Life is short! Live it like you mean it!
It’s normal to feel a little jittery before taking off on your big adventure: your first-time cruise! But with just a little bit of pre-planning and these tips, you’ll know what to expect and will be sure to have that perfect dream vacation!
Let’s Talk Budget! You’re probably thinking, “Hey wait! I already paid for the cruise! What do I need MORE money for?” The rule of thumb for a 7-day cruise is to budget at least an addition $200 for onboard spending – not including the gratuity (remember, you can either prepay the gratuity for the ship’s crew BEFORE you sail or the cruise line will add that amount to your onboard account). Unless you’re sailing on an all-inclusive cruise line, you’re going to need money for extra expenses like alcohol, sodas and specialty coffees, spa treatments, shopping in the ship’s store, and specialty restaurants. You’ll also need to budget for off-the-ship activities such as shopping, excursions (if not pre-paid), tips for your cab/shuttle drivers, etc.
It must be said: getting sick before, during, or immediately after traveling is on everyone’s mind right now. Even before the recent outbreak of the coronavirus, we all worried about contacting some weird, exotic, unknown (and possibly incurable?!?!) disease the minute we left the safety of our homes! Okay, we know not to drink the water … but should we use that strange stuff coming out of the faucet to brush our teeth? Wash our face? Shower in (don’t open your mouth!). Perhaps we should pack a gallon of hand sanitizer? It’s easy to begin to look, sound and act like Adrian Monk – and that can really put a damper on enjoying your next vacation.
So, let’s break it down and look at what you should (and should not) do while traveling – as well as a few preventative tips to take before you leave home!
This might be the most popular question I get asked. I guess people assume that the reason I decided to start a travel business is so I could travel for free. The answer in a nutshell is: No!
There are a lot of perks in this business; free travel doesn’t happen to be one of them. We do get offers for FAM trips and cruises (FAM = familiarization); but we still pay a reduced fare for those trips and cruises, plus taxes and fees and transportation to and from the departure/arrival point. We may “earn” a cruise with some of our cruise lines, by completing hours/weeks/months of training online – but again, we have to pay taxes and port fees, as well as transportation to and from the ship and all excursions, etc., while onboard. So, no, we don’t get to travel FREE (i.e., nothing out-of-pocket).
We do, however, get some pretty cool perks: we’re invited to ship visits where we can tour the ship and enjoy a nice lunch in the Main Dining Room with others in our industry, while we learn what’s new with that cruise line or ship. We’re invited to Trade Industry luncheons, seminars, and Trade Shows where we learn more about our travel suppliers. We get invitations to fun receptions and parties sponsored by various travel partners. These “perks” are great fun, help us build and foster relationships with our suppliers and others in our field, and are informational. They are definitely one of the parts of my business that I enjoy.
But, no: we don’t get to travel for free.
Actually, the only times we use the word “FREE” is when we refer to the number of unpaid hours we spend studying and taking exams to be certified as a professional travel advisor, learning about all of the suppliers, their promotions and how to book with them, how to operate and market our business, and basically, how to be a small business owner (some of that training is free, but anything beyond the basics has an expense). Or the number of unpaid hours we spend researching, quoting, refining and booking travel for our clients. Our suppliers only pay us for booking travel – if the client doesn’t book, all those hours are unpaid. Or the “free” gifts we leave for our clients in their cabin or hotel rooms. Or the months we go “salary free” because we don’t get paid until our clients travel. That means, if you book for 2021, we do the work now but don’t see a commission until you’ve completed your travel.
When I re-read this, I think “WOW! Why would anyone want to go into the travel business?” But the truth is, most of the professional Travel Advisors I know start their business because of their passion for travel; they want to share the adventures, the experiences, the memories with everyone. There’s so much to see and experience in this great big world! “It’s a big world out there. Go explore!”
Do you book your own travel -- or do you use a Travel Professional? If you don't use a professional, why not? Let us know in the comments section below!
Cooling My Jets in Amsterdam
One of the biggest headaches travelers face when flying is the dreaded layover.
When I was in the Navy, I frequently flew out of Norfolk and, for some reason, I always had a layover in Pittsburg or Cleveland. LONG layovers! Not much to do for those hours of waiting. Drove me bonkers!
Since I also flew overseas fairly often, I soon learned to take advantage of those long layovers by heading out to explore the city where I landed. One of my absolute favorite layover adventures was when I was enroute to Bahrain: a “Layover Escape” that included a Canal Cruise and Walking Tour through the city. What an amazing experience!
