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!
Eating is one of my favorite things in general, but eating on vacation tends to be some of the highlights of the trip. There’s just something great about trying new things & diving into a culture using their food as the catalyst. As previously outlined in the blog, “Planning Never Hurt Anyone,” I believe that a little planning ahead of time can produce big dividends while on your trip. The same remains true for how you eat while on vacation. I’m talking less about what & where you end up eating and more about how you end up eating. Before you travel, there are a few things I would recommend you think about to make the most of your money & time in this regard.
What is Your Food Budget?
Often people plan for months, sometimes years, to go on vacation. They’ve decided their accommodations, they’ve purchased their airfare and they have budgeted for the activities they will be experiencing. However, it seems like budgeting for food is often overlooked. They just figure they will figure it out when they get there. While I agree that you don’t necessarily have to have every restaurant picked out before you go, knowing how much you can and are willing to spend each day will help you make sure you don’t overspend on dining.
Let me show you what I mean. It’s common knowledge that Europe is expensive, especially in high-tourism areas. Let’s say that you decide to sit down at an average restaurant for every meal. Nothing too fancy, but you do choose a sit-down restaurant, plus a few snacks along the way to keep you going between destinations. Per person, for breakfast you pay €15, plus later you grab a mid-morning coffee for €7. You stop and sit-down for lunch which costs you €20 followed by a mid-afternoon gelato for €5, and end the day you have dinner which costs €30 & then you stop at the pastry shop for dessert on the way back to the hotel and spend €8 there. By the end of the day, you’ve spent €85 PER PERSON. If you ate similarly for a week, and there were two of you traveling together, you’re looking at €1,190 just in food costs. At today’s Euro/American Dollar conversion, that’s $1,412.47.
Most people can’t afford to drop that kind of money without planning for it first, so make a budget! As you’re planning your trip, your travel agent can help you research how much you can expect to pay each day for food depending on your destination. That way, you can make sure food costs are accounted for in advance & you don’t end up in debt over something as basic as food.
Save Money (and Time) by Choosing Accommodations that Include Breakfast
One of the easiest ways to cut food costs & save time while on vacation, is to ask your travel agent to find you accommodations that include breakfast. Many hotels offer at least a continental breakfast spread that can get you going for the day without spending the time or money at a sit-down restaurant. Keep in mind that while hotels that do this are quite common in the States, it is less common in Europe and other destinations. The reality is many hotels now charge you extra for their breakfast, but often if you purchase that option in advance when you book the room, they will charge you less than if you pay at the hotel. Regardless, it tends to be more reasonable than going out to eat for breakfast. Tell your travel agent how much you’d be willing to pay (if anything) for breakfast & they can likely find you some good options and walk you through everything so you know in advance what to expect.
In addition to saving you money by avoiding going out for breakfast, eating at the hotel means you can get a faster start to your day. Whether you’re going to the parks at Walt Disney World, or visiting the Louvre in Paris, our biggest piece of advice is to arrive early. Major attractions attract major lines & if you’d rather spend your day exploring the amazing sights instead of standing in line, getting a quick start to your day by having breakfast at the hotel can be the key.
Street Vendors are Awesome
Some of the best food I’ve ever eaten on vacation have come from street vendors. They are no-frills options that are fast and give you awesome food without the big price-tag or the need to spend valuable time at a sit-down restaurant. Now, I can hear the voice of my mom in my head asking, “But are they clean?” Most cities require that their street vendors are licensed & they have to meet the same cleanliness standards as restaurants do. For example, in New York City, all restaurants are given a letter grade based on their cleanliness & they are required by law to post that grade in their front window. As of early 2019, they started giving their street vendors those same grades. If you’re feeling nervous, look for posted licenses & make your own observations. Only pick those vendors who make you comfortable. In my experience, I’ve only had positive experiences with street vendors. Worst case, I’ve eaten cheap food that was only okay. Best case, I’ve had some of the most delectable local treats you could get. In my opinion, they are a great option that will help you stick to your budget & give you the chance to try some of the local fare all while saving you time.
Remember, Hangry is a REAL Thing
We’ve all been there. It’s been too long between meals, your blood sugar is dropping, you’ve walked at least 10 miles that day, and you start picking at the people around you. My family is notorious for this – ask any of my in-laws. I’m not proud to say that I’ve let my “hangry” tendencies get the better of me more than once on vacation. I’m also confident it’s a bigger problem than most people realize (or are willing to admit). Realizing that it is a real thing can help you recognize it for what it is & help you avoid turning your vacation into an unpleasant experience for everyone. While I am personally all about saving time by eating at the hotel in the morning, or purchasing food from street vendors, I DO NOT believe that meals should be sacrificed for the sake of getting to the next thing. When you’re thrust into a different time zone, culture & daily routine, your body needs that consistent fuel more than ever. And as much as I’d like to say that gelato & macarons count as “real food,” they don’t. Sugar in its many delectable varieties is not a meal substitute. If you find yourself starting to get irritated, take stock of what you have eaten that day & then go get some real food. Trust me. Your vacation will be much more enjoyable if everyone stays fed.
