• Traveler vs. Tourist

    5/17/2017 3:39:13 PM Link 0 comments | Add comment

     

     

    The Aged (to Perfection) Opinion

    In the world of travel, sometimes the words traveler and tourist are used interchangeably.   However, these titles have different implications depending on the situation.   There are times when it is simply fine to be a tourist, for instance, if you are in Paris, and there is a queue three blocks long to see the Eiffel Tower; it’s still the symbol of Paris, and not something to be missed.   However, the urge to tick off every sight and document it with a camera leaves one, not only exhausted, but void of the experience a destination offers.  With that in mind, I have, in my many years of traveling, tried to develop a guideline for travelers who want the best of both worlds. 

    Even if a person thinks they will only have one opportunity to visit a particular country, take the time to explore this area in depth, rather than try to do everything in a short time.   As a travel consultant, I often have clients who want to have their once in a life-time chance to go to Europe.   I always begin with the question of which countries they most want to visit.  When I hear, England, France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Germany, Switzerland, and then perhaps, if there’s time, Ireland, and Scotland, I take a deep breath, and suggest they limit themselves a bit.   So, after I have condensed my client’s expectations to a total of two or three countries, I begin by helping them truly experience their trip as a traveler with a touch of “tourist” combined.

     

    1.      Pack Light. I begin with the suggestion to limit their packing; keeping in mind that white tennis shoes, short shorts, and fanny packs should be left at home.   Concentrate on modest dress, simple colors, and comfortable walking shoes.   This not only helps with the limitation of luggage overload, but helps one blend in with the locals, as opposed to screaming tourist going on a beach holiday. 

    2.      Leave the stack of guide books at home.   While it’s great to have done some research before one travels, don’t get hung up on the opinions of those who may be getting paid to give their restaurant a favored review.   Instead, rely on your hotel desk clerk to ask about neighborhood restaurants, and don’t be afraid to experience a restaurant, just because they don’t have a menu in English.   I’ve found some of the best restaurants are those tucked away down small streets that have fewer than 20 tables.

    3.      Don’t be afraid to walk and use public transport.   Some of the most undiscovered pleasures of many European cities, are found in the myriad of parks that are within the confines, of otherwise crowded cities.   Be an observer, and stop and sit on a park bench and enjoy watching children play, and couples engaging in conversation.  

    4.      Get Lost. Wander into a church, even if it’s not listed as something famous. Finding a plaque of vicars from the 13th century on the wall is an unexpected treasure, and one that jolts you back to the reality of how young our country really is. 

    5.      Relax. Remember that sometimes the experience is the destination, rather than the destination being the experience. 

     

    The Mid-Lifer Opinion

    Tourist vs. Traveler, what’s the difference? Travelers hold a respect for the area they are visiting, relax when things don’t go quite the way they expected, and enjoy almost every moment of the journey. Tourists talk to the gypsies (no, just no), are in the Louvre only to view the Mona Lisa, and seek out a McDonalds for their evening meal. Ideas for becoming a better traveler: 

     

    1.      Know Before You Go. I speak sarcasm and German fluently……. and only one of those statements is a lie. In all seriousness when traveling to a country where the language is unfamiliar to you, try to learn a little before arriving. Of course, everyone should know how to say please and thank you in the country they’ll be visiting (you were all raised right I’m sure) but other suggestions would be “where’s the bathroom?”  or “how much is this?” and my personal favorite “do not touch me.” You’ll use that last one more than you think; I’ve got it down in three different languages:  no me toques, non toccare, and ne me touche pas.

    2.      R-E-S-P-E-C-T any and all religious monuments & churches. If you want to enter a holy sanctuary, be it a church or a shrine, and entry requires a certain body part to be covered, COVER IT! Do not argue! Rest assured you will not die a horrible death from covering your shoulders or head for a brief moment. If this offends you, then do not enter. Also, never take photos inside a church unless you have confirmed that it is acceptable to do so.

    3.      Say Cheese. Speaking of photographs, take them! Don’t waste time buying trinkets that will break within a few months of arriving home. Let’s face it you can only have so many magnets, mugs and keychains before it becomes pointless. Memories are the best souvenirs but over time they can fade. Photos will preserve sometimes what the mind cannot; plus, they’re cheaper than that $19.99 travel mug.