The sightseeing cruise allowed us to experience traditional Dutch culture, folklore and craftsmanship with stops in several villages. We enjoyed amazing views from our vantage point on the canal. A professional guide shared the rich cultural tapestry of Holland, as we cruised through Holland’s beautiful countryside and discovered tulip-filled meadows and studied the amazing Dutch architecture. We also had an opportunity to visit the villages and towns of Edam, Marken, and Zaanse Schans, and enjoyed a pleasant balance of guided walking tours and leisurely free time.
Bahrain: A Culture of Contrasts
“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre Gide
One of the most adventurous destinations I’ve traveled to is Bahrain. I was stationed there with the Navy in the early 2000’s. I’m not sure what I expected when I set out, but it was an eye-opener in so many ways. I’ll leave out any political observations here in favor of focusing on the things you, as a traveler, might find of interest, as Bahrain has certainly become a tourist destination.
Bahrain is a small Arab state situated in a bay on the southwestern coast of the Persian Gulf. It is an archipelago consisting of Bahrain Island and some 30 smaller islands. Its name is from the Arabic term al-bahrayn, meaning “two seas.”
Unlike many of its neighboring countries, Bahrain has only small stores of petroleum. Its economy relies on processing crude oil from its neighbors and, more recently, the country has benefitted from an increase in tourism. Manama, the country’s chief city, port, and capital (and where I was stationed) is located on the northeastern tip of Bahrain Island.
During my tour there, I found Bahrain to be an interesting juxtapose: on one hand, a strikingly modern city, relaxed and cosmopolitan; on the other, the epitome of a poverty-stricken island. The people of Bahrain remain conservative in their lifeways, and that is apparent throughout the island. Manama is a favorite destination for visitors from neighboring Saudi Arabia; on weekends, crowds of Saudis converge on the city to enjoy its restaurants and bars. But I also observed a stark contrast to the modernization of the city – wealth vs. poverty, living hand-to-hand with one another. Many roads and sidewalks were in such total disrepair that it was difficult to maneuver them. From my room, I looked down on to an alley where children were living in cardboard boxes. Looking a little farther out, I could see a beautiful see a beautiful villa, complete with lovely landscaping and a private pool.
The contrast existed within the people I met as well. It was obvious to all that I was a “female soldier.” Although we weren’t required to wear the “Burka,” or “Hijab,” military regulations required that we kept our arms and legs covered and that we didn’t wear any tee-shirts with logos or writing on them. So, we stood out! When we walked down the streets to go shopping, it was not uncommon for large groups of local women to push us out of the way and spit on us. We learned to cross the road when we saw them coming!
Just say "Cheese!"
Traveling is all about creating great memories, right? And what better way to keep those memories close to your heart than by taking pictures – every step of the way!
I was a Photojournalist much of my Navy career. When I was a very young Sailor, I was photographing a flag officer’s change of command. It was my first assignment of that magnitude and I was nervous! During the pre-ceremony festivities the day before, the senior photographer had failed to check her camera to ensure she had film (yeah, back in the days of film!). She shot the entire reception and, when the time came for her to turn her film in to the photo lab at the end of the evening, she was mortified to discover her mistake.
It left a lasting impression on this very green photojournalist! We had a seasoned chief photographer supervising the event and I guess she could tell I was a wee bit nervous! Of course, she warned us to ALWAYS double check our cameras for film; but I remember to this day these words of wisdom: “If you take ONE good picture during the entire ceremony today, you’ll have succeeded in your job. Just ONE great picture is all you need.”
Wouldn’t we be thrilled if every picture we took on vacation was worthy of being published in the National Geographic? But let’s face it, that’s not likely. Personally, I think most of us would be happy if we had photographs that were in focus, properly exposed and didn’t have trees growing out of our heads. But there are a few easy tips that you can put in your bag of tricks to help ensure you have “scrapbook” worthy photographs to share when you return home!
The camera doesn’t have to be expensive: Cameras don’t always have to be expensive to get the job done. Surprisingly, phone cameras today take pictures that can honestly rival the quality of the most expensive digital cameras. Many years ago, I was on assignment with a National Geographic photographer – he was shooting pictures and I was writing the story. For grins and giggles, I brought a point-and-shoot camera to take pictures for my own scrapbook. At the end of the day, we turned everything into the photo lab for development. The next morning, we went through the photographs to see which we’d use for the story and the photographer pulled out a couple that he really liked – but said he didn’t remember shooting them. Turns out, they were from the point-and-shoot that I had! And they were good enough to run with our story! You can take photographs that will transport you back to that wonderful time and place with a phone camera just as easily as an expensive digital. Don’t be intimidated!
