THE INTERNET IS SO CONFUSING

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)

 

 

 

 

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Old age is not for sissies …

“Old age is not for sissies” … A favourite saying of my mom’s.  Whenever something came her way – as it does when you get a little bit longer in the tooth – she would laugh it off in this way.  Looking around the world today there are a lot of older people who leave everyone else in the shade.

Take Bette Nash for instance.  She is a flight attendant who is 81 years old.  Yes – that is a hard job, on your feet pushing a trolley on a bumpy airline.  She loves it.

bette nash

Bette has been doing this job since she was 21 –

bette nash young

In those days you had to be a certain height and a certain weight and if you put on a few pounds you had to go on a diet in order to keep your job.  However Bette says that over all those years travellers have not changed.

“The people are exactly the same. Everybody needs a little love” — especially at 30,000 feet in the air at 6:30 in the morning.”

Despite all the little aches and pains that come to bother everyone as we get older, the fact is that baby boomers (and older) are working longer and travelling more.   Certainly cruising has changed so much that there are now many adventure style excursions and I was pleasantly surprised to find people much older (and much fitter) than me participating in pretty tough hikes in Chile.  Older travellers are no longer content to sit in a deck chair and watch the world go by.  They are out there in force!

Even backpacking holds no fear for this new generation of hardy travellers.

How about John Waite from Australia – at 89 years old he is probably the world’s oldest backpacker.

worlds-oldest-backpacker

He stays in hostels when he travels and says he doesn’t mind dormitories because he was in the army and got used to that.   When he checks into a hostel he is usually greeted with a warning that this is a place for young people and you won’t be able to sleep because it gets noisy at night.  He shrugs that off saying that if he can’t sleep he will just join in with the crowd.  He shares his stories and meetings with Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama.  Amazing.

Waite

He had his fair share of adventures too – getting stoned in Islamabad because he was wearing shorts and getting robbed in Mexico.  He did put up a good fight to quote him

“I had a bad feeling walking down this street and then suddenly there was this guy with a short length of pipe,” he says.

“He made a rush for me and I lashed out and caught him in the balls and he yelled and screamed and dropped the pipe.”  (courtesy of interview with Michael Turtle – travel blogger).

As you can see – getting old is not for sissies – it is for amazing people like this who just go out there and do it.  I hope I can join their club!

 

Avoid non-essential travel

You may have come across this advisory – “Avoid non-essential travel”.  It is currently in place at the moment with regard to parts of Egypt (to name but one destination).  It is wise to take notice of this advisories but I had to chuckle at one of our more adventurous clients who is currently planning a trip to Egypt.  When Donna drew his attention to the advisory he answered –

“But my trip is essential – I just HAVE to go”!

travel quote 2

It made me think about how important travel is in our lives.  It always is so amazing to share the joy that people experience when they first start to travel.  Sometimes they may be a little older …. maybe they have been busy working, saving up, raising families and then suddenly with a little more time on their hands and some savings in the bank they can indulge their life long passion to go travelling.

At first it may be somewhere that feels “safer”.  Maybe a trip to England where everyone speaks the language and the only difference is the currency and the fact that they drive on the “wrong” side of the road.

london

After this, our essential traveller becomes a bit bolder – venturing out into Spanish towns and Tuscan villages, bringing back tales of new friends and a vocabulary of foreign sayings.

tuscan cooking class

Now we are usually on a roll.  During these trips our essential traveller has met other essential travellers who have shared tales of exotic locations, strange meals, elephant back rides, temples and prayer meetings with monks.  Our essential traveller is intrigued.  Now that those first hesitant steps are in the past a trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, China, India …. it all seems closer and somehow even more irresistible.  And the friendship of strangers stays in our hearts for ever.

image

Each new journey leaves a lasting effect, a change in world view and an insatiable appetite to see more and experience more.

Is it a drug?  Is it an addiction?  No – it is essential to our growth as human beings.

Don’t cry for me …

Remember the words … Don’t cry for me Argentina!   Evita Peron – love her or hate her …she left her mark on Argentina and any tour you do in Buenos Aires is going to take in some part of her history.

Our tour guide took us to Recoleta Cemetary which is like a mini city of above ground tombs.

recoleta cemetary

Of course a visit to Evita’s tomb which is decorated daily with fresh flowers. Back on the bus the tour guide made it clear that she was not an Evita fan – personally I don’t know enough about the history – but what was interesting is that Evita still is able to evoke such passion.

But Buenos Aires is a passionate place.  Just think about the tango – a dance that was once frowned upon in polite company.   It is a dance that has influences from African and European culture and former slave people of South America.  The dance originated in lower-class districts of Buenos Aires and Montevideo.  Just about every corner in popular places like La Boca and El Caminto you can find tango entertainment at street cafes.

Tango

Buenos Aires is a huge city with a population of 3 million but another 13 million call the great Buenos Aires home and commute to the all areas of the city.  And yet – the traffic is strangely quiet for such a passionate country – not too much hooting and everyone seems to keep their cool.  And they love their dogs …. All over I saw dogs – mostly in Buenos Aires with owners or dog sitters / walkers.  Now this is apparently a well paid job.  You need someone trustworthy who you can provide with your house key and who will collect your dog each day – along with 5 or 6 others – and take them for a long walk.  It is obvious that both the dogs and the walkers enjoy this.

dog walkers

One of our lecturers on board the Silver Muse said that Argentina is a country inhabited by Italians who speak Spanish and think they are British.  Indeed all around the influence of British culture can be seen in the many cafes in Buenos Aires offering afternoon tea with sandwiches and scones.

