Most people who have visited Alaska have only done so by cruise ship. It’s a great way to be introduced to the state & is in fact, how we first visited. We had an absolutely awesome time on that trip, but most cruise lines focus their time in southeast Alaska. So, it left me wondering…What is the rest of this giant state like? I knew it would be different traveling by land than by sea, but I really had no idea how different a vacation to the interior of Alaska would be. And let me tell you! It’s beautiful. It’s vast. It’s a totally different experience than cruising.
Our adventure began because we were supposed to have some friends come visit us in Utah this month, but they weren’t able to make it. Not wanting to give up the excuse for a vacation, we started looking at other options. By total chance, I found roundtrip, nonstop airfare to Fairbanks, Alaska for only $118.00. I was so excited! Based on our cruise experience, I knew I wanted to explore Alaska more in-depth & I couldn’t wait. There was only one problem…
The rental car shortage is REAL.
As I mentioned in my blog post, “Plan in Advance, Pay Over Time,” sometimes last-minute travel deals can be fantastic ($118 airfare, hello!). However, as is often the case with last-minute trips, just because you get a great deal on one aspect of your trip, doesn’t mean you’re going to get great deals for all aspects of your trip. In fact, planning last-minute can often cost you WAY more than if you plan in advance. Fortunately, since I plan travel for a living, I knew I needed to make sure I could get a hotel & rental car BEFORE I booked the airfare. There were plenty of hotels, but there were NO rental cars. We searched & searched & finally found a locally-owned rental car place that was willing to give us a compact car for four days for only $1,700.00. Did you just almost choke? Because I choked when I saw that price. There was NO WAY I was going to spend that kind of money on a rental car.
You may be wondering, “Why are they charging so much?” It’s pretty simple, really. Last year when the pandemic was raging & no one was traveling, the rental car companies couldn’t afford to keep their inventories, so they sold huge chunks of it off. Now that vaccinations are moving along & people can & do want to travel, the rental car companies don’t have enough inventory to meet the demand. Why don’t they just buy more? Well, material shortages worldwide have been impacting car production so they literally can’t build their inventories back up fast enough. Now imagine being in the isolated interior of Alaska & replacing that inventory becomes even more complicated. Hence, our predicament in not being able to find a rental car & them feeling justified in charging ridiculous prices for the rare unicorn car they did have.
At that point, I thought Alaska was going to be a bust. However, we started getting creative in how we looked for a car. There are several websites out there where you can rent a car from an individual rather than the normal big businesses like Alamo, Enterprise, etc. But again, NOTHING was available. So, then we started looking at RV rental websites & we found someone renting their 2007 Subaru Outback & it came with a rooftop tent & camping supplies. They were renting it for a much more reasonable price of $500 for four days, so our trip was saved! Plus, we figured since it came with camping gear, we’d give camping in the interior of Alaska a try.
Now before I lose those of you who don’t like camping because you think that the rest of what I have to say won’t be relevant to you, HOLD UP. Almost everything we did can be experienced even if you sleep in a hotel instead of a rooftop tent. We were planning on staying in a hotel every night (& did for two nights) & using the regular rental car to explore the area. You can do that very thing when you visit the interior of Alaska. We just saw a unique opportunity to camp in a place we wouldn’t normally & we took it. So, don’t freak out. You can keep reading & still get some insights into how to enjoy the interior of Alaska. For ease of outlining what there is to do, I’ll go by geographic area to keep things concise rather than explaining things in the order we did them.
Ah, the “Golden Heart” of Alaska. As with most towns in the interior of Alaska, Fairbanks began as a mining town & grew from there. It’s now the largest city in the interior (third largest in the state) with a population of just about 30,000. Fun fact: Apparently that’s enough people to warrant a Costco, Wal-Mart, Lowe’s & Home Depot. This kind-of-sleepy town is fairly spread out & if it’s not paved, it’s forest, so getting around town really is easiest if you have a car. That being said, if you’re not averse to walking, you can somewhat get around that way (although sidewalks are limited, so plan to walk on the street). They also have a city-wide bus system, plus both Lyft & Uber are available. There are also a number of shuttles that will also take you to sights like Chena Hot Springs & the Arctic Circle & the train goes to Denali National Park. These are all viable options if you can’t get a rental car, but hopefully inventories will be restored soon & it won’t be a problem.
When I was researching things to do in Fairbanks, a lot of what came up is pretty far out of the city limits, so I want to focus on some of what you can do IN Fairbanks.
Running Reindeer Ranch: This was BY FAR our favorite thing we did while in Fairbanks. Imagine yourself in a beautiful forest surrounded by frolicking reindeer. THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED! For two hours, and about $70, you too can have a magical time learning more than you ever realized you wanted to know about reindeer all while they are literally frolicking around you. These are domesticated animals & very used to humans, so the reindeer may even let you pet them. When we were there, they even had three six-week-old babies that were the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. Open both in summer & winter. 10/10 would do again!
Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum: Let me start by saying, I am not a car person. I didn’t even know if I wanted to go to this museum, but time allowed for it, so we went. I am SO GLAD we did. This place is amazing! Not only do they have a VERY impressive collection of antique cars dating from when they were first invented up through the 1930s, but they have also included clothing in their displays from the same time periods as the cars. Many of these pieces are originals and are simply INCREDIBLE. Seriously. I am so impressed by how smart they are to combine cars & fashion to speak to a multitude of different interests in one place. Kudos to them, because it was awesome & you should go.
Pioneer Park: This quirky little area is quite a gem. The Park is right along the Chena River & is made up of old buildings & cabins from around the Fairbanks area, many of which have been converted into shops, art galleries & eateries. There is also a playground for kids, carousel, miniature golf course, & several small museums. Entrance into the park is free, but some of the museums charge a small fee. Whether or not you choose to do the paid museums, there is a lot to see & do here. There is also a Salmon Bake that happens in the park each night from 5:00-9:00. It acts kind of like a quick-service restaurant where you order at the window & then travel to different stations to pick up your food. They had picnic tables both inside & outside & they even had a military band playing jazz music while we were there. Overall, it was a nice place to spend the afternoon/evening & I think it’s definitely worth a stop. Keep in mind, they don’t open until 11:00 or 12:00 depending on the day.
Museum of the North: This museum is found on the campus of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. The building looks fairly large from the outside, but the museum itself isn’t really very big once you get inside. What makes this museum worth going to though, is the fact that it is 100% focused on the natural & cultural history of Alaska. This state is huge & amazing & it deserves its own museum. I learned a lot here & I’d recommend it for those traveling through.
Large Animal Research Center: Also found on the campus of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, this research center offers tours to learn about the muskox, reindeer & bovine they study there. We did not take a tour because time wouldn’t allow it, but we did stop by & watch the muskox munching in their field as well as wander into their little gift shop (where you can buy tour tickets). It’s certainly worth a stop, even if you just get to see a muskox in person. They’re adorable.
Denali National Park & Preserve
As previously mentioned, there is A LOT to see & do outside the city of Fairbanks. The most notable & popular is probably Denali National Park & Preserve. You can reach the park in about two-hours by car from Fairbanks, it being the closest city to the park. The Park can also be reached via Anchorage, though it is twice as far & takes more than twice as long to get there.
What I thought was most impressive about the drive between Fairbanks & Denali was that for the entire drive except for maybe 5 miles, we had cell phone service with data (our carrier is AT&T, our friend who has T-Mobile didn’t have quite as good of service). This was unexpected, but certainly helped me feel more secure knowing I could call for help if we needed it. After some of our other adventures though, we realized this was one of the better roads we drove in Alaska & there was enough traffic that there was really no need for me to be worried.
Denali National Park & Preserve is named for the tallest mountain in North America found within the park. Denali tops out at just over 20,000 feet & is so big, that only about 30% of people who visit the park will actually get to see the peak since it’s normally covered in clouds. We were blessed with perfect weather while we were there & were able to see the mountain in its entirety. All I can say is, WOW.
