Archive for March, 2012

All That We Do

In the last few months travel planners (consultants, advisors, agents) have gotten a good deal of positive press. It seems travelers are getting weary of searching for Internet deals and traveler reviews to find the best options. Or perhaps they?re just taking larger trips that they don?t feel comfortable booking on their own. Either way, there have been numerous articles in the past several months from sources as large as CNN (dot) com about the value of travel professionals.

This press is a great start for us. We don?t have to answer questions such as ?travel agents still exist?? quite as often. Still, I think people don?t truly understand the scope of what we do. Even those who know that they want to use my services often ask me something akin to ?so what types of things do you actually book??. This is a fair question, especially since different travel planners offer different services. Some may focus on tours or cruises, while others focus on all-inclusive resorts or independent travel. For the purposes of this article, I?m going to focus on those services we could book ? this doesn?t necessarily mean that every travel professional is going to book all of these, which is why it?s important to make sure the planner and the client are a good fit.

So what can we offer? Most travelers know that we book flights, accommodations, cruises, tours, all-inclusive resorts and these larger items. Here is a list of some of the smaller and more detailed items that people don?t often realize we can arrange.

? Rail and bus tickets/passes
? Airport transfers (private or group)
? Private drivers
? Day tours (group or private)
? Museum/attraction tickets
? Theater tickets
? Special event celebrations (I?ve booked an anniversary dinner at the restaurant atop the Eiffel Tower)
? Spa treatments
? Shore excursions on cruises
? Pre/post trips for meetings and conferences
? Wine tastings, market visits, cooking classes

No doubt there are travel planners who have booked experiences not on this list. These are just among the most common detailed requests that I receive. So don?t be afraid to ask. It?s possible that your planner doesn?t book each of these, but it can?t hurt to check. Most travelers want to leave some things to spontaneity, but booking items such as museum tickets can save time from waiting in long lines and often can save money as well. Discuss with your planner to find the right mix combination of pre-booked and flexibility for you.

Sample Itineraries

Itinerary creation is often one of the most difficult parts of planning a vacation. It?s not so much putting the actual pieces of the trip together ? flights, hotels, transportation ? that slows up the process, but the initial determination of which stops to include within your destination.

I often have clients come to me with a very general request such as ?we want to go to Europe on our honeymoon? (or something similar for just about any continent). They may have a specific country they want to visit or even a city that they must include, but the rest of the details are a bit fuzzy. It?s not uncommon for travelers to request certain types of locations or to want to center around specific interests such as a beach destination, cultural and historical sites, or wine tasting.

Part of the confusion, I?m quite sure, is the vast number of options and information overload so readily available today. It?s easy to get bombarded with stories from friends, tweets from hotels and tourism boards, pictures on Facebook, and while it?s wonderful to have these contacts at hand, it can also be a lot to process.

From the view of someone who plans travel for a living, sometimes it?s easier to get an idea of where you want to go and what you want to do if you have some simplified concrete ideas in front of you, from someone who can offer an objective opinion. While I don?t sell pre-created itineraries, I can provide examples of itineraries that I?ve completed or planned in various parts of the world that may inspire those who have the travel bug but are stuck on the question of ?where?. In this article, I?ve decided to do just that. These are only a quick sampling of some suggested itineraries I could create. I plan to continue posting other ideas following this article. These suggestions are very broad, and are created with the idea of customizing them to fit the client. I?ve tried to include a wide range of destinations, to inspire as many people as possible.

1. Basic Italy 8-11 days:
Fly into Rome (overnight flight recommended if available)
Spend at least 3 days in Rome
Train to Florence (approximately a 90 minutes)
Spend 2 to 3 days in Florence. If you want wine/Tuscany tours, definitely 3 days
Train to Venice (approximately 3.5 to 4 hours)
Spend 2 to 3 days in Venice
Fly out of Venice

Suggested Add-ons:
Amalfi coast or Positano (from Rome);
Overnight Bologna between Florence & Venice

2. Argentina:
Fly into Buenos Aires and spend three nights here
Fly to Igua?u Falls; overnight at Igua?u*
Return to Buenos Aires for one or two nights
Fly to Mendoza (Argentina?s wine region); stay 2 to 3 nights here
Fly home from Mendoza

*Suggestion: Bring a small overnight bag for your trip to Igua?u and store the rest of your luggage at your Buenos Aires hotel. There will be a charge for this, but it?s worth it.

