How to get compensated for flight delays

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Worst Airport Nightmare! Well there is an app to the rescue! 

AirHelp is on my phone and it should be on yours. I’m reprinting this article by Gilbert Ott* so that you have all the details on this great service. I hope we never have to use it, but what a great service if we do.

What is AirHelp?
AirHelp is a free app available for Android and iPhone that automatically tracks flights for delays, cancellations, and any other unforeseen circumstances that could mean compensation for passengers. Rather than sending people to a customer service phone number that gives you smooth jazz and automated options instead of a human being, the company does all the work necessary to file and win a claim on your behalf. In fact, they only get paid when you win. Their simple interface automatically tracks all flights around the world for potential claims, making it seamless for users to definitively find out if there's any undiscovered airline money hiding in their inbox, or on their boarding pass. To date, AirHelp has assisted more than 900,000 passengers recover north of $85 million from airlines—and counting.

Don’t Throw Away Your Boarding Pass

OK. But how does it actually work? In early June, Airhelp launched a new boarding pass scanner, meaning you can now file a compensation claim with a single photo of your boarding pass. That's right—even if you're still sitting on the plane and landed more than three hours late, a single picture can initiate a claim, letting you know what you're eligible for. Those old boarding passes? They work, too, up to three years, even potentially for flights where the airline has already denied you compensation.

With the click of a button (on desktop or mobile) you can also sync past travel reservations from Gmail, TripIt, Yahoo, or Outlook with AirHelp's system, which will automatically search through three years of travel history. If you're due some money, the company will offer to file the claim on your behalf and when they win, they'll automatically wire you the money, minus their 25 percent cut for the whole "dealing with the airline" bit. If you'd prefer not to sync all your past travel; and want to input your history manually by flight number and date, you can opt for that instead—it will just take a bit longer.

Know your rights...

AirHelp works worldwide, but a few routes will yield more compensation than others. Certain parts of the world, such as the European Union, have extremely stringent requirements placed on airlines to protect the rights of passengers. If your flight is delayed on arrival as little as three hours leaving the EU on any airline, or arriving to the European Union on an EU airline, you're eligible for up to $671 (€600) in cash compensation. In addition, if your flight is canceled, you're still eligible for a ride to your final destination, on top of the money.

In other parts of the world, such as the United States, where there's no official guidance on compensation, airlines may still compensate passengers in the form of vouchers or miles for inconveniences. While there's no benchmark for compensation in the U.S., a $100 voucher—or 10,000 airline miles—is certainly a good minimum starter. It's not unfair to claim expenses you incurred during the hassle, either.

*This article was originally published in 2016. It has been updated with new information.


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What Would Goldilocks Do?

Which is the best seat on a plane? You can check Seat Guru to find out a lot about the physical seat but which seat is just right? What Would Goldilocks Do? 

Since you can’t try every seat on the plane until you find the one that is just right. Here are a few tips to help you choose which seat might be just right for you. Each of us has a different preference, so there is no one right seat, just one seat that is right for you.

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If sleep is what you want, then window seats are for you.

The best window seats for sleeping are on the left side in the middle section. Those seats are often off-center, providing more space to lay your head. The middle of an aircraft is farthest from the bathroom lines or noisy galleys; a bit quieter.

Quiet or warmth are what you want, then choose an aisle seat.

Window seats are cold. You can feel a significant difference in temperature through the side of the plane. Window seats are also louder.

Need room to spread out to work?

Hoping for the open middle seat? The further back you sit, the more likely to have an open seat. However, now a day, planes are flying at near capacity. It’s a risk, you might not get that open middle seat and have to deal with the bathroom line and galley, to boot.

Next time you book your flight on line and you are about to choose your seat, think of what Goldilocks would do. Then pick the one that’s just right.


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Flu or Flew?

By the time you read this I will be on a plane to The Book More Travel Workshop in Charlotte, NC. I am honored to have been asked to be on a panel during the conference.

