Travel Q&A


Rakshit Desai, Managing Director, FCM Travel Solutions India, Flight Centre Travel Group Australia's Indian subsidiary, answers your questions on Travel - how-tos, trends, recommendations and more, as featured in ET Panache Travel, an accompaniment to Economic Times.

Running trips are a great way to explore countries and can be booked as local tours or on your own.
 
You can explore running routes and tracks in various regions of the world including Taiwan, Japan, most of Europe (London, Berlin & Budapest are recommended), the USA (Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, New Orleans, New York and Austin) as well as Canada. Most of these destinations have good network coverage and a range of pocket friendly hotels, motels, and hostels for decent breaks between your runs. Apart from these, small group local 'running sightseeing' tours are also available in most of these places.
He can arrive in the United States right up to the last date of validity as indicated on the visa. The Customs and Border Protection officer on arrival will determine the duration of his stay. The visa can expire while he is still in the United States, though he must ensure that he does not overstay the period of time the officer has granted.
For an 8-day trip, I would recommend Europe because there's plenty to see and do, and it is very well connected through a network of trains. You can look at Switzerland, France or even Italy - all of them are very scenic, have a rich history and have several cafes and bars you can explore. Apart from this, you can also look at a beach vacation in Mauritius or Bali with Gili Islands.
An ideal itinerary would be to start the tour in Cochin followed by Munnar, a hill station well-known for its Tea Gardens;Thekkady, celebrated for its Wildlife Sanctuary; the backwaters with houseboat experiences of Kumarakom and Allepey; Trivandrum famous for its Padmanabhan Temple and a day's trip to Kovalam for its scenic beaches, which can be experienced while staying in Trivandrum.
Although Egypt has faced some unrest in the past, it is now safe for international tourists and is figuring in the lists of ‘must-visit’ holiday destinations for this year. The best time to travel to the country is between October and April when the climate is pleasant. Ideally you could spend about 7 to 10 days exploring the country. Apart from Cairo and Alexandria, you should experience the Nile River cruise to visit other interesting sights such as Kom and Ombo, temple of Edfu and temple of Abu Simbel. My advice would be would be to book an all-inclusive tour that will include food, accommodation, sight-seeing etc simply to avoid the hassle of planning, researching and booking. Also note that even though no vaccinations are mandatory to visit Egypt, you can still get them as a precaution.
Japan experiences pleasant spring season from February to May and then a blazing summer season from June to August — so carry light winter and summer apparel accordingly. Indian restaurants are not readily available in Japan, however major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka have a few restaurants offering basic Indian cuisine. There are no restrictions on packaged food, and in fact they are extremely popular in Japan. I would suggest you choose a reasonably priced accommodation close to your son’s firm to avoid long commutes. Local cabs are the easiest and quickest form of transport along with the railway line.
Since you’re travelling with kids, don’t miss the vibrant nightlife of Phuket across Bangla Road with shows such as FantaSea Show. You can also explore Islands like Phi Phi and James Bond which are known for their clear water and white sand. Apart from these, you could visit Wat Chalong, one of the most important temples, Big Buddha on top of Nakkered Hills or the Old Phuket Town with the East and West Coast of Phuket viewpoints.
One of the best ways to explore Europe is by rail given the convenience of network and accessibility. Both these countries have alluring castles, scenic cruises and sightseeing locations to explore and are popular for their history and architecture. In Austria, the must visit cities are Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Villach and Linz. In Germany, I suggest visiting Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt, Cologne and Dusseldorf. These cities are well equipped with family friendly accommodations. Do keep a day each to explore the Black Forest in Germany and Schönbrunn Palace in Austria.
As long as you are not staying over in London, you do not require a UK visa for the transit. Major cities you must visit are New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC with 2-3 days required for each. In New York, the cruise to Liberty Island and Statue of Liberty is something you don't want to miss along with the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Centre, and Brooklyn Bridge. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Eastern State Penitentiary and The Franklin Institute are your stops in Philadelphia. The US capital is filled with history; The White House, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and United States Capitol are must see on the list. Niagara Falls is the highlight of East Coast with its Maid of Mist boat ride and Cave of The Winds Tour. A night view of the Niagara Falls is breathtaking!