    4.      Try It Before You Deny It.Eat like a local! In many countries the local cuisine is a good representation of the culture.  Small local eateries are usually the best but always be sure to ask the hotel staff what they would recommend. Taking a chance on an exotic dish might actually be worth it and a great story to tell later. I’m still telling mine about the Peruvian Guinea Pig farm. Nothing beats the look of horror on your own child’s face when they learn that their mother ate a guinea pig, and has the pictures to prove it. But on the upside, he’s finally stopped asking for that pet guinea pig, because you never know mom might get hungry.

    5.      Listen and Learn. Keep an open mind and show regard to the local citizen’s values, traditions and pace of life. Try not to compare the culture of the area you are visiting to your own. One of the main benefits in travel is getting out of your comfort zone to see the differences of other societies and their people. Travelers travel to learn, gain experiences and get a better understanding of this world we all have to live in.

     

    The Young One’s Opinion

    Okay, let’s have an honest moment.  At one point or another, we’ve all been the stereotypical Tourist. We might not want to admit it, but hey, this is a safe space.  Yes, even I have a picture of myself at 18 years old “holding up” the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  And just a word to the wise, it’s A LOT harder to get that photo then you’d think.  What I want to do is give you a few tips on how to make the transition from Tourist to Traveler.  Now, you may be asking yourself – what’s the difference between a Tourist and a Traveler?  It sure sounds like they’re the same thing, right?  Well…not so much.  The guy standing on the sidewalk holding his selfie stick with one hand and holding an open map in the other – that’s a Tourist.  The woman having a café au lait at the small corner coffee shop on a hidden side street she heard about from the hotel concierge – that’s a Traveler.   Here are five tips to help you go from Tourist to Traveler:

     

    1.      Eat Local:  The one thing I always recommend to clients before they travel is to try the local dishes.  I know how tempting it is to stop into that McDonalds or KFC, or to eat chicken fingers every night because it’s the only thing you recognize on the menu.  But one of the best ways to be a Traveler is to venture off the beaten path a little bit to local dining spots and try some of the dishes the country is known for.  I’m telling you, you’ll be surprised at how many things you’ll actually enjoy.  And don’t be afraid to ask your hotel concierge for restaurant recommendations.  Locals always know the best spots!

    2.      Research the Surrounding Area: One of the easiest ways to scream to the world that you’re a Tourist is to stand around pointing to an open map, while loudly yelling at your spouse because he’s sent in you in circles for the third time.  Been there, done that – and I’m just saying, the Colosseum isn’t that hard to find.   You might as well have a neon sign over your head that says “I’M NOT FROM AROUND HERE”.  Before you leave home, hop online and look for major landmarks around your hotel.  See how far it is from point to point, and look for major streets to take.  Another good thing to do is to grab a local map from your hotel concierge and look it over in your hotel room the night before you have any big sightseeing planned.

    3.      Research the Local Customs:  Did you know that in some countries it is uncommon (or even rude) to tip your server or bartender?   Did you know that in Spain, businesses will sometimes close for a time to observe the traditional mid-day rest?  A good way to be a Traveler is to do a little research on the local customs of the country you’re traveling to.  This will help you be better prepared when you arrive in your country of choice.

    4.      Make an Effort to Speak the Local Language:  Even if it’s just “Hello” and “Goodbye” (or in my case “could you please tell me how much this costs?”), learning a little bit of the local language will really help you make that transition from Tourist to Traveler.  It also shows the locals that you’ve tried to learn a little bit about their country.  Even if you completely botch the pronunciation (which I’ve done more times then I’d like to admit), they will appreciate the effort.  Oh, and I should probably mention, a phrase that it never hurts to learn – “Where’s your bathroom?”.

    5.      Know the Local Currency:  Vocabulary lesson time, folks – In Cuba, CUC (pronounced “kook”) refers to: (A) a local food dish, (B) money, or (C) a type of local wildlife.  If you answered “B” you would be correct!  Another easy way to avoid being a Tourist is to learn about the local currency of your destination before you go.  Exchange rates are important to understand, as well as the form that the currency takes.  In some countries, like England, One British Pound Sterling will come to you in coin form – not paper.  And let me tell you, they’ll make your wallet awfully heavy!

