How connected are you while on vacation?

Are you one of those lucky ones who can totally disconnect when you go away on vacation?  Do you leave your work cell phone at home and absolutely refuse to take a lap top with you?  Well maybe you are lucky enough to have the sort of job where you don’t need to keep in touch with work.

For others however they always seem to be connected to the job –

I came across these great tips recently in the Chicago Tribune – how many would you follow –

“Disable email. Actually, disable everything. Turn off your work email, and really hide it.”

Mmmm – that really scares me.  I like to be in touch with my office and what’s going on.  And can you imagine the amount of emails that would be waiting for you when you got back to work?

vacation meme

“Remove calendars from your phone. If you’re the type who has work calendars, or any calendars, connected to your smartphone, remove them.. You don’t need an alert reminder of the weekly team meeting popping up as you order a mojito. Your only appointment is with the beach, the mountains or a good book.”

Well I agree with that to a certain extent.  You don’t really need to be consulting your calendar (your work calendar in any event) while you are trying to enjoy a vacation.  Unless you want to stress about that annual review coming up the week after you get back!

annual-performance-review-meme

“Set up a solid out-of-office message. Do this early, so that you’re not stressing about typing it out before heading to the airport. You can say, “I’m out of the office until (enter date). Try me then.” Short, to the point, and this clarifies that you will not be available or responsive until after a certain time.”

Well – there a pros and cons to this.  I don’t like the idea of out of office messages when they reply to every single spam email I get but I suppose if I was a bit more techy I would be able to solve this one.  But I really love this one –

out of office

“Get a real camera. If you can, bring along a real camera. That’s right, one of the old-school versions that’s separate from your phone. Taking a photo is often why we reach for our smartphone, which too easily translates to just refreshing a website or checking in with a text.”

cell phone

Maybe our cell phone cameras are just easier …. and lighter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

Yes, it seems like a contradiction – in fact it is – how can you expected something that you don’t expect?  What I should be saying is expect to be surprised.  I think I am a pretty seasoned traveller and yet the number of times I am surprised by the unexpected is amazing.

Take Vietnam……

vietnam

A few years ago, I planned a vacation to Vietnam doing a land and river cruise tour on the Mekong river.  Our journey started in Hanoi where we were due to spend 3 nights at the Sofitel Metropole in the old French Colonial district.

It’s a long flight …. And we arrived late at night.

Our guide was there to meet us and the drive from the airport to the hotel was quite long – well it felt quite long.  I was tired and it was dark.  You know that feeling when you arrive at a new place and it is night time – everything seems weird.  We arrived at the hotel and were greeted graciously by a beautiful Vietnamese lady and finally made it into our room.  I will admit I was grumpy and tired.  My husband suggested we go down and find somewhere to have a night cap.

Miss Negativity replied “Nah, there won’t be anything open – let’s just go to bed.”  But he persevered.

“Come on, let’s go downstairs and see what’s going on.  I’ll buy you a nice gin and tonic.”

“Oh, all right,” I replied ungraciously.  (I can be a bit of a bitch when I am tired!), thinking to myself that there would definitely not be anything open at 11.30 pm.

Well I was wrong…. We walked into the courtyard area and all around the pool were tables and chairs, little lights twinkling in the flower beds, the stars were bright in the sky, ice was tinkling in glasses and a sultry jazz singer was serenading the crowd in French.  Wow!  And I had the best gin and tonic ever!

Bamboo Bar Sofitel

Expect the unexpected.

It’s what makes travel so much fun.

The next day our tour started in earnest.  We met with our tour director and he told us that our first tour of Hanoi would be through the old city by cyclo which is a sort of cycle rickshaw.  We all trudged outside the Sofitel to see a host of cyclos parked into front of the hotel and I sighed a sigh.  Oh no – is this a super touristy thing to do.  I hesitated – should I go or not?  Oh, what the hell?  I might as well.  I climbed into the cyclo seat the guide directed me to.  My driver gave me a big toothless grin and nodded – he clearly did not speak a word of English – and with that he pushed on the pedals and we were off.

cyclo

Oh, my goodness…. it was surreal.  I was all on my own with my driver sitting on the bike behind me as we glided through the tiny cluttered streets of old Hanoi.  I felt invisible.  There was no sound of the bike and with the driver behind me it had the effect of floating along on my own – almost like a ride at Disney – except everything I was seeing was real.  Families on the pavement sitting on their haunches eating bowls of pho.  Shopkeepers selling fruit and soup and bicycle parts and silk scarves.  Scooters wove in and out of the pedestrians and vendors on bicycles with impossibly high bundles of woven hats and baskets for delivery competed for space.  It was the most incredible experience and I nearly missed it because I thought it was too touristy.

