Supercharge your New Year’s Resolutions with “Voluntourism” Travel

For many of us, New Year’s resolutions center on saving money, doing good for others or even traveling more.1 But what if all of those resolutions could be met simply by taking part in one of several voluntourism efforts across the globe? For those unfamiliar, voluntourism is a spin on tourism, where travelers participate in charity work as part of their trip.

The trip may be low‐cost and you’ll spend a pre‐determined time period helping others with specific needs such as education, rebuilding or even professional endeavors. How’s that for checking all the resolutions off your list? Check out our top picks for voluntourism destinations in 2018:

India
According to a study by Statistica, some of the poorest people in the world live in India and it’s the second‐most populated country. With a population of more than 1.32 billion and nearly one‐third living on less than $1.25 per day, there’s a clear need for volunteer efforts throughout this region and a number of voluntourism programs have sprung up to answer the call. From gardening and construction to teaching and health management, here is a list of the best voluntourism experiences in India via Conde Nast Traveler.

Puerto Rico
Following the impacts of Hurricane Maria in September 2017, Puerto Rico is still in the midst of its rebuilding efforts. Approximately one‐fifth of hotels have yet to reopen and some attractions remain closed for now. Tourists are still welcome, though, and Travel & Leisure recommends that visitors who wish to help in recovery efforts bring an extra suitcase full of supplies (dry foods, hygiene products) or contact local hotels to learn about volunteer efforts.

Southeast Texas
The 2017 Atlantic Hurricane season devastated numerous locales across the Caribbean and the southern U.S., and when Hurricane Harvey made landfall, Texas sustained record‐breaking damage. Though the storm was months ago, the rebuilding efforts are still underway in some parts of the State. Samaritan’s Purse is spearheading local recovery efforts to rebuild houses in some south Texas towns, such as Rockport – an effort that is expected to take two years. Read more about volunteer support that is still needed.

Uganda
With more than 1.5 million people living with HIV/AIDS, 38 percent of the population living on less than $1.25 a day, and nearly half the population under the age of 14, Uganda is also a top destination for volunteers. Though voluntourism projects are many, help is needed with early childhood education as well as HIV/AIDS education, prevention and treatment.

California
Devastating wildfires hit southern and central California at the end of 2017 and recovery is still underway with plenty of opportunities to help the affected communities bounce back. Visit California, a nonprofit organization, stresses that the best way to help after the tragic fires, is to keep travel plans in place and visit! Whatever California destination you select, the continuation of tourism to the state will help return the area to a sense of normalcy, but if you’re visiting Southern California specifically, consider the numerous volunteer opportunities listed at VisitVenturaCA.com.

 

1 http://247wallst.com/special‐report/2017/12/28/most‐popular‐new‐years‐resolutions/2/

 

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Resources to take the stress out of holiday travel

It’s the most wonderful time of year but despite the merriment all around, it may not seem like it for some. That’s because sometimes the holiday travel season brings more stress than we bargain for. Between scurrying around plan last minute travel, there are gifts to pack, a budget to track and children to keep calm on that long flight your final destination. If you are feeling frazzled, here are a few tips to get your through your holiday travels.

Take Advantage of Apps
Are you still looking for flight and hotel deals through individual websites? To find the best deals quickly, download apps like Hipmunk which simultaneously compare flight/hotel prices from sites like Booking.com, Travelocity, Priceline, AirBnB and others, allowing you to quickly select the best deal for the day and time you plan to travel.1

Ship your Presents Home
Planning to pack gifts in your suitcase and unpack them when you get to your destination? Don’t do it. Instead, pack all your gifts in a box and ship it to you final destination. This will save you time in the security line and the hassle of paying to check additional bags. This is the perfect solution that can work for gifts you plan to give and the gifts you get!

Credit Card Points and Gift Cards
Traveling can be expensive, especially for families. Before you book your trip, check to see how many points you have on your credit card and if you can use those points towards flight tickets, a hotel or rental car. Who knows… you may be able to travel to grandma’s house for a very low cost.

