Travel Experiences Part 1

The new website is up and running and we’re back!

This blog post will actually be consisting of two separate posts; Part 1 being about my first travel experience and Part 2 being about my younger brother Kanoa’s.
I believe many people wish to travel, to see the world, and experience new things. After all, its why we’re in business. However, not all travelers are looking for the same type of experience. My brother, Kanoa, and I are a very good example of this. Our “future travel plans” was a popular childhood discussion and it was never a question of if we would travel it was simply a matter of where and when. What we dreamed of as kids was very very different. Kanoa wanted to go to Asia to see the mountains, the forests, the foods, different cultures, and explore out of the way places that couldn’t be found anywhere else. I wanted to go to Europe to see the museums, architecture, and more established cities. Each time the subject came up, we would each question each other’s line of reasoning. To him, I could google pictures and save the airfare and to me he could do the same and be safer.IMG_1409
Our thoughts on travel haven’t really seemed to change much over the years, although we both quickly realized when we were older that our dreams had been bigger then our wallets. Although both of us still have a checklist of more exotic (and expensive) places we wish to travel, our first adventures have remained a bit tamer and closer to home. My brother went on a group tour of South America when he was 18 with G Adventures (formerly Gap). It was a real walking in the jungle and jumping off of cliffs into hot springs kind of deal and he loved it! He didn’t know anyone and had never been to any of the countries he visited. I didn’t try vacationing without my family until I was 21. I went on a cruise with my boyfriend, James, that traveled to Mexico and Central America. Very different, albeit pleasant, experiences overall.

Travel to Me

IMAG0017I’ve always liked the idea of visiting different places and exploring the world. The idea. When I actually start to think about cost, packing, airline travel, and being alone in a strange country trying to find my way to places I’ve never been I become rather anxious. This didn’t stop me from wanting to see the world by any means, but was I ever going to hop on a plane and go backpack around Europe? Certainly not. I eventually decided that in order for me to travel I would have to:

 

  • bring a friend
  • ease myself into it
  • go to safer destinations
  • LARGE group with amenities

Cruising: Eat, Drink, Be Merry

In my opinion, cruising is a great way to ease yourself into travel. You don’t have to budget much for food or hotels, the ship has shops in case you forget something small like aspirin or a bathing suit, and physical activity is extremely optional. You get on the boat, get off the boat at each stop, and when its time to leave you just have to make sure you’re on the boat again. Even group tours are reassuring if it is something booked with the cruise company, as the boat will not leave without them. For a nervous first time traveler this was perfect.IMG_1508
Caribbean and Mexico cruises leave from a port near our city so it was only a drive away. We were both fairly nervous. I may never have traveled without my family but James had never even left his home state during a time he could remember! He was mostly worried about seasickness. While we stood in an insanely long line to board the ship (though for the record it was the fastest moving line I had ever been in with security at the end), James and I chatted while I constantly checked my backpack. My passport was inside and I felt as though I had to continually keep an eye on it so that it didn’t somehow magically disappear and reappear back on my desk at home. Our tickets, too, were a source of worry for me and I must have asked James at least twice if he still had them. (I don’t trust any important documentation not to disappear when I need it.) I wouldn’t be at ease until we had checked in properly and were officially on the boat.IMAG0021
Once on board, we quickly found cruising to be a relaxing experience for the both of us. The staff was kind and there were massive arrays of free food open almost all the time, a large pool, workout area, stage shows, and comfy living quarters. You could have honestly just stayed on the boat and enjoy the amenities and fresh open air. However, we had come to explore. The ports were packed with shops and restaurants in what you may describe as a “typical tourist destination”. IMG_1450Many of the shop keepers spoke English and most of the shops sold mementos for those visiting the country. There was even a demonstration of Danza de los Voladores, a ceremony were a group of men swing by their feet on top of a very high pole, being performed. We were always provided with a map of everything in the area before we stepped off the boat so I didn’t have to worry as much about getting lost or missing anything I may want to see. We stuck to the ports for the most part, which still made for a long and interesting day.
We did book one tour of Mayan ruins in Belize. We actually got to walk through the site while the tour guide explained what each building was likely for and what sort of ceremonies took place. Although it was a great experience, I don’t think we would have gone if we had known about the 6 hour bus trip back and forth. Word to the wise; Mayan ruins tours in Belize almost always mean a lengthy bus ride since the ports are located so far away from the actual ruins.
James and IThis was, all in all, a great experience. My anxieties about traveling were lessened and I got to spend a week relaxing and seeing new places.  I am a pretty structured person and I like to know what is coming. Few surprises. If this describes you then maybe cruising or a resort destination may be the ideal for you. It is safe, inclusive, mostly structured and relaxing! Maybe we will do 2 weeks next time!!
Keep an eye out for the details on my Brother’s adventures down in the jungles!
Part 2: Kanoa
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Party Pooper: How to Avoid Getting Sick When You Travel

