I just have a quick question

Every travel agent dreads this.  If you are planning that trip of a lifetime or a much needed escape to somewhere amazing (doesn’t have to be a bucket list place) why would you only have a quick question ???   Very strange.  Usually when planning a trip you want to be able to sit down with a specialist.  You want to have a long conversation about what your expectations are, your past experiences, your likes and dislikes and what sort of budget and level of accommodation you want.  This is how we work out what best to recommend so when someone pops into the agency with “I just have a quick question” frankly the alarm bells ring.

Generally the quick question would be –

  1. What sort of visa do I need to go to ……, or
  2. How much luggage can I take on my flight to ….., or
  3. What time do I need to be at the airport for my flight to Cancun (not booked with us)
  4. How would I get to Madrid airport from Seville?
  5. (I could go on but I won’t).

The problem is that travel has changed so much over the years with the growth of online agencies that travel agents have become travel consultants, therefore we are not really “retail” any more in the sense of walk in, buy a ticket, walk out.  The public today is very knowledgeable about many destinations and most of our customers have a pretty good idea of where they want to go.  Having done some research on their upcoming vacation they will fall  into one of three groups –

I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS ANYMORE – This person has done tons of research online and has become totally overwhelmed with different websites for airline tickets, hotels, tours, transfers etc. that they throw their hands up in the air and just want an expert to take care of them and their arrangements.  That’s cool.  That’s what we do.

I CAN TOTALLY DO THIS ON MY OWN – This person is confident and willing to take a risk booking an AirBnB.  In fact they love making all their own arrangements and feel that by doing this they have more control over their travel plans than if they assigned this to a third party such as a travel consultant.  That’s cool too.

I CAN DO THIS ON MY OWN BUT NEED AN EXPERT SECOND OPINION FIRST – This person is not so confident and always needs to double check with an expert so they will do the rounds of travel agencies with “quick questions”.  This is not cool at all.

Get a bunch of travel agents together and the stories come fast and hard and the fact that we can laugh at them shows that we love what we do and we much prefer to deal with people than be locked in a cubicle doing boring paperwork.  Here are a few stories that made us chuckle – Jeez we love this business!

“A woman called to make reservations. “I want to go from Chicago to Hippopotamus, New York.” The agent was at a loss for words. Finally, the agent asked, “Are you sure that’s the name of the town?” “Yes, what flights do you have?” replied the customer. After some searching, the agent came back with, “I’m sorry, ma’am, I’ve looked up every airport code in the country and can’t find a Hippopotamus anywhere.” The customer retorted, “Oh don’t be silly. Everyone knows where it is. Check your map!” The agent scoured a map of the state of New York and finally offered, “You don’t mean Buffalo, do you?” “That’s it! I knew it was a big animal.”  

“A nice lady just called. She needed to know how it was possible that her flight from Detroit left at 8:20am and got into Chicago at 8:33am. I tried to explain that Michigan was an hour ahead of Illinois, but she could not understand the concept of time zones. Finally I told her the plane went very fast, and she bought that!”

And here is a whole list of those “quick questions” collected from travel agents around North America.

  1. Can you guarantee weather?
  2. What is the safest seat on a plane if it crashes?
  3. What would the cost be for a car rental to drive to Australia?
  4. How much does the bus cost to get from here to Africa?
  5. do you have cruises from toronto to china pls?
  6. Is this Tim Hortons?
  7. Is it safe to drink the bath water in Mexico?
  8. Can you watch my groceries while I do some more shopping in the mall?
  9. Can I take my cats on the cruiseship?
  10. Are there sharks in that ocean?
  11. Does the sun set there?
  12. How far do planes go?
  13. How do planes fly at night when it’s so dark?
  14. Am I speaking to a live agent?
  15. Do I have to bring my own bedding?
  16. Does the ship have lifeboats?
  17. Are there icebergs in the Caribbean?
  18. Can I get a refund if it rains?
  19. Is food included in an all-inclusive?
  20. Does “ocean-view” mean I’ll have a view of the ocean?
  21. Are there kids at the adult-only resort?
  22. Do I have to use my real name to buy the ticket?
  23. Is there a walking tour on the cruise?
  24. Do you have any resorts with a pool?
  25. Can you get me tickets for the Picadilly circus?
  26. Can I carry weapons on the plane?
  27. Does the time difference mean we’ll get there faster?
  28. Will there be noisy guests at the hotel?
  29. Is it windy on the beach?
  30. What time does the sun come up in Australia?
  31. What language do they speak in Spain?
  32. Can you give me a list of all the ATMs in Paris?
  33. Can we pet the lions on an African safari?