I would recommend the ideal connectivity would be via London. You can take a stopover in London and Scotland for a week, where only UK visa is required to explore the country. A trip covering London, Edinburgh and Glasgow with 2 nights each is a fitting option. Alternatively, you can explore London and Paris for 2 nights each along with 3-4 nights in Switzerland which would require both UK and Schengen visas. All the countries are unique with a combination of historic locations as well as scenic beauty.
For about a week's holiday with kids, I would suggest you choose from options like Hong Kong with Disneyland & Ocean Park, Malaysia with Legoland or A'famosa, or a combination of Switzerland & Paris in Europe (specially in summer months of May - July) including Disneyland Paris and Swiss mountain excursions. All of these destinations are suitable for all age groups including children since they all have a combination of beautiful sightseeing activities and theme parks.
Guwahati and Shillong are known for their rich scenic beauty and are thus ideal for nature lovers. I would recommend excursions to Cherrapunjee, the wettest place in the world, Mawlynnong which is Asia's cleanest village and Dawki, a small town near India & Bangladesh. In Shillong, major city sights include Don Bosco Museum and Ward's Lake. You can visit Kalashetra which depicts the culture & history of Assam through a light and sound show and also see Umium Lake surrounding Sylvian Hills on the way from Guwahati to Shillong. En-route Client can. Rhinoland of Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary is one sightseeing highlight that every age group will enjoy being in the North Eastern India.
If you intend to do a four-day trip, then you can stay in Sentosa Island for two nights and spend the other two in Singapore. Since you are travelling with kids, Sentosa Island offers a wide range of attractions like the Universal Studios, Adventure Cove, Madame Tussauds, Butterfly Park, Insect Kingdom and many more. In Singapore, Jurong Bird Park, Singapore River Safari, Marina Bay Sands Sky Park and the Spectra laser show are some of the major attractions for sightseeing and amusement. You can check out the 'Singapore Seafood Republic' restaurant which is quite popular for its specialized exotic seafood servings.
Thailand is famous for its culture and tradition. At the same time, it is also known for the vibrant nightlife it offers. Places of prime attraction include Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Krabi, Chiang Mai etc. that require minimum two nights each for a fulfilling experience. This can include island visits to 'Phi Phi', 'James Bond', '4 islands', etc. Besides you can also visit animal and marine life amusement parks like 'Safari World' and 'Marine Park'. At Phuket, kids can enjoy the 'Phuket FantaSea' show and the 'Siam Niramit Theatre' during evenings. Most of these cities offer great shopping experiences which you should not miss. Vegetarian food is available everywhere however Indian cuisine may not be available everywhere.
Australia has some of the strictest customs and quarantine laws when it comes to food. It is advisable to avoid carrying any form of food products as it can lead to questioning from authorities at customs and immigration.
For a trip to Sri Lanka, 7 to 9 days are sufficient to explore the major destinations within the country. Ideally your itinerary should include Kandy, Nuwara, Eliya, Bentota and Colombo which are the major highlights of the country. You can also visit Yala National Park, a paradise for nature and wildlife lovers. Sri Lanka is also well known for its rich culture and heritage, so I would recommend places like Dambulla, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa and Anuradapura that are famous for temples and exquisite caves. Don't forget to get some cinnamon back home!
When it comes to great holiday experiences, self-driving through Europe, especially through the countryside, is at the top of the list. Although right-hand drive requires a little bit of practice to get used to, most people are able to pick it up soon. Car rental companies easily rent out a vehicle if you are carrying a valid Indian driving license (in English) and a credit card. Of course, getting an automatic car would be helpful as you have one less thing to worry about. Try reading up on road signs, traffic laws, driving rules and regulations of the country before starting the journey as you don't want to get fined on your first drive in the country! Most importantly, enjoy the drive!
