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Don’t Pet Rattlesnakes!

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.

Great Basin Rattlesnake

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. 

Grand Teton National Park – July 2020

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.

Eagle and flag on top of the former US Embassy building in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, London.

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 Your Way Through Vacation

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.

Case of Pastries – Paris, France

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 Vendor Making Crepes – Paris, France

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.

Vegetable Gnocchi – Tony’s Town Square Restaurant, WDW Resort, Florida

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.

Dinner at Palo – Disney Fantasy

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!

Planning Never Hurt Anyone

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.

Tower Bridge, London – 2016

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.

Stonehenge – 2016

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?

Tower of London – 2016

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