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Of course, after reading and hearing about what is literally, a killer flu season, I wouldn’t get on the plane with out my pack of Steri Wipes. Flu germs can stay active for 1-2 days. That means if the person who sat in your seat, 2 days ago was coming down with the flu, you may receive a gift you didn’t expect.  And if that passenger, sitting near you, who has the flu and didn’t cancel the business meeting or didn’t have travel insurance and is going on vacation anyway, you are a sitting target for those nasty little flu bugs.

Need more info about how serious this virus is? Read this article from the Washington Post. 

Want more details about what to do? Check out what the CDC has to say.

So please, if you have the flu, stay home. It’s not worth endangering your life or spreading the virus to unsuspecting others, especially people who have weak immune systems and are at a higher risk. As my public service announcement, I’m reprinting why you shouldn’t get on the plane without your steri wipes, especially during this dangerous flu season.

Full disclosure

I am not a germ-a-phobe, I don’t use antibacterial soaps.  I think its fine for kids to put dirty fingers in their mouths (it builds their immune systems). I don’t live in a sterilized world. So why would a “not scared of a little dirt” woman NOT get on a plane without her steri wipes (any brand will do)? Because planes are one of the dirtiest places you will encounter.  I have been carrying this little packet in my carry-on for years because I was aware of:

1. Dirty tray tables.  They are never cleaned between flights (Are they ever cleaned???).  My last flight, in business class, had not only red wine rings on the tray table, but crumbs all over it. Ick!!

2. It’s not the air on the plane - Urban legend has it that you get sick from the air on planes.  Not true. The air is filtered.  What gets you sick is when a sick person sneezes or coughs around you. The particles can fly great distances and land on your seat or any part of the area around where you sit.  Multiply that by the number of people who have been on that plane (When was the last time it was wiped down?).  Thinking about that is enough to make you sick.

Now if this isn’t enough to make you a believer, here’s what was revealed on The Today Show

The Today Show is exposing the dirty truth about what germs are lurking on planes and in airports. Taking three different flights across the country, each on a different major airline, their team gathered samples from various stages of the journey including check-in, armrests and toilets with some concerning results.

The first shock — security screening.

Tests of two bins used to collect shoes, bags and other personal belongings that go through the x-ray machine revealed the presence of dangerous bacteria. One bin was found to have fecal matter at levels high enough to make people sick. Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency doctor at New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital told the show: “We’re talking about skin or soft-tissue infections, which can potentially lead to overwhelming infections in your bloodstream”.

But that’s just the beginning.

Once on the plane, the germ situation isn’t any more comforting. Crumbs on the aisle floors and mysterious stains on the seats had the team questioning how thorough the cleaners were between flights.

 

The most shocking find was the levels of bacteria found on the tray tables. Covered in germs, one flight attendant recalled seeing them being used as change tables for babies nappies.

 

While all the armrests came back negative, tests on the seat belts were filthy including one that showed the presence of “human bacteroides”. “These are bacteria that live in our gut and our intestines. These are dangerous bacteria that cause serious infections”, said Glatter.

Another study conducted by Auburn University found that harmful and potentially deadly bacteria like MRSA and E. coli survive for days on arm rests, toilet flush handles, tray tables, window shades, seats and seat pockets.

So how can you prevent picking up one of these dreaded bugs on a plane?

Carry sanitizer and wipe down your tray table before use, wash your hands frequently, don’t walk barefoot on the carpet and check the back seat pocket before use for any nasty leftovers from the previous flight.

For the full report click here

* Reprinted from the August 5, 2014 We Make Travel Easy Newsletter *      


Are you a travel enthusiast? Do you want to share your unforgettable travel experiences? Well, our doors are wide open for you. We are looking for guest bloggers who have the passion of traveling and writing about their travel experiences. We can feature your work on our blog as your portfolio. Get in touch with us! 

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How much is enough?

Tipping is one of the most common question I get asked.  It’s always confusing; whom do you tip, when, and how much? Here are some guidelines that should get you through most situations.

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Airports

If a rental car shuttle driver is helping load those heavy suitcases, it’s a good idea to tip him/her at least a dollar or two per bag. Double that for airport skycaps who assist in checking your bags. And depending on the length of the trip from counter to gate, a wheelchair attendant should receive $5 and up.

