Cheat the Yankee

I truly love the differences that come with all of the cultures of our beautiful amazing world. I love that people everywhere are the same, but yet somehow totally different.

I’ve been to Dominican Republic twice before, including a seven week stay in 2012. I’m here again now for approximately eight weeks and I’m enjoying *almost* every second. I’ve been sick with a couple of different issues which was not so enjoyable and I’ve had a couple of frustrating situations. However, overall, the people, the beach, the sun, the food, the new friends from here and afar, the little town of Sosua has not disappointed me.

Anytime you travel you have to be particularly careful of tourist scams. In my opinion, high priced excursions that you book in advance of travel or on the resorts are not scams. If you agree to the price in advance, if it seems reasonable to you in whatever culture you are used to and you are happy with the quality of service you receive when you take the excursion, then it’s not a scam. However, if you arrive, take the excursion and then there are additional ‘required’ costs at the end that you weren’t advised of, that is a different story.

Also don’t forget that the extras are offered at additional cost because people DO buy them at that price. If they weren’t getting any sales from it, they wouldn’t be in operation, or at least not offering that particular product. Business is the same everywhere in that they are all looking to make money. They will not do something at a loss. However, in some places you have to be more careful of the business ‘ethics’ and ‘scams’ than in others.

Many people book excursions in advance for the ease of it as well as the security of working with a reputable company. For those two things, you are paying a higher price than you would locally. However, if you try to book the same tour locally you have to consider that you have to barter the price on your own, spend your time researching the options and you aren’t sure on the security and standards of the local company. You are also on your own if something goes wrong rather than having the backing of a larger, reputable company. Prices can go either way locally for the exact same product. It can be the same as what you were offered by your travel agent or tour operator, or it could be lower or higher. It all depends on the agreements in place between the international and local suppliers. Some times they’ve negotiated special rates because they bring in bulk clients, which also means that the local companies are very careful to please and meet the standards of the international companies. Or, sometimes you can find a local supplier and pay less. Just keep in mind that you take your chances when you do that.

However, there are lots of real ‘scams’ out there. In fact, many people joke (but they are really serious) that the national past-time of Dominican Republic is actually ‘Cheat the Yankee’, not baseball as they would have you believe. Now, not all Dominican’s do this. There are certainly fair and honest people here. But, there are also many crimes of opportunity and tourist scams that you should be aware of

Take for example this one which is quite common in Dominican Republic. Here’s a little story so you can relate …

My friend and I left from Sosua to go to Puerto Plata to enjoy the summit to Pico Isabel de Torres on the only Cable car in the Caribbean. We hopped into a carro publico (public taxi), paid our 50 pesos each for the upcoming 45 minute drive squished in the back seat of a car similar to a Honda Civic with a total of six passengers. The driver, plus two passengers in the front and then four passengers in the back seat. This is the main source of transportation here so it’s nothing new to us and for one dollar, it’s really a pretty good deal.

Keep in mind, the public transit drivers don’t speak English, the remainder of this story takes place with me speaking Spanish.

As we got close to Puerto Plate the driver inquired where we needed to get off. I told him the centre of Puerto Plata would be fine as we were heading to the Teleferico. He asked a couple more questions, but I couldn’t understand him. My Spanish is much better when I can see someone speaking and hear them. In this case because he was in the front, driving, and I was in the back with the music blaring, I just couldn’t hear well enough to understand.

When we stopped at the central station in Puerto Plata everyone piled out, including me. Before my friend was able to wiggle her way out of the car, the driver told us to stay in the car to go to the Teleferico. I explained no problem, that we would find our own way there, but he insisted (nicely) that he would take us there and I got back in the car. Let’s just say I should have known better but for whatever reason at that moment, I thought he was genuine. And, I was able to hear and see him when we had the conversation, so I understood him well.

It was about a five minute car ride to the middle of the mountain where you buy your tickets for the cable car. He dropped us off and as I started to get out of the car he turned around and told me it would be an additional 100 Pesos. The conversation went a little something like this (in Spanish):

Driver: That’s 100 pesos
Me: No. Why?
Driver: Because I brought you all the way to the Cable Car.
Me: But you didn’t tell us there was an extra charge for that. We would have taken other transportation from the centre.
Driver: But I brought you, so you owe 100 pesos more.
Me: (getting agitated) No. I’m sorry but I’m not paying you. I tried to get out of the car and you told me to stay. You did not tell me there was an extra fee. (My friend and I exited the car)

We walked about 50 meters to the front entrance of the Cable Car pavilion when the driver and one of the Cable car employees approached us. I’m not sure which one spoke to me first, but at this point I was really annoyed with the driver.

Driver: You owe me 100 pesos.
Me: You should have told us that before you brought us here. We wanted to get off in the centre, but you didn’t let us. You told us to stay in the car.
Driver: But I brought you here, there is a charge for that.
Me: Not my problem. We were going to take other transportation but you wouldn’t let us. You didn’t tell me there was a fee. I’m not paying you.
Driver: Fine, I’ll get the police then.
Me: As you wish.

He beckoned the ‘police’ nearby which was actually only a security guard, not officially police. I’m sure he thought that the idea of the police was enough to scare me, but I didn’t back down.

The security guard sauntered over from the other side of the parking lot. When he was close the Driver immediately began to explain his side of the story. His side, of course, was simply that he drove us here and then we refused to pay. When he was finished, I immediately asked if the security guard spoke English. Of course he responded no! And I’m pretty sure I snarkily said ‘Of course not!’ Not for a second did I actually believe this as he was security at a huge tourist attraction, but whatever, I couldn’t be bothered to argue over that too. So, I yammered on in Spanish explaining how we had tried to get out of the public car but he told us to stay and that he didn’t tell us there was an extra fee for this.