Ask About Meal Plans
Depending on where you are traveling, there may be options to have your meals included. For example, cruising is a great way to see several locations in a short amount of time & all meals are included on the ship (with a few exceptions where surcharges apply to certain restaurants). At the Walt Disney World Resort, if you stay on property, they offer a variety of meal plans to fit every budget that typically save 15-20% (Temporarily suspended due to COVID-19. Don’t worry, it’ll be back.). There are also many all-inclusive resorts all over the world, particularly in tropical locations where meals are included. These are all viable options to have your food included in the overall price of your vacation. Ask your travel agent what options may be available to you based on where you are traveling.
We hope you can see how once again, a little planning can go a long way in regards to eating your way through vacation. It’s honestly one of the most enjoyable aspects of experiencing a culture & we hope these reminders will help you make your next vacation even better!
As always, we’d be happy to help you plan your next vacation. Visit our website & click on the “Get a Quote” feature to get started!
You’ve seen the headlines: “Woman Gets Gored by Bison,” “Man Falls Off Edge of Grand Canyon While Taking Selfie,” “Tourist Arrested for Defacing Local Treasure.” It seems that fairly consistently, there is some tourist or another doing something totally dumb. You may think you would never do something so bold as what you find in the headlines, but the little irresponsible things tourists do can also add up. I get it. You’ve paid a lot of money to get where you’re going and you’re just so excited! However, too often it seems that tourists leave their brains at home and it is giving us all a bad name. After all, you’re a guest wherever you go. You heard me. You are a GUEST wherever you go. It truly is a privilege, not a right, to visit the amazing places around the world and it’s time we start acting that way. So, let’s talk about some common problems and solutions (that are really just a reminder to use your common sense) that are important for ALL tourists to be aware of.
The Problem: Petting or feeding the wildlife.
Don’t do it. Ever. No really. It’s never okay to pet or feed the wildlife no matter where you are. Unfortunately, when you’ve left your brain home, the part of you that says, “But they’re fluffy and cute,” tends to win out. “Just one Cheeto won’t hurt this chipmunk.” “This bison seems nice.” “I’ve seen them do this on Shark Week.” Trust me, I know. No one likes a cute animal more than me. But they are wild and if they have a way to hurt you, they will use it and there’s no telling when. Besides the obvious biting/goring issues, are you aware that many animals often carry diseases? For example, out here in the Western United States, rodents like Prairie Dogs or ground squirrels carry Bubonic Plague. You read that right. Bubonic Plague. You want to leave that nonsense alone. By feeding or petting them, you are putting them and yourself in danger. Giving them food habituates animals to humans. It messes with their natural diet and makes them dependent on humans so they can’t survive on their own. And petting them! That’s a sure-fire way to get trampled, gored or bitten. If I see one more headline about someone petting a bison and getting gored, so help me! I’m going to say it. If you pet an animal, or get too close and you get hurt, it’s 100% your fault.
Even when you’re being responsible in your wildlife viewing, there is always a risk and that risk should be respected. For example, we were recently traveling in the Grand Teton National Park and wildlife viewing is one of the highlights there. We had come across a mama moose and her twin babies. The cutest! We and a group of people were watching from a safe and appropriate distance, when Mama Moose started getting agitated and moving towards us. If you’ve never encountered an angry moose, count yourself lucky. They are huge and mean when they want to be. Anyway, we were moving away as she got closer when all of a sudden, she started charging and ran right through where we had all been standing just moments before. Fortunately, most everyone was able to move out of the way because we noticed her agitation beforehand and were trying to keep our distance. However, there was one woman taking video that wasn’t as quick as she should have been to stay out of the way and she nearly got trampled. If she had, likely that Mama Moose would have had to be put down and those cute twin babies would have been orphaned and likely killed too. A lot of people don’t realize their actions often lead to an animal being euthanized because it’s no longer safe to have it around humans. It’s tragic for everyone involved, especially the animals.
The Solution: Leave wildlife alone.
Keep your distance and be aware of their behavior so you can get out of their way. Respect them for the incredible creatures they are and remember you are a GUEST in their natural habitat. You yield to them. You don’t pet them. You don’t feed them. Like the Mama Moose we were watching, their behavior can change fast, and you are responsible to make sure there is enough distance between you and the animal to make sure you can get out of its way and everyone stays safe.
