global Services is the official issuer of the traditional visa, https://www.in.ckgs.us/. You go through a series of fields on many pages. Take the site’s advice and write down all temporary reference numbers. You’ll need it for the inevitable crash when you have to log in again. At the end, choose between whether you want to complete the process at the embassy or have it mailed to you. You cannot start the process in person. Either make an appointment or do the complicated process of mailing in your passport for the visa. Obviously, you need to begin this process at least two months before your departure. Whichever you choose (appointment or mailing), you will have to print out the application and you should also save a PDF version and email it to yourself just in case. I printed out 3 copies (I carried one set, my husband carried the second set and I packed the third set in my checked luggage).

Should you choose the e-Visa, you start that process at https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/tvoa.html. The application is basically the same but this visa is cheaper, can be completed closer to your departure date (I would recommend no closer than 2 weeks, although you are allowed to do this 4 days out) and you receive an approval rather than the actual visa. The photo requirement is the same. Once you are approved, you have to print it out. When you land, you will go to the e-Visa line, rather than the tradition line to be processed. You will put your fingerprint in the machine, they take your picture, stamp your process and then, voila!, welcome to India.

When you apply for the visa, you have to give estimated dates. You can apply for either one of them prior to purchasing your ticket but this may impede the price you get when you book. As travelers know, the earlier your book, the better your chance is of getting the best price. I strongly recommend booking your flight, then apply immediately for the 10 year visa. Remember, you will either have to bring your passport to the office in person or mail it in and wait for it to be returned, a potential 2 week wait. However, one-time use e-Visa can be processed a lot closer to your trip. Of course, the issue would be if you are not approved, will you be able to cancel or amend your flight? Check out flight insurance for details (a must for this trip).
 
When leaving Indira Ghandi Airport, pay attention to the time!
Although this process was excruciating electronically, if you start early, have patience, you will be able to complete the process to start your trip.

Next article, how to get to India and where to stay.



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