Expect the unexpected.

Eventually we were on the Mekong on our luxury river cruise vessel and from the comfort of the deck we were able to watch the commerce on the Mekong – the easiest and quickest way to move goods and people.  Each day we would go on tours from the ship on smaller boats and travel down the tributaries of the Mekong.  One such day our skipper pulled the small boat over to the river bank.  I was puzzled.  I wondered why we were stopping there as there was nothing that I could see except high, steep rather muddy river banks.  He skillfully secured our boat to a tree trunk and then gestured as if to say, “Come on then – you wanted to see Vietnam – well here it is.”

With the help of the crew we scrambled up the river bank and emerged, through the bushes, into the middle of the busy thoroughfare of a traditional Vietnamese village.  Oh wow!  But here’s the thing.  We became the attraction – not the other way around.  Children ran out of the little houses to peer at us – some hid behind their mothers.  Young mothers smiled shyly and brave young kids ran up to say Hello Lady and practise their English.  Even the very elderly came out to say hello.  What a strange and delightful experience.

vietnam lady

Expect the unexpected.

 

ME, YOU AND FACEBOOK

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook and I think that is the same for many people.  I notice that from time to time people will take a break from Facebook and suddenly it is as if they have disappeared off the face of the planet.  Others will be super vigilant with their Facebook settings and will have such high privacy barriers that all you see is their profile picture – and this is probably a good thing.

The fact is that Facebook is so dominant now in our society and so much of what we do, say, buy or feel can be linked to articles that we have read or shared on Facebook.

The reason for my current interest is that I just went through some Facebook training (yes there is such a thing and it does not revolve around how to post a selfie).  The statistics were quite surprising.  62% of people use Facebook to check out local restaurants, small businesses and local events.  Facebook users check their newsfeed an average of 11 times a day!  Wow!

A recent conference I went to featured Facebook as a stress break for workers during the day.  It’s like the new smoke break.  Working on a tight timeline?  Getting stressed out.  Take a couple of minutes break to check Facebook and then return to that cost analysis feeling de-stressed and revived.

facebook

Hmmmm.  Do you agree?  Does that really work?

Being in the travel industry Facebook is very important to me.  I follow Facebook pages of my various suppliers which are usually closed groups where they can advise us of special offers coming up and a forum to share problems and resolve issues with their representatives.  It can sometimes be a quick and effective way to get something done – maybe quicker than a phone call.  It is also an interesting platform to keep up to date with trends in the travel industry and see what people who are out there travelling really think of the tour / cruise / hotel.  Just recently I read an interesting article of how Medellin in Colombia is re-inventing itself.  It was on Facebook so it was a quick read and it was there – front and centre on my feed.  I doubt if I would have picked up a magazine and read that.  Private groups on Facebook are a great way of sharing advice with colleagues as well as having a shoulder to cry on when retail fatigue sets in.

Fawlty

So those are all the things I love about Facebook.

What about the thing I hate most about Facebook?

Those posts where you are expected to share it otherwise you are a bad person – usually prefaced by “I know 98% of my friends won’t post this to their facebook” …. Aaaargh – don’t do that to me.

only my true friends facebook

Those posts about what level of Candy Crush you have reached.

And the fact that – yes – my innate sense of curiosity and noseyness means that I am one of those 11 times per day newsfeed checkers.

And I must admit – I also check how many people like my Travel Lady Facebook page and I am thrilled to see new likes – because it means that somebody out there is listening!

FB-meme

 

 

BORDER SECURITY TV SERIES

I know that this TV series which was aired on National Geographic had a lot of fans – myself included.  Unfortunately the series has been pulled because of some rights violations so now we will no longer be able to sit in our lounges and pass judgment on people who are “pulled over” going through customs and immigration.

