Archive for August, 2012

Tired of Traveling?

Wait, what?? This is a travel blog, written for a travel planning company, by someone who feels more at home in hotels than in people’s homes!

I’ve been traveling for work like crazy this summer. Unfortunately, it’s not been to exotic far off lands to check out luxury hotels for my clients. Mostly, I’ve been traveling domestically to conferences and events. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved the speaking engagements, conferences, networking opportunities, and business inspiration – truly. I wouldn’t trade any of it. But the other day I found myself uttering a phrase that I never, ever thought I’d hear come out of my mouth…. “I can’t wait to just have some time home from traveling.”

The thing is, business travel isn’t like vacation travel. Yes, I get to stay in some awesome hotels, learn a lot, make new contacts, and I know people a lot of people are envious of my travels. Still, it’s hard work. It’s up at 5:30 or 6 AM, nonstop events and meetings right through the networking reception at night, go to bed at 11:30 or midnight, get up, and start all over.

I think that even for the ecstatic traveler, balance is important to keep from wearing out. I’ve learned a few tips for this travel that’s helped me immensely.

1. Take the plane ride as down time. Sleep, read, listen to music, meditate, journal, watch a movie, chat with your travel companion if you both want. But give yourself a rest. I think wifi on flights is cool in theory. But to be honest, it’s traditionally been the only time we are ever able to truly take a break and be unreachable, and soon (if not already) people are going to expect us to be answering emails in flight. Resist it. If it’s a 21 hour flight to Australia, then maybe. But on an hour an a half flight to Chicago, give yourself a break! It may be the only time you get one.

2. I meditate at night after the day’s meetings and events. It centers me, helps to remove my brain from all of the information absorbed, and actually allows me to process things better. If meditation isn’t for you (though I do urge you to give it a go, even for five minutes), find something else that relaxes you and takes your mind off of things.

3. If not ungodly expensive, upgrade your room. I am sure company managers and finance departments are cringing right now. But honestly, if it’s a matter of $20 per night for a three night stay, and you get a larger room where you don’t feel cluttered, with a soaker tub where you can relax at the end of the day, I think that $60 is worth the ability to function better during the day and be more efficient.

4. Pace yourself. I know it’s tempting, but you do not need to stay out until 3 AM “networking” over drinks every single night. I agree it’s important to be out and about, because they say that most business is conducted after the work day, but there’s a difference between being antisocial and completely wearing yourself out every night. In the long run, you’re better off taking an earlier evening one night and getting your strength back.

5. When you get home, enjoy some down time. I’ve had to be a little more low key in between trips this summer. It’s not that I’m ignoring my friends and family, but I’m more up for a happy hour or dinner out, then a long night of partying (not that I do that all that often anyways). If you’re traveling constantly, it’s important to recharge your batteries when home.

Bridging the Cultural Gap

Traveling to a destination where you’re completely unfamiliar with the language and culture can be exciting, but it can also be a bit scary. My clients ask me all the time “Will I be able to talk to people there? Will I be able to get around?”. I completely understand. I have been to some places that I was not sure how I would communicate, other than some pantomiming. I have been to South Korea twice and can say all of two things – “thank you” and “uniform”, though I did learn “hello” while there. (My brother used to take a Korean form of karate and so I learned l “uniform”. It didn’t come in super handy).

Short of ordering a different Rosetta Stone program before every trip you take, there are bound to be some places that you just struggle a bit with the language and cultural barrier. Here are a few suggestions to help ease that gap a little bit.

1. Learn how to say hello/good day/something like this in the language, as well as thank you. If you can at least start off your request or communication with a nice greeting and end it with gratitude, I find people are more inclined to try to help.

2. Explore with a local guide. Even if it’s just a half day private tour, it’s nice to have someone local show you around – they know the “inside” details that a general tour company probably does not. I work with “on site” tour operators and always suggest them to my clients as a good way to at least get a feel for a new city, or for a day trip/excursion. It also helps you meet other locals, who may be helpful throughout your stay.

