Durga Puja: The Queen of All Festivals

India is a land of festivals. Being a secular country, there is no dearth of things to celebrate in this land of wonders. From Christmas to Eid ul Zoha, Independence Day to the Cricket World Cup, there is hardly anything that Indians do not like celebrating. Simply point us towards an occasion and we are all for it. But hidden amongst this long list of celebrations is a gem in the form of Durga Puja, something celebrated in its full glory in the Bengali community.

So, what exactly IS the Durga Puja?

Well, for the sake of clarity, Puja refers to a religious festival. However, for us Bengalis, Durga Puja is less of a ‘Puja’ and more of the embodiment of the spirit of festiveness. What exactly does that mean? Well, let us go back a few millenniums to answer that question.

The tradition of invoking the goddess Durga (or the mother, known as ‘Ma’) is first considered to have been done by Lord Ram before he went forth to battle Ravana, as documented in the epic Ramayana. However, the tradition lay dormant till about the late 1500s, when the landlords in Bengal took it up. It was finally given its final form in the 18th century as Baroyaari (or 12 friends’) puja, a term which finally came to refer to community sponsored Durga Pujas held in Kolkata.

Essentially, all parts of India celebrates this period, but in the form of Navratri. It constitutes of 9 days’ worth of fasting, which ends with Dussehra, a day where an effigy of Ravana is burned as a way to show that evils are always championed by good as Lord Ram had championed above Ravana.

In Bengal, however, the meaning of these 10 days are quite different.

My earliest memories of Durga Puja are that of waking up in the middle of the night to listen to Mahalaya on the radio. It is a programme that has been airing on the first day of the Bengali month Ashwin for more than 7 decades and 4 generations of Bengalis, forcing them to wake up at 4 am, something I still do religiously every year on that particular day. Although the magic of the scent, the half awoken self and knowing Ma is coming has somewhat diminished with the years, the idea of something so collectively powerful that it makes a whole community look forward to it still holds a great deal of charm nonetheless.

We treat Ma Durga as something more than just the goddess. While it is true that she embodies the raw power (or Shakti) that overcame evil by slaying the evil demon Mahisasur (hence the term Mahisasur-mardini), she is much MUCH more than just that. The ten days that start with Mahalaya signify her annual visit to her paternal home in Bengal with 4 of her children. As such Ma is, at the same time, a mother, a wife, a goddess, and most importantly, a member of our family. We pamper her, we respect her, we love her and we adore her. She is more than just a divinity.

To us Bengalis, she embodies our truest nature. No matter where a Bengali might be, come Durga Puja, he/she feels a connection to his/her family.

THIS is what it means to celebrate Pujo (a colloquial term for Durga Puja).

Frankly, it cannot be compared to anything else in the world. But, remember the togetherness one gets when visiting the family, or the warmth during Christmas, or the feeling you get when you visit your family after a year away? That is what Pujo means to a Bengali. It is more than celebrating a religious festival. The idea of Pujo is bringing everyone together. And what better way can there be than a mother facilitating all that? We eat, we cry, we talk, be happy and celebrate something that is practically unheard of anywhere else in the world. It does not matter what you religion is. Whether a Muslim, a Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Jain or anything in between (including atheists), if you are a Bengali at heart, Durga Puja is for you. From visiting the tens of thousands of makeshift podiums (or pandals) for hoisting Ma Durga to having a cup of tea in the middle of the night (under a tree in the local shop because it seems to inevitably rain during Puja nights these days, especially if you are out at 2 am) to dancing during the idol immersion ceremony (called Bhashan), Durga Puja is something that you have to experience at least once in your life.

Oh, and did I mention scrumptious luchi and khichudi as lunch during Ashtami and the gorgeous ladies who grace the pandals? Pujo is worth it… believe you me.

And once Pujo is done, while we are all sad, we pray for Ma to return safely to her heavenly abode atop the Himalayas. Thus begins the wait for the next Puja. Another year to spend before our dear mother comes back. Because Pujo never ends, it simply gets shifted by another year. After all, Ma is like the mother who wants you to be happy even when she is gone.

Come, be a part of this wonderful festival of togetherness.