Optional Add-on:
Day or overnight in Montevideo, Uruguay. It?s approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes by ferry from Buenos Aires. There are other towns in Uruguay much closer by ferry. Montevideo is the capital.

3. Southern/Eastern Africa:
Fly into Johannesburg and overnight near the airport (to break up the flights)
Fly to Victoria Falls. Zimbabwe. From here, take a transfer down into Botswana*
Spend 3 nights at the Chobe Game Lodge in Botswana**
Transfer back to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Spend two nights at the Victoria Falls Hotel
Fly from Victoria Falls to Cape Town, South Africa
Spend 3 to 4 nights in Cape Town
Fly home from Cape Town via Johannesburg

Suggested activities
Half-day elephant back safari in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe is also a wonderful destination for white water rafting and other adventure activities.
Half or full day wine tour from Cape Town
Robbin Island Tour in Cape Town

Several day tour on the Garden Route from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth; Fly home from Port Elizabeth via Johannesburg

*The transfer from Zimbabwe to Botswana will be a van (or van-like) transport to the Botswana border. Here, you will have to switch vehicles and guides. Zimbabwe guides have to pay a very large fee to enter Botswana, and therefore instead they just switch transfer companies and vehicles. The second vehicle may be more like an open-air jeep.

**The Chobe Game Lodge is a luxury lodge on the bank of the Chobe River. Packages at the Lodge include accommodations, all meals, plus two jeep safaris and one river safari each day.

More sample itineraries coming soon! Have a request? Let us know!

Lesser-Known Themes

Working with clients on a detailed and personal level, I tend to get to know their interests rather well. Whether it?s a passion for a country, a period of history, an activity, or a style of travel, we weave this into their trip as much or as little as they desire.

Often, it?s something not all that uncommon ? wine tours and cooking classes for those who are interested in gastronomy, day tours of famous historical landmarks for the history buff. Themed tours and travel, though, can be taken to an additional level, and whole vacations (or at least a good part of a trip) can be planned around a particular interest. In fact, tour companies, both group and private, are continually offering new travel themes, and this, coupled with a travel planner whose focus is customized vacations, allows clients to create a trip focused around virtually any interest.

Here are just a few of the themes that are gaining popularity amongst travelers.

? Music tours: Music is intrinsically linked with culture and way of life in many countries, and travelers are not only enjoying music?s lure, but specifically traveling to it. Music and Markets Tours, for instance, takes traveler and music enthusiasts to Europe to experience the countries, the cultures and of course, the music.

? Garden tours: Tulip tours in and around Amsterdam may be the most famous, but the garden tour trend is spreading across Europe. Countries such as England, Wales and Scotland are rising in popularity, and the Riviera?s of Italy and France are not to be ignored.

? Ancestry/Heritage/Genealogy tours: Programs such as make it easy (or easier) today to take a look into ones past. Taking it one step further, ancestry tours – also sometimes called heritage or genealogy tours- take you to the towns of your family?s past. Tours tracing ones history are, by nature, almost always private tours, though some companies do offer more general small group tours focused on particular areas, for those whose relatives might share a common region.

? British royalty tours: Perhaps spurred on by the marriage of Prince William, or the TV show The Tudors, the fascination with British royalty, all generations of it, seems to be increasing by the week. Royal castles, palaces and grounds, and the tower of London are among the common stops on these tours, and those belonging to the Tudor family are particularly popular. As specific as this niche is, numerous companies are offering a wide variety of British royalty themed tours these days.

Peruvian Rainforest

Until recently, the source of the Amazon River was a hotly debated topic. Five years ago, researchers officially determined that the source of the river is in Peru. The Peruvian Amazon, and its surrounding rainforest are also considered to be the more undiscovered portion. The rainforest in Peru can be accessed from two main points: Puerto Maldonado in the southern part of the country, and Iquitos in the north. I chose to visit the former and stay at the Inkatera Reserva Amazonica. The trip there takes some coordination – a flight to Puerto Maldonado, a transfer to the dock, and a 45-minute boat ride in basically a large, motorized canoe to the reach the resort. Regardless of the accommodations you choose, there are several important factors to keep in mind when visiting the rainforest.

