Adventure of the Month: China

We’re back! Happy September everyone and sorry for being gone for the past few weeks,the start of school has thrown this blogger through a bit of a loop but I hope that I will now be able to post regularly once again. Since it is September and therefore one of the best times to visit this country, our Adventure of the Month is China.

Literally translating to “Middle Kingdom”, China is one of the four ancient civilizations, along with Egypt, Greece, and Mesopotamia. Today people still travel to China to get a glimpse of some of this country’s great historical feats and enigmatic ancient culture such as the Great Wall, Terracotta Army, and the Forbidden City of Beijing.

We atOnsite Travel recommend visiting this country through a river cruise down the Yangzi:a 4-7 night cruise often coupled with flights and hotel stays to differenttourism sites farther away from the river. These vacation packages usuallyinclude visits to Beijing (where the Great Wall of China resides), Shanghai,and the Terracotta Warriors. We at Onsite Travel also recommend extensions toHong Kong and the Himalayas in Tibet if you wish to prolong your stay.

Tips for Chinese River Cruises

Viking tends to offer these cruises at the best price and often includes airfare in the vacation package, which can help save money as flights to China are expensive.
Along with being expensive, flights to China often to be very long and exhausting, so our travel agents strongly suggest booking your flights a few days earlier and staying overnight in a hotel to recuperate.
When flying from one site to another, the intertour flights in between the different locations tend to have strict policies against heavy baggage. Be sure to check on these restrictions and pack accordingly.
Remember you will need a Visa to travel to China, be sure to talk to your travel counselor and secure one before it is too late to cancel the cruise.
Throughout September we will be posting small “blurbs” on twitter (@onsite_travel)and at the bottom of our posts on travel tips with more facts about China and sites worth seeing.

Want to know more about booking a trip to China? Contact one of our travel agents! Or go on our travel site under “Cruises” to search for more Chinese vacations yourself.

Picture by Mikelmania

Packing a Suitcase: Traveling Light, Traveling With Caution

I believe almost everyone has grown up with some notion of how to pack for travel. Be it a childhood sleepover, camping, or (as we’ll talk about here) a vacation.

When going on vacation, especially one involving airplane travel and security, packing your luggage can be an extremely important step. Taking measures to ensure your things don’t get lost or damaged can help put your mind at ease and no one wants to get stuck at the airport with extra costs or because their luggage doesn’t meet the airline’s guidelines.

On cruises, the baggage policy tends to be simply that if your baggage fits in your room you can bring it. (Although this may be tempting for all the heavy packers out there, just remember, the more luggage you bring the small your room becomes) However, almost every vacation will involve some sort of airplane travel. As many seasoned travelers know, THIS is where packing can get tricky and what we will be focusing on in this post.

First let’s discuss the difference between carry on and check in:

  • Check in luggage
  • Has size and weight restrictions
    • Usually costs extra domestically but is free for 1 bag per person internationally
    • Is stored elsewhere
  • Carry on luggage
    • Has size restrictions
    • Usually has no extra cost
    • Stays with you

Carry on is usually the best way to go fot shorter trips. Your luggage stays in sight, isn’t tossed around as much, and you don’t have to pay any extra cost. Check with your airline about their baggage policies when you begin packing and keep rechecking as these policies change constantly. Be sure to ask:

  • How much you can travel with: size and weight limits for both carry on and check in
  • How much it costs for check in luggage (it usually ranges from $25 to $40 per bag)
  • What is allowed as a carry on: dimensions of the bag or suitcase

When you do begin packing the first 2 rules of thumb are:

“If you can’t replace it easily, don’t bring it”  IE if you will be really upset that the airline lost the special shirt that yout wife bought for you don’t pack it.

“If you need something no matter what , keep it in your carry on.” IE Prescription medicine, glasses, contacts, anything that would be hard to replace where you are going makes this list. If you can hit a local drug store and replace it you are set but not something that you need scipts for.  SIDENOTE: prescription meds MUST be in the original bottles with the labels attached. TSA types love to mess with this stuff and you don’t need the hassles and delays.