 

Hotels  

Arriving by taxi or limo? Absolutely tip your driver. Taxi drivers should receive 15 to 20 percent for good service – arriving safely, within a reasonable amount of time, in a comfortable atmosphere. You can adjust upward or downward for a particularly good, or bad, ride. Same thing with limo drivers – 20 percent is a good rule of thumb whether it’s a ride in from the airport or an all-night clubbing adventure in Las Vegas.

If you drive in with your own car and use the hotel’s valet service, there’s always the question of when to tip. Coming, or going? Answer: Definitely going. Tipping $2 to $5 when the valet retrieves your car when you are leaving the hotel for sightseeing or a dinner is fairly common. Some people also like to tip when returning to the hotel, but that is at your discretion.

Bellhops should receive $3 to $5 a bag, obviously on the lower end for a gym bag or shopping bag and on the higher end for carry-ons and larger suitcases.

Tipping the concierge can be tricky, so think of it in terms of hierarchy. A simple dinner reservation is worth a tip of $5 to $10, perhaps more if it’s a reservation that you couldn’t get, and the concierge was able to. But if he or she is scoring you tickets to Hamilton, or pulling strings to get you front of the line at a trendy club, it clearly demands much, much more – even upward of $50. The concierge doesn’t necessarily expect it, but it is always appreciated.

Your hotel maid absolutely deserves a tip, and most experts suggest $2 to $5 a day, a little more for a larger room or a suite. Clearly mark the envelope and place it on the nightstand or another prominent place.

If you are staying at a high-end hotel/resort and have butler service – especially when the butler is unpacking and packing bags, getting your ironing or dry-cleaning done, drawing a bath, providing turn-down service – the general rule of thumb is 5 percent of the hotel bill. So, if you spend three or four nights at a resort and the total bill is $1,000, you should leave the butler $50 for exceptional service.

Restaurant waiter or bartender Just as you would tip your while going out at home, certainly tip them at a hotel, and be sure to tip a few dollars to those who deliver your room service order.

Service workers It doesn’t hurt to tip the one who bring you an umbrella or towels at the hotel pool, $1 to $2 per item.

Cruises
You should know the tipping policy of your cruise line before you go. In general, the mainstream cruise lines will charge you about $12 a day per person (or $24 for a two-person cabin) in gratuities. That money is split among the crew members whom you come in contact with most every day, notably your housekeeping staff and your dining staff. That amount varies for passengers who stay in suites or in high-end cabins that offer butler service.

And some cruise lines, such as Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas, have strict no tipping policies, as such charges are often built into the cost of the ticket.

To be fair, cruise lines that do charge the automatic gratuity give you advance notice at the start of the cruise that the tip will be added to your onboard bill at the conclusion of the trip. And, you have several options. You can opt out entirely and tip crew members on your own, especially if you eat in different dining rooms or restaurants instead of the main dining room. You can also add to the $12 per day – or subtract from it – at your discretion.

Your bar bill will likely already include a 15 percent tip on it, but just like a night out at any establishment a few dollars up front will certainly serve you well with your bartender.

Spa treatments also generally include a 15 to 20 percent tip on the bill.

It is still customary to give a couple of dollars to porters who help with your bags, and for a room service order.

Shore excursions are sometimes set up by companies separate from the cruise line, but you should generally tip your guide $2 to $4 for half-a-day, double that for full-day excursions.

Safaris
In general, tip your guide $10 a day and your tracker $5 per day, at the end of the safari.

Adventure guides
Did you raft down the Colorado River and live to tell about it? Think about tipping your guide $25 per day per person in your party.

Tour bus drivers
While not necessarily customary, tipping the driver a couple of dollars when you are returned to the hotel or to the port is a nice gesture. There are times when a tour organizer might ask the bus passengers to drop a dollar or two in a jar for the driver as well.

Traveling abroad

As different countries have varying, and sometimes opposite, rules and customs, this is a great web site to get country specific. 

In some countries, such as Japan and China, tipping, especially at a restaurant, is considered an insult. In countries like the United Arab Emirates, tipping is a government mandate and is often added to a bill.

