As international travel gains popularity each year, new destinations are added to bucket lists and new travel gadgets and accessories appear on the market. The way we travel has changed in the past few decades, but that age-old itch to explore and discover new places and experiences remains the same. So how and why are people traveling now? The results of Visa’s recently released Global Travel Intentions (GTI) Survey reveal some interesting travel trends — and tips — to keep in mind for 2018.
Simplifying payments abroad — For as long as anyone can remember, a standard part of traveling to a foreign country involved exchanging currency. Carrying cash involves time, planning, anxiety about losing money and often, wondering what to do with leftover cash once you return home. In fact, loss or theft of cash is the number one money concern for travelers while on trips. And 72 percent of people say working to get their hands on foreign currency prior to departure is a waste of time. With more than 46 million merchants accepting Visa around the world, a Visa card is the most important travel accessory you can carry.
TIP: Use your Visa card and pay in local currency for a competitive exchange rate. A whopping 87 percent of travelers have leftover cash after a trip. However, only 29 percent convert it back to currency that can be used at home. Avoid wasting money by sticking to your Visa card and only pulling out cash when needed.
People travel because of culture — Of all the places to go in the world, why is it some people choose one place over another? According to Visa’s GTI survey, 41 percent of people cite “rich culture” and “friendly locals” as reasons to pick a destination. Although famous monuments, great museums and spectacular palaces continue to draw in visitors, the people who live in a traveler’s destination are hugely important.
TIP: Hang with the locals. Check out fun events such as festivals and concerts to make sure you’re not missing the best events in the city you’re visiting. And don’t forget local flavors of the country’s national dishes.
Ideal vacations look a little different to everyone — What do you want to get out of travel? Is it to meet new friends, see something in person you saw on television, or fulfill a longtime dream? When vacationing, 63 percent of travelers are motivated by a combination of reward and achievement. That means to them, an ideal vacation has some combination of relaxation and experiencing new cultures or exotic locations.
TIP: Block out time on your trip to relax and reflect on the experience. It can be easy to plan activities and sights to see, but it’s important to rest in between.
People are feeling optimistic about travel — Though they may be excited to get out of their comfort zone, some people have reservations about the safety of traveling to far-off locations, or worry about affording such a trip. However, according to the GTI Survey, people are not letting these factors keep them at home. Globally, only 17 percent of people cited security as a top concern and only 19 percent chose a destination because it fit their budget. What that says is that people are willing and eager to visit their dream destinations.
TIP: Budget your trip accordingly. A better understanding of what you can spend can help keep your mind at ease during travel. According to the GTI Survey, global travelers spend an average of $1,793 per trip. However, if you are following Tip #1, keeping cash transactions to a minimum will help in the budgeting process. While on vacation, look for Visa or PLUS logos at point-of-sale terminals or ATMs to ensure international payment cards are accepted.
Technology is the new travel companion — The traveler’s well-folded map and dog-eared guidebook might be a thing of the past. As more travelers adopt digital technology, virtually everything they need to navigate fits right in the palm of their hand. What’s more, 88 percent of travelers have online access while abroad and almost half, 44 percent, use ride-sharing apps to get around once they are on the ground.
TIP: Research apps or technology that might be helpful on your travels. Downloading your bank or credit card apps can help track your money while traveling. As technology continues to revolutionize our daily lives, so it will continue changing how we travel.
Staying on top of trends can allow travelers to plan accordingly. By budgeting, planning, avoiding cash and finding out the best ways to track spending, travelers can get the most from their dream travels — and their wallets.
Beyond the Liberty Bell: Exploring Western Philly
A visit to Philadelphia is sure to be steeped in American history and culture. It doesn’t get more American than the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. And it doesn’t get more authentically Philly than cheesesteaks at competing Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King Of Steaks, and the oldest farmers market in the country, Reading Terminal Market. But, when you’ve been there, done that, what else can you explore?
Philadelphia neighborhoods beckon the savvy traveler who can, by slowing down, get a glimpse of what it’s like to live here, to exhale and experience the heart and soul of a great American city. One neighborhood that’s not on the radar of many travelers, but should be, is West Philadelphia, or West Philly as it is commonly known, with University City as its bustling heartbeat. Aptly named — the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University are located here — the area buzzes with youthful exuberance. The diverse, worldwide student population brings the magic of different languages, dialects and customs to the area.