Remember that anything you take can get stolen, damaged, or simply forgotten and if it is irreplaceable, its best left at home. If it is something you need for the trip, like medication or a camera, keep it in a carry on. As mentioned before a carry on stays with you on the plane and is less likely to get lost, stolen, or damaged through your travels. If something does happen to your check in during airline travel, travel insurance will cover missing, lost, or stolen baggage up to a point. The airline will cover very little.

Other Tips for Packing:

  • Get sturdy luggage
    • Luggage gets thrown around, prepare for this as best you can. Buy sturdy luggage that is unlikely to be dented. We at On Site Travel actually recommend hard-sided plastic, it doesn’t dent. Strap down the contents inside and don’t put breakable items in a check in.
  • Avoiding check in baggage is avoiding extra costs and extra headache
    • Try to keep your baggage within carry on restrictions. If you can’t, all breakable and valuable items go in the carry on.
  • Leave extra room for souvenirs
    • Remember, you may buy things on your trip, and they will require extra baggage space. Account for that in advance so you aren’t surprised that your baggage no longer fits within airline policy on your way home. There are two ways to do this:
      • If you’re allowed 2 carry ons, pack a smaller suitcase within a larger suitcase (suitcase-ception) on the plane ride over so that you can use smaller suitcase for souvenirs on the ride home
      • Use an expandable suitcase (make sure that the expanded form is still within carry on limits) and make sure it isn’t expanded on the trip over. You can use the expansion space on the trip home to gain the extra room.
    • If you buy something large while on vacation, ask about shipping options. If it can be shipped home you will not need to worry about fitting it in your luggage.
  • Ask about laundry facilities where you are vacationing (be it a hotel or a cruise)
    • If there are, you can pack less.
    • Although they save room, think about how much room they will take up after they are unsealed after the trip when you are repacking or even during a baggage check. Also, if one of them breaks your baggage can explode. All in all, not a good idea. If you have problems preserving room with clothing, I suggest looking into the KonMari folding method instead.

Happy Packing!

Hawaii Interesting Fact
A creole language in Hawaii spoken by many locals is known as Pidgin. It started on the sugarcane plantations as a way for the English-speaking plantation owners and Non-English speaking Hawaiian and foreign workers to communicate with each other. Pidgin is American English based but includes traces of Hawaiian, Portugese, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, and Tagalog. In recent years a few local books, poems, and plays have even been written in the local dialect and a few popular works have even been translated to Pidgin. One popular example (available on is the Bible, or in Pidgin, Da Jesus Book.

image source:

What to Plan and What Not to Plan

As mentioned previously, one of the benefits of using a Travel Agent is that they can help to arrange most of the travel details for you. However, an important question to ask yourself is to what extent do you wish to plan out your vacation.

If you take a cruise or land tour, excursions are often available to buy or they may be part of the trip. Should these be booked in advance or when you get there? Should you have each stop planned out or give yourself time to loaf around or wander the streets at your own ease? (It is a vacation after all.) In the end, it depends on the person and their idea of a vacation.

Some people love to have every minute planned out and feel that this is the best way to get the most out of the time and others want to just go with the flow and plan as you feel at the moment. Some people want to see everything a place has to offer, regardless of the physical strain (like my younger brother). They want to explore, do it all and see it all, in which case planning excursions and tours in advance is the best way to get the most out of your schedule. Others wish to take in the sights but not at the cost of relaxation (like me). They want to take a step back and take in their surroundings at their own pace, in which case planning your days activities in advance may quickly become exhausting.

