Escape Artists offers up a global discourse ranging from great finds close to home to adventures far afield. You'll find weekly travel deals here, too. Share your road wisdom, rave about great finds and rant about roadblocks that get in the way of a great trip.
Contributor: Travel editor Kerri Westenberg.
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It turns out that all that worry (I wrote about it here) about how to procure a visa for India was unnecessary.
Before we left on a family trip a month ago, I researched and debated using a fairly new system, called Tourist Visa on Arrival, rather than the standard method of sending your passports to a third party and paying them to process and deliver your papers to the Indian consulate. This third-party process was quite expensive (for the four of us it would have cost about the same as buying another plane ticket) and time-consuming, and I had heard horror stories from travelers about not getting their papers back in time.
We went with the simpler, cheaper ($60 per visa) online process, which involves uploading photos and passport images at the Indian government's TVoA website, and then printing out the e-mail that says your visa has been granted. This becomes your visa, which we showed to the agent at MSP when we checked in.
When we arrived in Delhi at 2 in the morning with our two young children, we simply got in a separate line, clearly marked Tourist Visa on Arrival. The agent took our papers, took our fingerprints, and then stamped the visa into our passports. The process was somewhat slow – each person took about 10-15 minutes – but otherwise efficient and simple.
I would highly recommend this route if your travel fits the visa's guidelines: you're staying for less than 30 days, you only need a single entry, you're visiting as a tourist, and you have a return ticket.
When we planned a family trip to India, we saved up for the big plane tickets, lodging and internal travel. We spent a lot of time dreaming and reading books and trolling sites about where to stay in Goa; when to visit the Taj Majal; the history of Delhi; train travel in India, and many other interesting subjects. We renewed everyone’s passports.
One thing I didn’t realize was how much time, cash (to the tune of nearly $800 for the four of us) and planning it would take to get a visa, required for Americans visiting India.
There seem to be two ways of procuring a visa: through a third-party company that processes and bundles applications, at a tidy markup, and forwards them to the Indian consulate in Chicago (the closest one to Minneapolis), or through an Indian government website that processes everything – photos, passport images, lengthy questionnaire – online. The latter, called Tourist Visa On Arrival (TVOA), was far cheaper and simpler.
But I didn’t know anyone who had tried it – it’s fairly new for U.S. users – and that made me nervous. Frequent travelers to India were not encouraging, urging us to use the tried-and-true method.
Then I reconnected with a friend who takes student groups to India every other year, and he gave me the low-down: several kids in his latest group had used TVOA, arriving in Delhi on New Year’s Eve, and it had worked perfectly.
We have the TVOA “Visa Granted” e-mail in hand, and we’re leaving in a few days. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
“Going, going, gone, another beautiful Maui sunset,” my sister wrote on her Facebook page. To bolster her case, she included pretty images of a sun sinking into the ocean.
You know what’s “going, going, gone” here, in the land of subfreezing temps? Feeling in my fingertips. I don’t have touchscreen-ready gloves, so to see her post, I had to expose my fingertips to winter’s blast, unprotected. But it was a sight I willingly suffered to see.
I’m not one of those people who dislike Instagram and Facebook posts of friends boasting of escapes from the cold. There is a veritable flurry of these in February. Legs stretch out on lounge chairs, glistening from a recent dip in the pool. Umbrellas perch in tropical drinks with the ocean as a backdrop. Sand-soaked children pose on a beach towel. These kinds of photos actually warm my heart (if not my fingers).
But they also stir concern. Posts like these announce to the world that you aren’t at home.
I know the seduction of instantly conveying the great fun you’re having on vacation. I’ve done it myself. But the smartest approach is to wait until you’re back at home. Then post to your heart’s content, when the reminiscing will warm your heart, too.
Oh, that pesky budget – when I’m planning a trip, it has a discouraging way of reminding me that it’s all about the benjamins. I like to be out and about sightseeing all day and use my accommodations only as glorified sleeping quarters. If you value experiencing new places more than having luxurious thread counts while on the road, here are a couple of alternatives to spending hundreds of dollars on a hotel room.
