Cameras are an integral feature of anybody’s holiday, capturing those special moments when you do something you haven’t done before or see something spectacular. So it can be heartbreaking when something happens to it that prevents you from capturing that moments or, worse still, the moment is captured but it is lost due to a corrupt memory card. And, of course, they are hardly cheap to replace either. I can’t believe how many people I encountered with camera issues while I was travelling (including myself). So given that the summer is fast approaching, below I have listed my top 5 tips on some of the things to watch out for:

1. Keep it away from the sand - I was the victim of this one (as were other people I met). The problem with sand is that it gets everywhere so be very careful how you handle your camera in a beach environment. Allow one small grain to get in and around the lense and you may find that the mechanics behind it seizes to operate and preventing the camera from bringing a picture into focus. Unfortunately, it can be almost as expensive to replace the lense than to buy a new camera so you may as well do the latter. So make sure your hands are sand free when handling a camera on the beach and always ensure it is packed securely in it’s case when you are finished using it.

2. Test the water - it is unsurprising that some people want to capture on film the amazing marine life they see when they go snorkelling and I’ve noticed that underwater housing for digital cameras are becoming more and more popular. I’ve also met someone whose camera was ruined when the housing failed to protect the camera from water damage. Be sure to check for leaks as soon as the camera is in the water so you can take corrective action before the damage is done. And if you’re overly concerned, consider using a disposable underwater camera.

3. Protect your memories- You would not believe how many people I met who had ended up with corrupt memory cards. If it happens to you, do not fret. In the most cases, these photos can be recovered by taking the camera to a photo shop. However, it is always wise to put copies put on to DVD and/or upload them online on to a photo sharing site as soon as possible. One person I met actually opted for the inconvenience of using only the smallest of memory cards. This way he was forced to make regular back-ups so he could wipe clean the memory card to re-use it. It also meant that the number of photos he was at risk of losing were always quite low.

4. Keep it secure- Cameras are not only targets for theft, it is amazing how many people just leave a camera lying around somewhere. I always carry my camera in a case that hangs from my shoulder and across my chest like a satchel. That way the camera is always attached to me (rather in a loose case) making it difficult for it to be lost or stolen. It is always worth keeping your name and contact details within the case in the event it does get lost.

5. Always take travel insurance-Personally, I think travel insurance is a must-have for any journey abroad and you’ll find that many policies will cover for damage to your camera so be sure to check that this is included. Most policies will not cover for underwater damage but you can take separate policies for this.

Let us know if you have any further tips for protecting your camera on holiday and let us know if you have had any bad experiences of your own!

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I know I’m currently writing about my road trip around Arizona and Utah but I wanted to interrupt that series to write about this bank holiday weekend’s road trip around the Brecon Beacons while it is still fresh in my mind… and because, quite frankly, it was awesome. You can find full details of the road trip by clicking on the map below and then clicking on each leg of the trip. I’ve also summarized the highlights below and included a few pictures:


View Awesome Road Trips – Brecon Beacons in a larger map

Day 1 Highlights
> Strolling through the ancient, towering trees of the Forest of Dean and the fairytale-like Puzzlewood
> Explore the atmospheric Llanthony Priory and walk up to Hatterill Ridge for a stunning view down the Vale of Ewyas
> Drive on the edge of your seat on the single-track lane through the Vale of Ewyas from Capel-y-Ffin before it opens up to reveal mile-upon-mile of Welsh countryside
> Cut through the heart of the Brecon Beacons along the A470 to reveal three tranquil reservoirs and the grassy, rocky ridge of the east side of Craig-y-Nos

Day 2 Highlights
> At dawn, hike to the summit of Pen-y-Fan, the highest peak south of Mount Snowdon, to reveal the most glorious views in every direction
> Explore the National Showcase Caves including the long and winding Dan-yr-Ogof and the wide, open Cathedral Cave
> Head back towards the English border to the village of Tintern. It’s in a spectacular setting: nestled in a woodland-covered valley, lining the River Severn with the beautiful ruins of Drive Tintern Abbey towering over it

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Today I’ll pick up from Tuesday’s post to continue my 11 day road trip around Utah and Arizona…

Day 3 – The Grand Canyon
Today is all about the hiking. Yesterday’s brief encounter with the canyon will have you chomping at the bit to explore the canyon at every view, angle and depth possible. If you are going to stick to my recommended itinerary then I would opt for the South Kaibab trail, which will get you the most spectacular (and unobstructed views) for a short hike. Opting for this one will also give you some time to try out other shorter trails such as Coconino Saddle. Or you can check out some more viewpoints along the Rim Trail. Otherwise you could try out longer day hikes such as the Hermit Trail.