3. Reach out on social media. I love knowing people on social media from all over the world, and then meeting them when I’m in their neck of the woods. Plus, they’ve gotten to know you (and vice versa) so probably have great suggestions for places that you’d like to eat, drink, have coffee, etc. As always, use common sense on who and when to meet up.

4. Learn some basic customs beforehand about your destinations. Whether it’s taking off your shoes when you enter a home, a particular greeting, finishing (or not) the food on your plate as a sign of the quality of the meal, these help the residents to see that you’re trying to respect their traditions. The worst way to get off on the wrong foot is to do something offensive, and often it’s something that is completely benign in our culture. Your travel professional and social media contacts can be a great resource for this.

5. If it’s customary, bring a gift or donation. I mention it a lot, but it’s a great example. When we went to Zimbabwe, our guides told us we could tip them in old shoes and clothes. If I’d known, I would have packed an extra bag with some gently worn clothes and shoes. I know others who have traveled with clothes or items to donate and they say it’s always wonderfully appreciated. It helps show your compassion and thoughtfulness for the residents and it’s just a good deed. If you have a host, it may be customary to bring a gift – though probably not old shoes! Do some research on what might be appropriate.

6. Even if you know the language or it’s an English speaking country, there are bound to be different idioms and expressions. If something strikes you as odd, or even offensive, try to figure out the meaning before getting all upset, and have a sense of humor about misunderstandings. My favorite one to date is when I went to England for the first time – I was 16, and traveling with my Catholic school, which makes it even better – and when we mentioned that we had to be up early to the hotel staff who promptly said, “oh certainly, what time would you like us to knock you up?”. The phrase came from physically knocking on someone’s door to wake them up, which makes sense, but it would mean something completely different here in the States! We had a good laugh once our confusion wore off!

7. Give the food a go on your home turf first. In virtually any culture, sitting down to your meal and looking disgusted is a faux pas. If you try it at home, you’ll at least a.) maybe recognize something and b.) get an idea of the flavors and food items commonly used so you can more easily choose something you might enjoy. Note: if you have a special food requirement/allergy, try to learn how to convey this in the local culture. Ask a native who’s English speaking if possible, and make sure that your meaning of the term is the same as theirs. For instance, as a full vegetarian, I don’t eat fish. To many, vegetarian just means no beef. I learn how to say the words for everything I don’t eat when possible.

If You Could Only Go One Place

People constantly ask me “where’s your favorite place to go?” It’s a natural question. I work in travel and let’s face it – everyone (or most people) like to talk about travel. It’s impossible for me to name a single place. Every country is so different. It depends on if I want city or country, adventure or relaxation on the beach (the latter being rare for me for more than a couple of days). There are so many factors. It’s like that silly question ‘if you could eat one food for the rest of your life what would it be?” Who could do that?

So, I’ve decided to go continent by continent (and in some cases I’ve divided them into parts, like Eastern and Western Europe) and list my favorite city and “not city”, which covers anything else basically.

Western Europe
City: Paris. I think. Barcelona is way up there as well. So is Vienna.
Non-city: Positano, Italy. Hands down.

Central/Eastern Europe
City: Prague
Non-city: Every part of Slovenia that’s not a city. Ok, I know this isn’t really a “place” but driving through the country is insanely beautiful, from the coast to the Karst to the lakes. Just drive through it.

City: Seoul, South Korea. Hong Kong is up there.
Non-city: I’ll admit I’ve not been to too many non-cities in Asia. We did drive (had a driver) through Malaysia and there were some beautiful parts. Also, Busan’s coast is wonderful, though Busan would count as a city – just on the beach.

City: Cape Town
Non-city: Chobe region in Botswana

City: Melbourne
Non-city: Great ocean road. Again, it’s not a “place” but it’s a magnificent drive. And a famous one.

New Zealand
City: Queenstown (basically if it’s adventurous, you can do it there)
Non-city: Milford Sound. Take a boat ride on it. Incredible

South America
City: This is a complete tie between Buenos Aires and Cusco
Non-city: This is also a tie, between Iguazu Falls and Machu Picchu.

