Where do you spend your vacation?

That’s a loaded question and I’ll tell you why.  Over my years in travel I have begun to realise that there are two types of vacation – the destination vacation and the resort vacation.  Let’s look at the difference –


This is the type of vacation where you basically don’t care where you are going as long as you have a resort which satisfies your list of requirements – example

  • Safe swimming beach
  • Large pool with swim up bar
  • Kids club
  • Balcony
  • Lots of a la carte restaurants
  • On resort night life
  • A spa
  • A gym

swim up bar

I think you see where I am going here.  A resort vacation as in your typical Caribbean or Mexican all-inclusive is all about the hotel for the majority of people.  Now I am saying the majority because I do realise that there are people out there who love to travel to places like Mexico, Jamaica, Cuba and such because they want to explore the destination – but these people are in the minority.  Most people booking a resort vacation don’t really care where they are as long as the resort has all the amenities or aspects that are important to them – and, of course ,that the price is right and the flights are decent, and hopefully direct.

As Seinfeld would say ….

We work hard – this place is cold in the winter – we want to go somewhere warm with cold beer and a sandy beach and who the hell cares where it is.  So getting those features in your all-inclusive vacation is important and there are so many choices out there.  Tripadvisor lists over 700 hotels in Cancun, Mayan Riviera and Puerto Vallarta.

I have the utmost respect for my colleagues who specialise in sun destinations to these areas.  I can’t imagine having to know all these hotels and the facilities they offer – whether the kids club will take a 2 year old.  It’s made even more difficult as they are constantly changing their names, renovating their rooms, buying adjoining hotels and merging them.


This is so different.  Imagine you have dreamed of visiting a place for years.  Perhaps you have always dreamed of going to Italy or Ireland or India.  Of course the hotels you stay in will be important but not the main focus of your trip.  Your research is not going to be focussed on Trip Advisor.  It’s going to be with Frommers, National Geographic and some of the best travel books every written.  Before you go you want to devour anything written about the destination – fact or fiction.

You’ll read about the great potato famine in Ireland and then you’ll want to visit the famine cottages and see the sculptures in Dublin to commemorate the victims.


Famine sculptures

A friend of a friend will tell you about the best gelato in Rome and you will keep a note of that and seek it when you are there.  You will study pictures in the guide books of Michaelangelo’s David …..and, when you walk into the museum you will be struck dumb by its magnificence and stand in awe and silence like everyone else.


You will watch a re-run of the old film The Killing Fields and then when you actually walk those fields and see the skulls and speak to survivors, you will return home with a different perspective on life.

When you visit South Africa and know the story of Nelson Mandela you will visit his cell and imagine all the years he spent there and it will make you think.Mandela

You will read the statistics of rhino poaching in Africa and when you see the magnificent creature in the wild up so close you can count the wrinkles on his brow you will feel honoured.

That’s why we love what we do here.  We pass on our experiences and our love of destinations and the people and the history which make a lasting impression on us and the travellers we help.


Understanding travel advisories

As you know there was a very serious incident in Nice yesterday involving a truck that drove into a crowd watching celebrations for a national holiday (Bastille Day).  Once again our hearts go out to those affected by this tragedy and to the whole of France.  In fact this sort of terrorism touches all of us around the world

je suis

(I am exhausted)

As at this morning (15th July 2016) the position with regard to travel to France would seem to be as follows –

  • The Canadian Government has updated its online travel advice page with information on the incident in Nice but has not issued a travel advisory recommending that Canadians do not travel to France. They continue to recommend that travellers to France “exercise a high degree of caution due to the current elevated threat of terrorism.” when travelling in France;
  • There is still elevated security in France under the “state of emergency” that was declared by the French government last year and that state of emergency will continue for another 3 months. As a result, travellers will probably notice more police and other security at airports, seaports and train stations.
  • Flights and trains appear to be operating as usual in France;
  • Of course, the Canadian government travel advice on France may change as more information becomes available to them and customers can monitor this themselves at https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/france


So let’s look more deeply into this.

What does it mean when the Canadian Government website advises travelers to exercise a high degree of caution as advised on their website regarding France. This is what their website says –


France – Exercise a high degree of caution

There is no nationwide advisory in effect for France. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to the current elevated threat of terrorism.

“Exercise a high degree of caution” means

“There are identifiable safety and security concerns or the safety and security situation could change with little notice. You should exercise a high degree of caution at all times, monitor local media and follow the instructions of local authorities.”

The following are the four risk levels of travel advice that could be issued by the Canadian Government. I am intentionally using the word “advice” as opposed to “advisory” as otherwise things can get confusing, as you will see below.