There are a few quirky things about Denali that all travelers should know. First, there is one road into the park & the public is only allowed to drive the first 13 miles of it. There are some really fun things to do in those 13 miles (like the sled dog kennels, some great hiking, etc.), but to get past that point, you need to take a bus, or have a special permit (which are difficult to come by). The road itself goes for about 90 miles & different buses go different lengths of the road. Some buses are merely a means of transportation, others are actual tour buses that offer commentary & snacks for the long drive. Because of COVID, there are limited offerings this year, so we ended up on the Tundra Wilderness Tour. It is an eight-hour tour that takes you about 63 miles down the road. Our driver has been doing tours for 15+ years & was incredibly knowledgeable about the park. For that reason, I would recommend taking a narrated tour verses just one of the transportation buses. They both stop for wildlife viewing (we saw beavers, moose, caribou, grizzly bears, red fox, Dall sheep, & more), but the park is so vast & there is so much to learn about the geography & wildlife, it’s nice to have a knowledgeable tour guide. The guided tours are significantly more expensive, but worth it in my opinion.
As for the road itself, it is dirt, but it’s one of the most well-maintained dirt roads we’ve been on. The buses are converted school buses, but they have motorcoach seats in them. It’s a bus on a dirt road, so it’s not the most comfortable ride, but the scenery is so spectacular & we learned so much, it wasn’t bad.
Since we did camp there, I should mention that there are several campgrounds in Denali. The biggest & most convenient one is at the entrance of the park & is called Riley Creek Campground. That is where we stayed & it was beautiful & well-maintained, but there are several smaller campgrounds down the park road as well. If you’re going deep into the park, you’ll have to take your gear & travel by bus to get there. Reservations are currently required for all campgrounds, so plan in advance. However, if camping isn’t your thing, there are several hotel options around the park entrance. We would be happy to help you find one that is right for you.
The Arctic Circle
In the completely opposite direction of Denali, about 200 miles north of Fairbanks, you’ll find the Arctic Circle. The Arctic Circle crosses through several countries, but nowhere in the world is it as accessible as it is in Alaska. Although “accessible” is kind of a loose term. But we felt like if we were that close to the Arctic Circle, why wouldn’t we go?
There is just one road you can take to get there & it is a doozy. It’s called the Dalton Highway, or the Haul Road & it was built to support the oil fields in Prudhoe Bay. It runs from Fairbanks clear up to the Arctic Ocean. In fact, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline runs parallel to the road nearly the entire way.
This is where not having a traditional rental car actually helped. Most rental car companies do not allow their vehicles to be taken up the Dalton Highway & for good reason. Consequently, if we had gotten a regular rental car, we would have had to take an organized tour to get to the Arctic Circle rather than driving there ourselves. There are several organized tours out of Fairbanks that do 12-hour day trips up & back to the Circle each day, so if this is something you’re interested in, that is a viable option. We saw several tour groups along the road as we went. In fact, unless you’re completely comfortable driving on challenging dirt roads with no cell service & feel confident in changing a tire, I wouldn’t try it. We asked the people we rented our car from in advance if we could go up there & they gave us permission & then sent us with a spare tire & tire repair kit (which fortunately, we didn’t need).
That being said, although it’s a challenge to get there, the scenery is incredible. The vastness of Alaska is hard to describe. In reality, we could only see pieces of it from the road, but what we could see was just massive & spectacular. Most of the scenery was boreal forest among rolling hills, but we also drove through parts of the tundra & into the Brooks Mountain Range. Along the way, we stopped in several locations including the Yukon River Camp, Finger Mountain, obviously the Arctic Circle, and finally we ended up camping just outside a tiny town called Coldfoot which is about 65 miles past the Circle. If you want to go clear up to the Arctic Ocean, you’ll have to get a tour out of Coldfoot. The last few hundred miles over the Brooks Range & onto the North Slope is something serious & there are basically zero services, so best to take a tour from there.
You may be wondering if it was worth the drive up there. The answer is, YES! It was an incredible adventure with many literal bumps in the road, but it was fun & certainly worth going. And the bragging rights are real. So real, that when we stopped at the BLM visitor center at the Yukon River Camp, they gave us an official stamped certificate signifying that we had driven the Dalton Highway & gone to the Arctic Circle. We also learned that only 1% of visitors to Alaska ever make it further north than Fairbanks & we are proud to be part of that 1%!
Overall, I’d recommend Alaska’s interior to anyone who appreciates natural wonders & beauty, is ready for an adventure & who isn’t afraid of a few mosquitoes. In the summer, the sun never sets & the only thing stopping you is your own tired self. The three main areas we visited only scratch the surface on everything you could do in Alaska’s interior, but it was a great place to start! Alaska is one of those places you have to experience to truly understand & even then, there’s always more to learn & explore. If you’re interested in having your own Alaska adventure, go ahead & request a quote through our website: https://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php. We would be happy to walk you through things!
Can you feel it? The excitement at the prospect of getting out of the house? The thrill when you realize adventure is just about within reach again? As more & more people are being vaccinated, various locales around the world are starting to open to visitors again & as hard-hit travel professionals, we could not be more thrilled! And we aren’t the only ones. It seems quite a few people are interested in exploring the world again, which is great! Except…things are actually quite tricky and you may need help. Let me explain.
Earlier this year, we wrote a blog post about “The Evolution of COVID Travel.” Written in February when vaccines were not available to everyone yet & there were incredible travel deals to incentivize people to get out & go, we predicted that demand would out-weight supply as the year went on & we encouraged everyone to book sooner rather than later. Little did we know how soon that prediction would become reality. In as early as March, we started having clients who could not get what they wanted simply because there wasn’t enough availability. We specialize in Disney travel (though we do everything else too), and we have had more than a dozen groups not end up booking a trip at Disney World because there simply wasn’t enough availability. While I don’t fault Disney for how they are managing things, it is making traveling there very tricky.
Okay. So, don’t go to Disney, right? Sure! Of course! There are many options around the country & we’d be happy to help you with that. Except…we are finding travel is tricky in local markets as well. Let me give you a personal example. A few days ago, I found roundtrip, non-stop airfare from Salt Lake City, Utah to Fairbanks, Alaska for $118.00. I’m sorry, what?! I thought it was perfect. We went on an Alaskan cruise a few years ago & loved it & I’ve wanted to explore the interior of the state for quite some time. It seemed like a personal invitation to come to Alaska.
Now, realizing there is a lot more involved in planning a trip than just airfare (see our blog called ‘Help Us, Help You’), I wanted to do some more research before actually buying that non-refundable, albeit cheap, plane ticket. I searched for hotels & things to do & got myself thoroughly excited at the prospect of going. And then…I looked for rental car options. And do you know what I found? NOTHING. I searched & searched & could not find any availability on any of the many websites I have access to as a travel agent or as a normal human who can use Google. Finally, I found a compact car being rented from a local company and guess how much they wanted to rent it for four days? Oh, only $1,700.00. I nearly choked. There was no way I was going to pay that kind of money for four days of a rental car. I could buy a car & use it for a few days cheaper than that. Needless to say, I was very sad & I thought the trip was a bust.
Fortunately, our persistent friend who is traveling with us got creative & started looking at websites for RV & camper rentals & I’m pretty sure we found the one & only car still available in the interior of Alaska this summer. It was only available for three days, but it only cost us about $500 & bonus! It comes with a bunch of camping equipment, so we’ve decided to skip the hotel when we have the car & camp in Alaska instead.
Now, camping in Alaska may sound like a horrible idea to some of you, but for us, it turned out great! However, getting to the point where we felt like the pieces had fallen into place was STRESSFUL. Travel is absolutely possible, but it is tricky right now. Besides the obvious challenges associated with COVID-19, you also have to contend with limited supplies and an over-anxious population aching to get out and travel. So, what can you do about it?