If you are able to stay a day longer then I would highly recommend opting for the Bright Angel Trail which will take you down to the Colorado River. Want to spend the night in the canyon? This trail will lead right to the Bright Angel campground where you can set up camp for night. I should warn you, please do not attempt hiking the Bright Angel Trail all the way to the Colorado River and back in a day. It is not recommended and I get the impression from all the signage that the park rangers are starting to get more than a little peeved at having to execute regular rescues for tired hikers. Just remember this simple rule – for every step you take down the canyon is another step you’ll have to make back up it!

And while I’m on the subject of safety, please walk down the canyon prepared. Be sure to wear adequate footwear for the hike (such as hiking boots) and carry plenty of food and water. The sun is scorching in the summer so wear sunscreen. In fact, I’d highly recommend not visiting the canyon in the summer. Not only will you avoid the hefty crowds but the temperature will be much cooler and will not limit your ability to explore the canyon. I went in March and I think that is a great time of year to go.

Day 4 – The Grand Canyon to Bluff/Blanding via Monument Valley
Today will require a fair amount of driving again but there are plenty of highlights. In the morning start making your way east along the South Rim, stopping at the various viewpoints along the way. I actually think the viewpoints further east of the main site are a lot better than those on the Rim Trail. They provide unobstructed views that allow you to gaze further down the canyon and give you a much better impression of the it’s epic scale. The undoubted highlight though will be at your final viewpoint: the Colter’s stone tower. As “above the rim” views go, this was my favourite. You’ll just want to sit there forever and marvel at just how magnificent the Grand Canyon is. You’ll also be aware that this is your final Grand Canyon viewpoint. You’ll find yourself not wanting to leave, knowing that once you finally do make the decision to get up and walk away, you’ll be turning your back on one of Mother Earth’s most spectacular creations. But please don’t dwell on it too much. Your onward journey will take you to so many more places of epic beauty.

Not long after you drive out of the national park (east along Highway 64) you’ll come across a gaping chasm in the ground. Anywhere else in the world and it would be a huge tourist draw. But it wasn’t even worth a mention on the Arizona map in my Lonely Planet guide. And that will be characteristic of the next few days. From here on the landscapes through your windscreen will be a stunning picture of jagged red-rock formations and wide chams that form a true feast for the eyes.

But the most awesome of these of formations is saved for Monument Valley – the iconic background to many a John Wayne Western. The Monument Valley park is not a national park as such (it is owned and managed by the Navajo tribe) but it packs as good a punch as anything you’ll see on this trip in the epic beauty stakes. You can take a guided tour or drive the park’s looped trail. It will take you about 90 minutes to make the drive and every minute will feel like you’re back in time, exploring the real wild, wild west.

From the Monument Valley tribal park make your way to your lodgings for the night. Kayenta is the biggest town nearby but, if you want to save going back on yourself, head north up to either Bluff or Blanding.

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I’m lost trying to think of a superlative that will go anywhere near to giving the national and tribal parks of Utah and Arizona any kind of justice. You’ll leave each park thinking “nothing could possibly top that”… until you get to the next park. Trust me, each park so stunningly magnificent, yet unique in it’s magnificence, that trying to decide on “top” park is an utterly futile exercise.

A road trip around Utah and Arizona would undoubtedly be a highlight of anybody’s lifetime. Today I chronicle my 11 day road trip, starting today with part 1 from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon…

Day 1 – Arrive in Las Vegas, Nevada
I know that this is a “Utah/Arizona” road trip but Las Vegas, Nevada is a great place to start and end your trip. Visitors on a budget do not need to blow a hole in their wallet on the roulette table. In fact, Vegas is a pretty incredible place to go even if you don’t want to gamble. “Disneyland for adults” and “excessively excess” are two ways one could describe this place. Las Vegas Boulevard or “The Strip” is a bizarre and wonderful place. Hotels replicating Venice, New York and Paris, epic battles between two life-size pirate ships, erupting volcanoes, dazzling musical water shows and roller coasters atop the tallest building west of the Mississippi – this place is as crazy as it comes. And I haven’t even got on to the plethora of little white wedding chapels and troops of Elvis impersonators that wander the streets.