     

  • What's the best cruise line?

    4/19/2017 9:19:01 AM Link 0 comments | Add comment

    This question is put forth to travel agents multiple times every single day. As travel agents they must represent ALL cruise lines, so unlike making a call to your “personal cruise planner” who will only search for a choice within their fleet, agents look at over 298 options to find the answer. Yes, 298 options…..this doesn’t even include Alaska Cruisetour itineraries (don’t get us started).

    So, what is the best cruise line out there? We put the question to the agents at Travel Ventures. After extensive eye-rolling and snickering, they have FINALLY answered the question below. Each opinion was written separately, but as you can see they all have the same underlying belief; the client’s needs matter the most.   

     

    The Aged (to Perfection) Opinion

    There isn’t a week that goes by that I’m not asked at least several times, what is my favorite cruise line?   As a travel professional, I am expected to have opinions, and it’s nice to be in a profession where they are honored instead of dismissed.   However, as many times as I’m asked this question, I have to take a short pause to gather my thoughts before espousing my opinion.  It’s not that I don’t have favorites, but there are certainly plusses and minuses about every cruise line, the circumstances surrounding each sailing, and the people with whom I was cruising. So, the short version is that I don’t have a “favorite” cruise line, but I do have favorite cruise ships within each cruise line.   When traveling with multi-generational families, there isn’t a better option than one of the Oasis class ships on Royal Caribbean.  While these mega-ships may seem overwhelming at first, there’s no chance that the teenagers, the toddlers, the parents, or the seniors won’t have something to entertain them.  From ice-skating, zip-lining, riding a merry-go-round, to watching a first run Broadway show, there truly is something for everyone on these ships. 

    For adult travel, as well as transatlantic and European cruises, my tried and true favorite is any of the Solstice class ships by Celebrity Cruise Line, especially the “Aqua Class” staterooms.   These staterooms offer a unique dining experience in their private restaurant called “Blu.”  There is no need to even go to a specialty restaurant if you have this as your dining venue, as the food is superb.  It is small enough to allow anytime dining between 5:30 – 9:30 and have a table for two without a wait.  The ships are large enough to provide plenty of music and entertainment options, but don’t feel crowded. There is something to be said about the smaller ships, as they can get into ports that the larger vessels cannot.   So, if you want an experience that is relaxed, port-intensive, and you are not dependent on being entertained with production shows each night, you can’t go wrong with the Windstar Cruise Line sailing ship.   There is something mesmerizing about pulling out of a port on the French Riviera and watching the crew unfurl the sails as this vessel glides to its next port of call. 

    I suppose I could continue with a larger list of favorites, as the cruise industry is very diverse.  However, as I tell clients, it is important to know what one’s likes and dislikes are and we try to find the best ship to fit each person’s individual tastes.  Again, you know what is often said about opinions, everyone has one, and they’re all different. 

     

    The Mid-Lifer Opinion

    What’s your favorite cruise line? Ugh, this is a hard question and I hate it. It’s a personal question; it’s like asking me what brand of toothpaste I use. What I need in a toothpaste may not be what you need in a toothpaste; therefore, what I like is completely irrelevant. Never ask your agent this question, instead ask, what cruise line is best for me? 

    Ah…..there we go, this is what I do and this is what we’re good at: qualifying the client. Are you a spa lover? A foodie? Are there kids involved? Are you active? Does anyone have mobility issues? All these questions (and many more) tell me which cruise line you need. Also people tend to generalize a cruise line, which is always a bad idea. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I only sail on XYZ cruise line, so if I am going to cruise I will do it with them.” Rule #1 in the cruise business; never limit yourself to one cruise line; it’s like ordering the chicken every single night at dinner. No two ships, even within the same fleet, are the same. It’s rare to find a cruise line that can maintain the same standards throughout.

