5 Questions from Elite Travel Blog

I have recently been asked to participate in a series with Elite Travel Blog where they invite travel bloggers to share their favourite memories. Below you can find my responses, but you should stop by their site and get some inspiration from many of the other bloggers who participated!

Why do you love travel?

My love of travel was born out of a fear of planes. In 1997 I survived a plane crash in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. I got on a plane shortly after the crash, which was a horrible decision and then I did not fly again for 11 years. Eventually, I decided that the world was too amazing to be missed. From that point on, I stepped cautiously into the travel world and a few years later, here I am making my way around the world!

For me, travel is such an interesting mix of emotions. The flights are still difficult for me nearly 20 years after my plane crash and can still cause me anxiety, but to not be able to experience the world in all of it’s wonders would feel like I hadn’t really lived.

It’s like opening presents everyday of the year because there is always something new and exciting to do. For the same reasons, it can be equally as exhausting when your brain is always taking in new things and never has a routine. With all of its ups and downs, I love travel because it has opened my mind to new ways of thinking. Through travel I have overcome challenges, learned when to be independent and when not to be.

For me, travel is: empowering, frightening, overwhelming and beautiful. Travel is the air that I breathe that gives me life and purpose.

What destination is top of your bucket list? 

As with any travel blogger, narrowing it down to just one place at the top of my bucket list is very difficult. So, I’ll choose the over 7000 islands of the Philippines (I reserve the right to change my mind tomorrow!). With Chocolate hills, swimming with whale sharks, kite surfing and festivals galore, my heart beats faster just thinking about it. Yes, I think it is time for me to float, swim, eat and dance my way through the Philippines.

Where is your most favourite place you have travelled to? 

I’ve traveled to 27 countries, most of them in the past seven years. I truly have amazing memories of every single one of them. Of course, some will always stand out more than others. When I traveled to Turkey in September 2015 with Experta Tours  and The Gallipolli Artist, I expected the chaos of Istanbul but what I didn’t expect was the welcoming, friendly hospitality of the locals throughout the country. That hospitality was expanded 100% when I landed in Cappadocia, land of fairy chimneys and some of the greatest landscapes that I have ever laid eyes (and camera) on. From the charm, art and history of the family-run Sofa Hotel to the pure serenity of my sunrise hot air balloon ride over Love Valley. It was a land of dreams come true and place where a piece of my calm heart will forever reside.

What is your most favourite memory or experience whilst travelling?

My favorite memories from travel seem to be when I find serenity and learn something profound. Or is it that serenity finds me and therefore it teaches me something profound?

As a professional photographer who was interested in travel, what could be better than leading photo tours to far away places? In 2012, with the culmination of much hard work and great support from my friends at G Adventures and the Planeterra Foundation, I led my first photo tour to beautiful Peru. My small group of eight passengers made our way to a small village in the Andes mountains called Ccaccaccollo where we organized a portrait day for the families who had never had family portraits taken before. It was a heart-warming experience, despite the language challenges and primitive homes. We photographed as many children, families and elderly as we could and then arranged to have the photos sent back to them to keep. We were greeted with excitement and welcomed like family. Some people wanted their pictures taken with their favorite cat, while others proudly posed by their llama or cattle. It was a life altering experience when many of us really learned that money can not not buy happiness.

A couple of days later, we traveled together to Machu Picchu and sat in the great Lost City surrounded by thick fog. Our leader asked us to take a few moments to sit and enjoy the peacefulness. Some of my group did yoga or meditation, others just sat in awe and some continued about their business taking photos. For me, I will never forget the tears that I shed at the beauty of this magical place. I will never forget the clearness of my mind and the profound changes that Machu Picchu inspired me to make in my life. Forever, the Lost City will be where I found myself.

What is your favourite photo from your travels?

Hot air Ballooning over Love Valley in Cappadocia
Hot air Ballooning over Love Valley in Cappadocia

Fiji!

This is my dear friend (and client) Robin. I knew she was a special soul from the first time I met her when I trusted her to stay in my condo for three weeks with my beloved cat, Morgan. We’ve been friends since. She warms my heart with her travel lessons and the way she seeks beauty in the world. I hope you’ll give her blog a read. She’s a pretty amazing spirit!

