4 Last Minute Christmas Gift Ideas for the Traveller

Biplane flight over Seattle

Biplane flight over Seattle

Christmas is upon us, you still have not finished the gift buying and the shopping malls are turning into a haven for psychopathic Christmas excess. If you are shopping for the traveller, avoid the shops and get them a gift that tells them you know what matters to them.

  1. Buy them a ticket to a favourite destination or check out the sales page of your local airlines or railways to find a new adventure for them. (Check JetStar for cheap flights in Australia.)
  2. Book a weekend adventure, and enjoy their excitement on Christmas Day and share the adrenalin rush of a new adventure. (Try Adrenalin for Australian adventure packages.)
  3. Buy a travel ebook or audio guide for their next vacation destination.
  4. Enrol them in a frequent flyer program or buy an executive lounge membership with their favourite airline.

BBC Travel Buys Lonely Planet

The Australian is reporting that BBC Travel has bought Lonely Planet from the founders, Tony and Maureen Wheeler who retain a 25% stake in the company. Let’s hope the BBC maintains the vision and continues to support us travellers with the vast array of material provided by Lonely Planet.


Improve Your Travel Experience through Better Planning

Tired, disheveled travellers rush off the Eurostar platform to join a long line of people waiting for a London cabbie to get them to their London digs. We walked past them, crossed the road and a few minutes latter stowing our bags at reception before heading off to explore London. As we bought tickets for the Tube, many of our fellow travellers still waited for that elusive cab. Good planning made all the difference.

I use a simple planning technique, starting with a rough plan and then layer in the detail as I book hotels and transport. So for my next trip to Europe, I started with this plan:

  • Amsterdam 3 days (Assen TT MotoGP)
  • Belgium (Bruges, Brussels) 2 days
  • Amiens, France (Australian WWI Battlefields) 2 days
  • Paris 3 days
  • Bath, England 2 days
  • Cotswolds 2 days
  • York 2 days
  • London 3 days Total 19 days

Next calculate a rough travel time between each destination (We are using trains throughout the trip):

  • Amsterdam to Bruges 3 hours
  • Bruge to Ameins 3 hours
  • Ameins to Paris 3 hours
  • Paris to Bath 1 day
  • Bath to Cotswolds 3 hours
  • Cotswolds to York 1 day
  • York to London 1 day

On a long summer day, three hours travel is easily absorbed into a day leaving time to explore at your destination but the longer trips have added three days to our vacation. We elected to not visit York and recover those three days keep our time in Europe to 19 days.

Once you have a good itinerary, you can start booking accommodation and travel. I start with hotels and then find flights to suit those bookings but if you find a good airfare book it first.

Choose accommodation close to your transportation, for example, we stay at the County Hall Premier Travel Inn in London minutes from Waterloo Station. Often this central location is great for sightseeing with many attractions within walking distance. Study a city map and determine the best compromise for your experience.

Now, list the attractions you wish to visit each day. I usually limit our day to two or three major attractions, and give us time to relax over lunch, experience the country rather than visit it. Make advance bookings for popular attractions or find out where to buy tickets without waiting in long lines. For example, you can buy a combo ticket at Rome’s Palatine Hill that includes the Colosseum then walk straight in past the queue (Thanks Rick). Use your guidebook and Internet travel sites to find the tricks that will make your travel easier and more fun.

Finally, have a back up plan for rainy days or unexpected closures. The key to a great travel experience is knowledge, don’t leave home without it.


Country by country, what’s new in European travel for 2007

Travelling to Europe this year, read Rick Stevescountry by country travel update in the Seattle Times.

Florence deals with its floods of tourists and congested museums by requiring reservations to enter several of its top attractions. The easiest way to make reservations for the Uffizi Gallery (Renaissance art) and Accademia (Michelangelo’s David) is to have your hotelier do it for you; request this service when you book your room. Or you can call the frequently busy reservation line (from the United States, dial 011-39-055-294-883). Reservations (that you book on your own) are still required for the Brancacci Chapel (Masaccio’s frescoes) and recommended for the Chapel of the Magi within the Medici-Riccardi Palace. Good guidebooks come with the details.

If you find this article useful, I recommend his guidebooks for your next European vaction.


Do Guidebooks Stifle Your Travel Discovery?

Sitting on dinner tables, peaking from coat pockets or hiding the readers’ faces in museums, the casual observer sees the ubiquitous Rick Steves’ guidebook throughout Europe. Their wrinkled clothed owners briskly walking from one Rick experience to the next, following the guidebook as if it is the path to enlightenment.

In Rothenberg, Rick’s back door travellers fill the cobbled streets each summer to experience its middle-age charm. Relaxing over dinner one night, we observed the couple at the next table thumb two Rick tomes between courses, while another woman read her order from the guidebook ensuring she received Rick’s recommendations. Furiously writing notes throughout the prescribed meal like a school assignment, she ticked off each experience before hurrying into the night to her next task. We lingered over strudel (cliché but I love it) and coffee before strolling home, unencumbered by books, cameras or the need to do anything but enjoy the night pondering how travellers use their guidebooks.

We love Rick’s guidebooks, simply referred to as Rick in our family, but it informs our travel without dictating our itinerary, and adopting his guiding philosophy to find and open new back doors. Rick focuses on the culture, art and history of Europe and his guidebooks are devoted to those experiences but are they your only interests? Visiting Bologna, a town Rick does not recommend, drove our Italian itinerary because I love Ducati motorcycles and for me motorcycling nirvana is the Ducati Museum there.

Without Rick to guide us, we stumbled from Bologna’s train station to our charm less, cramped hotel with erratic air-conditioning then bumbled our way through the city unable to unlock its history. Until Bologna, Rick had led the way as we lazily followed. In Bologna, we found our back door and learnt to put as much effort into our planning as Rick does into his books.

Tourist Crush in fromt of the Mona Lisa

Tourist Crush in fromt of the Mona Lisa

The true essence of travel is to experience life from a new perspective and enrich yourself by absorbing into your everyday life the cultural elements you found attractive. Unless participating in a high stakes treasure hunt, a photograph in front of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa does not justify a visit to the Louvre. Search for experiences not photo opportunities and create memories rather than trophy albums containing photos of famous sights you do not understand. Follow your passion; tour the Ferrari factory, dig for antique dolls in Thüringen or attend a rock concert in Paris to find your back door.

Europe Through the Back Door opened the way for travellers looking for more than a package tour racing them from curio shop to curio shop. As Rick Steves graduated from independent tour guide to travel guru, some readers lost part of his message: to experience other cultures not just view them through the tinted window of a tour bus. Leave the guidebook in the hotel room and blaze your own trail through an unfamiliar city. Rick is a guide not a messiah; use his guidebook as a tool not a bible, and a revelation in travel awaits you.

See you at the Travel Festival I’m hooked.

Related blog entry posted at the Sydney Morning Herald Travel Blog.