Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Secrets of Shoulder Season, the Most Underrated Time to Travel

We'll also answer the most commonly asked question: What is shoulder season, exactly?

It’s already Labor Day, and the daily grind looms large as the kids go back to school and beach towels and umbrellas are stashed for the season (sob). But like your summer tan, not all is undone. We’ve officially entered one of the travel world’s most coveted periods: the fall shoulder season. This small window still brings beautiful weather and long daylight hours—along with thinner crowds, cheaper hotels and flights, and an enchanting locals’ vibe. (Plus, reservations at those ‘it’ restaurants are so much easier to come by.)

So don’t store that luggage just yet. Here are some lessons we've learned to maximize travel during shoulder season.

September and October constitutes fall shoulder season for many regions, though not all. Research your proposed destination beforehand to be sure you’re traveling at the right time (or cheat by scrolling through our gallery on 12 Ways to Enjoy an Endless Summer). In North America, some of our favorite fall getaways include Jackson Hole, Vancouver, B.C., and Nantucket. In the Mediterranean, consider Croatia, Montenegro, and the Greek Islands (hello, Santorini!).


You may find an amazing hotel deal only to discover that most airlines have already stopped seasonal flights to your destination. A general rule is to fly by October 15 to reach spots with an extended summer; just keep in mind that some airlines may end their flight schedules on October 1. In addition, shoulder season typically means greater availability of mileage tickets, so this may be a good time to cash out your frequent flier miles.


While some places like New England, New York City, and Paris witness a high season in the fall, in general, you have your pick when it comes to beaches, national parks, and destinations that rely on family travel. Unlike, say, the Hamptons in summer or the Caribbean in winter, which require reservations months in advance, there tends to be plenty of hotel occupancy in places like Orlando, Martha's Vineyard, the Grand Canyon, and along Mexico's coastlines during shoulder season. This means there should be plenty of last-minute deals. Start looking at Google Flights, Fareness, or Concorde, a new flight deal website for impulsive travelers.


In general, the fall shoulder season equals post-peak season in early fall. However, for places that thrive in winter, such as the Caribbean, you’ll want to visit pre-season, in late fall between Thanksgiving and mid-December, when hurricane season is over, the weather is glorious, and your dream resort is a fraction of what you’d pay for it January through March. But don’t worry if you can’t fit in another trip soon: There’s a spring shoulder season just around the corner, in April and May.

Tips for a good holiday from a travel veteran Read

Robin Yap knows better than to believe that the grass is greener on the other side. He’s been working with one company for over 30 years, and that commitment has certainly paid off.
Today, the man is president of The Travel Corporation (Asia). Some brands under the international travel group include Trafalgar, Contiki and Insight Vacations.
That dedication also means that the 58-year-old is attuned to the notable changes in the travel scene.
Technology, says the Singapo­rean in an email, has totally changed the business landscape. But he is unfazed about future challenges, thanks to his dear mother’s advice.
“My mum told me that if you are not prepared, even if gold falls from the sky, you will be too slow to pick it up,” Yap relates. “I am always prepared. And when you are prepared with content and substance, you have nothing to worry about.”
The industry veteran shares some vital information for a good holiday, and that one destination where he has felt the happiest.

Robin Yap having fun with friends at Bienvenido A La Estacion De Luque restaurant in La Subbetica, Spain.
Have you received any funny or peculiar travel booking requests?
Once in Bhutan, a lady who is allergic to butter was served a main course of “Butter Fish”. She screamed! The waiter calmly told her it’s the name of the fish. He explained that it is not made of butter, just like butterfly is not made of butter. There are some light moments in our business!
What makes for a good holiday?
There is no perfect tour, but there is the perfect mindset. Remember that you are going on a holiday and not on a fault-finding mission. Things can go wrong at home or abroad. A positive mindset will allow you to enjoy your holiday even if things do not turn out the way you want them to.
Travel with like-minded buddies who share the same view on truly wanting a great time. Choose a destination which suits your budget so that you need not restrain yourself from having a great meal, buying that gadget that you have been eyeing or visiting the monument that you read so much about.