 

Dung beetles and insect cocktails

Now before you freak out let me say that no self-respecting dung beetle is going to find itself inside a cocktail.  Dung beetles are far too important for that.  Their job is to get rid of all the nasty bugs in dung and therefore cut down on the spread of disease in the local animals.  They are industrious and hard-working and have even been imported into New Zealand to help cut down on the bugs that spread disease among sheep and cattle.

Dung beetles have been around for ever and have been appropriately honoured for their role in nature.

Just watching a dung beetle at work is fascinating.  As they roll the ball of dung it gets bigger and bigger and they just keep going.

When you do your next African safari you will get the chance to observe them “in the wild” and participate in a fun game with your game ranger seeing how far you can spit out a ball of rolled dung – usually Impala as their poop is small like marbles.  You certainly wouldn’t want to try to spit out elephant dung!!  It’s not obligatory but it will make you feel closer to the dung beetle.

So there! Maybe after this you need a drink.  Well you won’t find a dung beetle in a cocktail any time soon.  However you may find other insects in cocktails that are becoming more popular.  Strangely.

Not sure how you would feel if you were presented with this cocktail –

This is an Aztec-themed drink served in a skull-shaped mug and garnished with a paper cone stuffed to the brim with buffalo worms.  Apparently Grey Goose vodka goes very well with worms or crickets.

Or how about this one from Thailand?
vodka
Or this one from who knows where….
snake-drinks

It’s part of the fun people – watching dung beetles, spitting out impala poop and drinking weird drinks.  Watch out insects …. here we come.

 

Have you got baggage?

Yes I know you do …. we all do.  But I am not talking about that emotional baggage that has inspired a whole host of websites where you can email in anonymously and unload all your problems….supposedly walking away a whole lot happier.  Really?  Odd thought that.  Maybe it does work..

Nope I am talking about plain old baggage.  Bags that you put your stuff in and take with you on a trip on a plane.  It seems simple doesn’t it.  But it’s not and it’s getting worse.

In the good old days you booked a flight, packed a suitcase, took a big bag as your carry on in which you packed all the stuff you didn’t want to lose (yes sorry airlines and airports but you do suck when it comes to lost baggage) and got on the plane.  Nobody hassled you about your huge tapestry bag bulging at the seams.  My goodness, I remember a flight from Zimbabwe to South Africa.  You should have seen the stuff coming on there as carry on.  I swear there were probably live chickens somewhere there!

Nowadays you get to check in – which of course you have to do yourself because machines are better than people – NOT.  You fiddle around with the machine and it asks you how many bags are you checking and suddenly it’s asking for more money!  What?  Mmm- maybe you didn’t read the fine print but for this class of service (in other words lower priced ticket) you have to pay for your luggage sonny boy!  (Cheap %*&#@@).

Just google fees for checked  baggage and you will bring up pages and pages of law suits against the airlines for this that and the other, related to baggage fees.  It really is strange because it seems that with airlines today it just takes one airline to say “Mmm – what do you think?  Can we get away with charging for checked baggage?”.  They implement this plan and the other airlines sit back and say …..

“WOW – Brilliant”.  Let’s do it!

Soooooo…. long story short.  People want to cut down on the cost of a weekend away so they don’t check their luggage.   They bring everything on board the flight.  Have you ever noticed how people getting on a flight who are maybe sitting at the back of the plane will just casually put their carry on in the bin over the business class seats at the front.  Much easier to have your carry on up there than at the back – and maybe there is no room at the back either.