Your Vegas experience will provide a fascinating contrast to your road trip around the national parks so soak it in. Tomorrow is a long day so don’t go too crazy though. I’d recommend walking the strip and taking in some of the free shows. My top picks are the choreographed fountain show at the Bellagio, the fiery volcano at the Mirage, the pirate show at Treasure Island and the many circus acts at Circus Circus.

Day 2 – Las Vegas, Nevada to Grand Canyon, Arizona
Try and get an early start today because there is a lot to pack in. It won’t be long though until you reach the first sight of significance: the Hoover Dam. It’s an impressive structure and you’ll want to stop and take photos to capture the contrast of the man-made but polished concrete grey against the red rock and the blue Lake Mead, for which it was built to imprison. You can take a guided tour down to the generators and there is also a museum (which I didn’t explore but I am told is a worthwhile a visit).

When you’re ready, continue down Highway 93 to Kingman where you will join the historic Route 66. I’ll be honest, Route 66 by no means offers the most spectacular views you’ll come across, nor is it the most fun road to drive, but you’ll feel a certain sense of nostalgia as you drive one of the world’s most famous roads. Wind-propelled tumbleweed, rusty trailers and roadside greasy diners will contribute to that acute awareness that you’re driving right through the heart of America.

The stretch of Route 66 to Seligman is the longest stretch that still remains. At Seligman you’ll join the freeway 40 where you’ll make a short trip to Williams – you’re turn-off towards the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. At the entrance to the park I’d highly recommend buying the $80 annual pass. It will give you access for a year to all of the United State’s national parks including those you’ll visit on this road trip and it will save you money. Otherwise you can purchase a pass for your car for $25.

By this point you’ll probably arrive late in day so use the time to familarise yourself with the village and find a camping bay (or check-in to your lodgings) before heading to get a peek down the canyon from one of the many vantage points along the South Rim trail. The moment you approach the canyon will undoubtedly bring tingles to your spine. You’re about to view one of the highly regarded “natural wonders of the world” and the sheer vastness of it will threaten to blow your mind. The intensity of the colours changes by the light of the sun so sit back and watch the way the sunset paints the canyon through light and shadow.

When the sun is set and you’re well fed make a bee-line for bed. Today has been a long day of driving while tomorrow promises a day of rewarding hikes.

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Following on from blog post last week, today I’ll cover the “Demand vs Supply” component of my explanation on pricing. Like airlines, the number of people who want to rent a car (or get on a flight) versus the availability of cars (or seats on a flight) drives the price of that car (or the price of that flight!). So, when there becomes less supply (normally closer to the date of pick-up), the price will increase for the remaining demand. This means booking close to pick up is likely to be more expensive than booking further in advance.

Booking in advance allows for Avis – like airlines – manage their business more efficiently (e.g. having the cars in the right places and people there to support) thus makes the costs of the car less for the business and for the customer.

As we know that price is a key driver for all our customers, we aim to provide various options to ensure our customers get the best prices. I have highlighted some below:

> Email subscribed customers – we send out special offers or exclusive deals to our most loyal customers. This helps customers plan in advance or find out about hot deals.

> Latest Offers page (available at http://www.avis.co.uk/LatestOffers) – we offer a full list of our latest deals worldwide. It’s a good place to check first!

> £42 weekend rate – As we know UK customers are more likely to travel domestically in 2009, we wanted to provide a good rate for weekend getaways. There is some exclusions and I recommend that you book in advance to avoid disappointment, but it’s a great rate (up to 40% off previous levels).

> Sales – in periods of low customer demand, we often run sales for worldwide destinations. Again, it helps to book in advance and some exclusions apply. But it does give customers the option to reduce their costs if they plan in advance.

We do know that in these trying economic times price is a key driver for customers and we need to do our best to provide a good product at a competitive rate. On a daily bases we review our prices to ensure that they are motivating whilst enabling us to sustain our business.

I hope this provides a bit more background and information to our custmers. As always, any thoughts or questions are welcome!

Thank you,

Josi

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For those people looking to holiday in the UK I would highly recommend the Lake District. I went there for the first time a few weeks ago and I’m already looking to go back again.

