Who needs a paper ticket?

Do you love the digital age?  When you travel do you really need a paper ticket?  Of course you don’t……  so why oh why do I always carry paper on me when I travel.

I print a copy of my e-ticket (doesn’t that sound stupid?) and I also print a copy of my insurance policy and of course a copy of my hotel reservation.  Poor trees – I know I am not helping BUT I have also been in the situation when I have arrived at a hotel and have given them my name so they pull up my reservation.  Instead of having to quiz them on whether or not I have the breakfast included or the fact that I have pre-paid I just produce the piece of paper that shows that I paid in advance or I had a special request on file.  Just think about it – the power of paper is still there.  The difference between showing the check in clerk a digital copy of your reservation on your phone vs. showing him a print out.  It’s way more powerful.  BUT … I do need to change my ways.

Daily I get bombarded with offers of a new technology that will enable my clients to travel the world paperless!  Hah! Good luck with that.  I am not sure that will ever happen.  Yes it sounds wonderful – just enter all the information of your client’s travel into the app and send them the link.   Would that be a let-down?  After working for months on a customised 18 day itinerary with hotels, tours and trains would a link in an email diminish our work and their excitement?

Then there is the tangible aspect to consider.  You just booked a luxury cruise – let’s say it cost you $30.000 for you and your wife.  Now don’t faint…. I did say luxury.  Don’t you want more than an internet link to your booking.  Of course you do!  You want the special folder with the cruise line logo – you want a printed itinerary – you might even want the fancy luggage tag.  We did have this situation when someone came in to pick up their documents and the cruise line had told us “Oh everything is electronic these days – e-tickets you know – it’s the new thing”.  So we printed out the tickets for the client.  It was the least we could do.  He comes in and looks at the envelope and says “So is this all I get for $30.000?”

Having said that I recently did a clean up at home – I am going through a purge – a declutter if you like.  Going for the stress-free minimalist thing.  I came across seven or eight travel wallets and luggage tags – used once – never to be again.  What a waste!

You see part of travel – sometimes the best part – is the anticipation.  The months of planning that takes place, the research, the chatting with friends about this tour or that cruise and what they thought.  It’s a big thing – but it’s fun.  (That’s why we love our job!).  So yes – when you come to pick up your tickets you want something “real” – not an app.

Don’t get me wrong – e-tickets have helped a lot.  Back in the good old bad old days when we used to issue paper tickets it was a process.  If the printer was down then you wrote out the tickets.  Horrible red carbon paper and 4 copies of everything and God forbid you tore out the wrong sheet – then your passengers were going to have a hell of a time at the airport – because we know how flexible airlines can be 🙂

But let’s also be careful about when we use paper – while I believe it is important for clients to have a printed ticket is it really necessary to have so many pieces of junk mail go through our postal system every day.  It just gets dumped.  Hopefully into the recycling bin.  I have had people come into my office angrily demanding that I stop sending them these bulky cruise brochures.  Honestly – it’s not me!  I can’t imagine a bigger waste of paper or money.  I guess the only one that benefits is Canada Post.  Can you believe the paper industry is growing at an amazing rate.  Just look it up with Mr Google.  Sales in the US of billions and billions of dollars.  This is a good industry to be in.

David Unger sums it up really well in a good article with this extract –

“And then there’s tissue. It may not be the first thing we think of when we think of paper, but Big Paper is indeed very much in the business of selling toilet paper, facial tissue, paper towels and “feminine products” – and business is good. You can’t blow your nose into an email. In the end, we are material. We have inputs and outputs. We require physical receptacles. And more of us are on the way. RISI foresees a 3% annual rise in global tissue demand through 2018, and a 1.4% rise in global paper demand overall.”


The answer might be (in our industry at least) to just ask the question – “Would you like a paper ticket or an e-ticket.”  If they say e-ticket just close your eyes and listen hard – you will hear the rain forests whispering  …… “Thank you”



Have you seen my travel journal?

You will have to look hard because I don’t have one – and I think I am not alone.

Over the weekend I popped into Chapters for a quick browse and was intrigued to see a whole table with beautiful journals specifically for people to record their travel adventures.  Some came equipped with handy little pens on the side and cute titles such as this –


It’s a great thought – just picking up that book and holding it made me feel like I should go travelling.  Imagine the stories I could fill this book with.