Posing in front of the Buddha Dordenma statue at Buddha Point Thimphu, Bhutan.
Posing in front of the Buddha Dordenma statue at Buddha Point Thimphu, Bhutan. In nearer destinations, finding a resort to unwind as a Free Inde­pendent Traveller (FIT) is a good option too. However, if you are heading for destinations further, with different languages and driving direction, you must have a lot of time and patience.
Last but not least, bringing your three-year-old on a long-haul, programme-packed group tour can drain energy. Wait till they are older and more ready.
What should travellers take note of, before booking holiday accommodation?
When making an online booking for accommodation with a promotional price, often there is no refund if you cancel. Do take note: Is breakfast included in the price and is there complimentary WiFi in the room? Often, a WiFi package can be costly. Do request for a non-smoking room in advance because some countries still offer smoking rooms and it can be uncomfortable.
As a travel industry veteran, what do you look for when you book a holiday?
If it is a short getaway, then I head for nearby destinations like Bhutan, which I visit twice a year to enjoy the calmness of the destination. For longer holidays, I usually enjoy a river cruise in Europe with Uniworld Boutique River Cruise.
Any tales of travel mishaps?
The worst thing to happen is losing your passport in a non-English-­speaking country. It takes hours to get someone to understand you and service at police stations in some countries is such that they are not exactly the nicest places to be to report a lost passport.

Robin Yap with some young monks at the Rinpung Dzongkhag, Paro.
Where’s one destination where you have felt the happiest?
Robin Yap with some young monks at the Rinpung Dzongkhag, Paro. Definitely Bhutan. I already have a Bhutanese name – Wanhchen Rigzin. Bhutan is a simple country with stunning mountain scenery.
What are some items that you must bring along on your travels?
A camera, good walking shoes, powerbank, medicine for my gout, spare mobile phone and a local SIM card.
What’s the best travel advice you have received?
Travel now … for instance, the Northern Lights in Iceland may not appear in the next 10 years.
Do you have some travel tips for travellers?
Don’t buy the cheapest package because the cost of a holiday is not the price you pay. It includes all the hidden extras that you thought are included. Always purchase travel insurance, even if it only for a day. Have a medical check-up if you have a medical condition and make sure to get a prescription just in case you need to purchase the medication in a foreign land.
Also, keep your credit cards separately. In case you lose one, there is still another somewhere. And always register with your country’s ministry of foreign affairs and inform them where you are travelling to. In case of emergency, your foreigner affairs office can reach you.
Complete the following sentences:
I would hop on a plane in a heartbeat for a meal in…
Ashford Castle, Ireland.
If I’m seated next to an annoying passenger on a long-haul plane, I would…
Pop a pill … and sleep!

Read more at http://www.star2.com/travel/malaysia/2016/09/06/tips-for-a-good-holiday-from-a-travel-veteran/#EMcZqIDdMIFbbopt.99

Could time travel ever be possible? Will we be able to go back in time?

Will we ever be able to go forward in time?
Some believe that time travel is already possible. In fact, Dr Alastair Wilson of the University of Birmingham says that we already do so every day.
“Just by walking around we accelerate relative to our environment, which dilates time and causes us to effectively travel slightly faster than usual into the future,” he explains.
Dr Wilson is referring to Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity, which states that as an object moves more quickly, time will appear to slow down.

However, for an object to truly travel forward in time, the object would need to move at a pace approaching the speed of light – or 186,000 miles per second – an impossibility according to the laws of physics.
Another method of time travel that has been proposed is via a wormhole – a shortcut linking two different times and places.
Einstein theorised that space and time are woven together into a single continuum known as “spacetime”. A wormhole is said to occur when spacetime has been warped, creating a tunnel between two points.
Professor Stephen Hawking says that these shortcuts spring up everyday. He said that they “constantly form, disappear and reform, and they actually link two separate places and two different times”.
If physicists are on the right track then we never will be able to travel backwards in time
Dr Alastair Wilson
Unfortunately for wannabe time-travellers, these tunnels are just a “billion-trillion-trillionths of a centimetre across”, far too small for a human to enter.
While some scientists have theorised that these wormholes could be enlarged to let a human, or even a spaceship, pass through, Professor Hawking has ruled out them being used for time-travel.
Writing for the Daily Mail, he said: “As soon as the wormhole expands, natural radiation will enter it, and end up in a loop. The feedback will become so strong it destroys the wormhole.
“So although tiny wormholes do exist, and it may be possible to inflate one some day, it won't last long enough to be of use as a time machine.”
Spaceship entering wormhole 
Professor Hawking says that wormholes are too small for humans or spacecrafts to enter

Will we ever be able to go back in time?