We stayed in a hotel a couple of miles outside of Keswick although in the future we would look at staying in Keswick town centre, as where we stayed was a little quiet. We had a great meal at the Coledale Inn in Braithwaite. The staff were really friendly and put on a quiz for locals and visitors.

If you are staying near Derwentwater make sure you do the walk to the top of Catbells. This is a pleasant, but at some points slightly challenging, walk with fantastic panoramic views of Keswick, Borrowdale and Derwentwater. I would recommend taking water and lunch with you because it is not a short walk to the top. Also, if you get the chance, make sure you drive round the lake, head towards Watendlath fishery and then look back over Derwentwater: you can watch the sun setting over Catbells.

If you are looking for more beautiful views and enjoy driving, then take on the challenge that is the Hardknott pass. This is a series of winding country roads that take you up and over the hills. The Audi A4 we were driving handled really well around these small twisty roads.

Or, if you are a big kid like me, make sure you take a visit to Ye Olde Friars in Keswick town centre. They have all different types of sweets and good to choose from, definitely worth a visit.

We also visited the Honister slate mine. These are working mines that have been up and running for 100s of years. It is great to see traditional techniques are still being used by the teams there today. The tour takes you deep into the mine and shows you how the men used to get the slate out of the mine, the houses on the edge of the mountains these men lived in and so much more. We didn’t have time but, if you get the chance and like to do something more extreme, take the Via feratta up across the top of the mines.

We took an Audi A4 to get to the Lake District and the four and a half hour drive was fine. The car is very comfortable and, being a diesel, was surprisingly economical on the long motorway journeys. I would definitely recommend a comfy car for the journey!

We were only in the Lake District for 4 days and didn’t do as much as we could have. It is a great place that has something for everyone. But I advise you make sure you’ve got your waterproofs, camera, a bottle of water and a bite to eat when you go out for a day. Plus I would also recommend taking a GPS with you so you can explore the local nearby villages and towns without getting lost!

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Keen to explore somewhere new the bank holiday weekend just gone, I headed over to Bruge on Sunday for the day.

Admittedly, I haven’t seen the recent movie “In Bruge” so I didn’t quite now what to expect. But having been there now, I can tell you that the city is a gorgeous place. The architecture could easily of been the inspiration for a classic fairytale and I wouldn’t be surprised if Walt Disney himself had spent some time here. You’ll only find this kind of architecture in the Northern Europe region and the attention to detail is remarkable. In fact, the city centre itself is a World Heritage Site of UNESCO! Adding to the charm, running through city is a network of canals, leading Bruges to be dubbed the “Venice of the North”.

The city centres around the Grote Markt or “Big Market Square” were you’ll find the beautiful Belfry of Bruges and the Provinicial Court. Nearby you’ll find the Church of our Lady, which houses one of the few works (or possibly only works) of Michaelangelo that can be found outside of Italy: “Madonna and Child”. The beautiful music blended with the iconic religious sculptures conjured the kind of emotions in me that got me feeling a little teary-eyed.

So if you fancy a day out strolling through picture-perfect architecture, floating through canals, drinking Belgian beer outside a street-side cafe or gorging on hand-made Belgian chocolates then Bruge is a great day out for you. Bruge is just over an hour drive from Calais so I took the car over on the ferry. I managed to book a ferry for just £45 for a car and 4 people with P&O Ferries. Not bad considering it was on a bank holiday weekend (and fairly last minute as well). There are also some great deals on car hire at the moment and our 3-day weekend prices start at £42. If you plan to take an Avis car over to the continent then you’ll also need Continental Cover which, for £88.13, covers you for up to 7 days of driving.

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As a result of several questions from customers and growing commentary on the blog, I thought it would be useful to explain the basis of car rental pricing. And Avis pricing.

Much like any other product or service, the price our customer pays is largely dependent on:
- The cost of providing this service
- Demand vs Supply

These two areas are a lot to cover in just one blog post so I’ll cover them in two parts, starting today with the cost of providing this service.

Due to current economic climate, many of our costs have increased. The biggest example of this is the cost of acquiring our fleet. It is well documented that the recession has had a significant impact on car manufacturers. With the retail car market in decline, they are producing less. So, getting the same volume of cars at the same cost this year has been very difficult. In fact many manufacturers are looking to increase prices to the car hire industry in a bid to recuperate some of their losses, so we often have to pay more.

