Call Us Now in Canada & US
1.888.805.0061

The Best Books and Podcasts That Will Inspire You To Visit Ireland

temple bar

TOP IRISH FICTION AND POETRY
Dubliners by James Joyce
The Major Works by WB Yeats
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
Gulliver’s Travels  by Jonathan Swift

FUN IRISH NON-FICTION
How the Irish Invented Slang  by Dan Cassidy

PODCASTS FROM/ABOUT IRELAND
The Irish Times  www.irishtimes.com/podcasts
Voices from Ireland www.podcasts.ie/featured-writers
An Irishman Abroad (Culture/Commentary) www.soundcloud.com/an-irishman-abroad

Travel to Cuba Frequently Asked Questions (Your Questions Answered)

So, you want to travel to Cuba…

But lately, as interest in Cuba has increased, so too have the number of questions, especially since Obama’s announcements about the thawing of US-Cuba relations.

So, here are some quick answers to some of the top 10 questions being asked about Cuba. If you’d like a longer answer, you can click on the link and hear the longer audio version of our answers (that we recently recorded for you at our office in Vancouver, Canada). We thought some things are simply better answered with full audio.

TOP 10 CUBA QUESTIONS

cuba2

1) Can Americans use credit cards and ATMs in Cuba?

That one’s easy. NO.
American banks have not authorized their cards to be used in Cuba. So, American travellers are not be able to use their credit cards to pay for anything nor are they able to access ATMs with their debit cards.

Listen to our longer answer for that question here.

2) What currency is used in Cuba?

The standard trading currency for foreigners is CUC (Cuba Convertible Currency). Foreign currencies can be converted to CUC within Cuba. US dollars can also be converted to CUC in Cuba but with a 10% surcharge.

Listen to our longer answer for that question here. 

3) Can travellers access internet in Cuba? Can people use international cell phones in Cuba? What are the connectivity options?

Generally speaking, no. It is very difficult to find reliable internet connections in Cuba. Most internet connections, when you do find them, are painfully slow. Hotels outside of the resorts rarely have internet connections. Also, international phones other than US phones may work, but coverage is not reliable. Texting usually works on most phones in Cuba better than phone calls. Phone connections on international phones are unreliable. American cell phones do not work at all in Cuba. Some people buy Cuba sim cards for unlocked phones to use while in Cuba.

Listen to our longer answer for that question here. 

4) How can one book flights to Cuba?

There are various flight path options to Cuba. However, usually an agency is required for flight booking as the major booking engines such as Kayak and Expedia are US owned and will not allow you to search/book Cuba flights. Most travellers fly to Cuba from Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean.

Listen to our longer answer for that question here. 

5) Is a travel visa required for travel to Cuba?

Yes, a travel visa (also known as a “tourist card”) is required for travel to Cuba and can be easily obtained, usually at the airport or through the airline at time of travel.

Listen to our longer answer for that question here. 

6) Does everyone require medical insurance for travel to Cuba?

Yes. Every traveller to Cuba requires medical insurance. This is government regulated and you may be required to show proof upon entrance to Cuba. Americans will not be covered by their regular travel medical insurance plans in Cuba and will require purchasing separate Cuba travel medical insurance.

Listen to our longer answer for that question here. 

7)  What hotel standards can one expect in Cuba?

The hotel standards in Cuba will vary from what you may have experienced in other countries. While standards are reasonable, many factors have affected Cuba’s ability to maintain the same international standards one might experience elsewhere in the Caribbean. To best understand this answer, listen to our full answer here.

Also, you can listen to one traveller’s comparison of the cultural experience and standards staying a week at a beach resort in Cuba with the overall experience while on a bike tour through Central Cuba here.

8)What can one expect in terms of restaurants style, standards and cuisine?

Outside of Cuba’s all-inclusive resorts and outside of Havana, the availability of international ingredients is limited. Gluten-free and vegetarian options are rarely available in Cuba outside of Havana or the resorts.

In the cities around Cuba, paladors are excellent, authentic dining options and some of the paladors in Havana offer excellent cuisine and an experiences that meet top international standards. Outside of Havana, however, restaurants and menus are more basic.

Listen to our longer answer for that question here

9) Is Cuba cheap? What costs can one expect in Cuba?

