Odd socks and travel – many similarities

It struck me suddenly this last weekend when I was emptying a monster load from the tumble drier.  Well it was a monster load of socks and as we all know the time sucking part of laundry is not the hauling of the hamper down two flights of stairs, nor is it the checking of labels, the sorting into darks and lights, programming for non-spin or hot wash, the pocket checking nor the buttoning up.

No.  It’s those damn socks.  Where do the odd ones go?  I have yet to find a way to keep partners together so that the wash, rinse, tumble cycle progresses into an easy return to the proper sock drawer.  Like a well choreographed dance routine. Something that would get top marks from Dancing with the Stars.

Dream on – the navy sock you thought was a perfect match to the other navy sock is not actually because one has a different type of elastic top.  Why does this bother me?  Because putting two wrong partners together (even though they look very much alike) just doesn’t feel right.  Going through this “pairing exercise” the great rush of elation when I find two perfectly matching socks is quite a rush.  It got me thinking about how sorting socks and booking travel are very similar.

There is nothing quite like the thrill of matching up the right hotel/cruise/vacation with the right people.  Likewise as a travel agent there is nothing quite so sad as seeing someone on a trip that you know definitely should not be there.  I was once part of a walking tour in Rouen France.  90% of us were enthralled with our guide’s summary of the beautiful churches and history of the area.  One couple (well it was him rather than her so I guess he is a bossy husband and she plays the mouse) eventually stormed up to our guide and shouted at him saying that they didn’t come all this way to Northern France to look at churches.  Well I do sympathise to a certain extent (you know what they say about the ABC’s of European tours – Another Bloody Church)  but the tour description was quite clear that we were going to do a guided walking tour of old historical Rouen and no – we were not going to go to the shopping district.

Not easy being a tour guide

Getting to know people and what they want and what they like in their day-to-day lives is what makes us as travel agents different to the internet.  We like matching up the odd socks.  Finding the perfect pair.  Knowing that if you have a client who loves good food and cooking where to steer them for the opportunity to go to a pasta making class in Tuscany or a walk with the ship’s chef into a local market in Croatia.
 Knowing by looking at a particular hotel’s decor or location that your client just won’t like that.   Some might like big names like Hyatt – safe, North American, sterile but comfortable.  Others might want those small boutique style hotels, independent historical buildings with quaint rooms and interesting art work.  Each to his own.

Our job – pairing up those socks.  The right vacation for each and every individual.  Yay – it’s a cool feeling when it happens.  Love it!

Three men in a boat

People have been “messin’ about in boats” for years on the rivers of Europe.  Jerome K Jerome’s book Three Men in a Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog)  (published in 1889) initially started out as a serious travel guide but two weeks on the Thames with a fictitious dog called Montmorency can only be a recipe for comedy.   Interlaced through the comedy are gems of wisdom –

“Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.”

I think there is something about a river which is very calming and that’s why I believe river cruises have become so popular.  Unlike ocean cruises there is no great ceremony upon arriving at a new port.  Once the boat is alongside and the ropes are secured you can stroll off whenever you like.  No need to go through x-ray machines in case you happen to have smuggled a bottle of local liqueur back on board.

There is a whole life on the rivers.  Particularly interesting was the first day or so out of Amsterdam along the canal.  There were many small freight river ships moving supplies such as sand or gravel.  These were obviously family owned boats as the family car was parked on the back and there was usually a dog prancing around barking hello to other passing ships.

And then there are the OTHER river cruise ships – you know – the ones that are not the same brand as you are on.  You check them out with a critical eye.  Do they look better or worse than your ship?  What sort of passengers do they have? And even better when you get to raft next to them.  What is rafting you ask?  OK – well now we have a whole ‘nuther debate here.  Rafting is when your river ship parks next to another one (parallel) so that when you get on or off you walk through their lobby.  Now this can have its down side because you may not be able to use that lovely balcony.  You do however get a chance to check out the competition.  After a rafting experience you will often hear comments from other guests in the dining room with their opinions on the “other ship”.

