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India

How to Enjoy Luxury for Less in Kerala’s Backwaters

Flickr/Sarath Kuchi

The image of a vacation in Kerala’s backwaters is about as idyllic as it gets: calm rivers winding into large lakes dotted with houseboats as big as Arks. The reality is not much further from the truth. The area known as the “backwaters” of Kerala is fairly large, comprising of over 30 brackish rivers, lagoons, and large lakes that run along the Malabar Coast that hinges on the Arabian Sea. It is a sort of aquatic nervous system that flows for over 120 miles from the Western Ghats: the texture of the region has been compared to the American Bayou and the Florida Everglades.

Getting here is relatively easy: you could take one of the numerous local flights to Cochin or the state’s capital (Thiruvananthapuram) and rent a car from the airport to drive to the backwater region. Since there are many places to the backwaters, finding the right place to enjoy a vacation flanked by coconut trees shouldn’t prove that difficult. Here are a few budget-friendly ways to get the most out of your vacation in “God’s Own Country”:

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Rajasthan Farm Life - farm stay - I Like Local

i-likelocal.com

These days, travel is more and more about immersive experiences that help you truly connect with the destination’s culture. For those who love meeting the locals, here’s the latest resource to catch our attention: I Like Local, a website that offers local-led tours and activities in developing countries to help you head down the path less traveled. We like that the site gives 100 percent of the fees to the most important people involved — the expert guides — without charging them a service fee. For a taste of what’s offered, here are five adventures we’d love to embark on for glimpsing how another part of the world lives:

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chinese dragon

wikimedia.org

In the U.S., December 31 is a big deal. At midnight, right when it’s turning January 1, a giant ball drops, we scream, spill some champagne, and make future promises we can’t keep. But for billions — yes, billions! — of people around the world, it’s March 21 or September 11 or February 20 that marks the beginning of a new year, new promises, and revelry. We, users of the Gregorian calendar, might not notice the lunar, Hebrew, or even Tibetan losar cycles. Just in case you want to redo your New Year celebration — or come up with a more realistic resolution — here are some dates to keep in mind.

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ecopackers cusco

Cockroaches, stained linens, and maybe flashbacks to the film Hostel might have come to mind when you read this headline. Sometimes, there is such a thing as too cheap, right? What do hotels that offer up rooms at less than $10 per night year round — not just for special promotions — really look like?

It’s easy to brush off hostel-style accommodations as subpar, but many of them have more amenities than you might expect, with nicer lodging options to upgrade to (that still end up being a fraction of the cost of standard hotel rooms). The catch, of course, is that these hotels aren’t smack dab in the tourist-heavy destinations — which could be good or bad, depending on your travel style. Pricing is also heavily location-based; most of these properties are found in Asia, South America, and Africa. And, because the savings tend to attract younger crowds, these lodgings tend to be less quiet.

Still, having to spend less for a hotel room than a McDonald’s lunch for two has an obvious appeal to the savvy spenders among us. Here’s a look at what’s out there at these incredibly low price points.

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Flickr Matthew Clark

Temperatures aren’t the only things dropping in fall and winter: Airlines are lowering their fares, too. If you plan on traveling in the coming months, snag one of these six deals before they’re gone.

1. Japan: 20% off plus a free stopover
Take your pick of six Japanese cities and get a complimentary stopover in Hong Kong when booking roundtrip flights from the U.S. on Cathay Pacific. Even better, in this Japan Fare Sale, rates with this first-rated airline has already been cut by 20 percent. $1,122 gets you flights from New York City’s JFK to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Okinawa, then Okinawa back to JFK. The same set-up between LAX, Hong Kong, and Osaka will cost you around $1,021. The offer is good for travel through December 9 and must be booked by September 30.

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sfo terminal 3

Airport terminals around the globe are stepping things up a notch with high-tech designs, indoor art museums, and speedier ways through passport control. Here are seven new(ish) airport terminals we love flying in and out of:

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venice - st marks - san marco - anna fox - 620

Flight: booked. Hotel: reserved. Language podcasts: Completed. What else do you need to prepare before jetting off on vacation?