When in doubt, ask your guide. If you are on your own think about the services and the value, it had to you. Hot day, heavy bags, carried your packages, took you someplace very special, made your trip; all good reasons to show your appreciation. 

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Are you a travel enthusiast? Do you want to share your unforgettable travel experiences? Well, our doors are wide open for you. We are looking for guest bloggers who have the passion of traveling and writing about their travel experiences. We can feature your work on our blog as your portfolio. Get in touch with us! 

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Hold the meat please!

Everyone's got their New Year's Resolutions. Perhaps one of yours is to eat healthier. Going to try to include more veggies in your meals? Traveling always plays havoc with anyone's diet. Being a vegetarian or someone wanting to experiment with that, faces additional challenges, when on the road.

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My associate, Narmada, is a vegetarian. I have traveled with her and she is admirable in her devotion to her lifestyle. I’m sharing her blog, on traveling as a vegetarian, for those of you who are, those who would like to be, those who are part timers, those who are a dyed in the wool carnivores, (it couldn’t hurt to add a little more green to your diet) and those whose mothers told you to eat your vegetables. 

Here's what Narmada recommends:

Dining out as a vegetarian while on vacation is full of potential dangers — how do you know that what you’re ordering is truly meat-free? And how do you know that it will still be tasty? Traveling as a vegetarian can be tricky, but with a little preparation, you’ll feel a lot more confident ordering out and enjoying your destination. Try these four strategies the next time you embark on an international trip:
 
1. Know what words to use. Vegetarianism isn’t practiced or understood everywhere, so it’s important to know what words you should use to indicate you’d like meat-free meals. For example, international backpacker and vegetarian Akila discovered on a trip to Japan that, while the Japanese weren’t really familiar with the strict translation of “vegetarian,” she got exactly what she asked for when she used to word “yasai,” which referred to vegetable-based meals. You might also run into problems in some meat-loving countries in Europe if you try to explain that you’re vegetarian — in France, for example, even if you explain you don’t eat meat, a waiter might try to serve you a fish dish. Do some research on the local language before you visit a destination to be sure you know the right terms to use, because “vegetarian” might not cut it.

2. Visit a vegetarian-friendly destination. Want to avoid the hassles that come with seeking out veggie meals? Make a point to visit places that are familiar with and open to the vegetarian way of eating. According to a list of vegetarian-friendly countries compiled by Oliver’s Travels, you’d do well to visit the Seychelles islands off the coast of Africa, Belize, Singapore, or Peru. These countries boast large numbers of vegetarian restaurants and consume comparatively less meat than other countries. Still dreaming of a European getaway? Head to the United Kingdom — it has tons of vegetarian options.
 
3. Know what to avoid. Think that meat-free dish is safe? Think again … In Thailand, almost every dish contains fish sauce, while in France a lot of soups are made from beef or bone broth. There are a lot of examples out there! Before you head to your chosen destination, read up on the most commonly used ingredients to be sure they’re not made with animal products. That way, when you go to a restaurant, you know which dishes you probably need to avoid, or you know what to ask to be taken out of a dish. 

4. Use apps and websites to help navigate the dining scene. It’s still tricky to enjoy dining out in certain destinations as a vegetarian, but technology has certainly made it a lot easier! There are a LOT of apps out there that can help you find vegetarian-friendly restaurants anywhere in the world. One suggestion? Check out Happy Cow, a robust website that allows you to search for vegetarian-friendly places to eat by location, and it also has restaurant reviews and a user forum for you to hear about other vegetarian travelers’ experiences and post questions of your own.

Willing to give it a try? Think of vegetarian as another cuisine, like Italian, seafood or Chinese. 

If you are in London, you might want to try Yotam Ottolenghi's restaurants. They aren't vegetarian, but vegetables take center stage. You might even find, you like veggies more than you thought.


Are you a travel enthusiast? Do you want to share your unforgettable travel experiences? Well, our doors are wide open for you. We are looking for guest bloggers who have the passion of traveling and writing about their travel experiences. We can feature your work on our blog as your portfolio. Get in touch with us! 