United States:
City: Portland, Oregon
Non-city: Embarrassingly I can’t think of one. I mostly go to cities in the US. Probably Napa/Sonoma.

City: Montreal
Non-City: I’ve only been to cities in Canada. Unless you count Victoria, BC. It’s not very city-like.

I’m going to add one more category that doesn’t really fit among any of these: Islands. They’re kind of their own entity. The winner in this category is Bora Bora, without a doubt.

What are some of your favorites? I’m always looking to add destinations to my wish list!

My Hotel is Just For Sleeping…

Continuing on the theme of verifying or busting travel myths, here are two thoughts that I often hear. While I can’t say that they’re myths per se, I did want to address them, as they both are statements that I hear often, and ones that I think warrant a different perspective.

Myth #5
It doesn?t matter where I stay; I only sleep at the hotel anyways.

Answer: False, with a little bit of truth. Let me give you a few “what if” scenarios that might have you rethink this:

1. It?s a torrential down pour (or other awful weather) and you really can?t walk around and do much in the city, so you’re stuck at the hotel for a day or two.

2. Your mattress feels like you?re sleeping on coils alone, and you toss and turn all night so are exhausted while trying to visit your destination each day.

3. You fall ill and either can?t go out for the day, or worse, need a doctor and the hotel doesn?t have 24 hour reception or a concierge to call one for you so you have to, in your ill state, find a doctor yourself.

These are just three examples of why where you stay might matter. That being said, there are options between a 2-star motel and the Ritz. But don?t just ?choose anything? – selecting the right accommodations might matter more than you think.

Myth #6
I don?t like to cruise because I don?t want to be herded like cattle during shore excursions, nor do I aspire to participate in belly flop contests at the pool.

Answer: False, with some truth. Cruise line ads often do an injustice to the cruising industry. There are cruise lines that cater to this crowd. However, what about a small luxury river or barge cruise (barge sounds like a misnomer, they are quite upscale)? These may take you along the Rhine, Rhone, Danube where you get to travel through the small towns in France, Bavaria, Austria, and Hungary. You have customized meal service ? often included in your cruise cost – and very small group, or even private, shore excursions each day. Or how about a clipper or yacht cruise, very intimate and incredibly customized? Before you say, ?I don?t cruise? (a caveat being if you know you get violently sea sick), inquire into all of the options. You might be surprised to find something that really fits what you?re looking for in a vacation.

Fact or Fiction? More Travel Myths

As promised, today I have two more travel tips/myths that I’m addressing. To keep these blogs rather short, I’m doing just two at a time.

Myth #3
Europe is full of crowds in the summer. I?d rather go in the spring or fall.

Answer: True! Europe is a great destination year round, and if your travel dates aren?t flexible (i.e. it?s a business trip, you?re going for your honeymoon right after your summer wedding), you certainly don?t have to avoid Europe. However, you?ll have more crowds and longer lines, most likely. If you can adjust your dates, you?ll have more pleasant weather, and you?ll also have fewer tourists. Prices will most likely be lower as well, since it?s not peak season.

Myth #4
I can get the same products online as I can if I work with a travel professional.

Answer: False. I?m not saying it?s never possible. If it?s a simple flight for a business trip or one night in a domestic hotel, that might be true. If you?re planning two weeks overseas, though, talk to your travel planner. Did you know that many suppliers ? hotels, tour operators, etc ? provide us with opportunities that they don?t offer to the general public? It might be a unique private tour offered only to our clients, or an automatic room upgrade upon arrival at the hotel. We work with experts that are on the ground in destinations around the world, and many times they have in depth knowledge about things to see that you?d never even find in a guide book ? and if you did, you may well not be allowed to access them without on of our on-site tour guides.

True or False – Travel Myth Busting (Part 1)

By now, my readers have realized that I like doing things in series. Truthfully, it’s often because I have so much to say about travel and the industry as whole that it would make for a ridiculously long read if I put it all in one blog.