Next brilliant airline idea – let’s charge for carry on.  The way they are going to charge however will be to ban those people who bought the cheap fares from using the overhead bins and only the people who bought the more expensive fare will be allowed to use the overhead bins.  This probably means a longer boarding process as the flight attendants have to check everyone’s ticket to see the status and whether or not they are allowed to use the over head bins.

What’s next?  An even lower fare basis that will mean you can’t use the overhead bins or the toilets?  Remember to pack the Depends!

When Siri gets on your nerves

It’s bad enough having Siri on your phone or tablet and sometimes even in your car – OK maybe it is not Siri but probably a distant relative.  Now they are installing Siri in hotel rooms so she can deal with instructions like turn on the lights and open the curtains.  That is always assuming of course that she can understand what you are saying.  Siri is not very good with non North American accents.  Voice recognition is so inefficient sometimes that you either end up crying or laughing.  Here’s what can happen when you get two Scotsmen in an elevator using voice recognition.

My friend has voice recognition in her car GPS and told me about the time she took her elderly mother on a doctor’s visit.  Siri didn’t like the route she was taking and kept telling her to do a U-turn.  Eventually my friend lost it and told Siri where to go and that she was a stupid cow.  Her mother was so shocked.  “Don’t speak to the lady like that! She is only trying to help.”

So can you imagine.  You have just got off a long trans-Atlantic flight from your home town of Bradford or Johannesburg or Palermo.  You check into your fancy New York hotel and just want to close the curtains and have a nap.  Can’t find where the curtain cord is.  Oh yes, the lady at the front desk said the controls for the room are voice-activated.  In your best clear voice you say “Close the curtains” …..

“I am sorry – can you repeat your request.”

Oh hell – of course – you are in America and they call them drapes.  Try again.

“Close the drapes”

“Please speak slowly”….. you get the picture.  By this time you have pulled over the dresser and are trying to physically close the curtains so you can dim the room and get some much needed sleep.  Can’t budge them – to hell with it you think. You are just going to switch off the lights and have a nap.

Ummmm – so you want to switch off the lights.  So how are you going to do that smarty pants?  You have to speak to the lady.  You know before even trying that she is not going to understand you so your McGyver instincts come into play.  You notice that there is no central light but just lamps.  You go to each lamp and take out the LED light.  Good.  That’ll show her.  Now finally you are ready to have a nap.  Just one last thing – you need a pee.

So how do you flush the toilet…… Oh Nooooooo!

Is sand better than snow?

Well of course sand must be better than snow.  Think about it – just look outside the window.  Piles of snow on stacked up garden tables, trees laden down with snow, parked cars on the side of the road imprisoned by snow.  Now close your eyes and imagine sand instead …

Aaah – are you feeling better now?  Sand means beach and beach means sand and it is a lovely thought.  But sand isn’t always such a lovely thing because sometimes

  • You get sand in your picnic on the beach
  • The baby gets sand in the diaper
  • The toddler eats sand and – well – gets sand in the diaper
  • You find sand in your clothes six weeks after coming back from vacation
  • Sand hides in the corner of your suitcase and magically appears when you are unpacking for a conference
  • Sand is the home for sand fleas who like to feast on you in the late afternoon when you are snoozing on the beach (I speak from first hand experience)
  • Sand sneaks into places your mother didn’t know you had!

Of course people can have fun in the sand with no beach in sight like those who go sand-boarding in Dubai or Namibia or any handy desert – even in Colorado I believe.

Now although the experts say that when you fall it doesn’t hurt because it’s sand – they do recommend to keep your mouth closed unlike the lady in the picture here.  The sand spray that is whipped up goes straight into your mouth – so remember to shut it!  Although the experts say you don’t get hurt when you fall others will tell you that it is not that easy and the sand gets absolutely everywhere.    http://monkeysandmountains.com/sandboarding-namibia

Rolling in the sand in Dorob National Park.

