April 2010
 

Solo Travel

Ahh spring; ‘tis the season when a young woman’s (or an older woman’s for that matter!) thoughts turn to….travel! I have always found springtime, with its promise of renewal and warmth, a time for wanderlust and exploration. It’s a time to shed the numerous outer layers of clothing, ditch the boots and get out there and re-connect with the world; whether it’s a weekend of pampering at a luxurious spa, a whirlwind shopping spree at the outlet stores in tax free New Hampshire, splurging on some first run Broadway shows in New York City, or to simply shake off the stresses of the winter that was at a sumptuous beach resort in the Caribbean. Mention some of the above activities to a man, and you may be faced with a response that is tad less than enthusiastic. So what’s a girl with a serious bout of wanderlust to do? Many women, especially the younger ones will automatically turn to their girlfriends, sisters, or moms as possible travel companions. It’s amazing how few young women, especially those in relationships, will consider travelling alone. Older women, usually out of necessity don’t seem to be hampered by this limitation.

So why do so few young women travel solo? I’m sure the answer to that is as varied as the women themselves. I think that in most women’s lives, the idea of travelling alone by choice just never occurs to them. The question I hear so often is, "Why would you want to?" My response to that is "Why wouldn’t you want to?" And when I continue to describe the utter freedom and flexibility a solo trip provides, a little lightbulb will go off but I undoubtedly get the question, "don’t you get bored or lonely?" Actually I don’t get bored or lonely, why would I? I’m out there visiting new places, meeting all sorts of neat people, eating exotic foods and taking in the culture. Why would that require a partner or a gaggle of other women? I guess I’m one of the fortunate folks who is comfortable in her own skin; I don’t need to be tied at the hip to another person 24/7. I have travelled alone to big cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago, I have gone on mountain hiking weekends and I have spent blissful weeks enjoying Caribbean resorts. Sometimes I get curious looks, but more often than not most people don’t even notice that I’m not ‘coupled up’. My solo trips have been my most relaxing and stress-free of all my vacations. Just think of the freedom of not having to cow-tow to others’ whims and wishes, the freedom to sleep in as long as you want, the freedom to eat when and what you want, and most of all, the freedom to simply look after yourself and no-one else. It can also be a great way to reconnect with yourself, away from the work and responsibilities of every-day life.

So for all the female solo traveller wannabes, how do you start? It depends on your comfort level with regards to not only travelling alone, but travelling in general. Seasoned travellers will no doubt have an easier time taking the solo plunge. Therefore, for some women, a spa weekend or an organized tour will give them (and possibly their spouses!) a higher level of comfort than say a solo mountain hiking trip. When in doubt, check with your travel agent for organized tours and weekend getaways.

Of course no discussion of female travel would be complete without at least a word about personal safety. The best advice I have ever heard is basically this. Don’t do anything you can’t imagine a local woman doing. Research the country you will be visiting. What do the women wear? If in doubt, wear conservative clothing. Travel is not the time to wear your most expensive jewellery, so keep it at home. If you wish to avoid excessive male attention, don’t make eye contact and wear a wedding ring (get one if you’re not married). Don’t flash your wallet, your credit cards or cash. Make sure you give a copy of your itinerary to family/friends at home and your hotel concierge. Make a photocopy of your passport and carry several pages in your luggage, and give one copy to your family/friends at home. Keep a few bills stashed in your bra or pockets in case you need emergency cash. Stay in smaller hotels rather than huge impersonal ones. Request higher floor rooms over the main floor. Keep your doors and windows locked and don’t answer the door if you aren’t sure who is knocking. Don’t give out your hotel room number to strangers. Avoid poorly lit parking lots and garages. If in doubt, park your car in front of the hotel and have the hotel staff park it for you. While this may all sound off-putting, it really is common sense all women should be using, whether they are travelling or staying at home.

Happy travels!

 

March 2010
 

Travel During Uncertain Times

These days it seems that one can't pick up a newspaper without reading about yet another travel business going bust; be it an airline, a tour operator or travel agency. Travellers are being stranded or are faced with losing their hard earned travel money. These are difficult times for the travel industry as well as the travelling cosumer.

Some embittered consumers are dealing with this downturn by simply nixing travel plans for now and the foreseeable future. It is far too common for families to give up their annual trips during an economic downturn. When times are tough, non-essential goods and services are first to go. And yet, it is precisely when things are tough that people need their vacations, perhaps even more than when life is good.

A vacation, be it a week at an all inclusive resort in the sunny south, or a long-weekend getaway to Las Vegas or New York City provides the outlet for some badly needed escapism and a fresh perspective. 

For those who say 'stick it' to the economic depression and take that much needed break, there are some ways you can protect yourself a little bit.  The following are a few hopefully helpful tips.

 - Always book with an agency or agent that is registered with your provincial/state travel industry organization. Use a travel agent whenever possible.

