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Monthly Archives: May 2012

“Q” is for Questions

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Yep, still working on A to Z. Do you know how hard it is to think of something for “Q”?

I firmly believe that the key to a good travel experience is questions. If you’re a traveller, you want to find out some things about your destination before you go – or perhaps, before you even choose your destination. If you’re selling or advising on travel, you want to ask your client questions before, and while, you put their trip together.

The best tack is to ask specific questions that aren’t open to ambiguous replies. Instead of asking, “Is there anything fun to do in Tennesee?” try asking, “What kinds of outdoor recreation can I find in the Nashville area?” On the other side of the desk, instead of asking “What do you like to do?” try asking “Would you rather go white water rafting, or do you prefer hiking?”

Getting good travel deals is often about asking questions too. When booking a room for instance, instead of asking, “What’s the price on a double for two?” you could ask, “Are there any current discounts on rooms at this location?”

Ask questions of friends and relatives, but again, try to be specific. Instead of “Did you like Rome?” try “What was the best thing about Rome? What was the biggest surprise? What did you wish you’d known beforehand?”

But try to remember that friends, relatives, colleagues and even the Internet don’t always have accurate information. Check with your travel professional. For example, as a traveller, I could tell you, “Oh, you can get reservations at Cinderella’s Royal Table less than a week out.” And I did. But the reality is, “Cinderella’s Royal Table is a very hard reservation to get – they reserve a year out, so call as soon as possible and have a backup plan.”

If you’re embarking on the type of trip you’ve never taken before, don’t hesitate to ask your travel agent questions, even if you think they’re silly. “Does this package include a lot of walking? Will we be able to leave our belongings on the coach while we tour?”

The most important thing about questions is to ask what you really want to know. There’s a standing joke among Disney-philes that the most common question asked of on-the-ground Cast by visitors is “What time is the 3 o’clock parade?”

Think about it for a minute.

What the questioner really wants to know is, “what time should I choose my spot on the sidewalk?” Or, “If the parade starts at 3, what time will it pass this spot right here?” But that wasn’t the question, was it?

My daughter worked one summer as a custodian at Disney Studios. She shared a story with us of a guest who asked, one morning, “Where’s a good spot to view the High School Musical show?” My daughter replied, “Right here is an ideal spot.” The woman nodded, and sat down, in the spot – for the next several hours until the show began, because she hadn’t asked any advice about when to claim the spot, what time the show started, etc.

The questions you ask can make a big difference.

 

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“P” is for Pets

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Still working my way through the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Stick with me!

Making travel decisions and arrangements can be difficult for pet owners, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. People feel strongly about their pets- our dogs, cats and hedgehogs can often feel like a member of the family. We don’t want to leave them behind, but we realize that not all pets are happy travellers all of the time. How we handle this is going to depend on the pet, the destination, the type of travel involved and a number of other factors. And even when you’ve got it all figured out, things can go awry; remember what happened to Jann Arden not too long ago?

Essentially, you usually have three or four main options:

  1. Bring your pet with you
  2. Board the pet at a facility, either at home or at your destination
  3. Hire a pet sitter
  4. Leave your pet with a friend or relative

We’ve taken the dog with us on several trips, but only those trips where we were camping or cottaging, or staying with relatives. Generally, it’s gone well, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many tourist-driven towns are dog-friendly. Several times, winding our way down the main street on foot, we’ve left one of our party outside with the dog, only to have store keepers come out and tell us we can bring the dog in, since we’re carrying him. Go North Bay, Fenelon Falls, Bracebridge and Muskoka! My daughter tells me that in Paris and Rome it was very common to see dogs accompanying their owners – unleashed, even!

Watching a city dog take on the cottage was a treat too -he was overwhelmed with all the squirrels there were to chase, the dirt there was to roll in, and the water there was to swim in. And when he’d had enough of the day, he figured out how to nose the zipper of the tent open and crawl on into bed! And he LOVES riding in the car, probably because we took him on an 8-hour drive only a week after getting him.