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Peru Travel: Qeswachaka Festival and Alternative Inca Trails in Peru

Many people travel to Peru to hike the famous Inca Trail. There’s an undeniable allure to the idea of treading the same path once used by the ancient Incas as they traveled to the great citadel of Machu Picchu. However, the Inca Trail is not the only impressive remnant of the Inca Empire. In addition to the well-known Inca Trail path to Machu Picchu, the Incas built a vast and elaborate system of roads hundreds of kilometers long that traversed the entire Inca Empire.

The Inca construction, however, didn’t stop at roads. In addition to building paths, the Incas were master bridge builders, and these bridges were an integral part of the road system. Q’eswachaka, commonly known as the Inca Rope Bridge, is the last of these bridges still in use, and is located just outside of Cusco in the Quehue District. Though originally destroyed in an attempt to halt Pizarro’s attack on Cusco during the Spanish invasion, it was reconstructed and continues to remain in use to this day. The bridge spans the raging Apurimac River as it cuts through the breathtaking Apurimac Valley.

Q’eswachaka is made of fibers woven together to create a strong rope, and small slats of wood are used to reinforce the footpath. Part of the reason the bridge has lasted almost 600 years, however, is that every year, the people of four local Quechua communities come together to replace the old bridge with a new one. The Q’eswachaka Festival, four days of work and celebration, marks this occasion. This ancient tradition has been carried out annually since the days of the Incas, and continues to be an important connection to tradition and culture in the high Andes.

Every year, the four communities enthusiastically come together for the process of rebuilding the bridge- an important and ceremonial tradition. Certain members of the community hold the role of engineer, while others serve as weavers. One male holds the important position of “Chakaruwak”, meaning he is a specialist in braiding and construction. In order for the sacred art to be carried on from generation to generation and to keep the spirit of the bridge alive, fathers teach their sons the process, just as their fathers did before them.

Before the festival begins, community members collect the building material, primarily consisting of grass and natural fibers. These fibers will be woven into the cables used in the bridge’s construction. Before the festival and bridge building can begin, however, the spiritual leader of the community must ask the apus, or the mountain spirits, for permission to begin the process, and make offerings of coca leaves and corn to Pachamama, Mother Earth. After this offering, the weaving of the cables begins. In the afternoon, the men divide into two groups, one each side of the bridge, and begin braiding the cables towards each other.

On the second day, the engineers begin by untying the old ropes, which are attached to stone nails, and attach the new ropes to the nails. This is a time consuming and intricate process, but finally the base and handrails of the new bridge are in place.

On the third day of the festival, construction finishes on the handrails and footpath, and when the construction has finished, the bridge is officially opened to the tune of music accompanied by traditional dances.

The festival reaches its climax on the fourth day, which is a day of celebration. The communities once again come together to celebrate the completion of the bridge through song, indigenous dances, and eating traditional foods. This final day serves as a culmination of all the hard work, and a celebration of the lasting traditions that have allowed these communities to keep their vibrant culture alive.

This year, the Q’eswachaka Festival falls during the second week of June, with the principal day of the festival on the second Sunday of the month. The bridge reconstruction and subsequent festival will take place once again, as it does every year, as the local communities gather to honor both Pachamama and their ancestors, and celebrate their community and heritage.

5 Ways to Travel Solo Without Going It Alone

Solo travel has become a hot topic. Unlike “single(s)” travel, it is a broader group. It can include those who are single, married or have a partner/significant other. It may be a business person looking to add a leisure weekend or extension to a trip for work. Two stumbling blocks to solo travel can be: I. whether it is lonely to vacation as a “party of one” and ii.whether eating alone, especially dinner, is really uncomfortable.

Now having visited 68 countries and all 50 states, I have found 5 good ways to go alone without feeling you are “going it alone”.

1. River Cruise and Small Ship Cruises

I highly recommend river cruises and small ships. They are especially a good fit for a first time solo traveler. However, they are also great for well-traveled solos in two cases. That is where destinations like Cambodian boat villages are not otherwise easy to reach. Secondly, they work well in places where security is an issue.

Here are the key advantages of such river and small ships for solo travelers, they:

  • Give you time alone but a group for tours and meals
  • Can be competitively priced when compared to a piecemeal approach
  • Make unpacking a one-time chore
  • Work well with land packages
  • Often have discounted package pricing including flights

2. Select your own lodging, and take day trips.

Here are the key advantages of this independent approach:

  • Affords you the opportunity to select your own interests and travel style.
  • Provides more opportunity to interact with local residents.
  • Gives you a “day-off” when you need it.
  • Works with a range of budgets.

