Category Archives: Travel Advice
Most people who have visited Alaska have only done so by cruise ship. It’s a great way to be introduced to the state & is in fact, how we first visited. We had an absolutely awesome time on that trip, but most cruise lines focus their time in southeast Alaska. So, it left me wondering…What is the rest of this giant state like? I knew it would be different traveling by land than by sea, but I really had no idea how different a vacation to the interior of Alaska would be. And let me tell you! It’s beautiful. It’s vast. It’s a totally different experience than cruising.
Our adventure began because we were supposed to have some friends come visit us in Utah this month, but they weren’t able to make it. Not wanting to give up the excuse for a vacation, we started looking at other options. By total chance, I found roundtrip, nonstop airfare to Fairbanks, Alaska for only $118.00. I was so excited! Based on our cruise experience, I knew I wanted to explore Alaska more in-depth & I couldn’t wait. There was only one problem…
The rental car shortage is REAL.
As I mentioned in my blog post, “Plan in Advance, Pay Over Time,” sometimes last-minute travel deals can be fantastic ($118 airfare, hello!). However, as is often the case with last-minute trips, just because you get a great deal on one aspect of your trip, doesn’t mean you’re going to get great deals for all aspects of your trip. In fact, planning last-minute can often cost you WAY more than if you plan in advance. Fortunately, since I plan travel for a living, I knew I needed to make sure I could get a hotel & rental car BEFORE I booked the airfare. There were plenty of hotels, but there were NO rental cars. We searched & searched & finally found a locally-owned rental car place that was willing to give us a compact car for four days for only $1,700.00. Did you just almost choke? Because I choked when I saw that price. There was NO WAY I was going to spend that kind of money on a rental car.
You may be wondering, “Why are they charging so much?” It’s pretty simple, really. Last year when the pandemic was raging & no one was traveling, the rental car companies couldn’t afford to keep their inventories, so they sold huge chunks of it off. Now that vaccinations are moving along & people can & do want to travel, the rental car companies don’t have enough inventory to meet the demand. Why don’t they just buy more? Well, material shortages worldwide have been impacting car production so they literally can’t build their inventories back up fast enough. Now imagine being in the isolated interior of Alaska & replacing that inventory becomes even more complicated. Hence, our predicament in not being able to find a rental car & them feeling justified in charging ridiculous prices for the rare unicorn car they did have.
At that point, I thought Alaska was going to be a bust. However, we started getting creative in how we looked for a car. There are several websites out there where you can rent a car from an individual rather than the normal big businesses like Alamo, Enterprise, etc. But again, NOTHING was available. So, then we started looking at RV rental websites & we found someone renting their 2007 Subaru Outback & it came with a rooftop tent & camping supplies. They were renting it for a much more reasonable price of $500 for four days, so our trip was saved! Plus, we figured since it came with camping gear, we’d give camping in the interior of Alaska a try.
Now before I lose those of you who don’t like camping because you think that the rest of what I have to say won’t be relevant to you, HOLD UP. Almost everything we did can be experienced even if you sleep in a hotel instead of a rooftop tent. We were planning on staying in a hotel every night (& did for two nights) & using the regular rental car to explore the area. You can do that very thing when you visit the interior of Alaska. We just saw a unique opportunity to camp in a place we wouldn’t normally & we took it. So, don’t freak out. You can keep reading & still get some insights into how to enjoy the interior of Alaska. For ease of outlining what there is to do, I’ll go by geographic area to keep things concise rather than explaining things in the order we did them.
Ah, the “Golden Heart” of Alaska. As with most towns in the interior of Alaska, Fairbanks began as a mining town & grew from there. It’s now the largest city in the interior (third largest in the state) with a population of just about 30,000. Fun fact: Apparently that’s enough people to warrant a Costco, Wal-Mart, Lowe’s & Home Depot. This kind-of-sleepy town is fairly spread out & if it’s not paved, it’s forest, so getting around town really is easiest if you have a car. That being said, if you’re not averse to walking, you can somewhat get around that way (although sidewalks are limited, so plan to walk on the street). They also have a city-wide bus system, plus both Lyft & Uber are available. There are also a number of shuttles that will also take you to sights like Chena Hot Springs & the Arctic Circle & the train goes to Denali National Park. These are all viable options if you can’t get a rental car, but hopefully inventories will be restored soon & it won’t be a problem.
When I was researching things to do in Fairbanks, a lot of what came up is pretty far out of the city limits, so I want to focus on some of what you can do IN Fairbanks.
Running Reindeer Ranch: This was BY FAR our favorite thing we did while in Fairbanks. Imagine yourself in a beautiful forest surrounded by frolicking reindeer. THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED! For two hours, and about $70, you too can have a magical time learning more than you ever realized you wanted to know about reindeer all while they are literally frolicking around you. These are domesticated animals & very used to humans, so the reindeer may even let you pet them. When we were there, they even had three six-week-old babies that were the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. Open both in summer & winter. 10/10 would do again!
Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum: Let me start by saying, I am not a car person. I didn’t even know if I wanted to go to this museum, but time allowed for it, so we went. I am SO GLAD we did. This place is amazing! Not only do they have a VERY impressive collection of antique cars dating from when they were first invented up through the 1930s, but they have also included clothing in their displays from the same time periods as the cars. Many of these pieces are originals and are simply INCREDIBLE. Seriously. I am so impressed by how smart they are to combine cars & fashion to speak to a multitude of different interests in one place. Kudos to them, because it was awesome & you should go.
Pioneer Park: This quirky little area is quite a gem. The Park is right along the Chena River & is made up of old buildings & cabins from around the Fairbanks area, many of which have been converted into shops, art galleries & eateries. There is also a playground for kids, carousel, miniature golf course, & several small museums. Entrance into the park is free, but some of the museums charge a small fee. Whether or not you choose to do the paid museums, there is a lot to see & do here. There is also a Salmon Bake that happens in the park each night from 5:00-9:00. It acts kind of like a quick-service restaurant where you order at the window & then travel to different stations to pick up your food. They had picnic tables both inside & outside & they even had a military band playing jazz music while we were there. Overall, it was a nice place to spend the afternoon/evening & I think it’s definitely worth a stop. Keep in mind, they don’t open until 11:00 or 12:00 depending on the day.
Museum of the North: This museum is found on the campus of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. The building looks fairly large from the outside, but the museum itself isn’t really very big once you get inside. What makes this museum worth going to though, is the fact that it is 100% focused on the natural & cultural history of Alaska. This state is huge & amazing & it deserves its own museum. I learned a lot here & I’d recommend it for those traveling through.
Large Animal Research Center: Also found on the campus of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, this research center offers tours to learn about the muskox, reindeer & bovine they study there. We did not take a tour because time wouldn’t allow it, but we did stop by & watch the muskox munching in their field as well as wander into their little gift shop (where you can buy tour tickets). It’s certainly worth a stop, even if you just get to see a muskox in person. They’re adorable.
Denali National Park & Preserve
As previously mentioned, there is A LOT to see & do outside the city of Fairbanks. The most notable & popular is probably Denali National Park & Preserve. You can reach the park in about two-hours by car from Fairbanks, it being the closest city to the park. The Park can also be reached via Anchorage, though it is twice as far & takes more than twice as long to get there.
What I thought was most impressive about the drive between Fairbanks & Denali was that for the entire drive except for maybe 5 miles, we had cell phone service with data (our carrier is AT&T, our friend who has T-Mobile didn’t have quite as good of service). This was unexpected, but certainly helped me feel more secure knowing I could call for help if we needed it. After some of our other adventures though, we realized this was one of the better roads we drove in Alaska & there was enough traffic that there was really no need for me to be worried.
Denali National Park & Preserve is named for the tallest mountain in North America found within the park. Denali tops out at just over 20,000 feet & is so big, that only about 30% of people who visit the park will actually get to see the peak since it’s normally covered in clouds. We were blessed with perfect weather while we were there & were able to see the mountain in its entirety. All I can say is, WOW.
There are a few quirky things about Denali that all travelers should know. First, there is one road into the park & the public is only allowed to drive the first 13 miles of it. There are some really fun things to do in those 13 miles (like the sled dog kennels, some great hiking, etc.), but to get past that point, you need to take a bus, or have a special permit (which are difficult to come by). The road itself goes for about 90 miles & different buses go different lengths of the road. Some buses are merely a means of transportation, others are actual tour buses that offer commentary & snacks for the long drive. Because of COVID, there are limited offerings this year, so we ended up on the Tundra Wilderness Tour. It is an eight-hour tour that takes you about 63 miles down the road. Our driver has been doing tours for 15+ years & was incredibly knowledgeable about the park. For that reason, I would recommend taking a narrated tour verses just one of the transportation buses. They both stop for wildlife viewing (we saw beavers, moose, caribou, grizzly bears, red fox, Dall sheep, & more), but the park is so vast & there is so much to learn about the geography & wildlife, it’s nice to have a knowledgeable tour guide. The guided tours are significantly more expensive, but worth it in my opinion.
As for the road itself, it is dirt, but it’s one of the most well-maintained dirt roads we’ve been on. The buses are converted school buses, but they have motorcoach seats in them. It’s a bus on a dirt road, so it’s not the most comfortable ride, but the scenery is so spectacular & we learned so much, it wasn’t bad.
Since we did camp there, I should mention that there are several campgrounds in Denali. The biggest & most convenient one is at the entrance of the park & is called Riley Creek Campground. That is where we stayed & it was beautiful & well-maintained, but there are several smaller campgrounds down the park road as well. If you’re going deep into the park, you’ll have to take your gear & travel by bus to get there. Reservations are currently required for all campgrounds, so plan in advance. However, if camping isn’t your thing, there are several hotel options around the park entrance. We would be happy to help you find one that is right for you.
The Arctic Circle
In the completely opposite direction of Denali, about 200 miles north of Fairbanks, you’ll find the Arctic Circle. The Arctic Circle crosses through several countries, but nowhere in the world is it as accessible as it is in Alaska. Although “accessible” is kind of a loose term. But we felt like if we were that close to the Arctic Circle, why wouldn’t we go?
There is just one road you can take to get there & it is a doozy. It’s called the Dalton Highway, or the Haul Road & it was built to support the oil fields in Prudhoe Bay. It runs from Fairbanks clear up to the Arctic Ocean. In fact, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline runs parallel to the road nearly the entire way.
This is where not having a traditional rental car actually helped. Most rental car companies do not allow their vehicles to be taken up the Dalton Highway & for good reason. Consequently, if we had gotten a regular rental car, we would have had to take an organized tour to get to the Arctic Circle rather than driving there ourselves. There are several organized tours out of Fairbanks that do 12-hour day trips up & back to the Circle each day, so if this is something you’re interested in, that is a viable option. We saw several tour groups along the road as we went. In fact, unless you’re completely comfortable driving on challenging dirt roads with no cell service & feel confident in changing a tire, I wouldn’t try it. We asked the people we rented our car from in advance if we could go up there & they gave us permission & then sent us with a spare tire & tire repair kit (which fortunately, we didn’t need).
That being said, although it’s a challenge to get there, the scenery is incredible. The vastness of Alaska is hard to describe. In reality, we could only see pieces of it from the road, but what we could see was just massive & spectacular. Most of the scenery was boreal forest among rolling hills, but we also drove through parts of the tundra & into the Brooks Mountain Range. Along the way, we stopped in several locations including the Yukon River Camp, Finger Mountain, obviously the Arctic Circle, and finally we ended up camping just outside a tiny town called Coldfoot which is about 65 miles past the Circle. If you want to go clear up to the Arctic Ocean, you’ll have to get a tour out of Coldfoot. The last few hundred miles over the Brooks Range & onto the North Slope is something serious & there are basically zero services, so best to take a tour from there.
You may be wondering if it was worth the drive up there. The answer is, YES! It was an incredible adventure with many literal bumps in the road, but it was fun & certainly worth going. And the bragging rights are real. So real, that when we stopped at the BLM visitor center at the Yukon River Camp, they gave us an official stamped certificate signifying that we had driven the Dalton Highway & gone to the Arctic Circle. We also learned that only 1% of visitors to Alaska ever make it further north than Fairbanks & we are proud to be part of that 1%!
