Monday, January 31, 2011

Word Travels Forum Round-Up #09

On the Word Travels Forum, you can pose your travel questions to our team of experts all over the world, and they'll find the answer for you! Here's what people are talking about this week:

You can ask your own question here!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Win a Trip to Paris!

See this picture? This cheesy 'holding the Eiffel Tower' picture that everyone who visits Paris has to take?

This could be your picture, because you could win a trip to Paris from Low Cost Holidays!

Open to all UK residents. Enter here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Top 5 Cities for Chocolate

There are many reasons people choose to visit certain cities, but I can't think of a better one than chocolate! Here are some of the top cities for chocolate tourism:

Zurich, Switzerland - Zurich chocolate factories read like a who’s who of chocolatiers: Toblerone, Truescher,Cailler-Nestle, Lindt and Sprungli all call it home. With such amazing choices at their doorsteps, it’s no wonder the Swiss consume more chocolate per person than any other country in the world! There are of course chocolate shops wherever you look (like Truffe, Schrober and Merkur), but bargain-hunters can find discounts at the Lindt factory shop.

San Francisco, California - Just as you'll find gold at the end of the rainbow, there is surely chocolate at the end of the trolley car line in San Francisco. Ghirardelli Square has been feeding people joy since 1852, and their cafe is always packed with both locals and tourists from around the world. Across the bay, the Scherffen Berger factory no longer gives tours, but don't miss Joseph Schmidt's amazing boutique.

Hershey, Pennsylvania - With a name that's synonymous with chocolate, it's no wonder that Hershey made this list: "Chocolate Town, USA" is home to both the Hershey factory and the HB Reese Candy Company, and even boasts Hershey Park, a chocolate-themed amusement park!

Oaxaca, Mexico - Oaxaca is the heart of chocolate production in Mexico, and some say where the treat was invented centuries ago by the ancient Mesoamericans. You'll be spoiled for choice with restaurants, cafes and factories all offering mouth-watering options, but the town's specialty is it's hot cocoa, which most locals start every day with. Or you can take a chocolate-making class and brew your own!

Brussels, Belgium - With 12 chocolate factories, 16 chocolate museums, and over 2,000 chocolate shops, Brussels is undoubtedly the chocolate capital of the world! The city has a long tradition of lovingly handcrafted delicacies, including their specialty, the chocolate praline, and is home to Godiva, Neuhaus, and Leonidas.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Travel Book: Holidays in Hell

There are places that even adventurous travellers fear to tread, but American comedy writer PJ O'Rourke has managed to create a hilarious travelogue out of truly horrid trips to destinations like Lebanon, Poland, Panama, South Korea, Palestine, Disneyworld, and others. His timing is always impeccable, arriving in time for military coups, political protests, and Jerry Falwell.

Written in the 1980's, the political references might seem a bit dated at times, but the author's humour will strike a chord with anyone who has ever been made to travel someplace they didn't necessarily want to be.

Verdict: Borrow it

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Misleading Hotel Advertising

The photos on hotel websites are always (literally) picture-perfect. Beautiful sunsets, beautiful rooms, beautiful facilities, and beautiful people abound at these resorts, and paradise is just a plane ride away. Right?

Not always. has put together a list of pictures from hotel websites that don't quite live up to the real thing. Whether its creative cropping, enterprising angles, or good old-fashioned photoshop, these photos make you think twice!

View the list here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Word Travels Forum Round-Up #08

It's round-up time! Here are the questions people are asking in the world of travel this week:

Not the info you need? Ask our experts!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Win a Trip to New York Fashion Week!

Are you planning for Valentine's Day yet? Why not spoil her (or yourself!) with a free trip to New York Fashion Week? Fashion blog Fashiolista is giving away a trip for two!

Enter here before January 28th.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

5 Tips for Taking Great Vacation Photos

Remember the old days when friends would force you to sit in darkened living rooms, watching narrated slide shows of their jungle treks and European tours? The modern equivalent, the Facebook photo album, is much easier to ignore. Chances are people will only give your vacation photos a cursory glance... if that.

But who really wants to look at their friends' pictures? Shot after shot of slightly blurry, smiling group photos in front of famous landmarks. *Yawn* With the ubiquity of digital cameras and gigantic memory cards, people subscribe to the idea that 'more is more' when it comes to holiday snaps.