We at Onsite Travel would like to start this post by reminding our readers that most travel honestly go off perfectly fine. However, some advanced planning is always a good idea and can allow your odds of never having an issue while traveling increase dramatically if one of your party does get sick (knock on wood).

Everyone hates getting sick but getting sick when you are on vacation can be particularly unpleasant. People can become ill when they travel for a number of reasons. When you relax, your body’s immunity lowers because you are under less stress, making you more susceptible to everyday viruses. As crazy as this seems, stress will stimulate your immune system so when you relax you can open yourself to illnesses There is actually a term called “leisure sickness”.

New places you travel to can also contain unfamiliar pathogens and unfamiliar bugs in the environment that can affect you negatively. You may be excited to see Bejing, but your asthma certainly won’t be and cruising can be a killer for food born illness and/or seasickness. Below are some tips and tricks to help prevent and/or lessen different travel ailments so that, if they happen to you, it’ll just be a small bump in an otherwise great vacation.

Tips for Planning Ahead

Pack a Medical Kit

Be ready for the worst before it happens. Important things to consider are:

·         Cold Medicine
·         Bottled water
·         Insect repellent, try to make sure it has DEET
·         Sunblock, at least SPF 15 although SPF 5O is better
·         lip balm
·         antibiotic ointment
·         tweezers
·         bandages/gauze, adhesive tape, and scissors (if you bring one, bring the rest)
·         foot care products such as for blisters and athlete’s foot
·         diarrhea remedy
·         for women: feminine products

If you are traveling with a group in a land tour or on a cruise line these products may be available to purchase as you need them. However, they may not have what you need or they may be in short supply so it is best to be prepared and they can be amazingly expensive on board a ship.

*A Note on Packing Prescription Medication of Any kind

Keep prescription medication in their original containers while traveling. Remember to pack them in your carry-on, not your luggage and always bring a physical copy of your prescription in case you loose the medicine on your trip. Particularly when traveling out of the country, get a written note from your doctor explaining why you may be taking any narcotics and sedatives to prevent problems at border crossings. This too, should be packed in your carry-on.

Vaccines

It doesn’t happen often nowadays, but there are still a few countries that require vaccinations to enter the country. Particularly when visiting South America, be sure you are up to date on your vaccinations and talk to your doctor about different preventative measures you may want to take depending on where you are traveling.

Jet Lag: Disruption of the Body’s Internal Clock

Although it is called “jet lag”, this can affect anyone traveling across too many time zones when they’re on vacation. Prepare yourself for traveling across time zones by shifting your body’s clock slowly while your still at home. Do this by manipulating your light exposure, activity patterns, and so on so that it is not as jarring of a transition when you are in a new place. There are several thoughts on solving jet lag but the best way is to try and get on your new schedule a.s.a.p. once you arrive.

Tips for When You’re Traveling

Exercise

As I mentioned before, when you relax, your body’s immunity lowers because you are under less stress. One way to prevent this is to exercise lightly while on vacation. This could be something as simple as taking a brisk walk or swimming. If you stay active your body’s immune system will stay boosted.

Wear Mosquito Repellent

This is mostly in regards to the tropics. Mosquito’s can carry a number of different diseases, some of which you cannot get vaccinated against ahead of time like Dengue fever. Propellant can go a long way.