First, USE A TRAVEL PROFESSIONAL. In the best of times, using a travel agent to plan your trips can save you loads of time & often money too (see our blog about ‘Why Use a Travel Agent’). At this point though, you don’t just have the normal travel concerns. You now have the added challenge of COVID requirements & restrictions which often lead to limited availability. I’m a professional & it took me hours & hours over two days to figure out this trip to Alaska. If that doesn’t sound like something you want to take on, you don’t have to! We will do that for you. The travel industry will continue to evolve as it recovers & if you have a travel professional in your corner, you can always be confident you’ll get the best information possible.
Second, PLAN AHEAD. Knowing that demand is currently outweighing supply, it just goes to show that planning ahead is in your best interest. As outlined in my blog ‘Plan in Advance, Pay Over time,’ there are a number of great reasons to plan your trip several months in advance. Often last-minute deals (like my cheap airfare to Alaska), can come with added expenses because it is last minute (like a $1,700 rental car). The further ahead you can plan, the more likely you’ll be able to get what you want at the price you want. That being said, we are already seeing limited availability into the fall of this year for many areas. Which brings us to our next point.
BE FLEXIBLE. If you’re only willing to visit one place & you only have a handful of days to go there that can’t be changed, you may end up being disappointed. Rather, have a few locations in mind that you’d like to visit & try to be as flexible with your dates as possible. Sometimes even just moving your trip a few days will open up the availability you need to have a great vacation. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I advocate for making a plan (see the blog ‘Planning Never Hurt Anyone’). However, you may have to be flexible while making that plan just due to the nature of the travel industry right now.
Lastly, KEEP DREAMING. As previously mentioned, the travel industry is evolving quickly and constantly. This post isn’t intended to discourage you from traveling, rather to make you aware you may face some challenges that simply didn’t exist prior to the pandemic. That’s okay! There is still plenty of the world to explore. You just may end up exploring a part of it you didn’t expect or in a way you didn’t expect. But what a great time for a new adventure! As always, we are here to help you. To request a quote for your next trip, visit our website: https://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php
They say that the only constant is change, and wow! have we had to learn that lesson this year! It’s strange to think that only a year ago (though it seems longer), the travel industry was thriving. Oh, the difference a year can make. It is no secret that the travel industry has been deeply & severely impacted by the COVIID-19 pandemic. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel with the introduction of vaccines. Additionally, the industry has evolved to help meet the challenges of today & it is my belief, that the industry will come back safer & stronger than ever in the coming months & years. It is for this reason that I believe now may be the perfect time to start planning your own return to travel. Let me explain.
First, safety standards in the travel industry are higher than ever. We have witnessed this first-hand. As the owners of a travel agency, we have felt it incumbent upon ourselves to continue traveling during these hard times. Now, don’t freak out. We have taken all of the necessary personal safety precautions & have been disciplined in our adherence to local regulations wherever we went. However, as travel professionals, we felt the need to experience for ourselves what it was really like to travel during COVID. To be the “guinea pigs,” if you will, so that we can truthfully speak from first-hand experience what it is really like out there with the intent to bring ourselves & our guests the peace of mind we all seek when there are so many unknowns.
As we have traveled, we have found that airlines, hotels and tourist attractions are doing really great things to keep their patrons safe. As mentioned, the travel industry has suffered greatly, and no one in the industry wants to compromise a safe & healthy return to service. Our jobs and livelihoods are on the line. We’ve watched our friends & colleagues lose those very things. I think it is for this reason, and because it truly is the responsible thing to do, that safety standards in the travel industry are currently very high.
It is my belief that many of these standards will remain for the foreseeable future & honestly, I’m kind of excited about it. Take for example the Walt Disney World Resort (WDW). We traveled there in early November & I wrote a blog about what it was like to travel there during COVID. You can check it out here. We returned to WDW again early this month, & those standards have remained in place. If anything, it’s going better now than it did several months ago, because the guests are now so used to it, there is not much deviance from the standards they have in place. I personally, have LOVED that there are sanitizing stations going into & coming out of every attraction. I LOVE that there are markers on the ground in queues to make sure people stay socially distanced. I prefer not to have people in my bubble and I love the convenience of being able to sanitize often. These are just a few of the safety protocols in place. It is these & many more safety standards that I believe will remain in place for the foreseeable future & I feel great about that! I felt safer at WDW than I do going to my local grocery store. As mentioned, the industry wants to be responsible & bring back guests safely & so far, they are doing a good job & I believe that will continue.
Besides the on-the-ground safety measures, we can’t underestimate the value of vaccinations. Whatever your political views, the fact is, the number of cases is dropping & I’m sure the vaccinations are the driving force behind that. In our state, our governor has announced that he believes every adult who wants a vaccination will have the opportunity to have one by the end of May. Whether his timeline is correct, remains to be seen, but regardless, most of the population will have access to a vaccination if they want one within the next several months. This is exciting news for many reasons! With the rollout of vaccines, plus the safety standards already outlined, you will soon be able to travel with the confidence we have lost over the past year.
It is for this reason, that we anticipate a surge in travel coming soon. People have been stuck inside for a year. Travel is important to mental health & we believe it will be an important part of people’s “healing” process as we come out of the other side of this thing. If you feel like you are going to be one of those people, we now offer you the best piece of advice we can: BOOK YOUR TRIP NOW.
As mentioned before, the high safety standards of the industry will likely remain in place for some time even with vaccinations rolling out. One of these standards is decreased capacity at hotels & tourist attractions. If capacity is down, but demand is up, that is going to drive prices up. If you book a future trip now, you lock in the price as it is today. Additionally, if capacity is down, but demand is up, that may prevent you from being able to book what you want at all because there just isn’t anything available. It will take time for everything to get completely ramped back up, and that may mean you won’t be able to get what you want when you want it if you wait.
Additionally, there are some GREAT deals for travel right now. Because the industry is struggling & trying to recover, airlines, hotels, attractions & cruise lines are all offering great deals. Many of those deals extend into the early summer, but some extend clear to the end of 2021. We are talking things like BOGO 60% off for cruises, or 35% off stays at resorts like Aulani. Now may be the time to book the dream vacation that you normally wouldn’t think you could afford. We anticipate as the industry recovers though, these deals will be short-lived as supply & demand shift. However, as previously mentioned, if you lock your price in now, you can take advantage of these great deals even if you don’t travel for several months.
As with everything associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the travel industry continues to evolve. We are optimistic about the future & want to make sure you have the information & tools you need to feel safe as you return to travel. There are a lot of safety measures in place already & with vaccinations rolling out, travel will make a comeback. As you think about how you’ll return to travel yourself, consider making plans now, even if you won’t be traveling until later this year. We are here to help! We would be happy to walk you through everything. Send us a quote request by visiting our website: https://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php
I’m a firm believer that if you travel to Hawaii & you have a bad time, it’s probably your own fault. In fact, I’ve recently written a blog about how even traveling during COVID can be a fantastic experience if you’re safe & smart about it. Read more about that here: Oahu, Hawaii During COVID. But back to the topic at hand. Just because Hawaii is fantastic by just existing, that doesn’t mean there aren’t certain experiences that can make an already great location that much better. Aulani – A Disney Resort & Spa is one of those experiences.
Notice I said “experience” and not hotel. We have stayed in several really nice hotels throughout the years, but I wouldn’t say very many, if any at all, gave me an “experience” as part of my stay. It makes a lot of sense though that a resort built by Disney would give you more than just a nice place to sleep. The Walt Disney Company is known world-wide for creating “experiences” for their guests, particularly in their parks & hotels. In fact, the inspiration for Disneyland came because Walt wanted to give families a place where they could enjoy fun experiences together. That philosophy has extended throughout the organization & Aulani is no different. It is meant to be a place where you can gather with your ‘ohana’ & all have a wonderful time. In my opinion, it lives up to all Walt would want it to be. Let’s talk about why.