By this time, there was a group of about five to seven of us. Myself and my friend, the driver, the security guard and several staff from the cable car who wait outside to greet people.

The security guard just stood there listening. I quite honestly don’t know if he even said a word other than ‘No’ that he didn’t speak English. And even then he might have just shook his head. HA HA

At some point one of the staff asked how much we had paid and I explained that we paid 50 pesos each when we got in the car in Sosua until Puerto Plata. 50 pesos each was already slightly high as I believe it is only 45 pesos, but I hadn’t asked for change, so I wasn’t going to argue over it.

It was then they asked why I didn’t want to pay the extra 100 pesos.

Although my friend tells me I wasn’t loud, I was certainly angry at this point. I was arguing over 100 pesos (approximately $2.50 CAD). Doesn’t that seem ridiculous? In the back of my mind it seemed ridiculous to me too, but I knew this was a regular occurrence and felt like I needed to take a stand so that they would know it wasn’t right to take advantage of tourists.

I also know that this has happened to other tourists and generally they just pay the money and back off as they don’t know what to do, what’s going to happen or even if they are right or wrong. For that reason, it is intimidating and the locals who are looking for opportunities can take advantage. I wasn’t going to let that happen to me … at least not this time.

Driver: It is only 100 pesos. That is not expensive.

And then I kind of lost it.

Me: Just because it is only 100 pesos doesn’t mean it isn’t expensive. Just because I’m white doesn’t mean that 100 pesos is nothing. I’m not new here. You should have let us out of your car or told us the price in advance and then we wouldn’t have this problem. We could have easily taken a moto concho or walked. We tried to get out of the car but you told us to stay. You are not honest. You didn’t tell us there was a fee. I’m not paying.

What I really wanted to do was take out 100 pesos and tear it up in front of them to prove that it wasn’t about the money. I’m glad I didn’t though. It would have been a waste!

I turned to the security guard ….

Me: Ok. Now what? I’m not paying. What happens now?

There was some mumbling and grumbling between the driver and the cable car staff and a short conversation between them that I didn’t understand.

Then one of the staff said ‘Ok. Ok. Go ahead’. I looked at each of the staff and the security guard and sincerely said ‘Thank you.’

My blood was boiling. For one, I don’t like confrontation. Secondly, confrontation in a foreign language? Yikes!

Go figure, once we finally got inside it started to rain and the teleferico stopped! Thankfully only for a short period of time, so we were able to get on about 30 – 45 minutes later.

It took awhile before my blood pressure returned to a regular level.

Funny enough, one of the staff who had been involved in the argument approached me while we were waiting to buy tickets and told me how good my Spanish was. Hmmm … maybe if you want to sound good in Spanish you just have to get angry so that you talk faster and they won’t hear your mistakes!

One of my friends in Canada said to me today “Don’t forget, you aren’t in Canada anymore.”

My response? “What are you talking about????? I would NEVER EVER EVER have argued like this if I was in Canada! I would have been arrested! LOL I only did it because I was in Dominican!”

By the way, for those of you who might be concerned (i.e. Mum & Papa) … I don’t do this on a regular basis. In fact, this was the first time. And, if there had been any real chance that I was going to be arrested I would have paid the $2.50 to stay safe.

How much do things cost in Chile

I’m going to be a good girl and try to keep track of my expenses while I’m traveling. This is not an exciting blog post, just simply for information purposes.

1. For tax purposes. When receipts are in other languages it is hard for my bookkeeper to determine what’s what.
2. For information for others traveling to these destinations.

November 14th

Reciprocity fee – $132 USD – credit card – Good for the term of your passport. Great if you’ve just gotten a brand new 10-year one. Not so good if you are replacing it that same year.

Taxi – minibus – booked after I picked up my luggage, but before leaving airport – $31 USD – credit card
* I checked with several other travellers who had gotten their own taxi outside the airport instead of a minibus / transfer through the company inside the airport. Some were able to negotiate down to about $25 USD, but most were $28 – $30 USD. It depends how good your negotiating skills are.

Ah Hotel – Historical Centre – Santiago – $132 for 2 nights – continental breakfast included

$50 US – changed at a ‘cambio station’ near Plaza del Armas – $29800 Chilean Pesos

Lunch – 1/4 chicken, french fries & pop – 4450 Chilean pesos – approx $7.50 USD
2 water, coke, 2 litre juice – $4.50 USD

Full Day tour – Vina del Mar & Valparaiso – 34 000 Chilean pesos – approx $57 USD – credit card

Lunch buffet with tour at Municipal Casino in Vina del Mar – $23 USD – credit card
Dinner – 4450 Pesos – approx $7.50 – cash
Tip at dinner – $350 pesos – cash
Tip for Felipe (guide) – $2000 pesos – cash

Taxi – 2 kms between hotels – 2450 pesos (gave him 3000 – an extra .50c or so)
Lunch at Da Nui on Portugal Ave – Pollitos y arroz, coke, jello w/ bananas – $4100 pesos + $400 pesos tip.

Dinner at a steak restaurant – Steak and veggies, coke, dessert – $34 USD including tip

I also gave a few coins to the baggage boys who loaded my luggage on to the bus in Santiago and unloaded it in Mendoza. This isn’t required, but it is simply easier. They make it very clear that they are expecting tips. There is no set rate, a few coins will do. They won’t allow you to put your own luggage in or remove it. And, if you refuse to tip them be prepared for a scene. To ensure your luggage isn’t damaged purposely or left behind, just chuck up the dollar or two.