    But, I have been told I must answer the question so here we go, as a mother of two kids under 10, using only cruise lines in the large ship category: After dropping the kids off at the Disney Cruise Line kid’s program, I’ll be headed off to the Canyon Ranch spa aboard Celebrity Cruise Line. Once my spa treatment is done, I’ll pick the kids up and take them to Royal Caribbean’s ice skating rink, bumper cars, rock climbing wall, and flow rider where I have already pre-booked private lessons. Later on in the afternoon, we’ll settle in for a cooking class aboard Holland America that will be set to the regional area we’re cruising in, and (surprise) also has class options for the kids.  After having dinner back on Celebrity Cruise Line, we’ll see a show on Disney Cruise Line and then say goodnight ending the day in our Mini-Suite aboard Princess Cruise Line (best suite bargain in the industry). Oh, and the whole day my husband has been on Carnival Cruise Line eating at Guy Fieri’s Hamburger Joint.

    And of course, none of the above statements apply to cruises under seven nights………

    See, I told you this was a hard question.

     

    The Young One’s Opinion

    As a travel agent, more often than not, I get asked the same question when I do cruise research for a client – “So, what’s your favorite cruise line”?

    What’s my favorite cruise line? WHAT’S MY FAVORITE CRUISE LINE??? That’s like asking me if I like chocolate, or chocolate. Seriously, it’s a really hard question to answer. Each cruise line is inherently different from the next –purposely done, to set them apart from the competition. I’ve been on everything from Carnival to Celebrity, and they all have their pros and cons. 

    Ask any of the other ladies in my office and they will tell you I am a total cruise snob. Now, I used to get defensive about that, but no, I really am a snob when it comes to cruising. I like the big, new ships and I love staying in a cabin with a balcony. With that being said, I think I’d have to say my favorite cruise line is Royal Caribbean. For me, nothing compares to those Oasis and Quantum Class ships with the aqua theaters, zip lines, aerial shows, 20+ dining options – and that’s just the beginning! I think the entertainment and amenities that Royal Caribbean offers far surpass those of the other cruise lines on the water.

    Look, take what I say with a grain of salt – there is no right answer to this question. Everyone wants to get something different out of their cruise experience. Some people like the shorter sailings on smaller ships, while others – like me – prefer the mega ships doing longer itineraries. It’s all about personal preference. My job is to put you on the cruise that’s right for you – not what’s right for me, or for your neighbor two houses down.  In the end, yours is the only opinion that matters.

     

     

     

  • The Year of the I - Wandering Wonder Women Blog

    3/23/2017 12:48:02 PM Link 0 comments | Add comment

    Wandering Wonder Women, that’s a mouth full isn’t it?

    The meaning behind the wandering part is easy, we all like to travel. Each of us has two main hobbies, reading and traveling (one of us tried to take up knitting once, it didn’t end well). 

    But really, Wonder Women?

    Aren’t we being a little boastful?

    The answer is quite simply yes, but let us explain why we’re Wonder Women.  At any given moment, one of our agent’s  is handling a private tour itinerary in Hong Kong, calculating the daily currency exchange for a trip Paris, sorting through cruise paperwork for a family reunion aboard a Disney Cruise, and filing paperwork for someone else’s Brazilian Visa application…..ALL AT THE SAME TIME. Wonder Woman is often described as strong-willed, capable of handling any situation and never backing down from a challenge. I think we can easily say that describes each of our agents perfectly. Not only is superhero–like multitasking skills required to hold a position at our office, but you must know everything about everywhere. Where is the best place to have lunch in Ennis, Ireland? Don’t know? We do. What about a good wine bar in Cusco, any suggestions? We’ve got them.  What’s the best bathroom stop when driving the Amalfi Coast? Trust us, we know that one. The smallest of details can make or break a trip, and we make sure everything is covered, no matter how complicated.

    The best part is we do not work for a cruise line, tour company, or resort chain. We work for YOU. When a client calls us to inquire about a vacation our suggestions are based on THEIR needs, not the needs of a company.  We’re upfront about all costs and make sure that we keep within every client’s budget, regardless of size (two of us are serious coupon clippers, and proud of it).

    Keeping up with all the travel trends is another part of the job. Over the years we’ve seen our fair share, but some trends continuously reoccur every few years, which brings us to our first blog post:

    THE YEAR OF THE I

    Every three to four years, the travel world sees a high demand for countries that begin with the letter I. There is no reasoning for this pattern, but ask anyone in the travel business and they will immediately know what you mean when you say it’s “the year of the I.”