Working my way around the world

Working my way around the world.

By now, most of you know that I’m in Europe. Some people understand what I’m doing … others have no clue … so here it is, all spelled out for you … The who, what, where, when, why of my current world.

WHO: Me – traveling all alone and happy about it

WHAT: Working my way around the world. This is not a vacation

WHERE: Europe / South America / Caribbean

WHEN: September 19 – unknown (anticipating returning in March / April 2015)

WHY: I am passionate about traveling, trying new things, being outdoors, discovering new foods and cultures. I have no commitments and no home, so I can live a free life … at least for this point in time.

Although I have my sister and my parents, I have not made a family of my own. Therefore, if I’m going to travel I need to do it sooner rather than later as I might be having a baby later (or not … who knows!) I can only live in the present, I can’t predict the future, so I have to do what’s right for me right now.

Pretty simple isn’t it?

Now, on to the work part of all of this travel …

Contrary to popular belief, I am not rich. I did sell my condo to pay off bills and become debt free, but the profit did not go into an account to ‘fund’ my extended travels. I am not lucky. Luck is not planned and I have planned how to make this all happen.

When I say I’m working my way around the world, I truly mean it. I am a full time travel agent, but also an entrepreneur. I work TPI (Travel Professionals International), a Canadian based travel agency, but I manage my own clients and own hours. This has given me the full capability to work from anywhere in the world … so I’m doing just that! If you give me a call, shoot me an email or care to skype with me, you’ll still be able to reach me … I just might be eating delicious gelato in Dubrovnik or sitting at a café in Kotor. It doesn’t stop me from being able to work … it’s just a different environment.

The goal for me is to travel a lot over the next year, but continue to sell travel to my clients who are mostly in Nova Scotia (although they don’t have to be!). How does that work you ask? Well, just about all of my research, planning and consulting is done via internet. I only have a few clients who I meet face to face regularly. So I still offer the exact same services as I did when I was working 9-5 in office, but now I do it from a café when I’m in Halifax, or I could be in a European café, an Argentinian estancia or a hotel wherever I may be at that time.

I know it is hard for people to understand, but I am exploring the world, seeing as much as I can, but also balancing it with enough work to keep my clients happy and food in my tummy.

My travel agent colleagues on the ship keep telling me I work too much. Even they can’t seem to understand that I’m not on vacation. And, I’m actually not working that much. And really, if I wasn’t working right now, what would they expect me to do? Drink? Well … we all know that’s not going to get too far as I’m not much of a drinker. Maybe when they ask me if I’m a workaholic, I’ll ask them if they are an alcoholic? Ha ha

Because I am not rich and I do not have a travel fund to keep me going for 6 months, I absolutely must continue to work as a travel agent. I don’t mind; I love my job. I know you are all thinking that’s fantastic, and it is, but it has its downfalls too!

My three biggest struggles at the moment are:

  1. Lack of reliable internet. Although I was very confident internet would be easy to find and accessible on my cruise, it isn’t as easy as I expected. I can purchase internet on the ship (which I don’t mind), but it is intermittent which means if I’m in the middle of something important and it cuts out I have to start over. That’s not particularly productive.
  2. I could go in to shore each day and access internet, but often it is a 15 – 20 minute tender each way from the ship to shore. If I go in to the city to work in the morning I have to take all of my camera gear and both laptops and then take them walking around or on tour with me. Not only is it cumbersome, but heavy too!
  3. Balance (which is funny to write about as I sit in the piano lounge of the bar on board the Royal Clipper with it listing). Now, I knew this was going to be a difficult one and it would take some practice, but I somehow thought it would be easier. It is incredibly difficult to balance wanting to see and do everything in all of these new amazing countries (Croatia & Montenegro so far) with needing to attend to work clients. I suspect it will get much better once I’m settled in one spot for a few days, but for now, this first few days have been very unbalanced. Having said that, I have had a fantastic time exploring Croatia & Montenegro so far and it just makes me more determined to catch up on work as soon as I can.

Now that you know what it is that I’m doing, I hope you’ll follow along for the upcoming blogs about each of my destinations … the fun times and interesting conversations I’ve had and reviews about many of the suppliers and products that I’ve been involved with.