How to travel solo and not be lonely

Urban Adventures Food Tour in Malaysia

Every time I head out on a trip, whether it be an all inclusive vacation or to the other side of the world, everyone always asks ‘Are you traveling alone? All by yourself?’. My answer is pretty much always the same … ‘I’m traveling solo, but I’m never alone.’

It’s funny how needy we are (people in general). Everyone thinks you need to have someone else in order to travel, a partner or a friend. People don’t seem to get the whole travel solo idea even though millions of people are doing it. And, not just doing it but LOVING it.

All different types of personalities travel alone … some like peace and quiet, some like being social and meeting new people, some are nearly hermits at home, but when they get to a new country they flourish! Some people enjoy travel but there partner, spouse or friend does not or can’t get the time off. Everyone has their reasons.

Travelling solo gives you a great deal of confidence in yourself because it is up to you to make good decisions and hopefully non-harmful mistakes. We all make mistakes, it’s all about learning from them and hopefully making mistakes that make you stronger in the end. There is no one there but you to take responsibility for yourself and you truly learn a lot from that. Not to mention how much you learn about yourself! What you like and don’t like, how much stress you can handle, how resourceful you are …

It is true that I often get on the plane and leave my home in Halifax solo … yes, at that point I am alone – wait, not really … there’s another 100 people on the plane plus staff and crew. If I was really lonely, I could strike up a conversation with my seat mates or the staff, but most of the time I take that time to decompress, de-stress and get excited. Then I land in a new destination and there’s a whole new world out there waiting for me!

Don’t ever let not having a partner to travel with hold you back! Being alone is good for you sometimes and when you’re not ok with being alone, you just have to know where to find people … then you can make friends!

Generally speaking, people around the world like travellers. If you are lost, they’ll help you. If you are scared, they’ll get you to safety or take you under their wing. If you friendly, they’ll be friendly back. Ok, ok … unless you get yourself into some crazy gang area or unethical situations … then you might be on your own, so don’t do that! But, almost everywhere I’ve travelled I’ve found good people who want you to enjoy their country.

As we grow older, we forget how to make friends. As students, you spend time in class with people and create study groups. You hang out after class and have drinks together. But, as adults, we work and we don’t always want to work and play in the same sandbox, so where do you find friends then?

Students, hold tight to your best friendships in university. Work at keeping in touch with your best friends while you are traveling or when you move to different parts of the country. Sure, each of you are going to change, but you’ll always be bonded by memories of school years. These friendships can lead to interesting travel opportunities later on depending on where your friends spread out around the country and the world!

Here are a few tips for traveling solo but not getting lonely.

1. Small Group Adventure Tours – These tours are usually made up of 10 -12 like-minded travellers and are guided by a local. You get to go to some really interesting places and get a local’s insight along the way. You’ll meet new friends, see new places and not be alone which is great to stave off loneliness, but also for safety.

Visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia

Have questions about which tour company is best or you or need help deciding on your destination? As an Adventure Travel Specialist & full service travel agent, I would love for you to contact me to discuss your many options! Keep in mind that prices are the same through a travel agent as online, but you get the benefit of personal experience, professional expertise and a real person to help sort out all of the details of your trip! Have questions? Let’s chat!

2. City Tours – Not up for a week or month long small group tour? That’s ok, you can still join in on day tours. Again you’ll get to travel with a local and see some of the ins and outs of a city or area plus you’ll meet the others in your group and make plans for other day tours or hanging out for drinks later. As a solo female traveller, my favourite are the city by night tours. If I’m alone, I don’t normally go out in the city at night, so I love to go on night tours because I can meet people and travel the streets safely. It’s also nice to have a group to dine or have drinks with.

Urban Adventures Food Tour in Malaysia

3. Bars – Although you have to be careful, bars are still a great place to meet people. Although I’ve never been very good at this one, lots of people are and I think it just takes practice. Find yourself a seat at the bar. Make sure you sit in the middle so there is a free seat on either side of you. Strike up a conversation with the bartender – male or female, doesn’t matter. Ask them about their community, their life, other fun things to do. Soon enough, you’ll probably have people sitting on both sides of you joining in the conversation. Just remember to keep your wits about you and be safe. Watch your drink at all times to make sure no one slips anything in it!

4. Hostels – Travelers of all ages use hostel accommodations these days. Staying at a hostel immediately gives you a sense of community. You are amongst fellow travellers. Don’t be shy. Ask someone if you can share their table at breakfast and start chatting about your travels. Some hostels have a bar or activity nights or a sitting / lobby area. Don’t be afraid to hang out there and chat with other travellers! Many a great travelling friendship has been born through hostel connections.

5. Couch Surfing – Looking for cheap accommodations? You can’t get much better than free! People offer up their couch (or spare bed) for travellers passing through for a day or two, sometimes longer. These folks are also often eager to show you around, tell you about their community and sometimes even take you out on the town. What a great way to meet new friends and stay on budget! Just make sure you check references and reviews carefully. If you ever arrive at a home and feel uncomfortable, don’t worry about anyone’s feelings, just keep yourself safe and leave the situation. Enjoy the local living and respect the people you stay with. Then, when you are done traveling and have a home of your own re-pay the favour to other travellers and offer your couch up for surfing!

Until the day when I meet the perfect travel partner who I am fully in tune with, I’ll continue traveling solo and loving every minute of it. You get to make the decisions that affect the outcome of your travel experience and you don’t have to be responsible for anyone else’s decisions.

Get out there. Step outside of your comfort zone. Start small with a week long trip to somewhere on the same continent. Challenge yourself to be fully responsible for your own happiness and travel alone. Cast aside the possibility of loneliness. With the few tips above, you’ll be well on your way to meeting new friends and having no shortage of fun options no matter where you travel. Once you get a taste of the freedom that solo travel provides, watch out … wanderlust is a disease that can’t be cured!

