Day one/two – We left for China on Monday morning and day one really became day one and two because you lose a day, which is never fun to do at the beginning of a trip. Everyone says that you get it back when you return, but who wants an extra day at work? I want that day to explore.
We have made this flight before, and the best way I can describe it is to relate it to childbirth. Now mothers, hear me out… There is only one aspect of it that I wish to relate and that is how when you are going through it a second or third time you never remember how bad it was until it is too late and you are in the middle of it. As I sat on this 14-hour flight I thought, “why am I doing this again?” Then I remember the incredible memories of our last trip and realize that in the end it will be all worth it.
We landed Tuesday evening in Shanghai, met by our tour guide and taken to our long awaited room to unwind and get some welcomed sleep. 4:30am Wednesday morning came far too early but now the adventure begins as we boarded our flight for Guilin. This is a part of China we haven’t experienced and are excited to see the beautiful gumdrop mountains and cruise down the Li River. I hope to befriend one of the local fishermen and have him teach me how they use the local birds to help them catch the day’s meal.
In today’s current environment there is no doubt that airfares will continue to rise before the settle back down. As consumers and lovers of travel we have always loved the bargains the down economy brought to us, and as the economy improves and we head back to the skies, it is more important than ever to know how and where we find the best deal.
A recently released Federal Aviation Administration report, reiterates this perfect storm, sighting that the combination of crowded planes and shrinking capacity will continue to lift fares this year and maybe into 2013. The experts also state that higher fuel prices are further increasing prices. Airfares in 2011 increased 17%, according to Farecompare.com, and so far in 2012 they are already up 4%.
Not only will we need to adjust our expectations when it comes to the airfare sale, but we will need to decide when a deal is good enough to purchase. A good starting place is always the web on sites like Airfarewatchdog.com
. In years past you could find airfare to Europe for $400 Round-trip, you will now be lucky to find them in the $800 range. For those who are frequent followers of Have Kids – Will Travel
and who have read our book, we avoid these fares altogether, opting for $45 round trip airfare to Europe which are still available with the right information.
Keep in mind that not all is lost for those who still need to pay for their airfare. There are still great deals available you just have to be more diligent in how you find them. Even with this new dichotomy, we as travelers can use several strategies to insure we are getting the best bottom line price:Buy package deals
Just like our trip to China, often when you combine your different elements of travel you can save hundreds. Even combining part of your needs like hotel and airfare, you can often pay less than buying each component separately. Even simply combining a rental car with your airfare can often lower the cost more than the airfare alone, even if you don’t need the car rental. I have seen a combo air-car rental for Hawaii priced over $100 less than the airfare alone. Use the car or not use the car, either way you still save money.Set price alerts
With the number of travel sites and search engines, there really aren’t any “Secret” deals. However the best deals are what as known as the quick-ending opportunities, which at best only last a few hours. In order to catch these deals, and they are incredible at times, you need to sign up for bulletins or alerts from specific sites like, Airfarewatchdog
, Bing Travel
, and other sites that we talk about in our book
. Often however, the alerts come a day late and a dollar short. Don’t stop looking even when you've purchased your ticket. Many sites and airlines now provide you with the “best-price” guarantee so knowing these prices can save you even after the sale is made.Time you book
As we’ve stated in our book
, there are times when it is cheaper to book airfare and that is usually on Tuesday afternoon. This is when there are the maximum number of seats on sale and available. Also check on the airlines own websites after midnight in the time zone of the airlines headquarters. Keep in mind, prices also seem to rise 7 and 14 days before departure, so book your flight at a minimum of three weeks out and with the limited inventory, you may want to consider three months out.Check other airports
An airline sale will often create a fare at one airport considerably cheaper than another. It might be worth the extra drive or even flight to another airport. A flight we checked on from Salt Lake City to Dallas was $150 cheaper out of Boise, Idaho. A cheap $39 Southwest flight or a 4 hour drive saved over $100 per ticket. This even works for overseas flights. Finding a airfare on sale to Paris for $700 and connecting with a local discount airline line like Ryan Air for $45 will save you hundreds on a $1200 flight to Venice or Rome, and who wouldn’t like to a few days in Paris as an added bonus.Be even more flexible
This is the most important tip these days. It is shown that when you travel on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday you will usually get cheaper airfare. Also, use flexible date options when using search engines like Kayak
, Google Flights
as well as the airline sites themselves. This will aid you in finding the best combination of flights at the lowest cost. Remember to check several sites and remember many search engines sites don’t include low-cost carriers such as Southwest and JetBlue
Our family has never been on an organized tour like this. We have always made up a schedule and then modified it as we went along and depending on the tips and ideas we got from the locals. China however is different than any place we have traveled in the past. First of all it is probably not a good idea to rent a car and try to maneuver through the traffic to find your destination for the day, in addition there is so much to see, an organized tour is really the best way to try and get in as much as possible.