The best time to travel to Turkey is during the pleasant season of spring and autumn which is between April to May and September to November. An ideal duration for your stay will range from 9 - 11 days which is enough to cover major cities and experiences like history and culture in Istanbul, hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia, the springs of Pamukkale and the Port city of Kusadasi. Apart from these, you can also relax at the beautiful beaches of Antalya.
Sydney is a beautiful city with a plethora of sightseeing options. I would suggest you visit all the hotspots of the city such as Harbour Bridge, Darling Harbour, Cockle Bay, the iconic Opera House, Circular Bay, Bondi Beach, and also enjoy a breathtaking view of the city skyline from Milson’s Point. Furthermore, you can also opt for full day trips such as the Tour of Hunter Valley Winery. The Sydney Showboat Cruise has extravagant shows which are a must! Australia is a tourist friendly country, offers a high level of hospitality, and is very safe.
To enjoy full vistas of these 3 countries, you would require a minimum of 2 weeks to cover all the popular locations. In the UK alone, you would need a total of 7 nights and 8 days to soak in the sights and sounds of London, Edinburgh and Glasgow. For your next stop in France, keep aside at least 2 days to explore all the nooks and corners of Paris, enjoying invigorating walks around the Latin Quarters topped off with a 3-day tour of the French wine country. If you are admirers of Renaissance art then a visit to Venice, Florence and Pisa is a must in Italy and all these cities are easily accessible through bus services from Rome. If your preference is vegetarian cuisine, you can find many restaurants in these countries catering to vegetarians or vegans. All of Europe is well connected by railways, with hotels and B&Bs located close to the train station, making commuting easy and comfortable.
France is a scenic country with lots of beautiful cities. Apart from Paris, I would suggest you visit cities such as Lyon, the French Riviera consisting of Nice, Monte Carlo, Cannes and Monaco. All these cities are located in Southern France and require a minimum of 2 nights per city along with 3 nights for your stay in Paris.
Locations typically endorsed are those that not just appreciate the value of the Indian MICE market but also welcome them with local expertise and logistical backing in terms of wide selection of airline seats, choices in accommodation, flexibility and authorisations for Indian chefs to execute their ‘desi magic.’ Aligning themselves to the distinctive nuances of the Indian MICE market like pre-empting situations and contributing to offering solutions or assisting in altering the program as required are essential. Destinations like Paris, Zurich, Amsterdam, Rome, Sydney, Auckland, Athens, Munich, Istanbul have passed the test of time and become very popular locations for large MICE gatherings.
Switzerland and France are two of the most scenic and oft-visited countries in Europe. You should plan to spend four to five days in Switzerland covering cities like Interlaken, Lucerne and Zurich with excursions to Mt. Jungfraujoch or Mt. Titlis in the Swiss Alps. In France, you should take at least three days to experience the sights and sounds of Paris like the Louvre Museum, Versailles Palace, Eiffel Tower, a cruise on River Seine and the beautifully illuminated city sights. Weather in Europe is generally pleasant in June, and I recommend carrying light woolens and comfortable shoes.
On the East Coast, you should spend six to eight nights visiting the cities of New York, Washington DC and Philadelphia. Upstate New York is beautiful and a drive up to Niagara Falls will be adventurous. En-route you can stop by at the delightful Hershey's Chocolate World. Since most of the sight-seeing options such as The Empire State Building, cruise on Statue of Liberty in New York and The Smithsonian Air & Space Museum require entry tickets, I would recommend going for pre-booked services. In Vegas, you should spend at least four days in the vibrant city, exploring the Las Vegas Strip and Promenade on an exhilarating night tour. A helicopter ride over the strip is another great way to see the skyline of this city. Visiting the magnificent Grand Canyon on the Colorado River should also be on your must visit list.
Considering your age bracket and given the high cost of medical expenses in US, a travel insurance that offers higher medical coverage will be most suitable. I would recommend checking quotes from Bharti AXA or Reliance General Insurance. You can also enquire with your travel agent as they might offer you a more competitive deal.
Lido de Paris, as it is popularly known, is a grand cabaret show with several dancers, singers and other performers enacting the dazzling night life experience of Paris. The show can be enjoyed by adults from all age groups including senior citizens. However, keep in mind that spectators have to adhere to a specific dress code - elegant formal or smart casual wear.

