Five months – one suitcase

Ever had the wish to quit your job, pack a suitcase and take a five month sabbatical to seven very different destinations?  My sister made this happen and just got back to Calgary last week (good timing by the way – just in time for some flurries).

I will tell you how she did it, the highs, the lows, the what the hells….
(with her permission of course)

My sister!

First thing you need to know that my sister is very organised.  She planned most of her trip flying business class with points – kudos for that immediately.  I know how frustrating it is and get asked often by clients what is the best way to do this.  My advice (via my sister) is to phone in.  Don’t try to do it on-line.  You need a person – a qualified person – to help you string all these flights together.  So she will make herself a cup of tea and get on the phone and prepare to spend a couple of hours but it’s worth it.

I asked her what the best thing about travelling for months with one suitcase and she told me the sense of freedom and liberation from “stuff”.  She was quite shocked when she came home and realised how much stuff they have that they probably don’t need, won’t use.  They travelled with packing cubes and compartments so they could be up and packed in half an hour and on to their next destination.

For us ladies – the thought of living for five months with one suitcase might be intimidating.  Minimalism and comfort are key.   A little black dress can go a long way.  Just team it up with nice sandals and a scarf and you are done.  Most of the time she dressed for comfort as every day was spent out walking and discovering.

You might think you would grow tired of travelling after five months – maybe a couple of months in you start yearning for your own bed, your own bathroom.  Not so, says my sister.  Every day was a new day – a new place.  If they liked a place lots they would try to stay a bit longer within the confines of their air tickets.  It was an exhilarating and liberating experience.

All those flights …. what did she think?  Well Jet Star was apparently fantastic.  Easy to deal with, very reasonable change fees, superb service on board, in comparison with Qantas which she described as “crap”.  Six hours on an overnight flight and not even a cup of tea.  This is what I call one of the “what the hell” moments.  Unfortunately American Airlines seems to be closely related to Qantas in the level of non-existent service.

Of course on any trip of this length there are going to be the highlights and then the “omg get me out of here” moments.  They had one such night in Auckland . There was a big convention on – no room at the Inn.  So eventually they went to the tourism board who got them into the Hotel from Hell.  Now one thing you need to know about my sister (and me) is that we are very particular and I would rather sleep in a tent than sleep in a crappy hotel.  When they arrived at the hotel there was water running down the walls of the elevator.  My brother-in-law told my sister “Don’t look.  Walk straight to the bedroom. Take a sleeping pill and go to bed.”

Needless to say they checked out the next day and then managed to rent a room in someone’s house.  Not my best I am afraid.  They didn’t have an en suite bathroom but in the true spirit of travelling the world they sucked it up.  It was in a beautiful area of the city and the best thing (according to my sister) – no TV in the bedroom.  Wow – six nights without having to watch sports on the TV.  YAY.

After touring both Australia and New Zealand from coast to coast they started to make their way back to North America.  Because of how the flights worked out they ended up with a few nights in Waikiki on their way to Maui.  Waikiki was a big shock to them after Australia and New Zealand.  I know it is a common sight even on our streets – homeless people, litter – maybe after a while we become inured to it.  But after having spent so much time in Australia and New Zealand they were shocked.

In Australia and New Zealand the beaches are clean.  There are bike paths everywhere with lots of trees and green space.  Every 100 metres of so there are stainless steel tables and benches and big square stainless steel BBQ tables. People clean up after themselves and every morning the parks people come by and check and hose down everywhere.
bbq Filtered water in stainless steel dispensers where you can refill your water bottle.  Beautiful high-end deck chairs positioned along the river (not chained down in case someone steals one).

deck chairs

This place sounds like Utopia.  Why can’t we be more like that.  We are supposed to be a first world country.  Compare the public BBQ facilities in Waikiki….
Waikiki bbq

So after all her months of travelling would she do it again – in a heartbeat!  Calgary will be home for the next few months but after that who knows?

What are your tales of long long long vacations….do tell!

 

 

 

 

 

It’s like riding a bike…

You never forget, right?  I guess that is true for last week was the second time in probably forty years I have ridden a bike.  Although I was a bit nervous at first, having an expert on hand to fit me to the right size bike was certainly handy.  When I had used one of the river cruise bikes in Holland a few years ago I quickly realised that it was way too big and heavy for me so now I was all set up with the right size bike.  Ready steady go!