Overall, I’d recommend Alaska’s interior to anyone who appreciates natural wonders & beauty, is ready for an adventure & who isn’t afraid of a few mosquitoes. In the summer, the sun never sets & the only thing stopping you is your own tired self. The three main areas we visited only scratch the surface on everything you could do in Alaska’s interior, but it was a great place to start! Alaska is one of those places you have to experience to truly understand & even then, there’s always more to learn & explore. If you’re interested in having your own Alaska adventure, go ahead & request a quote through our website: https://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php. We would be happy to walk you through things!
Can you feel it? The excitement at the prospect of getting out of the house? The thrill when you realize adventure is just about within reach again? As more & more people are being vaccinated, various locales around the world are starting to open to visitors again & as hard-hit travel professionals, we could not be more thrilled! And we aren’t the only ones. It seems quite a few people are interested in exploring the world again, which is great! Except…things are actually quite tricky and you may need help. Let me explain.
Earlier this year, we wrote a blog post about “The Evolution of COVID Travel.” Written in February when vaccines were not available to everyone yet & there were incredible travel deals to incentivize people to get out & go, we predicted that demand would out-weight supply as the year went on & we encouraged everyone to book sooner rather than later. Little did we know how soon that prediction would become reality. In as early as March, we started having clients who could not get what they wanted simply because there wasn’t enough availability. We specialize in Disney travel (though we do everything else too), and we have had more than a dozen groups not end up booking a trip at Disney World because there simply wasn’t enough availability. While I don’t fault Disney for how they are managing things, it is making traveling there very tricky.
Okay. So, don’t go to Disney, right? Sure! Of course! There are many options around the country & we’d be happy to help you with that. Except…we are finding travel is tricky in local markets as well. Let me give you a personal example. A few days ago, I found roundtrip, non-stop airfare from Salt Lake City, Utah to Fairbanks, Alaska for $118.00. I’m sorry, what?! I thought it was perfect. We went on an Alaskan cruise a few years ago & loved it & I’ve wanted to explore the interior of the state for quite some time. It seemed like a personal invitation to come to Alaska.
Now, realizing there is a lot more involved in planning a trip than just airfare (see our blog called ‘Help Us, Help You’), I wanted to do some more research before actually buying that non-refundable, albeit cheap, plane ticket. I searched for hotels & things to do & got myself thoroughly excited at the prospect of going. And then…I looked for rental car options. And do you know what I found? NOTHING. I searched & searched & could not find any availability on any of the many websites I have access to as a travel agent or as a normal human who can use Google. Finally, I found a compact car being rented from a local company and guess how much they wanted to rent it for four days? Oh, only $1,700.00. I nearly choked. There was no way I was going to pay that kind of money for four days of a rental car. I could buy a car & use it for a few days cheaper than that. Needless to say, I was very sad & I thought the trip was a bust.
Fortunately, our persistent friend who is traveling with us got creative & started looking at websites for RV & camper rentals & I’m pretty sure we found the one & only car still available in the interior of Alaska this summer. It was only available for three days, but it only cost us about $500 & bonus! It comes with a bunch of camping equipment, so we’ve decided to skip the hotel when we have the car & camp in Alaska instead.
Now, camping in Alaska may sound like a horrible idea to some of you, but for us, it turned out great! However, getting to the point where we felt like the pieces had fallen into place was STRESSFUL. Travel is absolutely possible, but it is tricky right now. Besides the obvious challenges associated with COVID-19, you also have to contend with limited supplies and an over-anxious population aching to get out and travel. So, what can you do about it?
First, USE A TRAVEL PROFESSIONAL. In the best of times, using a travel agent to plan your trips can save you loads of time & often money too (see our blog about ‘Why Use a Travel Agent’). At this point though, you don’t just have the normal travel concerns. You now have the added challenge of COVID requirements & restrictions which often lead to limited availability. I’m a professional & it took me hours & hours over two days to figure out this trip to Alaska. If that doesn’t sound like something you want to take on, you don’t have to! We will do that for you. The travel industry will continue to evolve as it recovers & if you have a travel professional in your corner, you can always be confident you’ll get the best information possible.
Second, PLAN AHEAD. Knowing that demand is currently outweighing supply, it just goes to show that planning ahead is in your best interest. As outlined in my blog ‘Plan in Advance, Pay Over time,’ there are a number of great reasons to plan your trip several months in advance. Often last-minute deals (like my cheap airfare to Alaska), can come with added expenses because it is last minute (like a $1,700 rental car). The further ahead you can plan, the more likely you’ll be able to get what you want at the price you want. That being said, we are already seeing limited availability into the fall of this year for many areas. Which brings us to our next point.
BE FLEXIBLE. If you’re only willing to visit one place & you only have a handful of days to go there that can’t be changed, you may end up being disappointed. Rather, have a few locations in mind that you’d like to visit & try to be as flexible with your dates as possible. Sometimes even just moving your trip a few days will open up the availability you need to have a great vacation. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I advocate for making a plan (see the blog ‘Planning Never Hurt Anyone’). However, you may have to be flexible while making that plan just due to the nature of the travel industry right now.
Lastly, KEEP DREAMING. As previously mentioned, the travel industry is evolving quickly and constantly. This post isn’t intended to discourage you from traveling, rather to make you aware you may face some challenges that simply didn’t exist prior to the pandemic. That’s okay! There is still plenty of the world to explore. You just may end up exploring a part of it you didn’t expect or in a way you didn’t expect. But what a great time for a new adventure! As always, we are here to help you. To request a quote for your next trip, visit our website: https://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php
I’m a firm believer that if you travel to Hawaii & you have a bad time, it’s probably your own fault. In fact, I’ve recently written a blog about how even traveling during COVID can be a fantastic experience if you’re safe & smart about it. Read more about that here: Oahu, Hawaii During COVID. But back to the topic at hand. Just because Hawaii is fantastic by just existing, that doesn’t mean there aren’t certain experiences that can make an already great location that much better. Aulani – A Disney Resort & Spa is one of those experiences.
Notice I said “experience” and not hotel. We have stayed in several really nice hotels throughout the years, but I wouldn’t say very many, if any at all, gave me an “experience” as part of my stay. It makes a lot of sense though that a resort built by Disney would give you more than just a nice place to sleep. The Walt Disney Company is known world-wide for creating “experiences” for their guests, particularly in their parks & hotels. In fact, the inspiration for Disneyland came because Walt wanted to give families a place where they could enjoy fun experiences together. That philosophy has extended throughout the organization & Aulani is no different. It is meant to be a place where you can gather with your ‘ohana’ & all have a wonderful time. In my opinion, it lives up to all Walt would want it to be. Let’s talk about why.
Most hotels have some sort of “theme” or at least a common design scheme, but Aulani takes it a step further and has their own “story.” If you’re familiar with any of the Disney parks, storytelling is everywhere. You will find stories in every attraction as soon as you enter the queue, all the way until you exit & sometimes beyond. Every restaurant has a story too from the design elements, to what the workers are wearing, and throughout the menu. Sometimes even the bathrooms play along to whatever story is being told in the area! Point being, Disney prides themselves on being master storytellers & they have certainly lived up to that with their design of Aulani.
Aulani was designed by none other than the world-famous Disney Imagineers who worked hand-in-hand with local artisans & cultural experts to celebrate the beauty & history of the island. This is something that I greatly appreciated because for me, one of the best parts of traveling is getting a feel for the local culture. Having been to all four of the major Hawaiian Islands, I can confidently say that Oahu, the island where Aulani is located, is BY FAR the most commercialized of all the islands. If you’re unfamiliar, Oahu is home to the state capitol of Honolulu, the famous Waikiki Beach, and Pearl Harbor. It is the most densely populated island in the Hawaiian chain, and so, I suppose, it would make sense that it’s the most commercialized. Unfortunately, it is for that reason that I believe a lot of what makes the Hawaiian culture & islands so wonderful is lost. In stark contrast to the vast majority of other hotels & resorts on the island, Aulani purposely celebrates the culture of the Hawaiian people. Just in general, it feels much more organic than most resorts. For example, the hotel towers are shaped like canoes, there is contemporary Hawaiian artwork throughout the resort, everything has a Hawaiian name including the pools & restaurants & their unofficial mascot is the Menehune (small, mythological craftspeople said to live in the forest of the Hawaiian Islands). Even their color scheme matches the surrounding landscape of the leeward side of the island.
There are also other elements that make it feel like you’re being immersed in the Hawaiian culture. One of my favorites has been storytelling by ‘Uncle’ around the campfire (or pool during COVID season). He tells stories based on local folklore & I feel like through the simple act of listening to a story, I learned so much about ancient Hawaiian culture. We also really enjoyed the Menehune Adventure game. For this, you can check out a tablet from the Community Hall & ‘Aunty’ takes you on an adventure throughout the gardens & pool area of the resort. Not only does the game allow you to do cool things (like send fire out of a volcano or drop a waterfall into one of the pools), it also helps you to get a feel for some of the local culture. Another of my favorites is all of the live music you can find throughout the resort. The last time we were there, they weren’t doing their luau (which by the way, was awesome the first time we got to go to Aulani), but on the weekend, they had ‘Aunty’ singing Hawaiian songs & someone dancing with her on the lawn while we waited to meet the characters. It’s simple things like that which contribute to the overall celebration of the Hawaiian culture as part of the resort’s story.
Something for Everyone
As with the Disney parks, there is literally something for everyone at Aulani & a lot can be done together as a family. For us, and I imagine most who visit Aulani, the Waikolohe Valley became the center of our visit there. This is the garden/pool area between the two towers at Aulani. It features a long lazy river (it takes 15 minutes to float around), two water slides (one body, one tube), play area for the kids & splash pad for the littles, two big family pools with three family hot tubs, plus an adult-only pool & two-level infinity hot tub overlooking the ocean (perfect for watching the sunset as you soak). If you’d like to try snorkeling, but are worried about doing it in the ocean, there is also the Rainbow Reef where for a surcharge you can snorkel with the native fish of Hawaii. Additionally, you are only a few steps away from the perfectly golden beach on the lagoon (sand toys & boogie boards are complimentary!).
When the Imagineers designed the Waikolohe valley, they knew what they are doing. Everything is spaced out very well so it disburses the crowds. They have also worked hard to provide chairs & shade for everyone either from the trees in the garden or via umbrella. There are also multiple places to get food whether it be shave ice, counter service, or sit-down meals. You could literally spend your entire vacation in the Waikolohe Valley and be just fine. I don’t necessarily recommend that because there is a lot to see on the island, but I would definitely commit at least a few days to staying at the resort & to use the pool area as a place to unwind at the end of the day.
That being said, there are some quirks about this area. It seems like it would go without saying, but only Aulani guests are allowed to use the pools. The beach is technically open to the public (though the chairs & umbrellas are not), so I think some of the beach visitors try to sneak into the pool area. This must be somewhat of a problem because guests are required to get a different colored wristband every day to prove they are a guest of the resort as they use the pools. Some may think that is inconvenient, but we found it to be reassuring that only guests of the resorts are using the accommodations we paid for. They also have a system where if a cast member folds a towel over the headrest of the chair you’ve staked out & put your stuff on, you have one hour to take it down or they will remove your belongings & securely store them where you pick up your wristbands. We just made sure to circle back once an hour to get a drink or a snack and make sure that our towels were not signaling we had been gone. This is their way of making sure everyone has an equal chance at the poolside chairs. We’ve been to Aulani twice now (once before COVID & once during COVID), and we have never had a problem finding a chair or having our stuff moved. Everyone is very courteous & as long as you circle back once an hour, you’re just fine.
There are a few other areas at the resort that should also be mentioned. First, what would a Disney vacation be without the characters?! Usually, you can find them interspersed in the Waikolohe Valley, but with COVID, right now they are meeting on the lawn (where they usually have the luau). We’ve met Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, Stich, Duffy, Shellie Mae & Moana. It just brings a little bit of extra Disney magic to your trip being able to meet them while you’re there. Also, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the spa on property as well. When COVID isn’t a thing, they offer a full-service spa with treatments for teens, individuals & couples. There is also the Community Hall where you can pick up the Menehune Adventure game, rent movies & games & make crafts. It’s a place where everyone can come in and enjoy. Additionally, when COVID isn’t a thing, the kids can enjoy activities for their age group at Aunty’s Beach House. The counselors there will keep your kids entertained so you can go to the spa, explore the island, or just take a nap while knowing your kids are safe & entertained. There is so much to do at Aulani! I promise you can find plenty to make you & your family happy while you stay there.