“Well I noticed that their lobby area is much smaller than our lobby”

“I didn’t hear a word of English on that ship”

“What awful decor!  Looks like my grandmother’s house”

“Yes I thought the other one looked like an Ikea catalogue”

Strange how we justify our own choices and opinions. But that’s OK.  You can’t go very wrong with a river cruise as long as you remember Jerome K Jerome’s words of wisdom about the river –

“The river – with the sunlight flashing from its dancing wavelets, gilding gold the grey-green beech-trunks, glinting through the dark, cool wood paths, chasing shadows o’er the shallows, flinging diamonds from the mill-wheels, throwing kisses to the lilies, wantoning with the weirs’ white waters, silvering moss-grown walls and bridges, brightening every tiny townlet, making sweet each lane and meadow, lying tangled in the rushes, peeping, laughing, from each inlet, gleaming gay on many a far sail, making soft the air with glory – is a golden fairy stream.”
― Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

Whatever happened to the midnight buffet on cruises?

This dinosaur seems to have disappeared.  Remember the old days when the midnight buffet would be the highlight of the evening on a cruise.  The crew would frantically clear away the dining room in preparation for the lay out of a huge extravaganza.  There would be a line up of people waiting at the front door to be let in just for photos or viewing.  No touching people.

Ice sculptures, grotesquely carved water melons – it’s all part of the fun folks.

Seriously –

So what’s a midnight muncher supposed to do.  Don’t worry my little greedy friends.  There are lots of options – just depends which ship you sail on.

Carnival has 24 hour pizza, Norwegian Cruise Lines offers 24 hour pizza room service … all this talk of pizza.  It’s starting to sound monotonous – hang on a minute.  Just about every cruise ship offers pizza.  Some 24 hours a day – some with room delivery – some at special pizza restaurants.  Some even offer fully loaded pizzas.  Now truly this is definitely going to contribute to the 1 pound a day rule.

Luckily most cruise lines now are very sophisticated and offer several dining venues.  There are fine dining restaurants with tasting menus, there are English pubs and in fact restaurants representing cuisine around the world.  Just about every menu comes with light options for the health conscious.  That means that you can order the steamed halibut with a kale salad and then go and pig out on the 24 hour soft serve and sprinkles.

Now that’s what I call a vacation!

Premium economy is here to stay

It doesn’t look like much – just a few inches – but it can make a huge difference to your comfort on the next flight.  Airlines have realised that too – as they continue to squash bums into seats they have realised that those few little inches have become a money making option.

So what does it cost to upgrade to premium economy?  Well it is going to depend on your airline and route – just recently I paid around $200 extra for my KLM flight (that’s per segment) going overseas.    On multiple segment international itineraries you may find the upgrade costs could mount up to over $1800 per person.

So booking a premium economy seat is OK if you can afford it – if you can’t you may end up stuck next to a larger person who is pretty much enjoying your seat as well as their own.  A recent court case is on the go where a traveller is suing Etihad Airlines for depriving him of his comfort on his flight and causing him back problems.  It is easy to sympathise with him – also easy to sympathise with the larger person travelling on the flight.  Clearly airlines are going to have to start addressing this issue.

The other problem is that not all business classes are created equally.  Some offer lie flat beds – other offer albeit large seats that recline a lot but still leave you crumpled in a little bundle at the end of your seat.  It’s like sleeping on a hill!

Another cause of concern is the charge for baggage.  It’s a  nice little income stream for the airlines but it is causing non stop problems on flights where passengers take “carry on” to new limits.  We have all seen it.  One carry on and one personal items turns into two HUGE bags.  Sometimes you have to check that bag at the last minute – despite it containing fragile or valuables.

You gotta get the right seat

It’s very important – and airlines know it.  That’s why so many are charging for the privilege of selecting your seat in advance.  What to do?  Pay up or take a chance with the 24 hour check in.  It depends how neurotic you are about where you sit on the flight.  And believe me – I think most of us are totally neurotic where you sit on the flight.

That’s why websites like http://www.seatguru.com are essential in order to prepare.  Some seats look perfectly innocent on the airline’s website seating plan.  Go check that same seat on seat guru and you will find that it doesn’t recline fully or there is an obstruction on the floor minimising your leg room or maybe it is too close to the washrooms or the galley.  Yup – thank you seat guru people for this advance information.

However it can be a problem knowing up front that you have a crappy seat.  Let’s say you have booked a last-minute flight and you have to take what you can get.  You go onto seat guru and read that your seat has limited recline and limited leg room.  Aaargh – now you have to stress about that until you get to the airport.  Then you can try to change your seat at the gate.  Isn’t it funny how there is always that crowd of people hanging around with boarding passes in their hands and hopeful expressions on their faces.

