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!

You gave it to me!

That’s right, I’m blaming you. Ya, you! You gave it to me. I didn’t want it and now I’m stuck with it and it’s all your fault! I’m stuck in bed and you are out doing … well, whatever it is you do every day …

Fact:
“…is an infectious, widespread viral disease caused by the Epstein–Barr virus (EBV), one type of herpes virus, to which more than 90% of adults have been exposed. Occasionally, the symptoms can recur at a later period. Most people are exposed to the virus as children, when the disease produces no noticeable or only flu-like symptoms.” – Wikipedia

Little known fact:
“About 95% of the population has been exposed to this virus by the age of 40, but only 15-20% of teenagers and about 40% of exposed adults actually become infected.” – Wikipedia

hmmmm …. Do you know what I’m talking about? Take a guess … I dare you.

Less known fact:
“In every case, the person excretes the disease intermittently in saliva throughout their lives.” – Wikipedia

hmmm … that means that if you are one of the 95% of the population who has been exposed, then you continue to spread the virus throughout different times of your life whether or not you have ever been sick from it.

So, that’s right. YOU gave it to me! You may not have even known you had it, but now I have it and I’m one of the adults who actually become infected and it sucks.

Now, before I continue, let’s not freak out here.
I’m not dying. I’m alive. I’m not gross or disgusting. I’m not promiscuous. You don’t need to avoid me. And please please please don’t think poorly of me!

Let’s get to the point.

I am a 33 year old, single white female and I have Mono.
Yup, Mononucleosis, glandular fever or often known as ‘the kissing disease’.

Get all of your laughter out now. Think of all the crazy comments you can make about how many boys I must have been kissing. And ‘what were you doing in the Dominican?’ and ‘Oooohhh was it worth it?’

Ha ha ha have a laugh at my expense, but don’t you dare stop reading until I’ve explained! If you are going to laugh at me, the least you can do is listen to me. Ok? Do we have a deal here?

I’m going to tell you a few things that you might otherwise not know and I want you to know … so I’m going to talk about it just like I talk about having my period on vacation and using the diva cup, and about attacks of traveler’s diarrhea.

And ….. Go!

I had mono as a kid when I was around 12-14 years old. For a long time, we were told that if you got mono as a kid, you would build up the antibodies to fight it off when you were older. Therefore, most often, you would not get mono twice.

After talking to my family doctor today, she simply told me that maybe the antibodies wore off and the immunity to it was gone. Or, now, doctors know that many previous mono tests were actually false positives in children and teens, so it is possible that I didn’t have mono at all then and it was something different. Although, I’m pretty darn sure it was mono.

And, and, and … well, I guess we will never know for sure. But, in my non-professional opinion, I truly believe I had mono then and I believe that I have mono now. And, apparently I have had the ‘new’ blood test done … the one that doesn’t give false positives. So, it is confirmed to be mono. You know, until 20 years from now when this test is proven to be wrong as well.

I have been traveling a lot in the past seven months. I’ve been in other countries for a total of 11 weeks out of 28 (Ecuador, Peru and Dominican Republic). My mom would like me to believe that all this traveling is stressing me out and causing me to get sick. I think she just wants me to stay in Canada … But, truth is, other than a small cold and traveler’s diarrhea, I haven’t been sick while I was traveling, but magically when I hit Canadian soil I’m ill beyond belief! To me, that means I have better chances at being well in other countries than I do here. But, whatever, I’m not going to argue with my mom … for now.

My last trip was for seven weeks to the Dominican Republic.

The sad day (September 2nd) arrived when I had to return home from beautiful Dominican Republic to Halifax, Nova Scotia. I had already changed my flights and extended my stay by five days, so now it was really time to return. I left Santo Domingo on a 6am (7am Halifax time) flight and landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia that night at 8:30pm. 13 and a half hours in transit. Oh, why didn’t I go when there were direct flights? (4 hours total)

Fast forward to September 3rd, 7:30pm (23 hours after hitting Canadian soil), my throat was getting sore, I was tired and I knew this feeling. I knew that I was about to be hit with something bad. I knew that the next day I was going to be sick. And, I ‘knew’ it was strep throat. There’s a feeling. When you’ve had strep throat as many times as I have in my life, you know when it hits. (but I was wrong … and so were the doctors!)