At this point (Sept 25), I only have two days left on the ship and then I’m heading through Italy for 12 days. Posts will hopefully be more regular from here on out and photos coming soon too!

Air France Strike

Air France Strike

With my flight originally scheduled from Halifax to Venice on Sept 18th, when Air France pilots officially went on strike on Sept 15th it was devastating. I had been so incredibly busy with finishing up work files and trying to plan my own trip that I already felt maxed.

Air France had a release out that said they would be operating at 48% of flights. For those affected by cancellations, they could reschedule free of charge within specific date ranges (and within their original class of service or they could get a full refund.

Being only four days from departure, I knew that changing my flights would be nearly impossible because everything would be sold out and even if I found new flights with Air France that fit the restrictions, it was possible that those flights could be cancelled too seeing as they weren’t announcing cancellations until 24 hours in advance.

I got busy making phone calls as soon as the strike was confirmed. I started by calling my insurance company to see what the procedure would be and when I could officially make a claim. After much discussion, I was advised that my plan actually wouldn’t cover anything to do with strike action even though I had booked the flights months before the strike was announced. So, in this particular case I was SOL because insurance wasn’t going to help me out with the cost of new flights or with the money lost for and expensive hotel in Venice that was non-refundable.

Right then and there I was super frustrated. I looked my insurance policy up, but sadly, with the lower package that I had purchased, strike was not included.

Next up, I called my credit card company as I have insurance with them as well … good news … I had medical and baggage coverage with my credit card. Bad news, I did not have interruption insurance. So …. No luck with the credit card.

What does all of that mean?

If my flight was cancelled I could get my money back from the airline (about $1200). I could then use that money to buy a brand new ticket (on short notice), which was going to cost closer to $4000. Hmmm … see the disconnect here?

I started searching for new flight options on my own to see what I could get for the cheapest and still reach Venice on time. I came up with an Air Canada itinerary departing on Sept 19 (a day later), but arriving on Sept 20th, in time for my embarkation. And it even had better routing – Halifax / Toronto / Venice. It would mean forfeiting a night in Venice at a non-refundable hotel and paying about $500 extra for my flight. It sucked, but it was certainly better than not going at all.

Tuesday I tried to forget about it. After all it was possible that my flights might be on the ‘fly’ list instead of cancellation list. Then I’d be all set, nothing would change and I’d arrive in Venice one day early, as planned.

Wednesday the 17th came and I checked for flight updates as soon as I woke up. Sadly, mine was one of the cancelled ones.

I got on the phone to Air France right away. First I tried their public reservations number, which wasn’t open that early in the morning. I was not impressed. In the middle of a strike and customer service / reservations weren’t even taking calls?

Then I found our agent line to Air France and not only did someone answer, but he was super helpful and nice. I went through the situation with him and he began looking for new routing options with me. Finally he found one that would still leave on Sept 18th, but routing would be Halifax / Montreal / Paris … then I would overnight in Paris before heading on to Venice the next morning … still in time for my embarkation. I told him to put those on hold.

A couple of problems though …

No change in flight price, but it would cost me an extra hotel in Paris, as well as transportation. No way I could visit Paris for 24 hours and stay in a hotel room the whole time!

The flights were still with Air France which means they could still be cancelled and then I would be back to square 1.

Once the rep had them on hold I tried to find a later flight from Halifax to Montreal so that I wouldn’t have an 8 hour layover in Montreal. The rep wasn’t able to make changes to that particular portion of the trip as he was only able to change the Air France segments. He put me through to their booking department and I had a nice chat with a rep there who went above and beyond to get me exactly what I needed.

She checked Air France, KLM and Delta flighs again, but everything was sold out. This is what happens when one company cancels half of their flights, the other airlines fill up very quickly. Having not found anything suitable, she asked if it would be ok if I checked with other airlines. Hell yes! I don’t have any particular loyalties to airline companies. I just wanted to get to Venice on time for my Star Clippers cruise. I was not prepared to miss that!

As soon as she asked me that, I told her about the good Air Canada flights that I had found and I just thought she wasn’t able to switch me to them. After about 20 – 30 minutes on the phone with her, she had cancelled the ‘on hold’ flights with the overnight in Paris, rounded up my new request for flights and had sent it off to get confirmation.