If you want to make your pictures stand out, though, here are five tips for taking great vacation photos:

1. Know your camera. It seems elementary, but then how many of us spend hundreds of dollars on a nice camera, then never go beyond the automatic setting? Learning how to adjust the shutter speed and aperture can help you immensely when trying to capture active children, or candle-lit restaurants. Be familiar with your timer as well, to avoid irritation when you're trying to get into the group shot.

2. Tell a story with pictures. Years from now, your photos will be the story of your vacation. Don't just whip out your camera at the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, take a picture of that beautiful salad you had for lunch, or your significant other dragging their suitcases through the streets of Paris. The 'in between' moments are often what you remember most about your holiday, so be sure to document them, rather than forcing every shot to be posed.

3. Find a different perspective. Don't limit yourself to straight-on 'postcard shots'. Get acrobatic: down on your knees, on your toes, stretching around a corner. Things look different and unique from varied vantage points (ex. Indiana Jones up there!), and your pictures will cease to all look alike.

4. Be a part of it! This can be especially hard when you travel alone, but make sure you're in the pictures as well. There's nothing worse than a photo album from a wonderful trip with no record of you on it. Tripods, timers, trusting someone with your camera, or even the famous 'self group portait'... what ever it takes!

5. Edit your photos. Even when taking pictures in a hurry, you can still improve them after you get home. Don't just dump them onto Facebook or print them out immediately, but take the time to make them look their best. Remove red eye, crop out that unnoticed camera strap, re-frame the picture for better proportions. Professional photographers spend weeks on this, surely you can spare a couple of hours?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Travel Movie: Eurotrip

Okay, so this isn't the most mature travel movie ever. But it pretty much epitomises what every American teenager imagines when they dream of a trip to Europe: sex, drugs, crazy people with accents, beautiful sites, and the most memorable times of their lives.

Four teenagers take a whirlwind trip through London, Paris, Amsterdam, Bratislava, Berlin, and Rome, in order for one to find the girl of his dreams.

Negative stereotypes notwithstanding, the movie has some pretty funny scenes, including a robot dance-off, an impromptu Sheena Easton singalong in a London pub, and one of Matt Damon's best cameos to date.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Beyond Window or Aisle: Choosing Your Seat on Airplanes

Airlines these days are making us pay dearly for little pleasures like choosing our seats. It's our job, therefore, to have as much information as possible when doing that. We all know if we prefer window or aisle, but choosing a seat goes way beyond that.

For example, if you prefer a window seat for a great view of the Statue of Liberty as you fly over, you want to be sure that view isn't blocked by the wing of the plane. Or if you like an aisle seat, you want to be sure you're not too near the toilets and have people hovering over you the entire flight.

Other factors to consider vary from aircraft to aircraft. Will your flight have entertainment stations in the back of each seat, or will you be forced to crane your neck to see the screen above the aisle? Which seats have the best view of those screens?

It's also worth knowing which rows are exit rows and which are bulkhead for maximum legroom, although you may end up paying for that as well.

That's why I always check my flight on Seat Guru before I book. The site has diagrams of every aircraft, with the seats colour-coded to help you choose. You can even search for your flight and it will tell you which aircraft you'll be in.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Word Travels Forum Round-Up #07

It's round-up time! Here are the most popular travel questions of the week:

If you have any questions, be sure to ask our local experts on the WT Forum!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Win Your Dream Vacation... Anywhere!

What a freebie for Friday!

TV host Rachael Ray is giving away $30,000 toward the fantasy holiday of one lucky person. All you have to do is register on her website to enter.

Enter here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

4 Islands You Wouldn't Want to Visit

We tend to concentrate on places that sound fantastic to visit, but there are a few islands that don't sound great for romantic getaways. Here are four islands you wouldn't want to visit:

Poveglia Island

Located between Venice and Lido in Italy, Poveglia island has a dark and gruesome history. It was traditionally the place where plague sufferers were exiled (and sometimes murdered), and in the 20th century was reportedly used as a mental asylum. Rumours and myth are hard to distinguish, but no one seems to want to live there and it is still uninhabited today.

Ilha de Queimada Grande

While tropical islands come at a premium and developers fight over building rights for luxury resorts, no one is fighting over the lovely Ilha de Queimada Grande in Brazil, or even trying to go. That's because there's an estimated 4-5 snakes per square metre there. And we're not talking harmless garden snakes, but huge poisonous golden lanceheads.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Not so much an island as a nightmare, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex) is a mass the size of Texas floating somewhere in the central Pacific Ocean. It is made up entirely of trash brought to a specific point by ocean currents. Heart-breaking images have surfaced of turtles, birds and fish who have died from ingesting the plastic debris.