Sure enough, I woke up the next morning and couldn’t move. Literally.

I went to the bathroom and barely made it back to my bed without falling down. I was weak. I couldn’t swallow because of the pain. My head felt like 500 pounds. I literally could not lift my head into upright position. I had the worst headache I have ever experienced in my whole entire life. I was nauseous. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I couldn’t get comfortable. I couldn’t even roll over in bed because my head, back and neck were all in so much pain. I thought I was dying.

Now, I’ve had strep throat a lot and it does hit hard, but let me tell you, I have never been hit as hard as this.

At 8:30am, I delicately and very slowly rolled out of bed, balanced by leaning on my bed and tried to keep my eyes open. I knew I had to get to the doctor, but I had no idea if I could make it down my stairs!

Very very slowly, like a 90 year old woman, I descended the stairs with my eyes half closed, my head hung low and holding on to the wall and the railing for dear life. One step at a time. When I reached the bottom, I explained to my roommate that I needed a favour. I needed her to drive me to the walk-in clinic.

There was a two and a half hour wait at the walk in clinic. After not being able to hold my head up, sitting with tears in my eyes because of the pain, I finally went out to my SUV for an hour and laid down in the back seat so that I wouldn’t have to hold my head up.

Finally, when I saw the doctor, she took one look at my throat and said ‘Wow, that’s not good. How long have you had this?’ When I said ‘since yesterday’, she told me it was strep throat, I got a prescription and went on my way.

A couple of days later, I hadn’t improved at all. The pain was unbearable. Ibuprofen and Acetamenaphen were not even touching it. I was sleeping 16 – 18 hours a day and the other four to eight hours I was in bed moaning and wishing I could just go back to sleep. I couldn’t even hold my head up to use my computer for more than two minutes!

I went to my family doctor and although she agreed that it looked like strep, she did swabs and sent me for all kinds of blood work, just in case.

The first results I got back said that I did NOT have strep. hmmmmm … interesting … and scary! If it was not strep, what was it? And, no wonder it was so much worse that I remember strep ever being (and strep is bad!).

The next call I got from my doctor (at the end of the second week of being sick) was to say ‘Surprise! You have mono. And, by the way, you can stop taking the antibiotics, they aren’t doing you any good.’

Wow! 33 years old and I have mono … for the second time in my life.

So, here’s what you need to know about mono:
*Disclaimer – I am not a doctor, just a girl suffering with mono who has asked a lot of questions to find out ‘now what?’

1. Mono is a virus. This means that there is no drug you can take to get it out of your system. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections, but they do nothing to fight a viral infection. The common cold is a virus – you cannot cure it with antibiotics. Strep throat is a bacterial infection – this, you take antibiotics to treat!

2. Mono is spread various ways, but always through saliva. This is how it got the name ‘The Kissing Disease’. Mono is most commonly found in teenagers and teenagers kiss a lot apparently!

3. Kissing is NOT the only way to get mono. Because mono is a virus and almost everyone carries it, it gets passed around everywhere all the time, but only ‘infects’ some people. It is passed the same ways as the common cold. (and you would never call that ‘the Kissing Disease’!) You can get it from improperly cleaned dishes and utensils, or from breathing the air after someone sneezes or coughs. The thing is, that most adults are immune to it, so it isn’t as prevalent as in teens.

4. It is contagious, but not quite as contagious as everyone thinks. My doctor told me that when someone gets mono, often their spouse or partner does not get it. This is probably because of the high prevalence of people who are immune to it. Where as, when you are a teenager if you come in contact with it you may not have built up the antibodies to fight it yet.

5. Many people who get mono also get strep throat. However, often strep throat is diagnosed and sometimes (like in my case), it is actually the mono virus. The two look much the same with white patchy spots on the back of your throat. Strep is more common in adults, so the doctor assumed that is what it was for me. But, when tested, it turned out to be the mono virus causing those white patchy spots, not the strep bacteria.

6. Mono is a crappy virus to get. Unlike the common cold that lasts 5-7 days, mono stays in your system for months. The initial outbreak of sore throat, extreme tiredness, fever, nausea etc lasts 2-4 weeks. And then, you are stuck with extreme tiredness and weakness for 3-6 months as the virus works its way through your body. On top of that, if you over work yourself (stress or physical labour), you can relapse and start all over again.

