Vacation is one of those things that when it’s good, it’s usually really good. However, when it’s stressful, it can be REALLY stressful. Case in point: We have an upcoming trip to Hawaii.
We knew this trip to Hawaii was going to be trickier than when we have gone in the past due to COVID-19 restrictions. To prepare, we have been diligent in keeping track of Hawaii’s requirements & making sure we have everything in order. As is fairly common knowledge at this point, one of their requirements is that you have to have a negative COVID test in hand when you arrive. The trick is, you can’t take it more than 72-hours before the departure time of your final flight into Hawaii. They also state they will only accept tests from organizations certified by the state of Hawaii. So, we did our research, made our appointments with Walgreens (the one & only place certified by Hawaii in Utah that could get us our test results in time), & we were ready to go get our test yesterday afternoon.
When we arrived, there was a vague sign in front of the testing area stating they were not doing tests & giving their corporate number. We panicked. What do you mean I can’t have my test? I have a confirmation number & I’m here when YOU told me to be here. Why didn’t you notify me my appointment was cancelled? Are we going to have to cancel our trip because we can’t get our tests? Why aren’t they doing tests? Are they going to be back open tomorrow? Can we get it somewhere else? The questions flew fast & hot. We called corporate, sent my husband in to speak with store management about options, called other locations, etc. For TWO HOURS we tried to get somewhere with someone & ultimately all we got was told “F— You” by the assistant store manager. That’s not a metaphor. My husband & several others in the EXACT same boat as us who had gone in for help (and who, by all accounts, were all quite calm) literally got that yelled at them in addition to a very special viewing of some “birds.”
It was bananas. And those that should have been helping us, were definitely not. We went home last night defeated, angry, stressed & unsure if this trip was going to happen. After talking about it, making online reviews, tweeting about it, etc., we decided the only thing to do was to show up on the doorstep of the one & only other Walgreens location in the state (45-minutes away) right when they opened this morning & hope that they would squeeze us into their already full schedule. So, that’s what we did. We were nervous wrecks. Fortunately, my husband had made some friends yesterday of people in the same boat & they were there too, a few cars ahead of us. They pulled up; the workers took their information & they gave them the test! We were so relieved. Then it was our turn. Same thing! They gave us the test! Yay! And! We got the results back within an hour. Good news – we are negative for COVID! Our trip is back on track!
This experience though has reminded me of other extremely stressful situations we’ve had on vacation: lost luggage, being given an already occupied room at a hotel, really terrible service, etc. The list could go on & on. As with life in general, not everything goes smoothly while on vacation. I’m of the opinion that the better you plan, the less stress you’ll have (see my blog on “Planning Never Hurt Anyone”), but things happen that are simply out of our control. So, what can you do when you’re in the moment & things seem to be falling apart? Here are my suggestions:
Place Blame Where It Belongs
When things go wrong, it’s easy to accost the nearest employee and demand they make things right. Although not completely inappropriate, keep in mind that most often, the first person you come in contact with, has limited ability to fix your problem. These poor front-line employees don’t get paid enough for you to be rude to them. By all means, let them know of your problem & hopefully they can help solve it, but don’t be a jerk. If they can’t solve it, it is important not to “lose it” on them & lay blame to them if it is literally out of their hands. In our situation yesterday, their machines broke down. It’s obviously not anyone’s fault, so it wouldn’t have done us any good to yell at the poor cashier inside because they were the first person we saw. That being said though, problems still need fixing & asking for someone in a management position to help you is not inappropriate. Likely though, even the manager isn’t to blame, so make sure you’re being respectful. Remember the old adage, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar”? That is particularly relevant when trying to resolve issues. You will almost ALWAYS get better resolution to your problem being respectful rather than rude.
Politely Stand Up for Yourself
Don’t be deceived. Being polite & respectful does not mean you can’t stand up for yourself. Some people don’t like conflict and are willing to take a loss to avoid it. This will not serve you well when you travel. When I say place blame where it belongs, that also means not unnecessarily taking it upon yourself. If your luggage is lost by an airline & now you have no clothes for your week-long trip, ask for compensation to buy replacements! If your food comes out cold or has a hair on it, ask for a new one! If one Walgreens location won’t give you a test or help you reschedule, show up on the doorstep of another one! It is your job to make sure you’re politely standing up for yourself & things are put to right as best as possible. Sometimes the only advocate you have is yourself. That is definitely what we experienced with our testing issues yesterday. After two hours of trying, they claimed no one could help us, so we had to take matters into our own hands.
Use the Resources Available
Speaking of taking matters into your own hands, it is imperative that you use the resources at your disposal. As mentioned before, with our issues yesterday, we called the corporate phone number they had on their sign, we went in to talk to store management, we called other Walgreens locations, we did everything we knew how to do. Was it time consuming & sucky? Yes. Would it be worse to not go on our trip? Definitely. When those things didn’t work, we started reaching out to the company in different ways. Both of our friends going with us tweeted Walgreens about our experience and guess what? They responded almost immediately. My husband messaged them through Facebook and guess what? They responded! Don’t underestimate the power of social media. Businesses do not want bad reviews or to be tagged in negative posts. Point being, use the resources available to you. Again, you don’t want to be a jerk, but being honest about the issues you’re experiencing through multiple platforms can yield results.
Acknowledge Corrected Mistakes
Being gracious goes a long way. Last night, in addition to the social media posts, we also left some negative reviews for the Walgreens location we had so much trouble with. I do not think this is inappropriate as long as you keep it classy. However, if you’re going to leave a negative review when a mistake is made, you need to leave a positive review when it is corrected. As we anxiously waited to see if we would get tested this morning, our friend said, “If this works out, I’m going to leave a great review for this Walgreens.” And he did. Acknowledging when wrongs have been righted is powerful. It shows other potential customers that although issues came up, they were also fixed. We all deserve forgiveness & recognition for when we rectify a situation. Please make sure you adequately thank those that help you whether in person, online, or in any other way you can. As already eluded to, often the people with the ability to fix your problem are NOT the ones who created it in the first place. Give credit where credit is due.
Overall, stay classy out there. Stand up for yourself, but don’t be a jerk. Two wrongs never made a right & just because you’re stressed about the issues that WILL come up during vacation, doesn’t mean you have to ruin someone else’s day too.
If you need help relieving some of the stress of planning a vacation, we’d be happy to help you! Feel free to request a quote through our website: http://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/
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 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
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