La Biela

There are so many areas of Buenos Aires to discover – parks, flowers and amazing trees.
tree

Argentina is a big country with lots to offer.  I travelled to the End of the World (Ushuaia), ate some amazing beef, met some incredible people and there is still so much more to see there – the winelands, Iguassu Falls, the campos and the gauchos.

I guess I will just have to return ….

 

 

 

Yes we can wear Lycra

You know we baby boomers are pretty amazing!   I have been observing my fellow passengers on the Silver Muse and most of them seem to be retired – or nearly!  That does not stop them getting out there and doing everything that someone 20 years or so younger would be doing.

Take the gym for example – every time I go there it is full.  Treadmills are going, elliptical machines are grinding away and the weights section is busy with silver haired granddads getting buffed.

Shore activities like hiking, trekking, biking and canoeing fill up quickly.  Yes – we are not our parents.  Today’s seniors know the value of following a healthy diet and exercising regularly.

What’s the motivation?  Apart from living a healthy life it is the fact that the clock is ticking.  How many times do you get that post from facebook with Remember this from 5 years ago and you go “OMG – I can’t believe that was five years ago.  Where did the time go?”  It’s slippery this time thing…. just slips through our fingers and that’s why we have to make the best of every single day of our lives.

So take some time to think about this.  You might not be able to afford a luxury cruise but that’s not the point.  Get out there and enjoy.  Go to Banff for the weekend.  Take up biking again.  You know what they say – you never forget – it’s like riding a bicycle.

Let’s show the younger generation that we – the baby boomers – are a force to be reckoned with and yes we can wear Lycra.

The town of dogs and wool

What a strange little town – Puerto Montt – on the coast of Chile which was one of our port stops on our cruise around the Horn of South America.  I started off with a brisk walk to the downtown area an en route stopped to see the cathedral which is apparently the second oldest in the world.  It was certainly unspectacular but evidently much loved. Locals seemed to stop in frequently for a quick prayer or a moment of silent thought.  The people here seem to be very devout and I was shamed to have realized that I did not make the sign of the cross as I entered.  My old Mother Superior would be shocked – or maybe not ….. but that’s another story.

Right next to the main square is a bright shiny new mall which was a handy place for a bathroom break.  I headed in there for a look around and felt that some weird teleporter machine had whisked me back to South Centre in Calgary.  It was exactly the same – marble floors, brand name stores and escalators galore … and that incessant mall type music which somehow drives me insane after just half an hour.  I had to get out.

A long walk along the promenade which was busy with backpackers, buskers and lots and lots of stray dogs.  The backpackers looked tired and burdened down with huge packs both front and back.  I did see a hostel along the way and I had to thank my lucky stars that I was not spending the night there.   But the dogs…. oh my goodness … there were so many in various stages of neglect.  It was quite upsetting although the dogs seemed to be well fed but very ungroomed.  Local people fed them bits and pieces and they pretty much left you alone.  I was worried that they might be a bit aggressive but they were not at all.  So I guess the local people love dogs.  It’s a bit like some towns in Europe you go to and there are tons of cats – I never saw a single cat – this is a dog town for sure.

Next stop was the market and wow – what a great visit that was.  We definitely saved the best till last.  Stall after stall of hand made articles in wood, leather and wool.  Bales of wool abounded being spun and twisted into yarn.  Handmade jewellery, leather and even shops dedicated to all things horsy such as hand made tack, spurs and saddle blankets.

An interesting and strange town with friendly people and yes ….. lots of dogs.

ARE WE THERE YET?

Do you remember those long road trips as a kid?  They seemed to go on forever and yes we nagged and nagged to find out how much further.  I am dating myself now but I clearly remember us three kids in the back of the car in the era before seat belts standing up and leaning over the front seats so we could have a good view of the road ahead.

carseat-meme

There was no such thing as video games, ipads or head phones.  What on earth did we do to while away the time?

Well we would have a good fight every hundred or so miles.  If someone encroached on your space in the back or touched their elbow to yours then everyone had a hissy fit and dad would stop the car on the side of the road in order to give us all a hiding.  As I said – I am dating myself here.  Today’s parent would never dream of doing anything like that.

sit down

When we got tired of fighting we would sleep – all over each other.  It was probably the only time you were allowed to take up someone else’s part of the seat.

Then someone would always throw up.  I am talking about long journeys here – 8 hours or so on windy roads up through the heart of Britain.  My dad would get so cross he would not stop.  I think we made a bit of a spectacle of ourselves going around the traffic circle in the centre of Bristol.  Me out one window and my sister out the other.

Things are different now.  Most of us fly these long distances and for kids a plane ride is usually exciting.  There must, however, be those kids who do so much flying around the world that it just becomes boring – like those long 8 hour car drives.

So what is the solution?

Emirates has one! They have teamed up with Dr Sandi Mann, a psychologist and boredom specialist at the University of Central Lancashire to find a solution. Dr Mann has worked with the airline to create the Child Boredom Quotient (CBQ), helping parents identify the exact moment their kids will get bored so they can enjoy stress-free travel.  You can read the whole article here ….  http://travelwirenews.com/emirates-airlines-hires-boredom-specialist-to-keep-kids-entertained-485554/

As I read through the article I couldn’t help chuckling.  I could just imagine my Dad’s comments.  Let’s just say he was not that politically correct!
Really