Risk levels

As you will see from the above, only the last two “Risk Levels” are “Official Government of Canada Travel Advisories”. Important? Yes, if you have travel insurance with cancellation cover, because the first two levels may not be sufficient for you to make a claim if you decide you don’t want to go to the affected destination. For example the Manulife Travel Insurance policy states that you only have cover if –

“20. ‡ The Government of Canada issues an “Avoid Non-Essential Travel” or an “Avoid All Travel” travel advisory after your departure date, advising or recommending that Canadian residents should not visit a destination included in your trip.”

AND, just to really complicate matters, every Insurer will have different wording and coverage; so you should check your policy carefully and, if necessary, take advice and/or call your insurance company BEFORE you decide to cancel!

ALSO, some existing “travel advisories” can be confusing.  For example, the Level 3 travel advisory on the Canadian Government website with regard to Egypt advises as follows


Global Affairs Canada advises against non-essential travel to Egypt due to the unpredictable security situation. This advisory does not apply to the Red Sea coastal resorts of Hurghada (and its surroundings) and Sharm el-Sheikh, nor to the area from Luxor to Aswan along the upper Nile, where you should exercise a high degree of caution.

So, if you are planning a trip to Egypt you may find that you can’t get travel insurance at all because many Nile river cruises and packages start in Cairo which is subject to the Travel Advisory. So your choice of land arrangements and flights may be limited to areas in Egypt that are excluded from the Travel Advisory. All this is not easy but a travel professional may be able to assist with flights from Europe and other arrangements that keep you in the excluded areas.

And then there is the “sort-of” Level 3 Travel Advisory for MEXICO – a popular destination for Canadians – that only applies to the Northern and Western States


MEXICO – Exercise a high degree of caution

There is no nationwide advisory in effect for Mexico. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to violence in those parts of the country experiencing a deteriorating security situation (see Advisories below). High levels of criminal activity, as well as demonstrations, protests and occasional illegal roadblocks, remain a concern throughout the country.

Northern states – Avoid non-essential travel

Global Affairs Canada advises against non-essential travel to the northern states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Nuevo León (except the city of Monterrey), Sinaloa (with the exception of Mazatlán), Sonora (except the cities of Hermosillo and Guaymas/San Carlos), and Tamaulipas due to high levels of violence linked to organized crime. Consult Security for more information.

Western states – Avoid non-essential travel

Global Affairs Canada advises against non-essential travel to the western states of Guerrero (including Acapulco but excluding the cities of Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo and Taxco) and Michoacán (excluding the city of Morelia) due to the high levels of violence and organized crime. For the same reason, avoid non-essential travel to the areas of Jalisco state that border the states of Michoacán and Zacatecas, as well as the areas of Colima state that border Michoacán. Exercise a high degree of caution in the excluded areas. Consult Security for more information.

Or the lower level risk advice that applies to many places in and around the Caribbean – for example

Costa Rica – Exercise a high degree of caution

There is no nationwide advisory in effect for Costa Rica. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to crime.

Or Belize?

Belize – Exercise a high degree of caution

There is no nationwide advisory in effect for Belize. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to a high rate of violent crime throughout the country.

WHAT TO DO WITH ALL THIS INFORMATION – The bottom line for Canadian travellers is that there are scores of countries listed on the Canadian Government site that are affected by various warnings or Travel Advisories. Actually every destination that I can think of is affected by some degree of risk, not least of all our immediate neighbour the United States (think guns and mass shootings, attacks and threats in Orlando and California and snipers in Dallas).

Will you stop travelling? Your choice. Everyone has their comfort level and a few may choose to stay home in Canada rather than run the risk of what happened in Nice yesterday or Orlando last month. There are also many travellers who hold the view that the very nature of a terrorist attack means that it can happen anywhere, even back home, and travel regardless.

If you have booked a trip and the Canadian Government advice is Exercise a High Degree of Caution (as it now does for France) you really have to go with what you personally are comfortable with. There is no point going away somewhere if you are constantly worried and in fear.  That definitely is not a vacation.  Despite Nice, many travellers will of course continue with their travel plans to Europe, as will I at the end of August when I will be visiting one of my favourite cities, Paris.  I can do no better than quote the following advice from the Canadian Government relating to a high risk level “Travel Advisory” situation (currently not the risk level for France). Check the Government advice and the risk level against your own personal threshold – it’s your decision!

Should I cancel my trip if a Travel Advisory has been issued?

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the individual. You are strongly advised to follow the Government of Canada’s official travel advice to ensure your personal safety and security. It is up to the individual to decide what constitutes “non-essential travel,” based on family or business requirements, knowledge of a country or region, and other factors.

