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Travel Advice

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

When to Go on Safari in East Africa

June through September has always been prime time for going on safari in Tanzania, especially if you want to catch the wildebeest migration across the Mara River. I’ve caught the migration from the Kenya side of the river one September as the wildebeests were making their way back south to the Serengeti. Yes, it was exciting seeing hundreds of wildebeests trampling across the river, but it wasn’t as nearly as exciting as seeing that one leopard bringing his kill up a tree. You have to realize that June, July, and August are by far the most crowded months to be on safari in Tanzania and Kenya. Crowds and land rovers lessen once September hits. Indeed, September and October are a special time of year to be on safari in the Mara, Serengeti, or Grumeti. Though I have to admit that I enjoyed being in Tanzania these past two weeks of March. The big rains of March and April were nowhere to be seen and we had the often congested roads of Ngorongoro Crater practically to ourselves. Travel to the Kusini Camp in the southern Serengeti in December, January, and February, and not only will you see an incredible amount of game, but North Americans and Europeans can escape the cold of winter and hit Zanzibar and the other coastal islands for a beach vacation. That sounds like the right move for this Boston boy. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/01/15 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Pros of Hiring a Private Guide on Safari

On safari, you have the choice of booking a lodge and going out on game drives with their respective guides or hiring a company like Epic Private Journeys where former lodge owner and Tanzanian native Rob Barbour will act as a private guide. Obviously, there’s an extra cost involved, but if you’re splurging for this amazing opportunity, it’s important to do it right. The lodge guides we had the past two weeks were hit or miss. Laser-eyed Lazarus at Lamai Serengeti was brilliant, spotting a leopard high up in a tree after a kill and a male lion hidden in the tall grass. We watched as other Land Rovers simply drove past, not seeing the amazing sights we were witnessing. At other lodges, however, I could barely understand the guide’s English, and some couldn’t get the right position for getting the best photo, like a cheetah resting under a tree at sunset. 

 
Rob works with the driver and guide, telling him when to stop, spotting lions others had missed, and giving us a well-rounded description of each animal, including probable age. Just as important, he was with us practically the entire trip, helping with travel logistics. Don’t take this for granted. There are no airports in the Serengeti, Grumeti, or Mwiba, simply strips of pavement for small airplanes to land. So you better double-check to see exactly when your plane is arriving the next day or you won’t be leaving. Most of all you develop a relationship with a private guide that lasts far beyond one trip. Rob travels all around east and southern Africa, from Uganda to Botswana, with clients who request his services year after year. Travel with Rob and you have a genuine friend for life, one who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the African bush. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/31/15 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, March 30, 2015

Be Wary of Circuit Routes and Name-Brand Hotels When Choosing a Safari

The last two weeks I had the privilege of traveling with Rob Barbour around northern Tanzania, with stops in Arusha and Arusha National Park, the southern Amboseli plains, Mwiba Wildlife Reserve, Ngorongoro Crater, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Kusini Camp in the southern Serengeti, the Grumeti Wildlife Reserve, and the Lamai section of the northern Serengeti, where the legendary wildebeest migration takes place across the Mara River. Rob not only serves as director of African operations for the safari operator, Epic Private Journeys, but he’s a native Tanzanian who formerly owned his own lodges in Lamai and Ruaha National Park in southern Tanzania. It seems like every restaurant, hotel, and airport stop we made, he ran into an old friend. What was invaluable to me was the wealth of information he shared on taking a safari in Africa, knowledge accumulated over a lifetime. This week, I’ll be sharing some of his tips to ensure that your next safari is indeed a once in a lifetime opportunity. 

 
Throughout the trip, Rob emphasized that you can’t pick a safari based on hotel name. You design a safari itinerary on where the wildlife will be that time of year and than combine 3 or 4 properties near the wildlife that will best suit your needs, whether an upscale boutique hotel or a mobile tent deep in the African bush. Actually, to get the true African flavor, it’s best to have a combination of both, like 3 nights at Alex Walker's Serian camps in Serengeti, combined with an exclusive stay at one of the private wildlife reserves say Singita Grumeti or the relatively new Mwiba Lodge
 
The most important thing is not to be seduced by name. Outfitters like Abercrombie & Kent or andBeyond will design a circuit solely based on their properties. That’s wonderful when staying at A&K’s Olonana Sanctuary on Kenya’s Mara River, where you wake up to breakfast with views of the hippos swimming. Not so great if you’re staying at A&K’s outpost near the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, where tents were lined up practically on top of each other. andBeyond’s Ngorongoro Crater Lodge and it’s over-the-top “Out of Africa” style is easily the best property in the region. But in Grumeti, andBeyond will put you in their own tents, which doesn’t offer the same privileges of staying at Singita Grumeti, like night drives and off-road driving to get closer to the wildlife. So it’s best to mix and match with a company like Epic Private Journeys who simply want the best experience and don’t have loyalty to one name. Also be wary of the big name hotelier. For example, Four Seasons Serengeti is located in central Serengeti in a locale far away from the both the wildebeest migration in summer and winter. It’s actually best in late February and March.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/30/15 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Euro Drops to $1.07 Against the Dollar, Lowest in 12 Years