Phew! Was I ever happy when she told me that Air Canada approved the change and she sent me a new eticket.

What does that mean? It meant that I didn’t have to pay to reroute or change my date, I didn’t have to get a refund and then pay a crazy amount more for flights with another airline, I got better routing and got to collect Aeroplan points for the flight which I wouldn’t have been able to do with the other routing. It still left me missing out on a night in Venice and a $300 hotel, but in the grand scheme of things, that was pretty minor and I was thrilled to have it taken care of.

Besides, I barely made it to the airport on time on Friday because I was still packing and doing errands. There’s no way that I would have gotten it all done to leave on Thursday!

The lesson here for all of you is two fold:

  1. Check all of your insurance policies (work / credit card / purchased through an agent) to see if your policy covers airline strike.
  2. Use a travel agent to book your trip. I spent an hour and a half on the phone with Air France plus a couple of hours looking at new routing myself. And, if I hadn’t had access to the travel agent emergency line I have no idea how long it would have taken to get it all settled and how frustrated I would have been as a regular customer not knowing what all of my options were.

Despite the incredible number of customers from that 52% of flights that were cancelled, the staff that I spoke to both gave wonderful customer service despite working over time and likely having to deal with a lot of agents (or customers) looking for miracle solutions.

Although I was happy to gain my Aeroplan points and have better routing, I mostly was just pleased with the knowledge and friendliness of the Air France staff who did exactly what I needed.

Renovations – Part 3

Feb 22nd – Renovation Update

Three weeks ago I was calling contractors and having them in to quote on doing renovations with the goal of having everything complete in early March. I guess that was a little ambitious of me. Both in the matter that I had a lot of decisions to make (I’m a slow decider) and in that contractors have their own way of dealing with time and deadlines.

Here’s what has been accomplished, along with approximate working hours to complete.

Carpet removal from upstairs – 8 hours
Staple pulling & clean up – 9+ hours
Taking carpet to recycle depot – 1.5 hours

Removing cabinet doors in kitchen (hinges & handles) – 2.5 hours
Removing wallpaper in kitchen & clean up – 10 hours

Cleaning out kitchen cupboards & boxing items – 3 hours (only 1/2 done)

Removing face plates, switch covers & hand rails – 1 hour (1/2 done)

Researching & Buying supplies:
Flooring – Home Depot / Kent / Happy Harry’s / Floors Plus
Paint – Home Depot / Kent / Color Your World / Sherwin Williams

6 hours meeting with friends and contractors for quotes & discussing plan of action
3.5 hours meeting with real estate agents

4 hours (2 separate evenings) – researching paint colours in general
6 – 8 hours (with my sister on a Saturday) – Happy Harry’s / Floors Plus / Kent – Bought flooring / handles / hinges / backsplash tile and carted everything from the car to the house. Had to make two trips to Kent to get the flooring. Looked at kitchen lighting.
1 hour (lunch break) – researching paint colour

Random other things that needed to be done.
4 hours – sorting items, donating to Value Village, putting items on kijiji
2 hours – emailing Photo Tour participants & Young & Fearless participants about photo pick ups.
Undetermined amount of time for kijiji & photo pick ups.
2 hours Financial Planner
1 hour finding out exact debt amounts (Line of credit / vehicle / mortgage)

That appears to be a total of approximately 64 hours in the last 3 weeks. Geeze, no wonder I’m exhausted! And, that doesn’t count the 10 – 15 hours of overtime I’ve done at work in the last two weeks.

How will you see the world through your lens?

Every year that I take photographers on a photo tour I am absolutely amazed and inspired by each of them. It is unbelievable how a group of people can stand in the same place and capture so many different perspectives. It truly gives you a feel for what other people are seeing, through their eyes … through their lens.

The Vietnam: Through the Lens Photo Tour will be no different. It offers a variety of classroom workshops, hands on practice and loads of camaraderie that will leave participants inspired and sometimes overwhelmed by the world and the beauty around them.

If you are interested in improving your photography skills while discovering the culture and beauty of Vietnam, now is the time to get in touch.