An excursion to Mount Jungfraujoch is one of the most exhilarating experiences in Switzerland and I would definitely recommend it. June is a good time to visit as the weather conditions will be conducive to sightseeing and other activities apart from mountain excursion in the region.
Germany is a magnificent combination of historic landmarks and scenic journeys. You should start your trip from Frankfurt and end at Munich and in between cover Heidelberg, Cologne and Baden-Baden. Frankfurt is the ideal point of entry where you can spend some time exploring its historical landmarks such as Romer Hall, St. Paul's Church, Old Sachsenhausen and Opera House. In Munich, don't miss its many automobile museums including the BMW Museum, landmark sights such as the Nymphenburg Palace, Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial and many more.

Keep some time to visit the stunning Neuschwanstein and Linderhof castles which are nestled in the heart of Bavarian Alps. No trip to Germany is complete without a visit to the Black Forest, known for its dense, evergreen forests, picturesque villages, cuckoo clocks and of course home of the famous Black Forest cake.
If you hold a multiple entry Schengen visa, you are allowed to enter and stay in Bulgaria for a period not exceeding 90 days within a 180-day period from the date of your first entry. In that case you do not need a Bulgarian short stay visa.
Africa abounds with incredible sights, from soaring sand dunes to savannas teeming with wildlife. For some ultimate wildlife experiences of the continent's many wonders, you must explore trips to Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, Rwanda and more. In South Africa, spot the Big 5 - lions, elephants, rhinos, buffaloes and leopards - on a thrilling safari, while the annual wildebeest migration on safari in the Serengeti is a sight you must not miss. Some of the private expeditions that I would recommend include:

Kenya Private Expedition: You can opt for a unique lodge at 'olDonyo' where guests receive a morning horseback ride into the bush with breakfast.

Botswana Private Expedition: This includes viewing all kinds of wildlife; Duba and Zarafa camp for morning and evening game drives as well as the guided game walks; a visit to the world-famous Victoria Falls and a Zambezi river trip

You can book these National Geographic Expeditions through Travel Tours, their official travel partner in India.
During a three-week self-driven trip, you can extensively explore the North and the South Islands. And for an adventurous bout, Queenstown at its best can be covered in 4 nights. Auckland, Rotorua, Wellington, Franz Joseph and Christchurch are the major regions that you can explore within 2-3 nights each. While at Auckland you must visit Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium, Antarctic Encounter and The Sky Tower. Waitomo must be visited for their famous Glowworm Caves and Nelson for the Abel National Park. A full day at the Tongario National Park can be included where you will be mesmerised by the country side and the wine tasting experience at the Naiper Winery. Kaikoura is also a must visit for some enthralling whale watching experience. I was in the country recently and would personally recommend staying in a quaint B&B in the town of Akaroa.
Bali is one of the most sought-after honeymoon destinations and offers fascinating options right from watersport activities to sunset cruises and shopping expeditions. The Kuta, Seminyak and Nusa Dua areas are famous for luxurious accommodations overlooking beautiful beaches. You must visit the volcanic area of Kintamani and the traditional village of Ubud known for local handicrafts and art. Bali Safari and Marine Park gives you an unforgettable experience of Balinese culture and the exotic wild life. The country is also home to many fabulous temples such as Tanah Lot Temple, Uluwatu Temple and Mengwi Temple.
When visiting Schengen countries, you will be required to go through the immigration process only once at the first international destination, which in this case is Amsterdam. During immigration, your passport is checked and stamped, which provides you the permission to be in that country. Additionally, in order to leave the airport premises, it is advisable to check with the immigration officer.
Immersive travel experiences are gradually picking pace with travellers. You are not simply visiting a location as a traveller, but are engaging with the locals. If you are looking for such bespoke trips, National Geographic’s Signature Land Trips will offer a personalised and deeply engaging travel experience.

