Pros and Cons Booking Tickets Online

As the vacation season approaches, you will notice a maddening rush for booking family vacations. It is quite natural for one to search for a value for money travel deal that offers maximum excitement and luxury. Travel agents and online booking sites are prominent contenders that offer the best deals to travelers. This post will help you choose the right option for making bookings for your vacation.

With a whopping growth in the use of the Internet in the last decade, we have seen a gradual transition in methods used for customer service, from the traditional to booking online. In line with this trend, the tourism industry is gradually expanding in the form of online travel booking facilities too. I have listed below some pros and cons of booking with help of a travel agent as well as online travel websites. Hope this helps you to choose the right option.

Booking Online Vs. Travel Agents
Online Booking
With the advent of the Internet, a customer’s approach to the travel industry has undergone a drastic change. With help of facilities like online payment services, all bookings can now be done at the click of a button right in the comfort of one’s home.

Pros

Customers just need to hint their travel destination onto a search engine and a dizzying list of online travel booking sites and hotel websites will start showing up on the screen. Each site is designed in a user-friendly manner which helps customers browse and choose the best possible holiday deal. If that is not enough, customers can now choose their airplane seats and take a virtual tour of their hotel room even before they have paid for their trip. Online bookings can surely woo their customers by adding a visual factor to their booking techniques.

Online booking facilities are available around the clock and help customers to plan a holiday or book an emergency rail or airline ticket at any time and from any place. Once the booking is done, there is a prompt issuance of an invoice, itinerary and e-tickets to the customer as an assurance of the booking. Frequent business fliers have found these facilities extremely useful as they can plan their business trips from remote locations too.

Online bookings provide a wider exposure to customers with reference to travel destinations, customer referrals, sight-seeing activities and so on. This means that customers looking for online bookings can easily book their holidays at some virgin coasts and other less explored locations around the world. Since these online sites are browsed by customers from around the world, there is a wider scope for reading comments and suggestions posted by previous travelers.
Cons

Every technology has its disadvantages and so does online bookings. While the Internet offers good reviews and comments of some supposed previous travelers, there is no guarantee that the names and positive comments are authentic. The travel agent on the other hand, tends to make a suggestion based on his personal experience and quotes by his previous customers.

With a huge scale of frauds and Internet crimes taking place, online booking sites are not far behind. There are several well-designed sites that offer to do online bookings for their customers. They offer fake reviews and holiday discounts to lure customers. There is a high chance of innocent customers booking a holiday or an airplane ticket through these sites. These sites generally issue fake itineraries and tickets after the payment is made. Preference for online bookings demands that customers stay alert and ensure authenticity of the online booking sites before proceeding with any transaction.

Online booking sites are designed to make the customers feel that they have got the cheapest travel deal on offer. However, the grim reality is that the commission, taxes and hidden charges on online booking sites are way higher than traditional travel agents.

Travel Agents
These refer to the traditional traveling and ticketing agents who guide the customer to plan their holidays and business trips in return for a fixed commission. If you plan to book a trip through an agent, make sure to confirm that he possesses any of the following certifications – IATA, UFTAA, ASTA, USTOA, or TAP.

Pros

Someone has rightly said that travel agents act like their customer’s advocate or representative when dealing with bookings in the travel industry. It is often seen that travel agents suggest a particular hotel or airline to their new customers based on traveling industry reports or upon feedback of their previous customers. In all, there is a personal assurance of quality of services to the customers from a travel agent. In case of any deflection from the expected service standards, the travel agent works as an advocate to get a suitable compensation and reimbursement for his customers.

There is a sense of personalized touch when dealing with a travel agent. Most customers have only a faint idea about ideal holiday destinations. Travel agents then try to understand the customers’ needs. With the aid of their experience in the travel industry, they can guide their customers and draw up customized itineraries for their clients. A travel agent may recommend his customers to plan a holiday at a place depending upon a favorable season at that tourist destination.

Travel agents are very helpful when you’re trying to add a variety of components to your trip. e.g. airline booking, local sight-seeing, airport transfers, hotel bookings etc. Most travel agents are in constant touch with airline companies and hotels, and this tie-up can help improve chances of getting a mass scale booking even on short notice.