Izu Islands

Residents of several islands in the Izu archipelago of Japan are required to carry gas masks with them wherever they go. Why? The ever-present volcanic emissions, which give the island the pervading stench of rotten eggs.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Travel Movie: The Tourist

Critics aren't being kind to The Tourist, a suspenseful vehicle for stars Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. With a Rotten Tomato rating of only 20%, most are decrying the absurd plot and wooden performances. One thing they can agree on, however, is the beauty of the Italian setting.

The film is attempting to bring Hitchcock-ian glamour and intrigue to the landscape with the impeccably turned-out Jolie sauntering from one location to the next. The sumptuous backdrops of the Venice Canals are doing all the work, it seems.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

360° Views of Norway has an interactive 360° panoramic view of the Geiranger Fjord in Norway, which features the beautiful Seven Sisters waterfall. Through the rotating camera, you can also see The Suitor, which is the single waterfall opposite.

What isn't clear in the image, though, is the bottle-shape in the lower part of the Suitor, visible from the water. You'd turn to drink as well if you were romancing seven sisters at the same time!

Check out the view here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Word Travels Forum Round-Up #07

It's our Monday Forum Round-Up, so here are the hottest topics for the week:

Not the info you're looking for? Ask our local experts yourself on the forum!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Free Entry to US National Parks for 2011!

Here's a little bonus freebie for you all: the US National Parks Service has just announced that it's increasing the number of free admission days from 15 to 17 this year! All 394 parks will be completely free on the following dates:

January 15-17th
April 16-24th
June 21st
September 24th
November 11-13th

Pictured above for your viewing please (and travel inspiration) is the iconic Grand Canyon National Park.

Win a Vacation at a Sandals Resort!

You could win a vacation at the Sandals or Beaches resort of your choice! Just fill out the form here.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

5 First Impressions of Paris

I recently visited Paris on a 15-hour layover flying from the USA to South Africa. This was probably a very silly idea as I was on my own, spoke no French, and was tired enough to be only vaguely coherent. Nonetheless, to Paris I went on a grey Sunday morning. I skipped the ridiculous queues at most of the major tourist attractions, and just went wandering.

Working in the travel industry, you hear a lot about famous destinations, but I deliberately went unprepared in order to discover for myself what the city was like. Here are a few of my first impressions of Paris:

One of the first things I headed for was the Christmas market still running on the Champs-Elysees. I've heard much of these European markets, and Paris' has a bit of a reputation, but I came away unimpressed by the overpriced generic goods on offer. They seemed to sell only three things: hot mulled wine, Russian nesting dolls, and (fake?) fur hats.

I couldn't not do the Eiffel Tower, but I'll admit to being pretty underwhelmed here. It's pretty, but having to dodge twelve hundred guys throwing cheap plastic models at you and stand in a queue for four hours to actually go up the elevator rather cheapens the experience. I tried to take the obligatory 'me in front of the Eiffel Tower' photo, but in the end I just looked tired.

I had been warned that going to Notre Dame was a commercial experience likely to disappoint, but it was one of my favourite places in Paris. This is probably because I visited on a Sunday morning when there was a service in progress, which made the whole thing feel a little more intimate and special. Not so intimate and special were the rude tourists taking flash pictures of the congregation.

This statue, I found in the Luxembourg Gardens. I gave the gardens a handicap for scenery since it was January, but the statues were beautiful and somewhat enigmatic. Can someone tell me what is going on here?

My favourite spot in Paris was the Pont des Arts bridge over the Seine. Apparently 'love locks' pop up in many cities worldwide, but I had never seen them before. It felt personal and special to stumble on evidence of the love Paris has a reputation for, in the form of these locks put in place by lovers from all over the world. I've heard that the city considers them an eyesore and plans to remove them, but I sincerely hope they reconsider.

Top photo from here.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Travel Movie: The Last Holiday

I was reacquainted with this 2006 film on tv over my holiday vacation, and enjoyed it thoroughly. While there's nothing groundbreaking or controversial about the comedy starring Queen Latifah, there are some beautiful shots of the luxurious GrandHotel Pupp in the Czech resort town of Karlovy Vary.