Be Flexible
If your family can be flexible, plan to travel on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. It’s well known that traveling on the holiday itself can get you cheaper flights and welcome you with a sparsely populated airport which means less stress getting to your destination.1

Buy a Travel Insurance Plan
Let’s face it. Sometimes even the most well laid out holiday trips sometimes don’t go as planned. Flights get cancelled, luggage gets lost and people get sick. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Remember to pack a travel insurance plan this holiday season. Most plans come with 24/7 assistance services to help you re-book cancelled/delayed flights, hotels and find missing luggage so that you can have a stress-free holiday.


1 https://www.everydollar.com/blog/save-time-and-money-travel-tips

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A Global Perspective of Thanksgiving

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7 Simple Steps to Saving on Holiday Flights

It may not look like it yet, but the holidays are just around the corner. Two separate reports, from online travel agency CheapAir.com and airfare prediction app Hopper, indicate that the optimal window for booking affordable holiday flights actually has passed; prices will rise every day as the holidays approach.1 If that holds true, unprepared travelers may find themselves in a quandary about how to secure the best deals for their trips. Thankfully, you may still have time to leverage several techniques to help you save money on your flights.

1. Buy now:
The sooner you purchase tickets, the more you will save, according to ABC News.2 When a record number of people travel via air, as may be the case this holiday season, finding last-minute deals often gets harder and harder. Start looking for ticket deals now.

2. Price seats in different configurations:
On the presumption that you’ll have travel companions for your holiday trip, you have one additional consideration regarding cost savings: While sitting next to each other on a flight home for the holidays might seem ideal, there is reason to give pause. Some airlines charge to select a seat in advance and also charge more for seats in the first few rows of economy class, potentially making any group trip more expensive than it has to be. To help find affordable choices, investigate the cost of seat prices throughout the plane and consider searching seat prices on different flights.

3. Check fares several times a day:
Airline “inventory control” teams and systems have become quite nimble at sensing and reacting to market interest. The fare for a particular flight may actually go up or down multiple times in a
single day. If you see a price that’s lower tonight than it was this afternoon, consider locking it in.

4. Travel on the holiday itself:
Traveling on the holiday itself could keep money in your pocket. According to ABC News, Thanksgiving Day typically features the cheapest flights, fewer crowds and shortest lines. Try traveling on the morning of the holiday and if you can’t do that, consider the Monday before the holiday. Travel experts estimate significant potential savings for travel on less popular days.3

5. Forego checked bags:
Although many people choose to travel with gifts and other holiday items in their checked bags, consider traveling with carry-on luggage only. With many airlines charging $25-$50 or more for
each checked bag, each way, bringing only carry-on luggage is cost-efficient – especially as you may be able to ship your gifts to your final destination for less than the checked-bag fees.

6. Check routes through major airports:
Your hometown airport may be the most convenient one from which to fly, but the convenience may come at an extra cost – perhaps, to the tune of a few hundred dollars per person. That’s why flying between major airports may make good economic sense. The fact that competition is fierce at large airports sometimes equates to lower prices for travelers who choose those gateways.4 The silver lining? If you fly in and out of key airports, you’re less likely to need to make a connection, saving time and hassle during peak travel periods.5

7. Learn about alternate gateways, too:
While fares may be less expensive for flights between major airports, sometimes those gateways aren’t actually the closest to your final holiday destination. If you have to rent a car or hail a ride
from an app on your phone to bridge the distance, you might end up having less money to make merry with. A quick search of the web for “alternate airports” will bring up a list of options to
consider. Whether you choose to book your holiday travel now or to try to find a last-minute deal, consider how obtaining travel insurance with 24/7 travel assistance services may come in handy and help cover you financially.

1 https://www.cnbc.com/2017/10/06/now-is-the-best-time-to-book-holiday-travel.html
2 http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/thanksgiving-travel-easy-ways-save-flights/story?id=35018566
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.

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Four Things to Know about Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)

If you travel to Mexico or South America between October 31 and November 2, don’t be surprised if you see revelers made up to appear as skeletons and porcelain skulls in the streets. It’s all part of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. During this colorful otherworldly festival, families in Mexico, Ecuador, Brazil
and Bolivia gather in a public area or cemetery to honor their deceased loved ones while decked out in makeup, flowers, glitter and jewelry that are designed to be amazingly beautiful with skeletal imagery.