  • Like the time our Italian taxi driver started crying  Read the post
  • Like the time I slept in a telephone booth in Dallas
  • Like the time I found someone’s undies in the drawer of the hotel room I just checked into
  • Like the time the taxi driver ran out of petrol while driving around the Arc de Triomf in Paris rush hour …. (was it “cochon” that he shouted?)

Sadly – or not – it seems that travel stories have now migrated to the internet.  Do you remember when you first heard the word blog?  Actually short for weblog as in…

A blog (a truncation of the expression “weblog”) is a discussion or informational website published on the World Wide Web consisting of discrete, often informal diary-style text entries (“posts”).

The blog then became the vlog when it seems the written word was not good enough and we migrated to video – thanks to youtube.  Frankly I think that is a horrible word – Vlog.  Yuk!

What’s puzzling to me is that there is obviously still a market for travel journals otherwise the wise folks at Chapters wouldn’t be investing shelf space for them.  So somebody is buying them.  Are they bought as gifts for other people only to be relegated to a shelf at the back of the closet or … even worse …. re-gifted??

I am sure (and I hope) that I will get comments from people who have religiously filled up many of these books with their travel stories.  I also hope that they get to keep them and share them with others.  For me a blog is the best way to go – it’s easy to store (in the cloud) and while others might not want to read them they do help preserve memories for me of the funny, terrifying, lovely and absolutely fabulous things that can happen when you travel.

Old vintage typewriter

So you think you are brave…

Adventure travel is supposed to be … well …. an adventure and to some people that means taking a deep breath and saying to yourself over and over –

“I am not scared of …..  (insert your particular paranoia here, be it spiders, heights, dying, falling, weird food) and I am absolutely going to do this.”

First of all I am a coward.  Just doing a guided bike ride in Amsterdam had me quivering with fear but determined, nonetheless, to do this or regret it forever.  It worked out fine.  I wobbled a lot, concentrated so hard I was exhausted at the end, but I did it and I felt great about it.  A recent trip to Costa Rica brought more challenges as the group had signed up for a zip lining excursion.  Oh I had the option to cop-out and go and do a sedate boat cruise on the river but … wow …. ziplining!  How many times had I seen youtube clips friends had posted to facebook?  How many selfies can you take on a zipline?  How many times would I see this featured on BBC Travel Channel?  No – I had to do it.

It was only on the bus ride there that my first misgivings started to fidget around my heart, clustering together and setting up a nest there, raising my pulse slightly and making me second guess myself.  Then the guide came around with the forms – you know the ones where you totally forgive everyone on the planet if you should happen to slip and plunge to your death.  Yes, those ones.

OMG – I hate making a scene and I was afterall on the bus and committed.  So I signed the forms and started to think happy thoughts.

Finally we arrived at the base where we were given a talk on how to wear the equipment and what to do and how to zip.  All well and good.  They were all lovely people and very knowledgeable and the equipment looked top class.  Oh yeah – I am totally going to cream through this.

Right – off we go.  To the first platform where we climbed up and clipped on.  One by one getting to the edge.  No going back now Lesley.  Don’t close your eyes idiot – that’s the whole point of being there.  I took a leap of faith – literally – and jumped off.

Oh Wow – adrenaline overload – never saw a thing.  Got to the next platform.  Deep breath.  Thinks to self – Yeah girl – you rock!

Now imagine if I hadn’t done that.  How disappointed I would have been with myself.  My fear seems to be of killing myself or at least hurting myself badly.  Others however have other fears.  The fear of spiders – this is very real.  There are courses you can go on to get you over this particular fear.  Now myself – I am not really scared of spiders.  Yes of course growing up we would all scream when there was a spider in the house and jump on the nearest piece of furniture and the only person able to save us was my mother.  (Yeah my dad was on the furniture with us too!)  When I moved to Africa, however, it was a case of either get over it – or get over it!

My first scary experience was deep in the Transkei province of South Africa.  We were driving to Umgnazi River Bungalows and the only way there was on a dirt road.

umngazi River bungalows

Umngazi River Bungalows in the 70’s

As we travelled and travelled I began to realise how remote this place was.  We arrived at the Bungalows late at night – our accommodation being what they call a rondavel.  A round building with a thatched roof.  There was no electricity – the generator went off at 10 pm – and there were spiders and geckos everywhere.  What was worse was that you couldn’t see them on the thatched ceiling so of course my imagination doubled their size and tripled their numbers.  I spent a sleepless night with a torch in my hand intermittently checking the ceiling and no doubt giving the geckos a sleepless night too!