Cons

The choice of airlines, hotels, and destination services such as cab services or restaurant choices can be limited as travel agents tend to have tie-ups with a limited number of service providers. There are many regular travelers who feel that travel agents tend to suggest commonly tried hotels and resorts rather than exploring and providing diverse options to their customers.

There are several customers around the world who feel that suggestions of travel agents are based on commissions and profitability. It is common for a travel agent to press his customer into opting for a hotel booking from which the agent is likely to get a higher commission both from the hotel as well as the customer.

Travel agencies are manually run by people. Except for bookings which get done on the internet, most of the other work is done verbally. Therefore, this profession can never be guaranteed to be error free.

I suggest all my readers to hire services of a reputed travel agent when planning a long and expensive holiday. Personally, I strike a golden balance by using the online booking sites to browse for some really attractive destinations and best rated hotels. I even use some reputed online sites to make my rail and flight bookings and ask my travel agent to make arrangements for local sight-seeing. I make sure to choose a hotel or resort after a careful discussion with my travel agent. This way, I use both options to my best possible benefit.

Tips to Plan a Trip to Istanbul

Istanbul’s copious charm never fails to impress and then entice anyone who steps into this wonderful and historic city. Located at the center of the Asia-Europe confluence, Istanbul’s past and presence merge, making it a must-see location for travel-happy people.

If we are to follow Mr. Pamuk’s advice, the best way to enjoy and savor Istanbul is to be a stranger here, and allow the city to weave its magic all around you. So, strangers that we are to the city, here’s a little fuel to get you going. Before we get to the nicer part, which explains what awaits us in Istanbul, here are a few things that tell us what we need to know before we actually get there.

What are the travel documents needed?
International travelers need to possess a valid passport, along with a Turkish visa. Travelers, at times, are also permitted to purchase a Turkish visa upon their arrival. However, you are advised to contact the Turkish embassy in your country to know more about the visa-on-arrival provision, and whether you are entitled to avail it. Alongside, you must also purchase travel insurance that will last you for the duration of your stay. To do so, you may speak to any travel agent in your city.

The currency in Turkey is called the Turkish Lira. 1 TL converts to approximately 0.49 USD, though the exchange rates constantly fluctuate. US dollars and Euros are fairly easy to exchange all over the country, but it is safest to do so only at a bank. ATM kiosks can be found across the city, so withdrawing cash will not be a hassle. Prominent credit cards are accepted at most establishments in Istanbul.

What is the best time to travel to Istanbul?
As with every popular holiday destination, Istanbul too sees a high influx of tourists around late spring and summer. So, depending upon your budget, you may wish to visit the city during the peak season (July to August); although the sweltering humidity might be bothersome. Fall and early winter (September to November) is a great time to be here as well, both in terms of weather and budget.

As far as your journey is concerned, booking your flight tickets in advance will help you snag a good deal. However, there also are certain travel portals which offer last-minute discounts on plane tickets. Travel agents may also help you get low-cost tickets since they tend to book in bulk.

How to get there?
Several international carriers have scheduled flights to Istanbul. The city is serviced by two airports―Atatürk International on the European side, and the Sabiha Gökçen International on the Asian side. Once you land here, you can avail taxis, Havaş shuttle buses, or have your hotel arrange your transportation to reach the city center.

How is the internal transportation like?
In a single word―it’s complicated. Istanbul is served by a decent network of trains, buses, trams, taxis, and ferries.
The bus system here is very reliable. The major bus stands are at Taksim Square, Beşiktaş, Aksaray, Rüstempaşa (Eminönü), Kadıköy and Üsküdar, and most services run between 6.30am and 11.30pm.

The tram network is fairly decent and affordable as well. Trams run on various routes around the city every five minutes from 6 a.m. to midnight.

Ferries are an excellent way to cruise the Bosphorus river, and to view the city’s gorgeous skyline. The Boğaz Hattı dock has the Eminönü-Kavaklar Boğaziçi Özel Gezi Seferleri ferry operating every morning, and is favored by most tourists. There are private boat tours available as well.