- Do not pay cash when booking. Alaways use a credit card. Don't have a credit card? Get one, and if you are only going to use it for travel it is well worth it.

- Get travel insurance, either via your credit card, your travel agent or your employer. Some employers or employee unions offer discounts on travel insurance to their members.

- Always keep copies of all of your travel documents (e-tickets, itinararies, insurance policies, hotel confirmation numbers, invoices) and take these with you when travelling.

- Photocopy the personal information in your passport and keep several copies in different bags with you when you travel. Keep extra copies with someone at home.

- Bring all insurance phone numbers/email addresses, policy numbers, etc with you when you travel

- Bring all your necessary medications and/or medical devices with you in your carry-on, and make sure you have sufficient quantity to last several days POST your planned return date. Bring copies of your prescriptions as well.

- Always carry some cash with you on departure and on your return.

- Carry toilet paper, non-perishable snacks and water bottles in your carry-on. While water is not allowed thru security, you may be able to fill an emtpy bottle with water from water fountains, esp if you run out of cash to purchase water, or if stores run out.

- Bring books, puzzles, extra batteries, etc in your carry-on in case your travel is delayed.

 

February 2010
 

Barbados on My Mind

I’ve been asked many times if it’s worth the extra cost to visit Barbados. After all, many Canadians, Brits and Americans now have access to cheap package holidays to places such as Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica at a fraction of the cost of a similar Bajan holiday. 

Tough question. A question I kept asking myself during my last visit. A question that does not have an easy answer. (isnt’ that always the way?)

So once again, it really does depend on what one’s expectations are from a holiday. If all you want or need from a vacation is to sit on a beach, drink beer and eat and don’t have the need to ever leave your resort,  then I would probably advise you to pick up a cheap all inclusive package to the D.R. or Cuba. These countries have some gorgeous beaches and hotels to meet every budget and all inclusive resorts are extremely popular.

However, if you want more from your vacation, then Barbados is worth looking into. How to define ‘more’?   If you enjoy getting out of your resort, if you enjoy sampling the local cuisine, if you enjoy exploring on your own via a rented car or with a group excursion, if you like to hang out in popular bars and mingle with the locals or the ex-pats, if you like to explore the cities and fishing villages or if you simply enjoy visiting a different beach each day. And while Barbados does have a few all-inclusive resorts that can keep you fed and happy, why pay the higher prices when you can do the same thing much more cheaply somewhere else? Barbados is best for those who like to get out and see the island, talk to the friendly people, shop, party, swim with the turtles, eat a flying fish cutter,  or chill at a neighbourhood bar. 

I’m already dreaming of my next visit.

 

January 2010
 

The cold weather ushers in a desire to pack the bags and go on vacation; be it to the sunny south, to hit the ski slopes, or to simply check out a glamorous city for shopping or cultural venues. On top of this most busy travel season, we are once again being bombarded with all sorts of safety regulations and warnings. So this may be a good time to re-acquaint ourselves with basic travel safety tips.

Here is a checklist of some useful tips for this busy, but hopefully healthy and successful travel season:

-         If travelling outside of one’s country, make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months past your expected return

-         Do check your destination country’s visa requirements and ensure you have sufficient time to apply for one if one is needed.

-         Do check for any health or safety warnings for your destination. Some useful websites are:

http://www.cdc.gov/

http://www.voyage.gc.ca/index-eng.asp

-         If travelling with a minor child but without one or both parents, ensure you have the necessary papers to leave the country or board a plane. Check with your local authorities as to what is needed.

-         If flying, especially to the U.S., give yourself plenty of time to get through security and/or customs. Likewise make sure you give yourself plenty to catch connecting flights. Check with your travel agent or carrier if you are not sure.

     -         Check your prescription meds and ensure an ample supply for the duration of your trip. Ensure your meds are in the original prescription bottles. Carry these with you in your carry-on.  If you are travelling with other medical devices such as needles or colostomy bags do get a note from your physician. 

-         If you have had vaccinations (ie: H1N1) do carry proof of this with you.

-         Pack anti-bacterial wipes and hand sanitizers. Wipe clean surfaces such as plane, bus or train seat handles, trays, etc. 

-         Bring your own travel pillows and/or blankets. Many airlines no longer offer these, and if they do, they aren’t exactly that clean. A beach towel or winter jacket can do double duty as a pillow or to keep you warm on those cold flights/bus rides. 

-         Bring food! Many airlines are cutting back on food service, and often the food you can purchase on-board runs out, is expensive, or is just plain lousy. Ditto for bus and train travel. Consider packing a sandwich or bagel with fruit or cheese inside a lightweight re-usable lunch sack. 

-         Stay hydrated! Bring an empty drinking bottle and fill it up once you get past security.

 

 

Have a happy and healthy new year!

 

From the FTC team!