The Problem: Tourists are Oblivious to their Surroundings.
Selfies are killing people. Okay, that may be a bit dramatic, but it’s also true in some instances and the point is, getting a picture is not worth risking your safety or ruining the experience of the people around you. You know what I mean. You’ve traveled somewhere great and have got the perfect shot lined up, only to have some oblivious tourist step into your shot to get a picture of their own. If this has never happened to you, you are likely the oblivious tourist ruining other people’s photos. Not only is it discourteous, it can also be dangerous. Often, amazing places we love to go have an inherent danger to them (i.e. the Grand Canyon is a collection of cliffs, the waterfall is slippery, the cobblestones are uneven, etc.). When you’re not aware of your surroundings, you can quite quickly become a headline yourself. Just because it’s a tourist attraction, doesn’t mean it’s been made completely safe, nor should it be. Often the beauty is in the natural rawness of a location.
The Solution: Slow down & be aware.
Be courteous and look around. Are you about to block someone’s shot? Can you wait ten seconds so you both can get a great picture? Are you standing on the edge of a cliff and need to take a few steps away before turning your back on it to take a selfie? In my opinion, there is almost always enough time and space for everyone to get those social media-worthy photos. Slow down. Enjoy where you are. See it through your own eyes instead of just through your camera. If you just take a minute to think, observe and be courteous, we can all do it safely and without making the other guests around us mad.
The Problem: Not appreciating/degrading the local culture.
Have I mentioned yet that no matter where you travel, you are a GUEST there? So why would you think it’s okay to make demands in someone else’s “house” as it were? One of the best parts of traveling is learning about and experiencing different cultures. One of the most unfortunate things I’ve witnessed in my travels is someone getting angry at a local because they aren’t speaking the tourist’s language, or they in some way aren’t conforming to what the tourists thinks they deserve. News flash! You have no right to bully the locals (or anyone – let’s be real) because their culture is different than yours. Nothing gives tourists a worse name than irate, entitled jerks who think they’re better than everyone else. This also goes for recognizing important locations for what they are and not just as a tourist destination. For example, in Italy (and many European countries) they require that shoulders and knees are covered in order to enter their churches and cathedrals. St. Peter’s Basilica may just be a tourist destination to you, but it’s an important place of worship to many and should be respected as such. It is your responsibility to adhere to their requests in a respectful manner. It is not for you to decide what is appropriate in someone else’s house. What is appropriate is to show respect for different cultures and the places that are important to them.
The Solution: Do your research about the local culture & customs before you travel.
Not only will this be helpful to you, but it’s kind of fun. There are so many interesting people and places to learn about. If you’re going where they speak another language, learn a few words in that language like: Hello, goodbye, please, thank you, where’s the bathroom, etc. You do not need to be fluent, but showing that you respect their language and are trying, often endears a level of goodwill among those you are visiting, and they are much more willing to try to accommodate you. If you need help, download a language app like Google Translate. It can certainly be a great tool in communicating what you need, or finding your way around, while still respecting the local language/culture. Also, research the places you’re going in advance and take note if there are special considerations you should be aware of (i.e. dress requirements, they only accept cash, tipping is offense, etc.). This can save you a lot of embarrassment & frustration in advance. Remember, your lack of personal education on a destination doesn’t give you the right to demand things from the locals. Be a respectful guest!
The Problem: Vandalism is vandalism is vandalism.
“But everyone is doing it!” 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 up to 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 ” scratched into the rock right next to it. Well, but there’s also a “Wanda was here 2006” scratched right next to that, so it must be okay, 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 as a guest wherever you go, you are responsible to leave things better than you found them.
The Solution: If it’s not yours, don’t touch it.
Seriously. Is that painting in the museum yours? No? Don’t touch it. Is that rock art yours? No? Don’t touch it. Is that sculpture in the park yours? No? Don’t touch it. Tourist-related vandalism is real and unfortunately, too prevalent. It may not seem like a big deal at the time, but if thousands and thousands of people do the same thing because they’ve seen others do it too, then we all have a big ugly problem. You wouldn’t vandalize the walls of a home you’d been graciously invited to, so don’t do it anywhere you travel either. As a guest, leave it better than you found it.
Remember, it’s your vacation, but it is NOT all about you. Quite the opposite in fact. It is about where and who you’re visiting. It is their chance to show off their corner of the world and it is our privilege to be invited in as a guest. But it is an invitation, not a right. Keep your brain with you, practice common courtesy, and enjoy immersing yourself in this joint experience with those around you & we may just be invited back.