Speaking of staying there, there are a number of different room types available at Aulani to accommodate any family. Aulani is considered a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) property. That means the people who have bought into Disney’s timeshare program can stay there using their membership. However, you DO NOT need to be a DVC member to stay there. ANYONE can book a room at Aulani & enjoy the resort. Room types range anywhere from a traditional hotel-style standard room with two queen-sized beds, to a three-bedroom villa with full kitchen. We have stayed in both a standard room & a 1-bedroom villa with full kitchen. Both suited our needs just fine for the different trips we took. We did enjoy having a full kitchen with the villa because we could save some money by cooking some of our own meals, but the standard room has a mini-fridge so you can keep some things in there too. Whatever type of room you stay in, they are very nice & I’m sure you will be very comfortable.
Location on the Island
Aulani is located on western side of Oahu in the Ko Olina development. This is the leeward side of the island, so where it is rains almost every day on the windward side of the island, Aulani has beautiful sun-filled days with very limited rain. It is somewhat out of the way, at least compared to the hustle & bustle of downtown Honolulu & Waikiki Beach. However, we have never found it to be a problem. In fact, Aulani is just as convenient to get to the East & North sides of the island as Waikiki due to traffic & access to the freeways that take you to those sides. However, if you’d like a comparison, let me share my opinion as we have stayed both in Waikiki & at Aulani.
Waikiki is in the heart of Honolulu & like all major cities, it is very loud & crowded. It is as touristy as it gets in Hawaii, and as previously mentioned, it is very commercialized. The beach itself is typically covered with tourists & honestly, is only one of many beautiful beaches on Oahu. I would by no means call it the best beach on the island, just the most crowded. If you are looking to do some sightseeing outside of Waikiki, due to Honolulu traffic, it really isn’t more convenient than Aulani if you’re visiting anywhere besides Honolulu. If you’re looking at staying at Waikiki because you believe it is more convenient, it truly is only convenient to itself, not the rest of the island. If you like the hustle & bustle of a big city, Waikiki is for you. If you prefer a much calmer & quiet vacation with significantly more amenities, than Aulani would be your best bet. We have stayed at both, and for us, there was no comparison. Our time at Aulani was significantly better than Waikiki.
Never a Better Time to Go
The two weeks we’ve spent at Aulani during two different vacations (one pre- & one post-COVID) have convinced us that it is one of the best resorts on the island. It is beautiful, it celebrates Hawaiian culture, it has something to keep everyone entertained & happy, plus there’s an added dose of Disney magic thrown in there as the cherry on top. A stay there is absolutely worth it.
If you need more convincing, Aulani is currently offering 30% off 5-night stays between now & June 10, 2021. You can do it! You can go to Aulani & we would be happy to help you. To request a quote, visit our website:: https://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php
Aloha! In our second “Our Travels” installment, we will be discussing what it was like to travel to the island of Oahu in the beautiful state of Hawaii right now. We recognize that COVID has a lot of travelers concerned (rightfully so), but you can still travel safely if you pay attention to local regulations & follow them. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed traveling to Hawaii right now because there simply aren’t the crowds there normally are. But let’s start from the beginning – getting there.
Before You Arrive
As mentioned, we had a great trip to Oahu last week, but I’d be lying if the preparation to arrive there wasn’t a bit stressful. As with everything COVID-related, the State of Hawaii & their policies are constantly evolving. The requirements changed twice between us booking our trip at the end of October & actually traveling at the beginning on December. As of right now (12/17/20), they are requiring a negative COVID test in-hand upon arrival to Oahu, Maui & Hawaii, which was taken no more than 72-hours before the final leg of your flight. If you do not have that negative test in-hand, you will be required to quarantine for 14 days, no exceptions. If you want to visit Kauai, they are requiring a mandatory 14-day quarantine even with a negative test. That being said, things will continue to change, I’m sure. You can find the most up-to-date information about travel to Hawaii on this website: https://hawaiicovid19.com/travel/
What hasn’t changed, is that every traveler to the islands must create a Safe Travels account on the state’s website. Once you’ve logged in, you can register for your trip, upload your negative test results & complete the mandatory health questionnaire that will be available to you 24-hours in advance of your trip. You will find the Safe Travels website here: https://travel.hawaii.gov/. There is a helpful video imbedded into the homepage with more information.
The trickiest part for us, was getting a Hawaii-approved COVID test within 72-hours of the last leg of our flight into Hawaii. In fact, it was kind of a nightmare because there simply aren’t very many places offering approved tests where we live. I don’t need to rehash it all here, but if you’d like to hear more about that experience, check out our blog, “Handling Stress on Vacation.” I don’t believe our experience is the norm, but if it happens to you too, I’ve got some advice outlined in that blog post. You can find a list of approved Trusted Testing & Travel Partners on this website: https://hawaiicovid19.com/travel-partners/.
As you go through this list of Trusted Testing & Travel Partners, pay attention to the timelines each company provides. Our flight left on a Wednesday morning, so 72-hours prior to that would have been Sunday morning. However, not very many places are open for testing on Sunday. That meant that of the few options we had in our area, most wouldn’t have been available to do the test until Monday, which was only 48 hours before we left & they couldn’t guarantee we would get our results in time. You have to pay attention to what you are choosing so you can make sure you will have those test results in hand. It is worth doing your research.
Arrival to the Islands
As previously mentioned, it was stressful trying to make sure we were prepared to arrive in Oahu. However, everything worked out. We had our negative tests in-hand, we had filled out the health questionnaire & we were ready to go. Once we landed in Oahu, we had to present our documentation. As we exited the plane, I noticed two military personnel monitoring people’s temperatures as we disembarked. We must have walked under a sensor that was checking our temperatures because they didn’t stop you unless they saw something off. We watched as they stopped a little girl in front of us and double-checked her temperature using a handheld touchless thermometer. I think most people wouldn’t have noticed them at all, but because they stopped the girl in front of me, I paid more attention. We were then filed into a line to wait our turn to present our documentation.
As mentioned, 24-hours before arrival, you must complete a health questionnaire in your Safe Travels account. Once you have, they email you a QR code. You will present that QR code to the authorities in the airport. We uploaded our negative tests as well, but they hadn’t been reviewed yet, so they asked us to produce a physical copy. We did & they approved us & we were on our way in just a few minutes. Honestly, the process once we got there was pretty quick. Granted, we were some of the first off of the plane, so we didn’t have to wait in any sort of line, but I’m sure they moved through the line quickly as there were several agents waiting to check people’s documentation.
I will mention, as easy as it was to be cleared since we came prepared, they didn’t have any bathrooms available to you until after you had been approved to enter. We were grateful we didn’t have to wait in line because we had to go! You may have to wait in line though, so I’d recommend going on the plane before you start your final descent into the islands. That way you’re not crossing your legs doing the potty dance while waiting to be cleared.
We were so relieved once we were cleared to enter (& went to the bathroom). Theoretically, once you’ve been cleared at the airport, you should be fine to roam about the island without any restrictions. This is true, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have to verify you’ve been approved again. Specifically, when we picked up our rental car & when we checked into our hotel, we all had to have our Safe Travels account up & show them we had been approved to enter the state. They are simply wanting to make sure no one slipped through the cracks, which I totally understand. Just make sure you know your username & password for your account & can sign-in on your mobile device to show your status. Your status will change in your account once the authorities clear you. Those were the only two times we were asked to verify our status. Otherwise, we really were free to roam the island as we pleased.
Enjoying the Island
I’m a firm believer that if you have a crappy time in Hawaii, it’s your own fault. There is so much to do even with COVID restrictions! We were on the island of Oahu, which is where Honolulu is located. It’s the most urban of the islands with major attractions like Pearl Harbor & Waikiki Beach available. As of right now, most tourist attractions are open including: Pearl Harbor, Haunama Bay, Kualoa Ranch, Waimea Valley, all beaches & most hiking trails. The only places we would have liked to go that aren’t open yet are Diamond Head & the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC). However, the PCC is scheduled to open in January.
Hawaii just started welcoming visitors back last month, so they are slowly opening up more & more. Even without some of the major tourist attractions, there is plenty to do on every island, most of which won’t cost you anything. The places we enjoyed on our trip include: relaxing at the resort (we stayed at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa – I HIGHLY recommend it), Haunama Bay, Halona Blow Hole, Waimanalo Beach, Manoa Chocolate Factory (free walk-in tastings!), Maunawili Falls, Kailua Beach, Tropical Farms Macadamia Nuts, Aiea Loop Trail, watching big-wave surfing on the North Shore, Kahe Point Beach Park, Pearl Harbor (including tour of the Arizona Memorial), Waikiki, several shave ice establishments & Leonard’s Malasadas (multiple times), etc. Point being, there is SO MUCH to do.
That being said, are there things you may not be able to do? Yes. The one that was most notable for us, was the number of restaurants that are still closed. Unfortunately, I suspect many of the closed restaurants will never re-open. However, those that are open are offering a variety of safe options including take-out & delivery. Sit-down restaurants are not allowing more than groups of five to sit together, so keep that in mind if you have a group traveling together. We were also asked to fill out our info on a form for contact tracing whenever we chose to sit-down at a restaurant. Some may be annoyed by that, but I was reassured that they really are doing all they can to make traveling to their state a safe experience.
As with most places across the country, they also require face coverings to be worn in public spaces. However, you don’t have to wear them in the pool or on the beach. In fact, we found most everyone to be really respectful in keeping their distance in these places so we could all relax without our face coverings while swimming or lying on the beach. Since we’ve been wearing masks for nine months now, it really wasn’t a big deal to continue that habit in public.
So, is traveling to Hawaii during COVID worth it? I can say for us, it was a huge, resounding, YES! Is it different than what we have experienced in the past? Yes. Was getting our negative test beforehand a bit of a pain? Yes. Was what I had to go through worth it? YES. Are the islands just as beautiful & wonderful as they have been in the past? Yes! If you are willing to jump through the hoops before arrival, a trip to Hawaii during COVID can be as great as it ever has been. This was our fifth trip to the islands & I can honestly say it was one of the most relaxing & fun.
If you’re interested in booking a trip to Hawaii, we would love to help you! Feel free to request a quote here: http://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php Aloha!
You’ve arrived! After months of planning, your plane has just touched down and your vacation has officially begun! So, what next? There’s so much to see & do in this new place, so how do you get there? If you haven’t thought about transportation until your plane touches down, it will definitely be harder (& likely more expensive) than it needs to be.
Figuring out transportation for vacation is one of the least fun aspects of a trip. However, knowing how you’re getting from point A to point B can really make or break your trip. As usual, a bit of planning goes a long way to finding the best & safest mode of transportation for your trip.
First, I suggest that you take a look at the specific options for the area you’ll be in. Not all transportation options are available everywhere. For example, rideshare services are illegal in some places. Other locations have stellar underground metro systems, but would be a nightmare to rent a car in. Still, other places are great for simply walking, while some places you can’t see anything without a rental car. The transportation options in each place can vary widely, and will depend on what you want to do, so again, a bit of planning & research will go a long way in preparing for your trip. Let’s take a look at the different types of transportation & a few things you should think about before using them.
I’ve noticed that as a travel professional, those who don’t travel often, but are planning a trip, automatically resort to renting a car no matter where they go. Now don’t get me wrong, there are times when renting a car is absolutely necessary. For example, we visit a different Hawaiian island almost every year and we love to get out & see all we can while we are there. On the islands though, public transportation is extremely limited & taxis/rideshares would be too expensive & are hard to hail in some of the remote tiny towns we find ourselves in, so it makes perfect sense for us to rent a car. However, there are other times when it makes no sense at all. For example, when we go to Walt Disney World, we often stay on property. That means we qualify for free transportation to & from the airport, in addition to completely free transportation while on property. If you bring a car, you have to pay to park it every night & sometimes the hassle of driving it to, & parking it at, the parks (I’m looking at you, Magic Kingdom), is just not worth the cost of renting the car. We can get around much more efficiently using Disney’s transportation. If we need to go somewhere off property, we use readily available rideshares that cost significantly less than renting a car.
As you can see, what you are doing while on your trip can dictate whether or not you need a rental car. This is where making a plan for your vacation ahead of time can really come in handy (see our blog post about “Planning Never Hurt Anyone.”). If you can get to where you need without a rental car, why bother? Sometimes the other transportation options are simply less expensive & more convenient.