Taxis are a bit expensive, especially if you encounter a driver who is determined to fleece you. Always ensure and insist that the taxi meter is running, and pay accordingly. A regular rate is levied during daytime, and you’ll see the gündüz sign flash, indicating the same. Taxis charge 50% higher from midnight to 6 a.m., indicated by the gece sign when the meter starts.

The Istanbulkart travel card is recommended for those who intend to use a lot of public transport. You can buy this card from the airport at a fee of 10 TL, and top it up at various centers around the city. This pass is valid for boarding buses, subway trains, commuter trains, ferryboats and trams operated by the Metropolitan Municipality.

Where to stay?
Just like the transportation system, the staying options in Istanbul are limitless, and cater to every budget. So, there’s everything from 5-star luxury―Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul | Tevkifhane Sokak No. 1 , Sultanahmet-Eminönü, 34110 Istanbul, to budget hostels like Big Apple Hostel | Cankurtaran Mah. Akbiyik Cad. Bayram Firini Sok. No:12 Sultanahmet, Fatih, Istanbul 34122, to boutique hotels like the Witt Istanbul Hotel | Defterdar Yokuşu 26 Cihangir Beyoğlu. The best way to find the perfect accommodation would be to consult your travel agent or log on to any travel portal like Expedia or Hotels.

Anything else to be kept in mind?
If you’re apprehensive about the country’s collective mindset as an Islamic nation, you have nothing to worry about. Citizens of Istanbul are fairly broad-minded and sartorially forward. Packing for your trip should be fairly simple, and you just need to take stuff according to the weather. Keep in mind, though, that you need to adhere to a conservative dress code while visiting any religious place in the city. Walking along the city’s cobbled paths will require comfortable footwear.

Places to Visit

And we’re finally on to the best part where we give you a sneak peek about what awaits you in Istanbul. Featured below are a few prominent landmarks of this beautiful city; though keep in mind that there are several other interesting places to visit when you’re here.

Aya Sofya/Hagia Sophia | Sultanahmet

What used to be a Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica, and then an Imperial mosque, is now a museum dedicated to Turkish art and history. And the best part is that you don’t even need to set foot in the building, as its Byzantine architectural design is sure to knock your breath off from a distance. Located in the Sultanahmet corridor, this structure has become the ubiquitous symbol of Turkey, and also happens to be one of the most visited museums in the world.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque | Sultanahmet

Also known as the Blue Mosque owing to the color of its roof tiles, the Sultan Ahmed mosque is a rare instance of a mosque with six minarets, instead of the usual four. Visitors coming to this mosque are awed by its sheer size and opulence, and not to mention, its architectural perfection. In recent times, Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the Blue Mosque in 2006 was welcomed by followers of both faiths.

Maiden’s Tower | Üsküdar Salacak Mevkii, 34668 Üsküdar, Istanbul

Located on an island in the middle of the Bosphorus river, the Maiden’s Tower has all the necessary qualification to be Istanbul’s premier hotspot for romance. A short boat ride from Üsküdar will bring you to this tower. Come here in the evening to see the sun go down on the Bosphorus, and watch the city light up in the night. The views from the top of the tower are guaranteed to be mesmerizing.

Dolmabahçe Palace | Vişnezade Mh., 34357 Beşiktaş/Istanbul Province

‘Ornate’ is the word that best describes this palace that is sure to wow you with its grandiose design. The palace stands as a testimony of the Ottoman empire’s final bastion―this is the very place where President Atatürk passed away in 1938. You’ll have to join a guided tour to enter the palace, before which you’ll have to buy an entry ticket. The lines usually get endless during peak season, and the wait for the tickets can be very tiresome.

Grand Bazaar | Beyazit/Istanbul Province

A must-visit marketplace for everyone coming to the city, this is where you can find the gorgeously intricate Ottoman lamps and rugs, as well as encounter hawkers selling fake Rolexes. With around 3000 shops spread over 61 streets, this is one of the world’s oldest and largest markets. You’ll find everything here, be it spices, furniture, clothing, jewelry, and nick-knacks, but it is the extraordinary experience of being here is what will remain in your memory for a long time to come.