While scientists continue to debate whether we will ever be able to travel forward in time, they are mainly in agreement that it is impossible to reverse the clock.
Dr Wilson explained: “We can't yet travel backwards in time and if physicists are on the right track then we never will be able to.
“The energies required to even get close to bending time enough to create a spacetime loop would demolish any living thing that tried to traverse the loop.
“My own view is that physical laws are necessary truths, so if time travel is ruled out by physics, then it's completely, 100% impossible.”

Many experts believe that travelling backward through time could create impossible paradoxes.
Professor Hawking explained a situation where a man travels backwards in time by one minute.
“Through the wormhole, the scientist can see himself as he was one minute ago. But what if he uses the wormhole to shoot his earlier self? He's now dead. So who fired the shot? It just doesn't make sense,” he wrote.
The paradox would violate a fundamental rule of physics – that cause some before effect.
Dr Wilson added: “So, no doubt to the relief of Express readers, people won't ever be able to travel back in time to shoot their grandfathers or kill Hitler.”

The 10 Best Travel Experiences Right Now Using Virtual Reality

As virtual reality technology develops and becomes more widely adopted, brands and content creators have the challenge of leveraging the format’s freedom and perspective to create new ways to experience global destinations.
So far, travel brands have had trouble figuring out the best way to create engaging content in virtual reality.
Apps like YouVisit, which positions itself as a central repository of travel brand content, offer little more than traditional videos of destinations and hotels cobbled together poorly in inane, thoughtlessly-composed 360 degree photos and video.
Convention and Visitors Bureaus like Visit Houston and Visit Australia have also worked to integrate virtual reality promotional content into their mobile apps.
Today’s fragmented virtual reality ecosystem, strewn across a variety of headsets and storefronts, makes it hard to have an engaging experience despite a glut of content becoming available.
So Skift tried on Google Cardboard, the newest Samsung Gear VR, and Oculus Rift headsets to take a look at how travel content is adapting to the virtual reality space. Here are our top ten travel virtual reality experiences available today.

Through the Ages

President Obama has waded into the virtual reality ecosystem with a succinct short featuring U.S. National Parks on the centennial of the establishment of the National Parks Service. Viewers tag along with Obama and and his family as they explore Yosemite National Park. He also dispenses some wisdom on the importance of protecting the environment and the need to educate children on American tradition.

Valen’s Reef

Some of the best travel documentaries show the viewer what it’s like to live in a distant part of the planet.
Valen’s Reef tells the story of Ronald Mambrasar, a fisherman turned conservationist in Indonesia, and his efforts to help preserve the endangered coral reefs in his community.
Smart camerawork makes use of 3D and underwater photography to bring the viewer into Mambrasar’s world.


Nomads is an Oculus experience comprised of three documentary videos following nomadic cultures around the world. Built by virtual reality forerunners Felix & Paul, the app’s styling user interface and strong video content is refreshing when compared to many other travel experiences available today in virtual reality.

Holy Land

Huffington Post’s virtual reality group RYOT has created an impressive amount of content for consumer headsets in the last year.
Holy Land, available in the Jaunt VR app, is a series of five documentary shorts taking place around Israel. Each video uses perspective and an intelligent narrator to tell the stories surrounding Israel’s most notable travel destinations and the conflict that these sites have caused over history.

Dive at 360° Into Le Moulin Rouge

Produced by La Parisienne, this look behind the scenes at Paris’ famous Moulin Rouge nightclub gives viewers a new perspective on the iconic travel destination.
The short also has a refreshing sense of humor and leaves the viewer with a better understanding of the iconic Paris institution’s character.

I Struggle Where You Vacation

Another RYOT production, I Struggle Where You Vacation examines the effects of Puerto Rico’s debt crisis on the country’s inhabitants. With a bleak but hopeful tone, the documentary short shows that virtual reality can be used to provide perspective on complex issues.

