World Tourism Day 2020

In a year when so many things seem to be going wrong, at times, it is hard to see the bigger picture; the one that says that the world being shut down is not forever. But, we really must actively work toward responsible tourism, protecting our people, planet and places.

Tourism is such a huge part of the world economy, that without it, families go hungry and communities who once pulled themselves out of poverty become impoverished again. But, you have a choice when you travel to make a positive impact, it’s called Responsible Tourism.

When you think of people in tourism being affected by Covid-19, you probably think first of the great tour guides you’ve met in your travels, travel agents like myself, flight, cruise ship and hotel staff. Those tourism jobs are just the tip of the iceberg though! With less people traveling:

  • There are fewer tourist buses, boats and ferries. This affects jobs for mechanics, maintenance staff, captains and drivers.
  • Fewer people staying at hotels means fewer jobs for cleaning and hotel staff, but also indirectly affects the businesses who clean the carpets or windows, replace the mats, do laundry or dry cleaning service or sell furnishings.
  • Fewer people exploring, means fewer people visiting rural communities and artisans that rely on tourism. Think of all the tours you’ve done to spice farms, coffee plantations, pineapple plantations, olive grove or lemon farms. Think of the distilleries, rum cake factories, blown glass workshops or weaving workshops you’ve visited. With no tourists, a large chunk of these farmers’ and artisans’ income is now gone.
  • Less demand for souvenirs and artisan’s works, so many tourist markets are closed and the small business owners and artisans have no where to sell their goods.

It really is such a difficult situation for so many. But, there is hope for a return to an even better world.

Today, Sept 27th is World Tourism Day. This year’s focus is on Tourism and Rural Development. Tourism is a viable sector for people in rural communities to build businesses and have employment opportunities that help them rise from poverty. But, it is not just about money. The tourism sector provides dignity and equality for many. It provides opportunities for women and youth which, in turn, provides better education for entire families. When you put that all together, it means a better world for all of us.

Please, take a moment today to reflect on your past travels. We ALL need to be more responsible when we travel in the future. If you reduce, reuse and recycle at home and are proud to support local in your community, then all you have to do is take those same principles with you when you travel.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself, or discuss with me, when you are planning your next trip.

  • Have you supported Rural Tourism by getting out of the cities and spending times in the countryside in the past? Did you enjoy the experience and feel connected to the locals?
  • Have you travelled with a company who takes a stand for Animal Rights, Women’s Equality, No Child Labour, Fair Wages and/or Environmental Action? If you aren’t sure, that’s ok. Commit to asking for this information going forward.
  • Have you made a conscious effort to go to a lesser-touristed destination and avoided the over-touristed hot spots? This spreads tourist dollars farther, supports more people and often means better value for your money! We all know the most highly touristed spots are full of tourist-traps!
  • Have you purchased souvenirs from the artisans themselves rather than bulk-made souvenirs?
  • Have you dined at a local restaurant that buys its food from within 100 kms, reducing the carbon footprint?
  • Have you stayed at accommodations that are locally owned & operated?
  • Have you done research on your Air BnB / VRBO accommodations to make sure they are properly zoned, owned by a local (not a foreigner) and that families have not been forced to move because of increasing rents to provide tourist accommodation?
  • Have you stayed at a restored Heritage building that is locally owned and lovingly restored?
  • Have you chosen to go to a smaller, locally owned resort rather than a Chain-resort so that more of your tourist dollars goes back to the local economy instead of to a foreign investor?
  • Have you used your spending money wisely to support local businesses, artisans and companies while you are travelling?
  • Have you visited a community where they’ve taught you about their culture and heritage?
  • Have you donated to a local not for profit organization rather than giving money or candy to children begging on the streets?
  • Have you packed responsibly insuring you have no single use plastic? Some countries ban plastic bags with HUGE fines, including zip lock baggies. So, pack your reusable bottle, reusable toiletry bags and a steel straw! Don’t leave any garbage behind in the country you visit.
  • Have you chosen to travel one country or area in depth to get to know the culture and the locals better, as well as reducing your carbon footprint by using ground or water transportation rather than flying relatively short distances between destinations?
  • Have you made a donation to a Carbon offsetting organization to help mitigate the carbon used on your trip?

If you haven’t done any of these, that’s ok! There is no time like the present to start your journey to becoming a better traveller. If you don’t know where to start, that’s ok too. I’m here to help you be a better traveller going forward.