Most hotels have some sort of “theme” or at least a common design scheme, but Aulani takes it a step further and has their own “story.” If you’re familiar with any of the Disney parks, storytelling is everywhere. You will find stories in every attraction as soon as you enter the queue, all the way until you exit & sometimes beyond. Every restaurant has a story too from the design elements, to what the workers are wearing, and throughout the menu. Sometimes even the bathrooms play along to whatever story is being told in the area! Point being, Disney prides themselves on being master storytellers & they have certainly lived up to that with their design of Aulani.
Aulani was designed by none other than the world-famous Disney Imagineers who worked hand-in-hand with local artisans & cultural experts to celebrate the beauty & history of the island. This is something that I greatly appreciated because for me, one of the best parts of traveling is getting a feel for the local culture. Having been to all four of the major Hawaiian Islands, I can confidently say that Oahu, the island where Aulani is located, is BY FAR the most commercialized of all the islands. If you’re unfamiliar, Oahu is home to the state capitol of Honolulu, the famous Waikiki Beach, and Pearl Harbor. It is the most densely populated island in the Hawaiian chain, and so, I suppose, it would make sense that it’s the most commercialized. Unfortunately, it is for that reason that I believe a lot of what makes the Hawaiian culture & islands so wonderful is lost. In stark contrast to the vast majority of other hotels & resorts on the island, Aulani purposely celebrates the culture of the Hawaiian people. Just in general, it feels much more organic than most resorts. For example, the hotel towers are shaped like canoes, there is contemporary Hawaiian artwork throughout the resort, everything has a Hawaiian name including the pools & restaurants & their unofficial mascot is the Menehune (small, mythological craftspeople said to live in the forest of the Hawaiian Islands). Even their color scheme matches the surrounding landscape of the leeward side of the island.
There are also other elements that make it feel like you’re being immersed in the Hawaiian culture. One of my favorites has been storytelling by ‘Uncle’ around the campfire (or pool during COVID season). He tells stories based on local folklore & I feel like through the simple act of listening to a story, I learned so much about ancient Hawaiian culture. We also really enjoyed the Menehune Adventure game. For this, you can check out a tablet from the Community Hall & ‘Aunty’ takes you on an adventure throughout the gardens & pool area of the resort. Not only does the game allow you to do cool things (like send fire out of a volcano or drop a waterfall into one of the pools), it also helps you to get a feel for some of the local culture. Another of my favorites is all of the live music you can find throughout the resort. The last time we were there, they weren’t doing their luau (which by the way, was awesome the first time we got to go to Aulani), but on the weekend, they had ‘Aunty’ singing Hawaiian songs & someone dancing with her on the lawn while we waited to meet the characters. It’s simple things like that which contribute to the overall celebration of the Hawaiian culture as part of the resort’s story.
Something for Everyone
As with the Disney parks, there is literally something for everyone at Aulani & a lot can be done together as a family. For us, and I imagine most who visit Aulani, the Waikolohe Valley became the center of our visit there. This is the garden/pool area between the two towers at Aulani. It features a long lazy river (it takes 15 minutes to float around), two water slides (one body, one tube), play area for the kids & splash pad for the littles, two big family pools with three family hot tubs, plus an adult-only pool & two-level infinity hot tub overlooking the ocean (perfect for watching the sunset as you soak). If you’d like to try snorkeling, but are worried about doing it in the ocean, there is also the Rainbow Reef where for a surcharge you can snorkel with the native fish of Hawaii. Additionally, you are only a few steps away from the perfectly golden beach on the lagoon (sand toys & boogie boards are complimentary!).
When the Imagineers designed the Waikolohe valley, they knew what they are doing. Everything is spaced out very well so it disburses the crowds. They have also worked hard to provide chairs & shade for everyone either from the trees in the garden or via umbrella. There are also multiple places to get food whether it be shave ice, counter service, or sit-down meals. You could literally spend your entire vacation in the Waikolohe Valley and be just fine. I don’t necessarily recommend that because there is a lot to see on the island, but I would definitely commit at least a few days to staying at the resort & to use the pool area as a place to unwind at the end of the day.
That being said, there are some quirks about this area. It seems like it would go without saying, but only Aulani guests are allowed to use the pools. The beach is technically open to the public (though the chairs & umbrellas are not), so I think some of the beach visitors try to sneak into the pool area. This must be somewhat of a problem because guests are required to get a different colored wristband every day to prove they are a guest of the resort as they use the pools. Some may think that is inconvenient, but we found it to be reassuring that only guests of the resorts are using the accommodations we paid for. They also have a system where if a cast member folds a towel over the headrest of the chair you’ve staked out & put your stuff on, you have one hour to take it down or they will remove your belongings & securely store them where you pick up your wristbands. We just made sure to circle back once an hour to get a drink or a snack and make sure that our towels were not signaling we had been gone. This is their way of making sure everyone has an equal chance at the poolside chairs. We’ve been to Aulani twice now (once before COVID & once during COVID), and we have never had a problem finding a chair or having our stuff moved. Everyone is very courteous & as long as you circle back once an hour, you’re just fine.
There are a few other areas at the resort that should also be mentioned. First, what would a Disney vacation be without the characters?! Usually, you can find them interspersed in the Waikolohe Valley, but with COVID, right now they are meeting on the lawn (where they usually have the luau). We’ve met Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, Stich, Duffy, Shellie Mae & Moana. It just brings a little bit of extra Disney magic to your trip being able to meet them while you’re there. Also, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the spa on property as well. When COVID isn’t a thing, they offer a full-service spa with treatments for teens, individuals & couples. There is also the Community Hall where you can pick up the Menehune Adventure game, rent movies & games & make crafts. It’s a place where everyone can come in and enjoy. Additionally, when COVID isn’t a thing, the kids can enjoy activities for their age group at Aunty’s Beach House. The counselors there will keep your kids entertained so you can go to the spa, explore the island, or just take a nap while knowing your kids are safe & entertained. There is so much to do at Aulani! I promise you can find plenty to make you & your family happy while you stay there.
Speaking of staying there, there are a number of different room types available at Aulani to accommodate any family. Aulani is considered a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) property. That means the people who have bought into Disney’s timeshare program can stay there using their membership. However, you DO NOT need to be a DVC member to stay there. ANYONE can book a room at Aulani & enjoy the resort. Room types range anywhere from a traditional hotel-style standard room with two queen-sized beds, to a three-bedroom villa with full kitchen. We have stayed in both a standard room & a 1-bedroom villa with full kitchen. Both suited our needs just fine for the different trips we took. We did enjoy having a full kitchen with the villa because we could save some money by cooking some of our own meals, but the standard room has a mini-fridge so you can keep some things in there too. Whatever type of room you stay in, they are very nice & I’m sure you will be very comfortable.
Location on the Island
Aulani is located on western side of Oahu in the Ko Olina development. This is the leeward side of the island, so where it is rains almost every day on the windward side of the island, Aulani has beautiful sun-filled days with very limited rain. It is somewhat out of the way, at least compared to the hustle & bustle of downtown Honolulu & Waikiki Beach. However, we have never found it to be a problem. In fact, Aulani is just as convenient to get to the East & North sides of the island as Waikiki due to traffic & access to the freeways that take you to those sides. However, if you’d like a comparison, let me share my opinion as we have stayed both in Waikiki & at Aulani.
Waikiki is in the heart of Honolulu & like all major cities, it is very loud & crowded. It is as touristy as it gets in Hawaii, and as previously mentioned, it is very commercialized. The beach itself is typically covered with tourists & honestly, is only one of many beautiful beaches on Oahu. I would by no means call it the best beach on the island, just the most crowded. If you are looking to do some sightseeing outside of Waikiki, due to Honolulu traffic, it really isn’t more convenient than Aulani if you’re visiting anywhere besides Honolulu. If you’re looking at staying at Waikiki because you believe it is more convenient, it truly is only convenient to itself, not the rest of the island. If you like the hustle & bustle of a big city, Waikiki is for you. If you prefer a much calmer & quiet vacation with significantly more amenities, than Aulani would be your best bet. We have stayed at both, and for us, there was no comparison. Our time at Aulani was significantly better than Waikiki.
