ne of the questions I'm asked the most frequently is, "How do you find those low airfares?"
Unfortunately, there isn't an easy answer. There's no one magical way to always get the cheapest airfare every time. It takes a lot of time and effort, and there are no guarantees. Being flexible is really a must, as the cost can vary by hundreds of dollars from one day to the next. Usually, if you can avoid traveling on a Friday, Sunday or Monday, you'll get a better rate, but that's not always the case. And, if you have your heart set on flying around a major holiday, don't expect bargain prices (the exception is flying internationally over the Thanksgiving holiday, a time when airfares can be very low).
Check Google Flights
It's important to compare fares on a few third-party booking engines like Expedia or Travelocity, but one of the best places to start these days is on Google. Google Flights will let you pull up a calendar so you can choose the date with the lowest airfare, and it tends to be very reliable too. While you can't book it directly there, it will tell you where you can. You may want to check directly on the airline site as well.
Sign Up For Alerts
Many travel web sites offer to email airfare alerts, letting you know when an airfare goes below a certain price. Google Flights is one of them, but you may want to sign up for a few as they all work differently.
Low Cost U.S. to Europe Airlines
If you want to go to Europe, there are now two low-cost carriers flying between the U.S. and many locations throughout Europe, including Norwegian Air and Wow Air. Wow Air is based in Iceland, and it also offers the chance to spend a layover in Iceland without any extra cost. You will have to pay extra for baggage fees and other services, but most of the time, you'll still save big. Norwegian is very bare bones, but I paid just $149 for a one-way airfare from London to JFK recently.
Timing Your Purchase Right
Timing your airline ticket purchase right is essential, as rates change daily, and sometimes even hourly. Certain trends can help to increase your chances of getting the lowest airfare; the best deals are usually found between Tuesday and Thursday, while purchasing 11 to 12 weeks ahead of your anticipated travel dates is also considered optimal. As that's not always the case, your best bet is to check frequently - every day, and even more often, at various times of the day, if you're able.
On my return trip from Greece, I had a self-imposed 2-night layover in London as I hoped to visit my cousin and her husband who live about a two hour drive from Gatwick Airport, as well as explore a bit of the English countryside, perhaps visit Stonehenge and Salisbury and take a tour of the city as well.
As it turned out, the tour was cancelled for lack of participants, but that ended up being a good thing as that would have been way too much to cram into the time I had. When I learned the tour was a no go, I did some searching online and found a great deal for a stay in a castle in Thornbury, Gloucestershire, not far from where my cousin lives in Wiltshire. I've stayed in quite a few Irish castles, but never an English castle and I'd never even heard of this one. It looked spectacular. And it was.
Closely listening to my GPS, I made one turn after another through the winding lane that was framed by the vibrant colors of autumn. It was a residential neighborhood, and I questioned whether or not Siri was sending me on a goose chase. "You've arrived," Siri announced as I reached a stone gate and a long driveway with a sign posted Thornbury Castle. Just before the castle to the right was St. Mary's Church, the oldest surviving building in Thornbury, dating all the way back to the 12th century. As I made my way through the gate and the castle itself came into view, the exhaustion of the late night flight from Athens to London quickly faded away. I couldn't believe this was where I was actually going to spend the night.
Stepping in, I was treated like royalty from the start, with the front desk receptionist insisting on lugging my heavy suitcase up several flights of stairs up to my room, called the "deClare." If you've ever seen the movie "The Holiday," that scene where Kate Winslet runs through Cameron Diaz's Hollywood home jumping for joy, that's just how I felt. Especially when I saw the bed. The four-poster bed has a chandelier right above it, with silky draperies wrapped around. I had one of the best night's sleeps in recent memory. Good thing, because I had a long day ahead.
The plan was to drive through The Cotswolds, visit Salisbury Cathedral and at least try to see Stonehenge from a distance - all before 2 p.m., the time I had to be back at the airport for my flight to New York.
Just driving through the countryside was enjoyable, but The Cotswold District truly looked like something out of a fairy-tale. I had just enough time to walk around and take a few pictures before speeding off to Salisbury. Salisbury Cathedral's tall spire came into view well before I reached the city. It's the tallest church spire in the entire United Kingdom, at 404 feet, and it also boasts the oldest working clock in the world, dating to 1386.
Just driving by it isn't an option - you've got to park and walk, and the sand in that hour glass was quickly running out. I found a spot and ran, literally running through the streets of Salisbury in order to capture images of the 13th-century cathedral up close.
It was truly one of the most breathtaking things I've ever laid eyes on. For a few minutes I completely forgot about the time. When I finally looked, it was 12:15 p.m., and I was an hour and 45 minutes from Gatwick Airport.
I barely made it, returning my car at 2:01 p.m., making the decision on the journey back, that I will return next year.
When I got home, I dug through my huge box of ancestry papers and discovered that not only were a number of my ancestors from Gloucestershire, I have an ancestor with a connection to Berkeley Castle, just 8 miles from Thornbury.
On my next trip, I'm going to need a lot more than 2 days.
If you're interested in traveling to discover your roots, be sure to check out DNA Adventures!
With popular shows like "Who Do You Think You Are?" and "Finding Your Roots," a lot of people have been thinking about, or are already in the process of, discovering their roots. Many would love to travel to some of the places their ancestors are from, maybe visiting a magnificent castle that a great great grandfather once called home, or simply taking a walk through a farm where a great great grandmother once planted seeds to grow produce for the family's meals. Experiences like these are extraordinary, and can even be life changing.
But how do you find where these places are? And, if you don't know where your ancestors are from, it can be even trickier. While traveling to a far-off place like Ireland, Scotland, Germany or any foreign country can be an exciting prospect, if you hope to find out more about your family tree and enjoy a rewarding experience, you'll need to do some research before you get there.