As I cycled the streets of Victoria I gained more confidence as I realised that the drivers there were very courteous and drove slowly past giving me a wide berth.  Mmm I had to wonder how that would go down in Calgary after seeing so many people speeding through the 30 zone in front of my house.  Some countries even legislate on the space you should give a cyclist when overtaking.

Give cyclists 1 full metre of space while overtaking

Road sign from Tenerife 

My husband had suggested that we ride on the pathway as that would be easier.  NOT.  Trying to dodge lamp posts and pedestrians on this narrow pathway with an ominous looking kerb waiting to “get” me was not that easy.  I said I would rather ride on the street.  OK he says, then ride facing the traffic, it’s much safer.  That didn’t work very well as within a few minutes I was faced with oncoming traffic which was in fact two spandex clad guys on flashy looking bikes.  I stared at them bewildered as to what to do.  They screamed past and I caught the comment from one to the other…”British”.

YES – BRITISH!

Biking is so popular now – especially with us baby boomers – that there are special tours out there that are fully guided, luggage transported from one place to another with five-star accommodation waiting where you can rest up your aching bum.

If you feel you are not up to doing a whole week of biking then why not consider a day or two.  There are some great places to bike – Holland of course is famous for its biking lanes.  The country is flat which is a help (none of those gear clacking, thigh busting hills that I experienced in Victoria).  So many people in Holland bike to work so it is not unusual to see women in suits and heels riding to work – or even taking the kids to day care on their way.

Distracted driving?

Many of the river cruises today carry bikes and even offer guided tours in places of interest.  Just a recommendation however – follow my lead and get some practice in before you go.  Remember – unless you are very well experienced then rather stick with a guided group.  The rules of the road are different in Europe, the road signs may be incomprehensible to you,


and don’t forget about those damn cobbled stone roads.

 

 

 

Is it a boat or a ship

This is something that causes confusion when talking about river cruises – is it a boat or a ship?  According to the website Diffen this is the difference –

“Boat

A boat is a watercraft of modest size designed to float or plane, to provide passage across water. Usually this water is inland (lakes) or in protected coastal areas. In naval terms, a boat is something small enough to be carried aboard another vessel (a ship).

Ship

A ship is a large vessel that floats on water. In traditional terms, ships were considered to be vessels which had at least one continuous water-tight deck extending from bow to stern. Ships may be found on lakes, seas, and rivers and they allow for a variety of activities, such as the transport of people or goods, fishing, entertainment, public safety, and warfare.

Strictly speaking and quite uniquely a submarine is a boat as defined by the Royal Navy. Some boats too large for the naval definition include the Great Lakes freighter, riverboat, narrowboat and ferryboat.”

So then I guess that settles it – a river cruise is a ship.  Except maybe in the case of some of the river cruise ships that became boats when they were transported on special trailers across land for a new river home.  (It’s true!)

So a river cruise is the perfect way of travel for someone who has tried an ocean cruise and … well ….threw up!

It’s an interesting debate – the cross over from ocean cruise to river cruise.   On the oceans the risk is bad weather – while on a river cruise the risk is low water – or high water.  Both cause problems.

Another interesting debate is the size of the river cruise ship.

Yes I have decided it is a ship.

So because of the locks the ships can only be a certain length and a certain width.   Now each river cruise company wants to be different or have something unique to offer their guests and each line touts the value of that particular feature.  Viking has the Long Ships which are the same size as all the other longer ships…. 135 metres long … but has the feature of being one of the most dominant river cruise companies in the world with so many new builds that they made the Guinness Book of Records.  It also is extremely well known because of television ads on the History Channel.  These beautiful commercials give a very accurate depiction of what it is like to travel Europe on a river cruise.  Once you have done it you will return for sure.

New Viking ships christening

So what are the other companies doing that is special or different?  Avalon has adopted the approach that they don’t want to add balconies which will take away from the size of the room (remember – all river cruises can only be a certain width in order to get through the locks).  So the question is – do you really need a balcony when you are on a river cruise?  I guess this is a personal preference but one thing for sure, I love to have at least a window or french balcony so I can get lots of fresh air.

Avalon panorama suite

Scenic cruises have gone the balcony route but have included window type shutters that can enclose the balcony in times of inclement weather – which I would imagine is lots because this is Europe after all.

