Nature’s sense of humour


Many people travel to experience Nature’s wonders – the migration of the Serengeti, the gorillas of Rwanda, the penguins of Antarctica, the amazing waterfalls, mountains and forests of this world.  But sometimes we think that we are the traveller going to experience Nature – we are in control of where we go and what we do.  We are after all superior beings – are we not?  Nope – I think Nature has us there and loves to exercise her sense of humour as often as she can.

Take this gorilla – All he is doing is hanging out in his back garden having a munch only to see these strange creatures struggling through the jungle.  He just can’t believe his eyes.

laughing gorilla

Nice hat????

mosquito hat

Let’s say you plan a trip to Antarctica.  Well it seems that you are going to end up wearing a lot of clothes.  Special boots, snow trousers, special monogrammed parkas.  Well at least that is what the majority of tourists wear.  So what do you think the local seals thought about this chap?


This is what they thought – and they are still laughing.


And when you go on safari and you have driven all day looking for animals and have had no luck at all – you come around the corner and run into an elephant with an itch.  A serious itch.


Try explaining that one to the rental car company.    You see Mother Nature is in control for most of the time – that is until we start clogging the seas with plastic straws.  But she fights back – again and again –

tree eating   flooding


The interior of an abandoned building where the floor has completely decayed and has been replaced with overgrown plants. (Thomas Windisch/Caters News)

Maybe we should cheer her on!








How to complain

When you travel stuff happens.  We know that.  Flights are late, transfers don’t arrive and sometimes hotels don’t meet up to your expectations.  Having been in this business for more years than I care to confess online I have seen a wide range of travel problems and also a wide range of how different people (and companies) deal with this.

Getting there – the flight – Wow.  Is there anybody out there who has never been impacted by a delay, a cancellation, a “we’ve run out of meals” situation, a mix up in seat selection?  If there is please let me know because that would amaze me.  I remember boarding a flight once in New York with my family (2 adults and 2 kids) with our seat selection clearly stated on the boarding pass only to find once on board that the row we were assigned to did not exist.  We stood to one side while a harried looking flight attendant got everybody else on board while she tried to figure out where to seat us – and yes – we wanted to sit together.  She had the brilliant idea of upgrading us to business class (thank you very much) until she realized we had 2 kids (5 and 12) and suddenly it appeared that we were not eligible for an upgrade.

I think we deserved business class!

I didn’t complain at the time – or afterwards.  Should I have?  I might have got a voucher for future travel from the airline but in the moment all I really wanted was four seats together for me and my family.  So it’s all about priorities.  I was living in the moment and when we eventually got four seats together I was OK.

Another time checking into a flight at an airport I pointed out that I had originally reserved a particular seat and now it had been changed for no reason that I could see.  “Oh” – says the check in agent “You will have to speak to your travel agent about that – they are always doing that.”

“Um … I am my travel agent.  I made the booking.”  She had no answer.

Everyone has a different way of dealing with travel problems so I want to use an example of a very reasonable couple who experienced problems with their vacation and how they dealt with it.

Let’s call them Dave and Heather.

The flight – a special seat selection service had been booked and prepaid with printed documentation and tickets stating the seats.  At check in they were told that these seats were not on the “manifest”.  Dave and Heather pointed out that they had paid extra for this service.  They were asked to produce their Visa receipt????   They realized they were not getting anywhere so offered to pay again for the seat service but were told they could not.  Go figure.

At the hotel they had problems.  Now it is strange but sometimes it is like a weird kind of karma.  Once something starts going wrong those ripples turn into waves and those waves turn into a tsunami.   It went from bad to worse.  The staff were well meaning but ineffective and Heather decided not to waste her precious holiday time with negative feelings and complaints.  It was therefore a bit of an eye opener when a few days later, while standing at the reception desk, she witnessed an absolute melt down with someone checking in and after raising the roof the staff quickly upgraded this person to a presidential suite.


Hmmm – Heather thought to herself.  Maybe being polite and optimistic is not the way to get things done.

Isn’t that sad?  Doesn’t that say something about today’s society.  The Squeaky Wheel – the Threats – the loud voice.

So what should you do when things go wrong when you travel?  Here are a few pointers

  • Take down names. Most airline staff have a name badge.  Make a note of the time.  Airlines and hotels can check shifts and names.
  • Contact the onsite rep – if you have booked through a tour operator there will be a local rep who will either be based at the hotel or will have a desk or contact number so you can reach them and make them aware of your concerns. The local rep keeps in touch with head office in Canada or the USA and is the one most able to quickly deal with any problems.
  • Keep your travel agent up to date – a quick email just advising that you have had problems (and maybe a brief description) and that you are in contact with the local rep. Your travel agent will then be able to monitor things on our side with the tour operator in Canada or the USA.
  • Write it down – a full chronological report of all and everything that went wrong is a great help. If you have your cell phone take a few pictures too.