3. Combine both of the above approaches.

I really favor this approach when I travel. On solo travel for 17 days at New Year’s, I toured Southeast Asia. I started with a private taxi tour in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I then joined a top Mekong River Cruise on to Vietnam. On the last leg, I had five days in a 5-star hotel in Bangkok. In my last stop, I tried all 3 ways of sightseeing: 1. A large bus tour 2. A private guide and 3. Self-directed subway tour.

This blended approach puts you in the driver’s seat and:

  • Will let you set your own course while being free to pick and choose
  • Gives you a part-time group of travel mates but also time alone
  • Makes it possible to follow a budget (or splurges) tailored to what works for you

4. Sign up ahead for a class abroad.

This has become very popular now for cooking classes in France and Italy. However, for decades, language classes abroad have lured students for short-term or full summer programs. Add to that options for photography classes, skiing and scuba diving.

Here are the key benefits to this approach:

  • Provides you with a ready-made group
  • Gives you a local contact to hear what not to miss off the tourist path
  • Make it possible to connect with classmates for meals or sightseeing
  • Results in providing local contacts in an emergency

5. Join a volunteer group or exchange program.

I have done this twice. My first trip out of the US was at 18 joining 5 other girls on a summer YMCA project in Trinidad and Tobago. It was the best way to learn about day-to-day life in another country and participate in community activities.

The benefits were endless. They included:

  • Meeting local residents outside of the typical tourist path
  • Seeing distant and often more unusual destinations
  • Providing volunteer efforts to communities than may have experienced natural disasters or other hardships.

If you are new to solo travel, take a look at each of these options. You will be surprised how fast solo travel gives you the chance to make new life-long friends from around the world so that you feel you are solo to more.

Why Should You Go for Team Building in Bangalore?

Bangalore is not only an IT hub of India but it is also the party capital of India. It provides ample of opportunities for doing adventures, indulging in fun -activities, night parties and relaxation in luxury resorts. The city not only demands the hard work of the people but it also serves the people with some wonderful team building activities and places so that they can have fun as well as learn.

There are numerous team building activities in Bangalore. Manchinbele is an ideal spot for team building activities in Bangalore. It has some fun water and adventure sports in which the employees and employers can involve and strengthen their relationships with each other.

The city has many resorts as well which provides a luxurious home like stay, fun activities for team building, amazing food and all the other basic and amazing amenities. Staying in resorts makes the team members comfortable with each other. It also helps in establishing communication with the bosses. A thin line between the bosses and the employees can be broken while having fun activities as a team as well as staying in a comfortable environment.

Shilhaandara Resort is for rejuvenating the nerves of the team members. It is placed at the foothills of the Ramangara. It is surrounded by lush greenery and is a perfect place for nature as well as adventure enthusiasts. It has a swimming pool, space for fun-activities indoor as well as outdoor, different cuisines of food and many more amenities. There are many activities like zorbing, paintball, rope climbing in which you can take part with your team. There are many resorts in and around Bangalore that boost team building activities and are perfect for corporate team outings.

The city serves many opportunities for team building. There are many adventurous trekking and camping spots in Bangalore as well which helps to boost the confidence in employees. Adventure sports bring back power and vigor back in the lives of the employees. Savandurga is one of the best places in Bangalore for trekking. This place provides tranquil surroundings as well as thrilling treks which boosts up the employees. Similarly, there are many more trekking places in Bangalore. Employees can head and stay in night camps. They can play games around the campfire, roast food in the early man’s way, stay in camps among the wild animals, and enjoy the scenes of a bed of stars in the dark sky at night. Together with getting involved in camping and trekking enhances the bond and they get to work better as a team.

Bangalore is a perfect city for corporate outings. There are many other activities like archery, rappelling, rock climbing, boating, and much more in which the teams can take part and work as a team. It is rightly said that sports activities not only provide enthralling experiences but also build skills in people. Skills like teamwork, confidence, risk-taking abilities, better planning and development skills are inculcated while performing sports activities.

TOP 10 Must Visit Places in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh

1) The Ridge:

This is one of the most popular points in Shimla. Located on the Mall road, at the heart of Shimla, this is a much appreciated and enjoyed stretch here, where visitors arrive and drench themselves in the views of mountains and surrounding Beauty.