In 2011, I made my first trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York for former Twin Bert Blyleven’s induction. Although I started researching lodging options six months ahead of time, I quickly realized I was too late: the two main choices for visiting this small town of 2,000 were to drive more than an hour each day to stay somewhere less expensive or pay more than $200 per night for a nearby motel.
Since I like to have a roof over my head (for me, “roughing it” doesn’t extend to sleeping in a tent, although that’s another viable option if you are so inclined), I initially dismissed the KOA located a mere ten miles from Cooperstown. When I double checked their website, I discovered they had “kabins,” very reasonably priced bare bones cottages (mine was about $75 per night). Just bring your own sheets, a towel (which can double as a pillow), some trail mix for breakfast and you’re good to go. The rest of the day was spent hanging out with baseball fans from around the country.
When I met a mother and daughter staying with me at the Apple Hostel in Philadelphia, I remember thinking how ingenious it was that they had discovered a way to travel together and make inexpensive but lasting memories. Who needs those fancy lotions and shampoos anyway? Long seen as the domain of the thrifty youngster, hostels should appeal to anyone looking for a convenient jumping off point for a day’s sightseeing as they are frequently located in or near a town’s center. (The Apple Hostel, for example, is in downtown Philadelphia, a mere four blocks from Independence Hall and easily reached from the airport by public transportation. My selection was a female only dorm for about $35 per night.)
While it may not be the most restful place in the world (can’t I catch up on sleep when I return to Minneapolis?) or have the most stunning décor (at the Flying Pig Hostel in Amsterdam, you’re greeted by a brightly colored mural of a monkey holding a joint), it does often provide some of the same amenities as a hotel including laundry, wifi and access to a refrigerator. And techies that need to be plugged in at all times can be comforted in knowing that every hostel I’ve stayed at has its own electrical outlet for charging all of your digital necessities by each bunk.
Eclectic ideas can lead to memorable travel experiences – I won’t soon forget the foosball table at the Flying Pig Hostel with a bumper sticker reading “I closed Wolski’s! Milwaukee, Wisconsin.” Some of the most fun I’ve had exploring the world involves breaking from the norm…with the added bonus of returning home a few bucks richer. A perfect amount to start planning my next adventure.
You know the Boy Scout motto “be prepared”? I feel like adopting that when I travel since I follow a gluten free diet. Venturing away from home when you have special food requirements may seem overwhelming, but I haven’t let it stop me from seeing the world and have adopted some tricks to make it manageable.
Research your destination ahead of time - most restaurants now have menus posted online. I’ve found that if you call when they are not busy they are happy to suggest some options. You can also print gluten free dining cards that are available in more than 50 languages online for free.
Even if you don’t check your bag, there are some things you can bring through security - apples, bananas and oranges hold up well, don’t need to be refrigerated and are easy to eat on the go. Individual packets of nut butter are smaller than three ounces and provide some protein. Live by a grocery store that has a bulk section with the ingredients listed on the bin? It’s fun to make your own trail mix.
If you’re traveling internationally and will be served meals and/or snacks on your flight, call the airline ahead of time and request a special meal. When I went to Germany, the gluten free meal was chicken with broccoli, carrots and rice with a fruit cup and salad. (The snack before we landed was a banana with an Udi’s gluten free chocolate chip muffin, which was much more appealing than the processed egg sandwich everyone else was eating.) I try not to worry about leaving my comfort zone - sometimes it’s easier to find gluten free food in foreign countries. In Peru, the standard side dishes are potatoes and rice and one of their specialties is pollo a la brasa (similar to rotisserie chicken).
Not only can visiting a farmer’s market or going to the grocery store in a new place be a good way to find real food, it can also be a great free sightseeing option. (At a grocery store in Amsterdam, I saw drinks with Hello Kitty and Spongebob Squarepants on them.) If your hotel offers rooms with a refrigerator, Greek yogurt with fruit or string cheese with gluten free crackers are good snacks with some protein that don’t need to be cooked.
An added bonus to bringing my own snacks means less time spent sitting in restaurants waiting for food and more time (and money) I can devote to maximizing my sightseeing time. I can’t wait to discover more tricks.
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