    2017 is an I year and each of us has a personal favorite I country out of the list: India, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Indonesia, and Israel. 

    ITALY

    My first visit to Italy was in the dead of winter.  It was rainy and cold, and we had two teenagers in tow. My expectations were to show them the wonders of Michelangelo, DaVinci,  Donatello, and the other great masters of the Renaissance.  I had booked a suite in the Grand Hotel in Rome, complete with frescoes on the ceiling and marble throughout.  Of course, the first thing our sulky teenagers did was look for the remote for the television and loudly complain that all the channels were in Italian.  I knew it was going to be a long vacation.   However, trying to be optimistic, we promised them that they could eat as much pizza as they desired; after all we were in Italy.   Of course, Italian pizza isn’t Pizza Hut, and that’s something to be cheered.   The first mouth-watering bite of a true Pizza Margherita will spoil you from ever ordering a meat lovers pizza again. 

    I could go on forever about the wonders of Italian cuisine in Southern Italy, but I would be doing a disservice to my favorite “I” country by not mentioning the incredible experience of the other regions.  There’s nothing that takes you back in time like walking through the walled, medieval town of San Gimignano, or shopping in the market for leather goods in Florence, or visiting the ancient shops on the Ponte Vecchio . No visit to Florence would be complete without scheduling time to visit the Academia, and view Michelangelo’s “David” up close and personal.  Even my sulky teenagers were slightly impressed before wanting to hurry up so they could indulge in homemade gelato.    There’s also nothing more beautiful than driving through the Tuscan region or, better yet staying in a hilltop villa overlooking the chianti vineyards, and yes, we have a favorite, Casabella, located a short distance from Florence.   Again, back to eating, the Tuscan cuisine is something that has to be experienced, complete with a variety of grilled meats over an open hearth, and let’s not forget the local wine, as it’s cheaper than water. 

    While it took me several visits to Italy to finally experience the uniqueness of Venice, nothing says Italy more than a striped shirt boatman, serenading you while traversing the waterways on a gondola ride.  But then, when we were discussing our favorite parts of Italy, it was summed up perfectly by my husband, who said, “The best part is there’s an Italian restaurant on every corner.”

    Cathy’s “don’t miss” sightseeing in Italy:

    1.        Sip a cappuccino while sitting in a café in Siena on the Piazza Del Campo.  You can close your eyes and almost hear the sounds of the horses as they race through the Piazza in this spectacular medieval horse race. 

    2.        Ride the funicular to the top of the Isle of Capri and have lunch at a local café overlooking the crystal clear waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea

    ICELAND

    The older I get the more I like colder weather. Yes, it's probably hormonal; but nonetheless, cold climates are getting to be my thing. With that being said I’m going with Iceland as my favorite "I" destination.

    My first visit to the country was actually an accident. While en route to Scotland many, many moons ago, at the ripe old age of 20, I had the pleasure of crash landing at the Reykjavik airport on an early March morning. I was traveling with a group, and as many of you know when something goes wrong with a group, and it will, the first thing you do is feed them. The second is entertain them until the problem is solved; so after a full lunch this little fresh faced Floridian girl ended up on a tour of Iceland. I will admit this was my first REAL experience with snow and ice, my previous encounter was the fake stuff they blow at Ober Mountain, TN which really doesn't compare to the massive whiteness of Iceland in the early Spring. After attempting to walk (think newborn baby deer mixed with man’s first landing on the moon) and learning the value of shoes that actually keep the icy wetness away from your feet, I was able to stand back and be quite simply awe-struck by the massive foreign landscape that greeted me.

    Known as the Land of Fire and Ice, the country’s mind-blowing terrain is shaped by its contrasting natural wonders. The island is home to several volcanoes, geysers, glacial lagoons, hot springs, lava fields, gushing waterfalls and massive mountain ranges all with completely unpronounceable names like Öræfajökull or Snæfellsjökull.  This formidable land boasts scenery that is mesmerizing and almost alien-like, which would explain why it has served as the backdrop to many science fiction movies and television shows.  Much to their delight, Iceland’s tourism has nearly tripled since my first visit. Some folks come seeking the health benefits of the Blue Lagoon (it does great things for your skin, but DO NOT GET YOUR HAIR WET), or foodies arrive looking to try an exotic dish only found in Iceland, such as salted puffin. Many just want to tackle the vast countryside or are seeking a front row seat to one of the best displays of Aurora Borealis on the planet. Whatever brings you to this unique country, it wiil not disappoint.