I’m looking for four more people to join us on this next amazing journey.
Final deadline to book your spot is December 31st, but please contact me ASAP to confirm space is available.

VIETNAM: Through the Lens
April 6 – 19th, 2014

$2780 (land based)

Tour Highlights will include:

Two photo workshops including a variety of classroom learning & a lot of hands on practice.

City tours of Hanoi, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh

One night on a beautiful junk boat in Halong Bay – visits to floating villages / sunset & sunrise from the boat

Hoi An Volunteering by taking photos for STREETS International to help end the cycle of poverty through education and work opportunities.

Hoi An Full Moon Festival – where the city closes its streets to traffic and stores are adorned with beautiful coloured lanterns.

Mekong Delta Homestay – 1 night

Traveling by boat along the Mekong Delta

If you are interested in more information, please send me an email – info@sharitucker.com

South East Asia – Chapter 16 – Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

Probably the biggest tourist attraction in Yangon is the enormous Shwedagon Pagoda. Nearly 25 000 people visit it per day on the weekend. Although, most of this is actually locals, not tourists.

We only spent about an hour wandering around the inside area of the Pagoda, but I could have spent much longer! Thankfully, our local guide took us to have our astrology reading done where we sat in the coolness of one of the buildings, out of the scorching mid-day sun. After our astrology readings, we bought the flowers as per each of our readings and then used them as an offering to the shrine for our day of birth, where we also poured an uneven number of cups of water on our symbols.

Here’s a quick little photo essay. Put your sunglasses on and get ready for a whirlwind of gold!

South East Asia – Chapter 10 – The Streets of Yangon

I woke up at 4:30am on August 17th and couldn’t seem to get back to sleep. I guess jet lag had me on weird hours. Could have been worse though. I dilly dallied around until about 6:00am when I decided to get out of bed and get my day pack ready to go exploring.

At 7am I headed down to the lobby for breakfast. While I was waiting for my food, we heard a bit of commotion outside and I could see a row of young monks walking by in their pink and orange robes, each carrying their silver container. I ran outside to see what was going on (typical tourist).

The row of monks stopped about two doors down from the hotel and stood in a line while someone from a nearby truck did some announcements. I really wasn’t sure if I should be photographing them or not, so I didn’t. When they didn’t leave right away, I went back inside my hotel to ask at the front desk if it was ok to photograph them and they told me yes. So, I walked to the front of the line of young monks and moments later, they started walking again. I turned my go-pro toward them and recorded them while they walked by. (or not, apparently I didn’t have it set on video so I got Nothing! boo me).

I went back into the lobby to eat my breakfast which consisted of three pieces of toast, two large slices of delicious watermelon and two barely cooked eggs.

Then, I headed out on a mission to find the Sule Pagoda which was only a few blocks away.

Here’s a quick video of what the streets in Yangon are like at around 8am on a Saturday morning. This was after I had gone to photograph the Pagoda and I was on my way back to the hotel.

South East Asia – Chapter 3 – Air Asia

After being rebooked twice (United to Air Canada and then United rebooked me to a different Air Canada), I was all set to depart Halifax at 11:45pm on August 14th. Not soooo bad after the rotten morning I had when United originally told me I couldn’t leave Halifax until Friday.

After getting the International flight sorted, I was still left to sort out my connections. I’d be landing in Bangkok at 6:05am on August 16th at the Bangkok (BKK) airport and would need to transfer to the DMK airport about an hour away to catch my flight to Yangon, Myanmar. This, would pose a problem. I would be landing at the same time that I should be checking in for my flight at the other airport. This was just not going to work.

I tried to call Air Asia, but there was no answer. There was a message in Thai and then click. No English. Not that I’m surprised, but a little disappointed. Then, I discovered that they were closed for the day because it was after 9pm in Thailand. Hmmm … now what. I started looking through the website to figure out if I could change my tickets … after a bit I found the change penalties (1100 Thai Baht), but those are only if you cancel / change with more than 48 hours notice. Unfortunately I was less than 48 hours away. Now what?

I found @askairasia and I asked them. But, I didn’t get a response right away.

I found instructions in ‘help’ on how to manage my booking and make a change. I figured it was worth a try, so I tried, but no go … the computer knew I was under 48 hours until departure.