Never a Better Time to Go
The two weeks we’ve spent at Aulani during two different vacations (one pre- & one post-COVID) have convinced us that it is one of the best resorts on the island. It is beautiful, it celebrates Hawaiian culture, it has something to keep everyone entertained & happy, plus there’s an added dose of Disney magic thrown in there as the cherry on top. A stay there is absolutely worth it.
If you need more convincing, Aulani is currently offering 30% off 5-night stays between now & June 10, 2021. You can do it! You can go to Aulani & we would be happy to help you. To request a quote, visit our website:: https://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php
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.
My favorite place to be is outside. In fact, I have a t-shirt that says, “Visit Outside – Where real stuff happens,” and I honestly couldn’t agree more. There is something centering about breathing fresh air, being warmed by the sunshine, not constantly looking at my phone, and quite often, becoming physically active too. It’s real & it keeps me sane. I’m not just saying that either. There have been several scientific studies that outline how important spending time outside is for your overall health, even if it’s just a walk around the neighborhood. I believe our souls need it. We need to feel connected to the “real” things of the earth.
As we all know, this year a lot of people’s regular travel plans have been interrupted. Consequently, it seems more people have turned to doing things outside. This has caused the not-so-surprising phenomena of our National Parks, National Forests, and Bureau of Land Management areas seeing increased attendance. In fact, as one who loves camping, I was kind of dismayed when throughout the summer, I couldn’t find places to camp because SO MANY others also had the same inclination. In spite of my wanting to go & not having a place to go, in general, I feel this is a good thing. I feel as we actually get outside & learn to appreciate the natural world, we will take better care of it & preserve our beautiful places for future generations.
However, I’ve noticed there is a significant learning curve when it comes to how you approach exploring our public lands. I agree with Michael Frome when he said, “A national park is not a playground. It’s a sanctuary for nature & for humans who will accept nature on nature’s own terms.” Don’t get us wrong, some of the most fun I have ever had has been exploring these places. However, there is a right way & a wrong way to enjoy our public lands & unfortunately, the more people that enter into those beautiful places, the more likely those places are of being damaged due to the ignorance of the masses, who are often only aware of the next great Instagram shot they want to take. So, let’s talk about a few very simple ways that you can respect & protect our beautiful places.
One of the biggest mistakes I see from novices of the outdoors is not being prepared for the environment they’re entering. These beautiful places are not Disneyland. You can’t just run to the next churro cart & buy a snack & some water when the mood strikes you. You need to be willing & able to take care of yourself in the environment you’re entering. If you don’t know how to do that, it is your responsibility to educate yourself BEFORE you go. A few things I can guarantee you’ll need anywhere you go: Lots of water, food, good footwear, appropriate clothing & an understanding of your limits. Just a few weeks ago I was hiking in Bryce Canyon National Park. Our group had stopped about halfway through our 5-mile hike for a snack. A volunteer ranger came by & started praising us for our snacks. She told us her job is to hike around looking for people who didn’t come prepared and essentially save them from themselves. She had a huge backpack on which she told us had water, electrolyte drinks & snacks for those that didn’t prepare themselves in advance. You do NOT want to be the person she has to rescue. There’s no need for that. Know your limits & be prepared for your environment. These beautiful places can leave you battered & bruised (or worse), if you’re not prepared.
Leave It Better Than You Found It
It’s snack time! As previously mentioned, eating and drinking, especially outdoors, is so important. It can literally save your life in some of the unforgiving environments our beautiful places are found. Do you know what is also important? Cleaning up after yourself! That means everything. Fruit snacks wrapper? Take it with you. Orange peel or apple core? Take it with you. Empty water bottle? Take it with you. Literally everything. Take it with you. Not only that, but I challenge you that if you see someone else’s trash around, do the world a favor, and pick it up. There is nothing more disappointing than going into a pristine place to find that someone decided to leave a trail of trash for everyone else to deal with. Don’t be like that.
Best Not to Make Your Own Trail
Our beautiful places are that way because the touch of humans has been limited. On all public lands, the governing entities have often worked very hard to build trails so you can enjoy what the area has to offer in a way that is safe for you & the environment. When you make your own trail & take a “short cut” between switchbacks, or you wander off the beaten path, you could potentially be destroying fragile ecosystems while also putting yourself in danger. Not only that, but your bad example will inevitably lead to more people following you & perpetuating the problem. Pay attention to where you are walking & make the conscious choice NOT to make your own trail. If you need examples of why this is important, go ahead and do an internet search for accidents in Yellowstone when people go off the trails. Then you’ll get it.
No One Cares that You Were Here
“This place is amazing! I want people to know I was here! I’m going to scratch my name into the wall.” That’s dumb. Honestly, no one cares that you were here. In fact, most of us would like “here” better if we didn’t know you had already been. Take a picture & move on with your life. “But everyone is doing it!” Also, dumb. I think there is a “jump off a bridge” analogy that would work well here. Most people probably wouldn’t spray paint a wall when they’re traveling, but are you aware that scratching your name into the rocks, trees, bridges, benches or walls is just as bad? Even stacking rocks along a trail is vandalism if they aren’t being used as an official trail marker. Vandalism takes many forms and many tourists excuse their behavior because others have done it too. For example, here in the western United States, we are lucky enough to have beautiful Native American artwork from thousands of years ago both etched & painted onto rock faces. It’s a wonderful thing to see, but nothing ruins it like the words “S & A 4ever ‘18” scratched into the rock right next to it. Well, but there’s also a “Wanda was here 2006” scratched right next to it, so it must be ok, right? WRONG! Two wrongs don’t make it right, it just means there are multiple people who left their brains home and who are selfish enough to ruin culturally significant sites for their own pride. It is wrong and you are literally ruining these significant & beautiful places for no reason. Please, stop.
As previously mentioned, I’m a huge advocate for everyone getting outside & loving the beautiful places all around us. So, by all means, go & explore our public lands that belong to all of us. I only ask that you don’t treat them like a playground or theme park while you’re there. Enjoy, but think of how you can make it better. Think of how you could share your experiences without putting yourself & the fragile ecosystems at risk. Get out. Breathe. Explore. But be smart about it. Become a protector of our beautiful places.
I admit it. I have a problem with bringing too much stuff on vacation. My husband and I joke that I’m a “chronic over-packer,” and it’s true. We obviously travel quite a bit & it takes practice to be able to pack enough to take care of yourself, without trying to fit your entire closet in your suitcase. I’m proud to say, I’m making positive strides, but I’m still a work in progress. That being said, I felt it incumbent upon me to pass along some of the strategies I’ve put in place for myself to try and curb this issue. I know I’m not the only one who packs too much, so here we go! A few thoughts on how to avoid over-packing.
Check the Weather
Whenever we are traveling, I like to start checking the weather at the location we will be going about a week before we leave. I then routinely check it leading up to our departure date. I do this for a few reasons. First, if I know what the weather will be, I can make sure I’m prepared. For example, we have watched many people show up in Florida in January & expect it to be 85 degrees every day. It’s Florida, so it’s hot, right? Wrong. Even warm locales have cold spells & if you’re dressed for 85, but it’s actually 55, you’re going to end up very uncomfortable & in need of buying warmer clothes. The inverse is true as well. Maybe you’re heading to London & you assume it will be 60 and rainy, but they’re having a warm spell, so you’re completely over-dressed. If you check the weather in advance, you can be prepared for what is reality instead of what you assume it will be. It also helps you avoid “packing for everything.” As someone who obviously likes to be prepared, sometimes I go overboard & bring everything I could possibly need instead of paying attention to what I’ll actually need. Don’t do that! Check the weather!
