How to choose the perfect sightseeing tour when on a holiday?

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In my long career of planning customised holidays, I have seldom come across people being picky about the tours they want to include in the itinerary. Of course, that is because not many travel agents offer a bouquet of tours or an option of doing a particular tour in different ways. My clients now are often foxed when I ask them what they would like to do at a particular place, for example Paris. They would often come back saying see the popular places like Eiffel Tower, Louvre, etc. I am referring to people, who want to visit the place but have had no time to read up on or maybe their travel agent always gave them an itinerary they thought would be best, hence they don’t know what to say!

So how important are sightseeing tours? I would say, the most important, unless it’s a ‘doing nothing‘ holiday. Even more important than your hotel, as I know most people definitely do a lot of research by checking reviews online. I don’t know how many people would check reviews on their sightseeing tours, which will make them like or hate the city. To give you an example, if you were to join a regular coach tour in Paris or Rome for a city tour with kids, I can assure you the kids will be cranky & bored at the Louvre & Coliseum unless you make the effort to keep them engaged & entertained. If they are well behaved, they will just find something to gaze at, but not learn or get back anything interesting from the tour. To be honest, I got bored at the Louvre even when I went alone as our guide just kept rattling off words, which made no sense to me. Instead, how about hiring a qualified kid friendly guide for the family to explore the Coliseum & Louvre where the kids can learn history in a fun way and the visit is not wasted. Mind you, if you divide the number of hours by the amount you spend on your vacation abroad, each minute seems expensive and this is without putting a value on time & the unhappy faces! Yup, you guessed it, I am a Gujarati and know my numbers well!

¬†The next time you prepare an itinerary, be very picky about the tours included for you. Read the description and see if there are any places you are not interested in visiting. For example, if you visit Italy and are not interested in museums and history but would still like to see the famous monuments like Coliseum and Vatican, then ensure you do not waste your money on a guided tour where you get stuck for 4 hours visiting other attractions. Instead, it makes sense hiring an expert guide to just visit these places and will save you time to do other activities. If you love biking and have older kids, most cities offer biking tours. If you are a foodie, do a culinary walk and small workshop at a local’s place. There are some brilliant workshops offered at museums, depending on your kid’s interests, you can sign up for these workshops.

Please ensure free time at any place to just soak up the place by wandering around or sitting at a cafe and observe the locals. Take the kids to a park, this is where they will get to mingle with other kids and make new friends for a complete culture immersion. Often the most memorable moments are the ones, which are not on a planned itinerary. For me it was at a tiny village in France where we had gone for a stroll post dinner and we listened to a children’s choir practice in a small chapel, sitting on a bench near a canal! Do share your impromptu memorable moment with me from your trip abroad.

 

Feel free to contact me on info@soltrips.com

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Crete a different region altogather

Though, Crete is part of Greece and is Greece’s largest island; the people, food and feel is very different than the rest of the country. The Cretans are ¬†warriors with very high self esteem and pride a bit bruised with the bloody past and war with the Ottoman Turks.

After our fiasco in Paris, we were quite looking forward to a relaxed beach holiday with our friends from UK. We reached Athens a couple of days before they arrived with their 3 year old as we wanted to see the Acropolis and museum in Athens. My daughter loved walking on the glass floor, where we could see the excavations underneath and then after touring the museum we hiked up to the Acropolis. I expected them to be majestic & enigmatic like the Pyramids in Giza, instead there was a lot of scaffolding work around due to restoration work. Nonetheless, it is a site to behold, the icon of Greece and a place rich in history. My daughter is a big fan of Egyptian, Greek & Roman history and of course thanks to Disney movie Hercules, she knew a lot of characters from the Greek mythology. We had also read a book on the Acropolis which showed the site in its glorious past. It always helps empowering ourselves with some basic knowledge on historical sites, else they just seem boring and worthless and we return discarding them as a ‘waste of time’, not fair at all! Also a good guide matters a lot at these place, we had a child friendly guide and hence he weaved a wonderful story, which my daughter could contribute to and hence all the walking up and spending 3 hours at the monument didn’t seem like a big task.