2) The Mall:

If you love shopping and want to get yourselves bagged with some shimla arts and other accessories then the best place for you is THE MALL. One can shop for local handicrafts, shawls, woolens, exquisite jewelry etc. here.

3) Kufri:

Kufri is just 13 km away from the main town of shimla. You can book a taxi or catch a regular HRTC transport bus from the local bus stand. The views and sceneries here are amazing and the landscapes more flattering, a bit untouched with the tourist rush.

4) Toy Train to Kalka:

if you want something really different then here is a TOY TRAIN SERVICE FROM SHIMLA TO KALKA. This awesome beauty was all setup during British Rule. This route is one of the most pictorial train routes in the world and it passes through more than a hundred tunnels It is a narrow gauge train route and it connects Kalka to Shimla.

5) Jakhoo Temple:

This Temple is well known for its world’s largest and Huge Hanuman Statue. This awesome statue can be viewed from most part of the shimla city. one must visit this place once his/her visit during Shimla tour. Must Visit the temple, to view this statue upright and strain your neck a bit admiring its magnificence.

6) Chail:

This place is very famous for having the world’s highest cricket and polo grounds. Must visit place in chail is Chail Palace. Once the summer capital of the Patiala Kings, the palace has now been converted into a hotel and a tourist destination.

7) Tatta Pani:

“Taatta Pani ” is a hindi Synonym of HOT WATER. It is a very well known tourist spot situated at 51 km away from shimla. This place is very famous for its natural hot water springs.

8) Naldhera:

Naldehra is located around 22 km from Shimla and is famous for the Naldehra Golf Club. Situated at an altitude of 2200 m, this is a 18 hole golf course and is among one of the best golf courses in India.

9) Tara Devi:

Tara Devi is dedicated to the Deity of Stars. This Temple is located at a mountain peak near Shogi. Tara Devi place got its name after this Deity. There are legends and tales to the origins of the temple, making it a simple yet subtly fascinating experience.

10) Indian Institute of Advanced Study:

IIAS was originally built as home for Lord Duffein, who was the Viceroy of India during the years 1884 and 1888. A residential centre for higher education, the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS), is located on Observatory hill – one of the seven hills of Shimla.

Ayers Rock in The Kata Tjuta National Park – The Long Climb and an Even Longer Descent

I admit that sometimes I act without thinking too much about the consequences. This caused me already several problems in my life.

As you know I spent already a few days in Uluru. One morning, after considering the pros and cons I decided to climb the Rock.

I suggest that you seriously think about it before doing it.

Ayers Rock is massive, majestic. It commands respect. It’s 348 metres high; like a 95 story building. The track to the top is more or less 1.6 km long. It’s perilous and treacherous. If you are in top physical conditions it will take more or less 3 hours to complete the “expedition”. The first part has got a chain. You can hang on to it and this will help you immensely. It is a tiresome climb and you need to be prepared. If you do not feel 100% you should give up and be happy with your decision: people died here.

About 34 people lost their lives, mainly because of heart attacks. A few people got hurt.

Do not forget the heat.

Another hazardous factor is caused by the wind.

I got there early in the morning. I did not want to accomplish my mission in the middle of the day because of the rising temperatures. I had a pair of good trainers, and a bottle of water and a wind-breaker in my little backpack, just in case.There were not too many people around.

I looked at the sky. It was blue, not too windy either. I started climbing. It was not as easy as I thought. I used the chain all the time trying not to look down.

Sometimes I had to stop to catch my breath.

I remembered clearly that I had to avoid grabbing something in case it fell. It could be fatal.

The ascent is hard, steep and, at times, scary. I used also my hands to climb when the help of the chain was not available anymore. Sometimes I stopped to look around. In the distance I could see the Olgas or Kata Tjua, which means literally ‘many heads’ in Aboriginal.

It is a group of large, domed rock formations not too far from The Rock.

I was nearly there. I could see some little pools of waters all around. Obviously it had rained recently. I noticed a few clouds in the sky. The temperature dropped a little bit.

I finally reached the top. The scenery was amazing. Awesome! I walked around, there was a huge distance of red soil all around me. I could see the round shape of planet earth. I had the feeling that I was alone in the world. It was a very intense. The immensity and the loneliness of the environment made my heart sink.