Bosphorus River Cruise

A nighttime cruise on the Bosphorus is the best way to experience the city in its glowing grandeur. The lofty silhouettes of Istanbul’s most famous landmarks make for some fancy viewing as you gape in admiration at the bridges that transverse the river. Beautiful is surely an understatement.

The Istanbul Specials

And finally, we’ve profiled two of Istanbul’s distinct features. One, its omnipresent feline citizens; and two, the delicious Turkish flavored tea. It is quite apparent that the people of Istanbul love their cats, as you’ll find them everywhere―what’s more, they are well-fed, loved, and quite happy to call this city their home. The other prime identity of the city is their tea which is served in little tulip-shaped glasses, accompanied by a bowl of sugar cubes. While coffee drinkers in Istanbul are abundant, it is the tea that holds its charm over everything else.

Of course, this was just a rather miniscule sample of Istanbul, for the rest is up to you to explore when you arrive. To be frank, it would be hard to do justice to a city so beautiful, in a matter of a few days. You definitely don’t need us to tell you that multiple trips to Istanbul are in order.

Tips for Finding a Travel Companion

Putting up something as heavy as the philosophy mentioned above does exert undue pressure on you, doesn’t it? Those who are travelers at heart don’t really mind jet-setting anywhere by themselves, but there are times (work pressures, heartbreaks, etc.) when you know you’d love it better with a little company.

Which is what gets us where we are. So, how does one nail the right travel companion? Is it just sheer luck? Or just an endless ordeal involving trial and error? Well, it’s a bit of both, actually. But you can better your chances by reading what follows.

How do you find a companion?
The obvious choice is to pick one among people you already know. This includes the usual―relatives, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.

If for some reason, none of these make the cut, you do have the choice to pick your partner(s) online. There are specific websites dedicated to the cause, like travel buddies, which help you get in touch with like-minded travel partners. Mind you, opt for this only if you have absolutely no qualms with taking a trip with strangers. Well-known forums such as those on Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet may also be of help.

And how do you know he or she is the one?
Well, obviously you don’t, unless you actually set out to travel. There are various qualities that we’d want our travel buddy to have, but in a real-world situation, it’s best that we stay rooted with accepting the essentials. So, while we can go on and on with the ideal requirements, we simply cannot do without the following qualities.

He or she truly likes to travel.
Yes, it’s a duh! point to begin with, but believe me, there are hundreds of people who are just in love with the idea of travel, than actually traveling. They speak of exotic places and dream of visiting them, but are weary of leaving their cul-de-sac when it comes to it. Going on a trip with someone like this, (assuming that they do come along) is akin to running a three-legged race with a stone-drunk person.

Also, traveling involves a lot of uncertainties―a room with a spider, trains/planes/buses that never arrive as scheduled, and attractions that are complete rip-offs. You’d want to go with someone who accepts this as part of the journey (however grudgingly), and moves on to the next adventure (this is probably the mark of the perfect traveler).

If you manage to find a person like this, cling to them for life, after you’ve confirmed that he/she genuinely wants to go where you’re going. You wouldn’t want an Ibiza/Phuket type to come meditate with you in the Himalayas, would you?

Is like-minded, but not a clone.
Finding a like-minded partner is like a dream come true for us, in the unlikely event that it does happen. However, you wouldn’t want that person to be your supposed personality-twin. Well, you need someone with different ideas and a perspective that’s not your own. Someone who manages to enhance your travel experience, and vice versa. In short, someone who ends up bettering your brand of crazy.

Allows you some space.
Your buddy needs to be mindful of the fact that you won’t be joined at the hip throughout the duration of your journey (because you’re not on a honeymoon here). You both need to chart your own course for a certain duration, when one wants to go to the museum, and the other wants to hit the beach. Travel buddies don’t have to do everything together―and that’s the beauty of their partnership. A no-holds-barred time off from each other ought to be a part of the trip. And mind you, this has got to be amicable.