Speaking of less expensive & more convenient, I’ve found that most major cities, places like New York, London, Paris, etc., have excellent public transportation systems that are efficient & much more cost effective than renting a car, paying the parking fees & having to deal with traffic. Most of these cities offer short-term or reloadable metro cards that you can purchase to make it very easy to get around. However, it does take some research into how the system works to make sure you can take advantage of it. For example, is there a bus stop or metro station near your hotel? Do you have to switch trains at a specific place? How long will it take you to get to where you want to go? Is where you’re going close enough it would be easier to walk? Again, making a plan regarding what you want to see & do will help you as you try to figure out transportation. Most cities offer a free public transportation app that outlines their routes. I’d recommend making sure this is downloaded for your specific city prior to your trip & that you’ve at least got an idea of how to get to where you’re wanting to go.
The biggest argument I hear against public transportation is in regards to safety. It’s a legitimate concern, but most cities work hard to make sure their public transportation is safe. Most metro stations are well-lit & have security guards. Bus stops are a bit trickier, but if you’re mindful of your surroundings & don’t do dumb things, you should be okay. In fact, I wrote an entire blog post about not doing dumb things so you can stay safe as a tourist. Check it out here: “Don’t Pet Rattlesnakes.” The basics of safety apply here & everywhere. Don’t travel alone. Don’t wait at the dark bus stop. Keep your belongings close. Keep your head up & not in your phone. Be smart & you should be fine.
Some may say that taxis are becoming antiquated with rideshares coming on the scene, but they are still one of the most consistent modes of transportation all over the world. In the vast majority of places, there is some type of taxi service operating even if rideshares are illegal. If you’ve done your research of an area & know you’re going to be using taxis, continue your research & learn what the authorized/licensed taxis are called & will look like where you’re going. Use only official taxi services who are properly licensed & whose rates are posted & clear. If you follow these guidelines, taxis can be a very efficient way to travel short distances.
As an alternative to taxis, rideshare services (i.e. Lyft, Uber, etc.) are becoming more & more popular around the world. These services are typically offered by locals who use their personal vehicles to transport you. Rides are requested & paid for through an app & unlike most taxis, the price for your ride is calculated in advance, so you know exactly how much you’re going to pay beforehand. Many people, ourselves included, have found rideshares to be extremely convenient & helpful. However, the biggest concern we hear about them is again, safety. This is understandable. Do keep in mind that in order to qualify to be a rideshare driver, they have to have a vehicle that is newer than a certain year, be licensed & insured & pass a background check. All similar things to an official taxi driver. However, there are always risks when getting in a vehicle with anyone. Be smart about it just like you would if you were taking public transportation. Don’t travel alone & follow your instincts. If a driver, whether taxi or rideshare, makes you uncomfortable, don’t get in their vehicle. You have complete control over that situation.
Don’t underestimate your own physical power to get you from place to place. In fact, some places are best experienced on foot. Often, tourist sites are clumped together with lodgings nearby & you may find you don’t need any additional modes of transportation once you’ve arrived at your hotel. We love walking around the places we visit. There is something about feeling the pulse of the place, seeing the sites, smelling the smells. You learn much more when you fully immerse yourself. If you are going to be walking a lot, make sure you bring sensible shoes. It’s tempting to choose fashion over practicality (I speak from experience – cobblestones & high-heeled boots are not friends), but take care of yourself first and foremost. There is nothing worse than wearing yourself out, or worse, injuring yourself, in the first few days of your trip so you can’t enjoy the remainder. Pick good shoes, know what areas to avoid to stay safe & enjoy this free mode of transportation!
There are so many wonderful things to see in this world, but you have to find a way to get there. Take the time to research the transportation options available in the locations you’re going. Doing so will help you determine what is the most efficient, plus time- & cost-effective way to get where you’re going. There is nothing worse than finding yourself stranded in an unfamiliar place because you assumed a certain type of transportation would be available & it’s not. Be smart to keep yourself safe & plan ahead so you can simply enjoy the vacation you’ve worked so hard to earn.
The following is the first installment in the “Our Travels” portion of our blog. We travel quite a bit & want to share with you our experiences about specific places in addition to general travel advice. Enjoy!
We finally made it back to the most magical place on earth – Walt Disney World! Normally we make at least three or four trips to both Walt Disney World & Disneyland each year, but with the current circumstances being what they are, we have not been back to Disney World since January. We know there are a lot of questions about safety & what it is really like in the parks right now, so here we are! To talk about just that.
First, let me say that we had a great time. This was probably the most enjoyable trip to Walt Disney World I’ve had in years. It’s not that I love wearing a mask all day, or that I could do without FastPasses forever, but rather, it’s the fact that I did have such a good time in spite of those additional changes. There is always good if you look for it & our experience, in my opinion, speaks highly to the fact that there is still magic there & you can still have a great time if you choose to.
That being said, there are a number of additional safety procedures in place at Walt Disney World to make sure the spread of COVID-19 is limited. I appreciated the efforts of the company & I believe it is because of these efforts that we were able to have such a good time & relax in spite of everything. Take a look at what our experience was with those procedures below.
Our experience with the new health & safety mandates started long before we traveled to Florida. This is because to enter a park at this point, you must have a park reservation in addition to your purchased park ticket. These reservations can be made through your My Disney Experience account. Our experience with this process was overall, very positive. The online reservation system is fairly straight forward and easy to use. Simply link your tickets & pick your park for the date you want. We do, however, recommend making park reservations immediately after purchasing your tickets as the capacity of the parks is currently limited. The current trend with these reservations is that, for Hollywood Studios especially, reservations can fill up quickly and fairly far in advance. You can always make changes to your plans if there is availability, but it is best to make those reservations ASAP so you don’t miss out on a park you want to go to. Some may feel this extra step is just one more thing to deal with, and although that’s true, I have to say, we enjoyed knowing that the capacity of the parks was limited & controlled.
As has become common practice nearly everywhere these days, Disney World does require that all patrons & cast members wear appropriate face coverings at all times unless you are eating or drinking while stationary. For us, we anticipated this requirement was going to be the hardest part of the trip. We were mostly concerned about the Florida heat, but we came prepared with multiple masks for each person each day so we could change our mask throughout the day for any reason (i.e. sweat soaks through, you drop it on the floor, etc.). Although we were initially worried about this, we didn’t have much trouble at all with our masks. You get used to it pretty fast & knowing that everyone else is in the same boat somehow makes it not that big of a deal. In fact, face coverings are becoming fashion accessories at Disney with a lot of cute options, so it can even be a bit fun as you personalize them for yourself. If you do end up needing a break, there are what they call “Relaxation Stations” throughout the park & they are meant to be a place where you can take off your mask for a bit of a break. You need to stay in the designated area, but you’re welcome to take a break as needed. I will say, if you are going to purchase masks for the occasion, make sure you wear it a few times before coming to the parks. Reason being, not all masks fit the same & you may think it’s cute, but it hurts your ears, or it rubs your face in an odd place, etc. Know what you’re getting yourself into before committing to wearing a mask all day that doesn’t feel good. Once you’ve found what works for you, make sure wash them before your trip so you can start out with a clean mask every day. You may not think you can wear a mask all day at the parks, but barring medical issues that prevent you from wearing one, I promise you really can do it with a bit of planning & preparation.
Prior to entering any of the parks or Disney Springs, guests are required to have their temperature taken via a touchless thermometer administered by AdventHealth employees. You must have a temperature of 100.4 degrees or less to enter. While this process may seem intimidating, it was honestly no big deal. Everyone we interacted with during this process was quick & professional. I personally didn’t witness anyone getting pulled aside because their temperature was too high. I’m sure it happens, but we didn’t witness it. For me, it was one more level of protection. We knew that everyone in those parks was not currently showing a temperature. While that’s not a guarantee they aren’t sick, it’s a good indicator & it was comforting to know that piece was in place. It took literally seconds to do & then we moved on with our day as normal.
Disney’s social distancing protocol is probably my favorite part of their safety procedures. I’m the type who likes my personal space bubble, so I enjoyed staying away from other people. They work really hard to keep parties at least 6 feet away from each other in all queues and public spaces using markers on the ground along with empty seats on buses & attractions. They also have plexiglass & various barriers put in place when social distancing is not possible. Honestly, it’s awesome. If you’re like me & don’t want others in your personal space bubble even when there isn’t a pandemic, it’s the best thing Disney has ever done. I will say, due to the distancing, sometimes it looks like the lines are ridiculously long because not everyone can fit in the traditional queue when you have to keep that much space between groups, but the lines all moved pretty quickly & we never waited more than an hour in line for anything. Most of what we rode didn’t have lines more than 30 minutes long. And bonus! You don’t end up brushing up against sweaty strangers. Oh, and not getting COVID. That’s good too.
Sanitizer & Washing stations
At the entrance & exit of all rides, stores, restaurants, etc. you will find automatic hand sanitizer dispensers. They are literally everywhere & from what I observed, most people were using them as they went past. Knowing that I could sanitize going in & out of places, especially after rides where you know someone else has touched the same seat belt, etc., was really reassuring & we took full advantage. Additionally, there were also a number of temporary hand washing stations throughout the park & announcements were made regularly that included a reminder to wash your hands. In the bathrooms, there were signs reminding people to wash for 20 seconds. It has definitely become a priority for the company & we appreciated it because although we can’t make other people use them, we knew we could use them & protect ourselves. Just one more thing that doesn’t take any extra time or effort on our part, but gave us some peace of mind.
Enhanced cleaning procedures
Occasionally, we would notice the queue of a ride stop for a few minutes. We learned that it was during these times that the ride operators were cleaning the ride vehicles. They were quick & efficient & it never slowed us down much. In fact, it was just one more thing that made our experience more comfortable. We also witnessed cast members disinfecting tables & chairs between uses, railings being sanitized, garbage cans tied open & many other procedures that made it obvious they were trying their best to keep everything as clean as possible.
Food & Beverage
Eating is one of our favorite parts of vacation & with the International Food & Wine Festival currently happening at Epcot, we definitely ate a lot. For sit-down restaurants, they are requiring you wear your mask if you’re not sitting at your table. All servers had masks & face shields & would “refill” your drink by bringing you a new glass. They also provided the check in a paper sleeve that could be recycled after use. Overall, we were very impressed with how they managed sit-down dining. Quick Service dining was done almost exclusively through the My Disney Experience app. You would order through the app, they give you a return time, you let them know when you’re there, and they prepare your meal for pick-up. This really reduced contact with cast members & other guests in line & it was easy to use. The only food providers not using online ordering were the small food stalls & carts. For those, they encouraged contactless payment & all cast members were wearing masks & face shields along with being behind plexiglass. Overall, I felt confident in how they were handling our food & at no point did I find myself worrying about it.
Shopping & Pin Trading
Some of the best-loved past times at Disney are of course, shopping & pin trading. There are gift shops at the exit of every ride & pretty much everywhere in between. In the stores, social distancing is encouraged & the queue lines & cashiers follow the same guidelines as they do everywhere else. Additionally, they have signs posted throughout the store asking people to limit their handling of product for the safety of everyone. Pin trading has evolved a bit more during these times. Now instead of cast members wearing lanyards, you’ll find them in specific areas with cork boards filled with pins. They have a box you can put the pin you’re trading in & then you tell the cast member which pin on the board you want & they will give it to you. It’s a bit different than before, but the point is, you can still do it & it is significantly safer for everyone.
Overall, we were impressed & pleased with the efforts Disney is taking to keep their guests & patrons safe. Is it foolproof? No, nothing is. But we feel they are doing things to the best of their ability. Ultimately, all travelers, no matter where you go, need to remember that you are responsible for your own safety. The company can do everything that’s listed above, but you’re responsible for your own actions. Choose to follow their guidelines, be courteous of others, wear your mask, wash your hands & recognize your safety is ultimately on you. Use the tools provided & keep yourself safe. If you’re wanting to visit & you feel comfortable doing so, then we believe you’ll find it to still be a wonderful and magical place. To request a quote for your next Walt Disney World vacation, visit our website: http://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php
My favorite place to be is outside. In fact, I have a t-shirt that says, “Visit Outside – Where real stuff happens,” and I honestly couldn’t agree more. There is something centering about breathing fresh air, being warmed by the sunshine, not constantly looking at my phone, and quite often, becoming physically active too. It’s real & it keeps me sane. I’m not just saying that either. There have been several scientific studies that outline how important spending time outside is for your overall health, even if it’s just a walk around the neighborhood. I believe our souls need it. We need to feel connected to the “real” things of the earth.