Avoid Under-cooked Food and Drink Only Bottled Water

This is mostly in regards to less developed countries to avoid stomach sickness, where traveler’s diarrhea is more prevalent. Do you enjoy spicy food? Cayenne peppers increase the intestine’s resistance to microbes that cause stomach pain and diarrhea. If you sprinkle enough on one meal a day to make it extra spicy, it will help keep the diarrhea  away. If you do get stomach sickness, no matter where you travel, calcium is thought to help increase growth of diarrhea-fighting bacterium, making it last for a shorter period of time.

Luck favors the prepared and as always, travel safe and have fun out there!!

image by James Diedrick: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jkdatlanta/3497413025

Travel Insurance

Note from the blogger:
Aaaand we’re back! After a long hiatus I have finally graduated and am able to devote my time to getting this blog up and running again and keeping it running. A lot will hopefully be happening in the next little bit including a spread into more social media and more tips and destinations to poke at your wanderlust. This week we will be looking at an important subject to consider while traveling, because knocking on wood will only get you so far.

It’s a popular saying; Better to have it and not need it then need it and not have it. Travel insurance is something to consider when planning a vacation and just like regular insurance, it’s important to know your options.

There are 3 basic types of Travel Insurance:

  • Cancellation For Any Reason Insurance: insurance that insures you get all or most of your money back on a trip that you cancel prior to travel.
  • Cancellation for Medical Reasons Insurance: insurance that insures you get all or most of your money back on a trip that you cancel for documentable medical reasons
  • Medical Only Insurance: insurance for medical costs that may arise while traveling in the event of an accident. This would not entail compensation on the cost of the trip.

Cancellation Insurance: Why have it?

Most tours and cruises require a deposit before the cruise/tour is to be paid in full and about half of them are not refundable. Several cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Celebrity are still refundable until final payment but the trend in the industry is less and less fully refundable deposits. This deposit will not be returned to you, or not returned in full, if you cancel within a certain time period, usually up until final payment when the regular cancellation schedules kick in. Cancellation insurance is to help get all or more of that deposit back that you normally would not be allowed. This insurance may not be a priority early on, but once you are within the ‘penalty’ window of paying for your vacation, our agents strongly suggest looking at insurance.

Cancellation For Any Reason Insurance or CFAR

This type of insurance assures you get all of your money back on a trip that you cancel prior to sailing except the insurance cost. It literally is “Cancel for any reason”. Ocean cruises do not offer this type of insurance and this is only an option if you are looking to book a land tour or river cruise. The cost of cancellation insurance is based on the cost of the trip itself, usually 7-9% of the trip’s cost in comparison, and is NOT based on age. It is a really nice option if available as you don’t have forms and such if you have to cancel. However, this one usually has to be purchased at the time of booking.

Cancellation for Medical Reasons Insurance

This insurance assures you get all or part of your money back on a trip that you have to cancel specifically for medical reasons. In order to invoke the insurance, you will need to have a doctor sign off on the fact that you or someone listed in your party is too sick or injured to travel. Most of these policies also include immediate family members that get sick or pass away. Any type of trip can be covered by medical cancellation insurance, including ocean cruises. Unlike CFAR, cancellation-for-any-reason insurance, cancellation for medical is based on age as well as trip cost. It is usually less cost then CFAR but can get pricey if you are over 70 years of age.

Medical Only Insurance

This is insurance to cover medical costs that may arise while traveling if someone gets sick or injured. Both types of cancellation insurances listed above also include medical insurance component, but you can purchase medical insurance by itself if you so choose. Medical insurance without cancellation insurance is the cheapest type of travel insurance by a surprisingly high margin. Despite this, it will cover all medical costs that you may have while on vacation, including emergency evacuation which can be well over $75,000 to get you home! Make sure that you look at the small print on these to make sure on the emergency medical evacuation. An important note about emergency evacuation, 99% of these companies that coordinate these evacuations WILL require that you show that you are able to pay for this and it is very pricey. If you have the medical only coverage, the company will coordinate all of this and get you the help that you need. Medical only insurance is a no brainer and you should have it as most of the insurance companies in the US do not cover you outside of the country and it is literally $20-$30 pre person for a trip.