We did stay in a motel with him one night once, and that didn’t go as well. He had a tendency to sit at the door and howl. When we’ve gone places we couldn’t take him, we’ve been lucky enough to have a relative that will let him come to stay. Likewise the parakeet- a neighbour child is happy to bring him home for a week for $10.

Flying, or taking the bus or train with your pet can be complicated and costly – always find out the details well ahead of time.

If you’re going to leave your pet at a kennel, investigate ahead of time. There may be specific vaccinations necessary, or other arrangements you need to make first. And ask lots of questions to get familiar with the facility. There are some very, very nice facilities available; the new ones at Walt Disney World cost more per night than several of the people-resorts.

Remember too that your pet may behave differently away from home – see the aforementioned howling. No matter how well-trained your pet is, he can surprise you. I recall a very frightening moment in a parking lot when the dog bolted from the van before we could get his leash attached.

Petfriendly.ca has a very helpful database of articles relating to traveling with your pet. Be sure to check it out! Having a pet doesn’t have to stop you from traveling, it just adds something to the planning and preparation.

Do you travel with your pet? What are some of the things you’ve learned along the way?

“O” is for On Your Feet

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“O” my goodness, I’m more than halfway through the A to Z Challenge. I will finish, I will, I will. Thanks for sticking with me!

We’ve talked about hats to hit the road in, now let’s talk about shoes. Of all the things you pack, regardless of where you’re off to next, shoes are oh so important. Sore, blistered, aching feet can ruin your mood, and leave you with memories of your trip you’d rather not have. “Oh, yes, Rome…no, we skipped the Trevi Fountain because I just couldn’t take one more step without screaming in agony.”

If you are going to be doing any kind of sightseeing on your trip, you MUST wear shoes that are going to feel just as good at the end of the day as they do at the beginning. Most of us are not accustomed to prolonged walking in our daily lives; after an hour or so on your feet, your feet are going to swell, and probably sweat too. Wearing an elevated heel changes the way you carry your entire body. The shoes you travel in should fit well, not pinch or shift, and offer the proper support to your foot and the rest of your body. Socks will absorb moisture and help your shoes fit properly. Your shoes should also offer the right amount of protection for the kind of terrain you’re covering, be it concrete, asphalt, cobblestones, gravel paths or sand.

It always amazes me the shoes that people, particularly women, will wear to theme parks, museums and historical sites. In fact, a couple of years ago, we turned it into a game, and started snapping secret pictures of people’s feet at Disney World. To point out our sightings to one another, we use the code word “Parcheesi.” I’ve seen women hobbling along in 4-inch heels struggling to navigate ramps, stairs and uneven ground. 

I’ve seen children whiny and miserable simply because the sandals they’re wearing, while adorable, have caused the Mother of all Heel Blisters. For children who spend much of the day in strollers, shoes are still important. If they’re not used to walking too far, stubbed toes can happen frequently with a sandal or open-toed shoe. And even in the stroller, a shoe that covers the foot will prevent sunburned tootsies!

We’ve found that the running shoes we wear on a daily basis are almost always the best shoes to wear away from home too. We tend to pack a pair of flip-flops to wear around resort pools or on the beach; and ugly though they may be, a Croc-type shoe is remarkably comfortable and versatile. When the kids were little, we always insisted they wear socks and running shoes on vacation, and tried to lead by example. Another benefit to opting out of the foot fashion parade is that only bringing one or two pairs of shoes leaves lots of room in your suitcase for other things.

You need to keep your eyes on your feet too; check them often throughout the day for “hot spots” that may turn into blisters. Also watch for skin changes that may indicate Athlete’s foot or another problem is developing. Don’t be afraid to change your socks a couple of times in a day, depending on how much you’re walking, to make sure your feet stay clean and dry. And check the kids feet too – often, they won’t say anything about a blister developing until it’s too late.

Check out this cute clip of an upcoming Modern Family episode on The Disney Blog that really sums things up, and made me smile – I couldn’t get the video to embed here!

What kind of shoes do you wear when you travel?

“N” is for North

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Still blogging A to Z…are you with me?