You know how it goes “There you go… I knew she looked edgy” …. Or “You see – I knew he was lying” … yep – my kids hate watching TV with me and having to put up with a running commentary.  (Below follows a message from my kids).

talking meme

Being in the travel industry it is just so interesting to see behind the scenes at Canada’s major airports and how people are questioned.  It also has made me quite neurotic about filling in the proper information on my customs form when I return to Canada.

I keep a note of all purchases and also keep the receipts and even if I have bought an item of clothing which I have already worn I still declare it.  Really I am not a huge shopper so I never exceed the limit but it has certainly made me more conscious of what I buy.  So on my flight home I sit down with a piece of paper and make a note of all my purchases in Euros or whatever currency I spent and then convert out to Canadian so I have a total of what I have spent.  I keep this note handy so if the customs officer asks me what I spent the money on or what I bought then I give him my list.

So why do I still feel guilty?

Maybe it is something to do with having watched the TV series.  Standing in a line up after a long international flight it is a bit daunting when you are finally at that painted line on the floor waiting for the next officer.  And all I have are some t-shirts and the odd dress and some chocolates or candy for the girls in the office.

So why do I still feel guilty?

I can’t imagine how someone would feel who was actually smuggling something in that they shouldn’t.  Remember that scene in Midnight Express – oh my goodness – I would be shaking like a leaf.

midnight express

Apart from the usual suspects (drugs and alcohol), people have tried to smuggle in the weirdest things – like lizards!  Yes, 6 baby lizards to be exact, smuggled into Canada by some guy in the pocket of his hoodie.  Yep – he was caught and fined $6000.   A lot of the confiscated goods at customs are food items (and we always see that on Border Security).   I can’t quite see myself smuggling in chicken wings or fish cakes or even a human skull (yes someone was caught with one of these in her bag).

So I will keep making my lists on the flight and declare everything I buy and try not to look too shifty when I pass through customs – and try not to feel guilty.

guilty meme

Where did you get that accent?

Accents are really funny things.  Even a small country like England will have very different accents depending on whether you come from the South, close to London or up in the Midlands.

Canada is the same – especially with the Maritimes.  When I first came to Canada I kept asking people if they came from Ireland.  They were puzzled and replied “No – I come from Newfoundland.”  Well – they sounded very Irish to me!
newfie joke

Sometimes however accents can really surprise you.  I was strolling around the market in Jodhpur, India a couple of years ago.  Narrow lanes filled with people, noises, smells, shouting and yet somehow a harmony throughout the whole thing.

Jodphur market 2

Naturally being a group of North American tourists we were prime targets for wily salespeople and after a week or so in India we were all becoming a bit immune to this.  But then I was approached by a young girl with literally hundreds of bead necklaces offering a handful of these for a few rupees – next to nothing in our money.   She had such a sweet smile and although the other ladies in our group waved her away with a smile I weakened and looked at her beads.  They were rather pretty.  A lot like many of the African beads that would be sold in the markets of Swaziland where I had made my home before coming to Canada.  So therefore they were not a novelty to me. But she was persistent and kept smiling.

Then she starting speaking and I stopped in my tracks.  My goodness me – was that a tinge of Yorkshire accent that I was detecting?  Or could it be Manchester?  How very strange!

“Where are you from?” I asked – which was a bit of a stupid question seeing as she was selling beads in a market in Jodhpur dressed in a kurti.  Really Lesley – sometimes I wonder.

But she gave me a dimpled smile and said (with that characteristic Indian head bobble) “I come from right here in Jodhpur, Ma’am”.

But I wasn’t satisfied and wanted to dig further.  I asked her if she had ever been to England – no she hadn’t.  Perhaps she had an English teacher at school.  She had never been to school (broke my heart).  Eventually I asked her who had taught her to speak English as I thought this would give me a clue.

“Why, Ma’am,” she answered laughing “I learnt as a small child from speaking to the tourists”.  Well I never.  Bright as a button and never a day’s schooling.  What a shame.

I happily handed over a bunch of rupees and in return received 10 bead necklaces and then 2 extra because I was “so kind”.  I still wear them today and often think of this merry little girl and hope she is able to make a future for herself.  She deserves it.
jodphur bead girl

How can I travel without a selfie stick?