Unless of course you happen to be that Double Platinum Uber Frequent Traveller – well duh!  Of course they are going to change your seat – right?

Mmmm – maybe not.

The people at the desk have the power.  THE POWER!  They can get onto that keyboard and click away – for AGES – doing stuff.

You ask them nicely.  Always a big smile – that helps.  Click click clickety click.  Don’t try to see what’s on the screen.  It won’t make sense to you anyway even if you could.  Click click click.  Mmm – does her face look hopeful – is there any clue you can glean from her expression.

You did tell her that you have difficulty in a middle seat because of your small bladder.  Explained it was a genetic problem.  If she could … perhaps….it would be wonderful …. really appreciated… realise she is very busy….etc etc.

Still no eye contact but suddenly brrrrp brrrrp brrrp – and your new boarding pass is being printed out.  Here you go – she says.  Just hands out the boarding pass – no information about where or what or if she has changed it.   And then she is off to the next person.

You go back to your seat – sit down and put on your glasses.  Look at the boarding pass.  HOLY MOLY!  You have hit pay dirt!  Aisle seat in emergency exit row.
Yeah Baby!  You take that you Platinum Double Edged Diamond encrusted frequent traveller.  I am a NICE person and I deserve this.

Keeping a straight face…

How do cruise ship workers keep a straight face when asked these sort of questions –

-How does the captain know where to go? -When the captain is sleeping, who is steering the ship? -How many fjords to the dollar? -I am married, but can I still come to the singles party? -Do I put my luggage out before or after I go to sleep? -Is an outside cabin outside of the ship? –

Ice carving What do you do with the beautiful ice carvings after they melt?
Is this island completely surrounded by water?
Are you sure that our oceanview cabin will be above the waterline of the ship?

Why don’t inside cabins have a porthole/window?
Can I use American currency in Alaska?

I want to be on the port side of the ship!  That way I can always see the port!

Do you have to leave the ship to take a shore excursion?

Cruise photographer – Many people ask what we do with unsold photos after the cruise. We say to them that we put them on walls in our cabins. A lot of them laugh but some of them get shocked.

My favorite one is the couple wandering around the photo shop saying ” how do we tell which photos are ours?”

Flight attendants don’t get it any easier either –  Some comments from our hard working waiters in the sky –

We ask, “would you like cream and sugar in your coffee?” and they hesitate like it’s a difficult ‘Jeopardy’ question.

On today’s flight to Belfast, a customer asked me to help her locate her missing tooth in her luggage. When I refused to get into her bag and search for her missing tooth, she has asked the captain for a complaint letter!

I had a woman in first class take off her pants in the aisle (though she was standing next to the lav) and ask me to hang them up for her, while she stood there in her pantyhose!

And the stories go on and on.  Everyone working in the service industry has tales to tell which can shock us, make us laugh and even amaze us.   What have your experiences been?

So how did you miss your flight?

You got to the airport in time – check 

You worked out how to do the self check in – check

You printed out your own baggage tags and put them on properly (wow) – check

You took out all the coins from your pockets, took off your belt, took out your computer, put your liquids in a little plastic bag, took off your shoes and got through security – check

You put your belt back on, your shoes back on, packed your computer away, whew, put your boarding pass in your top pocket so you wouldn’t lose it – check

Found the Starbucks ….. Whaaat!

The line up is longer than the one at security.
In fact there seemed to be no end in sight

What to do?  I have 40 minutes before check in. Will I ever make it?  Can I survive without a double short Americano?  Can I drink airline coffee.
I Never Drink Airline Coffee by CaptainDFW
Those little styrofoam cups do NOTHING for me – honestly.

You know what – I decided to tough it out.  It was like playing chicken.  The line slowly moved and the minutes quickly ticked away.  I rationalised the whole thing.  Was I prepared to miss my flight for a cup of Starbucks?  Well I was doing carry  on and I had a boarding pass so perhaps I would just become one of those famous people.  You know the ones – the announcement ringing out all over the airport.  “Flight XYZ is requesting passenger Lesley Keyter to report to Gate 5.  The flight is about to depart.”  You know they won’t really leave without you.  Right?  Really?  So finally the front of the line – grab the coffee – shove a couple of sweeteners and a stir stick into my pocket and RUN LIKE HELL.  You really don’t want to be that person who boards last having kept the whole plane waiting.  It is not the way to win a popularity contest – especially when the reason for being late is right there in your sweaty paw!