Uniworld have gone “olde world” with ornate decor and incredible old world service.

Where are you Marie Antoinette???

Yes – there is a lot of choice out there and the deciding factor will be itinerary, availability and of course special offers such as repeat passenger discounts, early booking bonus offers, free airfare ….. I could go on and on and on….But I won’t bore you.  Having travelled on the Rhine, the Danube, the Po, the Garonne, the Dordogne…. OK I will stop.

Just go do it.  Do a river cruise.  On a ship …. not a boat.

 

 

Nobody can sleep on a train

Well I certainly can’t and I have been riding trains since a very early age.  Growing up in England and not owning a car the only practical way to get around was using the good old train.  Those were the days before the high speed trains in England and so a trip from Somerset up to Scotland took hours and hours and hours.  And only the posh people had sleeping compartments.  My poor mother being a Navy “widow” had to take care of three kids and all the suitcases on all the connections all on her own.  Fortunately she was a “looker” and there was always a willing porter around to help hold one of the babies.

Mom

Oh the excitement many years later as a grown up when I got to experience a “sleeper” train with our own compartment.  Such fun making up the beds – watching the countryside go flashing past.  This was in South Africa and the night came quickly so very soon we could see very little from our compartment.  Oh, I thought to myself.  This is going to be amazing. Cuddling down in my bunk being gently swayed to sleep by the rhythmic clatter of the wheels.

Well – no!  I tossed, I turned.  I peeped out the window at every little stop along the way while boxes were loaded and unloaded.  The slow chug chug chug out of the station until we were out on the open rail again when we gathered up speed and then that long lonely train whistle in the night.  Yes – I heard everything.  And I did not sleep.  By the morning pulling into Durban I was a wreck.

And this is a shame because I have always seen myself doing something incredibly romantic like the Orient Express.  But I don’t think I could.  Just think what I am missing out on.  The Ghan speeding through the outback in Australia!  The Blue Train from Cape Town to Johannesburg.  The Trans Siberian Express!  Now there’s a train for you.  Moscow to Beijing in sevendays.  SEVEN DAYS!   Ye gods.   Still if Joanna Lumley can do it then so could I.

Well this doesn’t look too bad.

I could handle a week of that.  Don’t know if I could travel steerage though….
This is the third class cabin on the Trans-Siberian.

Kind of a taste what we are in for with our no-frills airlines maybe?

For me the best kind of train trip is a day time one – preferably non stop in Europe. Fantastic on time service – always love to book over lunch time and treat myself to premium or first class.  Super service while the European countryside flashes past.  Much easier than catching internal flights within Europe.

And then I can get to my next stop without having to go through ABA (otherwise known as Another Bloody Airport) and have a proper sleep in a proper bed.

 

 

The long and the short of it

Flying – that is.  What was supposed to be the longest scheduled commercial non stop flight at 17 hours and 15 minutes actually took less time in the air at only 16 hours and 24 minutes so it still came second to the Qantas flight from Dallas to Sydney at 16 hours and 55 minutes.

Whichever way you look at it – that’s a LONG time to be in the air.   There are many tips and hints on the internet on how to pass time on such a long flight.  The most ridiculous I read was to use the inflight magazine and then make paper hats and use the aisle as your “runway” to exhibit these to your fellow passengers.  That’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever read.  Can you imagine?  Talk about asking the co-pilot to come out with restraints !!

Can I have my hat back please…

While I was searching the internet on that I came across someone who made a hat out of the toilet seat cover and took a self portrait in the toilet.  Yup…..that’s what I call bored.  The devil finds work for idle hands.

Believe it or not some people relish the time on long flights – catch up on reading, film watching, sleeping …. all those activities that many busy people never have time for.  That’s why we absolutely must not have wifi on flights – please no!  I really like having a good excuse for not checking my email.  Right?

There’s only one thing worse than the world’s longest flight – and that is the world’s shortest flight which takes place between the two Orkney Islands, Westray and Papa Westray, just north of Scotland, separated by a distance of only 1.7 miles. Operated by Loganair, the flight duration is officially two minutes, but under ideal wind condition can be completed in only 47 seconds.  So my question is how much time does it spend parking at the airport, waiting in the line up, going through security etc.?