I spent half an hour on the top. It was time to descend. There were very few people around me. The weather suddenly changed. The sky was grey and it became colder.

I thought: “I hope that it is not going to rain because in this case I could be in trouble.”

I started to move downwards. It was not too difficult but sometimes I had to sit and go down like that… on my bum…

I managed to reach the chain, finally. At that stage it started to rain. The rock underneath my feet became slippery. I got scared. I had good trainers but not good enough with such a weather. I looked down. Fear: that was what I experienced. It kept on raining. Now my feet could no longer hold on to the ground. I stopped. I looked down again. There very few people.

I saw a man waiving at me. He started to climb. He must have noticed that I was facing some difficulties. After a while he reached me. Yes, he saw that I was having serious problems. He told me that he belongs to a rescue group in his hometown, he was just on holiday at the moment and he came up to help me. Lucky!

He had very good climbing and tracking boots. He was very strong and very tall. He was behind me. He told me to put my feet in front of his, because he could hold on to the ground without slipping.

We both hold on to the chain. Being robust my weight did not create him problems.

At that time it was seriously raining. What a tragedy to be there by myself I thought…

I do not remember how long it took us to reach the ground underneath us, but finally we got there. I was very happy that it was all over… He told me that I should have considered the ascent seriously before starting the climb, that I should have been more careful.

I learned a lesson I am afraid… and I was very lucky… I was very grateful to him.

There is another reason why people should not go up Ayers Rock and not only because it is dangerous. Uluro is a sacred site and the Aboriginal owners ask to respect their law and not to climb it.

The climbing route is a sacred path of spiritual significance that is only taken by few Aboriginal men on special occasions. At that time I was not aware of it. I should have been more informed and more respectful.

Top Reasons Why You Should Travel To Iceland With Kids

In the world of travel destinations, Iceland occupies a unique position. It has a landscape like no other with a delightful mix of active volcanoes, erupting geysers, hot geothermal springs, some wonderful beaches and also caves.

It is also the land of fairies, dwarfs and elves. Iceland fires up the imagination and makes it the perfect place for a vacation with kids in summer.

Why Iceland and Kids? The answers are not hard to find.

• When one plans to visit with kids it is best to join one of the family tours in Iceland where the tour operator offers a private 4×4 vehicle with large wheels and spacious interiors. One can undertake the golden circle trip in comfort and if the kids feel like falling asleep, there is ample space.

• However, it is the attractions of Iceland that will keep kids wide awake. One such is the presence of geysers across the country. The Strokkur geyser erupts with clockwork regularity and for kids, this is a novel sight. It is safe to get close to the geyser and kids love it.

• Watching a geyser is one thing but luxuriating in the warm waters of geothermal springs is another. The Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik is like a hot tub bath and kids will love cavorting in the waters, exploring the waterfalls and caves.

• Talking of caves and grottoes, Iceland has them in plenty and one will come across such ice caves and lava tubes while on the Golden Circle tour. Exploring caves and grottoes is perfect for kids who always have fantastic imaginations.

• Then, for a bit of fun, kids can go snowmobiling on the Langjokull glacier. The Gullfoss Falls present another experience and kids simply love to be under and behind a waterfall and romp about as they are exposed to water sprays.

• Iceland can be a voyage of discovery. It is the land of volcanic rocks, ice caves and the place where two continents meet under the sea. Along with fun kids learn geography in a hands-on way.

• Kids are safe. You can sit back and have a drink and your kids may wonder about but there is no need to worry. Crime is low and people around are always helpful and watchful over kids. Even restaurants go out of their way to have “kid-friendly” menus.

• Invariably the talk will get around to fairies, dwarfs and elves. People here believe in them and some might even tell your kids interesting tales about local elves or dwarfs. For kids,this is an added element of mystery and excitement. Who knows? They may come across one.

• Then there is the grand spectacle in the sky: the Northern Lights. Plan the trip outside Reykjavik or farther North just right with the help of local tour operator and one can get to view this stupendous sight. It will certainly result in dropped jaws and eyes popping. One may find it difficult to tear the kid away from the spot.

• Kids and food go together. There is the standard fare by way of burgers and sandwiches but there is also a chance to sample Iceland’s unique cuisines, some of them simply lip-smacking enough for kids to want to gorge on them.

The days are long in summer and it may be difficult to get the kid to go to sleep. Iceland is a lure hard to resist and just right for a family vacation with kids.