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Mourning on the Ganges

We are proud to feature our guest blogger Ellen Newman of Hidden-InSite, a travel and photography blog about overlooked places – secret spots that surprise and delight. 

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After a short, fitful night’s sleep we tiptoed through the ornate halls of Varanasi’s Brijrama Palace hotel. It was just before dawn and we were heading to the lobby to meet Pankaj Singh, our tour guide.

“I am so sorry to hear about your mother,” he said, his warm brown eyes reaching out to David as he gathered one of David’s hands between his own, offering gentle comfort. Word had clearly traveled quickly.

We got the call we hoped wouldn’t come at 9:30 the evening before. We had just arrived in Varanasi, the second stop on what was supposed to be a seven-week trip to India. Our first call was to our travel agent in San Francisco, a dear friend with a terrific team. “The office is working on your flights, “ Pankaj told us. “They’ll phone when it’s arranged. In the meantime, as long as you feel up to it, let’s go see Varanasi. The boat is waiting.”

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Morning on the Ganges

With that, we stepped out onto the landing of Darabhanga Ghat. The banks on the far side of the river were just emerging in the thin 5 a.m. light. But on our side, the western bank of India’s holy Ganges, electric lights bathed the steps and rag-tag flotilla with an eerie sulfur-yellow glow.

We paused for a moment to absorb the scene. Like the lingering twilight perched on the brink of dawn, David and I were in a liminal state, knowing that his mother, Miriam, had died not quite twelve hours before, but not yet fully grasping our new reality. We were in between, partly tourists, partly mourners, our bodies in Varanasi, our minds leaping ahead to the long flight home and our hearts firmly in California.

Pankaj took my hand to steady me down the worn steps to the waiting rowboat. More than a dozen bathers hugged the shore, taking a morning dip at the base of the ghat, the stairs leading to the bank of the river. Just as we were about to climb onto the boat, a young girl with a basket of flowers, candles and what looked like tiny tin pie plates shyly approached. “David, you should buy some for the memory of your mother,” Pankah suggested. The girl quickly assembled five of the diya offerings for us to float on the Ganges later in the morning.

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Our destination was Manikarnika Ghat, Varanasi’s traditional funeral and cremation site. I first heard about it from my friend Audrey, who made visiting Varanasi sound fascinating and exotic. One of Hindu’s holiest sites, Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world. Archeological evidence goes back nearly 3,000 years. Mark Twain, who visited Varanasi in the 1890s when the city was called Benares, wrote in Following the Equator, “Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”

It hasn’t changed much. From the river, the city looks like a hodge-podge of crumbling palaces, ancient temples, steep steps and terraces all oriented toward the broad river. “We call the river Mother Ganges or Ma Ganga,” explained Pankaj. “The Ganges is not just a river. It is holy because it gives us water for agriculture and everything.”

Stretching 1,550 miles from the pristine glaciers of the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal at Calcutta, the Ganges is believed by devout Hindus to have sacred properties. People come to Varanasi to pray at the riverside, to purify themselves in the holy waters and to die. They come as pilgrims looking for salvation, for the liberation of their souls from the cycle of birth and death.

But people also come to the river to bathe, to swim, to wash their clothes, to socialize, and to take selfies proving they were here. The sacred and the mundane are thoroughly intertwined along the banks of the Ganges.

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On our way to Manikarnika Ghat the boatman rowed past sadhus (holy men) stationed under umbrellas along the shore, steps full of sari-clad bathers, laundry drying on the ghats, boatloads of pilgrims dressed in white and tourists snapping the scene. 

Manikarnika Ghat and the rituals of death

According to legend, at the dawn of time Lord Shiva and Parvati, the Hindu goddess of fertility, love and devotion, lived in Varanasi. The myth claims that Shiva lost a jeweled earring (manikarnika) at a well Vishnu dug for the couple. The site of the well was chosen as the sacred space for cremations and funerals. “Shiva is the god of destruction, transformation and regeneration,” said Pankaj. “People come to Varanasi because it is the place for the liberation of the soul, for salvation.” Hindus call the separation of the soul from the body moksha, and the idea is the central inspiration behind Hindu funeral rituals. Dying and having a funeral on the banks of the sacred Ganges is believed to release the soul from the cycle of death and reincarnation.