Some cruises do sell their own insurance but it usually isn’t as comprehensive and not much cheaper than going with a 3rd party insurance agency. CSA Travel Protection is a well respected travel insurance provider and some credit card companies do offer cancellation insurance (with no medical coverage though). Again, no matter who you go with, read the fine print or call for details. Insurance companies are in business to make money so know what you are buying and if you are not sure ask for it in writing.
If you would like to search for yourself, www.insuremytrip.com allows you to compare different travel insurance based on your specific needs and the trip perimeters.

No matter what the case, we at Onsite Travel do recommend you look into travel insurance because life happens, even on vacation, and it’s good to be prepared.

Picture provided by: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Airplane_Flight_Wing_flying_to_Travel_on_Vacation.jpg

Pre-Vacation Planning: Getting Your Affairs in Order

No one ever wants to be rushing around a week before a vacation to find a housesitter or, when trying to purchase something on vacation, find their credit cards have been frozen. As important as it is to plan the details of a vacation, it is perhaps even more important to plan for what you leave behind. This can be broken down into two categories: telling people you are going on vacation and caring for the things you leave behind.

  • Telling People You are Going on Vacation
    • No, this does not mean sending a tweet or making a facebook post. Think of things that you do day to day like going to work, perhaps participating in extracurricular activities, even using a credit card. The people associated with these things need to be alerted that you will be gone.
      • Do not post on social media. Although this may seem like the first and easiest way for you to start alerting people, posting on social media greatly increases your risk of a break in. Post after not before.
      • Alert your neighbors so that they aren’t surprised when the house seems empty or when a housesitter comes by to check in. This may even prompt them to keep an eye on the place and report any suspicious activity while you’re away.
      • If you are not on vacation at the time already, give notice at work that you will be going on holiday. The earlier you notify your boss the better, particularly if you plan to go during a busy season or a time when many people are planning to take time off. Although it isn’t usually required, the same goes for alerting extracurricular activities you or your child might be in.
      • Always be sure to alert your credit card companies when you are traveling, particularly out of the country. Many card companies will freeze people’s cards automatically if a purchase is made overseas since it is one of the more obvious signs of identity theft. Also be sure to confirm with them what countries their cards will work in, as this can be another issue that you will want to take care of before your vacation if they don’t. Some companies charge fees for foreign transactions as well and usually range between 2-5%, depending on the company. Be sure to discuss this with them to better keep track of your finances on vacation.
    • Like with packing, when trying to think about the things you will need cared for it is best to make a list.
      • There will likely be your home and perhaps pets if you have them at the top, but also remember to think about different things that you do that might influence others. For example, if you volunteer coach a children’s sports team or are perhaps part of a carpool system be sure to let those involved know and try to set up a new arrangement while you’re gone if necessary.
      • Housesitters can be important to avoid mishaps and break ins while you’re away and put your mind at ease. In fact, some insurance policies will not cover a break in if the house was not checked on for a certain amount of time. Be sure to look at your insurance policy before deciding not to get one. Often a house sitters main job is to make sure that the house is safe and not make it too obvious that you are away by doing small things like picking up the newspaper and taking the garbage in and out on the appropriate days. If you hire a housesitter, make a list for them of various things to do, garbage days, and emergency numbers. If you have decided against a house sitter, light timers can be used to simulate people at home.
      • Petsitters can be important and, especially during holiday seasons, should be found in advance. Depending on how often they come and much care your pet needs, housesitters can sometimes double as petsitters. If a housesitter plans to come by once a day, I highly suggest this arrangement with animals such as cats and fish who don’t require a lot of attention or exercise. For an animal like a dog or one that has to take medication, I suggest leaving it with a trusted friend or at a kennel. Particularly for dogs, kennels can actually be good petsitting solutions as they often have scheduled times for pets to play and get exercise. If your pet does require medication, make a list of their medication schedule and be sure to give their temporary caretaker extra just in case.

image by Austin Kirk: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aukirk/16816818235

China Interesting Fact
The Terra Cotta Warriors were built for the tomb of Emperor Qin, the first emperor of a unified China. These soldiers have become world famous because of their size, numbers, and amazing detail. There are over 6,000 life sized soldiers, no two being identical and all have different facial features. The army comes complete with horses, chariots, and weaponry but as the excavation continues, not just military statues but also acrobats, strongmen, and musicians are being excavated. The tomb has still not been opened since the site’s discovery in the 1970s out of fear of destroying the artifacts inside.  