The difficulty to a well planned, feature packed tour is when, like today, your train is almost three hours late and it puts a kink into the busy schedule. After a quick check in at the hotel, shower and change of cloths however we were off to Tiananmen Square. As mentioned in our last post today is China’s National Day and people from all over China were in the Square. Many of these people were from parts of China where I don’t think they see many tourists because we quickly became the center of attraction. People stopped taking pictures of the buildings and sights and began taking pictures of our group. We have many younger kids with blonde and red hair and the Chinese were fascinated. Our group had so many people wanting to take pictures with us, that the young kids felt like rock stars. One man who was charging visitors to take their picture in front of the large picture of Chairman Mao took advantage of the opportunity, and started charging people to take pictures with our group.
Our walk through the square took us across the road to the Zhong Shan Park which is beautiful but the Chinese “paparazzi” were hot on our tail. The square and the park are amazing though with such an interesting mix of the old and the new China melding together. We continued our walk through the city to the Opra house and other historic buildings. the The traffic in Beijing was nearly impossible at times and our bus driver was amazing as he maneuvered through it like it was a Sunday drive in the country as we made our way back to the hotel for some much needed rest.
Our first stop today was the Terracotta Warrior factory. Even with today’s molding technology we still cannot produce the full size warriors as fast as they did at the time of the Emperor. However if all you want to take home is a small one…. thousands are produced in no time. If you want a Terracotta with a likeness of your face on it, you can order one life size and they are really quite realistic. Much has changed in the production, but one thing has remained and that is the clay. They still get the clay from the same mountain that has been used for thousands of years.
The Terracotta pits are now the 8th Wonder of the World (check that one off our list). These original warriors, which are over 2200 year old were destroyed, buried and now uncovered and put back together with incredible care. You can see the work still going on as they discover more and more of these and other relics buried with this Emperor. It was all discovered in 1974 by three simple farmers, of which only one survives and is often in the museum signing books. We were one of the lucky ones who were allowed to have our picture taken with him.
Xian is a beautiful city with a rich history. As the original capital city of China’s first Dynasty it played an important role to the destiny and culture of this vast country. Xian’s city wall is much as it was during this age with the exception that it no longer houses the Emperor and his concubines. Today it is “wall to wall” buildings, houses, shops and restaurants. We explored the 8.5 mile city wall by bike and by foot and found it a wonderful way to view both the city within and the vast metropolis outside the walls.
At the end of the day we said goodbye to the 7 million people of Xian by joining what seemed like the majority of them at the train station to board our sleeper car to Beijing. This was an experience I’m not sure we want to repeat, but not sure we wanted to miss. It seemed like millions were pushing their way through only a handful of passageways all with luggage and boxes in tow. The following day is the beginning of National day, which lasts for 7 days to be more precise. Everyone it seemed wanted to get out of town and join a celebration somewhere. Our tour guide told us after we had gone through the gauntlet, “That wasn’t very busy at all, I expected many more people to be here”. You couldn’t have fit any more people there.
The train was a fun experience (Did I say that diplomatically enough?). Really, It was fun, but for a “soft sleeper” it had much to be desired. However we are told they have “hard sleepers” with just a board for a bed, so we felt very lucky and listened to the train click along the track, as we all tried to get as much sleep as we could. We arrived in Beijing almost three hours late and there, the “millions” of people from Xian were joined with “millions” of others from all over China.
We have never flown over the International Date Line before. It is an interesting thought process to know you have lost a day, and not just flying either. We left Salt Lake Tuesday morning and after a brief layover in Los Angeles we began our long flight to China. The sun chased across the ocean but never caught up with us until just shortly after we landed in our first layover in Shanghai. By the time we arrived at our hotel in Xian, it was nearly 1:00 am on the Thursday, so where Wednesday went, no one knows.
After a great night sleep we began our China experience with our incredible tour guide Angie, who took us to the Shanxi History Museum and then for a very tasteful lunch at a traditional Chinese hotpot, where we cooked our own food at the table.
In China, time isn’t measured in years nor centuries but rather Dynasties. The Little Wild Goose Pagoda was next on out list and was part of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD). Wonderfully preserved despite two earthquakes, one splitting the top and 100 years later, the other bringing it back together again. You can feel the history as you walk through what was known as China’s golden age. This was a time of exceptional creativity lasting nearly 300 years.