As we all know, this year a lot of people’s regular travel plans have been interrupted. Consequently, it seems more people have turned to doing things outside. This has caused the not-so-surprising phenomena of our National Parks, National Forests, and Bureau of Land Management areas seeing increased attendance. In fact, as one who loves camping, I was kind of dismayed when throughout the summer, I couldn’t find places to camp because SO MANY others also had the same inclination. In spite of my wanting to go & not having a place to go, in general, I feel this is a good thing. I feel as we actually get outside & learn to appreciate the natural world, we will take better care of it & preserve our beautiful places for future generations.
However, I’ve noticed there is a significant learning curve when it comes to how you approach exploring our public lands. I agree with Michael Frome when he said, “A national park is not a playground. It’s a sanctuary for nature & for humans who will accept nature on nature’s own terms.” Don’t get us wrong, some of the most fun I have ever had has been exploring these places. However, there is a right way & a wrong way to enjoy our public lands & unfortunately, the more people that enter into those beautiful places, the more likely those places are of being damaged due to the ignorance of the masses, who are often only aware of the next great Instagram shot they want to take. So, let’s talk about a few very simple ways that you can respect & protect our beautiful places.
One of the biggest mistakes I see from novices of the outdoors is not being prepared for the environment they’re entering. These beautiful places are not Disneyland. You can’t just run to the next churro cart & buy a snack & some water when the mood strikes you. You need to be willing & able to take care of yourself in the environment you’re entering. If you don’t know how to do that, it is your responsibility to educate yourself BEFORE you go. A few things I can guarantee you’ll need anywhere you go: Lots of water, food, good footwear, appropriate clothing & an understanding of your limits. Just a few weeks ago I was hiking in Bryce Canyon National Park. Our group had stopped about halfway through our 5-mile hike for a snack. A volunteer ranger came by & started praising us for our snacks. She told us her job is to hike around looking for people who didn’t come prepared and essentially save them from themselves. She had a huge backpack on which she told us had water, electrolyte drinks & snacks for those that didn’t prepare themselves in advance. You do NOT want to be the person she has to rescue. There’s no need for that. Know your limits & be prepared for your environment. These beautiful places can leave you battered & bruised (or worse), if you’re not prepared.
Leave It Better Than You Found It
It’s snack time! As previously mentioned, eating and drinking, especially outdoors, is so important. It can literally save your life in some of the unforgiving environments our beautiful places are found. Do you know what is also important? Cleaning up after yourself! That means everything. Fruit snacks wrapper? Take it with you. Orange peel or apple core? Take it with you. Empty water bottle? Take it with you. Literally everything. Take it with you. Not only that, but I challenge you that if you see someone else’s trash around, do the world a favor, and pick it up. There is nothing more disappointing than going into a pristine place to find that someone decided to leave a trail of trash for everyone else to deal with. Don’t be like that.
Best Not to Make Your Own Trail
Our beautiful places are that way because the touch of humans has been limited. On all public lands, the governing entities have often worked very hard to build trails so you can enjoy what the area has to offer in a way that is safe for you & the environment. When you make your own trail & take a “short cut” between switchbacks, or you wander off the beaten path, you could potentially be destroying fragile ecosystems while also putting yourself in danger. Not only that, but your bad example will inevitably lead to more people following you & perpetuating the problem. Pay attention to where you are walking & make the conscious choice NOT to make your own trail. If you need examples of why this is important, go ahead and do an internet search for accidents in Yellowstone when people go off the trails. Then you’ll get it.
No One Cares that You Were Here
“This place is amazing! I want people to know I was here! I’m going to scratch my name into the wall.” That’s dumb. Honestly, no one cares that you were here. In fact, most of us would like “here” better if we didn’t know you had already been. Take a picture & move on with your life. “But everyone is doing it!” Also, dumb. I think there is a “jump off a bridge” analogy that would work well here. Most people probably wouldn’t spray paint a wall when they’re traveling, but are you aware that scratching your name into the rocks, trees, bridges, benches or walls is just as bad? Even stacking rocks along a trail is vandalism if they aren’t being used as an official trail marker. Vandalism takes many forms and many tourists excuse their behavior because others have done it too. For example, here in the western United States, we are lucky enough to have beautiful Native American artwork from thousands of years ago both etched & painted onto rock faces. It’s a wonderful thing to see, but nothing ruins it like the words “S & A 4ever ‘18” scratched into the rock right next to it. Well, but there’s also a “Wanda was here 2006” scratched right next to it, so it must be ok, right? WRONG! Two wrongs don’t make it right, it just means there are multiple people who left their brains home and who are selfish enough to ruin culturally significant sites for their own pride. It is wrong and you are literally ruining these significant & beautiful places for no reason. Please, stop.
As previously mentioned, I’m a huge advocate for everyone getting outside & loving the beautiful places all around us. So, by all means, go & explore our public lands that belong to all of us. I only ask that you don’t treat them like a playground or theme park while you’re there. Enjoy, but think of how you can make it better. Think of how you could share your experiences without putting yourself & the fragile ecosystems at risk. Get out. Breathe. Explore. But be smart about it. Become a protector of our beautiful places.
I admit it. I have a problem with bringing too much stuff on vacation. My husband and I joke that I’m a “chronic over-packer,” and it’s true. We obviously travel quite a bit & it takes practice to be able to pack enough to take care of yourself, without trying to fit your entire closet in your suitcase. I’m proud to say, I’m making positive strides, but I’m still a work in progress. That being said, I felt it incumbent upon me to pass along some of the strategies I’ve put in place for myself to try and curb this issue. I know I’m not the only one who packs too much, so here we go! A few thoughts on how to avoid over-packing.
Check the Weather
Whenever we are traveling, I like to start checking the weather at the location we will be going about a week before we leave. I then routinely check it leading up to our departure date. I do this for a few reasons. First, if I know what the weather will be, I can make sure I’m prepared. For example, we have watched many people show up in Florida in January & expect it to be 85 degrees every day. It’s Florida, so it’s hot, right? Wrong. Even warm locales have cold spells & if you’re dressed for 85, but it’s actually 55, you’re going to end up very uncomfortable & in need of buying warmer clothes. The inverse is true as well. Maybe you’re heading to London & you assume it will be 60 and rainy, but they’re having a warm spell, so you’re completely over-dressed. If you check the weather in advance, you can be prepared for what is reality instead of what you assume it will be. It also helps you avoid “packing for everything.” As someone who obviously likes to be prepared, sometimes I go overboard & bring everything I could possibly need instead of paying attention to what I’ll actually need. Don’t do that! Check the weather!
Know What You’ll Be Doing
If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I am a big proponent for having a plan when you travel. I believe that you will always get more done & do the things you actually are interested in if you just put in a bit of research in advance (see “Planning Never Hurt Anyone”). That being said, I believe that it will not only help you have the best time possible on your trip, it will also help you with your packing. I like to look at the activities we have planned & make sure I have the clothes that are appropriate for that. For example, if I know we are going to be exploring trails in a national park, I will make sure to bring good shoes & clothes I don’t mind getting dirty. If I know I’m going to the theater one night, I’ll make sure to bring a suitable skirt or dress. Having a plan allows you to make sure you have what you need for the activities you’ve chosen, but it also helps you know what you can leave home. Only bring what you’ll actually need & use.
Bring Versatile Items
If you know what you’ll be doing & you know what the weather will be, you can then start making specific packing choices. As you do this, I recommend looking for how you can re-use the items you pack. This is particularly relevant to heavy items like shoes, jeans, sweaters, etc. Some travel experts say that if you aren’t going to use it at least three times, don’t pack it (underwear not included). While I can appreciate this, admittedly, I struggle with this one. However, I am getting better at it & I’ve gotten my own packing to where I will try to only pack things I’ll use twice & it really has made a big difference with my chronic over-packing. If you need help on figuring out how you could re-use items you pack, there is a whole movement about using minimalist travel capsule wardrobes. Do a simple internet search & I’m sure you’ll find a wealth of knowledge about it. For me, simply having a plan for my trip, knowing the weather & trying to re-use the heavy items in my suitcase has made a big difference.
Know What Toiletries are Provided
While clothes take up a lot of space & weight in your suitcase, toiletries can make or break you when it comes to packing. I have naturally curly hair that can be pretty unruly, so I have a very specific routine with very specific products & if I were to try & bring all of my full-size products, there’s no way I would have the space or weight available in my luggage. I have a few suggestions if you’re in a similar boat as me. First, take a look at what amenities are available in your hotel. Do they offer soap, shampoo & conditioner? Most do. Do they have a blow dryer? Most do. Once I have the answer to these questions, I then ask, how can I simplify my routine and bring less than what I use at home? For example, if they have a blow dryer, I will often just take my diffuser head instead of the whole dryer. If they have soap, I just bring my travel-size loofa instead of my normal soap too. I have come to LOVE the travel-size section of the drug store. They have travel-size toothpaste, tooth brushes, deodorant, face wipes, shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, etc. If you don’t like the brands they offer, they also have empty mini-bottles you can put your own products in. I would also recommend if you use make-up, try to pair-down what you’re bringing. Trust me. You don’t need all of your eye shadows & lipsticks. Look at what clothes you are bringing & just like them, only bring the make-up that will go with multiple outfits. Doing these things will definitely help you think about what you really need & are taking, and overall, save space & weight in your luggage.
Invest in a Hand Scale
When all is said & done & you’ve done your best not to over-pack, the last tool I recommend to make sure you’re good to go, is a hand scale. Before we invested in one, it always made me nervous as we checked our luggage because I didn’t know if I’d have to do the mad scramble to unload whatever I could into my purse or backpack so I didn’t have to pay the ridiculous fees the airline will charge you when you’re over the weight limit. Has that happened to you? I know I’m not the only one. I’ve seen many other people in that situation as well. It’s not that fun. A simple $10 hand scale will fix this problem for good. You can find them at almost any store near the luggage section or online. You can see a picture of mine above. It allows you to wrap the strap around your suitcase handle & by simply lifting it, it will weigh your suitcase. If you’re overweight, you can fix it in the comfort of your own home instead of having the public see inside your suitcase at the airport. Make sure to pack it too so after you’ve purchased all your souvenirs, you can check your luggage weight on your way home too.
Although I don’t claim to be a packing expert, I do know that the suggestions above have REALLY helped my chronic over-packing issue. We simply don’t need as much as we think we do & as with most things, if we just took a few minutes to really think & make a plan, we could be prepared without bringing our whole closets.
As a travel agent, we are often asked, “Is travel insurance worth it?” Like so many things in life, the answer to this question depends on a lot of factors & is ultimately a personal choice that you as the traveler will have to decide. However, there are some basic guiding principles that can help you determine if it’s right for you & the specific trips you’re taking.
As with most insurance, travel insurance is to help cover the unexpected. No one expects to break their hip riding a bike around the Bahamas, but does it happen? Unfortunately, yes. No one expects their otherwise healthy spouse to have a heart attack & die in the tulip fields of the Netherlands, but does it happen? Unfortunately, yes. No one expects to have their luggage arrive four days late to their week-long vacation, but does it happen? Unfortunately, yes. Life is unpredictable & sometimes just plain messy. Consequently, a little bit of planning & research can go a long way to giving you peace of mind when you travel, so let’s talk about what you should be looking for.
First, as you explore travel insurance options, I would suggest that you look at the coverage you already have. You may be surprised what is already covered under the insurance & credit cards you already carry. For example, many car insurance companies will cover rental cars too. If that is the case, buying the extra insurance when you rent a car may be redundant. Additionally, a lot of major credit card companies have basic travel protection included if you use that card to pay for your trip. What are those details? Is it enough to cover the full cost of your trip? You may also be surprised what is considered “in” and “out” of network for your health insurance. If you’re going to a neighboring state, it’s possible your medical needs would be covered. It is also not uncommon for any medical emergency to be covered by health insurance even if you are out of network, but still in the country. Point being, there are a lot of existing protections that may already cover what you need. Become informed on your existing policies so you do not waste money purchasing redundant coverage.