*** Credit Card Insider’s Visitor Experience department has requested that I write this post as a resource for their current and potential clients. If you wonder what credit card might be best for you, they are a great place to start. Give them a quick click and check it out! This is an unpaid post, solely on a collaborative basis.

Air BnB – I found one – Now what?

You’ve spent hours looking at pictures of lovely homes in the area you want to visit. You’ve read so many reviews from happy travellers that they are all blending together, but now what?

Exactly what do you do once you find a rental that you like?

For me, I save it to my favourites and write a little note about why I like this particular home, what was unique or anything else that caught my eye – good or bad.

For example: Great location – close to train / great reviews / no internet / lots of natural light
For example: Third floor, no elevator / no kitchen / reviews say wifi slow / 20 minutes from town / great host reviews / great view and balcony / breakfast included

Once I’ve exhausted my searching and narrowed down to a little (or large) list of my favourites, I start sending messages to the hosts to check on availability and pricing. This is also your time to ask any questions about any of the rules.

Air BnB does a great job at making things easy for you. Once you’ve written your first message, the site automatically saves it for the next time you write to a host. You don’t even have to copy and paste the message and you most certainly don’t have to start from scratch! Just take a moment to make sure the details of the message are pertinent to the host and property you are interested in and then send away! You might want to update any questions you have about particulars of a specific location such as asking about the size of the pool and how often it is cleaned; this is only relevant if there is a pool!

A big tip prices ARE negotiable. That’s right, you can ask the hosts for a special offer or discount. They can say yes or no, but it never hurts to ask! I don’t suggest trying to bargain like you would at a market in the Caribbean, but asking for a better price is acceptable. Every single host that I wrote, I asked for a discount … in Cinque Terre I reasoned it with ‘because October is low season and I’m renting for five days’ … However, I also found out from several of the hosts that October isn’t low season at all and that they are actually still very busy that time of year! Having said that, almost all of the hosts that I wrote, who had availability for my dates, gave me at least a small discount.

One rental started at $840 CAD and went to $751 CAD for five nights stay.
Another rental started at $463 CAD and went to $407 CAD for five nights stay.

When the host agrees to a discount, they can form a special offer for you with the details / price at the discounted rate and then you can decide to book or decline it. This is all done through the Air BnB mailbox that you will have once you set up your profile. Don’t worry, it isn’t another email address to remember, just part of your Air BnB profile. They can also put a deadline on the special offer so that you don’t take a month to decide when they could be booking up with other people.

If you simply get an email from them stating that they will give you a discount, that is not good enough. In order for it to be official, you need to get the Special Offer from them (a link that you click) and accept it. If it is simply done through email, you could arrive and be expected to pay the original price. You don’t want that to happen!

For Cinque Terre, I wrote to about five different hosts. My favourite home was out of my price range, but I asked the host for a discount and he obliged as I was traveling solo and his location was meant for up to five people. However, in the end I decided to go with a cheaper option (1/2 the price). Interesting enough, the host from my favourite location had also mentioned that he is involved with a tour company that offers wine / boat / cooking tours that he could give me further information on if I was interested. Although I didn’t book in to stay at his rental, I made sure to write him back and get more details on his tour company. I’m working on it now to see if they work with travel agent partners. If they do, I’ll be sure to share the information soon!

I’m excited that I will be enjoying my very first Air BnB experience in the lovely little fishing village of Vernazza in Cinque Terre, Italy. As I mentioned above, it was not my favourite rental option, however, it was my favourite within my price range, which is very important!

Eva’s Rooms #3

Maurizia, the host, has been absolutely lovely to correspond with so far and I suspect she’ll be a lovely host on arrival. Of course, I’ll be keeping you posted if you’re following along on my journey!

If you are considering trying Air BnB for the first time, please take a moment to sign up with this promo code. When you book your first stay it will give you $27 off, and I will get a credit as well. Share the love!

*** NOTE: As a travel agent, Air BnB is not a product that I sell or that I can assist you with professionally. They are private home rentals and you enter into an agreement with the hosts at your own risk. I am simply sharing my personal experiences and thoughts about the product because I love travel … just like you!

Air BnB – the ins and outs

When I first decided to really look into Air BnB, I started my Air BnB search with Cinque Terre, Italy. It is series of five fishing villages in the Italian Riviera where there are very few hotels. I’ve been looking for accommodations for two sets of honeymoon clients recently and coming up with nothing acceptable, only very basic or very luxurious accommodations, nothing in between. Both of these honeymoon couples decided to use Air BnB for their stay in this region, but still chose to book hotels with me in other locations, so now I’m giving it a go for part of my travels too!

I started looking through the listings which you can filter by price and various amenities. I found no shortage of great options in all five of the Cinque Terre villages.

What should you look for?
First of all, determine your wants and needs for accommodation and set up your filters to narrow down your search and make it less overwhelming. No point in sorting through 300 options if only 10 of them meet your price range! I set the filters to choose my price range and then in the amenities, only listings with internet as I will be working, not vacationing. I also choose if I want a private room, apartment or entire house, or sometimes I leave all three just to compare my options and the pricing variations.

Just like renting in your home town, if you rent a room from someone within their house, rent is cheaper than if you rent an apartment. And, renting an apartment is cheaper than renting a stand-alone home.

Once you have your filters set and hit search, you’ll be given all of your matches which you should look through thoroughly. They show up with the basic information: a photo, price and location. For me, I look at the main photo of the home on the profile and then I go directly to the written details. I look for what amenities are included (kitchen / internet / Air Conditioning / TV / Cable etc), how they describe the location, house rules, any extra charges (sometimes you have to pay electricity separate on longer rentals) and often if they give discounts for longer rentals it will be mentioned in the profile.