Cancelling a scheduled trip could cost you money, so check with your travel agent, travel insurer, or airline/tour operator first. Travel insurers generally take into account the government’s Travel Advisories when determining their refund policy, but they have no legal or contractual obligation to do so.
Not afraid



Who wears short shorts

Well Maggie McMuffin does.  In fact sometimes she doesn’t wear anything at all.  She is a burlesque entertainer holding a bachelor of Fine Arts degree and is, let’s face it, fairly controversial.  So when Ms McMuffin tried to board a Jet Blue flight in the states in her burlesque style striped short shorts the staff decided to deny her boarding as her attire wasn’t suitable.  What do you think?

Frankly I have seen worse on a flight so I really think Jet Blue was over-reacting.  After all I would rather sit next to Ms McMuffin dressed like this than sit next to some big stinky guy with flip flops…..or even worse bare feet encroaching upon my private place.
Or even worse – this outfit spotted at Dallas Fort Worth

plane attire

I think Ms McMuffin looks a lot better.

Remember the good old days when catching a flight was like going to church.  You got dressed up.
50's airline wear
Looks pretty civilised doesn’t it?  But not very comfortable unfortunately.  That’s the most important thing on a flight, especially on some of the flights these days that can stretch into 14 or more hours non-stop.  You just could not sit in a pair of stockings with gloves and a hat over that period of time – never mind a corsage.  What are your memories of your first flight and what did you wear?  Might be interesting to share.

So what is acceptable and what is not –

Bare skin for the most part is not acceptable.  This is why I believe the burlesque lady got denied boarding.  On cramped flights these days you get much closer to strangers than you do to your dearest loved ones, so let’s cut down on the amount of skin you show.

Bare feet.  If you must shed the shoes then bring a thin pair of socks to put on.  Not only is it more hygienic for your fellow passengers, it is more hygienic for you.  Can you imagine what has been on that aircraft carpet?  Ugh!

Personal grooming!  Stop it already with the hair brushing, nail clipping and make up application.

Remember people – we are flying through the air in a pressurised metal tube.  This is not your front room.


Pity the poor bellman

Everyone in the service industry knows that there are good days and then there are those very very bad days.  Probably the first person you meet when arriving at your hotel is the doorman – or whatever other title the hotel chooses to give him.  He is the one who opens the door of the taxi, welcomes you to the hotel and beckons the bellman to take your bags into the hotel.  Now whether you intervene at this stage and say “No – that’s OK, I can do this myself.  It’s just a carry on” is going to have an impact on that bellman’s pay because after all that’s how most people in the service industry make a reasonable living – salary plus tips.

The downside of this is that you are now forced to have that awkward trip up in the elevator while you make small talk.  This is excruciating for me and I am quite sure the bellman feels the same way.  Then your bags are wheeled inside and the bellman goes through the standard tour of the room.  “This is the air conditioner….this is the TV control.”  Really?  So now you are scrambling through your bag looking for notes to tip him.  Well travelled people usually take care of this even before they pull into the hotel and have a few notes conveniently ready in your pocket.  Remember the Scout’s tip – Be Prepared.

But when you take the same scene to a foreign environments like Africa or India it takes on a whole new feel.  Who can resist the Masai warrior in his traditional dress with those blindingly white teeth gleaming through a smile that stretches from ear to ear.  No one!

Who can resist the Cambodian welcome of clasped hands – as if in prayer?

Or the dignified Indian gentleman

This is when things start to change a bit and engaging in small talk takes on a whole new feel.  When the bellman shows you around your room in New Delhi you are probably safe to say that his awe for the flat screen tv and the jacuzzi bathtub are genuine as this is a long way from what he experiences in his home.

So how much to tip and should you always tip – let’s hear it from the horse’s mouth courtesy of “I am a Bellman”

I am a Bellman/ Valet at a 4 Star Hotel.

Not a day goes by where I don’t get the question, how much should I tip you, or what can or can’t you do for me. I want to do this to help people not end up being labeled as “That Guy” (the guest who makes us cringe every time we see you).

Here are some tipping suggestions to help get the ball rolling. Keep in mind this can vary depending on how nice the hotel is and how much assistance was given. As a reference point my Hotel is full service (meaning we have valet, overnight staff, room service, concierge, etc.) and charges between $180-$700 a night depending on the room.