After the Pagoda we arrive at the highlight of the trip, the Star Fish Orphanage owned and operated by Amanda. What an incredible experience to hold the babies, to play with the older kids and to give even a small part of our time to this wonderful lady and her quest to save these unwanted children. We brought items needed and some treats for the children. While there Amanda had to go back to the hospital where two of the children were undergoing surgeries to correct deformities that they were born with and is the reason they were abandoned. For more information on the orphanage and to see how you can help you can go to www.xianstarfish.org
. As we left the orphanage we were held hostage of sorts. An elderly Chinese man was upset with our tour guide who evidently didn’t say hello to him. He stood in front of the bus for about 15 minutes and wouldn’t let us leave until a guard and another man and woman held him aside and let our bus pass. It was very strange and also very sad, as he felt it was a great disrespect not to say hello to him. Once on our way back to the hotel our bus driver got diverted through a very old traditional Chinese village. There were people who set up along the road with all kinds of food and items to buy. It took up nearly the entire road and made it nearly impossible to pass. The people alongside of the road stood in disbelief as they watched this large tour bus come within inches of the venders and people. Our driver was amazing as other large vehicles and what seemed like hundreds of motorcycles passed. It was a true view of China and the people and was the best detour ever taken.
The night ended with a wonderful music and fountain show at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. This is also known as China’s “leaning tower of Pisa”, although it is not leaning its size is about the same. As the music filled the air and the water danced, this spectacular show capped off the end to a perfect day. The drive back through the city at night brought Xian to life in a whole new way. The city walls, as well as the 90 guard towers were illuminated along with many of the historical buildings. This brought a whole new perspective to the city that you don’t get during the day.
We often write of incredible far off adventures to countries around the world. There are times however when the world can be brought a little closer to where you are. Shakespearian festivals are quite popular across the country and as the summer wound down this year we decided to visit one of the most spectacular Shakespeare festivals anywhere, outside of England that is.
Cedar City, Utah lies in the southern part of of the state. Its close proximity to Zion Nation Park and Bryce Canyon are only a few of the additional bonuses you will find during your stay. It also happens to be the setting for the Utah Shakespeare Festival, held every summer and fall. If you want to experience Shakespeare to as close as it happened in his day, then you have to see it in the Adams Shakespeare Theatre. The Adams, is an outdoor theater and has been said to be one of two that closely resembles the design of Shakespeare’s Globe (The other being the new Globe Theatre in London). While there, we enjoyed several of the performances that we reviewed (below) with the hope that you will come visit Utah's corner of "England", that will take you back to a time of merriment and theatre at its finest. Keep in mind as well, that not all the plays performed are of the work of Shakespeare, the festival keeps it fresh and lively by adding a little of the more modern taste to the evenings as well.
King Richard the III has a spectacular cast including MFA Yale School of Drama graduate, Elijah Alexander, whom has performed on many theaters throughout the country. Elijah's performance easily draws you into the twisted mind of King Richard the III. His main objective is to use any means possible, whether it be be seduction or murder, to gain control of the kingdom that is not inherently his to posses. The historical background comes to life as Shakespeare adds some humor to such a controversial historical figure
To this day there are still supporters and opponents for King Richard the III, mostly over the the controversy over his two young nephews who disappeared in a tower as young boys and never seen again. The cowardliness is ultimately shown by King Richard the III in the final act as he and his army are in battle against Henry Tudor's army and he exclaims, "A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!".
The Music Man
This classic play written by Meredith Wilson, was inspired by his own upbringing in Mason Iowa, as well as having Utah connections. A heart warming musical shows a time that a town's judgments become changed by the universal language of music.
Herold Hill, a traveling salesman and a conman, must win over the trust of the suspecting and intellectual librarian, Marian. As he continues to con the town, Marian and Harold unknowingly begins to change the townspeople - along with themselves. This music filled extravaganza is full of patriotism, beautiful harmonies, and the magic that can happen when we open our hearts to what lies beyond our own personal limits and produce the magic of happy endings.
Noises Off! written by Micheal Frayn is a side splitting comedy that shows the complexity of theatre. Audiences that see the play finds themselves laughing throughout the entirety of the performance. With two intermissions the audience finds themselves wishing there were none, as you couldn't wait to find out what happens next.
The show has the brilliance of Michael Frayn which will surely keep you intoxicated with laughter. You will wonder how much truth lies within Noises Off! of the dynamics of life in the theatre. "I didn't know if actors would even be able to perform it" - Michael Frayn.