You’ll also want to take quick note of the cancellation policy category. If it is flexible, strict or long term. You can find descriptions for each of these here. It’s up to you, how confident are you that you are making a firm booking on those specific dates? If you are unsure, you may want the flexible option so that you don’t lose too much money. But, understand … not everyone offers flexible cancellation. If folks are in this to make money and you cancel your month long rental two days before you arrive, they may not be able to re-rent it. So, it is understandable if they put partial refund policy in place instead of full.

Further down the page you can check out the reviews. There are two types of reviews you can access. There are reviews on the specific property you are looking at and then there are reviews for all of the properties that the host has. Both are good to check out as you want to verify that the property you are looking at is as it says, but you also want to verify that the host is reliable, personable and honest.

On the right side of the website you can also see stats on the host’s response rate and timeliness. This is a great way to tell which hosts are organized and on top of things. If they have a 90% response rate within one day, you can be pretty sure they are going to get back to you quickly. If they have poor stats, that might be an indication that they will be difficult to track down in destination to get your keys or if a problem arrises. Something to keep an eye on.

One really great thing about Air BnB is that you get the chance to review every place you stay at AND the host cannot delete the review. That means if you give them a bad review, it shows up in their list and they can’t hide it. However, I would say about 90% of the hundreds of reviews I’ve read on various properties have been good. They seem to be more genuine and much less picky than Trip Advisor Reviews which you have to take with a grain of salt.

If the property and the host have good reviews, then I’ll check out all of the photos that they have.

Things to look for when you are reviewing the photos of a property:
1. Do they show all of the rooms? Kitchen / bedroom / bathroom / sitting areas / outside the property / pool
2. If it is listed as a two bedroom, do they show photos of both bedrooms or just one?
3. Do they show two or three photos of the kitchen (for example), but you notice that each one has different cupboards or layout? Then you need to ask which photo is correct for the property you are enquiring about. Sometimes it is a mistake, other times the same host has two apartments to rent within the same facility so they post photos of both. If you notice discrepancies though, it is in your best interest to ask before booking.
4. Do the photos match the amenities listed? If a pool is listed, is there a photo? Is it a full size pool or a lap pool? In the bedroom if you can see the entire room, is there only a fan or can you see an air conditioning unit? Does the kitchen have fridge / stove or cooktop / microwave? Or, is it just a kettle and a sink?

If everything seems to match your criteria for a good rental, then save it to your favourites and move on to the next one. Hopefully there will be a handful of really great options that become your favourites and a few others that would work if your top choices don’t pan out.

Air BnB – What's that?

Just what is this Air BnB thing that you hear your traveling friends raving about? I’ve been hearing people talk about it for about the last year, but I’m sure it has been around much longer than that. There’s a long list of sites that offer similar (yet different variations) of private home rentals, Air BnB is one of them. Other variations are couch surfing, home away, flip key … the list goes on.

Since I started working in the travel industry and also running the Hello World meet up group I’ve been hearing great feedback about Air BnB. So, here’s the low-down for those of you who don’t know anything about it.

Air BnB is an online database of privately owned homes or rooms for rent around the world. Just like the real world, the homes vary in every way you can imagine! People can choose to rent out a room in their house or they can rent out their entire house. The ‘house’ could be an apartment, condo, shack, hut, mansion, castle or even a two person tented hammock.

As a travel agent, this is not something that I sell as it is dealing directly with private homeowners, so as an agency, we have no contracts in place for business partnerships with these individuals. It is something that you do *at your own risk*.

Air BnB is an online company dealing directly with homeowners, real estate agents or property management companies. They are not hotels or franchises of any kind and to my knowledge, do not work with travel agencies. They are simply homeowners like you and I … (oh wait, I sold my condo so I could go travel! So, not like me, but maybe just like you!)

People rent out their homes or a room for all different reasons …
1. To meet new people with similar travel interests and help travellers out.
2. To make money. They may own two or more homes, live in one and rent the others out. Or, they may be in the Property Management business.
3. To pay their bills. Maybe the owner is traveling, but has a place they have to pay for. Renting it out while they are away helps offset bill costs.
4. To boost their other travel related businesses. Many of the Air BnB hosts also run tour companies and although I haven’t found them pushy at all, they are certainly interested in having you try out their tours while you are there.

It is up to you as a traveler to decide what type of accommodations you are looking for and what price you are willing to pay. Do you want to be immersed in the culture and live with a local family? Do you want the privacy of your own apartment with the ability to cook meals? There’s a lot of variety out there, now it’s time to start sifting through it all.

The Air BnB website is very user friendly. I started browsing options immediately and only created a profile when I was starting to narrow down options and wanted to save them to my favourites.

Now, just why is a travel agent with access to thousands of hotels booking a product that she doesn’t even sell? Well, it’s pretty simple actually …

1. There are some places in the world that are very difficult to find hotels in.
2. I love to live locally and meet the people of the community. Hotels aren’t very social, usually. And, because I travel with so much equipment (camera / laptop etc), I can’t really stay comfortably in hostels for safety reasons.
3. Hotels can be incredibly expensive for a long term trip like my own, so for some parts of my trip, I’m doing Air BnB rentals to save money both on accommodation and on not eating every single meal at a restaurant.

Having said all of that, my fall trip is 80% hotel accommodations. I’m using Air BnB for my rental in Cinque Terre because it is a difficult location for hotels and I’ve chosen a rental in Dominican Republic that is an apartment with kitchen as I will be there more than a month. Doesn’t hurt to have a little variety throughout your travels!

Just in case you want to give Air BnB a try for somewhere you are planning to go, you can sign up with this special promotion link and we’ll both get a discount on our next booking! $27 off could be one free night for you AND for me!

