Towers and Domes of Taja Mahal, Agra, India

Indian visas, Bitcoin, cheaper roaming – this week’s travel news

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By Steve Vickers
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Rough Guides writer Steve Vickers casts an eye over the big travel news topics and unpicks the top stories of the week.

Indian visas could get easier

India could be about to its expand its visa on arrival scheme to visitors from around 40 additional countries, including the UK.

As it stands, tourists from less than a dozen foreign nations are eligible for the visa on arrival scheme, and visitors from most places (including the UK and Australia) have to apply in advance for a visa – a process that can take weeks to complete.

On the face of it, expanding the visa on arrival scheme looks like a friendly bit of diplomacy, but there’s a rather more practical reason behind India’s decision. The number of tourists visiting the country has been growing sluggishly over the past few years and despite its size, India gets far fewer foreign visitors than Thailand or Malaysia. Both of which, incidentally, have far more relaxed visa policies.

Travelling the world with Bitcoin

Bitcoin is the world’s first crypto-currency. It’s a kind of person-to-person online electronic cash system that allows transactions to be made across the world. In the past few years, more and more websites have started accepting Bitcoin as an alternative to mainstream currencies. And in the past few months, plenty of real-world traders (including some travel agents) have also been getting involved.

By carefully choosing shops and petrol stations that would accept Bitcoin, newly married couple Beccy and Austin Craig managed two months in their native Utah without spending a single cent of conventional cash. Now they’re taking their experiment out on the road, using Bitcoin to buy everything from flights to food and accommodation.

Their first foreign stop, Stockholm, is an open-minded and technologically advanced city, with an active community of Bitcoin users. But if their travels take them off the beaten track, paying with digital currency could get a whole lot harder.

Follow Beccy and Austin on Twitter @lifeonbitcoin

Pumpkin tourism takes off for Halloween

With Halloween fast approaching and so many national parks in the USA recently closed because of the government shutdown, Pumpkin tourism is a growing trend.

In Arizona, the historic Grand Canyon Railway has laid on additional ‘Pumpkin Patch’ services to meet an increase in demand. Departing from the sleepy city of Williams, just south of the Grand Canyon, the historic train takes passengers to a remote vegetable patch. There, they can spend time picking the perfect pumpkin, before returning to Williams for hot apple cider and a slice of pumpkin pie.

Over in Ohio, more and more farms are opening their fields to tourists. Maize Valley Winery near Hartville is one of the places that really goes to town, with an enormous corn maze, pig races and pick-your-own pumpkins. There’s even a pumpkin cannon capable of firing heavy squashes more than half a mile through the air.

Cheaper roaming: another step forward

The EU has capped the cost of calls and mobile data within the European Union, but using your phone in other parts of the world can still be ridiculously expensive. Want to Skype or Snapchat in Singapore? No problem! Just make sure you’ve got a few thousand pounds stashed away for when the bill arrives.

A couple of savvy companies, keen to steal a march on their rivals, have started offering deals to help avoid that kind of post-travel trauma. The latest is American operator T-Mobile, which is planning to give customers on its Simple Choice tariff unlimited data and texts in 100 countries worldwide, including far-flung places like Uzbekistan and El Salvador. From the 31st of October, customers will also pay a flat rate of just 20 cents per minute for calls within those 100 countries, regardless of whether they’re ringing a landline or mobile.

The Internet offered is 2G, and the package is only available to T-Mobile customers in the US. But the fact that a major operator is offering a deal like this is a big step forward, and one that could inspire European networks to stop charging over the odds.

Free travel safety app

A free iPhone app has been launched to help young backpackers stay safe when travelling abroad. The Safer Travel app includes basic safety tips for cities and countries around the world, as well as emergency phone numbers, a trip planner and maps showing the location of local embassies.

The app was released by Caroline’s Rainbow Foundation, a charity set up in the memory of Caroline Stuttle, a British backpacker killed in Australia in 2002. Currently the app has listings for hundreds of different places, but the charity wants to expand its coverage to include every tourist destination on earth.

Final call

This dreamy short film from Bali leaves out the gridlocked streets and drunken tourists, choosing instead to focus on the simple and the spiritual – and it’s all the better for it.

Morning of the World from Gunther Gheeraert on Vimeo.

Spotted an unusual travel story? Let us know on Twitter (@RoughGuides) or Facebook, or comment below.