I recommend the following regions:
l Colombia: With the company of experts from National Geographic and The Wall Street Journal, you can explore revitalisedneighbourhoods in Bogotá and Medellín and learn how strategic public projects have helped convert crime-ridden communities into havens of creativity to travel. You must also venture to the countryside to meet coffee and cacao farmers, former guerilla fighters and indigenous tribes, and hear their stories of recovery. By immersing yourself in Colombia’s vibrant culture you will get firsthand understanding of the country’s troubled history and its promising future.

l Mongolia: You can witness Mongolia’s most famous traditional sporting festival, ‘Nadaam’, where you will get close-up view of their wrestling, archery, and horse-racing competitions. You should also visit the Nomadic families, look for fossils near the Flaming Cliffs, and listen to traditional throat singing. Enjoy the exclusive company of a Nat Geo expert who will give you valuable insights about the country.

You can book these National Geographic curated expeditions through Travel Tours, their official travel partner in India.
He should return to the US after attending the wedding in India since his H1B visa is valid till December 5th, 2019. However, I would recommend reconfirming the same with local authorities in the US before travelling to avoid any last-minute inconvenience.
While there are several countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Seychelles and others that offer visa on arrival for Indians, all of these will experience rainfall during July. Why don't you look at a safari holiday in Kenya which is expected to have clear skies and little possibility of rain? While Kenya offers on-arrival visa to Indians, obtaining Yellow Fever Vaccination 15 days prior to your travel is mandatory.
Switzerland is known for its scenic countryside and good-looking cities, all very well-connected by an excellent network of rails, buses and boats. Your sister should get a Swiss Travel Pass (for 3, 4, 8 or 15 days - depending on the duration of her stay) which gives her access to their entire transport system. I would recommend visiting Lucerne, Interlaken and Zurich and even head to the Jungfrau region or the spectacular Mt Titlis from here. Don't miss Geneva, known for its beautiful city Lake Geneva and several high-street and luxury brands. Very close to Geneva is Montreux from where you can also make a trip to Chillon Castle and or explore chocolate factories onboard the Swiss Chocolate Train. Both of these are included in the Swiss Pass but you will have to pay an additional reservation fees for Swiss Chocolate Train.

A multi-currency prepaid forex card would be highly recommended as she can load both Swiss Francs and Euros (if she's travelling to countries nearby). Also, it saves around 3.5 - 7% cross currency charges when compared to a Credit/Debit Card.
November is a great time to visit South Africa! It is also one of their busiest months and all good hotels generally get sold out much in advance. I would recommend you make your bookings at the earliest to ensure you get the hotels you have in mind. South Africa ideally requires at least 7-8 nights. If you have more time and budget is not a constraint then you should definitely club Mauritius with South Africa.
For senior citizens, I would recommend Singapore, Bali, Hong Kong, Macau, Dubai and Sri Lanka in Asia which can be explored within a week. These destinations can be visited throughout the year, involve minimal physical exertion in terms of exploring, and are also cost effective. If you have more time for a longer trip, I would recommend London, Paris, Spain and East Europe since the basic sightseeing can be done by coach or a hop-on hop-off bus and involve very little walking around. April to October is the best time to visit these regions. I would also recommend you to take a comprehensive international travel insurance that will provide a cover for medical expenses, pre-existing medical condition and emergency medical evacuations for senior citizens.
You need to apply for re-issue of passport and submit the application form at your nearest PSK/POPSK. A new passport booklet will be issued to you. However, additional pages will not be provided in the existing passport.
If you are looking for a personalised and highly interactive travel experience, I would suggest a private expedition. A few of my recommendations for Australia would be:

Lizard Island: Home to sugar-white beaches and mangrove forests, this island is bordered by the Great Barrier Reef. Discover the wonders of the aquatic world with snorkelling, riding on a catamaran, motorised dinghy or glass bottom paddle skis to witness the extra-ordinary coral formations and neon coloured fish. Spend an evening relaxing on the sunset cruise.