You don’t have to do all of these things every time you travel, but even if you do some of them, what a difference it will make to the locals in the destinations that you’ve chosen to visit. Start with your next trip and see if you can incorporate some of these great practices. You’ll have the most wonderful trip AND it will be having a positive impact on the people and places you visit, as well as our planet. It’s a win-win-win!

If you are ready to get back out there in the world and are dreaming of where you’d like to go in 2021 or 2022, reach out to me. Let’s set up a time to talk about responsible tourism options that will make your dream vacation just that much more special! A few small changes can make a world of difference.

Happy World Tourism Day!

What do I need to know about travelling right now?

Peggy's Cove, NS

14JUL20 – There has been a lot of great news about international travel opening up around the world. Canada is on the EU ‘safe list’. Caribbean Islands are welcoming guests from various international destinations, including Canada. Flights have resumed to many destinations, encouraging tourism, albeit on a less frequent schedule.

Beware!

There is much more to consider outside of being welcome in your destination country. Just because we are welcome, does that mean you should book the next flight out?

Travel is possible, but very risky at the moment. The Canadian Government still has the Avoid Non-Essential Travel Advisory in place and our border with the USA is still closed. Even within Canada, our movements are restricted and quarantines are required for travel between many of our provinces.

Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

Here are the top four things that you need to weigh deeply before deciding if now is the right time for you to travel:


POTENTIAL TRAVEL COMPLICATIONS

Travel as you know it, basically no longer exists. Your favourite flight routes may not be operating, or are at a much lower frequency. Masks are mandatory on most flights. New check in procedures are in place. Many international airports remain closed to international flights and are only accepting domestic arrivals. Almost everything is done contact-less, which means you’ll need to travel with a smart phone. Some destinations require you have a negative Covid test before boarding your flight. Other destinations require you to be tested on arrival. Sometimes tests are at your expense, sometimes they are free. The middle seat is blocked on some flights and on others, it is not. Every airline, hotel, tour operator and cruise line has a slightly different cancellation and change policy. It is not one size fits all.

Four complications to be prepared for:

1. Denied boarding – You get to the airport, have your temperature checked and you are denied boarding. No amount of arguing, pleading or smiling will get you on board that flight. At this point you may simply be asked to leave the airport, asked to get tested on site (if available), or you may be asked to self-isolate or quarantine.

On departure for your vacation, your flights / hotels / tours will likely all be non-refundable at this point, so you’ll also lose the money you’ve spent on your vacation. At least you’ll be in your home country if you do have Covid.

If you are denied boarding on your return to Canada though, you’ll need to be prepared for the costs of medical, accommodation, transportation and new flights from your destination depending on how long you are sick for and if it is just a fever, or a positive Covid result.

2. Testing Positive on Arrival – When you arrive in destination, you may be tested at the airport for Covid. Should you test positive, even if you are not exhibiting symptoms, you will be required to quarantine for that countries’ designated length of time. You will not be allowed to return home by flight until you have been cleared by a negative test. Depending on the country, you may be quarantined at a government facility or, you may have to find and cover the costs of quarantine on your own. This comes with exceptional difficulties of avoiding public transportation, seeking medical attention and having groceries delivered, all in another language.

3. Becoming Ill with Covid while Traveling – There’s nothing worse than enjoying a beautiful vacation for a few days and then becoming sick, be it with a cold, a stomach bug, or Covid. You’ll need to seek medical attention where you are, even if it is the tiniest of tiny towns. Medical and transportation costs will be yours to cover, as well as the loss of any pre-booked services that you won’t be able to make it to. You also have to consider that medical services may not be as reliable in another country, or if there is another outbreak in the area you are in, even the best of medical systems have become overwhelmed.

4. The dreaded Second Wave – While many countries are progressing well and some have gotten down to zero active cases, it is nearly impossible for the entire world to be rid of Covid. Because of this, as long as travel between provinces, countries and internationally continues, cases will continue to pop up. It’s just a matter of how prepared each country is to control it.

If you are traveling in the next few months, you have to be prepared for the dreaded Second Wave. It is possible that you may be enjoying your vacation with not a care in the world, taking all of the pertinent precautions and then within a day (or days), the world could be shut down again completely, leaving you with few (or no) options to return to Canada.

In this case, you’ll need to shelter in place until the bans are lifted and flights begin again. This could be a few weeks, or a few months, so make sure you have access to sufficient funds to support yourself abroad. At this point, the Canadian Government has made it clear that they are not planning any further Repatriation flights as the Avoid Non-Essential Travel Advisory is still in place. Traveling during this advisory is done at your own risk.