7. The only thing you can do to treat mono is to sleep. You can take pain medications and drink lots of fluids, but there are no pills that will help you get better faster. You just have to sleep, relax and not get stressed.

Now, after all of that explanation, I hope you will understand that I am sick, and tired … and I have a good reason to be sleeping A LOT. There is no way for me to know when or where I got the virus or why I am one of the adults who gets infected by it. Did I kiss someone who was infected? hmmm … maybe. But, more likely, I probably ate off of unclean utensils (in the not so clean countries I’ve been visiting) or breathed in the wrong air at the wrong time, maybe on one of my million plane rides. Or, maybe I got it right here in Nova Scotia during the time when I wasn’t traveling. The only thing we know is that a blood test confirmed I have it.

I have been sick for three full weeks with a painful sore throat. I have been sleeping 12-15 hours a day and avoiding people in general. The first week was unbearable, the second week I was mobile and then the third week was hit or miss depending on the day. Here we are at the beginning of the fourth week and I am happy to say my throat does not currently hurt, I am wide awake and actually feel like getting some work done. I suspect a mid-afternoon nap will still be required on a daily basis for the next few weeks and I will be being careful not to over work myself as I definitely do not want a relapse!

So, my dear business contacts and friends … it is ok. I am safe to be around. I will try not to slobber on you, make out with you, spit on your face or force you to eat after me. And, if all else fails, remember that you probably carry the virus anyway and are immune to being infected.

Notes to Self

So …. I went slightly over my planned budget (by $800) for my Dominican 2012 trip to learn Spanish. However, all things considered, not that bad seeing as I cancelled a flight without refund, stayed and extra week longer than planned and took two weeks more of Spanish classes than I had initially intended!

I already know that I want to do a similar trip again, so before I forget what I learned, I’m going to put it in this nice little ‘Notes to Self’ blog!

– To save money, plan ahead and get drives to the airport from a friend (save $100).

– Find a taxi at the airport in Santo Domingo (or wherever you land) and negotiate a price. If someone else books it for you (school or hotel), it is always more expensive. I could have gotten taxis to/from Santo Domingo for a regular price of $33 ($1300 RD). (save $15-30)

– Caribe tours is only slightly cheaper than Metro. Caribe = $350 RD from Sosua to Santo Domingo. Metro = $380 RD from Sosua to Santo Domingo. Always travel with Metro. Much cleaner and more comfortable. Fewer stops. For the $1-$2 extra per trip, it is well worth it!

– Moto Conchos – do not take them after dark or for long trips. Negociate price. In Cabarete they start at $250 RD for a trip to Sosua. I haggled down to $150 RD.

– A Taxi from Cabarete to Sosua at night usually starts at $500 RD. I haggled down to $400 RD. Much cheaper if you take one as a group, but I was alone at the time.

– Always have correct change for moto conchos because sometimes they don’t have (or try not to give you) change. This is there way to try and get more money from you. You can always go buy a bottle of water at a local store to get change if you need to. That’s much better than giving over $500 RD for a $150 ride!

– Don’t go to Santo Domingo – you hate it there. It is hot, dirty and uninspiring.

– Don’t go again until you have enough Aeroplan points to cover your flights. (save $1600!)

– Don’t go in July / August – it is too friggin’ hot! Also bad time of year for flights. Go when there are direct flights to Puerto Plata (likely December – April) – reduce stress and travel time by MANY hours!

– Spend more time in Jarabacoa and visit the city of Santiago. Do these at the same time because they are close to each other.

– Plan a few days to a week to travel to Rio San Juan, Las Teranas, Samana. They are all along the north coast and so many people told me how beautiful these areas are, but I didn’t get the opportunity to visit.

– Find a place to rent for 1-2 months. This will cost $200 – $500 US instead of $30-45 per night. (Savings over 8 weeks of $1200 – $2000)

– Buy groceries and cook at home. Don’t buy too many brand names, buy lots of local fruit (cheap) and don’t eat out or drink alcohol too much! Shop in the local communities instead of tourist districts if possible. $6-$10 per day for three meals instead of $15-$20 per day. (Savings over 8 weeks of $300 – $600)

– Look for a local person who teaches Spanish classes, not through a ‘branded’ school. (save $50-$100 per week of lessons)

PACKING

– Don’t take your fancy heels or a nice dress, you will not need them! Sun dresses only!