Second, consider how much money you are spending on your trip & how much of that is non-refundable. Would you feel comfortable losing that money if something came up that prevented you from going? If the answer is no, then travel insurance is probably a good option. This becomes especially relevant for international trips since they tend to be so much more expensive than domestic trips. Additionally, consider if you broke your hip in the Bahamas, and you’ve already determined your normal insurance doesn’t cover anything out of the country, would you have enough money to pay for the care you’ll need and potentially the medivac helicopter home? If the answer is no, then travel insurance is probably a good option. When you consider these types of things, ask yourself if you can afford NOT to buy travel insurance. Once again, if the answer is “no,” then travel insurance is probably a good idea.
Next, read the fine print in the travel insurance policy before committing to it. If you’ve done your research about what existing coverage you already have & you’ve determined you want the extra security of a travel insurance policy, make sure it actually covers what you’re hoping it covers. Most travelers will buy a policy in conjunction with their airfare, hotel or cruise package. This is certainly not a bad option, but the plans tend to be pretty basic with several stipulations to qualify for reimbursement. Typically, these policies will cover delayed or cancelled flights, lost luggage & basic emergency medical. Is that enough? Only you can determine that.
What you may not realize though is these built-in policies are not your only options. You can buy travel insurance on your own & quite often, even tailor it to exactly what you need & want. Based on what you choose & the overall cost of your trip, those things will determine how much your travel insurance will cost. You may not even have to look very far. It is not uncommon for employers to offer travel insurance through the same and/or partner companies of those that provide your existing insurance. My point is, you have options & can certainly receive the coverage you need if you do your research.
Finally, if you’re going to purchase travel insurance, do it well IN ADVANCE. If you purchase it in conjunction with a travel package, most often you will have until your final payment is made to add it, but after that final payment is made, you’re out of luck. If you’re buying it separate from your package, it is recommended that you purchase it within 10-15 days of booking your trip, or the prices may go up and/or the coverage will be limited. That being said, there are some options that allow for coverage to be purchased up until the day before you travel, but you will pay a pretty penny for it. Additionally, don’t think that you can buy it after a trip-cancelling event has already happened. They always ask for documentation with your claim, especially if it’s made soon after coverage is purchased, & if they feel you are trying to “work the system,” they will not pay out. It’s really just best to do your research & purchase it well in advance of your actual trip.
No one likes to think about all the bad things that could happen, but as with so many things in life, if you plan for the worst, but expect the best, you’ll always be prepared & have peace of mind knowing you’re protected. Ultimately, the only person who can decide if travel insurance is worth it, is you. Trust me when I say it’s worth doing your research so you can make informed decisions.
As in most service-based industries, the odd questions and statements we hear from our wide variety of clients can be at times…flabbergasting. That being said, I have also come to learn that people don’t know what they don’t know and it is my job to help answer any and all questions. There are a few things though that come up regularly enough that I feel compelled to address them here. When these fairly common travel misconceptions come up for the 12th time this month, they have me saying to myself, “I don’t understand what you don’t understand.” But again, people don’t know what they don’t know, so here’s my attempt to help to shed some light on some of the most common travel misconceptions we hear from guests on a regular basis. Enjoy!
“One day I’ll be able to afford it.”
We hear people make some form of this statement ALL. THE. TIME. And it breaks my heart. Can’t we just let ourselves dream a little? When someone says, “One day I’ll be able to afford it,” it almost sounds like dreaming, and one may even argue it implies there is a dream down the road. But to me, it feels like there is a negative connotation attached to your dream. To me, it’s like people are saying only IF & WHEN you can afford it, will you start to seriously consider it. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we attach negativity to our dreams? In the meantime, there is a big, beautiful world out there just waiting to be explored. Maybe right now you can’t afford your ultimate dream trip of two-weeks travelling around Europe or the all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean with the over-water bungalow, but what can you do? Can you find happiness where you are right now while making plans for the future? I believe we ALL can. Maybe you can only afford one night at a hotel in a neighboring town. Will you look down your nose at that experience, or will you take the opportunities you can and let yourself just enjoy life? Stop letting your vacation days go to waste while you wait for your big monetary break! Use those vacation days and go as far as the budget will take you. I PROMISE you won’t regret it. It will give you something to look forward to & actually DO while you save up for that grand vacation you’ve always dreamed of. It’s not settling, it’s enjoying life as it is right now. You have plenty of options, but will you take them?
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I realize finances are often THE determining factor in whether or not someone can take a vacation. If you’ve been following my blog the last several months, you know I strongly advocate for having a set budget for vacation before you start planning. I stand by that 100%. However, as outlined in my blog “Plan in Advance, Pay Over Time,” you’ll see that many places allow you make reservations 12-18 months in advance and pay over time. If you know beforehand what you anticipate to be able to save during that time, you can make plans & pay as you go. Additionally, travel agents are trained specifically to help you have a great vacation at any budget (see “Why Use a Travel Agent”). You may even find you can get further than you thought if you do plan in advance & use an agent. There are MANY great options for vacation at any budget. Are there constraints on the amenities you might receive based on your budget? Sure. But having a good time & making memories is possible regardless of how much money you spend, or where you go, so stop saying “One day…” and start making plans today. You won’t know what’s waiting for you until you try.
“I could never go on a cruise – I’m afraid of water.”
No kidding, I’ve heard this at least six times this year from different people at different times. To all of you I say, “Hence the boat.” Now I don’t want to minimize anyone’s fears. I understand there are those that are legitimately afraid of water. Nor do I want to minimize that some people get motion sickness and would not do well on a boat. That is absolutely true, but most of the people who say they’re afraid of water, don’t have motion sickness bad enough that a patch or Dramamine wouldn’t do the trick. That being the case, do you realize you can go on a cruise & NEVER touch the water? Normally when I bring this up, those I’m speaking with will say, “But what if you sink? The Titanic sank.” Yes, but that was over 100 years ago when safety protocols were severely lacking and they didn’t have the state-of-the-art equipment on board like they do now. Ships now are tracking the weather, other boats in the area, and a hundred other factors 24-hours a day. According to the interwebs, your odds of dying on a cruise are 1 in 6.25 MILLION. You’re much more likely to die in a car where your odds are 1 in 645. The safety procedures on cruise ships are remarkable. They are literally floating cities with populations greater than most towns in rural America. PLUS! Everything is right there waiting for you. Accommodations, food, entertainment. You can literally do as much or as little as you want. It is one of my favorite ways to travel & in my opinion, if you’re not trying something that is well-known to be awesome because you’re “afraid of water,” then you’re missing out on a great opportunity. You won’t know what’s waiting for you until you try.
“I hate camping.”
I firmly believe that if you say you hate camping, you’re doing it wrong. “But when I was a teenager, I went to summer camp & had to sleep on the ground & it rained & the other girls made fun of me. It was miserable!” Yep. I know. That happened to lots of people. That’s also not what real camping is like. You don’t have to sleep on the ground, you prepare for the weather, and hopefully, you’re traveling with people you actually like. Camping is one of my favorite things to do. Sometimes it just feels good to be independent, to be outside, to witness the beauties of the earth, to truly see the stars & to wake up with the sun. Camping can take many forms. I tent camp all the time and love it, but we also trailer-camp quite often and love that too. Plenty of people camp in RVs and if you do that, you have a bed, a bathroom & a kitchen that you take along with you. Camping can be a very comfortable experience if you know what you’re doing. I realize this one paragraph will likely not be enough to convince most people, so to you I say, just give it another try. Talk to someone who loves it BEFORE you go to get tips on how to make the most of it. Most travel agents don’t know how to help with camping, but some do, including me. I’d be happy to help you however I can. Trust me. There are just some experiences that can’t be had from a hotel room. You won’t know what’s waiting for you until you try.
“My friend told me…”
Can we agree that ALL of us are guilty of reading a headline & assuming the truth of it without actually reading the article or doing our own research & then we tell someone else what we “read?” We all do it, it’s no secret. However, it perpetuates A LOT of problems in the world, including the travel industry. It’s come to the point though, where we are constantly putting out fires in people’s minds about one thing or another due to what their friend told them, or the headline they saw that said blah, blah, blah. Here’s my best advice. If you want to know the status of what is going on in the industry, go to the source directly. If Disney, or a cruise line, or a hotel chain has a big announcement, they will make it themselves. The rumor mill won’t. Until media publications are quoting directly from the source, take it with a grain of salt. If you still have questions, call your travel agent. We receive updates on the industry DAILY. If we don’t know the answer to your questions or concerns, we will find out. Do us a favor though? Don’t panic when you hear news until you can confirm it came from the source. Stay calm & take the rumor mill for what it is.
If you’ve found yourself saying any of the above, you’re not alone. But hopefully I’ve given you some ideas on how to address the things you say. There are a lot of great options for people of all types & circumstances & we don’t have to let our pre-conceived notions dictate our reality. You won’t know what’s waiting for you until you try. If you need help, we are always here. Check out our website to request a quote: http://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php
Like so many others, I remember exactly what I was doing when I first heard about the attacks of September 11, 2001. I was in ninth grade & heard my older brothers talking about some kind of plane crash as I got ready for school. At that point, it wasn’t clear what was actually happening & I remember one of them saying they thought it was an accident. I went to school not realizing how serious the situation was. When I got there, they had all the TVs in the school turned on. As I hung out with my friends before school started, I remember standing in the common area, all staring at the TV that hung there watching the towers smoke & finally realizing how serious of a situation it was. It was during my first period English class that we watched live as the first tower fell. I remember how quiet it was as we all sat there in shock & my teacher quietly walked over to the TV and turned it off before we had the chance to watch anything else. We then spent the rest of the day, wandering from class to class, our poor teachers trying to help us stay calm & understand. Of course, I came home & as a family we tried to understand it as well, along with the rest of the country & world. I cried many times that day & in the following weeks. I’ve cried many times since when I think of the lives lost to the senseless act of terrorism. I feel it deep in my heart the importance of remembering what happened & the people we lost.
Consequently, when we had the chance to visit New York City many years later, we made it a priority to visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. For me, it felt like a token of respect. I could not in good conscious go to New York City & not visit. I felt the same way when I visited the island of Oahu. I felt compelled to visit Pearl Harbor for the same reason. There are just certain places that though they are the sites of tragedies, they have since been turned into beautiful memorials that we are then allowed to visit. Historic sites in general, whether they be memorials, battlefields, burial grounds, churches, etc., can be some of the best places to visit as a traveler. The history of the world is held in those special places & I believe it is a good & important thing for all of us to visit, learn, show our respect & remember. So how do we do that?
Since we often visit these places of importance while on vacation, it’s easy to let the levity of being on vacation overshadow the fact that we are often, walking on sacred ground. Below you’ll find a few tips for how to enjoy your experience at these important places, but also show respect to the events that happened there.
First, talk about where you’re going in advance. Whether you’re traveling as a family & have kids, or you’re doing a getaway with adult friends, I would encourage you to talk with everyone about these important sites before you go there. Talk about where you are going & why it is important. Everyone has a different perspective & understanding of the world & just because I may understand the importance of a site, that doesn’t mean the people I’m traveling with do. Or maybe none of us understand why a site is important, but we know everyone visits there for some reason. Do some basic research & talk about what happened at these sites before you get there. This allows everyone to put a site in context & in my opinion, you’ll then arrive with a sense of respect that will help everyone govern their behavior in a positive & respectful way.
Second, be respectful of posted placards. This may seem obvious, but there have been many times I’ve visited a memorial & even though there is a sign that says, “Please stay off the memorial,” some kid is being allowed to play on it. Or we go into a church & they have it posted, “Please, no pictures,” and someone is going around taking pictures of everything. I saw this very thing happen when we were visiting Westminster Abbey in London. If you haven’t been there, it is a remarkable place with incredible historic value. Part of that comes from the fact that the church is basically a cemetery. There are hundreds of people buried in the floor & in the walls, so you are literally walking over the final resting place of many. They tell you multiple times as you move through the queue to enter that pictures are not allowed once inside. There are posted placards everywhere saying the same thing. Yet, every few minutes we would hear one of the people working there announce, “No pictures, please.” Or you’d see them approach someone and kindly ask them to put their camera away. Sometimes, it’s not about the next great Instagram photo you’re going to get. Sometimes it’s about appreciating where you are & showing the respect a place deserves. The bottom line is, we are guests in the places we visit & it is not for us to determine that our opinions or wants are above what the stewards of those places have deemed appropriate.