Regardless of what type of vacationer you are, here is a generalized list of what you should plan and what you don’t have to plan:

  • To Plan
    • Important transportation
      • Transportation from the airport to hotel and back again. However, if taxis are available in the place you are visiting, even this does not have to be planned. Consult your agent about places you will likely need prepared transport.
    • Hotels
      • Even if you just have to stay in one overnight, hotels should be booked in advance. Not only will you have to call different places to make reservations while you are on vacation, there is always the chance that you may not be able to find one! Never a good situation.
    • Popular attractions/ Things you really want to do
      • As I mentioned before, some people don’t like planning their vacations. However, if you went somewhere to see a certain attraction or participate in a certain activity, book it in advance so that you are covered. Popular attractions will usually have space and you can buy the entry tickets on site. Not always though! An example of this is the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam or the Rome Colosseum. BUY THESE IN ADVANCE online or you will most likely not be able to see it when there. Contact On Site Travel LLC and speak with one of our people for other spots that may be tight on space.
  • Not to Plan
    • Meals
    • Minor transportation

Hawaii Interesting Fact
A popular tourist attraction of the Big Island is the active volcano Kilauea. Legend says that it is the home of the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele, known for her passion and fiery temper. Sightings of her near her home are common legend, appearing either as an old woman or beautiful young lady. If you are impolite to her, your belongings will be destroyed, so mind your manners!

Have a great week!

Adventure of the Month: Hawaiian Islands

Happy August! As this is the first post of the month we will be taking the time to promote a special country or place to help our readers learn more about the world waiting to be explored. This month we are promoting the Hawaiian Islands. Once a country of it’s own, Hawaii is now the U.S.A’s 50th state with tourism being its main industry.

Growing up in Oahu, I can say from first hand experience that it is a wonderful place with beautiful scenery, rich history, and a laid back local culture. It is a place that I miss dearly and one that I would definitely recommend experiencing firsthand.

Hawaii consists of an archipelago with 8 “main” islands which all have their own special characteristics and culture that make it unique:

  • Hawaii – “The Big Island”
  • Maui – “The Valley Isle”
  • Lanai – “The Pineapple Isle”
  • Molokai – “The Friendly Isle”
  • Oahu – “The Gathering Place”
  • Kauai – “The Garden Isle”
  • Niihau – “The Forbidden Isle”
  • Kahoolawe – “The Target Isle”

Some have a certain island that they particularly enjoy but for those that have never visited the islands themselves we at Onsite Travel suggest visiting all of them on a cruise in order to get a “flavor” of each.  This way if you fall in love with one you can always come back!

There are two main ways of cruising the Hawaiian Islands available:

  • Pride of America with Norwegian Cruise Lines : a U.S. based ship that starts and ends in Honolulu and cruises the Hawaiian islands for 7 nights/8 days
    • The Pride of America is a mid-sized ship that can hold about 2500 passengers at a time. It’s rooms are smaller than the later option but it cruises all year round and offers discounts to military and local residents of both California and Hawaii. With this option, our travel agents suggest booking your flights a few days earlier and/ or a few days after the cruise ends and staying overnight in a hotel to spend a few days at the state capital. The Hilton Hawaiian Village or the Ilikai hotels are located between the pier and Waikiki.  This will allow you to see North Shore, Pearl Harbour, and Waikiki.  Something to keep in mind with the NCL Pride of America, the service on this cruise is about 1 star lower then you may be used to.
  • A secondary option is with Princess or Holland America Cruise: two cruise companies who do cruises of the islands that start and end in the West Coast (California).  Still 7 nights in the islands with with 4-5 days at sea on either side of the islands.
    • Although this cruise is longer, it is around the same price as the Pride of America cruise with great service and technically the better “bang for your buck” if you have the vacation time. Because of the longer time period, these cruises have some days at sea to relax and sometimes overnight stays at the islands so you have more time to explore. However, they also only run for three months: September, October, and November. This is perfect for those that want to stay away from busy summers in Hawaii, which is when the islands are flocked by tourists.

Throughout August we will be posting small “blurbs” on twitter (@onsite_travel) and at the bottom of our posts on travel tips with more facts about Hawaii and sites worth seeing.

Want to know more about booking a trip to Hawaii? Contact one of our travel agents! Or go on our travel site under “Cruises” to search for more Hawaiian vacations yourself.