Strolling along the bustling sidewalks, visitors will find a foodie’s dream with a vibrant street-food scene, high-end, locally owned restaurants and everything in between. Historic sites and museums are everywhere, with some pop culture icons as well, and the parks add a touch of green to the cobblestone and brick.
Here are some gems of West Philly not to be missed:
* The Penn Museum will take you back to ancient times in faraway places and other lands. You’ll find jewelry from Ethiopia, Mayan sculptures, an Egyptian tomb, the Granite Sphinx of Ramses and new Middle East galleries. After you’ve seen the amazing American History of Philadelphia, the Penn Museum gives you the world.
* World Cafe Live is a multi-level venue devoted to music and good food. Take a seat upstairs at the chic Upstairs Live Cafe, where you can get late-night food and drinks along with an eclectic array of live music (they don’t call it World Cafe Live for nothing!). Downstairs Live is a larger concert venue, hosting nationally known artists. It’s also the home of WXPN radio, which broadcasts a show of the same name.
* The Study at University City is a local gem for guests who believe the right hotel can enhance and elevate an already wonderful trip into the stratosphere. This is not a cookie-cutter chain, but a boutique that features local artwork in an onsite gallery; hand-blown glass light fixtures (locally made); display cases with artifacts of the city’s past; and its lobby, dubbed the Living Room, a vibrant and dynamic core of the hotel, a gathering place for guests to feel at home.
* Schuylkill River Trail meanders along some 30 miles of the Schuylkill river, and is a favorite of bicyclists, walkers, runners and families. Enjoy the green space along the riverfront, or use it as your way to and from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and other area attractions. If you really want to get your exercise and American history on, you can pick up the trail in West Philly and take it all the way to Valley Forge National Historical Park.
* The multitude of cuisines in the West Philly neighborhood is reflective of the diversity of the student population. A true foodie destination that’s a bit off the beaten path, you’ll find African, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Indian spots with daring fusions of flavors; upscale, chef-driven restaurants; and down-home Philly goodness. Highly recommended from the city’s foodie community: Marigold Kitchen (its gin-marinated venison gets rave reviews), Aksum, which blends Mediterranean and North African cuisine; and Dock Street Brewing (Philly’s first microbrewery) for all-American bar food, burgers and of course, beer.
For other insider tips on exploring West Philly, contact the knowledgeable staff at The Study at University City. They’ll make sure you get the most out of your visit to the neighborhood.
The Bern Old Town: Shopping and cultural experiences of a special kind
The Bernese love laid-back, hour-long shopping trips – and will do so in any weather. Thanks to the longest weather-protected stretch of shopping promenade in Europe, this is in fact quite feasible. The arcades are admirably suited for a jaunty stroll among the historic city scenery.
It is in the Bernese Old Town in particular where one can be witness to the unique historical ambiance and combine shopping with a journey through time into the past.
The Kramgasse forms the centerpiece of the Bern Old Town. This alley was once Bern’s busiest trade route for marketers and shopkeepers who loudly advertised and sold their goods here, and swapped the latest news. The six kilometer long series of arcades form a distinctive feature of the Old Town. The history of this arcade passage reaches back to the earliest city development (1191), and even then served to accommodate market stalls and businesses. Traders could thus trade and earn their living in any weather.
The Bernese also demonstrated their practical sense in putting the nether regions to good use. They built vaulted cellars under every house in order to be able to store their goods. Nowadays, entirely different treasures are hidden in these cellars. Descend the steep stone steps, and find yourself in a different world. The underground reveals trendy and traditional bars, clubs, theatres, cellar cinemas and special fashion shops. There’s no other place that offers such historic settings for a shopping excursion!
Destination Langkawi: Beyond the Beaches
With 550-million years of geological history and generations of mythical folklore, there is always something new for guests of Four Seasons Resort Langkawi to uncover on the island.