But perhaps they don’t have all that hassle at a small airport like Westray.

I think most people will agree that it is not the length (or otherwise) of the flight that can be the most vexing – it is the time it takes to get on and get off.  It always amuses me at the end of a long flight the minute we land, taxi in and the seat belt light goes off the whole plane (almost) rises in unison and starts getting ready to get off.  Carry on bags out, seat back pocket checked, jacket on, standing up.  Never mind that you are in row 32.  No point in standing up – you definitely cannot get off the plane until the people in rows 1 through to 31 get off.  Never mind – it makes you feel better.  I know – because that’s me.  I do it ALL the time – and it’s so easy because even in a window seat I can stand up without having to duck my head.  Unlike some of my fellow passengers ….

 

Goa & Goodbye

Travel friends are always special and time together in foreign lands bonds like cement….safe travels!

TripsTravel

Goa is the Miami Beach of India. Or if you’ve been to Greece, the Ios of India. It’s beaches and music and drinks and parties and nightclubs and it is catered to tourism. Which I have no problem with. These places exist and they need to exist and if the locals can make a profit from tourism and the natural landscape of it, all the power to them.

Goa was chill for us. We have had a very busy time throughout India, so it was nice to just go to the beach, walk through the markets, swim in the pool and eat without any strict schedule.

Goa was bittersweet for us. While we were happy to be there and experience yet another of India’s states (all of which are vastly different each other), we also knew we would be saying goodbye to about half of our new found friends. We…

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Tipping me over the edge

Tipping – how much is too much and how much is too little.  Is a tip expected?  In countries like Australia and New Zealand hardly anyone tips – it is just not expected.  Same thing in the Cook Islands.  So what’s a poor traveller to do and how much should you tip if at all?

According to the website http://www.thisismoney.co.uk a survey of British travellers showed that 70% of them didn’t research tipping customs for the destinations they were visiting.  This leads to over-tipping – which I guess is not a bad thing from the recipient’s point of view.  My philosophy has always been rather over-tip than under-tip.

The whole tipping thing though does sometimes get out of hand and a good example of this is the cruise line industry.

“There are exceptions, but most mainstream cruise lines pay the men and women who serve their passengers a low base wage (by Western standards). As such, on nearly all big-ship lines, crew members are dependent upon the generosity of travellers for a good portion of their income.” (except from Cruise Critic website).

Now that’s a shame.  But it is also frustrating for guests on these cruises.  For a whole week you have your waiter and bus boy all over you – BFF’s – and then on the last farewell dinner you give them The Envelope!  Next morning at breakfast it’s every man for himself as waiters are getting ready for the next wave of cruisers.  And I understand why they act like that – it is survival.

That’s why it is always surprising and charming when you try to tip someone and they refuse to take it saying that it is their pleasure to assist.  True story – happened to me on a Uniworld River Cruise.  Now they did tell us beforehand that tips are included but this girl had gone out of the way and I just wanted to show my appreciation.  As a traveller there is something really good about being on a trip where you are not taking advantage of other people and that everyone receives a living wage.

I have to admit -I am not very good at this whole tipping thing – probably because my dear husband takes care of all that side of things but I can be a bit of a dope sometimes.  In India last year we were at a fabric warehouse and had watched a demonstration of weaving just in the courtyard.  As everyone was choosing fabrics and shirts I needed the ladies and as this was a pretty smart facility I figured I should take advantage – after all in India you never know!  As I passed through the courtyard the weaving man was still there sitting in front of the loom.

So with a waggle of his head in true Indian fashion he signals me to come over and sit next to me.  Oh that’s sweet I think.  He starts showing me how to weave the wool and I did a couple of lines (or whatever you would call them).  I gave him and nice smile and said thank you and then of course he signalled that you wanted some money.  At the same time he put his finger to his lips to indicate that it would be a secret because clearly he wasn’t allowed to do that.  So of course I gave him some money – I was so embarrassed at being caught in this old trick that I didn’t even check how much.  So much for me – the seasoned traveller!  On the plus side however I hope it made his day and he could go home that night to his modest little hut and show his wife – “Hey look what I got from this stupid English lady today!” and his wife will clap her hands and jump up and down and tell him what a smart and clever husband she has.  Wish I could have been a fly on the wall!