Its worth noting that the costs of most forms of travel has increased consistently since 2001 – in the UK, the London Underground prices have increased by 166%, network rail increased by 37%(1) and taxis are up 26%(2). In the same period the average price of car hire has decreased 7%(3). While car hire has represented increasingly good value for money versus other alternatives forms of transport, the prices have become too low given the costs of servicing car hire in the current climate.

But it’s not all bad news! In part 2 I’ll explain how supply and demand effects our prices and give my tips on how you can get the best price.

(1) Network rail price based on office of rail regulation average fare index. (2) Taxi based on 3 mile journey in Central London at 8PM. (3) Car rental price based on average Avis price per day

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As a bit of a PS on my Awesome Road Trip series for the South Island of New Zealand, I just wanted to give a few tips for the North Island as well. While the drives are not as stunning as those found on the South Island, the North Island is pretty awesome in it’s own right. Here are my top 5 recommended places to check out (in no particular order)…

1. Rotorua
Literally a hot pot of thermal activity with geysers, hot springs and mud pools, but also a good opportunity to experience Maori culture as well. Te Puia and the Whakarewarewa Thermal Village blend Rotorua’s natural attractions with a Maori cultural experience, mixing exploding geysers with Maori storytelling and concerts. For me though, the pick of the thermal experiences is Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. While it’s a bit of a let-down that the Lady Knox geyser has to be coerced into eruption with a little pouch of organic soup, the thermal reserve overall is an incredible site with an unbelievable display of greys, yellows, oranges, reds and greens that stain both the rocks and the pools. The most known attraction is the Champagne Pool where a line of orange borders one side of the multi-coloured pool. For some free thermal attractions, Kuira Park houses a number of lakes and craters filled with bubbling mud.

For more Maori experiences, make an evening of it and go to a concert and hangi (where they cook your food for you underground using the thermal heat). Tamaki and Mitai seem to be the two biggest players – I went to the Tamaki village where I saw the haka performed. Of course these experiences take place in reconstructed Maori villages. To see a modern, still-inhabited village then visit Ohinemutu in the North-west of the city.

Other Rotorua thrills include zorbing (so much more fun than I expected but choose the zig-zag route and do it wet) and the Skyline Skyrides where you can cruise to the top Mt Mt Ngongotaha and then fly down in a speedy luge.

2. Tongariro
I read in the Lonely Planet book that the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the best one-day walk in New Zealand. And that’s saying something. The walk will take you through craters, lakes and forests with optional side trips to the summits of Mt Mgauruhoe and Mt Tongariro (but you’re looking at more than a day if you do these). Without the side trips you should plan to be hiking between 6 and 6 1/2 hours. A shuttle bus also runs between the car parks at each end of the hike. I’d recommend getting the bus to the opposite end of the trail to where you are parked, so you walk back on yourself. That way you have a better idea of how long it will take. Watch out for the weather though – it can change at any moment and will often render the crossing impassable.

3. Waitomo Caves
For me the undoubted highlight of Waitomo Caves is the galaxy of glow-worms you’ll find when you take a boat trip through one of the caves. “Galaxy” really is the word, except the little white stars are replaced with little blue ones. You’ll also find a display of stalactites and stalagmites and a large cavern known as the Cathedral where the acoustics are so good that concerts have been played here. This is also the opportunity to try out some “caving”, including climbing, abseiling and tubing.

4. Bay of Islands
Here you’ll find turqoise sea, white sand beaches and 150 islands sprinkled around the bay. It’s paradise, just a few hours north of Auckland. Kayaking, sailing and scuba diving are some of the top activities here and you can also go swimming with dolphins. One of my mates was also lucky enough to spot orcas here!

5. Taupo
Despite Queenstown’s fame as a bit of a mecca for adrenaline junkies, I’m told it is in fact Taupo that sees more sky dives than any other place in the world. With a beautiful lake and snow-capped mountains to view down on, it really is no surprise. And it’s a lot cheaper than Queenstown. Bungee jumping, kayaking and fishing are also popular sports in the area.

Plus my top tip
And my top tip for hiring a car… many people want to experience both the North and South Island and opt to do a one-way trip from one to the other. By far the most popular route is from Auckland to Christchurch. So to save you a fair bit of cash, try going the other way – we’ll be keen to send some of those cars back the other way so you’ll find some great prices on offer!

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