Vancouver, A Year Round Vacation Destination

Vancouver, British Columbia has consistently been ranked n the top of the world’s most desirable places to live in the world. The openness, quality of life, the diversity of outdoor activities in the surrounding mountains and the ocean at your doorstep as well as the modern cosmopolitan city centre and natural beauty all help to make this world class city truly unique. Not planning on living in Vancouver? Well you should at least visit to see for yourself what all the excitement is about!

Any time of the year you visit this gem of the Pacific Northwest will prove to be a memorable one. In the winter season you have all the mountain activities from heli-skiing to dog sledding in Whistler to snowshoeing or romantic log cabin dining in the Coastal Mountains. Enjoy an authentic Canadian mid-winter evening by catching a National Hockley League game at the Rogers Arena in the heart of downtown as the local Canucks team takes on a visiting challenger. Demand for tickets are extremely high so be sure to book your seats in advance or you can always see what’s available, usually at a premium, outside the stadium right before game time. Dining in Vancouver is wonderful year round; however, it is especially delightful in one of the many cozy restaurants on a brisk night with perfectly prepared local seafood hot out of the kitchen served with wine from one of British Columbia’s growing and acclaimed vineyards. The fireside ambiance in a dimly lit soothing environment really is the perfect evening out.

During the summer season the ocean is made more accessible by the perfectly hot temperatures from June to August but that doesn’t mean the mountains are out play. You can hike on established or less trekked trails throughout the surrounding area of Vancouver and feel as if you are 1000 miles away into the wilderness. You must be careful and take the proper precautions with local wildlife but a single or multi-day trip into the mountains and surrounding valleys is always a rejuvenating and empowering experience. Getting into the ocean by boat or on one of the many world-class beaches that surround the city will give you a real sense of the delights of these West Coast paradise. Sailing, swimming, yachting, kayaking, whale watching or just chilling on the beach, your day with the Pacific Ocean will be unforgettable. Spend the evening in one of the many restaurants of Vancouver or go for a stroll around Stanley Park to watch the sunset. Be sure to check out what festivals and shows are going on in Vancouver while you are there are the city attracts many international events and acts. Annual events that often draw a great deal of attention are the Celebrations of Lights fireworks show, Bard on the Beach Shakespear Festival, International Jazz Festival, Vancouver Sun Run and much more.

When planning your vacation to Vancouver be sure to pick the time of year that best suits what you’re looking for. Also, the city and surrounding area is quite large and the sites are not always accessible through the public transportation system. Consider renting a vehicle for you stay to ensure you get to see everything you want to on your schedule with the efficient guidance of a GPS so you don’t get lost on your way.

Vancouver has established itself as a world-class livable city and since the 2010 Winter Olympic games is establishing itself as a top vacation destination. Any time of the year it provides everything you would want from a relaxing destination holiday or an action packed adventure. Ensure you get to where you want to go in a timely manner by renting a vehicle to eliminate any hassles or unnecessary travel time.

Tips For A Smooth And Convenient Bus Charter Experience

A bus charter is a bus that has a professional driver to handle tours, trips, and other transportation needs. A bus charter can be one of the best choices you make when going for a group tour to a preferred destination. With transport from one attraction to another, you will have all the time to enjoy everything in your itinerary without worries. With a professional driver on board, you can relax and enjoy and even take better care of any children you may be taking with you for the trip. A bus charter also translates into no directions challenges because the drivers are conversant with their locations and all tour sites and routes.

Considering that bus charter are many in any given destination, you need to play your role in selecting one. You may need to start by choosing a company that you can trust with your traveling needs and then make a few considerations to select the perfect bus to hire for your tour.

Get details about the driver. A professional driver is definitely a plus for your tour but you should not assume that they know everything about the sites you intend to visit; they may only know how to get there and nothing more. If need be, consider getting a tour guide to handle your other needs in case the driver is not available for such. It helps to be sure beforehand to avoid disappointments.

Consider the size of the bus. A bus charter can be as large as to accommodate 60 passengers but there are definitely smaller sizes. The higher the passenger capacity the higher the rental rates may be. Look at the size options and select a bus that caters to your group for the tour. Everyone should be comfortable including children in the group so select a good size for everyone.