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Our boat rounded a corner and hovered further offshore than we did in other spots along the river. We could see the fires burning, as they do 24 hours a day to accommodate the 200-300 daily cremations and funerals. I put down my camera, both out of respect for the grieving families and in recognition that we could be one of those families.

“Ram naam satya hai…”

Ram naam satya hai, the words of the ancient chant floated out across the Ganges. Ram naam satya hai, “the name and existence of god is true,” Pankaj translated for us. And then he described the rituals.

The body, which is wrapped in white if the deceased is a man or a widow or in red for a married woman whose husband is still alive, is carried on a bamboo stretcher or ladder to the cremation site. The body is dipped in water from the river for a final purification, then placed on the stairs. In the meantime, the chief mourner has purified himself in the Ganges and has shaved all over. Dressed all in white, he goes to get the eternal flame. Other family members have bought wood, a luxury for many in India, for the fire.

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The chief mourner walks around the body five times to symbolize that all the fundamental elements of the universe – water, air, earth, space or ether and fire – will return to their original sources. “It’s our version of dust to dust,” Pankaj added.

Only then does the chief mourner light the fire, which will burn for two to three hours. As westerners who let professionals take care of the aspects of a funeral that involve the body, it was interesting to hear how deeply involved religious Hindus are with the bodies of their loved ones. But there was more. Pankaj continued. “When the body is half burned, the chief mourner takes a piece of the bamboo and breaks the skull to release the soul to heaven.” Oh, I thought, trying to imagine that step of the ritual as a sacrament, that’s really heavy. So final. So real. Later I read that this practice, kapal kriya, helps insure that the skull burns. Like many customs in many cultures, it serves multiple needs, psychological and physical.

After the cremation is complete, the chief mourner takes the ashes to the Ganges and everyone in the family goes to the next ghat for showers before they go home to begin the traditional 13-day mourning period. On the thirteenth day there is a feast. “After the rituals are complete,” Pankaj explained, “the soul settles down into peace.”

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With that, he invited David to light the candles in the diya offerings. “It’s for your mother’s memory, so her soul will be at peace,” he said kindly. We were so engrossed in his descriptions of what we were observing that we almost forgot that we were mourners too, and that we would be leaving later that afternoon to go home to a funeral in California.

“Yit’gadal v’yit’kadash sh’mei raba…”

Pankaj and David lit the candles, and David leaned over the side of the boat to float them on the Ganges. “Yit’gadal v’yit’kadash sh’mei raba,” whispered David so quietly that I didn’t realize he had recited Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. Yit’gadal v’yit’kadash sh’mei raba, “May His great name be exalted and sanctified.”

We watched the offerings drift away in the current of the river that has absorbed the tears of countless mourners over millennia. The loss of a life that is irreplaceable to each family is also universal. We came to Varanasi as tourists, but left, like so many others, as mourners, flying home in time to say Kaddish for Miriam on a golden California hillside. As Pankaj asked us later on What’s App, yes, we did all the rituals.

May Miriam’s memory be for blessing.

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Thanks

First, thanks to Pankaj Singh, who gave us the gift of meeting us where we were and welcoming us to experience our loss in his home on the banks of the Ganges.

And thanks to Sandra Lipkowitz of We Make Travel Easy, our terrific travel agent, who indeed made it easy for us to get home expeditiously and comfortably. 

Varanasi views

Varanasi is a visual feast. Even with just one day, we were able to see so much. Here’s a small sample of scenes from Varanasi.


Are you a travel enthusiast? Do you want to share your unforgettable travel experiences? Well, our doors are wide open for you. We are looking for guest bloggers who have the passion of traveling and writing about their travel experiences. We can feature your work on our blog as your portfolio. Get in touch with us! 

 

Enjoy reading my blog? Sign up for my newsletter to be a We Make Travel Easy travel insider.