Lastly, though not required when visiting a site, I recommend using provided audio guides or at least reading available signage about a place. This allows you to slow down, take a breath and learn. Allow yourself some time to briefly dive into the specifics of what makes a place important. It’s not just a building or a statue or a relic. Important things happened in these places. People lived & often died in these places we now visit in our abundance as tourists. They have stories to tell if we will only listen. I have found that when I do this, I am often touched and the feelings I experience give me a greater appreciation for those that came before me & it solidifies in my memory the importance of a place. I firmly believe that everyone can feel the spirit & energy of a place by slowing down enough to learn & appreciate.
There are so many wonderful places in the world to visit. Some of the best have the hardest pieces of history attached to them. They are worth visiting & we should visit them. We need to be respectful though. At least understand the basics of why a place is important before you arrive so you can gauge your behavior in a respectful manner. Follow posted placards. Remember, you are a guest and if the stewards of a place ask that you do something, it is your responsibility to do it. Finally, learn all you can. It is our duty to remember the past so we do not repeat it. I firmly believe travel is one of the best educators, but it is only through our respect of the places we visit that history can be heard.
There is something thrilling about dropping everything for a few days and escaping. Sometimes spontaneous trips are the best trips. As with everything though, these last-minute adventures typically come at a cost. Now I know what some of you are thinking. “But sometimes you can get great last-minute deals!” That’s true & last-minute deals can be fantastic, but more often than not, there will be some aspect of your trip that will be more expensive because you waited until the last minute. For example, maybe you got a super cheap cruise last minute, but then your airfare was super expensive. Or maybe you got a great deal on airfare, but hotels are limited due to the short notice, so their prices are higher. Plus, everything has to be paid for upfront. When you wait to book last minute, you have to be prepared to pay for everything at once. Most people’s budgets need a bit more advance notice to be able to accommodate a trip. Fortunately, quite a few aspects of the travel industry allow for payment to be made over time.
As outlined in our blog post, “Help Us, Help You,” the first thing anyone should do before making travel plans is to decide on a budget. I feel this is true for any kind of trip, whether it be spontaneous or planned well in advance. The world is amazing, but you’ll enjoy it more if you don’t have a mountain of debt to come home to. Budgeting & planning in advance can give you the flexibility to save up & pay for your trip over time so you don’t accrue unnecessary debt due to your travels.
Once you have determined your budget, I recommend working with a Travel Agent to help plan your trip. This is for a few reasons (see our blog post “Why Use a Travel Agent”), but a few of the most notable reasons is their ability to help you stay within your budget & to bundle the various pieces to your travel together into a package. Though not the only way to pay for a trip over time, having your travel agent put together a package for you will often give you more flexibility in terms of when you can pay.
For example, let’s say you’re traveling to the Disneyland or Walt Disney World Resort. If you were to buy a hotel or condo off Disney property & bought your theme park tickets separately, you would have to pay outright for those theme park tickets and maybe your lodgings too. If you haven’t been to a Disney park recently, tickets are a large bulk of the cost for that type of vacation and if you buy them separately, they have to be paid in full up-front & they are non-refundable. However, if you plan in advance & bundle your package to include both hotel & tickets on property or at a Good Neighbor hotel, then you could simply pay $200 down when you book & then the rest isn’t due until 30 days before you travel. Up until that 30-days before, you can change or cancel your reservation at no cost to you. This allows you much more freedom than if you purchased them separately. Additionally, as a package you are more than welcome to make partial payments over time, or if you’d rather keep your money accruing in the bank, you can wait until that due date 30 days before to make your final payment. This allows you significantly more time to save your money & spread out the cost of your vacation over several months.
Much like stand-alone tickets, airfare is also notorious for having to be paid for up-front & it is most often non-refundable. If you plan your trip in advance, it allows for large required purchases like airfare to not be such a burden. Maybe you’ve booked your hotel/tickets a year in advance, and have been saving up or making payments over time, but you wait to purchase airfare until three or four months in advance of your trip. Being able to spread out the payments for the other aspects of your package allow you to be able to pay for that airfare when it comes up without any budgetary constraints.
What you may not realize is that occasionally, your travel agent can package your airfare in with other aspects of your trip. This means that your airfare would follow the same rules as your package does. For example, if you were to book a Disney Cruise, you would be required to put 20% down up front & final payment is due 90-120 days before you travel. If you chose to book airfare as a package with your cruise & you select a flexible fare, that airfare gets bundled into your cruise package price as a whole. You would simply pay the 20% of the package price & then pay the remainder when final payment is due or in partial payments over time. Again, allowing for better budgeting in advance.
Besides being able to spread out paying for your trip, booking in advance will most often get you the best deal. There are last-minute deals that are worthwhile, but as previously mentioned, you’ll typically get hit with a larger than average bill in some other aspect of your trip. In general, the longer you wait to book, the more you will pay. For example, Disney is notorious for increasing their ticket prices in either late January or early February every year, but sometimes they do it multiple times per year. If you plan in advance, your ticket prices, or cruise fare, or nightly hotel price, gets locked in, ultimately saving you money than if you waited to book your trip last minute. Plus! If you use a travel agent & a deal does come up, they can often get it applied to your existing reservation. Just one more reason to use them!
Overall, making a budget, planning in advance, & taking advantage of what a travel agent can offer can really help you to spread the cost of you trip out over time. This can make a big difference to your everyday finances so that your trip really is a vacation & not a means to more debt. If you’re feeling unsure, ask your travel agent for help! They want to make sure you stay within your budget & have the best time possible. Paying over time can alleviate a lot of stress on you & your budget, so recognize it is an option. Plan in advance & take advantage!
We would be happy to help you along your way. Please visit our website to request a quote: http://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php
Deciding who to travel with can make the difference between a great trip & an, um…okay trip. There are a few people we have traveled with in the past that we will never travel with again. We are lucky that we still have decent relationships with those people in general, but there is no way we will be traveling with them again. Nope, never. However, what do you do when grandma decides to pay for everyone to go to Disneyland? Or one of your best friends puts together a girl’s weekend? What do you do even in smaller groups of people you like and choose to travel with, but who all have their own opinions?
While traveling is always a choice, sometimes we are put into situations where we feel an obligation to go, but you know it’s not going to be ideal with the group of people you’re going with. It could be because you don’t get along, it could be because one person can’t ever get out of bed on time, or it could be there are just so many of you, moving everyone takes forever. So how do you navigate these situations & still have a great vacation, plus make sure your relationships are still intact when you come home? It’s a hard question whose answer is as unique as the groups traveling together. However, in my experience, I’ve recognized a few helpful tips to help navigating traveling with a group.
First, set expectations beforehand. Whatever the expectations are, make sure people know in advance. Everyone has some idea in their head about how they would like their vacation to look and when you’re traveling with a group, I can almost guarantee that differing ideas are the norm, not the exception. If those ideas are not acknowledged in advance, it can lead to hard feelings very quickly while on the trip itself. There is nothing worse than showing up and thinking things are going to go one way just to have someone tell you your ideas are completely wrong & things will be done the complete opposite way. Not setting expectations beforehand is just asking for people to be offended which sets a dark tone for the trip from the beginning.
To set those expectations, I recommend meeting together beforehand (whether in person or video chat). Do not just text or email, but actually get together and talk. Body language & tone of voice are very telling. Maybe over text I can fool you into thinking I’d love to go to that famous sushi restaurant because I’m afraid to tell you no, but when you look in my face, and can tell I’m uncomfortable when we are actually talking about it, maybe I can find my courage to admit that I hate seafood. You may still choose to go to that famous sushi restaurant, but at least I can go find something that I like better, and it’s no surprise to you, keeping us both happy. Legitimately talking with each other allows everyone to voice what their vision for the trip is and knowing beforehand what to expect from the others in your group, can save a lot of hurt feelings & arguments later. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not to say everyone will agree (more on how to navigate that next), but at least you’ve all had the chance to get an idea of what the other people you’re traveling with are thinking. Please remember to keep it civil! This discussion will set the tone for the entire vacation. The idea isn’t to convert everyone to your way of thinking, it’s to help everyone get an idea of what to expect from each other. Different ideas are a good thing, so be open to what others have to say and don’t get offended if it doesn’t match what you want. You never know when someone will have the one great idea that makes the trip.
Okay, you’ve gotten together to set expectations. What specifically do you talk about? Besides the obvious logistics of a trip (hotel, transportation, etc.), I believe it’s important to somewhat establish what your daily routine will look like while on vacation. The best piece of advice I can give a group traveling together is to recognize from the beginning that YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING TOGETHER. One more time for the people not paying attention: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING TOGETHER. You heard me. You do not have to spend every waking moment together. This is probably the biggest mistake I see groups traveling together make. They feel like if the trip is with everyone, they have to spend the entire trip together. To that I say, what about your sister who has to stop in every gift shop? What about Grandpa who has to have a full sit-down breakfast every day? What about your cousin who has two kids under the age of five who need a nap & to go to bed early? What about YOU and what you want? Every individual has their own needs & wants that may not exactly match up with each other. That’s OKAY! Stop trying to force everyone to do the same thing! Instead, do what makes you happy. It’s vacation! You’re supposed to escape regular life for a bit, relax, experience someplace new & have a great time. Sometimes, trying to move an entire group along is just painful and not fun for anyone, so do not force people to do everything together. If it is important to spend at least a little bit of time together (which is reasonable since you did go on vacation with each other), I have a few suggestions.
Designate one activity per day as something you will do together. For example, maybe everyone gets together for dinner. It gives you the chance to spend your day how you choose, your sister goes shopping, Grandpa takes a long breakfast, you visit the museum you’ve been dying to, but then you all make a point to come back together to share experiences & enjoy each other’s company. You set a time & place & the expectation that everyone will be there. This is an easy way to give people the freedom they need, but also to have time together in a pleasant circumstance.
If you need or want more time together than one activity per day, then I suggest doing your research beforehand about what is available to do in your destination (see our blog post “Planning Never Hurt Anyone”). Once you have a good idea, let each person or family unit pick ONE thing they absolutely have to do & make sure everyone gets the chance to do their one thing. This helps everyone to feel important & satisfied. This is good advice for even small groups traveling together & my husband and I often do it with my parents & our friends. For example, when we went to London with my parents, we each picked one thing we had to do. I wanted to visit the Tower of London, my mom wanted to take an excursion out to Stonehenge, my dad wanted to see The Phantom of the Opera. They are all very different things, but we all enjoyed them & everyone felt like they had contributed to what ended up being one of our favorite trips ever. Oftentimes, what one person wants to do will overlap with the wants of someone else, so even if you only get to pick one thing, often you get to do lots of awesome stuff and maybe even a few great things you wouldn’t have found on your own.
The key to this plan though, is to make sure you don’t whine & complain when it’s not your turn. If your sister chose to go shopping as her one thing, make the most of that time with her doing what she loves. If Grandpa chose breakfast at a famous local restaurant, enjoy the experience & time with him. This will allow you to see & do things you may not have elected to do yourself, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t worth doing. Everyone is empowered to make a choice & everyone supports each other in that choice. However, if you can’t be a good sport about it, don’t do this. Go back to picking one thing each day that the group does together, and just do what makes you happy the rest of the time.
Traveling with a group can be a difficult experience, but it can also be very rewarding as you build positive relationships and create new memories together in a new place. Open the lines of communication with everyone early & recognize it’s okay if you don’t do everything together. In fact, it’s often a better idea than trying force everyone to spend every minute together. If you need help, we are always here. We would be happy to help you navigate traveling with a group. It is a different experience for sure! Visit our website to get started: http://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php
As you would imagine, it is a fairly typical theme among travelers that they want to get as much as they can for the price they pay. It makes perfect sense. You work hard to earn your money & when you spend it, you want to make sure you’re getting the most for it. Due to this mindset though, people often think that cost equals value. Meaning, you get what you pay for every time. Though this may be true to some extent (i.e. you will have more luxurious accommodations at a five-star hotel than you would at a two-star hotel), I think the idea that cost equals value is a misconception that has left many a traveler disappointed. Of course, there is a literal price that is paid, but then there is the value of what happens while you’re there. Because of this, cost & value simply can’t be the same thing. So, how do you get the most value for your money? Can you add value without adding cost?