But keep your complaints real….. not like these courtesy of Thomas Cook UK.

“The beach had too many fat people …it was gross.”

“The street signs were not in English.  I don’t understand how anybody can get around.”

“The local women were too beautiful.  It made me feel bad about myself.”

“No one told us there would be fish in the sea.  The children were startled.”


Peacocks on a plane?

A peacock on a plane?  Yes it gets stranger and stranger – the whole idea of emotional support animals.  Now I am no psychiatrist and I am sure there are very real ways some animals can calm, heal and reassure us humans.  Just a few weeks ago there was a story on Global News of a lady in Calgary who has chickens as emotional support animals and her fight was to enable her to keep them on her property.

Now that’s one thing – but taking a peacock on a plane???  I feel a bit sorry for the lady in question because she had even taken the step of purchasing a seat for the bird.  That made me pause for thought.  I wonder what she put in the name field on the reservation – Percy Peacock maybe – and of course the airline would have no idea until she arrived at the check in desk.



Now there are all sorts of animals that have been taken on board as an emotional support animal and it is a really tough thing for the airlines and for the other passengers on board.  Animal allergies have been raised.  Some people are deadly allergic to dogs and cats.  Not to mention that some strange emotional support animals are really really scary.

Like this –


or this …. AAAAAARGH!


So if you have a fear of creepy crawlies you might be in need of some emotional support.

There have been pigs, ducks, turkeys and even miniature horses taken on flights.  Some ask when is this going to stop?   A recent article in the Washington Post reported –

By Karin Brulliard | Washington Post

When Marlin Jackson arrived at his row on a Delta flight from Atlanta to San Diego in June, the middle seat was already occupied by a man with a sizeable dog on his lap. Jackson squeezed by them to his window seat, and the Labrador mix lunged at his face. The attack lasted about 30 seconds, according to Jackson’s attorney, and left him with facial wounds that required 28 stitches and scars that are still visible today.

The mauling, which Delta said was inflicted by a canine identified as an “emotional support” animal, was among the thousands of incidents that just pushed the nation’s largest airline to tighten rules for passengers flying with service or comfort animals. In announcing the changes earlier this month, Delta said it flew 250,000 animals in those categories last year, an increase of 150 percent from 2015, while “incidents” such as biting or defecating had nearly doubled since 2016.

The debate goes on and everyone (at least in the States) seem to be citing their Federal Rights – those who need support animals and those who suffer badly from asthma or other allergy problems.


Fidgety Fred goes Flying


Have you ever sat next to a fidget on a flight?  It’s extremely irritating and something that we don’t really want to put up with from another adult at such close quarters.  OK, kids fidget – we know that.  Even then if it is not our child we get annoyed.  Little legs kicking the back of your seat.  Oh yeah!  It sort of sucks out the Mother Theresa part of me and turns me into the Wicked Witch of the West!

So I am interested that there is a movement (excuse the pun) to encourage people to exercise during a flight.  Now I am sure this is very good for you.  I have read articles on the importance of getting up and walking every 30 minutes – as well as drinking a glass of water every 30 minutes to stay hydrated.  I guess the two go together.  The airlines are even now putting some exercises in the seat back pocket so you can keep that blood circulating.  Walking up and down the aisle is fine with me – hopefully the walker is in an aisle seat.  But what about these fidgety recommended exercises –

feet exercise

Well I suppose that is not too intrusive …. but this one made me laugh

raised feet

Good luck with that, unless you happen to be sitting in business class.  And then it just gets silly –

arm exercise

Who let this guy on a flight in his vest????

I have to admit, however, that these fidgety people are absolutely right!   Some airlines agree with that too – China Airlines gets everyone to do some exercises – I think that would break the ice a bit – especially if you were in the middle seat with complete strangers either side.


But how do you feel about this one …. a yoga head stand in her seat on a flight from LA to Cabo

Her flight did look rather empty – but this following very flexible flyer managed to do a whole yoga routine in the aisle on a packed flight.

Well … I would have probably left out the “downward dog” but she is pretty flexible and seems to have entertained everyone!

It seems we all have our different ways for surviving our flights – what’s yours?

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!