19 March 2015

Amsterdam Tours

When my family and I go for trips abroad, we tend to skip booking for tours and discover the places of interest ourselves. It's more fun that way and you'll never know what other interesting finds you'll have along the way.

This time, I am traveling with my buddy and since we are two ladies who are traveling to Amsterdam for the first time, it is a wise decision to use the services of a tour operator.

I booked our Amsterdam and Brussels tour in two tour operators that I trust: Viator and City Discovery.

I have done booking with Viator in the past for my mom's airport shuttle service in Bangkok and I asked my mom about the service. Viator did not disappoint at all in terms of customer service and punctuality. So, I decided to try them again and this time, for our tours in Amsterdam. I used City Discovery for our Brussels tour because they have a very good programme for the full-day tour in Brussels with a side trip to Antwerp too. At least, the Antwerp trip was a very pleasant addition to our already packed itinerary.

I will post the reviews when we're all done and will also tell you about the rates of each tours I have booked so the next time you visit Amsterdam, you know where to avail land arrangements in terms of tours, cruises, etc.

My buddy and I really saved hard for this trip to happen and we're just few days away from actually setting our feet in Amsterdam. I have always dreamt of seeing those magnificent windmills, the dikes, the fields of beautiful tulips (which happens to be my favourite flower!), the lovely architecture around Netherlands and of course, those canals that also make Amsterdam very famous.

Well, I hope it's already 26 March because that mean's we're off to Netherlands! It's going to be one busy vacation in terms of touring the places of interest there. No shopping for me because Amsterdam is an expensive place to visit. I'd stick to buying few souvenirs and cheese. As long as we have tours, photo ops in famous places and a relaxing time in the hotel of our choice then I'm happy.

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14 March 2015

Schengen Visa Is Here!

Oh, hello Amsterdam! Yes! I have received my passport today and have been given 90-days validity in my Schengen Visa. Ok, it's not what I have hoped for but hey, it's my first time to apply as the principal applicant and I'm not complaining. I'm just used to being with my hubby when we apply for our Schengen Visa and here it is, my very own.

I'm so excited now! I just feel like waiting for 26 March and take off to Amsterdam with my close buddy. I am so eager to pack up and do our itinerary for real. I haven't heard from my buddy yet if she received her passport already. I hope she got approved too as we applied together. I am sure she will as we travel as a party.

Well, we'll be planning our tours now. Hopefully, we'll have the chance to see other places near Netherlands. Most of them are just few hours of train ride and we'll be back in a jiffy. Let's see but for now, Keukenhof Gardens, here we come!

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08 March 2015

Waiting For Visa

Waiting in anticipation of whether we got approved for a multi-entry visa for Schengen states or not is the hardest part of applying for visa. I am used to filling out forms as I always do it for my family. However, my husband was always the principal applicant. This is the first time I have applied on my own and I hope I get a long duration of multiple-entry visa.

The excitement is already palpable. I am not even thinking of my birthday anymore. I am just too engrossed with the Amsterdam trip and so eager to book for the tours before we ran out of slots due to the high season and demand. Remember, this is spring and Europe is a go-to place for spring due to the nice weather, lovely gardens and festivities.

Few more days and we will come to know. I just pray it's a YES!

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05 March 2015

How To Plan Your Spring Trip to Europe

Spring is just few days away. The farmer's almanac indicates March 8 as the official first day of Spring. However, countries in North America and some other parts of Europe are still experiencing severe cold weather and spring may still not be as breezy as they want it to be come March 8.

If you are planning to go on a spring break and it is not the typical beach combing style, then head of to Europe to experience their beautiful spring. Here are some tips to note when you plan your European spring break.

Prepare well in advance
My friend and I will travel to Amsterdam this end of March, just in time to see the Keukenhof Gardens with the spring flowers in bloom. However, we didn't plan just out of whim. I did the planning as early as June of last year because hotels and other accommodations offer early-bird discounts if you confirm you stay. I got great deals in Booking.com and when I am checking now, the same hotel I have confirmed is no longer available. Some hotels I have checked previously, the rates have increased substantially, around 25-30%. I got mine way cheaper and considering the season, I had a good deal.

Planning well in advance will give you enough time to adjust or even change your plans all together. Aside from getting early-bird discounts and getting confirmation from your accommodations and flights, you have time to adapt to changes without stressing yourself out.

Budget comes into this stage of planning. You have to set how much you are willing to spend for the trip and from there, plan your itinerary and scout for accommodations, car rentals (if required), train ride costs, tours and airport shuttle.

I would suggest, tours will come at a later stage when you have been granted the Schengen Visa. Most tour operators do not allow refunds so do this at a later stage.

Consider the date when you are visiting Europe. Late March to first week of April will still give you good hotel rates but the dates after that can be a nightmare as they are very expensive. A classic example is the accommodation rates in Amsterdam. End of March to the first week of April is still okay but the weeks after that all the way to summer are way over my budget.