Here are four things you need to know about this fascinating holiday:

1. It’s NOT Celebrated like Halloween.
Contrary to the American version of Halloween, Día de los Muertos is not about haunted places, costumes, candy and kids knocking on doors. Instead, the holiday celebrates the lives of the deceased
with food, drink, parties and activities that their dead enjoyed in life. During the celebration, death is recognized as part of the natural part of the human life cycle right along with birth, growing up, adulthood and community. During Dia de los Muertos it is believed that the dead awake from their slumber to share the celebration with loved ones.

2. It’s Ancient.
The festival combines an old Aztec tradition (i.e., a festival celebrating the goddess of the underworld, Mictecacihuatl) with the Catholic All Saints’ and All Souls’ days of the Spanish conquistadors.3 Indigenous cultures of Mexico mocked the “Lady of the Dead,” (traditionally known as La Catrina), which many recognize today as a skeleton woman wearing a fancy hat.3 Legend has it that La Catrina was a rich but greedy and selfish woman who did nothing to help those in need. Today, during Día de los Muertos, she is mocked by revelers who dress in ornate garb with white, painted faces that look like skeletons.

3. It’s a Time to Remember Family and Friends
While Día de los Muertos is a celebration, it’s also a time to reflect on and remember family members. Many homes contain alters made to the dead where the family places candles, flowers and the
deceased’s favorite food and drinks. Families take time in front of the alter to eat, sing and tell stories about their loved ones who have passed.2

4. Flowers Make the Celebration
Among the ceramic skulls and pictures of loved ones, flowers “make” the celebration of Día de los Muertos. Travelers to these regions will notice trucks full of flowers which play a big role in parades, home alters and parade costumes. Marigolds, the Mexican flower of death, are especially present during the festivities as their scent (along with copal, made from burning tree resin) is thought to be most beloved by the spirits of the dead.

For a list of the best places to celebrate Día de los Muertos, see this article by Travel Weekly.

1 http://www.businessinsider.com/photos-mexico-day-of-the-dead-dia-de-los-muertos-festival-2016-11
2 http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/mexico-day-of-the-dead-dia-de-los-muertos
3 http://www.ibtimes.com/what-dia-de-los-muertos-date-history-everything-know-about-day-dead-2013-
photos-1448084

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The Indian Festival of Diwali

Fall is more than just a time to celebrate pumpkins and colored leaves. From October 18 to October 22, it’s a time to celebrate Diwali, a Hindu festival of light, knowledge and hope.1 This ancient holiday is recognized by millions of people around the globe, but for those traveling to India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad, Tobago, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore or Fiji, where Diwali is considered an official holiday, a special treat awaits. As these travelers join the locals in a celebration of the triumph of good over evil, they may look forward to:

Lights
To the locals who celebrate it, Diwali is known simply as the “Festival of Light.” In accordance with tradition, followers light clay lamps to help illuminate the dark path of the mythical Lord Rama as he is welcomed home after 14 years of exile – a reward for killing the ten-headed demon king Ravana.1 In honor of this tale, the yearly celebration of Diwali includes the lighting of many lamps and displays of fireworks.1

Colors
From jewel-toned ceremonial robes to vibrant jewelry and flower motifs, Diwali is a festival shrouded in color – primarily, red, yellow, orange, green and white.2 During the festival, participants often create a design called rangoli on the floors of their homes. Rangoli designs are bright, colorful and created with an unbroken line.2 Those who celebrate Diwali believe the unbroken line helps ensure that no evil spirits enter their home, and that the area is welcoming and sacred.

Food
As is common with festivals around the world, Diwali includes its share of food. But what kind of food is most popular during the week-long celebration? Sweets, and in particular, mithai. Mithai is a cinnamon flavored sweetmeat which is a cross between a snack and a dessert and is eaten on its own or alongside a hearty meal.3 Its base consists of chickpea flour, rice flour, semolina, beans, lentils, grains, squashes, carrots, and condensed milk or yogurt, and its toppings may include almonds, chirongi nuts, raisins and cashews.3

Check out some of the best Diwali celebrations in the world according to Lonely Planet.

1 http://www.diwalifestival.org/
2 http://www.guardian.co.tt/lifestyle/2013-11-02/rangoli-art-divali
3 https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2011/oct/25/whats-eaten-at-diwali

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