There are two kinds of travelers in the world: Those who plan, and those who don’t. I get it. There is something freeing about heading somewhere and just going for it without a set schedule. I believe there are times when this type of travel can be wonderful. However, in general, I believe that making a plan actually gives you more freedom when you arrive at your destination to do what actually matters to you. Let me explain.
A few years ago, my husband & I were heading to London. We were very excited & I had done a lot of research about what we could do while in town, we had identified what each of us “had’ to do, and felt like we had a pretty solid plan. I’m personally of the opinion that if you’re going to pay to get somewhere, you should experience it for what it is. And knowing what there is to do, is the first step. Anyway, I was talking with a friend prior to our trip and we realized we were both going to be in London at the same time over the course of a few days. I asked him about what his plans were, curious to see if he knew about something that I didn’t. His reply to me was, “We’re just going to go and see what happens.” I was shocked that he would go all that way and not do ANY research on what he might like to see. I told him as much and even made several suggestions, but he insisted that was how they wanted to do things.
The time came, and we both found ourselves in London. We met up one evening for a dance concert & we asked if they would like to join us the next day for what we were doing. He said yes and the next day we had a lovely breakfast together and he tagged along as we went through what we had already planned to do that day. We were leaving that evening, so after helping him buy an Oyster Card (tube pass so they could get around town), we left them to their own devices. Fast forward a few weeks and I see this friend again. Naturally, I asked him how his trip went and he said, “You know, I think you’re right about making a plan. We got more done with you in that one day than we did the rest of the trip.” I learned that they had done a few other things, but not very much & they ended up staying in the room a lot of the time. I thought, “What a tragedy!” We had such a great time in London & it made me sad that he didn’t have the same experience.
There are a few points I want to make here. First, you don’t know what you don’t know. Traveling to someplace you’ve never been to can be overwhelming. It is often a new culture with new experiences that can be tricky to navigate if you’ve never experienced it before. Knowing beforehand what your choices are can help you start to make a plan to navigate this new place and experience. Second, if you know what your choices are, you can spend your limited time on vacation doing what you’re actually interested in. I believe there is something for everyone everywhere, but you have to know what there is so you can find what you like. A little bit of research can go a long way & your travel agent can help you navigate that.
Travel agents by their very definition help “plan” people’s vacations (Obvious, I know). Usually that means helping to acquire hotels, attraction tickets, airfare, etc. These services are super helpful (see our post on “Why Use a Travel Agent”), but did you know that as agents, we often have a well of knowledge about many destinations that our guests simply aren’t tapping into?
At Woodbrey Family Travel we pride ourselves on creating personalized itineraries based on where people are going & who is going. For example, we provide a multi-page document that outlines how to navigate the Disney parks based on your group type (traveling with kids or with only adults will look very different), or how to prepare for & make the most of your cruise, etc. Our goal is to help you know as much as possible about your destination before you travel. However, as previously mentioned, we’ve noticed an interesting trend in how people approach being given this information. Either people soak up every word of the information we give them, or they ignore it completely and just go off on their own. I’m not saying it’s wrong to just “go for it,” but I can tell you that after helping thousands of people with their trips, and traveling all over the world ourselves, those who had a plan almost ALWAYS have a better time than those that don’t. There is nothing worse than getting somewhere and then wasting time standing around asking each other, “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” I would encourage all travelers to use the resources your agent provides & do your research!
In the case of planning a vacation, the people who do their research & start to formulate a plan actually enjoy that process. It’s kind of fun to think about and make plans for vacation. Plus, you have the added (and more important) benefit of knowing how to tailor your time on your vacation. If you choose to stay in your hotel room the whole time, great. At least you’ll do it because it was a conscious choice and not out of ignorance of what your options are. There are too many amazing things to see in this world to travel without a plan. Remember, a little bit of planning never hurt anyone!
To request a quote from Woodbrey Family Travel so we can help you make that plan, visit our website: http://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php
Travel agents are pretty fantastic people (if I do say so myself). If you need a refresher on why, check out our blog about “Why Use a Travel Agent.” That being said, there is one thing we can’t do: read minds. I ordered that crystal ball, but it must have gotten lost in the mail. Consequently, in order to help you plan your dream vacation, we need a little bit of help from you first.
Let me illustrate what I mean. It is not uncommon for us to receive emails like this, “Hey! Me and my family want to take a cruise in October. What can you do for us?” That’s it. That’s all the information we are given, and although we appreciate that you are thinking of using us, it creates a bit of a problem. Namely, we don’t know your budget, details of your family or expectations. For this specific example, there are literally hundreds of cruise options each month that will completely change depending on your personal circumstances. Consequently, we felt it would be useful to our guests to learn more about what they need to think about in advance of reaching out to your travel agent. Trust me. It will save both you & us a lot of time.