Know What You’ll Be Doing
If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I am a big proponent for having a plan when you travel. I believe that you will always get more done & do the things you actually are interested in if you just put in a bit of research in advance (see “Planning Never Hurt Anyone”). That being said, I believe that it will not only help you have the best time possible on your trip, it will also help you with your packing. I like to look at the activities we have planned & make sure I have the clothes that are appropriate for that. For example, if I know we are going to be exploring trails in a national park, I will make sure to bring good shoes & clothes I don’t mind getting dirty. If I know I’m going to the theater one night, I’ll make sure to bring a suitable skirt or dress. Having a plan allows you to make sure you have what you need for the activities you’ve chosen, but it also helps you know what you can leave home. Only bring what you’ll actually need & use.
Bring Versatile Items
If you know what you’ll be doing & you know what the weather will be, you can then start making specific packing choices. As you do this, I recommend looking for how you can re-use the items you pack. This is particularly relevant to heavy items like shoes, jeans, sweaters, etc. Some travel experts say that if you aren’t going to use it at least three times, don’t pack it (underwear not included). While I can appreciate this, admittedly, I struggle with this one. However, I am getting better at it & I’ve gotten my own packing to where I will try to only pack things I’ll use twice & it really has made a big difference with my chronic over-packing. If you need help on figuring out how you could re-use items you pack, there is a whole movement about using minimalist travel capsule wardrobes. Do a simple internet search & I’m sure you’ll find a wealth of knowledge about it. For me, simply having a plan for my trip, knowing the weather & trying to re-use the heavy items in my suitcase has made a big difference.
Know What Toiletries are Provided
While clothes take up a lot of space & weight in your suitcase, toiletries can make or break you when it comes to packing. I have naturally curly hair that can be pretty unruly, so I have a very specific routine with very specific products & if I were to try & bring all of my full-size products, there’s no way I would have the space or weight available in my luggage. I have a few suggestions if you’re in a similar boat as me. First, take a look at what amenities are available in your hotel. Do they offer soap, shampoo & conditioner? Most do. Do they have a blow dryer? Most do. Once I have the answer to these questions, I then ask, how can I simplify my routine and bring less than what I use at home? For example, if they have a blow dryer, I will often just take my diffuser head instead of the whole dryer. If they have soap, I just bring my travel-size loofa instead of my normal soap too. I have come to LOVE the travel-size section of the drug store. They have travel-size toothpaste, tooth brushes, deodorant, face wipes, shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, etc. If you don’t like the brands they offer, they also have empty mini-bottles you can put your own products in. I would also recommend if you use make-up, try to pair-down what you’re bringing. Trust me. You don’t need all of your eye shadows & lipsticks. Look at what clothes you are bringing & just like them, only bring the make-up that will go with multiple outfits. Doing these things will definitely help you think about what you really need & are taking, and overall, save space & weight in your luggage.
Invest in a Hand Scale
When all is said & done & you’ve done your best not to over-pack, the last tool I recommend to make sure you’re good to go, is a hand scale. Before we invested in one, it always made me nervous as we checked our luggage because I didn’t know if I’d have to do the mad scramble to unload whatever I could into my purse or backpack so I didn’t have to pay the ridiculous fees the airline will charge you when you’re over the weight limit. Has that happened to you? I know I’m not the only one. I’ve seen many other people in that situation as well. It’s not that fun. A simple $10 hand scale will fix this problem for good. You can find them at almost any store near the luggage section or online. You can see a picture of mine above. It allows you to wrap the strap around your suitcase handle & by simply lifting it, it will weigh your suitcase. If you’re overweight, you can fix it in the comfort of your own home instead of having the public see inside your suitcase at the airport. Make sure to pack it too so after you’ve purchased all your souvenirs, you can check your luggage weight on your way home too.
Although I don’t claim to be a packing expert, I do know that the suggestions above have REALLY helped my chronic over-packing issue. We simply don’t need as much as we think we do & as with most things, if we just took a few minutes to really think & make a plan, we could be prepared without bringing our whole closets.
As a travel agent, we are often asked, “Is travel insurance worth it?” Like so many things in life, the answer to this question depends on a lot of factors & is ultimately a personal choice that you as the traveler will have to decide. However, there are some basic guiding principles that can help you determine if it’s right for you & the specific trips you’re taking.
As with most insurance, travel insurance is to help cover the unexpected. No one expects to break their hip riding a bike around the Bahamas, but does it happen? Unfortunately, yes. No one expects their otherwise healthy spouse to have a heart attack & die in the tulip fields of the Netherlands, but does it happen? Unfortunately, yes. No one expects to have their luggage arrive four days late to their week-long vacation, but does it happen? Unfortunately, yes. Life is unpredictable & sometimes just plain messy. Consequently, a little bit of planning & research can go a long way to giving you peace of mind when you travel, so let’s talk about what you should be looking for.
First, as you explore travel insurance options, I would suggest that you look at the coverage you already have. You may be surprised what is already covered under the insurance & credit cards you already carry. For example, many car insurance companies will cover rental cars too. If that is the case, buying the extra insurance when you rent a car may be redundant. Additionally, a lot of major credit card companies have basic travel protection included if you use that card to pay for your trip. What are those details? Is it enough to cover the full cost of your trip? You may also be surprised what is considered “in” and “out” of network for your health insurance. If you’re going to a neighboring state, it’s possible your medical needs would be covered. It is also not uncommon for any medical emergency to be covered by health insurance even if you are out of network, but still in the country. Point being, there are a lot of existing protections that may already cover what you need. Become informed on your existing policies so you do not waste money purchasing redundant coverage.
Second, consider how much money you are spending on your trip & how much of that is non-refundable. Would you feel comfortable losing that money if something came up that prevented you from going? If the answer is no, then travel insurance is probably a good option. This becomes especially relevant for international trips since they tend to be so much more expensive than domestic trips. Additionally, consider if you broke your hip in the Bahamas, and you’ve already determined your normal insurance doesn’t cover anything out of the country, would you have enough money to pay for the care you’ll need and potentially the medivac helicopter home? If the answer is no, then travel insurance is probably a good option. When you consider these types of things, ask yourself if you can afford NOT to buy travel insurance. Once again, if the answer is “no,” then travel insurance is probably a good idea.
Next, read the fine print in the travel insurance policy before committing to it. If you’ve done your research about what existing coverage you already have & you’ve determined you want the extra security of a travel insurance policy, make sure it actually covers what you’re hoping it covers. Most travelers will buy a policy in conjunction with their airfare, hotel or cruise package. This is certainly not a bad option, but the plans tend to be pretty basic with several stipulations to qualify for reimbursement. Typically, these policies will cover delayed or cancelled flights, lost luggage & basic emergency medical. Is that enough? Only you can determine that.
What you may not realize though is these built-in policies are not your only options. You can buy travel insurance on your own & quite often, even tailor it to exactly what you need & want. Based on what you choose & the overall cost of your trip, those things will determine how much your travel insurance will cost. You may not even have to look very far. It is not uncommon for employers to offer travel insurance through the same and/or partner companies of those that provide your existing insurance. My point is, you have options & can certainly receive the coverage you need if you do your research.
Finally, if you’re going to purchase travel insurance, do it well IN ADVANCE. If you purchase it in conjunction with a travel package, most often you will have until your final payment is made to add it, but after that final payment is made, you’re out of luck. If you’re buying it separate from your package, it is recommended that you purchase it within 10-15 days of booking your trip, or the prices may go up and/or the coverage will be limited. That being said, there are some options that allow for coverage to be purchased up until the day before you travel, but you will pay a pretty penny for it. Additionally, don’t think that you can buy it after a trip-cancelling event has already happened. They always ask for documentation with your claim, especially if it’s made soon after coverage is purchased, & if they feel you are trying to “work the system,” they will not pay out. It’s really just best to do your research & purchase it well in advance of your actual trip.