Our next stop was Crete. A very practical, nothing fancy, overnight ferry from Athens got us to Crete the next morning. A lot of people asked us why Crete instead of the very popular Santorini & Mykonos? There were 2 reasons: Crete is much cheaper than Mykonos & Santorini and secondly, the beaches are lovely. Our agenda was to make the most of the lovely Mediterranean waters, lovely food and a good 4* family friendly resort with swimming pools. That is exactly what we got. Our resort was bang on the beach, it was an all inclusive resort (all food and drinks (including alcohol) was included in the price), it had 3 swimming pools and lots of European families with kids. Each night we could dress up and unwind at the resorts ‘disco’ with the kids in tow and not feel deprived of the party scene. Most of all, it was absolutely relaxing.

I get withdrawal symptoms if I do not go inspecting hotels and hence I spent an entire day scouting the best hotels on the island, which also gave me an opportunity to see the entire island. Gosh, it is a BIG island! It is quite hilly and hence there are plenty of adventure activities like trekking, hiking, rock climbing, etc. and also some historical sites like Knossos Palace. The Cretan food is delicious and the locals proclaim that it is the best in Greece. We thought so too. Our resort used to have local as well as continental delicacies and always ensured there were fries and pizzas for the kids. The best part is Santorini can easily be visited as a day trip by sea. If your kids like theme parks, there are 3 big theme parks to keep the kids busy. Honestly for us the sea and the pools were all we needed.

We absolutely enjoyed our holidays in Crete, it was sunny and the weather was just perfect, even though the sea was a bit cold in end of May. If you are looking for a good beach holiday, I would definitely advise you to look at Crete as an option. If you need more information, write to us at info@soltrips.comKreta-Matala07.jpg

Authentic Vietnam

I am an absolute sucker for authentic experiences. From accommodation, modes of transport, eating out places and touring sights. Hence I always tend to pick boutique hotels owned and managed by locals over branded chains, trust me if you choose a 4* option or above you won’t have any complaints with boutique hotels. They have a more homely feel to it and are characteristic of the local culture, plus we are contributing to the local economy which matters a lot especially in Asia.

When I was planning a tour to Vietnam, I was absolutely conscious of all the above mentioned factors and had decided to go a bit off the beaten track to visit some lesser known places too rather than just visiting Hanoi, Halong Bay & Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Of course, I ensured they had good accommodation and opted for places where I could see the real natives rather than the westernised lot we see in the cities. To my surprise these places didn’t require much travelling and could be done as an easy driving option from Hanoi or Saigon. Places where kids could interact with the local kids and play their version of hide n seek and catching games. Visit a local school, to see how other kids in different parts of the world study and compare their learning techniques and infrastructure. Needless to say try local cuisine.

The homestay option gives one an opportunity to visit local arts and crafts workshops and learn their skills (bring home some souvenirs too), but also rent a bike and go off road to the most remote lands passing by paddy fields. In the night, most of them have a little bonfire and there is a small dance performance where you can show off you moves too. Quite a fun evening for all.

Since farming is one of the main occupations of rural Vietnam, it is interesting to know more about their farming and fishing techniques by participating in the activity. The food is superb as it is farm to table and organic. You can also learn a few recipes from the chef by doing a small course. They are very accommodating to vegetarians too, so don’t worry if you don’t eat fish or meat.

first hand the struggles of life in wartime Vietnam when you go below ground in the notorious Cu Chi Tunnels. See how soldiers and civilians lived through the conflict and the ingenious methods used to conceal themselves. Quite interesting, the kids particularly love it as they can go peek-a-boo in the tunnels. A bit claustrophobic for some, but nonetheless a unique experience. Adults can fire a few rounds of a real AK rifle!

Another interesting experience would be taking an overnight train journey. The trains are very comfortable with air-conditioned coupes and the pantry sells not just food but beverages too (alcoholic & non alcoholic). It is not the Palace on Wheels or the Orient Express or even a Eurail, but definitely worth a journey. The locals are very warm and accommodating and it is easy to chat up with them.

If you need day wise details of the itinerary, write to me at info@soltrips.com

Binh Tien