    Lori’s “don’t miss” sightseeing in Iceland:

    1.        Gullfoss Waterfall: this massive three-terraced glacier fed waterfall plunges into a large canyon and is one of the country’s most popular natural wonders to visit.

    2.        Landmannalaugar: Only for the adventurous! Situated at the edge of a lava field, in the Highlands of Iceland, this Nature Reserve is a must for hikers.

    IRELAND

    You can’t talk about “The Year of the I’s” without talking about my favorite “I” – Ireland.  The Emerald Isle is the land where the fields are green, the locals are warm, and Guinness is King.  If I could write a love note to Ireland, this would be it.  And while I didn’t meet a leprechaun or come across a pile of gold (there goes my retirement plan), I can’t deny that there is a certain kind of magic to this place that stays with you even after you’re gone.  I could sit here all day and tell you over and over again how beautiful Ireland is – but I won’t – because that would be redundant and a bit boring.  Instead, let me tell about a few of my favorite things that Ireland has to offer.

    First let’s talk about the important stuff – the pubs.  Every Irishman (and woman) will tell you that there isn’t a problem that can’t be solved with a few pints and a few hours of good conversation.  Local pubs are the place to go for the heartiest food and drink and the best atmosphere.  My second favorite thing about Ireland has to be the locals.  The people of Ireland really are in a league of their own.  Let’s put it this way - a cabbie isn’t doing his job if you leave his taxi without getting his full life’s story and an invitation to dinner at his home that evening.  Every person you come across is willing to share a smile or a kind word.  Maybe it’s all the beer drinking…but I digress. The last “favorite” that I have to mention is the history in Ireland.  Every cobblestone you walk on has a story to tell, and around every corner you’ll see a castle ruin or stone monument.  Like any centuries old country, the past hasn’t always been pretty – but somehow it seems to come alive in Ireland.  Plus, there aren’t many places where you can stay in a 5-Star luxury hotel that is actually a castle dating back to 16th century.

    Now, maybe you’re thinking to yourself “that can’t possibly be all that’s great about Ireland”?  And my friend, you would be correct.  The three things I’ve mentioned only begin to scratch the surface of what makes Ireland so amazing. My best advice…go and see for yourself.

    Caitlin’s “don’t miss” locations in Ireland:

    1.        Blarney Castle, County Cork.  Probably the most famous castle in all of Ireland, it’s a must see.  Go hang out (literally) with the Blarney Stone and get the “Gift of the Gab”.

    2.        Temple Bar, Dublin. Think of it as more of a playground for adults, where people come from all over the world to drink, eat, shop, and be merry. 

     

  • WELCOME TO A UNIQUE BLOG WITH AN EVER CHANGING VOICE

    2/17/2017 3:02:41 PM Link 0 comments | Add comment

    These days it seems that everyone has a blog. 

    Blogs provide a beautiful empty space for people to shout out their experiences, and mostly opinions, to the world. We can hear from the political activist, or the trendy urbanite, or even the occasionally bored housewife in a blog. Everyone has an opinion and everyone thinks the public wants to read about it. One singular voice, giving one view on a subject is the common thread found amongst all blog posts.

    However, this blog will be slightly different. First off, we’ll be blogging about travel (I bet you didn’t see that coming) and everything that goes on in this industry of ours but with one small variance.........

    Instead of just one voice you’ll get three different authors, with three very different opinions. We'll have the perspective of a woman (who has asked us not to give her age, but let's just say it's on the + side of 60) that has a passion for travel, exotic locations, and unique dining experiences. We also have a middle aged woman, mother of two, who wishes she could hide in a spa for a week. And then finally we have our millennial, who is quite the posh traveler, that will give us the under 30 voice.

    Three very different women bringing you their thoughts and insights on travel destinations, trends, and news. Plus, we'll share some of our crazy ADVENTURE stories (trust us, we could write a book) on what we've seen in this business. 

    The first installment will be out soon, so be sure to stick around.

    We promise it’ll be worth the wait.

     

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