Because of Canada’s location on the globe, “north” is not a direction many of us travel in. We’ll scuttle side to side, east to west, as we explore our own country. Further east (or west) if we’re interested in travelling abroad. Or we’ll look south for destinations – the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, and so on. The fact is, that for most Canadians, although there’s still a lot of ground to the north, there’s not always much that attracts.

Those of us down here in the southern part of Ontario, however, find ourselves in a unique position. Not only is much of our own country “up north”, 27 American states are at least partly, if not entirely, north of us. And north is a pretty cool place to go.

I have summered in Northern Ontario. I have wintered in Northern Ontario. Note that the nice things I’m about to say relate to summer – I can think of no good reason to go north in the winter. (ice fishing sounds boring, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are hard work, and snowmobiling is too dangerous for me.) Plus, it’s cold- mind-numbingly, frost-bitingly cold, and the snowbanks grow higher than your head by Christmas.

But Northern Ontario in the summer? Ah, now you’re talking. The landscape is truly awe-inspiring. Rock that’s prehistoric, majestic pines towering overhead, blue sky untouched by smog. Lakes so clear…I was eleven the first time I swam in a lake up north; I could actually see my feet through the water. I was amazed.

The Trans-Canada Highway winds around and through this scene; depending on where you’re at, you can sometimes drive an hour or more without seeing another car. And it’s quiet. Even the “cities” are quiet, most of them being about the size of a suburb here in the south. People may still hurry, but there’s an intensity that’s pleasantly absent from the pace. It’s one of the few places I’ve been where an hour seems to take an hour, no more and no less, and it’s just right. And when night falls, the stars are a sight to behold. There’s no humidity. You can’t help but relax.

There are mosquitos though, and black flies. Consider yourself warned.

“M” is for Maps

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Moving right along…I may not finish the A to Z Challenge today, but I will finish!

I love maps, particularly road maps. I love unfolding them on the living room floor, or the hood of the car, or a picnic table at a rest stop, and discovering not only how to get from Point A to Point B, but also what else I might see along the way.

I credit my mother for my love of maps. During a family trip when I was about 10, I was given the task of navigating from the passenger seat. I had to figure out how to get that little Chevette from Windsor,Ontario to Emo, Ontario. Was it quicker to go through Michigan to the Soo, or cut across the UP and come back into Ontario north of Duluth. How many days would it take? Where were the rest stops and interesting little towns located?

Putting me in charge of the map sure cut down on the “When are we gonna get there?” All I had to do was look at the map!

No one uses maps anymore. Most people plug an address into a GPS, and follow the computerized directions. Or they “Google map” something, and only ever see that tiny little portion of the terrain that immediately surrounds them. And yet, when I think about the things that can be discovered using a map! Some of the most interesting side trips might only be 40 miles out of your way, but you’ll never know it because the GPS just gets you where you’re going. I worry about an entire generation growing up with very little concept of where they are in relation to anything else, like, say, Lake Huron.

We’ve never had GPS, so that’s one of the reasons we still use a map. And a Google map you printed at home won’t do you much good if you need to take a sudden detour, or missed your turn and want to get back on track without backtracking. So we always make sure we’ve got a good map along with us. And I’ve tried to make sure the kids grow up knowing how to use a map too!

I also like things like attractions maps, etc. You can’t always rely on staff to give you accurate directions (though you mostly can!) I remember one time at DisneyWorld, a fellow traveller regaling us with the story of a Cast Member giving him directions to the Pirates of the Carribean attraction. The CM had a map laid out before her – she gave verbal directions, and placed her finger on the map to show the visitor where he should go. The visitor gently pointed out that that was Space Mountain. (WDW lovers will know that Space Mountain is on the opposite side of the Magic Kingdom from Pirates) Good thing one of them could read the map!

Do you still use paper maps, or do you rely on GPS?

“L” is for luggage

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I got my first set of my very own luggage when I was about 8 or 9; I was so excited! Owning my own suitcases, ones that were mine and mine alone, just seemed like such a grown-up kind of thing. Never mind that the only place I was really going “on my own” was summer camp. It was a two-piece, turquoise blue set, one large case and one smaller – and “overnighter” I think you’d probably call it.