No one likes to think about all the bad things that could happen, but as with so many things in life, if you plan for the worst, but expect the best, you’ll always be prepared & have peace of mind knowing you’re protected. Ultimately, the only person who can decide if travel insurance is worth it, is you. Trust me when I say it’s worth doing your research so you can make informed decisions.
As in most service-based industries, the odd questions and statements we hear from our wide variety of clients can be at times…flabbergasting. That being said, I have also come to learn that people don’t know what they don’t know and it is my job to help answer any and all questions. There are a few things though that come up regularly enough that I feel compelled to address them here. When these fairly common travel misconceptions come up for the 12th time this month, they have me saying to myself, “I don’t understand what you don’t understand.” But again, people don’t know what they don’t know, so here’s my attempt to help to shed some light on some of the most common travel misconceptions we hear from guests on a regular basis. Enjoy!
“One day I’ll be able to afford it.”
We hear people make some form of this statement ALL. THE. TIME. And it breaks my heart. Can’t we just let ourselves dream a little? When someone says, “One day I’ll be able to afford it,” it almost sounds like dreaming, and one may even argue it implies there is a dream down the road. But to me, it feels like there is a negative connotation attached to your dream. To me, it’s like people are saying only IF & WHEN you can afford it, will you start to seriously consider it. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we attach negativity to our dreams? In the meantime, there is a big, beautiful world out there just waiting to be explored. Maybe right now you can’t afford your ultimate dream trip of two-weeks travelling around Europe or the all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean with the over-water bungalow, but what can you do? Can you find happiness where you are right now while making plans for the future? I believe we ALL can. Maybe you can only afford one night at a hotel in a neighboring town. Will you look down your nose at that experience, or will you take the opportunities you can and let yourself just enjoy life? Stop letting your vacation days go to waste while you wait for your big monetary break! Use those vacation days and go as far as the budget will take you. I PROMISE you won’t regret it. It will give you something to look forward to & actually DO while you save up for that grand vacation you’ve always dreamed of. It’s not settling, it’s enjoying life as it is right now. You have plenty of options, but will you take them?
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I realize finances are often THE determining factor in whether or not someone can take a vacation. If you’ve been following my blog the last several months, you know I strongly advocate for having a set budget for vacation before you start planning. I stand by that 100%. However, as outlined in my blog “Plan in Advance, Pay Over Time,” you’ll see that many places allow you make reservations 12-18 months in advance and pay over time. If you know beforehand what you anticipate to be able to save during that time, you can make plans & pay as you go. Additionally, travel agents are trained specifically to help you have a great vacation at any budget (see “Why Use a Travel Agent”). You may even find you can get further than you thought if you do plan in advance & use an agent. There are MANY great options for vacation at any budget. Are there constraints on the amenities you might receive based on your budget? Sure. But having a good time & making memories is possible regardless of how much money you spend, or where you go, so stop saying “One day…” and start making plans today. You won’t know what’s waiting for you until you try.
“I could never go on a cruise – I’m afraid of water.”
No kidding, I’ve heard this at least six times this year from different people at different times. To all of you I say, “Hence the boat.” Now I don’t want to minimize anyone’s fears. I understand there are those that are legitimately afraid of water. Nor do I want to minimize that some people get motion sickness and would not do well on a boat. That is absolutely true, but most of the people who say they’re afraid of water, don’t have motion sickness bad enough that a patch or Dramamine wouldn’t do the trick. That being the case, do you realize you can go on a cruise & NEVER touch the water? Normally when I bring this up, those I’m speaking with will say, “But what if you sink? The Titanic sank.” Yes, but that was over 100 years ago when safety protocols were severely lacking and they didn’t have the state-of-the-art equipment on board like they do now. Ships now are tracking the weather, other boats in the area, and a hundred other factors 24-hours a day. According to the interwebs, your odds of dying on a cruise are 1 in 6.25 MILLION. You’re much more likely to die in a car where your odds are 1 in 645. The safety procedures on cruise ships are remarkable. They are literally floating cities with populations greater than most towns in rural America. PLUS! Everything is right there waiting for you. Accommodations, food, entertainment. You can literally do as much or as little as you want. It is one of my favorite ways to travel & in my opinion, if you’re not trying something that is well-known to be awesome because you’re “afraid of water,” then you’re missing out on a great opportunity. You won’t know what’s waiting for you until you try.
“I hate camping.”
I firmly believe that if you say you hate camping, you’re doing it wrong. “But when I was a teenager, I went to summer camp & had to sleep on the ground & it rained & the other girls made fun of me. It was miserable!” Yep. I know. That happened to lots of people. That’s also not what real camping is like. You don’t have to sleep on the ground, you prepare for the weather, and hopefully, you’re traveling with people you actually like. Camping is one of my favorite things to do. Sometimes it just feels good to be independent, to be outside, to witness the beauties of the earth, to truly see the stars & to wake up with the sun. Camping can take many forms. I tent camp all the time and love it, but we also trailer-camp quite often and love that too. Plenty of people camp in RVs and if you do that, you have a bed, a bathroom & a kitchen that you take along with you. Camping can be a very comfortable experience if you know what you’re doing. I realize this one paragraph will likely not be enough to convince most people, so to you I say, just give it another try. Talk to someone who loves it BEFORE you go to get tips on how to make the most of it. Most travel agents don’t know how to help with camping, but some do, including me. I’d be happy to help you however I can. Trust me. There are just some experiences that can’t be had from a hotel room. You won’t know what’s waiting for you until you try.
“My friend told me…”
Can we agree that ALL of us are guilty of reading a headline & assuming the truth of it without actually reading the article or doing our own research & then we tell someone else what we “read?” We all do it, it’s no secret. However, it perpetuates A LOT of problems in the world, including the travel industry. It’s come to the point though, where we are constantly putting out fires in people’s minds about one thing or another due to what their friend told them, or the headline they saw that said blah, blah, blah. Here’s my best advice. If you want to know the status of what is going on in the industry, go to the source directly. If Disney, or a cruise line, or a hotel chain has a big announcement, they will make it themselves. The rumor mill won’t. Until media publications are quoting directly from the source, take it with a grain of salt. If you still have questions, call your travel agent. We receive updates on the industry DAILY. If we don’t know the answer to your questions or concerns, we will find out. Do us a favor though? Don’t panic when you hear news until you can confirm it came from the source. Stay calm & take the rumor mill for what it is.
If you’ve found yourself saying any of the above, you’re not alone. But hopefully I’ve given you some ideas on how to address the things you say. There are a lot of great options for people of all types & circumstances & we don’t have to let our pre-conceived notions dictate our reality. You won’t know what’s waiting for you until you try. If you need help, we are always here. Check out our website to request a quote: http://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php
Like so many others, I remember exactly what I was doing when I first heard about the attacks of September 11, 2001. I was in ninth grade & heard my older brothers talking about some kind of plane crash as I got ready for school. At that point, it wasn’t clear what was actually happening & I remember one of them saying they thought it was an accident. I went to school not realizing how serious the situation was. When I got there, they had all the TVs in the school turned on. As I hung out with my friends before school started, I remember standing in the common area, all staring at the TV that hung there watching the towers smoke & finally realizing how serious of a situation it was. It was during my first period English class that we watched live as the first tower fell. I remember how quiet it was as we all sat there in shock & my teacher quietly walked over to the TV and turned it off before we had the chance to watch anything else. We then spent the rest of the day, wandering from class to class, our poor teachers trying to help us stay calm & understand. Of course, I came home & as a family we tried to understand it as well, along with the rest of the country & world. I cried many times that day & in the following weeks. I’ve cried many times since when I think of the lives lost to the senseless act of terrorism. I feel it deep in my heart the importance of remembering what happened & the people we lost.