I called the insurance company back and confirmed that I did in fact have coverage for this flight as it was due to a cancelled flight by United … and then by Air Canada. They informed me that I did, for up to $1000 for change fees or new flights.

I asked if I could start the claim right away, because I had all the documents I needed. They advised that the claim form had been emailed to me and that I can’t start it until I have the claim form. Not seeing it in my inbox, I advised her. She told me it could take up to 24 hours. Really? How often now-a-days does email take 24 hours? (By the way, it’s now been 22 hours and it has not yet arrived in my inbox …)

There was no way for me to cancel my original Air Asia flights online (because of the 48 hour restriction) and the office wasn’t open. So, I went ahead and bought a completely new round trip ticket from Bangkok to Yangon for August 16th at 4:30pm instead of my original one at 7:15am. Total damage? About $250, which the insurance company should pay back.

Total time to sort out all of these issues: 7 hours

August 13th
– Check in to United through to getting off the phone with them – 2.5 hours

August 14th
– Check in for Air Canada flight (6:50am) – find out it was cancelled – 15 minutes
– Call to United – 1 hour
– Call to my manager at The Adventure Travel Company – 5 minutes
– Call to insurance company – 30 minutes
– Collecting proof of cancelled flights from Air Canada – 5 minutes
– Collecting proof of cancelled flights from United – 5 minutes
– United Staff member finding me good new connecting flights without me even asking – 10 minutes
– Waiting at United counter for my new ticket to be issued and printed old school as a paper ticket – 30 minutes.
– Sorting out Air Asia flights including their slow website (not normally, just yesterday) – 1 hour
– Calling credit card company because my payment wouldn’t work – 15 minutes
– Contacting Tucan Travel to re-arrange my airport transfer on arrival in Yangon – 5 minutes

Problems started at about 9pm on Tuesday evening. I didn’t have them fully finalized until nearly 2pm the next day. That’s a lot of pain in the butt.

Now, has this ever happened to you?
Two really strong points of advice …

1. Buy good Travel insurance for trip cancellation, interruption & medical. My insurance cost me about $90, but before I even left Halifax it paid for itself as they will reimburse me for the $250 for the Air Asia flight I had to rebook. Plus, I still have coverage if any other issues arise throughout the trip or on my return.

2. Book your travel through a travel agent. Unfortunately it didn’t help me much as I AM the travel agent, so I still had to do all my own work. But, if you have a travel agent, they can help you find better routings for cancelled flights so that you don’t have to believe that it is impossible to leave the Halifax airport and get rebooked two days later. Your travel agent will also have access to agent lines to get through the queues slightly faster at the airlines and access to more options than the standard person whose flight needs to be rebooked. This also means you can go about your day doing other things instead of sitting on hold with the airline. If you are in another country when any of this takes place, you make the call to your travel agent and then you don’t have to worry about wasting your cell phone battery power while on hold or making long distance, international phone calls or paying for wifi to research everything. Oh yeah … and that means that you can go home (hotel or airport bench) and sleep while the travel agent that you hired and paid does the work to get you sorted out. Doesn’t that sound like a good deal? When people wonder why travel agents are worth it and why they charge booking fees? This is just one example of many. I would gladly have left this all in the hands of a travel agent for a booking fee of ($50 – $60 – which insurance would probably cover), just to not have to wait on hold for all of that time and to get the right options first.

Air Asia did actually get back to me on twitter, but it was early this morning (during their work hours), so unfortunately it was to late and I had already rebooked my flights.

South East Asia – Chapter 2 – Air Canada Flight Cancelled

I woke up at the pleasant hour of 4:45am on August 14th. I guess my body felt four hours of sleep was sufficient! Maybe it was preparing for the crossing of the date line a little early.

Around 6am I headed to my sister’s house as she was going to drive me to the airport. Along the way I see a road sign that says something about construction on Blue water Road. I don’t think too much of it as Blue water road is off Hammonds Plains Road and I’m not heading that way.

I drive about five kms and see that Kearney Lake road is completely closed to traffic … Right at Blue Water Road. Who knew?!

So, I turned around, headed back out to the highway and down Hammonds Plains Road, finally arriving at my sister’s at close to 6:30 (it should only have taken 10-15 minutes!)