Just keep in mind that Air BnB is not a product that I sell through the travel agency. We have no affiliation with it and take no responsibility if you have a bad experience. This is to be undertaken 100% at your own risk. This blog is purely from my personal perspective on traveling.

If private rentals just aren’t up your alley or you want a combination of hotels and private rentals, I’d be happy to help you out with finding great hotels / tours and packages for your next adventure!

MSI and Traveling

I’ve been wondering for awhile what the real deal is with MSI (Nova Scotia health coverage) when you travel. I did a little research on the internet and found a semi-useful link and then I called MSI to get a better explanation. I got through right away with no hold time and when one person couldn’t answer all of my questions, someone else got back to me right away!

Here’s the low-down on what I found out for Aug 1st, 2014 going forward.

• You can use a PO Box for mailing, but you must also provide a civic address WITHIN Nova Scotia. There are no exceptions for this, so be prepared to give a friend or family member’s residential address if you don’t actually have a home of your own. It cannot be a business address.
• You should call MSI to tell them of your travels outside of Province or Country any time you are leaving for 30 days or more. If there is a claim on your account, they will need to contact you before processing it if you haven’t already advised them of your travels.
• Everything is based on you being WITHIN Nova Scotia for a minimum of 152 days per calendar year.
• The 152 days do not have to be consecutive, just all within the same calendar year.
• You can email your travel details to them at any time: msi at medavie.ca. You can also use this if you need to contact MSI while you are traveling.
• You can be granted a one year (12 consecutive months) temporary absence for work / volunteer purposes. This is allowed only once every six years.
• In addition to the one-year temporary absence, you can get an additional one-year work absence, but does require a contract with MSI stating that you are returning to NS as your permanent residence.
• Without one of the above temporary absences, if you are out of province for more than 152 days in a calendar year, your MSI can be revoked and leave you with no provincial coverage. That means when you are in Nova Scotia, you will have to pay for everything – doctor visit, x-rays etc. Most of us take this for granted and we shouldn’t!

Travel Insurance companies require you to have provincial coverage before they sell you a travel medical policy. You don’t see it, but if you have a medical claim while you are away your Travel Insurance Company corresponds with MSI (or your provincial coverage) to figure out who pays what. MSI pays very little, but to an Insurance Company, that little is better than nothing!

If you do not have provincial coverage, then you have to get a different type of insurance depending on your circumstances. This could be Visitors to Canada insurance (if you are a permanent resident elsewhere and just visiting here for a period of time), or it might be expat’s insurance, for people who live and work abroad for longer than 12 – 18 months.

For my upcoming travels, it looks something like this.

2014 – Must be in Nova Scotia for total of 152 days (away = 213 days available)
January – 8 days – Mexico
April – 21 days – Asia
September / October – 40 days – Europe
November / December – 51 days – South America / Dominican Republic
Total out of province for 2014: 120 days (max is 213)
Total consecutive 2014 – 51 days (max is 213)

So, for 2014, I’m all-good!

Now, because I will be traveling into 2015, things get a little complicated. You can still only be away for a total of seven consecutive months, even if it spans two different calendar years. So, if I leave November 13, 2014 I must return to Nova Scotia within 213 days, which takes me to approximately June 10, 2015. This means that I MUST return to Nova Scotia on or before then in order to keep my provincial coverage active.

If I were away from Jan 1 – June 12, 2015 that will use up 163 of my 213 available ‘Away’ days. That means from June 13, 2015 until Dec 31, 2015 I can travel for an additional 50 days out of province. So, if I were to stay away until June 12, 2015, I wouldn’t be able to leave until November for another long trip, and that’s if I don’t leave the province between June and November!

What I think will likely happen is that I’ll come home to Nova Scotia sometime in late March or April, stay until May – do a few weeks away for a photo tour, then be home for June – October – Departing again in November for the next big adventure. This all depends on how well business goes while traveling in the next few months!

I hope this helps demystify how long you are able to be out of the country for. If not, I am not a guru, so I suggest you contact MSI to talk over your specific details with them for further clarification.

South East Asia – Chapter 11 – Monsoon Season

Ever since I booked the trip to Asia back in April, I’ve known that I would be traveling in monsoon season. I tried not to research too many things before I came so I could experience things through my own eyes, but I did do a little research on the weather so I would know how to pack.

Throughout the southern part of Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia, there would be heavy rains most days for short periods of time and drizzle throughout the day. In the more northern parts of the countries, it would be just showers, not really heavy rainfall.

Just to be safe I packed two plastic ponchos, my good quality rain jacket that I never travel without and a small umbrella. To be honest, I’m glad I packed them all!

In Yangon, while out on our city walking tour we got caught in an afternoon downpour. Now, when I say downpour, it is actually quite unlike anything that we usually get in Canada. Although I suppose the freak rains / floods in Calgary and Toronto this summer likely compare. The rain comes on so fast and furious that you are nearly drenched before you can even open your umbrella. The rain comes down sideways and with a little wind, the umbrella isn’t really helping you stay very dry at all. If you are lucky you can find a building to duck into, but who knows if the rains will last for minutes or hours.

In our case, on this particular day we took short cover in the Catholic Church while we were admiring the beauty. When it was time to go, we all gritted our teeth, put up our umbrellas and went along for the adventure!

None of us were dressed particularly appropriate for what we were about to encounter.
Long skirts, see-through shirts, sneakers … you name it and someone was wearing something inappropriate for the rain. Some of us had umbrellas, others were without.

We were soaked by the time we got to the street corner, regardless of umbrella size. Just around the street corner the rain had started to gather and it was impossible for it to drain away as quickly as it was falling. Soon enough, cars driving by were spraying us with water. There was no hiding and most drivers aren’t considerate enough to slow down.

