Happy Anniversary to Us!

If you want to be a writer…. then, write.

I can’t imagine the number of times I’ve repeated this in my own head. It’s simple. So simple! And I can’t even say where I heard it first but it’s become my mantra. I take it to mean, “whatever you want to do, JUST DO IT. GET STARTED! GO FOR IT!”

If you want to be a skier, then ski! If you want to be a painter… then paint!

In my case, I’m fulfilled and I sleep better when I empty my brain. I’m forever writing and scripting and telling stories in my head. There’s a running commentary and sometimes comedy show, being narrated in my own mind. I’m a storyteller. It’s simply who I am. Does it pay? No. Does it matter? Yes! Does it make me happy to write? Heck yeah!

There was a time when I owned a busy restaurant, and it was a constantly moving, flowing, real life game of “Diner Dash.” (That’s a video game where you keep cooking and serving guests and each level gets harder and harder and more chaotic until you collapse and die. The busier you are, the more you “win” at the game. Which is, exactly like real life in the restaurant biz.) And while my restaurant was popular and it paid the bills I was also working ridiculous hours and I often longed to run away, to “escape.”  During that time, a friend (Melynda) introduced me to blogging. (Thanks Mel!)  Since my escape was travel, I titled my first blog “escapethe204” and hosted it on a free blogging website.  I did that for almost 5 years, sporadically, but there was some good content.

Three years ago I was doing some soul searching while on vacation. (Doesn’t everybody?) I knew back then I would need an exit strategy to get out of the restaurant business and I would need to find a way to transition into a new career. I decided to get more serious about writing and what made me happy. I felt the next step was to own and control my own website and domain. I made a long list of domain names and “personalities” for my writing. I got focused about my topic and realized that in order to generate enough content to keep going I would need to have a wide scope and be able to sustain a high level of enthusiasm. That’s why I chose travel. I’m genuinely passionate about travel and I felt that others might want to follow along and discuss it as well.

And that’s how “She Talks Travel” went from concept to life plan the first week of December 2015, in a hotel room in Montreal. From there, I moved forward to investigate and determine that “she talks travel” was available across all the popular social media platforms. That’s when I set about to stake my claim to that name and go forward and “brand” my own travel blog.

I justify the expense (about $300 per year) to have my own hosted site as a similar expense to any other hobby just like painting or skiing. You have to invest in equipment in order to participate. I never set out to sell anything or generate income from clutter ads or gimmicks. I didn’t want to ask for sponsorship or make myself feel obligated to write or perform, so I’ve always just kept it a personal expense. The happiness and personal satisfaction level is still high, so I do consider it worth it.

I sold the restaurant a year ago. I took some time for myself and then decided to pursue a career in the travel and tourism industry. And wouldn’t you know it…. being a known travel writer actually helped me land the job! Am I going to quit writing now that I work for a professional travel agency? Heck no! In fact I’ve paid up and renewed this site for another year. So, happy anniversary! And cheers to the next year of learning and exploring and travelling! I love that you’re here for the ride. Thank you!

How to take advantage of Black Friday travel deals with very little cash.

Don’t you wish you had a couple thousand dollars sitting in your account that you could use to grab some of these fabulous Black Friday and Cyber Monday travel deals? Yeah, me too.

Here are 3 ways that you can take advantage of the great deals without putting a lot of cash down.

  1. Hotel deals. Book flights and hotels separate. You can book almost any hotel with just paying a 1 night deposit and holding the reservation with your credit card. So, book 7 nights at a great rate, and just pay for 1 night upfront, and the rest when you arrive whether it’s in a month or 8 months from now. But you are locking in today’s discount price.
  2. Think long term, not short term. If you are travelling within 60 days you will be asked to pay the whole package price. It you are booking 3-11 months in advance, you are only asked for a deposit when you book through a travel agent. It’s almost like paying your autopac insurance in monthly instalments. There is an upfront booking fee (about 40 dollars) and a deposit (most often $250-$500  per person.) but then you can pay the rest on monthly instalments or however you choose so that it’s paid in full typically 60 days before you depart. So, if you want to grab the sale price for an Easter or Summer holiday, do it now. Then you’ll pay the vast majority in 2019 after you get your tax refund or Christmas bonus. But again, you lock in today’s sale price. (Yes, you can literally sign up for a $3000 vacation package with under $300 per person upfront cost. Now this deposit is non-refundable and you will lose it if you cannot pay the rest of the commitment, but if you CAN make payments, this is the easiest way to do it. No loan or interest charges from a bank.)
  3. Collect points. Sign up for Air Miles, or Westjet Rewards, or Aeroplan programs. They are free programs. Or get the Westjet World Elite MasterCard (perks like no charge for checked bags) and start collecting points that you can use towards future travel. Even if all you ever accumulate is a free hotel night, or a short haul flight, it is something that you can use to bring more travel into your life without a cost.