Every experience makes us grow and (after a long while) I went from this to sleeping out in the open under a tarp when we had forgotten our tent.  We were on the banks of a crocodile infested lake with leguaan (rock monitor) lizards rustling past us in the grasses and goodness knows what else.  I slept like a log although I did wake up in the morning covered in bites of some sort.

So next time you travel and you are faced with a challenge think about how amazing you are going to feel about yourself the next day – even if at the moment you think that you are going to throw up!  It’s worth it – honestly!

Killing time at the airport

That inevitable announcement – or even worse just an update on the screen – your flight is delayed – AGAIN.

This unfortunately has been the scene at many airports over the Christmas season.  A combination of woes such as the bad weather, de-icing machines not working and US customs computers going down.  People ended up spending hours and hours and hours at airports all around the world.

So where’s the good side in this?

OK – don’t shout at me all together.  You have to suck it up, you know that.  It’s frustrating when your flight is delayed due to airports not having a back up system for example but when your flight is delayed due to high winds or bad weather – well come on!  Are you a risk taker because I certainly am not.  So let’s look at the good side and how to while away the hours when your flight is delayed.

Find other delayed passengers and have a good bitch.  Misery loves company and people love to share their stories.

Schmooze the check in desk agent – be nice!  Sympathise with them having to deal with grumpy people.  Make sure you let them know that it is not their fault and it must suck to have their job in this situation.  You never know – when the flight does get the go ahead and they start boarding you will stand out and maybe even get an upgrade!

Pay for one of those massage chairs and then pretend to be asleep when your time is up.  They are really comfortable.

Go walk.  These airport terminals are HUGE.  If you have a fitbit even better.  Just think how many steps you will be able to do and you will probably sleep like a log when you finally do get on your flight.

Use the free internet at the airport and watch some films.  If you haven’t had any downloaded in advance maybe you can connect onto Netflix or one of those streaming services.  Sign up for the free trial if necessary.  Then treat yourself to a good laugh and watch Airport.

By the time they call your flight you will be laughing your way to a first class upgrade, your back nicely loosened up from the massage, feet tingling from your Fitbit marathon, chatting to your new BFF’s.  It’s a win!

Now it is pay back time

Yep …. the fridge is full of tupperware containers with left over turkey and ham.  Funny how there isn’t any left over fruit pudding (yes I know – you either love it or hate it).  Our recycling bin is full to the brim.  I did indeed step on the scale this morning – OUCH!!!

Let’s not even talk about credit cards or bank balances – it seemed that there was always ONE LAST THING that I had to buy as a stocking stuffer.  But it’s Christmas!  And I even have a Grinch Christmas tree and a Christmas onesie – so this year I fully embraced the season and you know what – the season embraced me back.

I do hope that you and yours had a wonderful Christmas too – let’s just forget about 2018 for now …. we have a few more days grace before that descends!


When Santa’s suit is just too hot!

Pity the poor Santas in warm places around the world.  Those big boots, the hat, the beard.  Imagine doing that in temperatures of 30 degrees.  But it happens – every single year.  Growing up in South Africa it was common to see Santa on the street in front of the malls ringing his bell and spreading good cheer.  Even in sleepy little Mbabane in the hills of Swaziland where my children grew up we had a Santa.  In fact the tradition is still going strong as I saw from recent posts of my Swaziland friend.

Santa in Mbabane

Throughout Africa Santa is a welcome visitor and you may see him not just in the fancy shopping malls but even in the middle of nowhere working hard to spread good cheer.

Santa on a bike in Africa

Whew – that looks hot.  Never fear – technology is here with a specially designed Santa cooling vest.  I kid you not.  This would come in handy in some of these very hot destinations.  Some Santas have it figured out however and were lucky enough to find a billet on board Paul Gauguin cruises in Tahiti.

Santa PG cruises

Most of us (adults at least …. don’t tell the kids) know that Santa Clause derives from St Nicholas as the internet tells us (Mr Google just knows everything)  – “The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. … By the Renaissance, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe.”  Well of course he would be the most popular saint who arrives every year bearing good tidings and gifts.