Although I obtained several new sets of luggage over the next few years, that little overnight case just seemed to hang around. I can’t even say it got much use; but it travelled with me through several moves for years until I finally set it out for a garage sale a few years ago.

As I mentioned, there’ve been several sets of luggage since then. And we always tried to make sure the girls had their own suitcases too – initially, a tiny pink “Going to Grandma’s” suitcase that didn’t hold much more than a pair of pajamas, moving gradually to larger pieces. At one point, we bought a purple set and broke it up among the girls – the largest suitcase was big enough to hold the five-year-old and her clothes for a week, besides. In fact, that behemoth is still in service, as the Ottawa girl hauls it back and forth every time she comes home for a visit. It’s big enough for  her clothes, her laundry, anything she’s bringing home to store, and the hedgehog wheel.

One of the luggage lessons I’ve learned is that cheap luggage is cheap for a reason. It usually can’t stand up to the rigors of even light travel. Any strain on the zippers or fabric, and you may find yourself hastily repacking your underwear in the middle of an airport concourse. Now, I’ve rarely seen luggage actually being loaded on or off a plane – I’d like to imagine they handle everything with kid gloves. I doubt it though – you’ll want your suitcase to be able to stand up to a few tosses, and having other luggage land on top of it.

Wheels are another consideration. Almost all luggage has wheels these days, which is a good thing. It makes it easier for people to manage their own luggage. However, wheels break – most suitcase wheels aren’t going to withstand being rolled up and down stairs or curbs, or on and off of escalators for long. Be kind to your wheels! And for the average person, it’s never a good idea to pack more than you can lift – sooner or later, you’re going to encounter a situation where you actually have to carry your suitcase.

The newest luggage is coming in lots of cool patterns and colours. I like it, because it’s distinctive, and might even reflect your personality. I’m also seeing a return of “hard-sided” luggage; I haven’t tried any out yet, but I’m curious as to how these suitcases are standing up to the demands of travel. Are they easily scratched? Broken/crushed? Are the closures/zippers holding up to repeated use?

Of course, most of us only think about our luggage when we’re actually using it. But there’s more to good suitcase ownership than hitting the road, and remembering what to pack. I found this short list of luggage care tips. Feel free to add your own in the comments. And do tell me about your experiences with the newer hard-shell luggage!

“K” is for Killing Time

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Yes, the A-Z in April Challenge is over. But I’m going to try to finish it; I kind of got stuck on “K” but I shall power through!

Killing time. Waiting. Depending on your travel habits, it’s one of those things you could find yourself doing frequently.

Waiting in line. Waiting for a flight to depart. Waiting for a bus to come. Waiting for a show to start. Vacations can have lots of waiting, lots of time where you aren’t doing anything but killing time, waiting for whatever happens next. And if you’re like me, you get…bored.

So it’s important to come up with some tricks and tactics to make your waiting time interesting, at least. And you never know, these little pockets of time where you weren’t doing anything could end up being the times you remember the most. Here’s a fe ideas.

  • Read – a book, a Kindle, a newspaper, heck, even the brochure or guidemap of the place you’re waiting to enter.
  • Write -keep a pen handy and jot a few lines in your travel journal, or compose a postcard to a friend. Send a tweet, or even a quick “wish you were here” via text message.
  • Photograph – take a shot or two of the area you’re in. If you’re stuck in a queue, it’s a really good chance to absorb some of the detail or scenery that surrounds you.
  • Talk – strike up a conversation with other people who are also waiting. “Have you seen this show before, is this your first time in Paris, do you know how often this bus runs?” are all good opening lines. You don’t have to get up close and personal, just chit chat politely. Who knows, this might be one of those conversations that sticks with you forever.
  • Play – if you have a group with you, especially kids, try “I Spy” or an alphabet game. If you’re alone, play Angry Birds on your phone, or see how many world capitals you can name in your head.

What are some of your tricks for killing time?