Most independent travelers shun group tours except when they have no choice, but at times it can make sense to go on an organized travel tour. This is expecially true when it’s a vacation on a specific time frame, not part of a long-term backpacking trip. And it’s somewhere like Laos.

Budget Travel magazine just ran a nice article on a reluctant tour person’s trip to Laos. For a country like that one, where tourism is not all that developed and getting around is never quick, she thought it made sense. She booked with Intrepid, which is definitely one of the better choices out there. They are one of the null. Read the article here. Laos: A Tour That Even Loners Can Love.

argentina guideThis past summer when I went to Argentina, I gathered up a bunch of Argentina guides and put them through their paces for an article in Transitions Abroad. I tried them all out for planning the trip and then took a few with us to use while on the move.

The article is now on newsstands or…you do have a subscription don’t you? If you are an independent U.S. or Canadian traveler, you should. Anyway, it’s also online, so follow this link for guidebooks in Argentina. Although this was done for a specific country, it does give you an idea of how the different guides are set up and what their specific strengths are. I was surprised in some cases, annoyed in others. The lesson is, spend some time leafing through them in the bookstore or library to figure out which one is going to be best for your own travels.

If you want to pop onto a web site and find a hotel in Europe or North America there are plenty of options. And in specific regions you’ve got specialized sites that cover an area well, but in others–nada.

New sites are always popping up trying to be their underserved country’s first choice though. This morning I checked out an Indian accommodation site called inasra that is a good start anyway. I pulled up a few towns I like at random to see which Indian hotels were listed. In Hampi there was only one–actually in Hospet. Six were listed for Jaisalmer. Goa has 11 listings–in an area with a zillion hotels. They look to be going after the crowd that appreciates small hotels with character, though, so if you’re not on a backpacker budget, these are mostly good options worth checking out, with rates often around $30-$60 a night.

Be advised when your’e scrolling through the choices that India is in the drawn-out process of changing its city names to sound more Hindi, creating all kinds of frustrations for travelers. So it’s not Cochin, it’s Kochi. Not Madras, but Chennai. Not Bombay, but Mumbai. Calcutta is Calicut. Bangalore is still listed as Bangalore on here, thankfully, but will soon change to something like Bengashoobedoobedoo.

Anyway, a typical result for many developing countries. A good supplement, but still no substitute for a solid guidebook on where you’re going.

One of the guest contributors in my book Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune is Joel Widzer. He’s a hard-core road warrior and author of The Penny Pincher’s Guide to Luxury Travel.

mekong vietnamHere’s a link to an article of his called A Contrarian’s Best Bet: Vietnam. It’s a good assessment of why Vietnam is a fantastic value, from the backpacker level all the way up to the pampered luxury level. I agree wholeheartedly, especially since some of the annoying practices that used to bug tourists have been dropped–such as two-tiered prices on the national airline and train system. Here’s an excerpt from his column:

Outside the cities, Vietnam offers visitors some amazing sights, including the limestone grottoes at Halong Bay (a World Heritage site), lovely vistas over the Mekong Delta, and the harmonious blend of mountains, forests and streams of the Perfume Pagoda. Vestiges of the imperial past evoke dreamy images of the long-ago Orient, while the temples provide a welcome respite from the rush of the surrounding world, inviting contemplation. Indeed, Vietnam is a peaceful sanctuary, as yet untouched by the kinds of terrorist activity that have encroached on tourist areas in Bali and Thailand. In fact, one of the world’s largest risk management companies identified Vietnam as one of the safest destinations in the world.

Add Vietnam to you list–especially if you are planning a round-the-world journey. You’ll be glad you did–especially if you like to get a lot for your money.

grinch airlinesIf you belong to a frequent flyer program where you’ve had no activity for a while, you might want to dust off those old account statements and do something to reactivate yourself. There’s always a travel grinch this time of year and it looks like this year it’s going to be USAir and Delta. USAir reduced its activity period from 3 years to 1-1/2. Delta reduced theirs to 2. See the details on recent changes in this article.

This means that if you have mileage in these programs (and others that may get equally customer-unfriendly in the months to come), you need to do something to start the clock ticking again or you could forfeit your mileage balance. Redeem miles if you can, fly them if it makes sense. The least painful way to re-up though is to buy something through their mileage mall online. Get a CD through Best Buy, order some songs through i-Tunes, send your honey some flowers, subscribe to a magazine using mileage. Get something on the books soon so you don’t get ripped off.