All inclusive, not all exhausting.

It’s hard to explore all the time. Maybe you can relate?

I can’t be the only one who is so exhausted that I just want to have an ultra-easy vacation with comforts that I know I can count on.

A big fluffy bed in a clean room, with a big shower and maybe even a tub. A hotel room where there is room to spread out so the kids aren’t tripping over each other and no one is fighting for space.  Somewhere where no one has to sleep with their brother or compromise with a cot.

I want room service. And I want a balcony.  I’m not even fussy about the view. It could overlook a garden, the pool or even give only a glimpse of the ocean…. it doesn’t matter.  As long as it doesn’t overlook my unwashed car,  my neighbour’s dog house,  or the lawn I need to mow and the bike I need to repair.

I don’t want to walk 4 km to get to the pool or the beach or get up at 6 AM to reserve a chaise by the ocean.  I don’t want to stand in line to make a reservation and I don’t want to have to walk up to the bar each time to get a drink. Is it so wrong that I just want a drink delivered to the pool deck  so I don’t have to put my book down?

And I don’t  want to negotiate either an appetizer or a dessert with the kids. I would love for them to eat as much as they want, so they are no longer hungry, without me having to calculate the cost and take away from my meal accordingly. (Teenagers eat a car payment each month at home!)

And lastly what I want from my vacation is something to do in the evening after dinner.  It does not have to be a Cirque du Soleil show or anything. It could be a movie theatre with old movies, or it could be a games room with a ping pong table. Just something where we can laugh and share an experience as a family.

Sounds like exhausted-me wants an all inclusive resort.  A small property, by the beach, family friendly and “unlimited luxury included.”

Now, if I can just find the right space on the calendar!

Last minute vacation deals

I’m going to give you a tip.  If you live in a market smaller than Toronto,  don’t ever count on a last-minute travel bargain.  There’s simply not enough competition in the market.

In my experience, and in my opinion only, it is NOT possible to net an amazing deal on a five-star vacation two days before you want to leave from the Winnipeg airport.

However, I’m not telling you to lose hope. What I am telling you is that if you are from Winnipeg your last minute window “opens and closes earlier.” Booking a last-minute vacation at a reduced cost over retail is possible 40 to 14 days in advance of travel.

Why 40 – 14?   If you ask me to find you a bargain three days before you travel, you are asking a travel agent for a miracle. If you ask the same travel agent for a bargain trip two weeks from now… You will find options. Often several options. However you will need to decide instantly yay, or nay.  Bargains get snapped up quickly and there is no such thing as “holding” a package.

Availability is only guaranteed in the payment screen and when the booking is confirmed by the airline.

Why do I call a “last-minute” bargain 40 days before travel?  Well, it goes like this: If someone is making payments on a trip their total balance is typically due 60-45 days before the trip starts.  If full payment is not made and passenger defaults on the trip, the airline will take back their space and put it into inventory and try to resell it.  Now these open seats or excess hotel inventory can be discounted for resale because the first party already partially paid for it. (Deposits are 100% nonrefundable .)   This bounce back inventory often occurs around that 40 day mark.

So it’s just a matter of rethinking the definition of “last minute travel bargain.”

Your odds are better if you plan AT LEAST two weeks before you go.

If you do plan to take a last-minute trip I also highly recommend having your passport in hand, your dog kennel already booked, and full payment for of the trip ready.

And an open mind.  Last minute bargain-hunting requires an open mind! I think last-minute travellers are happiest when they are flexible with choice of resort and/ or destination.  Aim for the moon, but be happy when you reach the stars!


A cup of nostalgia

The Seal Rock Inn is as close to Lands End National Park as you can get. It’s a multi-million dollar location, for sure.

The Inn itself, is “retro” in decor and old fashioned in customer service. This sweet girl at the front desk genuinely worries about her travelers. She has a lovely way about her. She’s an innkeeper in the nicest sense.

Guest room

The Inn has a coffee shop type restaurant.  You know, the kind of restaurant that keeps their clean coffee cup on the tables turned upside down and ready for the next guest.

I was drawn to the coffee cups in a nostalgic kind of way. They were the very kind of coffee cups that Chi Chi’s (Mexican restaurant) had when I worked there back in the 90s.  At Chi-Chi’s we used to have cases of those coffee cups in  the storeroom.  Whenever they were chipped or a handle would break I would just go grab a couple more out of the boxes and take them to the dining room. Seeing the cups at Seal Rock Inn brought back memories, so powerfully in fact, that I sat down to have a sandwich just so I could hold the cups.

That plain brown glaze was always so smooth and the way the cup tapered in, it fit in my hand nicely.  It’s a very tactile experience, almost as powerful as your sense of smell taking you metaphorically back to grandma’s kitchen and her fresh baked cinnamon buns.