Where to begin?
Understand that it's going to take a lot of time and effort, but the best place to start is with what you already know. Gather together all the information you can about your parents, grandparents and great grandparents, if possible, on both sides. Talk to older relatives, or perhaps you have a relative who's already done some research and can give you a good head start.
Sites like Ancestry.com, Familysearch.org and Genealogy.com can help get you on the right track. For example, Ancestry.com has literally billions of searchable, indexed records -- everything from passenger records to census data and more. Begin with one family member, such as a grandparent, and branch out from there. For each person, create a timeline of where and when they were born, where they lived, went to school, were married, and so on. This can help you discover gaps and help you determine what you need to look for.
Once you know the destinations you want to visit related to your family history, it can really help to get in touch with a few of the locals, like city clerks, museum staff, librarians and clergy.
If you can provide them with information, they may be able to flag potential documents that can maximize time on the ground while visiting. But don't stop there, when booking reservations at places like inns or bed and breakfasts, be sure to mention the reason for your stay. You might be surprised to learn that your host has information about your family, and there may even be relatives living in the area today. Once you've arrived, don't be shy about mentioning it during conversations either.
If you're short on time, and are anxious to visit your desired travel destination, you may want to consider getting some assistance. As exploring your DNA through travel can be such a rewarding experience, there are an increasing number of experts out there who can help at a relatively reasonable cost.
As both travel and genealogy are passions of mine, and I have extensive experience with both, I've partnered with another knowledgeable traveler/genealogy enthusiast, Patti Kelsey Nicklaw, to help put these types of trips together, in addition to offering travel planning itinerary services.
Nearly two decades ago, after extensive research and a couple of visits to Ireland, I found my Irish family and was able to walk through the very home that my great great grandparents, and great grandfather lived in, in addition to meeting countless extended family members. It changed my life, and I relish the opportunity to help do that for others through DNA Adventures, coming soon!
If this service is something you might be interested in - or, if you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to leave them here, or email me directly at KCDermody@gmail.com.
Having just returned from my trip to Greece, I can say without a doubt that it was one of my best travel experiences ever. My only regret is not having more time, which seems to be the case with most places I visit, though that's especially true when it comes to Naxos.
What I didn't expect was such incredibly warm, welcoming people. Everywhere I went, people were kind - they don't treat tourists like dollar signs (or euro in this case). While I'm sure there are exceptions, everyone I met was genuinely friendly, willing to help and offer advice. It was the opposite of the experience I had in Rome last year, where the goal seemed to be draining each and every visitor of their last euro, and there were countless scams and even the potential of being robbed just about everywhere you went.
In Greece, things seemed almost entirely stress-free. The only bump in the road, if you will, was taking a fall trying to get down a cove for a swim. My GPS worked perfectly, the rides I'd scheduled met me on time, in fact one of the drivers insisted on walking me directly to the ferry office to pick up my tickets and then took me directly to the ship and helped me with my luggage. I kept being surprised by little kindnesses like this everywhere I went.
While Athens is a large, sprawling city, the main sights are in a small, very walkable area, and easy to find. Seeing the Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis and wandering through the National Archaeological Museum was absolutely mind blowing. You read about these things in school, and see them in documentaries, but there is really nothing like seeing a temple, statues, and countless other artifacts that date back so many centuries, in person. It brings those ancient times to life.
It wasn't easy choosing which island, or islands I would go to from Athens, but I decided on Naxos and Santorni, with 10 and 2 days respectively on each. It turns out, that was a very good decision.
I know, you've probably seen those stunning photos of Santorini for years, and have possibly even dreamed of going there. It's on practically every travelers' bucket list. And while it is worth visiting, I think 2 or 3 days is more than enough time. In fact, it may even be a bit overrated. I was there in late September, which is supposed to be the less busy time, but getting to places like the popular Red Beach and OIa village, there were so many people, it looked like the crowds at Disneyland. To me, that really detracts from the experience. I actually spent most of my time at my hotel there, enjoying a spectacular view of the caldera - it truly felt as if it was something out of a dream. I chose a quieter area of the island, Akrotiri, for my stay, which was at Kalestesia Suites, away from the majority of popular attractions. That was a wise decision, allowing me to soak up the atmosphere and just relax. And, the staff there make you feel like royalty!
Naxos is the island I fell in love with. It has everything - it's far less expensive than Santorini, there were few crowds, it has the most beautiful beaches in the Greek Islands, soaring mountains dotted with whitewashed villages, miles and miles of hiking trails, and numerous ancient ruins too. There is so much to see and do, 10 days was not enough, which means I will definitely have to go back. I hiked to the top of Mt. Zeus (or Zas as it's called there), I swam in crystal-clear waters that were a shade of aquamarine like I've never seen before, snorkeled in a cave, visited a castle, wandered through beautiful Old Town Naxos with its marble streets, and enjoyed some of the most breathtaking sunsets I've ever seen, right from the patio of my apartment at Iliada Suites.
And the food! Fresh seafood galore, including one of my favorites, mussels steamed in a garlic wine sauce and some of the biggest shrimp I've ever seen. Often times, the lavish yet very inexpensive meals came with a free dessert, usually fruit and a slice of baklava. Good thing I was getting a lot of exercise.
The next time I head to Greece, I'd like to visit some of the other islands, including Crete and Paros, and maybe even stay on the tiny island of Iraklia, a spot I visited on a sailing trip. But I will definitely be going back to Naxos.
While Santorini is worth visiting to see the caldera, I highly recommend staying on Naxos as long as you can. You won't regret it.