Tip of the Day – Week 2

Below are our Tips of the Day from this week:

Tip #1:  Sintra – Best Lisbon, Portugal Day Trip:

The little town of Sintra is only a 40 minute train ride from Lisbon’s Rossio Station, and it’s a must! It couldn’t feel more like a world away from the city. Home to the Pena National Palace, the Sintra National Palace, the Castle of the Moors, and several grand estates (including the Quinta da Regaleira and Monserrate Palace), you would never expect that this tiny town has so much to offer that it can barely be covered in a day trip. Read more about it–and 9 of my other favorite often overlooked European towns here: https://traveltalesandtips.com/2013/08/13/top-10-small-town-experiences-in-europe/

Portugal- Sintra- Pena Palace 1  Portugal- Sintra- National Palace Colorful 1  Portugal- Sintra Moorish Castle 1  Portugal - Sintra - Quinta 1                                    Photos (from left to right):  Pena National Palace, Sintra National Palace, Castle of the Moors, & Quinta da Regaleria Grounds

Tip #2:  How to Save Money Flying Into Europe:

If you have a little extra time to spare and want to save some money, sometimes flying directly into your intended destination is not your best option. Particularly in Europe where there are many discount airlines hopping from one city to the next, sometimes finding the cheapest city to fly into and then puddle jumping a day or two later will save you a significant amount of money–and give you the added benefit of seeing another great destination. Example, when I wanted to go to Budapest, flights were going for around $1300 each. However, I found a flight into Dusseldorf (and out of Istanbul–my final destination on that trip) for around $700 each (a steal). A puddle jumper from there cost less than $100 at the time, so I saved $1000 between my and my husband’s plane tickets. We spent a night in Dusseldorf, got to drink some good German beer, and even side-trip to Burg Eltz Castle (one of my favorite castles ever). It was a win-win. You can often find deals like this and save some significant cash if you’re willing to put in the work.

Germany: Burg Eltz Castle 2  Germany- Dusseldorf- Gehry Building in Media Harbor 1  Germany- Dusseldorf- Brewery 1            Photos (from left to right):  Burg Eltz Castle, Medienhafen Building in Dusseldorf (by Frank Gehry), and Pub in Dusseldorf

Tip #3:  Making the Most of TripAdvisor and Other Online Reviews:

Reading online reviews on potential hotels, tour companies, etc is a smart, travel-savvy idea. However, be mindful of a few pitfalls. While these sites try to regulate fake reviews, it still happens. On sites like TripAdvisor, scan all of those glowing reviews and look for these red flags: multiple reviews written by people who have only ever written 1 or 2 reviews on the site before (too many of those can mean the proprietor is creating new accounts and reviewing themselves), several reviews written on the same day or closely situated days for a location that otherwise doesn’t have many reviews (same reason as prior), and negative–and even mediocre–reviews that point to the same issues repeatedly (good proprietors review these write ups to see how their customers are reacting–if they’re doing nothing to fix the problem, that’s a bad sign).

2 stars file4 Stars5 Stars

Tip #4:  Choosing a Hotel Location:

When choosing a hotel for your vacation, remember the familiar mantra: location, location, location. Sometimes spending a little more is worth it to be in the center of things–or at least within walking distance (10-15 mins). Think about the cost (monetary and time wise) of staying well outside of the city center or away from the main sights. Many of Europe’s cities have a compact historic center that is walkable from one end to the other with all sorts of events going on throughout the day and night, plenty of restaurants to choose from, and different atmospheres worth exploring at different times of day. Also do your research on the area if you are staying on the outskirts of the center–many of those areas are fine home bases, but you don’t want to find yourself staying in an area that you may feel unsafe.

Barcelona Map  Amsterdam Hotel Map  Cordoba Full Map1                              Above are examples of ideal city-center hotel locations (from left to right): Barcelona, Spain; Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Cordoba, Spain

Tip #5:  Put a Little Adventure in Your Travel:

Sightseeing and visiting museums is wonderful, and I highly recommend doing the best of both in any location you visit. However, often times there are activities offered at the location you are visiting that you wouldn’t get the chance to do elsewhere. Take advantage of these; the monetary cost is worth the once-in-a-lifetime experience. From swimming with dolphins to whitewater rafting, riding camels in the desert, rappelling down a waterfall, or bathing elephants, some of the most amazing memories I have from my trips have to do more with what I got to do than what I got to see. Keep an eye out for local experiences when planning your next trip. If adventure isn’t your thing look for a local cooking or dance class. Just experience something new; that’s what travel is all about.

Thailand- Kanchanaburi- Swimming with Elephants 1  British Virgin Islands - Tortola - Dolphin Swim 2  Costa Rica- White Water Rafting 1  Costa Rica- Canopy Tour- Ziplining Upside Down 1  Puerto Rico- San Juan- Rain Forest- Waterfall Rappell  Morocco- Tangier Us on Camels Thumbs Up  Thailand - Kanchanaburi - Tiger Feeding 1

Tip #6:  Planning a Trip Without a Specific Destination in Mind:

If you know you want to plan a trip but don’t have a specific destination in mind that’s not a bad thing! Keeping an open mind can get you a better deal because you can research costs at several similar locations. For example, if you know you want to go to an island, research flights to several. Sometimes you’ll find one that is significantly cheaper than the others. This enables you to either save money or splurge a little on your hotel with your savings.

Cordoba- Hotel 5  Cordoba- Hotel 4  Cordoba- Hotel 7

Tip #7:  Utilizing Europe’s Highly Effective Train System:

The high speed trains in Europe are a perfect mode of transportation. It’s a quick way to connect your destinations city center to city center, and it’s often extremely economical, as well. Here are some tips to make things go smoothly, though. 1) Many of these trains need to be booked ahead, especially during tourist season. You can usually do it right on your computer. Don’t wait until the day you want to leave. 2) If you’re assigned a seat, make sure you board the train in the correct car. There’s nothing worse than boarding and then having to walk through 10 crowded cars with all of your luggage to find your seat. Check your ticket before boarding. 3) Allow yourself enough time. In certain countries–like Spain–you will have to go through security similar to an airport (baggage scans, etc). 4) On the high speed trains usually your ticket will be validated by the conductors (check the instructions). But on many of the trains in Europe you must validate your ticket at the machine on the platform before boarding or face a hefty fine. Look for the yellow validation machines. Not knowing is not an accepted excuse.

Italy - Milan - Train Station 1


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