If you want to return to Europe, this is the year. Two excellent articles came out last week to help you find the cheapest airfares and the best lodging for your dollar. In Huffington Post, there’s a story on the best ways to use Google Flight. You’re going to love using the pricing map! Simply type in “Europe” as your destination and you’ll find the prices to every city on the continent for the dates you want to go. If you want to go direct, push the direct button. It’s a wonderful tool. The second story is this piece from The Washington Post on which cities have seen a major reduction in hotel pricing thanks to the currency exchange. Find a city in Europe, any city, and ActiveTravels will help find the best lodging based on location, and design a memorable route with must-see sights, restaurants, and scenic backcountry roads. We’re here to help! 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/12/15 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, March 09, 2015

How to Keep Your Money Safe While Traveling Abroad

Writer Carolyn Gatto asked me and other travel experts to offer tips on keeping your cash and credit cards safe while traveling overseas. The result is her latest story for US News & World Report, “20 Ways to Keep Your Money Safe While Traveling.” The article couldn’t have come out at a better time for me, since I’ll be implementing many of these suggestions before I leave for Tanzania on Friday. You’d be wise to do the same before your next trip. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/09/15 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, February 23, 2015

Making Memories on the Big Island

The modern-day conundrum is the balance of work of family. This is especially true for a travel advisor who must create extraordinary vacations for her clientele and then duplicate that success for her family (or face the wrath of her children). As a travel writer married to a Boston-based travel agent, I am the beneficiary of my wife’s career—most importantly the way she customizes each trip to our every whim, uses global contacts to not only secure the finest rooms available for our budget thanks to complimentary upgrades but creates unforgettable moments like a dinner on a private Hawaiian beach under the stars. All I do is sit back, relax, carry the luggage, and savor her skills. Thankfully, you don’t have to be married to a travel advisor to get the same level of attention. For our annual family trip last summer, I was asked by Virtuoso Traveler magazine to observe Lisa at work and consider the attributes of using a travel agent. This is what I found.

 

 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/23/15 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, February 13, 2015

February Newsletter Now Available at ActiveTravels

In the February newsletter, my mind happily wanders to one of my favorite locales in the world, Chile, which is becoming an increasingly popular destination for clients. We break down the country into the five regions travelers enjoy. Lisa divulges four hotels we love in the Italian lakes district, a Quick Escape to one of our favorite inns in Vermont, Blueberry Hill, and the latest travel apps you should have on your smart phone. Finally, I want to introduce you to VOYAGE Charters and their upscale catamarans that sail the British Virgin Islands out of Tortola. Their 8 to 10-person yachts are comparable in pricing to staying at an all-inclusive resort. Only this time, you won't have to share the sweeping stretch of beach, because most likely it will be on a deserted island.

 
We’re off next week on a college road trip with our daughter. I’ll be back the week of February 23rd. In the meantime, stay warm and safe travels!  
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/13/15 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Introducing Hopper

In my last column for Men’s Journal on the latest indispensible travel apps, I didn’t have the space to mention one app I recently came across. Called Hopper, the app analyzes data to tell you when is the best time to purchase tickets for a particular flight. For example, I just looked into a flight to Croatia and it told me that there’s no rush to purchase the flight in late April. In fact, they told me the price might drop in the next couple weeks. We shall see. In a recent press release by the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), they mentioned that booking a flight on Friday, not the weekend, is when rates are usually the cheapest. Also, George Hobica, the founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, recently noted in a New York Times story that Google Flight Search is “by far the best way to find a low airfare.” Use all these strategies the next time you book a flight. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/12/15 at 05:59 AM
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Friday, January 30, 2015

Signs You Picked the Wrong Hotel

The original author of Lonely Planet’s Guide to Turkey, Tom Brosnahan is one of America’s most prolific travel writers. He has authored over 40 guidebooks for Berlitz, Frommer’s, and Lonely Planet covering Belize, Canada, Egypt, England, France, Guatemala, Israel, Mexico, Morocco, New England, Tunisia, and Turkey. He’s also the founder of the popular web pages, TurkeyTravelPlanner.com, FranceTravelPlanner.com, and NewEnglandTravelPlanner.com. Having reviewed thousands of hotel rooms, Brosnahan is well qualified to note the telltale signs your hotel choice might not be ideal. Here are his words as told to me for my latest Men’s Journal column

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/30/15 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Millennials are Driving the Comeback of Travel Agents

When my wife and I launched our travel agency, ActiveTravels, close family and friends scoffed at the idea—as if I just announced that I was becoming a blacksmith. After all, wasn’t it President Obama who suggested in a town hall meeting that travel agents were becoming obsolete? How could they possibly prosper against big-pocket online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia, Priceline, Travelocity, and Orbitz? There was just no need for them anymore, or was there? Since we opened in May 2012, without benefit of advertising dollars or a marketing department, there has been a steady stream of traffic. 

 
This past week, it was reported that in 2014, 18 percent of American travelers used traditional travel agents compared to 12 percent in 2013. That’s a big jump. And surprisingly, much of that increase is coming from the Millennial generation, not Baby Boomers. Indeed, 28 percent of Millennials used a travel agent last year. The main reason Millennials are using travel agents is that they are more adventurous travelers. They want to go to off-the-beaten track destinations and they want trusted local guides to help them feel safe and secure once they get there. This is music to my ears, especially as we continue to grow a network of reputable contacts around the globe, from Indonesia to Ethiopia to India to Argentina. All you need is the desire to travel overseas and we’ll arrange the rest with local guides around the world. If you need more reasons to persuade you to hire a travel agent, check out my story for Boston University School of Hospitality
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/27/15 at 06:00 AM
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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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