This next series is going to address travel myths. These days you see travel tips and tricks virtually everywhere you look ? from online travel companies, twitter, Facebook, blogs, numerous travel books, not to mention personal stories from those that you know. It can be tough to tell fact from fiction. Furthermore, what works for some destinations and some travelers doesn?t necessarily work for others. Travel is highly personal, and it varies greatly depending on the type of trip you?re planning, experience you?re looking for, where you?re headed, the time of year, and numerous other factors.

In this blog series, I?ll address some travel myths, based on my knowledge and experience as a travel industry professional, to give some credence to the truth, or lack there of, behind these commonly utilized travel tips. This blog includes two of the most common myths I hear about booking travel.

1. It?s cheaper to buy an airplane ticket on Tuesday nights because they up the prices on Wednesdays. (I?ve also heard this about Wednesday night to Thursday).

Answer: False. I?m not saying it?s never cheaper, it may be. However, air prices are based on availability, fuel costs, and a whole host of other things (some that we understand, some that bewilder even us). Fuel prices could jump at any time. Seats could be taken up on any day of the week, and then you?re paying for a higher class of seat. There are seat classes even within coach class – it?s a long explanation but the short version is that if the lowest seat class is sold out, you go to the next class, which is pricier. When that class is sold out, you go up to the next, which is even pricier, and so on.

2. I don?t need to buy travel insurance.

Answer: False. A big resounding false! I have had numerous clients have to cancel trips due to unforeseen circumstances, or come home from a trip due to illness. Did you know that international flights cost $250 per person to cancel or change (plus any difference in the new flight price if it?s higher)? For domestic it?s $150 per person. Tours, hotels, transfer companies and the like vary in their cancellation policies. Travel insurance will run you, probably on the high end, up to a couple of hundred per person. Often, it?s less. Is it worth losing the $4K, $5K, $8K you spent on your trip over not spending that small amount on insurance?

Have a travel myth you want verified or busted? You can comment here, post on our Facebook page, ask me on twitter, or send me an email!

How Adventurous Would You Get?

What?s the craziest activity you?ve done while traveling? I?ve jumped out of a perfectly good plane over a glacier in New Zealand with a parachute (and a professional) strapped to my back. I?ve had an extremely large rubber band tied to my ankles and jumped off a bridge over a gorge? twice. Did I mention I?m afraid of heights? I am. However, my sense of adventure and desire not to miss an experience propels me (literally, in this case). My travels through six continents have held a lot of ?firsts? and probably just as many ?never agains?, but there are still numerous activities I?ve yet to try and hope to.

1. Dog sledding. I dislike the cold, but I love dogs and I think this is just such a unique experience as there are probably only a few places where one can experience this (at least as a tourist).

2. Balloon safari. Yet again I?m a glutton for punishment on the heights fear. There are resorts and tour companies in Africa that offer sunrise and sunset hot air balloon safaris and I can only imagine the feeling that accompanies this.

3. Camel ride in the desert. Most likely in Northern Africa though Mongolia would be incredible as well. Let me specify that I don?t want to do one of the 10 day camel rides where you sleep in tents overnight. A day trip, an overnight if necessary, is plenty for me. I just want to experience it. Again, one of those things you can only enjoy in select locations.

4. Swim with (or near) turtles in the Galapagos. I?m not a huge swimmer. I have a bit of a fear of being underwater too long due to claustrophobia (I?ve never SCUBA dived though I?ve snorkeled). This, though, is a situation in which I?d make an exception. I?ve swum with sharks and rays, which was less terrifying than it sounds. The history of these creatures, however, must be respected and being near them would humble me.

5. Swimming with dolphins. I plain just think this would be fun. I would only do this, though, in a setting that I thought was fair to the dolphins. I don’t want some resort where they’re penned in a pool smaller than the size of the kids swimming pool.

6. Hang glide. Can you imagine hang glide off of a towering sand dune? I hear this is a tricky undertaking, however, and I suspect I might get frustrated.