A paradise of panoramas, the Langkawi archipelago is an amalgam of mangroves and mountains, rainforests and rivers, wildlife and waterfalls, legends and local charm, tidal flats and coral reefs, cliffs and caves. Whether appreciated from the vantage point of a bike, kayak, boat, cable car, sky-bridge or simply on foot, the islands’ thrilling topography ensures a truly breathtaking backdrop for myriad magical and memorable encounters.
Beyond the beaches, water sports and diving, Langkawi offers visitors rainforests, mangrove “sea forests,” cascading waterfalls, hidden lakes and glistening paddy fields to explore.
Outdoor enthusiasts will be spoiled for choice. The uninhabited islet of Pulau Langgun offers an exhilarating rainforest immersion and lush wilderness trek to the hidden sanctuary of Tasik Langgun, a large freshwater lake. Build an appetite biking through paddy fields to Durian Perangin Waterfall – 14-tiers of clear cascading water – perfect for a refreshing dip and picnic. Or visit the island’s tallest waterfall, Temurun (30 metres or 98 feet), for another scenic natural swimming pool.
A mangrove kayak get guests unobtrusively close to the magic and mystery of forests that straddle land and sea. Traverse small, dense tributaries and follow the natural ebb and flow of this fascinating ecosystem to uncover hidden delights behind each corner. Alternatively, take a coastal kayak along the emerald seascapes of Langkawi’s less explored eastern rim, and paddle through a 15 metre (49 foot) cave tunnel for an unforgettable swim in a salt-water lake.
Mineral and Mystical
Steeped in geological heritage, Langkawi has some of the world’s oldest and most intriguing naturally formed gems. Shaped by plate tectonics, volcanic activity, ocean submersion and erosion, Langkawi’s many rock formations have evolved over millennia into exciting natural habitats, many animated by fantastical folklores and legends.
Adrenalin seekers can heed the call of the ancient limestone cliffs for an afternoon of rock-climbing and abseiling within the Resort’s grounds. Just a short distance away, the Langkawi Sky Bridge – suspended 700 metres (2,300 feet) above sea level and accessed via the world’s steepest cable car – offers an up close experience of Malaysia’s oldest rocks (the Machinchang Formation), not to mention far-reaching views extending to southern Thailand.
Fuel for the imagination, Langkawi’s craggy coastline of hidden coves, sunken caves and majestic peaks is straight out of a fairytale and sets the scene for a magical adventure. The intriguing Gua Cerita (Cave of Legends) is the mythical home of a giant phoenix, a captive princess and a deadly giantess. Tasik Dayang Bunting (Lake of the Pregnant Lady) was formed when a huge limestone cave collapsed, resulting in a figure resembling a pregnant woman lying on her back. Locals believe that the lake, famed for the legend of celestial princess Mambang Sari, possesses mystical powers.
Back at the Resort, Spa devotees will be entranced by the element-based offerings at the Geo Spa, where the ancient healing energies of the Geopark meet bespoke natural treatments by ila.
Wildlife and Local Life
A bird watcher’s paradise – the open rainforest corridor, mist-covered Gunung Raya peak, and local village ponds provide the opportunity for ornithologists to tick a fair few flying friends off their must see list. Langkawi is home to approximately 200 species including: flower peckers, hills mynas, dollar birds, sun birds, eagles, woodpeckers, lesser whistling-ducks, little egrets, Chinese pond herons, striated swallows and the largest of them all, the great hornbill, measuring in at 1.3 metres (more than 4 feet).
Animal lovers will not want to miss the mangrove boat safari into the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park and its maze of meandering mangroves for exciting up-close encounters with majestic eagles and kites, mischievous macaques, fish that walk (mudskippers), colourful fiddler crabs, shy otters and sleeping bats.
Cultural connoisseurs will be enthralled by the Malaysian book village of Kampung Buku and the bucolic beauty of stilted wooden houses in local villages. A visit to the fishermen’s village of Kuala Teriang enables visitors to quietly observe fisherfolk return with their day’s catch, or sample delicious deep-fried banana fritters with local milk tea at wooden roadside stalls. Back at the Resort, relish local spices and ingredients during a Malay-cuisine cooking class – available as both adult and child-size experiences.
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