1. The rainforest is a haven for mosquitos, and there are some blood-born illnesses that these creatures can pass along. Before you head to the rainforest, talk to your doctor about the medications and vaccines needed. Certain parts of the rainforest may require proof of a yellow fever vaccine for entry.

2. Load up on bug spray and sun block. Both of these are absolute essentials in the rainforest. You?re close to the equator, so it?s very easy to burn. The bug spray relates back to suggestion #1. Mosquitos may bite through lightweight clothing, so apply even if your arms and legs are covered. Reapply both frequently.

3. Bring a lightweight rain jacket. Depending on the time of year, it can be quite warm in the rainforest, and it?s virtually always humid and damp. You want your arms covered to ward off bugs, but you want something light and breathable (how light depends on the time of year) to stay as cool as possible.

4. Bring long pants: again, this protects against mosquitos and other bugs. Something water/weather proof is ideal. Jeans are not.

5. You?ll get dirty/muddy/sweaty. Your accommodations may (as the Inkaterra does) provide mud boots for your activities. If not, bring something that will protect your feet/legs from mud and that you don?t mind throwing out when you get home if not easily washable. Accommodations should be able to tell you in advance what they do or do not provide.

6. Check with your hotel about their electricity availability. Even a high end resort such as the Inkaterra turns off electricity several times each day (and from 11-4 over night) because the entire place runs on a generator, and they want to save electricity when possible. If your accommodations do something similar, you may want to bring a reading light if you plan to relax and read or write during your stay, or something else to do during your down time that doesn?t require bright lighting.

7. The rainforest isn?t particularly easily accessible. Most likely, you?ll fly into a nearby town and then get a transfer to a boat dock where you?ll take a boat to your hotel. Because of this, you may not be able to bring a large suitcase, so check with your accommodations. You may have to pack a smaller bag to use for your time in the rainforest.

8. Unless told otherwise, rainforest accommodations are generally quite casual. Check with your hotel on this, but most likely, you need nothing more than your clothes for activities and something clean and casual to wear to dinner.

9. Meals may be on a specific schedule, especially if the accommodations regulate electricity. If you like to snack throughout the day, or have specific dietary needs due to blood sugar, you may want to pack some non-perishable snacks to bring for your time in the rainforest.

Altitude Adjustment

Machu Picchu was voted one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, and it absolutely does not disappoint. Cusco was the Incan capital of Peru, and the history is almost palpable. The Sacred Valley is a magnificent gateway to both spots.

An important factor to consider when planning your trip to the center of Peru is the altitude. It doesn’t affect everybody, and the symptoms and severity vary from person to person, without much rhyme or reason, but it?s important to be prepared. Here are some tips to help hedge altitude sickness as best as possible:

1. Drink a lot of water before and during your stay.

2. Headaches are a very common symptom of altitude sickness. Make sure to have some ibuprofen or your preferred headache medicine readily available. Some suggest taking this 30 minutes before your plane lands in Cusco as a preemptive measure.

3. Take it easy. Allow yourself plenty of time to rest the first day or so.

4. Avoid heavy meals, caffeine, and alcohol. This is particularly true the first day or two until you know how you?ve adjusted to the altitude.

5.The locals drink cocoa tea, which they claim helps with altitude sickness. I know others that swear by this, but personally tried only a sip of it so can?t claim its powers.

For these particular destinations, the best approach is to start at a lower altitude and work your way up. The Sacred Valley is at approximately 8,500 feet above sea level, while Cusco is approximately 11,500. When you land in Cusco, head to the valley for a couple of days. There is a magnificent hotel in Urubamba called Tambo del Inka that is perfect for taking it easy. Conveniently, the Sacred Valley is also an ideal jumping off point for a trip to Machu Picchu. After a couple of days in the valley, you should feel more acclimated and be able to head to Cusco without much issue due to the altitude.