Cuba is NOT a cheap country. To better understand why Cuba is not a cheap country despite being a relatively poor country, listen to our longer answer here. 

10) Is tipping required in Cuba and, if so, how much?

Tipping is expected in Cuba. For a detailed breakdown of tipping costs in Cuba, listen to our full answer to that question here. 

And here is a link to listen to the full audio recording in Soundcloud, answering all of these questions and more… 

How to decide if group adventure travel is for you

So you’re planning an adventure trip this year, and you’re not sure whether to join a group adventure tour or go it alone…

The truth is that group travel has both its advantages and its limitations. But, while it’s not for everyone, it can be an attractive solution to a number of problems and can really help you experience a place more fully.

Vietnam-Homestay-Meal2

So, here are some simple questions to ask yourself to help you decide if group travel is the best option for you:


Do you enjoy sharing travel experiences with others?

Do you enjoy making new friends while traveling?

Do you enjoy traveling to new places but have trouble finding others as eager and as adventurous to join you? 

Do you enjoy planning ahead and having details arranged ahead of time in your normal day-to-day life?

Do you enjoy your days when they are more structured rather than free flowing?

Do you enjoy completely stress-free vacations rather than ones that require on-the-go problem solving?

Do you find getting to know the rules and regulations in a new country frustrating? 

Do you get frustrated figuring out a country’s required visa paperwork and entry requirements?



If you answered yes to at least 3 or 4 of the above questions
, chances are group travel is worth considering for your next vacation. Group tours help you maximize your vacation enjoyment by helping you every step of the way, from the trip planning phase all the way through to your arrival back home. That can offer great peace of mind when you are considering travel to destinations where visa, insurance and other matters can be confusing. And the best part is that while on the trip, group travel allows you to experience all that a new destination has to offer while sharing the experience with new friends and knowledgeable, experienced guides.

Peru-Machu-Picchu

Secrets to Experiencing First Class Comfort in Economy Class

With the holidays upon us, we’re all going to be logging some serious flight time in the coming weeks. Here are some tips to help you elevate your flight experience from just bearable to first class comfort.

Top 5 Tips for getting comfortable on a long flight:

plane
Photo source: Flickr

1. Check your seat in advance.

This really is my #1 tip to anyone. ALL of the time.

There’s nothing worse that been sandwiched in between people, in the middle seat, during a long flight. Seatguru.com is where I check out the seating configurations of a plane (in advance of booking), as you are often able to at least make a seat request at time of booking (even if you may not yet be able to confirm it). I’ve snagged some stellar seats this way that I wouldn’t have otherwise known about, such as the window seat (33A or 33K) behind the emergency exits on Lufthansa’s 737-400. Those seats are the best economy seat on that plan because there isn’t anyone in front of you and you can get up from that seat anytime without having to bother your neighbours. They’re almost roomier than most of the business class seats on the plane, and for an economy seat price. Finds like that make checking out seatguru.com well worth the time. Ticket agents won’t tell you about these seats as they may not even know about all of them.

2. Organize a flight comfort kit.

When you fly first class, you get a care kit very similar to this. So, I always have the following 5 items on the ready in my special flight kit so that I can always experience these first class comforts:
-  a small, carry on blanket. You can sometimes arrange these from airlines, or pick a compact blanket up at most travel/luggage stores.  It can get darn cold on some flights.
-  a good travel pillow. My travel pillow is made by Obusform, the company that makes real pillows and mattresses. With a good pillow, it’s much easier to get comfortable enough to get some rest.
- an eye maskThis does wonders for helping me sleep during the hours I need to be resting, regardless of how bright the cabin happens to be at that time.
- a pair of comfortable slip-on shoes or slippers. It’s more comfortable to take your shoes of during a flight, but for those moments when you want to get up and walk around, it’s great to have an easy slip-on pair of shoes (especially when heading to the bathroom).
- hand cream and lip salve. The dry, recycled air sucks the moisture right out of your skin, and I feel that almost instantly on my hands and lips. Dry hands and chapped lips are the worst. So, this is a must have item for me on any plane ride.

3. Bring your glasses.

Contact lenses were not designed for airplane air. The dry cabin air makes contacts dry and uncomfortable. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of your contacts dried onto you eyeballs, and there’s nothing classy about that experience. So, I take my contacts out almost as soon as I get on the plane, or wear my glasses when I board the flight. And you’ll want to take your contacts out if you plan on catching any shut-eye anyway.