A History of Cuban Dance

This live action short was filmed on location in Cuba and follows a troupe of traditional Cuban dancers through the various dance forms that form their heritage. It’s a warts-and-all look at Cuban culture that literally puts the viewer in the center of raucous celebrations of freedom in a country undergoing unprecedented changes.

The North Face: Nepal

Many brands have already jumped on the virtual reality bandwagon, but The North Face seems to be approaching virtual reality in an especially smart manner.
Here, a documentary crew follows around one of The North Face’s top climbers while he ruminates on his experiences and love of Nepal as a climbing destination.

Pilgrimage: A 21st-Century Journey to Mecca and Medina

This video from The New York Times photographer Luca Locatelli brings the viewer to Mecca and Medina earlier this year during an umrah pilgrimage. The video leverages 360 degree video to put the viewer right in the center of a singular travel experience.


Ascape is a virtual reality content app for iOS and Android that uses a slick interface to encourage travel discovery through 360 degree photos and video. It’s the only travel-related app we could find that actually adds a sense of fun to the process of scrolling through long lists of virtual reality content.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Alaska? Just go with the floe... and be amazed by breaching humpbacks and immense glaciers

  • Cruising to Alaska will let you take in the best sights the area has to offer
  • Travelling on smaller ships will let you get close to the hidden scenic spots
  • Highlights include wildlife watching and the ice formations at Glacier Bay
The naturalist John Muir wrote that you should never go to Alaska as a young man because you’ll never be satisfied with any other place as long as you live.
Alaska, the largest state in the American Union, is extraordinary and extraordinarily hard to visit. 
It is a part of the US, but lies sandwiched uncomfortably between Russia and Canada (in landmass, as any pub quiz enthusiast will tell you, these are the two biggest countries in the world).
Whale of a time: See humpbacks breaching in Glacier Bay on an Alaskan cruise  (file photo)
Following America’s purchase of Alaska from the Russians in 1867 for $7.2million (about the price these days of a modest house in London’s Kensington) for a short while American hopes flourished that British Columbia might opt to throw its lot in with the US so that Alaska would become part of a contiguous United States.
British Columbia, however, thanks to the decision to build the transcontinental railway through the Rockies, was happy to become part of the Canadian confederation, leaving Alaska suspended in geographical limbo.
This isolation is compounded by the heavily broken fjord coast of the American North West. 
Tracy Arm, a fjord in Alaska near Juneau, is another popular spot for cruise travellers
Juneau, Alaska’s state capital, is 750 miles from Vancouver as the ship sails but more than twice that distance by road and car ferry. 
The cruise ship is therefore the perfect way to discover Alaska on a seven-night voyage (the time it takes to sail from Vancouver to Seward, the port that serves Anchorage). 
While sun-seeking cruises to the Caribbean or the Mediterranean can be seen as relatively low-brow jollies, anyone setting off for Alaska has the look of a keen naturalist.
Cruise companies respond to this market by offering smaller vessels, pointing out that these ships have to conform to the strict environmental standards (much of the area they pass through has National Park status).
At Hubbard Glacier, tourists have the opportunity to see huge blocks of ice crumbling away
One of the foremost operators is the Holland America Line, which is keen to emphasise its roots in Alaska go back nearly 70 years. 
It claims that decades of experience have enabled it to refine its itineraries to ensure the best balance of must-see destinations and hidden treasures, as well as scenic cruising among the region’s grandest glaciers and best spots for wildlife viewing.
All Holland America cruises include visits to Tracy Arm, Hubbard Glacier or Glacier Bay. 
The company says its elegant mid-size cruise ships were designed not to tower over the scenery, but to bring you closer to Alaska’s natural wonders: ‘from calving glaciers to breaching humpback whales’.
No wonder an Alaskan cruise is on many people’s bucket list.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Travel guide to… Iran

Isfahan is a major destination on the "tourist trail" in Iran, particularly Naqhsh-e Jahan Square, where you'll find typical Persian architecture such as that of the above Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque Shutterstock
British Airways relaunches flights to Tehran today, four years after the last direct service from the UK took off, and around a year after the UK embassy reopened its doors in the Iranian capital. Both moves are beating a more accessible path to this controversial country for curious travellers, following a thawing of frosty relations between Iran and other world powers thanks to a landmark nuclear deal.