YO HO HO, and a Bottle of Rum
YO HO HO, and a Bottle of Rum!
About a year ago, my brother asked me to find him a bottle of Tortuga Vanilla Rum during one of our Caribbean cruises. I’m not sure how he learned about this particular rum, but he was hell-bent on trying some. For whatever reason, Tortuga Rum is not available for purchase in the United States – so the search was on.
On our first cruise, after Skip made his request, we checked the ship’s store and the Duty-Free shop at each of the ports we visited: no go. They didn’t sell Tortuga. We stopped in Grand Turk and St. Thomas and checked around town – still a dud. For the next couple of cruises, we kept checking and couldn’t find it.
Now you must understand something: Dan and I almost ALWAYS buy rum on each of our cruises. It’s our spirit of choice and the deals we get, both on the ship and on each island, are amazing! But more on that later!
Visiting (and Loving) Morocco
Many years ago, I had an opportunity to travel to Tangier, Morocco. Although I had and have traveled to many different countries over the years, Morocco was an especially interesting and eye-opening experience.
Tangier serves as Europe’s gateway to Africa. It’s an interesting blend of cultures and influences that are unique in Morocco.
Mention Tangier to any worldly traveler and you might get a startled look: It was long considered a bit sleezy and, well, mysterious – partly because of its time as a semi-independent international zone that appealed to flamboyant travelers, artists and spies. For many years, it had an unsavory reputation and visitors, while attracted to its seedy allure, didn’t tend to stay for extended visits!
In more recent years, however, things have changed, due to investments into the city. There’s a new business construction, along with a new TGB train line to Casablanca. But when I visited, things were still a little “iffy.” It made for a totally exciting adventure!
I took a very high-speed ferry from Spain to Morocco and arriving was, in and of itself, an experience. We were greeted by locals hustling their wares – wading out to meet the ferry, selling everything you could imagine. Even very small children met the boat and were so adorable, it was difficult to resist.
A Journey inside an Ancient Mayan Cave
Dan and I love having new adventures when we cruise. Seeing new places, sampling different cuisines, exploring new heights (literally and figuratively!) – it’s all part of the fun of traveling!
One of our favorite cruise adventures was when we were in Cozumel. Carnival Cruise Lines has a relatively new program where port calls have been extended on more than 750 voyages, providing guests with even more opportunities to experience and explore this diverse vacation destination. Many new excursions have been added as a result of the extended time in port, with several of these on the Mexican mainland.
With an early morning arrival in Cozumel and a late “back on board” time, Dan and I were able to take a trip inland for a 3-part adventure.
First, we traveled in an air-conditioned van to a small lagoon where we spent an hour or so snorkeling. It was a beautiful; albeit a bit crowded. But the snorkeling was awesome and the water amazing, so it was something we were happy to have experienced.
Anyone who knows me, or spends much time around me, knows that I have a living, breathing, constantly growing Bucket List. And, with only two exceptions, my wish list takes me far from home … Europe, Asia, etc. And even the two adventures that beckon closer to home, are still quite a distance and will require a lot of advanced planning, saving and packing.
But let’s face it: we can’t always feed our hunger for adventure by traveling off to new destinations around the world! So maybe it’s a good idea to think of things you can do right in (or near) your own hometown!
As a child, and a young parent, we would hop in the car on a Saturday morning and start driving. No matter where we ended up, we would find a great adventure. We didn’t have to pack, plan, or spend a lot of money. We had a great time together as a family and saw a lot of country, attended many festivals, and shared quite a few humorous adventures. Let’s see if I can help you look at your hometown through the eyes of a traveler – to help you see home in a new light!
1. Take a tour of your home city – now, I confess: I happen to live in the perfect city to explore (St. Augustine, FL). It’s the oldest, continually inhabited city in the United States. So, there are a LOT of tours available for exploration! But every city has its’ own history, its’ own culture, its’ own attractions. Do some research and take a weekend to explore by taking a local tour. It could be a trolley ride, a winery, a boat cruise around your local waterway – whatever is available, look at your town as though seeing it for the first time. I guarantee you’ll find something new! I happen to be a real history buff, so checking out the history of ANY city absolutely fascinates me! Or maybe you’re really into the Arts – check out a local museum or see if there’s an Art Fair on the calendar. The possibilities are endless!
Terie & Dan
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