A must see.....many people have been drawn to this performance many times over. This play keeps you boiling over with laughter, confusion and wondering how soon you could buy tickets to the next
The Glass Menagerie
Based on his family's dysfunctional life. His father didn't love him and his mother was predisposed with her southern bell upbringing and life. Tennessee Williams loved his sister Rose but held anger towards the treatment of her by his parents, so he chose to become a wanderer himself and where he began to think of his sister as living
in a glass.
The play could seem somewhat dreary unless the viewer understands the parallels between Tennessee Williams own upbringing, when this is understood, you will view it with much more empathy and compassion - not only for the characters whom he created but also for the traditions and challenges of the different time periods in American History. A must see, as it is important to understand the past to change the future.
Look around. I'm sure you will find as we did, some fun, exciting adventures just waiting for you to end your summer's night dream with.
What do you do when a bag goes missing?
You arrive at the airport and eagerly await to be reunited with your checked luggage. You wait and one by one they start showing up. You know you checked 6 and you have 5 in hand. Then, suddenly the carrousel stops and so does your heart. One bag is missing.
This was our experience when we arrived in Prague. It is one thing for this to happen at a US airport where you know the basic procedure, but in a foreign country what do you do? Well, we looked around for the baggage claim, they all have them because luggage can and will be lost anywhere. Here is tip number one, make sure you keep your luggage tag close at hand, they will need this and it will be your best weapon.
Our luggage was found and was on the next flight out of Paris and they delivered it to our apartment the next morning, so for us all was well. But what happens when it doesn't have a happy ending? What are your rights and what can you do?
My biggest irritation is that the airlines are now charging you for checking baggage and in some cases, charging you to lose your baggage. In 2010 the airline industry made over $3 billon in baggage fees alone. The crazy part is that they collect that money with little accountability or consequences when they make mistakes.
As a concumer however, know that this is beginning to change. Don't expect the changes to be quick or large at first however. Everything in this industry opporates in slow motion with the exception of fare hikes. A few things are in the works from the Feds which will force the airlines to pay you back the baggage fee when they lose your checked baggage. The hope here is cut into their huge revenue source, but this should be just a start. Just the threat however has created enough of an incentive for some airlines like Delta to invest in a new tracking system for lost bags to hopefully improve their system.
What is needed however is a set minimum compensation to passengers whose bags maybe weren't lost, but rather delayed a day or two or five. If they find it no mater how long it takes, they take the attitude of, look at how wonderful we are! We found it! You are now only intitled to basic compensation to get you by until your bag is found. Toiletries, basic clothing etc, but it is difficult because they all see the law differently. There are many advocates working to this end and just like the minimum compensation for passengers who are bumped, I think it will happen especially if it continues to be a big problem and the complaints keep coming.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if your bags are lost. Use of these rules will vary depending on where they lose your bag. These are rights the airline will never tell you by the way:
- Under the Montreal Convention, an international treaty that governs compensation for the victims of air disasters, you are entitled to a maximum of about $1,800. if your bag is lost or partly lost. (This varies, and is based on a combination of worldwide currencies.) This can be in cash or in the form of an airline voucher.
- According to federal law, the airline is liable for a minimum of $3,300 per customer if lost bags are never found. Be careful because if part of it is found this rule disappears and they can get away with a small fraction of what it is really worth.
The Perfect Family Vacation
As many of you know, our family just competed our summer vacation using most of the ideas and techniques we talk about. We really want you to know we live what we talk about so that you can be assured it is possible.
If you want details of the trip you can go to our blog at Have Kids - Will Travel
. There you will see a few of our incredible pictures and read about the fun time we had. Our trip took us first to Prague for four days three nights. We stayed in a wonderful apartment, which fit all six of us perfectly and had a kitchen that we used to cut down on the food cost. ($89.00/night) Keep in mind the hostel down the street was $18/night which is fine if you are traveling by yourself but as you can see the apartment was much less. Keep this in mind when you are looking at Bed & Breakfasts, Hostels and other accommodations, which charge per person.
We then rented a car and drove to Vienna, Austria to stay again for three nights. We found a new place for car rentals in Europe that had incredible prices. ($120 for the rental and we spent nearly that for gas (a little over $8/gal), $105) The company we went through was Argus Car Rentals
and the price included the insurance which is important. We stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott, which was just a block away from the Shonbrunn Palace and the best part, it was free. We used our Marriott reward points as we talk about in chapter three of our book.
From Vienna we drove back to Prague and stayed again free at the Courtyard by Marriott at the Prague airport and the next day flew to Milan Italy. We thought about driving from Vienna down through Italy but the drop off fee for the car was over $1000 and our flights to Italy were only $34. We also rented a car in Italy from Argus for $407 for the two weeks.