  • Bell help to a room ($5-20) (good gauge is about $2 a bag)
  • Pulling a car from valet ($2-5)
  • Parking a car (anything you give is generous)
  • Hailing a cab ($2-5 and perhaps more if they load up your baggage)
  • Checking luggage or retrieving checked luggage ($2-5)
  • Grabbing something from your vehicle (same as pulling your car)
  • Shuttle service (varies greatly depending on availability, but a good gauge is $5-10 a person) (always give a little more than you would expect to give a taxi)
  • Temporarily holding a vehicle on the front drive with a Doorman ($2-20 depending on length of time)
  • Help from concierge with reservation, direction, etc. ($5-20)
  • House keeping (if you destroyed the room, leave something)

Overall I would say my best advice is be courtesies, it goes a long ways, especially if you don’t plan on tipping.

Second and my most important – if you take care of the staff $$$$, they should take care of you, and maybe even go above and beyond. There are two people we remember, those who tip well, and those who don’t tip at all and or are rude. Don’t get labeled as “That Guy” off the bat. It will assure you receive mediocre or no help during your stay.

Lastly, some No No’s to avoid doing

  • Don’t tip a $1 (depending on what was done it can be seen as insulting)
  • Don’t lie about why you are not tipping (we have heard em’ all) just say thank you and proceed
  • Tip at the end of a task, not at the beginning (if it is less than we normally receive for that task, you will probably receive mediocre service as a result)
  • Don’t try to grab a bell cart at a nice hotel, it is standard operating procedure to have a bellman assist you.
  • Don’t have the valet pull your car just to put something in it or grab something out.

So spare a thought – and some change – for the bellman.



She’d trip up on her own spit

That’s what my Dad used to say about my Nana.  It seems like every time we arrived to visit her in Birmingham England she would have something in plaster of Paris.  Either an arm or a leg.  If the truth were known she probably had osteoporosis – but we didn’t know about things like that in those days.  My Dad wasn’t very sympathetic.  Once after a long visit to us in Cornwall on the day before she was supposed to leave she tripped again and broke her arm.  Off we went to the hospital and while she was having the cast put on my Dad said (in the hearing of the nurse) -” Well she should be OK in time to get the train tomorrow.”

“Mr Holland” said the nurse all shocked “your mother has just broken her arm!”  Not to be outdone my Dad replied “Yes exactly – it’s not like she broke her leg”!

Oh my goodness, those old family tales.  We made him feel bad for years after that.

Well I followed in the family tradition yesterday and tripped while I was out running.  Not on my own spit however – but courtesy of those uneven paving stones we find in our suburbs.  No breaks but possibly a torn rotator cuff.  It got me thinking however of all the things that you never think will happen but do and how these can happen when you are far from home on vacation.  I always make a point of taking my running shoes and have enjoyed jogs along the rivers of Europe and the suburbs of Johannesburg but what would happen if I tripped and fell and did more than just tear my rotator cuff?  I would certainly be glad of the travel insurance I always take before I travel.

But I am not going to bore you with the stories of people who saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by taking travel insurance – let’s rather look at the funny side with these hilarious travel insurance claims filed – courtesy of Globelink International.  These are some of my favourites –

The pensioner whose false teeth fell out of his mouth while he was vomiting over the side of a cruise ship, put in a claim to his travel insurers and in the claim form chose the option “lost baggage”.

A young British tourist got distracted by a flock of girls in bikini and broke his nose when he walked into into a bus stop in Athens. Insurance company paid for his trauma care.

A tourist in Sri Lanka needed hospital treatment after a coconut fell on her head when she was reading a book in shade of the palm. Insurance company covered her medical expenses.

A couple on vacation in Malaysia returned to their cabin and found that monkeys took their clothes and scattered them all across the local rain forest. Thankfully, the insurance company paid their claim.


To laugh about silly accidents and funny encounters you need to feel safe. Don’t forget to get your travel insurance, so you could enjoy to the fullest every comical moment of your future journey.

Just spending a penny

It can’t be helped.  It’s nature.  Sooner or later – whether it’s on a bus, a plane, a bike, a tuk tuk or whatever…..you just know that you are going to have to spend a penny.



Now for us women that is always much more difficult than you guys and when travelling it can become very problematic.

Planes ….stuck in the window seat next to two sleeping strangers.  Mmm- awkward.  You sit there for ages thinking you really can wait until you land.  Then you realise that maybe you can’t but you are literally trapped by these two large men who are both sound asleep.
Another agonising ten minutes goes by and then you HAVE to make a move.  “mmm…’scuze me….. could I get past please?”.  NOW there is a whole kerfuffle.  Much scrabbling to put shoes back on, using the back of the seat in front as an aide to standing up, moving of books, brushing off of crumbs…oh my goodness.  This is embarrassing.  Then they stand up in the aisle while you totter off to the bathroom and they are not sure if you are going to be quick so they should just keep standing there or if you are going to be a long time and they should get back into their seats.  Just as they decide you are going to be a long time you appear down the aisle.  Here we go again, struggling out of their seats.  Who the heck designed this 3 – 4 – 3 configuration anyway?