CREATE A BUDGET
The absolute most important thing you can do as you start thinking about a vacation is to establish a budget. I remember as a kid, my parents worked really hard, but we didn’t always have a lot of excess money for trips. So, they would look at their budget and say, “Okay, how far can we get with how much money we have?” Some of our best trips were the simplest, and our family never went into debt for vacation. You may have a different philosophy as you plan your budgets, but regardless, it is VERY important that you establish what you are willing & able to spend upfront.
As a travel agent, this helps us because we will only present you with options that fit within your budget. There are fantastic places to stay and things to do at EVERY price point. Our job is to find what works for you & your family & we are happy to do that.
As you create your budget, we recommend considering at least these five basic categories:
- Lodging (Telling us what you’re willing to pay nightly helps a lot!)
- Attraction Tickets
- Transportation (Airfare, Rental Car, Trains, Taxis/Rideshares, etc.)
- Incidentals/Spending Money
Keep in mind, you don’t necessarily have to have all the money in the bank when you book your trip. Depending on how far out you are planning, you may have the option to put a deposit down when you book your trip & then the remainder is due a few weeks before you travel. A lot of families use this option to pay incrementally and/or save up for that final payment while still booking in advance & getting what they want. This may help you spread the financial burden of your trip out over several months, or even a year or more. Regardless, you still need to budget in advance and be prepared for what you can legitimately come up with in the timeframe you have & then share that with your travel agent.
WHEN ARE YOU GOING & WHO IS GOING WITH YOU?
This seems like such a simple thing – but we all know it’s not. Work schedules, health issues, personal budgets, etc. can really make a difference on when you go on vacation & with whom. However, it is in your best interest to try & nail this down as best you can before you request a quote.
As a travel agent, we want to give you accurate information, but prices vary widely depending on when you go & who you go with. For example, ticket prices change based on if someone is a child or an adult. Additionally, a lot of hotels charge extra if there is a third or fourth adult in the room. Plus, hotels & attraction ticket prices can vary day by day, so even shifting a trip by just a few days can make a difference in the price you pay. Now to be fair, you may have some flexibility in the dates you’re looking at, and you just want to go when it’s the least expensive. That’s totally fine! However, if you can narrow it down to a specific few weeks prior to requesting a quote, that would go a long way in helping us get you accurate information.
IDENTIFY YOUR NEEDS & WANTS
We’ve all been there. It’s the age-old question: “Do I need this or do I just want this?” As with most things in life, it is good to identify your needs & wants when you travel & to communicate those to your agent. For example, perhaps someone in your party uses a wheelchair & NEEDS an accessible hotel room – tell us up front so we can make sure that happens & we are only quoting you rooms that meet your needs. Or perhaps one of your friends NEEDS to have their own bed, so even though there are only four of you, you need three beds – tell us so we can quote you only for the rooms that meet your needs. Other needs/wants that you may want to consider may include things like: hotel type, breakfast availability, free parking, distance to attractions, pools, types of views, etc. Please tell us your expectations up front so we have the chance to meet them.
That being said, we are all familiar with the phrase “Managing expectations.” That is our job too. As previously mentioned, our mind-reading abilities haven’t come in yet, so if something is important to you, tell us! We will do our best to find what meets your requirements while still fitting within your budget. But notice that I previously mentioned that there is a difference between needs & wants. Please keep in mind that depending on your budget, you may have to determine what is a need verses a want & then be a little flexible in that regard. For example, an accessible room may be an absolute need, but the only place that has an accessible room doesn’t have the free parking you wanted. What are you willing to compromise on? Do you have any flexibility in your budget to get what you want? These are the types of questions you need to ask yourself in advance & then tell your travel agent up front. We will do our best to give you everything you need & want, but we also respect your budget enough to recognize sometimes compromises need to be made. If they are articulated in advance, it makes the process easier for everyone.
USE THE GET A QUOTE FORM
At Woodbrey Family Travel, we have built a “Get a Quote” form that you can access on our website. We highly recommend using this form when making requests. We have designed it so that it asks a lot of the questions we need answered prior to getting you an accurate quote. Additionally, we’ve left space for you to leave comments & tell us anything extra we need to know, like budgetary constraints or your needs & wants. We hope you can recognize how thinking about these things in advance & communicating them to your travel agent up front will help everyone involved. We look forward to working with you & appreciate that you would consider how you can help us, help you!