Aloha and A Hui Hou!

image (coast of Kauai) by Paul Bica:


Booking and Planning a Trip, Full Disclosure for the Best Experience

In the last post we discussed things to think about before you talk to an agent about booking a trip.   Once you have decided on a type of trip you need to narrow the focus and get into details that may make or break that overall experience of your vacation.

Although your TA will likely ask you about most of the subjects covered, don’t be shy to ask about specific accommodations you may need or questions about things that are unclear to you. Remember, one of the benefits of booking through a travel agent is helping you meet individual needs with honest, knowledgeable advise.

  • Make sure you fully understand what documents you are responsible for:
    • Travel agents can organize flights and airport pickups and drop off but the traveler is the one who must arrive with all their legal documents, tickets, and baggage at the ready. If you don’t completely understand what you need to have with you, don’t hesitate to ask!  your TA to go over it and it’s always a good idea to write everything down.
  • Discuss the trip accommodations and extras and be sure that you are getting what you need to make your trip a success:
    • Ocean cruises offer a vast array of options that most people aren’t used to and /or don’t know are available.
    • Adjoining rooms for extended families, different dining times and table sizes. Does anyone in your party have special needs like dietary restrictions or physical limitations that will impede your trip?   These issues need to be covered in advance and if it is a modified room you may need to act quickly as these are limited in number and tend to book up quickly.
  • I am bringing this up again because it needs to be addressed. Discuss any accommodations you as an individual may need!
    • Even if you think you will be accommodated for, you may not be! This is not Walmart or Starbucks in a major US city.  It is a surprisingly common problem that a client’s with physical handicaps do not plan ahead or know what they are getting involved in and their trip is severely hampered. For example, perhaps one of your party is wheelchair-bound but your room isn’t handicap accessible. Perhaps one of your party is allergic to shellfish and part of the tour you take includes a lobster dinner. A surprising case came in when an american woman vacationing in Europe complained that many of the tours were not “RASCAL accessible” and that the food portions were not enough for a woman her size. Be sure to mention allergies, health concerns, alternative modes of transportation, and anything else that may need to be accounted for.
    • If you show up with a wheelchair or electric scooter without the proper paperwork you may be denied boarding.  This is reality and NO refunds will be offered because you did not plan ahead.
    • Think long and hard about the method of travel that you are planning as well if you are physically limited.  Europe has many cobblestone roads.  If you are in a wheelchair or use a walker and are not used to walking long distances this is not a great idea for a trip.
  • Ask about the culture of the place your visiting
    • As mentioned before, a travel agent accumulates knowledge about different places through their own customer reviews and experiences. See if they have any places they would recommend visiting or things you should avoid. See if there is anything you should try or be wary of when immersing yourself in a different culture. (We will discuss more about tourist safety in a later article.)
  • Go over emergency precautions and safety tips
    • Hopefully nothing happens when you are on vacation and this is the vast majority of peoples vacations but just in case, most travel agencies offer travel insurance.  It is important to discuss these options with your agent so that you know what to do and who to call. If you are in a foreign country and are unsure of what to do, it is best to go to your country’s embassy or call your agent. (If it is an emergency the first choice is more recommended.)

How To Pick Your Travel Destination

You would be surprised how often a travel agent picks up the phone and with a new potential client and has a conversation like this:

“Hi I’d like to book a vacation.”

“Wonderful! Where would you like to go?”

“I don’t know.”

“How long do you want to go away for?”

“I’m not sure.”

“What’s your budget?”

“As cheap as possible I guess.”


“So can I book?”

I’m sure almost everyone has done this with something at some point be it asking help finding a new favorite book, a new physical activity to enjoy, or the perfect gift for a friend. We know we want or need something and we assume an expert can walk us through picking the perfect version of this thing that we want. They are the expert, aren’t they? The problem is there are scores of trips to choose from and, travel expert or not, a TA doesn’t know you as well as you do.