INSURANCE

Every insurance company and policy is different, so there is not one single answer for ‘Will I be covered for Covid?’ but chances are, right now, you will not be. There may be some exceptions, such as if you purchased your insurance policy prior to March or if you have Cancel for Any Reason insurance, but you’ll need to check with your specific insurance company about their rules. For policies being purchased now for future travel, most do not cover cancellation, interruption or medical due to Covid, at least not while there is an Avoid Non-Essential Travel Advisory in place due to the Covid pandemic.

Now, that doesn’t mean you should go without insurance! Insurance is still a very important part of travel and can protect you from all kinds of unexpected situations. If a loved one passes away suddenly (not a pre-existing condition or Covid-19), then you may be able to make a claim for any non-refundable items. If you have a stop over and your connecting flight is cancelled (maybe due to mechanical malfunction, not due to Covid) and you have to spend a night, or three … or when you are abroad, if you get in a car or pedestrian accident, fall and break your arm, chip a tooth or have a heart attack (not related to a pre-existing condition or Covid), then you likely qualify to make a claim. It’s very important to remember that insurance covers you for a multitude of reasons and unexpected circumstances. It is not meant to cover you for things you already know about, it is designed to protect you from those you don’t.

If you are choosing to travel despite the Avoid Non-Essential Travel Advisory, I highly recommend Cancel for Any Reason insurance. This allows you to cancel for any reason (including Covid), giving you a percentage refund, dependent on how far in advance you cancel. Only a few companies currently offer this product, but it can give you extra peace of mind knowing that you can recover some of your costs if you decide not to go. Feel free to contact me for a no-obligation quote at any time.


COUNTRY ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

Only some countries are currently open to receiving International Travellers. And only some of those are allowing Canadians. Some require Covid testing on arrival. Some require 10 day quarantine on arrival, others 14 day quarantine. Some countries have split districts where the north is allowing tourism and the south is not, or it may vary by province. How they are enforcing this, I’m not quite sure, but I don’t think I’d want to be wrapped up in being a foreigner somewhere that I’m not supposed to be.

And the most difficult thing is that the rules of today could be better or worse tomorrow, or in two weeks or two months. You could book a trip today because Canadians are allowed in and there is no quarantine required, but two weeks from now when you travel, the rules could be changed. Instability is the name of the game for the next few months, at least.


RETURNING TO CANADA

If you’ve decided to travel abroad, for tourism or to visit family, you need to be prepared to quarantine for 14 days upon your return to Canada. At this time, you are allowed to be ‘in transit’ at Canadian airports to get to your home destination, but once you arrive, you are expected to do a full quarantine. For us, in Canada, that means 14 days where you remain inside or on your property regardless of whether you have symptoms or not. You do not go out for groceries or to get gas. You cannot use public transportation and you’ll need to have your food delivered either by a grocery service or a meal service. You don’t go for a drive or a walk down the street. You don’t invite friends over and socially distance by six feet. You isolate yourself so that you don’t potentially infect anyone else.

Different provinces have varying degrees of enforcement to ensure you are following the public health guidelines. Make sure you know the rules for your home province.


2020 – YEAR OF THE STAYCATION

For these reasons, most people are still staying home and traveling locally, within their province or within their provincial ‘bubble’. For the average person, it’s simply too complicated and risky to travel far, for leisure purposes.

Trust me, as a travel agent who makes my entire living based on people traveling abroad and who is deeply passionate about travel, this is not the message that I’d like to be sharing, but it’s only fair to be honest and transparent about the risks.

Many people are traveling to visit family abroad that they’ve been apart from for too long. Some people are returning to their home to stay and a few brave souls just can’t wait any longer to explore; wanderlust is strong within them!

As a travel agent, I am still here to help you plan your vacation, visit your family, put your insurance in place and help you navigate all of the changes. If you are planning to travel abroad in the coming months, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

While I understand most people do not need a travel agent’s assistance to travel within their own province, if you decide you are interested in traveling across Canada and would like help planning some amazing experiences in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario or Saskatchewan, which are all currently open for domestic travel without quarantine, or the Yukon or Northwest Territories when restrictions are lifted, I’d be pleased to help. If you are ready to start booking international travel for 2021, with many great deals and relaxed booking policies, I’d love to hear from you! Contact me today.

Stay safe at home and in transit. Things are getting better, it’s just going to take time.