Consequently, when we had the chance to visit New York City many years later, we made it a priority to visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. For me, it felt like a token of respect. I could not in good conscious go to New York City & not visit. I felt the same way when I visited the island of Oahu. I felt compelled to visit Pearl Harbor for the same reason. There are just certain places that though they are the sites of tragedies, they have since been turned into beautiful memorials that we are then allowed to visit. Historic sites in general, whether they be memorials, battlefields, burial grounds, churches, etc., can be some of the best places to visit as a traveler. The history of the world is held in those special places & I believe it is a good & important thing for all of us to visit, learn, show our respect & remember. So how do we do that?
Since we often visit these places of importance while on vacation, it’s easy to let the levity of being on vacation overshadow the fact that we are often, walking on sacred ground. Below you’ll find a few tips for how to enjoy your experience at these important places, but also show respect to the events that happened there.
First, talk about where you’re going in advance. Whether you’re traveling as a family & have kids, or you’re doing a getaway with adult friends, I would encourage you to talk with everyone about these important sites before you go there. Talk about where you are going & why it is important. Everyone has a different perspective & understanding of the world & just because I may understand the importance of a site, that doesn’t mean the people I’m traveling with do. Or maybe none of us understand why a site is important, but we know everyone visits there for some reason. Do some basic research & talk about what happened at these sites before you get there. This allows everyone to put a site in context & in my opinion, you’ll then arrive with a sense of respect that will help everyone govern their behavior in a positive & respectful way.
Second, be respectful of posted placards. This may seem obvious, but there have been many times I’ve visited a memorial & even though there is a sign that says, “Please stay off the memorial,” some kid is being allowed to play on it. Or we go into a church & they have it posted, “Please, no pictures,” and someone is going around taking pictures of everything. I saw this very thing happen when we were visiting Westminster Abbey in London. If you haven’t been there, it is a remarkable place with incredible historic value. Part of that comes from the fact that the church is basically a cemetery. There are hundreds of people buried in the floor & in the walls, so you are literally walking over the final resting place of many. They tell you multiple times as you move through the queue to enter that pictures are not allowed once inside. There are posted placards everywhere saying the same thing. Yet, every few minutes we would hear one of the people working there announce, “No pictures, please.” Or you’d see them approach someone and kindly ask them to put their camera away. Sometimes, it’s not about the next great Instagram photo you’re going to get. Sometimes it’s about appreciating where you are & showing the respect a place deserves. The bottom line is, we are guests in the places we visit & it is not for us to determine that our opinions or wants are above what the stewards of those places have deemed appropriate.
Lastly, though not required when visiting a site, I recommend using provided audio guides or at least reading available signage about a place. This allows you to slow down, take a breath and learn. Allow yourself some time to briefly dive into the specifics of what makes a place important. It’s not just a building or a statue or a relic. Important things happened in these places. People lived & often died in these places we now visit in our abundance as tourists. They have stories to tell if we will only listen. I have found that when I do this, I am often touched and the feelings I experience give me a greater appreciation for those that came before me & it solidifies in my memory the importance of a place. I firmly believe that everyone can feel the spirit & energy of a place by slowing down enough to learn & appreciate.
There are so many wonderful places in the world to visit. Some of the best have the hardest pieces of history attached to them. They are worth visiting & we should visit them. We need to be respectful though. At least understand the basics of why a place is important before you arrive so you can gauge your behavior in a respectful manner. Follow posted placards. Remember, you are a guest and if the stewards of a place ask that you do something, it is your responsibility to do it. Finally, learn all you can. It is our duty to remember the past so we do not repeat it. I firmly believe travel is one of the best educators, but it is only through our respect of the places we visit that history can be heard.
There is something thrilling about dropping everything for a few days and escaping. Sometimes spontaneous trips are the best trips. As with everything though, these last-minute adventures typically come at a cost. Now I know what some of you are thinking. “But sometimes you can get great last-minute deals!” That’s true & last-minute deals can be fantastic, but more often than not, there will be some aspect of your trip that will be more expensive because you waited until the last minute. For example, maybe you got a super cheap cruise last minute, but then your airfare was super expensive. Or maybe you got a great deal on airfare, but hotels are limited due to the short notice, so their prices are higher. Plus, everything has to be paid for upfront. When you wait to book last minute, you have to be prepared to pay for everything at once. Most people’s budgets need a bit more advance notice to be able to accommodate a trip. Fortunately, quite a few aspects of the travel industry allow for payment to be made over time.
As outlined in our blog post, “Help Us, Help You,” the first thing anyone should do before making travel plans is to decide on a budget. I feel this is true for any kind of trip, whether it be spontaneous or planned well in advance. The world is amazing, but you’ll enjoy it more if you don’t have a mountain of debt to come home to. Budgeting & planning in advance can give you the flexibility to save up & pay for your trip over time so you don’t accrue unnecessary debt due to your travels.
Once you have determined your budget, I recommend working with a Travel Agent to help plan your trip. This is for a few reasons (see our blog post “Why Use a Travel Agent”), but a few of the most notable reasons is their ability to help you stay within your budget & to bundle the various pieces to your travel together into a package. Though not the only way to pay for a trip over time, having your travel agent put together a package for you will often give you more flexibility in terms of when you can pay.
For example, let’s say you’re traveling to the Disneyland or Walt Disney World Resort. If you were to buy a hotel or condo off Disney property & bought your theme park tickets separately, you would have to pay outright for those theme park tickets and maybe your lodgings too. If you haven’t been to a Disney park recently, tickets are a large bulk of the cost for that type of vacation and if you buy them separately, they have to be paid in full up-front & they are non-refundable. However, if you plan in advance & bundle your package to include both hotel & tickets on property or at a Good Neighbor hotel, then you could simply pay $200 down when you book & then the rest isn’t due until 30 days before you travel. Up until that 30-days before, you can change or cancel your reservation at no cost to you. This allows you much more freedom than if you purchased them separately. Additionally, as a package you are more than welcome to make partial payments over time, or if you’d rather keep your money accruing in the bank, you can wait until that due date 30 days before to make your final payment. This allows you significantly more time to save your money & spread out the cost of your vacation over several months.
Much like stand-alone tickets, airfare is also notorious for having to be paid for up-front & it is most often non-refundable. If you plan your trip in advance, it allows for large required purchases like airfare to not be such a burden. Maybe you’ve booked your hotel/tickets a year in advance, and have been saving up or making payments over time, but you wait to purchase airfare until three or four months in advance of your trip. Being able to spread out the payments for the other aspects of your package allow you to be able to pay for that airfare when it comes up without any budgetary constraints.
What you may not realize is that occasionally, your travel agent can package your airfare in with other aspects of your trip. This means that your airfare would follow the same rules as your package does. For example, if you were to book a Disney Cruise, you would be required to put 20% down up front & final payment is due 90-120 days before you travel. If you chose to book airfare as a package with your cruise & you select a flexible fare, that airfare gets bundled into your cruise package price as a whole. You would simply pay the 20% of the package price & then pay the remainder when final payment is due or in partial payments over time. Again, allowing for better budgeting in advance.
Besides being able to spread out paying for your trip, booking in advance will most often get you the best deal. There are last-minute deals that are worthwhile, but as previously mentioned, you’ll typically get hit with a larger than average bill in some other aspect of your trip. In general, the longer you wait to book, the more you will pay. For example, Disney is notorious for increasing their ticket prices in either late January or early February every year, but sometimes they do it multiple times per year. If you plan in advance, your ticket prices, or cruise fare, or nightly hotel price, gets locked in, ultimately saving you money than if you waited to book your trip last minute. Plus! If you use a travel agent & a deal does come up, they can often get it applied to your existing reservation. Just one more reason to use them!
Overall, making a budget, planning in advance, & taking advantage of what a travel agent can offer can really help you to spread the cost of you trip out over time. This can make a big difference to your everyday finances so that your trip really is a vacation & not a means to more debt. If you’re feeling unsure, ask your travel agent for help! They want to make sure you stay within your budget & have the best time possible. Paying over time can alleviate a lot of stress on you & your budget, so recognize it is an option. Plan in advance & take advantage!
We would be happy to help you along your way. Please visit our website to request a quote: http://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php