Buses …..anyone who has been on a coach tour knows that there is usually a toilet on the coach.  They also know that the guide will take time to reassure you that there will be frequent “convenience stops” and the on board toilet is for emergencies only.  So when that emergency happens don’t you know that the whole bus is watching you as you walk down the aisle of the bus and descend those three steps of shame before sitting on the potty while we bounce along the country roads of adventure.  I don’t know why but it seems more shameful to use the coach potty rather than the air plane toilet.  Maybe because there are frequent bathroom breaks on a coach tour that if you do have to use the bus loo it creates such a sense of failure!

Small boats ….ever been on a small boat tour – like whale watching or fishing?  Your skipper will tell you that in the case of an emergency they do have a toilet.  He then proceeds to open up a cupboard right behind the steering wheel.  Are you kidding me?  I would rather wet my pants than have to go through that.

Foreign countries .… Vietnam, Cambodia, India …. all interesting toilet travel experiences.  However strange some of the toilets might look in foreign countries,  nothing beats my experience in the good Old U S of A.    Venice Beach Los Angeles has a very interesting ladies toilet.  I am not sure if it is still there but when I visited there years ago needless to say I needed to “spend a penny”.  Being the lone female in our family I headed off to that reassuring sign

Imagine how bemused I was when I went in through the door only to see three toilets just standing out there in the open space.  No doors, no cubicles – just three toilets.

Sort of like this but bigger.  Well – what to do?  Spend a penny I guess.  Just as I was settled in another lady came into the door and stopped and stared in amazement.  “Yes” I said.  “Weird isn’t it?”.  We both had a good laugh while we had a communal pee and thought how strange the world is to have a lady’s toilet like this in the leading country of the Free World.



You got a problem with that?

At first glance the travel industry seems to be a pretty cool place to work.  I am sure lots of people have the vision of sitting at a desk just booking amazing hotels, picking out incredible tours and experiences in out of the way places that are exotic and romantic.  That is certainly part of the job for sure – and one that attracts all of us into the industry.  However the real job comes when the “proverbial” hits the fan and problems need to be solved.

I have realised that problem solving is a bigger part of the job than actually planning and booking the travel.  One long time travel agent told me years ago –
“Remember – you can do everything perfectly, check and cross check your itinerary, reconfirm till you are blue in the face.  The minute your client steps on the plane they are in the hands of the gods.”

Very true!  Problems can be big or small.  Like the small ants that marched morning and night through the hotel room next to Disneyland.  High season so there was no room at the Inn (Holiday or otherwise).  After an exhaustive search to move clients I got a phone call saying that they had solved the problem themselves.  Oh my goodness I thought.  That’s bad that I couldn’t solve it and they could.  What did they do? Where were they booked? ……… At the same hotel….they stopped the ants coming in by using a couple of tubes of toothpaste all around the baseboard of the room.  Well….there you go.  Problem solved and I can’t claim any praise at all.

Bigger problems like volcanoes in Iceland require more than a tube of toothpaste.  The first problem was that nobody could really pronounce the name of the volcano –


The second problem was that it happened on a weekend.  Say goodbye to your weekend travel agents….And the on hold times were atrocious so if you didn’t have someone problem solving for you it was pretty bleak.

Having clients down in South Africa unable to fly via Europe required rebooking and rerouting via South America.  Long flying time but they got home in the end although honestly I would have probably extended my vacation in Cape Town.

Some problems just cannot be solved – not even by God himself.  Well – maybe He could.  Like the client who wanted to move hotels in Puerto Vallarta because the waves kept knocking her over when she went for a swim.  ???

And then the problems of the twin share….oh my goodness.  I could write a book.  Let me explain.  Twin share means a single doesn’t have to pay the single supplement and they will get “matched up” with someone of the same sex.  So how do you solve the problem of the lady who insisted on leaving her undies to soak in the hand basin in the bathroom every night.  Kinda puts you off brushing your teeth, right?

Oh and the lady who missed her flight because she said the transfer was late picking her up.  Well – that’s terrible and we immediately went into overdrive to solve the problem.  Booked a hotel at the airport, another flight home the next day. We launched a complaint with the transfer company only to discover that the transfer company had dropped her and other passengers off in good time for the flight – it seems that something interrupted her between the doors of the airport and the check in gate.  Something called duty free shopping perhaps?  Yes – we women love to shop and this is a problem I am unable to solve.