To begin, we have to understand the difference between cost & value. As previously mentioned, cost is the literal price you pay to acquire something. For example, the price you pay for plane tickets, hotels, excursions, rental car, etc. add up to the cost of your trip. It’s the dollars and cents of things. Value, on the other hand, is a bit more ambiguous, but no less important to having a meaningful & worthwhile vacation. Value is the relative worth, merit or importance of the experience you’re having. Let me give you an example outside of the travel realm: Think about the cost of a college education verses the value of a college education. The price you pay for tuition is pretty concrete, however, the value you receive from the life lessons you learn, the skills you acquire & the ability to better your circumstances in the future due to it, are much harder to quantify, but are perhaps even more important than the cost of tuition. Such is the case with travel as well. You have the price tag of everything involved verses the value of the experiences you have. High value experiences can enhance your stay while you are on vacation, but they can also stick with you for long after the money is spent & the trip is over. Point being, it is important to recognize the difference between cost & value so that based on your budget & needs, you can have the best of both worlds.
Let’s start with cost. As mentioned in our previous blog titled, “Help Us, Help You,” the first thing anyone should do before planning a trip would be to create a budget. Depending on where you are going & what you are doing, you need to think about the following: Lodging, transportation, attraction tickets, food, spending money, etc. Think about how much time you have to save up & what you’re willing to spend for the experience. This will help you make sure the cost of your trip does not exceed your means. Remember, cost does not equal value & you can have a fantastic trip even on a limited budget. However, you have to know what your budget is to make sure you can afford the cost of your trip. If using a travel agent (which I recommend, see the next paragraph), it is important to communicate what your budget is to them. I speak from experience when I say that we want to give you the best experience possible, but it starts with being respectful to your budget too. Even if you don’t use a travel agent, be respectful to yourself & make sure the cost of your vacation doesn’t outpace your means.
Value is a little less straight forward than cost, but there are plenty of ways to add value to your trip without adding to your costs. One of the easiest ways to increase the value of your trip would be to use a travel agent. Our travel agency, Woodbrey Family Travel, does not charge for our services. That means you have access to all the benefits of a travel agent at no extra cost to you. For example, how much is your time worth? Travel agents can save you an incredible amount of time & hassle by doing all the research & leg-work for you. We are well-practiced & informed about a wide variety of locations themselves, in addition to current promotions, travel restrictions, etc. It is our business to know as much as we can about various destinations & by using our services, you have access to what we have learned along the way without the hassle of learning it yourself by trial & error. A travel agent can be the difference of someone going into their trip feeling prepared & excited, verses going in, winging it & hoping for the best. For some, winging it is just fine. For most, having some sense of what you’re getting yourself into adds a level of confidence that can’t be quantified, but really increases the value of your trip. If you need more convincing, check out our blog post titled, “Why Use a Travel Agent.”
Next, I would highly encourage you to think ahead of time about what amenities are important to you while on your trip. For example, we have some guests that will not stay at a hotel if it doesn’t have a pool. One of their family’s favorite things to do on vacation is to swim in the pool together & they feel it is often the highlight of their trip. For them, that simple amenity adds an incredible amount of value to their vacation. If something like a pool, or a spa, or a continental breakfast would make your vacation that much better, recognize that before you start planning & communicate that to your travel agent. These are easy things to look for while searching for accommodations & if you’re working within a known budget, they can often be found without going beyond those established cost parameters.
Third, I would suggest that being in close proximity to the sites you’re most interested in can add great value to a vacation. There is something wonderful about being immersed in a location, along with being close to what interests you. It goes a long way in being able to make the most of your time, while also giving you easy access to your hotel for mid-day naps, or the ability to change clothes. These are the types of little things that add great value to your vacation as a whole because you’re making the most of your time. To give you an example, I had a friend who went to Paris & booked things on his own. Before he left, he was touting how he got a hotel for super cheap & how excited he was for that. Upon returning home though, he told me that he learned “Paris” was a relative term. The hotel he booked was cheap and “in” Paris, but in reality, it was about an hour train ride into the city center where all of the sites he wanted to see were. He straight up told me he felt like the cost he paid for his hotel was not worth the time & effort to get to where he wanted to be. In his case, only the cost was looked at & it simply wasn’t worth it. While yes, he did get a cheap hotel, he paid for it in time. Ask yourself again, “How much is your time worth?” Is spending two hours a day getting to & from where you want to be worth the reduced cost? Perhaps so, but we’ve found proximity can almost always add value to a vacation. I am almost 100% confident that if he had let me book his trip, I could have found him accommodations within his price range, but also within reasonable proximity to what interested him. Worst case scenario, I would have been able to prepare him in advance for the time he was committing to his daily commute. Knowing this type of information in advance can be invaluable & positively add to your vacation experience.
Finally, one of the easiest ways to add value to your experience is by being flexible with your travel dates. Most people try to travel during school breaks or during the summer. While this may make sense, those are peak travel times for everyone & you will pay a premium during those times, in addition to being among the throngs of tourists. If you can be flexible in your travel dates, you will have the benefit of potentially reduced costs (often there are discounts available during low-season), and you will not have to contend with the crowds. Fewer crowds typically mean less stress & increased ability to get more done. In my opinion, if you’re going to pay to get someplace, seeing & doing what you want without the interference of crowds will significantly add value to your experience.
Remember, cost does not equal value & if you’re looking for ways to add value without added cost, you will find them. I firmly believe that being mindful of your budget, in addition to what amenities & experiences are important to you, will help you find a balance between the two so you can have the best experience possible. If you need help, we are always here to do just that. You can request a quote from Woodbrey Family travel by visiting our website: http://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php
Growing up in the Western United States, rattlesnakes are a reality. If you spend any time in the outdoors, eventually you’ll run into one. I remember my parents telling me about a trip we took out to the desert once when I was very young. We were riding our bikes along a dirt road & came across a rattlesnake that had clearly been run over by a car. I’m not entirely sure of my Dad’s motivations, perhaps he just wanted to give us kids a closer look at it, but he pulled over and went to pick up the squished snake by the tail. The snake must not have been dead very long, because when he picked it up, it still had it’s biting reflex and twitched. My dad screamed & flung that snake as far as he could. Fortunately, no one was hurt and now we can laugh about it, but it could have been so much worse.
I believe it was in my college years when I was first introduced to the concept of “Don’t pet rattlesnakes.” It seems like such a silly thing to say. Why would I ever pet a rattlesnake? The idea of putting myself in a position that I know is dangerous is ridiculous, right? However, much like my dad thinking it was safe to pick up a dead rattlesnake, we sometimes fool ourselves into a false sense of security & do really dumb things. This seems to be especially true when people are on vacation.
I recently wrote a blog post on “How to NOT be an Obnoxious Tourist,” where I outlined some of the more common obnoxious things tourists do, most of which can turn pretty dangerous if you’re not paying attention. However, today I want to focus specifically on consciously thinking about your safety. There are several things you can do in advance & while on your trip to make sure your adventures are as safe as possible.
Consciously Think About Risks vs. Rewards
As humans, we spend every day making decisions based on the risk verses reward. It could be as simple as putting on your seatbelt when you get into the car. I want the reward of increased chance of survival in the case of an accident, so I minimize the risk by putting on my seat belt. It may seem mundane at this point because it’s a habit, but it is a conscious choice every time I do it. Unfortunately, when we travel, our normal everyday decisions change because our environment changes, and our thinking has to change with it.
As you make plans for vacation, or are in the moment & need to make a decision, it is worth taking a minute to stop and weigh the risks & rewards. I could sign up for horseback riding, but this company doesn’t have helmets for their guests. Is the reward for going riding worth the risk that I could be bucked off and injured? Maybe. I could take the dark alleyway as a shortcut back to the hotel, but is the time saved worth not being able to see my surroundings? Maybe. Only you can decide if the reward is worth the risk. No one can tell you what to do in every situation, but I will suggest that if you’re not making conscious choices, you’re almost always making questionable choices. Know what you’re doing & why & recognize the risks involved. If you do, the chance of getting bit by those metaphorical rattlesnakes significantly goes down.
Don’t Travel (or Wander Off) Alone
I get it. Some people just want to see the world on their own terms. There are more people now than ever traveling alone. In fact, there’s a whole culture around it touting how fantastic it is. In my personal opinion, it is a pretty risky endeavor. Just yesterday, there were two stories in our local news where people went hiking alone & one fell off a cliff & died & the other survived, but had to spend a night alone on a mountain. Think about that: two in one day with a 50% mortality rate. I don’t like those odds. Earlier this summer, a woman went hiking alone & was randomly attacked by a man in the woods. She only survived because two other hikers came upon her being attacked. I believe that there is safety in numbers. You’ve heard the saying, “two heads are better than one,” but I would also add that two intuitions are better than one as well. When you’re traveling in an unfamiliar place, you need your head & sometimes that gut feeling to help keep you safe. If two (or more) of you are actively observing your surroundings, you’re much more likely to make sound choices & recognize danger. If something does go wrong, then there is another person there to get help if need be. That takes response time in an emergency from hours or days, to mere minutes.
If you do choose to travel or simply wander off alone, don’t do dumb things. Don’t wander down that dark alley alone, don’t take the trail you’re unfamiliar with, don’t go home with that stranger you met at the bar, don’t forget to charge your phone before you leave, etc. When no one is there watching your back, it is your responsibility to make sure that you don’t pet the rattlesnakes disguised as “harmless” adventure.
Tell Someone Where You Will Be & When
As a general rule, whether you’re traveling alone or with a group, it is good to make sure someone not traveling with you knows where you will be and when. I would recommend leaving your hotel name, address & phone number with that individual as well as the dates you’ll be there. If you’re going to be traveling between locations, let them know the dates you’re supposed to be in each area. Ask them to check on you if they haven’t heard from you in a few days. It’s always good to have someone consciously thinking about you when you’re not at home. You never know when that person could save your life.
For example, my brother is an avid mountain climber. He left early one morning with some friends to climb a peak. These were the days prior to cell phones, so my mom ALWAYS made us leave her note telling her where we were & who we were with, which he did. Later that night when he hadn’t returned, my mom started calling the parents of those he was supposed to be with and they hadn’t seen them either. She called the authorities & because she knew where he was supposed to be, they were able to start looking at the right place & found him soon after. Turns out, he got separated from half of his group & the guy he was left with ended up leaving him on the mountain by himself. He had done everything right, but things still went wrong. If my mom hadn’t known where he was & with whom, he could have easily died from exposure that night. Point being, it’s always good to have someone NOT in your group also looking out for you. You just never know what is going to happen.
Seriously Consider Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is one of those things that you hope you never have to use, but you’re grateful to have when you do need it. We work with a lot of travelers & we’ve noticed there are two kinds of people: those who HAVE to have travel insurance for every trip no matter what, and those who try to AVOID taking travel insurance. As with most things, we’ve found that there are good compromises that lie somewhere in the middle. For example, our personal medical insurance will cover things domestically, so we’re not as concerned about having travel insurance, but we ALWAYS get travel insurance when we travel internationally. We know of too many people who have had major medical emergencies overseas who have had to be medevac’d out, or have ended up needing emergency surgery, etc. My mom’s doctor was riding a bike through the tulip fields of Holland & had a heart attack & died. Anything can happen. A good rule of thumb is, if your personal medical insurance won’t be accepted where you are traveling, you should definitely invest in travel insurance.
Most people don’t realize that there are many types of travel insurance as well. Typical plans will usually cover things like lost bags, delayed flights & medical emergencies. But you can also buy customized plans for what you think you will need including things like overseas funeral expenses. My impression is that most people who don’t buy travel insurance just don’t want to think about what could go wrong, but by choosing not to think about it, they are unwittingly petting rattlesnakes that could very easily come back to bite them in a big way.
Know Where Your Nearest Embassy/Consulate Is & Register with Them
For one more added layer of protection when you’re traveling abroad, I highly recommend taking the address & phone number for your nearest embassy/consulate in the location you’re traveling to. You never know when you’re going to need help & having that phone number & address handy could save you a lot of stress. Some countries also have traveler registration programs & we highly recommend taking advantage of them. In the U.S., it is called the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This free program allows U.S. citizens traveling or living abroad to receive security updates from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in the country you’re in. They can provide you with assistance in emergency situations & if your family back in the states is having a hard time reaching you with urgent news, they can use the information you provide to them to try & reach you. It’s another one of those things you hope you never have to use, but you’ll be glad for it when you do need it.
I hope these suggestions have given you something to think about. My intention is not to scare anyone, but instead, to help people become more aware of the choices they’re making. We can’t control everything, but we can control how we prepare & react to the situations placed before us. Doing a few simple things like taking a buddy, telling someone where you are, and stopping to think before you do something dumb can literally save your life. Remember, don’t pet rattlesnakes!