I?m sure there are plenty more. Almost virtually every day I see a twitter post or a Facebook photo from one of my fellow travel enthusiasts and I think ?I have to try that!?.

What are your bucket list activities? What incredible adventures have you already had?

City Magic – Image Gallery

I love to add in image galleries once in a while, and I think most of my readers know my affection for cities. Today, I’m sharing some of my favorite scenes from cities around the world. They may not all look “city like”, but that’s the beauty of experiencing different cultures – every destination has its own unique style. Enjoy!

Hotels – Don’t Be Surprised

Everyone knows the obvious things to check – what size is my bed? What’s the view? Is there a restaurant/bar in the hotel? How close is it to the sites/area I want to be in? These days, wifi is also a top question, and definitely something to mention when you’re looking into hotel options.

There are other things, though, that unless you’ve been to a destination, you may not be familiar with. Still, they can change your experience, for better or worse, and if they’re important to you, best to consider before putting down money on your accommodations.

1. Other countries don’t have the same ADA (American Disabilities Act) laws that we do in the U.S. Elevators often aren’t required, and if they are they may be big enough for just you and your suitcase. Your name brand chain hotels will almost certainly have them, regardless of location, but your smaller boutique hotels, especially historic ones, may not.

2. A double room in other countries often means a double bed or two twin beds. Sometimes it means two singles pushed together to form a larger bed. It’s very important to know what bed type and room size you’re looking for in advance – this helps narrow down options and find the hotel that fits you best.

3. Most foreign countries include a Value Added Tax, or VAT, for travelers and this can be quite pricey. When considering room price, remember that you will be paying hotel tax and VAT on top of that, in addition to any other extras such as internet, breakfast, etc.

4. Hours of operation for services. Check if the concierge, room service, business center, etc are open 24 hours. What are the hours of the hotel restaurant/bars? Many people say “oh I never order room service, I don’t need the concierge”, but it can’t hurt to look. If your plane is delayed and you get in at 11 PM and are starving, room service may not sound bad – and depending on the area, it may be one of the only options for food at that hour.

Life Lessons and Travel

Traveling can be one of the best ways to get to know oneself, as well as your travel companions. It can send you through ups and downs, excitement and frustration, and introduce you to experiences completely out of your comfort zone. I’ve personally learned a lot about myself throughout my travels. I’ve also learned a lot about life. I thought I’d share a few of these with you, as I suspect I’m probably not alone in at least some of these.

1. The best way to conquer a fear is to push yourself through it. I am afraid of heights. Quite afraid, really. When I was in Australia someone bet me that I wouldn’t bungee jump. I don’t like to lose bets. I bungee jumped twice (once in Australia, once in New Zealand on a jump about three times as high as the first). I then when skydiving. I’m still not a huge fan of heights, but I now know that I won’t let it stop me. I’ve transferred this to other fears as well.

2. Differences are glorious. I avoid restaurants that say “tourist menu”. I don’t take group tours filled with other Americans. I’d rather stop and try to talk to locals, or at least observe them and pantomime if verbal communication fails. You can learn so much from other cultures if you only watch closely (in a curious way, not a stalker-like way).

3. Nothing ever goes exactly as you’ve planned. Have a plan B, or be happy to go with the flow. A combination is probably best. This pretty much can be said translated into all areas of life.

4. Sometimes, it’s a good to let down your guard and allow yourself to really get to know you. When you shed the busy work day persona, your normal routine, and usual habits, you might be quite surprised at what you discover.

5. Simplicity can be a nice respite. When I travel overseas I check email maybe once or twice a day, I return only emergent or time sensitive phone calls (i.e. client traveling very soon), I can live for several weeks on whatever I can fit in my suitcase. It’s a refreshing break from the usual over-stimulation of my day to day life.

I often wish I that when I return, I could be more like my traveling self. The world around me doesn’t seem to cooperate at times, but I’m making strides.

What lessons have you learned from your travels?