Check out the amenities included. When searching for the bus charter online, you will get very good photos of the buses. To ensure that you get what you see and need, confirm that the bus you have selected is represented perfectly. For instance, confirm that the leather reclining seats you see are the actual seats you get to enjoy. Apart from confirming the features, also consider the availability of amenities such as compact restroom, DVD player, air conditioning, TV monitors and any other that matters to you. If you want internet connectivity during the tour then inquire if that is available.

Ask about allowed driving length. Most bus charters will allow a specific length of time for the driver to be behind the wheel. The legal limit can range from area to area and you should be willing to be flexible in making adjustments to your tour itinerary so you do not end up with a fatigued driver before even getting back. You, however, want to choose company and driver with a considerable allowance so you enjoy the most from your tour in your selected destination.

Solo Travel – 10 Ways to Save on Single Supplements

In your school days, you may have found, as I did, that economics really is the “dismal science”. However, I did learn one key fact. Supply and demand drive prices. For solo travel, the surcharge or “single supplement” does vary partly in keeping with this tried and true rule. The good news? If you prowl through the Internet, you can find ways to save on solo travel when demand is down. The bad news? Reduced or no single supplement offerings are limited in number and go fast.

Here are 10 ways to save.

1. Don’t ask for one room. Ask for a “room for one’. In Europe, lodging is often sold with solo pricing. Be sure to see if it is a solo price for a standard room or a small single room. Look at the size offered for single occupants. Then consider the amount of time you will spend in your room. I often take 10-12 hour day trips abroad with almost no time spent in my hotel room except to catch some sleep before heading out again.

2. Get there first. Book even one year ahead since few slots are reduced for solos. This is really important if you go in-season. Holiday resorts and hot spots in summer may have return visitors book the next year when they check out.

3. Head to the airport when everyone else is heading home. Off-season travel is the best way to get immediate 50% off reductions. In the south of France, rates go down as fast as Sept 9. Ski resorts, like the fabled Sun Valley Lodge, have specials just before Christmas. In winter and spring, European discounts can be half-price as well.

4. Get excited about rainy weather or extreme heat and cold. You will have to think how far you want to take this. I had a thrilling short term work trip one Jan. in Siberia. I also went on tour in India during the monsoons. In some cases, the negative pronouncements may not impact your trip. A good example? The risk of hurricanes each fall is less likely to touch the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) making for better pricing. In Africa, for example, safari rates are lower during the rainy or “green” season if you can get away, and don’t mind the possibility of short, heavy rains.

5. Look for new travel providers. Hotels that are just opening or reopening after renovations have specials to gain or regain market share. The Hotel Castille in Paris, for example, had short-term deep discounts when it reopened just steps from fashionable boutiques. Thereafter, the rates increased in keeping with other high-end small hotels

6. Be a contrarian. Don’t pay a premium for what’s currently trending. Prowl the Internet for undervalued regions. If it is all the rage, prices will soar. In the 1980’s, I somehow found a Montenegro resort right off the Albanian border. Since then, Sveti Stefan, where I stayed, has been updated as reflected in its 5 star pricing. The moral of the story is get there before the crowds discover a destination.

7. If you can’t pronounce it or spell it, you’ll love the prices! Substitute the road less traveled. If you have a dream to see the Parthenon you must go to Greece. (That is unless you live in North America and would like to see a perfect replica in Nashville, Tenn.!) Regional air carriers are a good way to find out great largely undiscovered places at low prices. One example: I dreamed of Tahiti in my early post-graduate days. When rates were high there, Air New Zealand suggested alternatives: Rarotonga and Aitutaki. I took them up on it and had the trip of a life time dining out on the stories for years.

8. Scour the Internet for national and regional programs offered by tourist boards. Check ahead as they may only be available abroad. One of the best deals I found in the 1990’s was with then “Lan Chile”. From the US, I purchased three stand-by tickets for a total of $200 to go anywhere in the country. At that price, I made my way to Antarctica Chile, at the end of the world!

9. Use flexible dates to grab week-day deals. Hotels and airline rates often go up and down together. Why is that? That takes us back to supply and demand. When planes and hotels have low load factors, prices are softer.

10. Share to save. Look for tours that have no single supplements by agreeing to share. The benefit to this approach? It is a way to save if your travel dates are not flexible, and no to low single supplement deals are not available.

In any case, before you give up on fitting solo travel into your budget, look at these options.