Bonus tip: If you collect Westjet Rewards, you can keep accumulating them and “cash them in” with your final payment on your holiday. And yes, you can still redeem these reward dollars when using a travel agent.

 

Stressing yourself out of the moment

Maybe you can relate… Have you ever been somewhere on vacation but you can’t really remember much of anything? Details are foggy and remembrances are vague, but you were not under the influence of alcohol or anything other than stress.  Well, I’ve been there and frankly I don’t recommend it. If you read to the end, I’ll offer a few suggestions on how to vacation with less stress. But first, the story and why this topic came up.

I was walking around a small rural cemetery just this past weekend. I was looking for my mother’s headstone and initially I couldn’t find it. That was frustrating, because of course, I had stood at that very gravesite. I tried to think back, but the day she was buried was a complete blur. I was present, I know that, but stress had taken my mind out of the equation, somewhere less painful, I fathom. I can genuinely remember very little about that day, with clarity except for my uncle making a smart remark about my choice of footwear, my Grandmother playing the piano at the reception hall, the candle blowing out at the alter and feeling my mom’s presence when I hugged my great aunt. But where the gravesite was, in the small rural cemetery, I lacked any remembrances.

I sometimes feel this way, overwhelmed with stress, when I travel. Maybe you do too? There is so much planning and pressure and money riding on having a great trip, doing everything on your list and capturing every moment with a photo that it’s easy to lose sight of what’s going on in the moment. Sometimes there’s so much damn pressure that you just mentally check out.

So, how do we fix this and be more PRESENT and CAPABLE in the moment and able to enjoy our hard earned vacations more?  I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I can make a few suggestions. I invite your comments and suggestions as well. Tell me what works for you.

  1. Delegate. Maybe one of your kids could be the official trip photographer? Take something off your responsibility list, anything.
  2. Stop making lists and “must-do” plans just because some stranger on an Internet forum said “this is the BEST restaurant in Alabama and you’ll never know BBQ if you don’t eat here!”
  3. Schedule free time. Yes, actually. Plan an afternoon or even a day of nothing. Free time where you can follow your whims and just be in the moment. Or even sleep in and get the rest your body and brain craves.
  4. Sit and eat and talk to your companions. No phones allowed at the table.
  5. Make tangible connections. That can be with a person, place or thing. Just make sure to pause long enough so that you can genuinely connect.
  6. Remember that things don’t have to be perfect, to be perfectly wonderful!

How much does a hot vacation cost?

Here’s a handy, off the cuff guide to escaping Manitoba and going on a tropical, all inclusive, beach vacation.

In order of typical total cost. Least expensive destinations to most expensive: Cost on each island will vary by resort and room category.

  • Varadero, Cuba
  • Cayo Coco, Cuba
  • Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
  • Cancun, Mexico
  • Maya Riviera, Mexico
  • Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
  • Los Cabos, Mexico
  • Mazatlan, Mexico
  • Ixtapa, Mexico
  • Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
  • Montego Bay, Jamaica
  • Huatulco, Mexico
  • Nassau, Bahamas
  • Curacao
  • St. Lucia
  • St. Maarten
  • Antigua
  • Aruba
  • Belize
  • Barbados
  • Costa Rica
  • Turks n Caicos

A rough number, for a 4 star vacation, at a non-peak holiday time starts at $2000 per adult.  $1700 for your Air/Hotel package, $200 insurance, $100 gratuities & incidentals like resort fees/tourist card etc.

Peak travel is:  American Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Spring Break, University Break (2nd week of Feb)  Plan for at least $2600 or more per adult for a 4 star vacation with insurance and incidentals.