Yes, those obnoxious attachments are being banned in place after place – Milan being the latest.  Even if your selfie stick is a Louis Vuitton or Chanel model you still won’t be allowed to use it in Milan.   Because really – it has got to be a bit too much.
chanel selfie stick

The selfie stick has also been banned in the Vatican City, in Beijing’s Forbidden City, Pamplona, Amsterdam’s Van Gogh museum…. And the list goes on.

But why – you ask – with your selfie face…
mona lisa

Well the thing is, in your pursuit to get the perfect shot of yourself in famous places around the world works of art are being damaged and people and animals are ending up getting killed – yes really!

Can you believe that baby dolphins were taken out of the sea in Argentina so that they could be used in a selfie shot.  Guess what – the baby dolphins died!

It’s the second time in a year that this has occurred in Argentina alone: In February 2016 a rare La Plata baby dolphin died after tourists in the resort of Santa Teresita removed it from the water to pass around and take selfies with, eventually leaving it in the sand. Vida Silvestre, a wildlife foundation in the country, has warned people against removing dolphins from the ocean in the past. (courtesy Conde Nast).

In another embarrassing incident a woman managed to destroy over $200.000 of artwork while trying to take a selfie at the 14th Factory in Los Angeles.

The woman was attempting to take a selfie while kneeling in front of a row of sculptures displayed on pedestals, when she lost her balance and knocked into the artwork directly behind her, causing a cringe-inducing domino effect. At least 10 pedestals were knocked over as a result and, according to the museum, three sculptures were “permanently damaged,” Mashable reports

The quest for the perfect travel selfie knows no boundaries – people have died in the pursuit by falling down stairs, mountains and off bridges.

Apart from which – an army of selfie hunters just spoils the view for anyone else.
selfie stick crowd

So maybe take that selfie stick and…. well …. stick it somewhere else.

 

 

Would you like fries with that?

Trying to decide which country will be the cheapest for your next vacation?  Maybe you should consult the Big Mac Index – the latest evaluation having just been released.

bigmac meme

Basically the Big Mac index is a comparison of what it would cost to buy a Big Mac (if it was available) in different countries around the world using the price of a Big Mac in the United States and then comparing what the price would be in other countries.  It gives a pretty good idea of where in the world you could go to and where your dollar would stretch further – or where it would be more expensive.  Pretty nifty test.  Here are the latest figures as at 12th July.

big mac index

So according to this South Africa would be a really good place to go on holiday – it is cheap, cheap, cheap to eat out (and drink out – after all it is the land of the vineyard).  We know this particularly from the sticker shock when South African friends and family come to visit.  Consider – they pay about $1.50 to $2.00 (Cdn $) for a pint of beer.

Britain and the whole Euro area look pretty good too and naturally these numbers are aggregates so some places in Europe will be much cheaper than others.  Friends who have chosen to winter in Spain rather than Phoenix come home with tales of amazingly cheap fresh vegetables and bottles of wine for just 4 Euro.  This is interesting because it also reflects where people are travelling and despite recent terrorist attacks in Europe tourism there still remains strong, with the exception of poor France where bookings are down.  That’s a shame as it is one of my favourite places to visit and river cruises offering Southern France and Bordeaux are just such a win at the moment.

Surprises on the list were Japan and Russia.  I have always seen Japan as a very expensive country to visit as real estate is at a premium and hotel prices are high but perhaps once you are there eating out or shopping is better and cheaper than in the States.

And Russia is hopping!  River cruises and tours regularly sell out to this fascinating country.  Maybe the revived interest is due to the on again off again Trump Putin romance being front and centre in the news.  It has certainly given the country lots of exposure and seeing reporters filing their newscast with the beautiful and exotic Red Square in the background can certainly do no harm.
red square

The full article makes for interesting reading https://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21725034-dollar-has-slipped-over-past-six-months-still-looks-dear-big-mac

My advice?  Go travel – eat local – avoid the Big Mac and if you are looking at a country where the cost of living and/or eating out is expensive then go as all inclusive as you can such as a river cruise with tours, meals, wine and beer included.  It will seem more expensive at first glance but once you secure your price in Canadian dollars and take advantage of those early booking offers you will end up on the winning side!