And while Iran often finds itself in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, intrepid globetrotters consistently sing the country formerly known as Persia’s praises, calling it a surprisingly welcoming destination with plenty of untouched treasures to discover. The fact Iran doesn’t exactly top the to-do list of mass tourism means those with an open mind will likely enjoy the nation’s riches largely all to themselves.

The ancient city of Persepolis is Iran's most famous archaeological site, with its earliest remains dating back to around 515 BC (AFP/Getty Images)
Visitors heading here will find a country that is as complex, colourful and deeply traditional as the Persian carpets for which it is renowned. History lovers are spoiled for choice when it comes to incredibly preserved archaeological sites (including the ancient city of Persepolis), while the photogenic beauty of classic Persian architecture – usually covered with those famous blue tiles – will please anyone with an eye for design.

Plus, outdoor enthusiasts have a surfeit of mountains to climb and ski, desert landscapes to explore and scenic valleys to trek. All this, combined with ultra-welcoming locals, a refined and delicious cuisine (succulent grilled kebabs, flavourful stews) and an ancient culture steeped in poetry, music and art, mean that Iran is a destination as rewarding as it is revelatory.

British nationals need a visa to travel to Iran. The process can be notoriously long and frustrating, so you should apply well in advance of your planned travel dates. There are also reports of difficulties securing visas through private visa agencies. The Iranian embassy in London has commenced a visa service.

FCO advice warns against all travel to certain parts of Iran. The FCO also claims the risks to tourists in Iran are higher for those travelling independently than for those travelling as part of an organised tour.

£1 is currently worth 40,857 Iranian rials (IR), while US$1 is worth 31,200 rials.

Cultured capital

Situated on the lower slopes of the Alborz Mountains, their snow-tipped peaks providing a dramatic backdrop in winter, Tehran should present a pretty picture. However, gridlocked traffic and heavy air pollution are everyday realities in this modern metropolis. The noisy streets of central and southern Tehran, where visitors will spend most of their time, are crowded with shoppers, office workers and students and crackle with energy. The city’s northern suburbs aren’t as frenetic. Though largely residential, they also have upmarket retail strips where affluent locals come to shop, dine and drink coffee in stylish boutiques, restaurants and cafés.

Tehran's skyline in winter - when not obscured by heavy pollution from its traffic-choked roads (Shutterstock)
Most visitors forgive Tehran’s aesthetic shortcomings when confronted by the wealth of treasures displayed in the city’s museums. Start by admiring the archaeological artefacts in the National Museum of Iran (Imam Khomeini Avenue; 200,000 rials), which include exquisite inscriptions and friezes from Persepolis; then head to the Treasury of National Jewels (200,000 rials) to ogle its simply extraordinary collection of jewellery made by Persian artisans and acquired by the Safavid shahs. The treasury’s best-known exhibit is the Peacock (Naderi) Throne, encrusted with 26,733 gems.

Those who crave more culture can also visit the Golestan Palace (golestanpalace.ir; 150,000 rials) with its formal garden, dazzling Hall of Mirrors and art gallery filled with portraits of Qajar rulers.

Ancient markets

Those keen to see a more exotic Iran than that offered by Tehran's traffic-clogged roads should head for the atmopsheric bazaars of some of the country's most historically significant cities. Tabriz, a former capital, has the most famous. Its sprawling, labyrinthine bazaar – a Unesco World Heritage Site dating back 1,000 years – is replete with ornate, dimly lit timchehs (halls) that immerse you in an almost mystical, back-in-time feel.

South of Tehran, Isfahan’s Bazar-e Bozorg is just as old, and has welcoming teahouses in spades. Its location between Naqsh-e Jahan Square and the Masjed-e Jameh, two of the city’s major attractions, is also supremely convenient.

Tehran’s bazaar is more modern (it’s a mere two centuries old) but is just as maze-like and full of temptations.