Packing a Suitcase: Traveling Light, Traveling With Caution

I believe almost everyone has grown up with some notion of how to pack for travel. Be it a childhood sleepover, camping, or (as we’ll talk about here) a vacation.

When going on vacation, especially one involving airplane travel and security, packing your luggage can be an extremely important step. Taking measures to ensure your things don’t get lost or damaged can help put your mind at ease and no one wants to get stuck at the airport with extra costs or because their luggage doesn’t meet the airline’s guidelines.

On cruises, the baggage policy tends to be simply that if your baggage fits in your room you can bring it. (Although this may be tempting for all the heavy packers out there, just remember, the more luggage you bring the small your room becomes) However, almost every vacation will involve some sort of airplane travel. As many seasoned travelers know, THIS is where packing can get tricky and what we will be focusing on in this post.

First let’s discuss the difference between carry on and check in:

  • Check in luggage
  • Has size and weight restrictions
    • Usually costs extra domestically but is free for 1 bag per person internationally
    • Is stored elsewhere
  • Carry on luggage
    • Has size restrictions
    • Usually has no extra cost
    • Stays with you

Carry on is usually the best way to go fot shorter trips. Your luggage stays in sight, isn’t tossed around as much, and you don’t have to pay any extra cost. Check with your airline about their baggage policies when you begin packing and keep rechecking as these policies change constantly. Be sure to ask:

  • How much you can travel with: size and weight limits for both carry on and check in
  • How much it costs for check in luggage (it usually ranges from $25 to $40 per bag)
  • What is allowed as a carry on: dimensions of the bag or suitcase

When you do begin packing the first 2 rules of thumb are:

“If you can’t replace it easily, don’t bring it”  IE if you will be really upset that the airline lost the special shirt that yout wife bought for you don’t pack it.

“If you need something no matter what , keep it in your carry on.” IE Prescription medicine, glasses, contacts, anything that would be hard to replace where you are going makes this list. If you can hit a local drug store and replace it you are set but not something that you need scipts for.  SIDENOTE: prescription meds MUST be in the original bottles with the labels attached. TSA types love to mess with this stuff and you don’t need the hassles and delays.

Remember that anything you take can get stolen, damaged, or simply forgotten and if it is irreplaceable, its best left at home. If it is something you need for the trip, like medication or a camera, keep it in a carry on. As mentioned before a carry on stays with you on the plane and is less likely to get lost, stolen, or damaged through your travels. If something does happen to your check in during airline travel, travel insurance will cover missing, lost, or stolen baggage up to a point. The airline will cover very little.

Other Tips for Packing:

  • Get sturdy luggage
    • Luggage gets thrown around, prepare for this as best you can. Buy sturdy luggage that is unlikely to be dented. We at On Site Travel actually recommend hard-sided plastic, it doesn’t dent. Strap down the contents inside and don’t put breakable items in a check in.
  • Avoiding check in baggage is avoiding extra costs and extra headache
    • Try to keep your baggage within carry on restrictions. If you can’t, all breakable and valuable items go in the carry on.
  • Leave extra room for souvenirs
    • Remember, you may buy things on your trip, and they will require extra baggage space. Account for that in advance so you aren’t surprised that your baggage no longer fits within airline policy on your way home. There are two ways to do this:
      • If you’re allowed 2 carry ons, pack a smaller suitcase within a larger suitcase (suitcase-ception) on the plane ride over so that you can use smaller suitcase for souvenirs on the ride home
      • Use an expandable suitcase (make sure that the expanded form is still within carry on limits) and make sure it isn’t expanded on the trip over. You can use the expansion space on the trip home to gain the extra room.
    • If you buy something large while on vacation, ask about shipping options. If it can be shipped home you will not need to worry about fitting it in your luggage.
  • Ask about laundry facilities where you are vacationing (be it a hotel or a cruise)
    • If there are, you can pack less.
  • NEVER USE VACUUM SEALING BAGS
    • Although they save room, think about how much room they will take up after they are unsealed after the trip when you are repacking or even during a baggage check. Also, if one of them breaks your baggage can explode. All in all, not a good idea. If you have problems preserving room with clothing, I suggest looking into the KonMari folding method instead.