Uluru: Visit the Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park, immersing yourself in its ancient cave paintings and mystical stories. Walk into the Walpa Gorge, which cuts between two of the 36 domed rock formations.

Kangaroo Island: Known for its pristine landscapes, you will encounter the rare flora and fauna that inhabit "Australia's Galápagos." This could be your last stop, where you can witness colonies of Kangaroos and Wallabies grazing in the surrounding fields while relishing some canapés.

You can book a National Geographic curated expedition to Australia through Travel Tours, their official travel partner in India.
Since you plan to travel in December, I would recommend you visit Spain and Portugal. Some of the popular destinations that you must visit in Spain are Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Malaga, Granada, Toledo, Cordoba and Ronda. If you wish to opt for a self-drive trip, you can explore the beautiful castles around Northern Spain and the province of La Rioja which is famous for its traditional winery. For exotic honeymoon stays, I suggest the Spanish Paradors which are present throughout the country.

In Portugal, you must visit the capital city of Lisbon, located at the bank of Tagus River and famous for Portuguese historical imprints. You can also visit other cities like Oporto, Guimarães and Sintra which are famous for historical architecture and are also home to some UNESCO World Heritage sites. If you have time, explore the city of Cascais which offers beautiful panoramic views of the adjoining coastline or Estoril which has some excellent casinos and magnificent gardens.
While your itinerary seems feasible, I would suggest you fly to the state of California from Orlando and visit the city of Los Angeles, continuing your journey to San Diego and San Francisco. These regions are well known for amazing beaches such as Santa Monica and Long Beach. Subsequently, you can fly to Seattle and opt for an Alaskan Cruise to Vancouver. You can enjoy this Western Canadian cosmopolitan city before your flight to Toronto to meet your friends. I would also recommend you to take a comprehensive international travel insurance that will cover for medical expenses, pre-existing medical condition and emergency medical evacuations for senior citizens.
Places like Thailand, Bali and Singapore would be safe choices if you're concerned about easy availability of Indian food. But I would recommend that you look beyond dietary preferences and explore destinations where your team can look forward to newer experiences. MICE organisers are increasingly focusing on menus, which cater to the Indian palate and are even willing to fly Indian chefs to any country around the world, if required. You can consider destinations like Spain, Copenhagen and Seoul, which have a lot to offer for MICE trips.
Since you plan to travel in December, I would recommend you visit Spain and Portugal. Some of the popular destinations that you must visit in Spain are Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Malaga, Granada, Toledo, Cordoba and Ronda. If you wish to opt for a self-drive trip, you can explore the beautiful castles around Northern Spain and the province of La Rioja which is famous for its traditional winery. For exotic honeymoon stays, I suggest the Spanish Paradors which are present throughout the country.
In Portugal, you must visit the capital city of Lisbon, located at the bank of Tagus River and famous for Portuguese historical imprints. You can also visit other cities like Oporto, Guimarães and Sintra which are famous for historical architecture and are also home to some UNESCO World Heritage sites. If you have time, explore the city of Cascais which offers beautiful panoramic views of the adjoining coastline or Estoril which has some excellent casinos and magnificent gardens.
While your itinerary seems feasible, I would suggest you fly to the state of California from Orlando and visit the city of Los Angeles, continuing your journey to San Diego and San Francisco. These regions are well known for amazing beaches such as Santa Monica and Long Beach. Subsequently, you can fly to Seattle and opt for an Alaskan Cruise to Vancouver. You can enjoy this Western Canadian cosmopolitan city before your flight to Toronto to meet your friends. I would also recommend you to take a comprehensive international travel insurance that will cover for medical expenses, pre-existing medical condition and emergency medical evacuations for senior citizens.
Places like Thailand, Bali and Singapore would be safe choices if you’re concerned about easy availability of Indian food. But I would recommend that you look beyond dietary preferences and explore destinations where your team can look forward to newer experiences. MICE organisers are increasingly focusing on menus, which cater to the Indian palate and are even willing to fly Indian chefs to any country around the world, if required. You can consider destinations like Spain, Copenhagen and Seoul, which have a lot to offer for MICE trips.

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