Before you call or email a travel agent, ask yourself:

  • Where do I want to go?
    • This doesn’t have to be incredibly specific, but think of a general environment you want to vacation in. Do you want to go somewhere tropical? Are you curious about European art or Asian culture? Think of what you want to accomplish or explore when you travel and discuss that with your travel agent. This will give them an idea of places that would interest you specifically.
  • What is my budget?
    • Of course we all want to get the best deal possible, but when creating a budget you are looking at how much you’d be willing to spend more than how much you want to. Remember to factor in not just the overall cost of the trip but also how much you will be spending once you get there in souvenirs, dining, and day trips. Be sure to ask your agent about dining and day trips that may or may not be included in your vacation package.
  • When should I go?
    • Vacations can be booked anywhere from a few months to a week in advance, depending on the type of trip and the season. (If you plan to book one for a popular holiday like Christmas, I would suggest taking care of it in advance!) Factor in the best time for you to travel and how long you’ll have to prepare. If you do book a fairly expensive trip be sure to get cancellation insurance. No matter how silly it sounds you never know what might change in your life or where you are going that would make you want or need to cancel last minute

Although this may seem daunting, remember that your answers don’t have to be incredibly specific. Once you get a general idea of what you want a travel agent can start piecing together what travel experience would best suit your needs and nothing is set in stone until you book your trip!

Starting at the beginning of August, we at onsite travels plan to promote a different country or place each month to help our readers learn about the many places waiting to be explored. If you have any suggestions on places you want to learn more about, please contact us!

image from pixabay:

4 Reasons Why You Should Book Through a Travel Agency

Having a father who was skilled at building and repair, I certainly understand the value of doing things yourself. However, for most, organizing vacations is not one of those things. Online “do-it-yourself” booking engines have revolutionized the industry over the last 15 years but the trend towards using travel agents is on the rise again. This is driven by a desire to speak with someone experienced about travel and also the complexity of booking complete and increasingly complex travel experiences. This isn’t just about staying in your comfort zone, though. Here are 4 reasons why you would be better off booking through a travel agency.

  1. Travel agencies offer cheaper rates
    • Doing things yourself saves you money right? Not necessarily. Travel agencies buy “group space” which is a lot like the way retail stores buy product in bulk.  This group space allows the agency to get additional perks such as on board spending credits and most of the time the cost of the cabin will be less as well.  Larger agencies that do volume business with the cruise lines also get special discounted pricing outside of the groups.  This can also be passed onto the end consumer.
  2. Travel Agents help minimize the amount of planning involved in a trip
    • Vacations require enough preparation on your end without having to organize the finer details of the actual trip. You need to deal with pet and house care arrangements, taking time off of work, budgeting, packing, organizing everyone if its a group trip, and who knows what else! Keeping track of flight changes, scheduling airport pickup, and trying to book hotels to stay at can easily slip your mind. (A mistake booking airline tickets to the wrong airports forced a family friend to have to drive to Mexico for a wedding not too long ago and the $900 that she spent on the tickets was gone as well!) Having someone else keep track of these things gives you more time to sort out your personal responsibilities and make for a smoother running vacation.
  3. Travel Agents can act as a “middle man/organizer” for group trips
    • Like I mentioned before, making sure everyone on a group trip is on the same page is difficult, kind of like organizing cats!  If you have people in different states for example. Travel agents know the information needed from each person and can keep track to be sure everyone is accounted for and will arrive when needed.  Instead of spending hours trying to coordinate family and friends you can literally dump this thankless job on your agent.   They are well equipped to deal with everyone and make sure that people are near each other and dining together.
  4. Travel Agents have insider information
    1. Well, perhaps insider information makes it sound a bit like the Society of the Crossed Keys from The Grand Budapest Hotel. What I truly mean is that, as someone who specializes in booking vacations, a travel agent accumulates knowledge about different places through their own customer reviews and experiences.  This allows them to build a stable of properties and tour companies/cruise lines around the world that they have first hand knowledge of.  It also allows you to avoid mistakes when looking at the pretty pictures on etc that were taken 15 years ago when the hotel was new.  There is a lot of misleading information out there on the web and the TA’s job is to filter this for you so that you don’t have to.

Save yourself the hassles and probably some money as well and use an experienced travel agent!