Anyways, I enjoyed my turkey sandwich.  True to its old fashion values, Seal Rock Inn was the kind of place that roasts its own turkey, carves it fresh and puts it on plain brown bread, mustard on the side.

From the vinyl seats of the booth,  I could see clear to the ocean and I could imagine all the joy this place has brought to weary travellers over the years.

Seal Rock Inn is at the North west corner of the city of San Francisco, a mere block from the Pacific Ocean. A walking mile away you will find a stunning stretch of public beach.


Why is this a bargain?

Prices and availability subject to change without notice. This screenshot was valid for booking Aug 4, 2019. The further past this publishing date the less likely the bargain is still available.

This Air Canada vacations package came up in a recent search. It is priced for two adults and two children under age 12.

To have the total cost under $4000, (or 1000 per person) is remarkable when considering your package includes flights, bus transfer, checked luggage, plus a week in five-star accommodations, including meals and beverages. Wow!

Why is it so cheap? These are quiet travel dates, halfway between US Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Dreams Resorts are part of the AMResorts chain and are known for their family focussed entertainment, accommodations, and unlimited luxury.  Unlimited luxury refers to 24 hour room service, snacks, no limits on a la  carte restaurant reservations, free kids’ club programming and much more!

To go to this resort with your family over Christmas, expect to pay about $2400 a person.

I’d love to book this, or any other Dreams Resort, for your family.  If you live in western Manitoba, please do track me down at SellOffVacations in Brandon.

What makes a travel bargain?

In my opinion, a travel bargain worth mentioning has to be the right blend of quality, reliability, and price. 

If the food is of poor quality, it’s no bargain.

If the airline regularly cancels flights or routes or has a reputation for delays, it’s no bargain.

If the discounted price still offers high quality and reliability of service, that’s a bargain. And only when it meets this criteria, do I consider posting it to the She Talks Travel Facebook forum.

What if the price is abnormally low? Then it is important to investigate further. Why is there a deep discount?  To use one recent example, the “NOW Emerald” Resort is priced  about 20% lower than its sister (and similarly named) resorts NOW Sapphire and NOW Jade.

(This is where it’s handy to know a travel professional and can ask this question before you book. “Why is this one cheaper?)

In this case, NOW Emerald is a recently acquired property. AMResorts,  (the parent chain) has purchased this location from Oasis Resorts. So, it was an existing resort that has been purchased and is in the process of renovating and rebranding. During this time of transition, and renovation, they are offering lower introductory rates.  Knowing the high quality of standards and reputation of AMResorts, you can be assured of quality food, accommodations and service. Therefore I believe the introductory price qualifies as a bargain.

Another time a bargain comes up is when there is increased competition. So for example, when Flair started flying to Phoenix, WestJet slashed their prices on the same route.  In this case WestJet was the bargain.

There is almost always a bargain to be found when you move in the opposite direction of a crowd. For example when everyone goes back to work and school in September, if you go out to travel you’ll find a bargain.

What is NOT a bargain?   Anything that is not the right fit for you or your family.   It’s simply not a good idea to force a size 9 foot into a size 6 shoe. You will regret trying or buying that “shoe” or trip, no matter how good it looks in the ads.


Gift with purchase

I tell my travel clients that when they buy a trip that they are excited about, the bonus they get is the ‘gift of anticipation.’

The gift of anticipation is really valuable to get you through the bad days. Because we all have bad days. Bad days are just life’s reality check.  It can happen at work or with your team or at school or with your family. It happens to all of us.

I find that when you have something to look forward to, even if it’s four or five months down the road, the bad days pass easier. You KNOW you have something on the calendar you are excited about.

Start a countdown calendar. Whether it’s on your phone or on the wall but make it something visual you can see!

This is really the point I was trying to make with the last column….  you deserve a vacation that you’re excited about. Not something you are settling for. If you SETTLE for a vacation because it was on sale, or someone else talks you into it, then you cheat yourself out of that gift of anticipation. If you are constantly checking online for better deals or second-guessing your choice or even dreading the vacation, you miss out on ‘the gift of anticipation.’ I don’t want anyone to feel that way. Plan something you are excited about, or wait for something else.

I will tell you truthfully, that my years owning a restaurant were hard. There were times I worked 15 or 20 days straight. (42 was the record. I’m ashamed, not proud. It’s unhealthy to work that much.) The only thing that got me to the other side of that was knowing I had a treat at the end.   I would arbitrarily pick a date into the future and plan a fabulous vacation for me and my kids. That gave me something to look forward to and something to think about in the windowless kitchen, doing the demanding, thankless tasks day after day.

I would tell my close friends that I saw myself like a good little donkey. I could pull the heavy load, I could do the work and I could keep going just as long as I saw I carrot at then end of each road.

For me, that carrot was always a trip.  To this day, I believe in the power of ANTICIPATION.