The atmospheric Tabriz Bazaar, a Unesco World Heritage Site with 1,000 years of history
Pilgrimage sites
Home to the largest concentration of Shia Muslims in the world, Iran has many important religious shrines and pilgrimage sites. Crowded with pious worshippers – usually in family groups – these are wonderful places to observe the importance of religion in day-to-day Iranian life. They can also demystify this culture for many Westerners, being places where worshippers are just as likely to be exuberant and joyful as they are quietly contemplative.
The most significant and beautiful of these is the massive Haram-e Razavi (Holy Shrine of Imam Reza) in the north-eastern city of Mashhad, where gold-covered domes and tapering minarets seem to float above the compound's profusion of courtyards, mosques and museums. Shia pilgrims from across the globe come here to visit the shrine of the only Shia Imam to be buried in Iran.
In the south of the country, the Aramgah-e Shah-e Cheragh (Mausoleum of the King of the Light) in Shiraz is nearly as holy. Its bulbous turquoise-tiled dome, gold-topped minarets and mirrored interior are wonderful examples of late Qajar period architecture.
The Jameh mosque in Isfahan is one of Iran's most famous sights and shows the evolution of mosque architecture over 12 centuries (Shutterstock / Marcin Szymczak)

World heritage trail
There are 21 Iranian sites and landscapes on Unesco’s World Heritage List, and many first-time visitors to the country end up devising their itineraries around visits to the big-hitters.
Don’t miss Persepolis, the majestic former capital of the Achaemenid empire (200,000 rials, plus extra charge for museum). It’s an extraordinary showcase of grandiose Achaemenid construction, including staircases featuring exquisite carved reliefs, majestic gateways topped with statues, and the remains of palaces that once housed magnificent columned halls.
The desert fortress of Bam, recently rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 2003, was once a thriving trading post on the legendary Silk Route. This mud-brick citadel has massive ramparts, ornately decorated towers and monumental gateways aplenty.
The Bagh-e Fin garden in Kashan is a historical Persian garden dotted with pools, fountains and decorated pavilions (Ali Reza/Flickr/CC by 2.0)

Another must-do is the postcard-perfect Naqsh-e Jana (Imam) Square and the Masjed-e Jameh (Jameh Mosque) in Isfahan. The latter, the largest mosque in Iran, comprises a series of elaborateiwans (open prayer halls) clad in exquisite blue and gold tiles.
Finally, formal Persian gardens, such as the Bagh-e Fin in Kashan (Amir Kabir Rd; 150,000 rials) – an oasis featuring a series of turquoise-coloured pools and fountains, richly decorated pavilions and a profusion of orange trees – also deserve a place on your list.
Outdoor adventures
More than half of Iran is covered by mountains, so skiing and mountaineering are popular pastimes. Head to Mount Damavand and Mount Sabalan in the Alborz Mountains to climb in summer, and to Dizin in the Alborz Mountains or Sepidan or Chegard in the Zagros Mountains to ski in winter. In good weather, trekking through the Alamut area in the Alborz Mountains is hugely enjoyable. Desert trekking should only be done with an experienced guide – when in desert areas, it’s best to explore on a 4x4 expedition or camel trek leaving from Yazd.
Yazd is a great base from which to mount an off-road adventure into the Iranian desert
Boutique boltholes
Serviceable but somewhat dowdy three-star business hotels predominate in most Iranian cities and towns, but tourists are better off opting wherever possible for the slowly growing number of boutique hotels set in historic buildings.
The best of these are in central Iran, such as recently opened, top-end boutique choice Saraye Ameriha Boutique Hotel (sarayeameriha.com) in Kashan, or Iran’s most famous luxury hotel, the Abbasi Hotel (abbasihotel.ir) in Isfahan, with its magnificent courtyard garden. Niayesh Boutique Hotel (niayeshhotels.com) in Shiraz, in the heart of the old quarter, has a laid-back traveller vibe.
Outside the cities and towns, it’s worth considering a homestay, which will give you a true taste of local life.
Getting there
Imam Khomeini International Airport just outside Tehran is Iran’s major international air hub. There are also international airports in Isfahan, Shiraz and Mashhad. The country’s busiest domestic airport is Mehrabad International Airport in Tehran.
Domestic bus services between cities and major towns are cheap, comfortable and frequent. The local train network is excellent but trains are less frequent and more expensive than buses – seeiranrail.net for details.
Tour operators that offer itineraries to Iran include Intrepid Travel,World Expeditions, Explore and Cox & Kings
More information