Jump forward to the airport … I grab all of my stuff, double check for my phone and my passport and then head inside, while sissy is on her way back home.

I go to the kiosk to print my baggage tags, but it can’t find my confirmation number. I tried three times, searching by confirmation number, flight number and date of travel. No luck. Finally I asked one of the Air Canada staff and informed me that the flight was cancelled and to see the ladies at the counter.

The lady at the counter told me the flight was cancelled due to weather. High winds and fog had prevented the plane from landing the evening before so it was not coming, therefore the flight was cancelled. I asked her to help me get rerouted, but I already knew the answer.

Her: I’m really sorry, but this ticket is issued with United Airlines, so they have to do all those changes for you. You’ll have to call them.

… Did you just feel my heart break?

I headed to the benches, unloaded my backpacks and hit redial on the United number that was in my phone from the night prior.

Oh, hello Mr. Automated Man! I see your hearing didn’t improve overnight …

Him: What is your departure city?
Me: Halifax.
Him: I’m sorry, could you say that again?
Me: Halifax.
Him: I’m sorry, but I’m having trouble understanding you. Could you try one more time?
Me: HAL…. I … FAAAAAXXXXX
Him: I’m sorry. Let’s try this another way. Please say your last name.
Me: Tucker
Him: Are you Donald?
Me: No.

… You see where this is going right?

Eventually Automated Man got tired of me and put me through to a person. No wait time! Great!

I explained to the lady the situation and she began looking for new flights for me. I won’t go through all of the long boring details, but after some sighing and grumbling, she informed me that she couldn’t get me out of Halifax today at all. All flights were booked. I asked about an upgrade to business or first class to get me on one of the flights. Of course, they can’t do that because it’s not the same class of service (cheap flight) that I originally booked. I went through a bunch of options with her and tried to get her to look at flights to other places, but she was stuck on flights to Toronto and the fact that they were all sold out. She informed me I simply could not get out of Halifax today.

She went on to tell me that the next flights she could find were on Friday morning, putting me in Bangkok on the 17th. I explained that I would miss connecting flights and part of my tour. Was United going to do anything about any of that?

Her: I can’t answer that for you. I’m in reservations, you would have to talk to the customer care department for that.

Eventually I got tired of asking her to search other routes because she just kept telling me everything was full. I understood that everyone on the Halifax morning flights had been rebooked and that most flights were full, but I was increasingly annoyed that she wouldn’t consider putting me in a higher class of service to keep me on track rather than making me wait two days to leave and miss my connections / beginning of my tour.

Finally, I gave up.

I asked her to book the flights for Friday that she had suggested and then to transfer me to the customer care department.

Her: You can reach the customer care department online at … (and she spewed out an address)
Me: Oh. Actually, can’t you transfer me there once you’ve booked my flights?
Her: No. I’m sorry. They don’t have a phone number to transfer you to. You’ll have to contact them online.
Me: Did I just hear you correctly? Your customer care department does not have a phone number?
Her: Yes, that’s correct ma’am.
Me: And, if I don’t have access to a computer at this time?
Her: Well, Ma’am, you’ll have to wait until you do. That is the only way to contact them.
Me: Really? It is called the Customer Care department and they have no phones?
Her: Well, yes, they do have phones, but not a number for the public.
Me: Ok. ok. Please book the tickets for Friday morning and I will contact your Customer Care Department online.

Eventually after holding, the tickets got fixed up. The confirmation stayed the same and once again, I was done an hour long conversation with United Airlines.

By this time, I figured I could call my manager at the Adventure Travel Company and maybe not wake him up. He’d help me!

After all, if I was in front of a computer with access to the flights, I would have been able to look for my own routing and I’m sure that I would find that I could actually get out of Halifax today. But, it wasn’t worth arguing over as I wasn’t getting anywhere.

My manager told me he’d look in to it as soon as he got to work. Phew! I had complete faith he’d find me a great option. I would hang tight at the airport for a bit just in case there was another option leaving relatively soon.

In the meantime, I called my favourite (& only) sister to put her on standby that she may have to come back and retrieve me from the airport.