So maybe snow is a whole lot easier to deal with – it’s just that unless you are a snow-boarder or a skier it is a giant pain in the ass and right now I would gladly trade the winter outside my front door for a sandy beach somewhere even if it did mean sand where you least want it!

Under the sea and under the ground

Competition is fierce out there in the hotel and cruise business.  Who can provide the most unique experience?  Who offers a product that nobody else has?  With this end in mind hotels and cruise lines are coming up with ideas that some might think are just plain bizarre.  But I guess if you have been everywhere and done everything maybe you do want to explore new horizons under the sea and under the ground.

UNDER THE SEA

Well, over-water bungalows are just old hat.  Now you can have an under water bungalow. The Manta Resort in Zanzibar offers this room category.  It really beats hands down the glass floor or coffee table in the over-water bungalow where you can see the fish below.  Now you can see them swimming around your bed.
Not too sure about this myself – but it will probably be on someone’s bucket list.  I think I would be checking the windows for leaks.  Not to mention being spied upon while you sleep.

Creepy

Not sure how room service works

Want something a little simpler?  How about this underwater cottage in Sweden?

It comes complete with a fully stocked kitchen and seeing as you are not floating over a coral reef the under water view is not nearly as stunning.

Mmm – pass on this one, thanks.

UNDER THE GROUND

Spend the night in an old silver mine in Sweden.  Looks kinda spooky.
Sala Silvergruva, Sala, SwedenI will have to pass on this one too – sorry!

Now this is more like it – Cappadocia in Turkey – very cozy!

Argos in Cappadocia, Turkey

Grand Canyon in Arizona – a room 200 ft below ground – need to bring the warm winter woolies as it is very cool down here.  One comment on the website was that you get a really quiet night’s sleep – mmm – I am sure you would sleep like the dead here so far under the ground.  OK – that’s it.  Rule this one out too.
Grand Canyon Caverns, Arizona

So what’s next?  Let me have your thoughts or ideas.  If you were an entrepreneur and wanted to come up with a unique place to sell as a hotel what would you try?  What about an airborne hotel – one that is maybe supported by a giant blimp and gently floats around 100 foot off the ground.  Would that work?

Or how about a zero-gravity hotel – that might be a problem for someone with motion sickness.  But it would be unique.  Might be a bit problematic as far as liability for health problems.  After all not everyone can be a space man.

 

Have you done time?

Have you done any time?

Time-share that is.  You know, it starts out as a good idea and ends up like a prison sentence.  You have that week in Timbuktu (or wherever) that you bought on an impulse and now it hangs over your head like a dark cloud reminding you of how much you hate Timbuktu (or wherever).

You start to wonder why the heck you even went to that stupid time share seminar.  They told you no pressure and then – PRESSURE!   And it seemed like such a good idea at the time.  You could go on vacation every year for Nothing!  So when that time comes around – you have to go and do your time.  Well – you could swap your time share with another time share – after all RCI has over 8000 different properties. Problem is that the good ones at the good times are going to be used by the owners and the crappy ones are ….well, they are crappy.

Now there are a lot of very clever financial people out there who do the math much better than I could showing how having a time share is “A fancy term for flushing money down the toilet” Read the whole article very well put together by Hull Financing.  I just know that there is too much world out there to see for me to pin myself down to one destination every year.  I also don’t want to spend hours researching how I can get some value from the time share investment.  There are a lot of comments out there on Tripadvisor about the difficulties encountered with time share – especially when large resort hotels get taken over by other resort hotels.  Also it seems that the program has changed a lot since the days of my time share in South Africa 20 years ago.  You can now buy points instead of weeks.  I did try to read through the numerous articles on the differences between the two but eventually it got too much.  Wow you would have to be a lawyer to work your way through that.

That’s probably why there are numerous companies offering to buy your time share.  You hear them on the radio, they advertise online and no doubt now that I have googled them I will have them popping up in my feed the whole time.  *sigh*