What seemed like an hour later (but likely only five minutes), we were crossing the already dangerous and busy streets on Yangon through rivers of rain flowing so heavy that they actually had current. Did I mention those rivers were knee-high in some areas? Most people (local and foreigners) were wearing flip flops (or thongs as the Aussies call them). So, on top of being in water up to our knees, the uneven ground was slippery and flip flops easily got lost in the water.

One of the travelers had been wearing sneakers and decided to go bare-foot, like many of the locals. Our local tour leader’s flip flop broke and we had to stop at a store for her to buy a new pair. Luckily, I was wearing my favorite Merrill sports sandals, the type with straps so they don’t fall off.

The day prior I had been wandering around Yangon on my own in my flip flops and in my short one hour stroll I managed to get two huge horrible blisters under the toe beside my big toe. Not only did they blister, but the skin tore off and they were left open and raw.

So, here I was on my second day in Yangon walking around in the dirty streets, with water to my knees. My feet were sore and all I could think about was that they were likely getting infected. Afterall, I would worry about that in Canada. Now, here in Asia, with the extra garbage and feces in the street, I was sure my feet would be black with infection the next day. Sounds gross, I know!

At the end of our walking tour, we finished at the beautiful Strand Hotel for a welcome drink. All of us sopping wet and embarrassed to even be entering such a beautiful hotel. None-the-less, we were welcomed with open arms, appetizers and a gin and tonic.

Despite being cold, wet and dirty, honestly, had we come in monsoon season and not experienced the torrential downpours, I think I might have been a little disappointed. I want to be able to tell people what to expect and that is all part of the experience.

Throughout the remainder of the tour we ran into a lot of showers, but rarely a downpour and after the first couple of days in Yangon, we were all prepared with rain gear and umbrellas no matter what the weather at the beginning of the day.

Although my raw, open blisters were incredibly sore for the next week, I washed them well that night, put some antibiotic cream and band aids on them and limped on my way.

After reading all of this, I’m sure many of you think this would be an absolutely dreadful vacation. In fact, it was not and it wouldn’t stop me from doing it again in the ‘off season’.

I’ve traveled to Peru and Ecuador in rainy season, Dominican Republic and Bermuda during hurricane season and now, South East Asia during monsoon season.

In my mind, the benefits of the beautiful lush greenery, the fewer tourists, lower prices, fresh fruit, produce and afternoon refreshing rains, outweigh the negatives of being drenched one or two days, with showers the other days. Monsoon or rainy season really means fast heavy rains, but they rarely last for a long time. There is often cloud cover or sunshine for the majority of the day, with only a few hours of rain.

Oh yes, and a word of the wise … don’t try to dry your wet clothes in an air-conditioned room. You’ll only end up with wet, cold clothes. Close your bathroom door and hang them to dry with the fan on. Like magic, they are bone dry the next morning.

Next time you consider traveling, think about ‘monsoon’ or ‘rainy’ season as being more relaxed, less busy and beautiful lush vegetation. It’s all about the journey and your outlook on the situation dictates the outcome.

12 Most Fantastic Perks for Solo Travel

You are single. Maybe you haven’t found the “one” yet. Maybe you thought you did and then he/she broke your heart. Your vacation doesn’t match up with any of your friends or maybe you can’t agree on where to go.
Don’t let that stop you from seeing the world! Some say one is the loneliest number but I think that traveling solo is a dream all of its own.

Stand up. Look fear in the face. Go where everyone or no one has gone before and… do it YOUR way!

1. Flying solo
Whether it be the last available seat on a popular date for a flight or the airlines have over booked your flight — there is almost always room for one more! Business and priority classes have been loaded. And then the announcement comes that the flight is over-booked and they are looking for volunteers to move to the next flight. They’ll even offer you a bit of cash to entice you. You can take the cash and change your plans, or your can feel confidant that you are getting on the flight because there is almost always room for one more! That family of eight might not be so lucky.

Sitting alone on a bus or a plane? You have all the control you need! Pop your earphones in and watch a movie or listen to your iPod in order to not be disturbed, or be adventurous and strike up a conversation with the person beside you. Maybe you’ll make a new friend.

2. Do what you want
When you travel with a friend, you are either the leader or the follower. If you are the leader, you end up making all of the plans and your friend(s) just tag along for the ride and expect it to be fabulous, taking no responsibility for said plans. Or, you can be the follower who just does what someone else tells you to and you never really experience the journey or the destination because someone else is making all of your decisions for you.

When you travel solo, you are fully, 100% in command of doing what you want. Not sure what you want? It is up to you to figure it out and you’ll be amazed what you learn about yourself, others and the world by setting out on this journey of self discovery.

3. Change your mind
I don’t suggest changing your mind and deciding not to travel, but you have that option if you are traveling solo. No one else is depending on you to keep them company or to help keep their costs low so that they don’t have to pay a single supplement.

Planning to be in one city for three days? Love it? Stay for three more! Hate it? Leave on day two! You have no one else to worry about. Rejoice in the freedom of being able to change your mind!

4. Take your time
There’s nothing that I hate more than rushing to keep up with my friends on a hike. I’m inherently a slow walker and everyone is always ahead of me. Something I particularly love about traveling alone is that I can walk at my own pace (which is still 10 times faster than most people in other countries who just have a generally slower paced lifestyle than us North Americans).

Feel like stopping to smell the roses? Taking a million pictures from 10 different angles? Reading the history of the monument in the middle of the town square? Do it! Take your time. Your time is yours alone.