Why Use a Travel Agent to Book Your Cruise Vacation – Case Study

If you’ve been wondering if you should use a travel agent to book your cruise, let me give you a few reasons why, yes, you should!

Working with an independent travel agent such as Shari Tucker Luxury Travel & Adventures can often be misunderstood. Many people don’t understand the value and benefit of working with an agent for something that you can seemingly, do yourself. However, all things are not created equal! Of course you can book your cruise online, but is that the best choice and best value for you? What might you be missing out on? Let’s look further.

If you’ve always booked your own vacations and have plenty of leisure time to spend researching your cruise, then you may not understand why anyone would use a travel agent. That’s ok! I’m here to help you understand what you are missing out on by booking a cruise on your own. If any of the following apply to you, it’s time you consider using a travel agent to book your next cruise:

  • Have little leisure time or little interest in doing in-depth vacation planning
  • Appreciate the advice of a professional in the field
  • Like speaking with someone who knows you personally
  • Find all of the options on the internet overwhelming to sort through
  • Have concerns about the reputability of companies you find online
  • Concerned about understanding cancellation and change policies or tend to ignore them and hope for the best
  • Enjoy supporting local or Canadian entrepreneurs and businesses

While I never promise anyone that working with me will be cheaper than booking on your own, I do always promise that you will get better (and more personal) service, you’ll be taken care of if something goes wrong and you will save HOURS of your precious time. It’s all about value for your money. On top of that, if I can save you money or get you extra perks along the way, that’s a great bonus! We all love to save money when we can!

To give you a tangible example of some of the benefits of working with Shari Tucker Luxury Travel & Adventures, check out the case study below of a recent booking with Royal Caribbean Cruises to see what you are missing out on if you aren’t working with a great travel agent.


Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean

CASE STUDY 1

BOOKING ON YOUR OWN

ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISE
Sailing:
11 night Canadian Adventure Cruise
Date: Oct 4, 2021 – Montreal, Canada
Ship:
Empress of the Seas
Category:
4N – Oceanview
Deck:
8 – 8022
Booking fee: $0
Service:

  • Self-service booking online, or you can call reservations with Royal Caribbean
  • Generally expect hold times of 15 – 60 minutes each time you call, longer during periods of high call volume
  • Speak to a different reservations agent, in the USA, each time you call.
  • Reservations agents answer specific questions about Royal Caribbean Cruises and input your information to book your trip
  • Reservations agents cannot provide information or book you on pre or post cruise land extensions

Public Rate for 1 cabin, 2 passengers: $3946 including port charges & taxes
On board credit or perks: $0
Deposit Terms: $960 – due day of booking – Non Refundable (except taxes & fees)


BOOKING WITH SHARI TUCKER LUXURY TRAVEL & ADVENTURES

ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISE
Sailing: 11 night Canadian Adventure Cruise
Date: Oct 4, 2021 – Montreal, Canada
Category: 4N – Oceanview
Deck:
8 – 8022 or 8026
Booking fee: $150 + tax
Service:

  • Speak with me, your personal travel agent, via email, text or phone
  • No hold times. If you are not able to reach me by phone on your first try, leave a message and I’ll call you back.
  • I get to know your preferences, your style of travel and make appropriate recommendations
  • You’ll speak with me directly each time you have a question or concern
  • I provide recommendations on the best available room, or best value category available and different price points.
  • If you are a past client, I have your booking details on file so you don’t have to go digging for passports and loyalty numbers.
  • I help you arrange insurance, flights, pre/post night hotels needed
  • I provide recommendations for land extensions to add before or after your cruise (additional fees may apply for booking).
  • I’ll help you navigate the new Covid-19 policies and procedures, on booking and at the time of travel
  • I can answer questions and give you advice on cancellation terms and conditions for your booking

Travel Agent Rate for 1 cabin, 2 passengers: $3568 including port charges & taxes (savings of $378 from the public rate of $3946, on the cruise rate)
Travel Agent Perk: On board credit of $25 per person / $50 per stateroom
Travel Agent Perk: Flexible Deposit Terms – $960 – due within 30 days – Fully refundable (in cash not future travel credit) prior to final payment
VS
Public Deposit Terms: $960 – due day of booking – Non Refundable (except taxes & fees)


SUMMARY

Clients paid $150 + tax up front to hire me to research and book this cruise. I then provide clients with on going service throughout the entire booking, travel and return process. I saved clients $378 from the public rate, plus secured them an additional $50 on board credit and better deposit terms. These clients still have flexibility to choose their own dining options on board, activities and port excursions. They can also use points, or book their own flights if they choose. If clients cancel before May 2021, they lose only the $150 that they have paid for my time and research. But, if they had booked direct they would lose their deposit of $960 if they cancelled prior to May 2021 because it is non-refundable.