Think of package vacation travel like buying a vehicle. There is everything from the Chevy Cruise to the Cadillac available. You just have to find the model, the style and the features that suit you.  Yes, they are all just “cars” but what comforts/conveniences do you need to be happy and satisfied? Travel is the very same.

My bottom line is this:  if the decision comes down to $300 and it’s the difference between being “satisfied” and “happy” choose HAPPY. (Cut out souvenirs or new clothes for the trip to cover the cost if you need to.)

When you feel like you are settling for a car/vacation because you like the price….you will start off on the wrong foot. When you find something you are EXCITED about, you also give yourself the gift of anticipation. Every day you know you have something to look forward to, even if it is 4 months away. Dare I say the hard winter days get easier, when I have something to look forward to and dream about.

Don’t do bad things!

Travel should be safe, happy and enrich your life. Don’t mess that up for yourself, or others.   Like these two:  Tourists facing jail time for graffiti

I’ll tell you a personal story, because I think it’s kind of sweet. When my son was almost 4 we were watching the Brandon Wheat Kings play and his favourite hockey player (Mark Stone) was sent to the penalty box. This was upsetting for my son. He absolutely hated seeing Mark in “hockey jail.” Later that night Calder (my son) got the chance to tell Mark exactly how he felt.

It was skate with the player night, and during the post-game event, Calder had Mark’s full attention. Mark, (all 6 foot 6 of him, on skates) was down on his knee to listen to Calder.

“Don’t do bad things!” Calder said. “Don’t do bad things.”  he repeated over and over. “No goals in hockey jail.” Which we as parents, interpreted for Mark … “you can’t score goals while sitting in the penalty box.”  Mark assured Calder that he understood the message “don’t do bad things” he repeated over and over. “Don’t do bad things.”  Satisfied that he had been heard, Calder was ready to skate. He and his hockey idol skated around. At the end of the the event Mark said goodbye to the little guy and assured him that he would “not  do bad things” and try his best to stay out of the penalty box. It was a nice moment. Very memorable.

So, that’s pretty much all I’m going to say, because the message certainly does apply to travel.  “Don’t do bad things.”  But honestly, I shouldn’t have to say this. It’s common sense.

1) Jail time isn’t a joke. Jail time isn’t two minutes in the penalty box.

2) Respect the culture and customs of the country you are in. You are a guest. Be on your best behaviour. Obey the laws.

3) If you have a conviction at home. Even if YOU THINK it’s minor, it could very well prevent you from getting a tourist visa, or being allowed entry into a foreign country. Assault, drug possession, DUI (Driving under the influence) are all potential barriers to you being free to travel. So before you buy a plane ticket, check with the embassy. Do your homework.

And most of all, the bottom line is that travel is a privilege. “Don’t do bad things!”

3 Tips to a lower price on the vacation you want.

You’ve found the vacation you want, but it’s just a little out of budget. Now what? Here’s a few tips that could potentially save you 10% or more.

  1. Change your dates. Even if it’s one day earlier, or later, it could save you hundreds of dollars. Pro tip: Choose “flexible dates” in your search whenever that’s an option.
  2. Take the long way. Rather than the direct flight, take a look at a flight with a connection. Think of this as talking the bus to work rather than driving yourself. The bus is less expensive, will take longer, and is less glamorous, but you’ll still get there. BUT if it eats up another half day of your vacation, is the lower price worth it?
  3. Look for re-sellers like “Sunquest Vacations.” They don’t operate their own flights, but rather purchase packages from other providers (like Air Canada) and re-sell them. Think of them as the Winners (discount clothes/housewares retailer) of travel packages. They are more likely to cut prices than to sit on inventory they’ve already paid for. They will not have the same wide selection of packages, but what if they actually have the one you want? Same as shopping at Winners…. always worth a look. And lastly, just like at Winners, if you see a deal, GRAB IT. Don’t hesitate. If you go back tomorrow, it’s very likely to be gone… sold to someone else.

Use a travel agent. While there is a service fee attached to using a travel agent, he/she has has access to superior search engines, travel consolidators and the inside scoop on promotions. Using an expert (and paying $40+ service fee)  could genuinely save you hundreds of dollars over booking a standard vacation package yourself.  Think of a travel agent as a coupon…if you have one, you should use it and save yourself some money.