Then, more phone calls. It was time to get an insurance claim started. Based on being rebooked on a Friday flight, I was going to miss my already paid for connecting flight in Asia from Bangkok to Yangon. I was going to miss out on my airport transfer, a night’s hotel and most importantly, the beginning of my tour in Yangon. If I couldn’t get to Yangon by the afternoon of the 17th, then I would need to catch up in another part of Burma, missing a couple days of the tour and trying to navigate Burma on my own. Not looking forward to that part at all.

When the insurance lady answered it sounded like I had just woken her up!

I explained the situation and that I had been rebooked, but I would be incurring expenses to catch up to my tour which I would now be late getting to. She explained to me that I only had $1000 to use toward flights (no hotels, no tours, nothing else, just flights). This didn’t make sense to me as my policy was for $5000. She kept telling me I could rebook flights and use up to $1000. After asking her to repeat it a couple of times and different ways, she put me on hold. Then she came back and told me the same thing again. So, I guess it was up to me to ask it a different way so she would give me a different answer.

Me: Ok, so if all my policy covers is $1000 for flights, what is the other $4000 of the $5000 for?
She came back with the same spiel about being able to use $1000 for flights. UG!
Me: And, the $4000 of other coverage? What is it for?
Her: Not for your flights.
Me: Ok. So, if I’m reprotected on a flight on Friday. I do not need to book a new flight to Asia as the airline has that covered. Do I have coverage for changing my connecting flight in Europe.
Her: Yes. I told you. $1000.
Me: Ok. I understand that there is $1000 for flights. So, what about the tour and the transfers / hotels etc that I am not using. Is there any reimbursement for those?
Her: No. Not for this reason.
Me: What reason is that?
Her: Cancelled flights. If they were delayed, yes, but not if they were cancelled.
(This still doesn’t make sense to me)
Me: Ok, so because of the delays, if I use my $1000 to rebook flights into Yangon and then my tour has departed and I need to catch up to that tour by bus, is that covered?
Her: Yes.
I never did find out if that comes out of the $1000 or not …
Me: Ok. Could you please start a claim for me as I will be rebooking my Asia flights and may need some other things straightened out. So, I might as well start the process now.

After also digging to find out exactly what information I needed in order to submit my claim (official notices from both airlines that the flights had been cancelled and why … as well as receipt for my new flights), I asked for the claim number, for email confirmation and got off the phone.

I asked my sister to come back and get me as I wasn’t overly hopeful any more for getting out of Halifax today. And, I was cranky.

While I waited for my ride, I went to the Air Canada desk and got confirmation of the flight cancellation. I then went to the United desk and did the same.

The United staff member, Colleen, asked me to wait a moment, but didn’t say why.
Her: Why is it that you aren’t just going on the Halifax to London flight with Air Canada tonight and then in to Bangkok the next day?
Me (with huge bright eyes): Really? That’s an option? The United call centre told me I couldn’t leave Halifax today.
Her: Let me just double check to make sure we can do this.

In the mean time, my manager was texting me saying he had found that same option. So, I let him know that United was working on it.

A few minutes and a couple of phone calls later, she said that it was AOK, but she would have to print me an old school paper ticket, not an e-ticket. Several of them struggled light heartedly over trying to get the paper ticket to work (it’s been MANY years since they had to do those) and then finally handed me my new tickets with explicit instructions not to lose them as they were like cash. Ok. Got it.

I thanked her profusely. I wasn’t expecting her to even try to find anything for me and she found me a much better option, much earlier and no cost to me. How could I not be happy with that?

So, I left the airport at around 9:15am (after arriving at 6:45am) and went back to my sisters to get my car for the day. I now didn’t need to be at the airport until 8:30pm tonight. YAY!

Despite the chaos and poor customer service throughout the day with United Airlines, Colleen was super helpful without being asked. In the end, I got better connections, I’m not transiting through the US and I’ll be flying with Air Canada and Thai Airways (one of the best in the business!)

To top it all off, I’m traveling on a true Around the World ticket where I will be crossing both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans in my travels, one on my way there and one on the way home. I guess it is my new claim to fame.

The chaos did not end there though! I was still going to miss my connecting flight in Bangkok to Yangon and had to get that taken care of so I wouldn’t be trying to figure it out in Bangkok.