But doesn’t mind being in proximity to you.
Travel buddies may need to share rooms, tents, and bathrooms, be next to each other on long, tiring journeys, and end up not wanting to kill each other. Bodily habits can be a major bone of contention between travel partners, which is why, it’s better to be very clear about one’s level of tolerance upfront. Familiarity offers a certain level of comfort, but too much of it may also breed contempt. Be open about what you can and cannot stand, and you should be just fine, if not entirely happy.

Finally, it should just click!
No matter what, you should never ignore that little voice in your head, if it begins to warn you. Everyone’s sixth sense is capable enough to gauge a rank stranger, or even a known person. So, if your heart and your mind is not in it, abandon the plan. Go solo if you please, but don’t be pressured or pressure someone else to go on a holiday. It usually ends up among the decisions you’d regret for a long time.

There are far too many qualities an ideal travel mate should have. But if these points aren’t ticked off, you might as well tick off the entire trip.

Tips for Traveling With Jewelry Safely

If you’re going someplace exotic for a vacation, why not leave all your jewelry at home, and shop for a few trinkets at your destination? This way, you rid the hassle of carrying it, and pick up some fabulous souvenirs too.

The mere thought of going shopping while on a vacation does set the right mood, every time. But one isn’t always as fortunate. There are those other trips which require us to be dolled up in a certain manner―like going out of town for a wedding, or the holidays, or even perhaps the occasional business trip. These are the kind of trips that warrant the need to carry jewelry, which quite honestly, can be harrowing for women who have a propensity to be a little preoccupied.

Lest you misplace or lose your precious pieces of jewelry, here are a few tips you need to keep in mind.
Know what to carry.

However tempted you might be to just pack everything, do remind yourself about the risks involved, especially if it’s a heirloom or costs a fortune. Remember the thumb rule, if losing the piece will cause you prolonged heartache, it’s best to leave it at home. This doesn’t mean that you avoid wearing your favorite piece of jewelry, but just consider the overall risk involved in carrying it.

Preferably, pick pieces that are versatile. This ensures that you’re adequately accessorized, no matter what the outfit or occasion. In this regard, jewelry that has white stones set in silver tones is your best bet. Unlike gold, silver matches with almost anything, as do white stones―this is the kind of jewelry which is a timeless classic.

However, if you have a specific event to attend which has a color code to adhere to, you will obviously want to stick to it. But even in this case, it would be prudent to stick to the rule of carrying limited pieces.
Know how to carry it.

If your luggage has enough room for jewelry boxes, you have nothing to worry about. But if you have a space crunch, pack your jewels in a velvet pouch, made specifically for this purpose. If you don’t have a velvet pouch, place your jewels between layers of cotton, wrap this in a soft cloth or kerchief, and place it in a Ziploc bag. You must ensure that the pieces do not undergo any kind of friction, or do not fall out of the bag when you’re taking them out.

If you’ll be flying to your destination, you may want to carry your jewels along with you in your cabin baggage. If you’re carrying too many things in it, it would be better to place it in the checked-in luggage, lest you set off the metal detectors, and trigger an inspection.

Know how to keep it really safe.
Precious jewelry must be insured at any cost―do so if you haven’t already. In case your collection is insured, contact your agent to know the company’s portable coverage rules. If need be, upgrade your policy to cover any thefts or damage caused when you’re out of town

Tips to Care for Your Jewelry While Traveling

  • Going to the beach? Saltwater and coastal moisture can cause irreparable damage to your jewelry. Carrying fake jewelry is not only safe, but convenient as well.
  • The use of cosmetics like sunscreens, moisturizers, and perfumes can dull the luster of your jewelry; take care while using these products.
  • If you plan to roam in crowded areas, keep your accessories to a minimum. It would be better to store them in your hotel’s safe.
  • Women tend to remove their rings while washing their hands―please remember to collect it before you exit the restroom.

Regardless of whether you’re traveling for business or leisure, your trip needs to be stress-free. Carrying precious cargo in the form of jewelry can be a bit bothersome, but be vigilant at all times, and there’s no stopping you from flaunting your gorgeous accessories.