Many of us also have read the story that the Santa Claus as we know him today with the red suit was invented by Coca Cola to promote their product – but again – Mr Google sets us straight on this –

“Images of Santa Claus were further popularized through Haddon Sundblom‘s depiction of him for The Coca-Cola Company‘s Christmas advertising in the 1930s.[7][36] The popularity of the image spawned urban legends that Santa Claus was invented by The Coca-Cola Company or that Santa wears red and white because they are the colors used to promote the Coca-Cola brand.[37] Historically, Coca-Cola was not the first soft drink company to utilize the modern image of Santa Claus in its advertising—White Rock Beverages had already used a red and white Santa to sell mineral water in 1915 and then in advertisements for its ginger ale in 1923.[38][39][40] Earlier still, Santa Claus had appeared dressed in red and white and essentially in his current form on several covers of Puck magazine in the first few years of the 20th century.[41] “


There are however some Santas who cope very well with the heat – but then they know how to dress.  I was going to finish off with a picture of an over-heated Santa.  So I searched online for “hot Santa” and got this ….. I think it’s a keeper!

hot santa


We all thought the internet was going to make things easier – but it hasn’t.  As it grows it gets harder and harder to navigate through all the results that come up on your screen.  Just think how the internet has grown.  In 1995 there were 16 million users around the world.  At that stage that was 0.4% of the world population.  Fast forward to today – can you believe that there is an astounding 3,885 million users making up 51% of the world’s population.  (http://www.internetworldstats.com/emarketing.htm)

The interesting thing is that 20 years ago many said the day of the travel agent was gone and to a certain extent many of the travel products that travel agents used to offer are now much easier to book online.  Flights are usually best booked directly on the airline’s website rather than third party online travel agencies.  A war has been brewing between the airlines and the online travel agencies because, frankly, the airlines don’t want to be controlled by third parties in this manner.  Think about it – if you go onto expedia you get options from all the airlines.  If you go to American Airlines direct, for example, you are only going to get AA flights – but perhaps you will get the best pricing that way.

People are surprised when they walk into our agency for a flight and are told that we do not offer an “air only” service.  Of course, we do airfare but we do this in conjunction with one of the many customised itineraries or cruises that we offer.

Just recently I booked flights to South America with United Airlines.  I am a travel agent.  I booked my flights directly with United Airlines on their website.  When I was in the middle of the booking process checking out economy class tickets I was offered the opportunity to buy a “bundle” for premium economy upgrade.  I was curious – I looked at some of the third-party websites and no such option existed.  Hah!  United Airlines had outsmarted Expedia and Friends by offering something direct to the customer.

There is also the huge growth of what I like to think of as bogus websites.  Let’s say you are looking up pricing for a cruise.  Incidentally if you just put cruises into google you will get over 3 million results … good luck with that!  But you know which cruise line you want so you just go into google and type, for example, ABC Cruises.  You try it – put into google the name of your favourite cruise line – it could be Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Oceania – whatever.  I put in one of these and got over ONE MILLION RESULTS.  Holy cow!

Pity the poor consumer who has to go through all of that.  And just when he or she thinks that they have the genuine website and they click they realise that they have gone to a third-party website who has somehow used the name to cannibalise it into a website of their own.  Admittedly, cruise lines are trying hard to stamp out this practice.  Most of them have strict guidelines on the naming of websites containing their names.  It is not surprising then when people are shocked to learn that they have booked with an online agency when they thought they were booking with the cruise line directly.

And you know… it is not just the booking of the travel … that’s just the beginning.  Once you are booked you have questions and you can’t speak to the computer.  So that’s when you need a human …. Unless you are happy to spend an hour or two looking through the FAQ and still being puzzled and not even sure if you are interpreting the answers properly.

Honestly, I have lost count of the number of people who phone up or walk into the agency wanting help with unexpected schedule changes, visa information for flights they have already booked, questions about dress code and transfer information on the cruise that they booked with an online agency.

I really think that there are just some things that technologies cannot do.  Example, if we do have a schedule change for a customer on a flight we don’t just accept the first thing that the airline offers.  We check out all the options and see if it is in the customer’s best interest – not the airline’s.  That takes time, phone calls and research.  By a human.  That’s why I laughed out loud when I read this statement by the new CEO of Expedia.

“Okerstrom outlined a future where leisure travelers could begin to benefit from technologies already in use by Expedia’s corporate arm, Egencia. A family facing a flight cancellation could automatically receive notice with new flight and/or hotel options. The solution is not far off from becoming reality, the CEO said.”    (http://www.travelweekly.com/Travel-News/Travel-Agent-Issues/Expedia-CEO-Technology-will-win-the-day-in-travel)