We stayed two nights in Venice, $90/night at the Hotel Piave. This was a quad room in Mestre just outside of Venice. We then stayed at our favorite place in Italy, Capezzana at the farm house for three nights at $53 a night finally 2 nights in Florence itself at an apartment found on our website HomespunHospitality.com
We then stayed the remainder of our time in Sorrento along the Amalfi Coast at no cost with a hospitality exchange. Our last night was also free at the Marriott in Milan before we flew home.
So, a breakdown of the cost. We spent more than the last time we were here mainly because of the exchange rate and gas prices. We also stayed in more "pay" places because we moved around so much, and we wanted to try out a few places listed in the rental section of our Homespun Hospitality site. This we chose instead of finding a home or hospitality exchange which would have ruduced the cost even more.Item Our cost Regular price
Airfare (all flights) $656 $10,600
Accommodation $716 $2,040
Rental Car & Gas $1,032 $2,360
Food $1,260 $2,340
Misc/Souvenirs $865 $865
Total $4,529 $18,205
We saved $13,676 on this trip using the ideas in Have Kids - Will Travel.
As an Author one of the biggest pleasure is to know that something I have written has helped or inspired someone to do more than they previously thought possible. As a travel Author, and especially as one who promotes inexpensive family travel it gives me great joy to know that someone, somewhere, right now is discovering some hidden part of this world previously not obtainable to them. See, we are not only travel Authors but we put a unique twist to the whole travel the world theme. We believe and have proven that anyone or any family can travel the world for just the cost of food and fun. To this end, we just got back from an incredible trip through Europe as noted in our previous blogs. We hope that you enjoy them and are also inspired to travel the world.
Have Kids Will Travel is a result of over 9 years of research on how to travel both cheap and free. Using the information and tips in this book, our family of 6 has spent three weeks in Europe for about $2600.00 including airfare, hotels, food and more. We have gone to Hawaii for about $200.00 a person with $5.00 round trip airfare.
Read our blog, enjoy and be inspired knowing that you too can stop dreaming about places all over the world and start exploring. During this Blog week we will give away 3 Have Kids - Will Travel to those who comment on our blog.
Here's how to be eligible: Comment below and tell us what you did for your summer holiday or what you are planning for next summer now that you know there is a way to travel both inexpensive and free. At the end of the week we will chose three lucky winners who will receive a free copy of our book.
Also share this link with your friends on facebook, twitter and through your email. Don't forget to also sign up for our free newsletter and like us on facebook - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Have-Kids-Will-Travel/115869822169
. Enjoy and may all your travels be FREE! - Dale & Michelle Bartlett
We finally had to say goodbye not only to Sorrento, but to our wonderful hosts and friends as well. Having the opportunity to stay with friends through a hospitality exchange not only saved us hundreds of dollars, but renewed wonderful friendships, which will last a lifetime. We were very fortunate to have this opportunity and it was sad to say goodbye.
As we wound our way through the narrow roads, tunnels and cliff sides that led us here we thought out loud, how wonderful it would be to live here despite the traffic. It is amazing how easily we have gotten use to the near misses and facade of scooters being dropped out of the sky at you as you try to maneuver these seemingly impossible roadways.
We hadn’t made plans ahead of time for this day or night, only that we wanted to make our way about halfway back to Milan where we were to fly out Monday morning. We thought about heading up along the coast, but opted instead to make our next to last night in the delightful town of Assisi. We had traveled through Assisi on our last visit to Italy, but only could afford a few hours, as we were our way to Rome. This time we skipped Rome all together and opted for the quiet beauty of the hill towns of Umbria.
Where in Amalfi the buildings are bright colors and vivid white, the hill towns of Umbria are less colorful but no less impressive. A quick look online found the perfect spot for our stay. Nestled in the shadow of Assisi, a mere 15 minute walk to the center of town we found what once was an convent now converted into the beautiful hotel, Assisi Gardens. Not only perfect in location and ambiance, it was extremely reasonable at only $78 for a triple room and less than $50 if you only need a double and includes breakfast.
Assisi is a city set on a hill with an ancient castle looming over from the very top. It is also the home of St Frances of Assisi and is where he is buried. The town is magnificent to view as you drive up the road from the freeway and is delightful to walk through. Tomorrow the owners of the Assisi Gardens will take us on a personal tour and show us the chapel still in use and will hopefully tell us the story of our unique accommodations. As for the evening, it will be spent exploring this beautiful town and enjoying some more gelato as our time is drawing close to not having it until we return again in some distant time.