Check your travel documents and apply for visa
If you need to apply for visa then check which country you are visiting first or have the longest stay and that is where you will apply for your Schengen Visa, only if you need visa. However, if you are one of the few citizens in this world who does not require  the Schengen Visa to enter Europe then all you have to do is make sure your travel docs are still valid. Your passport should be at least 6 months valid for international travel; otherwise, consider renewing your passport now.

If you are like me who needs to secure a Schengen Visa then you have to be definite of your plan to enter a certain country first and visit others in the Schengen states. Check out that country's visa requirements and apply accordingly. Follow their requirements and get the documents ready. Some consulates require appointments before your can submit your documents so check that too and apply in advance.

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Book for your tours
Now that you have your visa, you can start booking for tours so at least you can avail of the early bird promos. Some tour operators give discount if it's a group tour so it's great to travel with your friends or family so you can save as a group.

I would also assume that by this time, you've already set your itinerary because you can plan your best possible routes if you have an itinerary as your guide.

Pack smartly
Don't pack your entire bedroom in your suitcase. Check the weather and pack your clothes accordingly. Europe's spring climate may vary from region to region. If you're planning to visit the Northern Europe side then you may bring parka (for those intermittent spring showers) or windbreakers and few cardigans for layering. Don't pack too many clothes, just a couple of jeans, few light shirts, long sleeves for layering, light cardigans and at least 1 jacket. You may bring a light scarf and hat if it gets nippy at night. Bring a sturdy pair of shoes for all that walking you will do. A rubber shoes should be fine with rubber soles so you don't slip on most of Europe's cobbled streets.

Don't forget to pack your cameras too to capture those European monuments, great architecture, historical sites and famous gardens.

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Prepare for the big day
Hotel bookings? Check! Flight tickets? Check! Visas? Check! Money? In your wallet and ATM cards. Tours? Booked and confirmed! So, what's left for you to do is go to the airport at least 4 hours in advance. I always go at least 4-5 hours in advance just in case there are sudden accidents on the road, I still have enough time to make it to the airport without stressing and rushing.

Relax, wait for your boarding time at the gate and when you've boarded, enjoy the flight.

(all photos ©www.riatravelbug.com)

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03 March 2015

A Great Family Experience

(Photo not mine)

You and your whole family can enjoy an exceptional vacation in the Florida sunshine at a resort that caters to children as well as adults. 

Imagine a well-located destination right on the ocean where all the rooms are beautifully decorated condominiums with many having views of the ocean, the Intercoastal Waterway, the beach and a park from a large balcony. A full kitchen makes it easy to make breakfasts and other meals to go easy on part of your budget, and a washer/dryer is also provided. 

Children love the pool with its waterfall and slide and other activities that are provided for them constantly by the Kids Club. That includes a movie on Friday nights and a bonfire on the beach on Saturday nights. 

The entire family will love the large clean pools, the gym, the restaurants, and the easy beach access with chairs and an umbrella available for rent. There is warm water year round with an average of 75 degrees F. in January and 85 degrees F. in June. 

There is a sidewalk right in front of the hotel that is perfect for walking or running, you will find a convenient Publix grocery store within walking distance. The Sailfish Marina is a short drive away where you can feed the fish, and a wildlife preserve/state park is only five minutes north of the hotel where you can go to explore and perhaps go kayaking. 

Visit Florida now and have an outstanding family vacation at Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort and Spa.

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02 March 2015

Super Excited For Netherlands Trip

Well, my friend and I finally applied yesterday for our Schengen Visa at the Netherlands Consulate in Dubai.  The way there was a long, long via train ride (almost an hour just one way!) but I must say, it was all worth it.

My friend and I were asked questions on where we've been, how many Schengen Visas we have had in the past, why we were visiting Amsterdam and for how long. It was a very nice lady who processed our paperwork and we paid only 260 Dirhams including the courier service charge of 15 Dhs. It is a lot cheaper to apply directly to the country of your first entry point or where you are staying the longest when you apply for Schengen. If we have availed the services of the VFS Global (they're like an authorised agent/broker accepting applications for various members of the Schengen States), we would have paid almost twice as much because of the processing fee.

So, we're just waiting for our passports and hopefully we get approved and be given multiple entry as I plan to go back in June with my daughter when she spends summer here in Dubai.

It's been a while since we last visited Europe and this is my first time to apply as a principal applicant. I usually get my visas from other countries through my husband as the main applicant because he has higher salary than mine. :) So, I was a bit nervous because I wasn't sure if I had enough money in my bank account or if my salary is too low to be considered. Anyway, I'm keeping my fingers crossed because it seems like the consul officer knew we are travellers. She was pleasantly surprised to see so many visas stamped on my passport and to my delight, she was paying attention to which countries they were issued I'm just glad I love to travel and hopefully, they give us multiple entry with long duration so we can always visit even for short breaks over the weekend. That will be very exciting!

Also, we mentioned it is our birthday gift to ourselves as my friend and I celebrate our birthdays a day apart (I on 15 March and she on 16 March). I hope they give us the approved visa with multiple entry and a longer duration of expiry as our birthday gifts. :)

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