4.  Bring your iPad or tablet, preloaded with games or movies.

Domestic flights in the US rarely have seat-back entertainment. So, unless you have a good book to read, the flight can get boring rather quickly. Fortunately, virtually every Air Canada domestic flight has free seatback entertainment, even the short haul ones, but this is definitely not the industry standard. Many planes that do have seatback entertainment charge for the luxury of using them. So, come prepared with your own device and you won’t have to pay any more fees to better enjoy your flight.

5.  Invest in noise cancelling headphones.

While these can be somewhat on the pricier side, if you fly a lot and value your peace and quiet to feel relaxed, then these are absolutely worth the investment. Some would venture to say they’re worth their weight in gold. When you’re wearing these headphones, it’ll be so quiet, you’ll almost feel you’ve been sealed off from the rest of the plane in your own first class private suite a la Air Emirates style. And around the holidays, you may be able to find some great Christmas shopping deals on them too. (They may even be the perfect gift for the frequent traveler on your Christmas list!)

Follow these tips, and I’m sure you’ll experience your flight with much more class and comfort this holiday season! 

Happy Flying! 

5 Slick Tips for Getting The Cheapest Flight Deals

Anyone who wants to find the cheapest fare needs to have a grasp of these fundamentals.

airfareblogpic


Be flexible

This may sound cliché, but it is indeed the cold hard truth. Unless you are somewhat flexible when booking your flight, you will not find the cheapest airfare. Simple as that. There’s almost always going to be another, cheaper option if you look at an alternative time of day, another day entirely, or even an alternative airport.

Avoid flying on certain days

The topic of best day to fly is hotly debated. Some say the best flight deals are found on a Sunday, while others state you will find them on a Wednesday. While I cannot necessarily commit to saying one over the other – as I’ve found great flight deals on both – it is definitely best to avoid booking flights on Fridays and Mondays. I’ve never found a cheap deal on those days because it is when the masses are flying, at the end or beginning of a standard working week. Basically, prices are higher when the airlines know more people need to fly. Most airfare search websites actually allow you to click “flexible dates.” Clicking that will yield you the best possible results for your flight window. Similarly, if you look carefully at some fare search sites, you will discover that you can click on a “fare calendar” to show an entire month of fares for your destination.

Book at least one month in advance

Searching for a last minute fare deal is a bit like searching for a unicorn. As a general rule, never leave flight booking to the last minute. If possible, start looking for a flight around 3 months in advance of your travels. There seems to be a booking sweet spot — of between 6-10 weeks in advance of your travels – when you can most easily find the best deals. Unless you are booking a seat sale, booking too far in advance rarely leads to the best deal. I start researching fares around 10 weeks before I need to travel. As soon as the fare drops to the point that I think it won’t go much lower, I grab it. Just don’t leave it too close to the date. Seats in the lowest fare classes usually disappear 30 days before as airlines often require them to be booked a minimum 30 days in advance. So, when you pass one month before the flight, your odds of snagging a great deal drastically decline.

Clear your computer’s history, cookies, and cache 

This tip is really important, especially if you are regularly researching your fares online. Airline websites and travel search sites often keep track of your previous searches, and this is not always in your favour. Your best chance at finding the best deal is when the site doesn’t have record of your most recent visits. On more than a few occasions, after deleting my cookies and search history, I’ve found a cheap fare that didn’t appear to be available previously. I don’t have an official explanation for this phenomenon, but I think when sites detect you as a “first time” visitor, they offer up their best deals to grab you as a customer.

Book connecting flights

Airlines know that your time is valuable. Therefore, getting to a destination the fastest way possible, via direct long-haul flights, is often much more expensive. Thus, if you are not in a rush and have time on your side, you can really save by choosing an indirect option. Airlines need to fill as many seats on the plane as possible. So, a classic way for airlines to keep their seats filled is to discount seats for flights when these flights are part of a multiple connection itinerary. For instance, you may find a much cheaper flight if you connect in a major American flight hub such as New York, Chicago or Houston. If you use an airline search website, just be sure to click “see all results” or “show all” as sometimes searches display the direct flight options first because they are generally more expensive and earn the booking site a greater overall commission.