Happy Packing!

Hawaii Interesting Fact
A creole language in Hawaii spoken by many locals is known as Pidgin. It started on the sugarcane plantations as a way for the English-speaking plantation owners and Non-English speaking Hawaiian and foreign workers to communicate with each other. Pidgin is American English based but includes traces of Hawaiian, Portugese, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, and Tagalog. In recent years a few local books, poems, and plays have even been written in the local dialect and a few popular works have even been translated to Pidgin. One popular example (available on amazon.com) is the Bible, or in Pidgin, Da Jesus Book.

image source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/travelling-travel-traveling-packing-30855/

Booking and Planning a Trip, Full Disclosure for the Best Experience

In the last post we discussed things to think about before you talk to an agent about booking a trip.   Once you have decided on a type of trip you need to narrow the focus and get into details that may make or break that overall experience of your vacation.

Although your TA will likely ask you about most of the subjects covered, don’t be shy to ask about specific accommodations you may need or questions about things that are unclear to you. Remember, one of the benefits of booking through a travel agent is helping you meet individual needs with honest, knowledgeable advise.

  • Make sure you fully understand what documents you are responsible for:
    • Travel agents can organize flights and airport pickups and drop off but the traveler is the one who must arrive with all their legal documents, tickets, and baggage at the ready. If you don’t completely understand what you need to have with you, don’t hesitate to ask!  your TA to go over it and it’s always a good idea to write everything down.
  • Discuss the trip accommodations and extras and be sure that you are getting what you need to make your trip a success:
    • Ocean cruises offer a vast array of options that most people aren’t used to and /or don’t know are available.
    • Adjoining rooms for extended families, different dining times and table sizes. Does anyone in your party have special needs like dietary restrictions or physical limitations that will impede your trip?   These issues need to be covered in advance and if it is a modified room you may need to act quickly as these are limited in number and tend to book up quickly.
  • I am bringing this up again because it needs to be addressed. Discuss any accommodations you as an individual may need!
    • Even if you think you will be accommodated for, you may not be! This is not Walmart or Starbucks in a major US city.  It is a surprisingly common problem that a client’s with physical handicaps do not plan ahead or know what they are getting involved in and their trip is severely hampered. For example, perhaps one of your party is wheelchair-bound but your room isn’t handicap accessible. Perhaps one of your party is allergic to shellfish and part of the tour you take includes a lobster dinner. A surprising case came in when an american woman vacationing in Europe complained that many of the tours were not “RASCAL accessible” and that the food portions were not enough for a woman her size. Be sure to mention allergies, health concerns, alternative modes of transportation, and anything else that may need to be accounted for.
    • If you show up with a wheelchair or electric scooter without the proper paperwork you may be denied boarding.  This is reality and NO refunds will be offered because you did not plan ahead.
    • Think long and hard about the method of travel that you are planning as well if you are physically limited.  Europe has many cobblestone roads.  If you are in a wheelchair or use a walker and are not used to walking long distances this is not a great idea for a trip.
  • Ask about the culture of the place your visiting
    • As mentioned before, a travel agent accumulates knowledge about different places through their own customer reviews and experiences. See if they have any places they would recommend visiting or things you should avoid. See if there is anything you should try or be wary of when immersing yourself in a different culture. (We will discuss more about tourist safety in a later article.)
  • Go over emergency precautions and safety tips
    • Hopefully nothing happens when you are on vacation and this is the vast majority of peoples vacations but just in case, most travel agencies offer travel insurance.  It is important to discuss these options with your agent so that you know what to do and who to call. If you are in a foreign country and are unsure of what to do, it is best to go to your country’s embassy or call your agent. (If it is an emergency the first choice is more recommended.)