Most of us would probably never think that feeding pigeons in parts of Venice could get us fined as much as our plane tickets there cost. Likewise, while we always leave a substantial tip after dining at a restaurant in North America, the practice is a foreign concept to many international visitors. Needless to say, very diverse cultural customs abound around the world. Here are a few quirky ones that we love and think are useful to know for preventing cultural mishaps abroad.

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Parmarth NiketanKnown commonly as the “yoga capital of the world,” Rishikesh sits on the banks of the Ganges river surrounded by forested hills that lead up to the snow-shrouded Himalayas. Considering that it’s a quick flight from New Delhi, any spiritual seeker or outdoor adventurer should consider adding the town to their broader India itinerary. Here’s why: Read more

Skellig MichaelBarcelona has its Sagrada Familia. Sydney has its white-hooded Opera House. And other places? Well, they’ve got steps – lots and lots of them. As the examples illustrate below, epic staircases aren’t just a way to reach higher ground. They can be major attractions unto themselves. From the fabled Ha’iku Ladder in Hawaii, to Norway’s never-ending Flørli Steps, these jaw-dropping ascents aren’t for the faint of heart. But once you get to the top, we think you’ll agree the views more than make up for the effort. Read more

tacos 1On vacation, we tend to keep different schedules. That’s why, at 1 a.m., with all the regular restaurants closed and the bar having stopped serving food, you may decide you’re ready for dinner number two. Offering unique insight into local culture, late-night eats can enhance your travel experience as much as they can satisfy your craving. For a few bucks, you can fill up on local dishes like tacos, oyster omelets, and crepes, and get a candid glimpse into a city’s after-hours culture. Every country has a specialty; here are the best bites served past midnight in cities all over the world. Read more

move.shetland.orgLast month we gave you a pictorial run-down of 11 Otherworldly Snow and Ice Festivals Around the Globe. Now, in honor of the brave folks who are dealing with the snow and cold that’s cutting directly through the northeast, we bring you another slideshow that’s a little toastier: Fire Festivals from Around the World.

Included are festivals from Scotland, to Japan, to Guatemala. A few of these festivals are celebrated to mark the beginning of spring – such as Iran’s Sadeh festival, which honors fire and light over darkness. So settle in, warm up, and remind yourself: there are less than 40 days until the end of winter.

Yoga Retreat in Costa RicaPlenty of resorts promise to leave you feeling “relaxed and refreshed,” but none are as likely to recharge your batteries as thoroughly as a body-and-mind-centering yoga retreat. Against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains, or the beach, or, heck, the Chicago skyline, gorgeous surroundings can help boost your inner calm. And plush accommodations and endless options for indoor and outdoor activities don’t hurt either. To help you sort through the pile, we’ve narrowed down the list into two categories, “splurge,” and “save.” Now, breathe in, and say “Ohm…”

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RarotongaReady to spend some of your holiday money? If you’re looking to get some overseas R&R, two airlines just announced sales, right in time for the New Year.

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GenevieveJoy.Tumblr.com

In life, being in the right place at the right time can come down to serendipity, but in travel, it is almost always the result of good planning. To avoid crowds and inflated prices, we recommend the period between high and low seasons when the weather is fine, places are still open and happy to welcome travelers, and you can explore a destination at your own pace. We call this magical time and space continuum the Sweet Spot and make it a point to round up the best of them for you each season. We’ve covered the 40 best places to go this fall and grouped them by region. Our editors have even included picks for our favorite fall festivals, ranging from the fun to the downright funky – time your visit accordingly, and add some oomph to an autumn escapade. Follow the links to right to discover this season’s Sweet Spots.

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Keibul Lamjao GuideMats of dense aquatic grass in Loktak Lake create the appearance of a floating park in India’s Keibul Lamjao National Park. The 25 square-mile park, located about six miles from the Moriang Bazar in the Bishnupur district of Manipur, has a variety of different ecosystems. Sangai, a species of brown-antler deer, live among the almost five-foot-thick phumdis, or floating vegetation islands, and green forest. They use the Pabot, Toya and Chingiao hills within the park as shelter from dangerous monsoons during the summer months. In 1951, the Sangai were labelled as extinct; in 1975, though, 14 deer were found within the national park. Two years later, in 1977, the area was declared a sanctuary for the deer. Read more

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