– Take two to three weeks worth of underwear. Small, easy to pack and I appreciated never running out!

– Two pairs of jeans or pants. You will wear them more often than you think!

– Pack 3-4 pairs of light weight shorts – not jean shorts.

– sneakers, hiking sandals, flip flops, dress sandals – all necessary

– two swim suits and a beach towel (or buy one when you get there)

– rain jacket or good umbrella is nice to have

– leave hair dryer, straightener, curling iron at home. Too hot / humid to use them unless you have air conditioning in your apartment and still, once you go outside, the straightening would be ruined by humidity.

– Take only enough liquid toiletries to get you through the first week. Then buy them down there. Keeps your suitcase light.

Costs from my Dominican Trip

I’m writing this post to help me plan for my next trip or living experience abroad. Also great information for anyone else planning the same and who needs a little guidance!

Flights: $1620
United Airlines – San Juan, Puerto Rico to Halifax – $313.90 (I didn’t use this flight because I changed my dates. Lost my money on it.)
American Airlines – Halifax to Santo Domingo – $572.91
American Airlines – Santo Domingo to Halifax – $733.73

Airport Transportation: $188
Taxi Halifax Airport – $55 CAN
Taxi home from Halifax Airport – $50 CAN
Taxi from Santo Domingo airport to home stay – $45 US (paid for with my school fees, therefore much more expensive than doing it on my own)
Taxi from Hotel in Santo Domingo to airport – $38 (booked through the hotel – 3am, more expensive than day time)

Local Transportation: $260
3 weeks of buses, public cars and taxis in Santo Domingo – $135 US

4 weeks of buses, public cars, taxis, scooter rental and moto conchos in and around Sosua / Cabarete / Puerto Plata – $125

School and Accommodations for six weeks: $2598
Spanish Lessons – $200 / week
Accommodations – $230 / week – first three weeks included breakfast and supper at a home stay, last three weeks only included breakfast at a school apartment.

Hotel Accommodations for 13 nights: $473

Travel Insurance: $67
Tourist Card: $10
Extended Stay fee (up to 90 days): $21

Food / drinks: $780
49 days Total and very little was spent on alcohol (maybe $25 total for 4 or 5 Pina Colada’s and a couple of Santa Libres)
1 meal per day for 21 days – breakfast and supper were included in my school home stay package
2 meals per day for 15 days – weekdays while I was studying in Sosua
3 meals per day for 13 days – weekends when I traveled and extra days while not in school
On average lunches in Sosua cost $250 – $360 RD / $6.50 – $9 US
On average suppers in Sosua cost $400 – $500 RD / $10 – $12 US
As a tourist, I think I could easily get by with $20 US per day for three meals. If I had eaten at more local places and less touristy places, I could have probably survived on $10-$15 US per day for three meals. If I were to buy groceries and cook myself, I’m guessing $6-8 per day.

Cell Phone: $80
This was for purchasing a local cell phone and using it A LOT to keep in touch with friends locally, make plans, calls to hotels, excursions and taxis.

Toiletries: $53
Shampoo, conditioner, razors, face wipes, bug repellant

Pharmacy: $27
bug repellant, cold & flu pills, anti itch cream for bug bites

Tips (on excursions / extra special staff): $20
Nena at Sosua school for room cleaning
Julio at Caves in Cabarete
Two girls at Tubagua who took me for a long walk and visited their families

Excursions: $218
Caves in Cabarete – $15
Puerto Plata (1400 original, I cxld – 1/2 back) – $18
Cooking with Nena – $13
Rafting – $90 (worth every penny!)
Photo CD – Rafting – $18 (not worth every penny. Only about 10 photos)
Kayaking – $64

Laundry: $30
$20 US for two weeks worth of clothes at a laundromat – WAY too expensive!
$10 US for one to two weeks of clothes, twice at the school

Spending money: $33
Movies – $8
Earrings – $10
Gifts for nieces – $15

Bank fees: $30
$5 each withdrawal x 6 times

Grand Total for a seven week trip, including six weeks of Spanish classes, accommodations, food and spending: $6315

Look for an upcoming post on how I plan to do it MUCH cheaper next time!