To read this article in its entirety, visit 12 Most

BIO:
Shari Tucker
http://sharitucker.com
There’s never a dull moment in my life. I moved across Canada at 18, survived a plane crash at 19 and took back my life back at 28 with a desire to travel the world and to make a difference in other people’s lives. I have traveled 12 countries in the past four and a half years, created a self-funded project with a published book called Young & Fearless – Inspiration of Cancer Survivors, run my own successful photography business for 10 years and then poof, I changed careers and am now an adventure travel specialist with The Adventure Travel Company. I approach each new opportunity with excitement and wonderment and I strive to make the world a better place, one smile at a time.

Free flying

One of the best ways to travel is for free, don’t you agree?

I’ve done it. Earlier this year I used Aeroplan points to fly from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Quito, Ecuador and home from Lima, Peru … for almost free (I had to pay the taxes). The flights would have cost in the vicinity of $1500 and I paid less than $200. Not a bad deal!

On top of that, I was super impressed with the ease of booking my flights online with my points and had no trouble at all locating flight segments that worked for me. I had heard that you might be out of luck if you didn’t book far enough in advance, but I booked only 1-2 months in advance and had no trouble at all.

You can do it too!

I’ll admit, gathering 40 000 – 50 000 points in order to get a free flight out of the country seems a little bit daunting. It may even take years to get there, but don’t give up! For me, I got mine in less than two years which turned into me visiting the Galapagos Islands and Peru!

I signed up for CIBC business bank accounts and a CIBC Aeroplan Visa about two years ago when they were running a joint promotion, offering 20 000 Aeroplan points for a certain combination of CIBC products. It wasn’t without a struggle … but I made it work. I was in the market for a new bank because I was horribly discouraged with the customer service of my previous bank, I needed a new credit card specific for business expenses and I needed to fly to South America (don’t we all need that?).

Of course I was promised the world (meaning my points) and then, after they had all of my information and had set up accounts, they told me that I didn’t qualify because they wouldn’t approve me for a $10 000 line of credit which was one of the qualifiers (yet they continue to up my credit card limit regularly!). Well that wasn’t good enough for me. They had promised the points and I made them follow through … at least with most of them. After appealing the decision and a couple of customer service phone calls, I ended up with 15 000 points. I should have gotten the full 20 000, but I was tired of begging. And, honestly, my new banker wasn’t much better than the bank that I had just left .. but he’s no longer there. Man, I have crappy luck with banks! I just want a banker who cares about me and my business!

My next step was to ensure that every time I could, I collected Aeroplan points. There are loads of offers out there for double points on car rentals, hotels, gas and much more. Many of them don’t apply to me, but I diligently watch for the ones that do. Below are the ones that I found easiest to use, but here is the list from Aeroplan themselves.

– I used my Aeroplan Visa for everything I could that was business related. This included some new equipment purchases (like a new camera) which brought in some big miles!
– I used my Aeroplan Visa in conjunction with my Aeroplan points card while filling up at Esso and got double the points. And, I became a loyal Esso customer. I fill up at the Esso close to my house all the time and keep my eyes open for an Esso wherever I am. If I’m not quite on empty, but I’m close to an Esso, that’s great. I fill up in case I don’t find another one later. I might be a little anal about it, but it gets me double points and I drive an SUV, so that’s about 50 points per fill up! I used to travel out of town 2-3 times a week which meant I was earning 100-150 points each week from this tactic!
– I signed up for a Costco membership when they were offering 1000 Aeroplan points.
– I bought books online from Indigo / Chapters using my Aeroplan points and my Aeroplan Visa in order to double up on the points.
– Add a couple of flights in there – which I try to book with Air Canada and Star Alliance when possible and bam! I’m almost ready to fly again for free now. I have 33 000 miles. Just looking to get to 40 or 50 000 before my next free flight (to South America). Or, maybe I’ll save to 75 000 for free return flights to Hawaii. That might be worth the wait!

One of the best ways to get points is by signing up for a credit product because they often offer large chunks of points all at once. You have to be careful for the annual fees though and decide if it is worth it. For me, the business visa was a good choice despite the annual fee. It was a business expense and I needed a second credit card. It’s not the best choice for everyone.

My experience has fully been with Aeroplan. I decided to stick to one points product and try to get as many as possible rather than splitting them between two different rewards programs. For example, choosing to go for Esso for gas every single time I fill up rather than 1/2 the time at the one that let’s you collect Air Miles and 1/2 the time at Esso. I wanted the most points, the fastest. After all, I had South America as a goal in mind.

Aeroplan is running a deal right now as well where you can transfer your points to a friend (or a friend to you!) for just 1.5 cents per mile. This seems like an ok deal to me if you only need a few hundred miles to get you to a ‘free’ trip. So, you might pay $300 for your flight in the end, but if it was worth $2000 and makes the difference in you going on your dream vacation or not, then it might just be worth it.

Now, Aeroplan is not the only points plan out there, there are lots of them! Aeroplan is just the one that I decided to join.

I also joined West Jet rewards for the times when they have better deals or happen to have a better connecting flight. I figure if I’m flying, I might as well be collecting points somewhere! I always check Air Canada options first, but if I can find a flight that is cheaper by several hundred dollars, I’m still going to save money where I can! It’ll take me a really long time to get enough West Jet points, but someday maybe I’ll have enough for a free short-haul! In the end though, West Jet doesn’t fly as many places as Air Canada and I want to see the world!

If you have travel on your mind and you want to enjoy a free flight once in awhile, why not sign up for one of the million plans out there and start collecting to see how fast they add up! My suggestion is pick one and stay loyal! Your points will add up the fastest this way.

Cheers to Free Flying!

PS – This post is in no way endorsed, or paid for by any of the companies listed above. Solely my views and suggestions. Feel free to add your own views and suggestions in the comments section!