NOW IT’S UP TO YOU

Still unsure if working with a travel agent for your next cruise vacation is the best option for you? Drop me an email to set up a FREE, 15 minute conversation where you can ask questions about the process as it pertains to your specific trip. Or, hire me for a 60 minute initial consultation by phone or video ($50 + tax) to discuss your trip and access my expertise on the various styles of cruise (or general) travel that you may not have considered. All cruises are not equal. They vary in ship size, amenities, age range, itinerary. You want to make sure you get the right fit, for YOU! From there, you can decide if you’d like to plan and book your own trip or hire me to organize it for you. The choice is yours.


Disclaimer: Information was correct at the time of publishing – July 2, 2020. Prices for cruises and promotions may change, rendering different results on different dates.

When can we Travel Again? A Travel Agent’s Opinion

In recent weeks, cities, communities and countries around the world have all begun to slowly make their way out of self-isolation. Some countries faster than others; some still struggling with near impossible numbers of Covid-19 overwhelming their health care systems (or non-systems). The number of deaths in the past few months is heartbreaking.

Here in Nova Scotia, and Eastern Canada in general, we’ve faired well, at least in the Covid numbers game. We locked down early, people followed the rules (for the most part) and we’re opening up slowly. I remember early on when governments were telling us, if we do this well, the effects will be minor and you’ll wonder why we made all of these sacrifices; that’s how we know that we’ve succeeded and that it worked.

Whether you agree with the government’s harsh restrictions, social distancing and closing of a large chunk of the economy, or whether you don’t, you can’t argue that we’ve come through relatively unscathed in comparison to the world’s hotspots such as Italy, Brazil and the US. This is not to diminish the lives lost to the disease and all of the other tragedies we’ve had to endure as Nova Scotians in the past few weeks. We’ve certainly had a lot thrown at us in 2020.

Trust me, no one wants the world economy to open up more than me (and everyone else in the tourism industry). My business has all but been demolished as the ground fell out from under the tourism industry in one big collapse. But, I’m still here!

Like many of you, I had my big travel plans for this year cancelled. I was meant to be in Australia for just over three weeks with my mom in May.

With the recent announcement of Air Canada’s summer destinations and schedule, I’d love for all of you (and me too), to be able to hop on a plane this summer and go somewhere … anywhere … safely and in good health, but realistically, what does that look like?

While countries around the world are lifting restrictions and beginning to open up to tourists, there’s still a lot to be done before international travel is viable on a large scale. Although I’m all for day dreaming about travel, I think logistically we need to start right here at home.

Halifax has never been overly well connected to the world with direct flights. A few to the US, a few to the Caribbean in the winter and in the past few years, a few direct flights to Europe. Now, with the Halifax airport running only about 2% of its normal flights, you can be sure you’ll need to pass through Toronto or Montreal before going international.

With Ontario and Quebec being some of our hardest hit provinces, that holds concern for a lot of travellers just to get out of Canada. Flying through the US is also not an option until at least after June 22nd at this point. While technically there are still a few flights between countries, they are for essential travel and cargo, not for leisure travel.

And, let’s not forget that the Canadian Government still has an Avoid Non-Essential Travel advisory out, worldwide, for Canadians. This means that they still feel the risk level is very high for travellers and it also means your travel insurance will be extremely limited if you choose to travel despite the warnings. Don’t forget to ask me (or your travel insurance provider) about Cancel for Any Reason policies, which I think will become the new norm for most travellers.

In my opinion, and it is just that, an opinion, I think it’ll be early August before we see the Avoid Non-Essential Travel Advisory lifted. While you may be able to get a flight Internationally for leisure purposes before then, it’s important to look at all of the risk factors. And, these are different for everyone. Personally, I’m very unlikely to travel before that advisory is lifted. It’s just too risky.

It’s exciting to hear about Air Canada increasing their flight schedule and destinations for the summer; to hear about countries around the world beginning to open up; and murmurs of international travel bubbling to the surface. But let’s not forget that many places still have 14 day quarantine requirements on arrival, not to mention on return to Canada. Some countries are also implementing same day Covid testing at their airports so that you can avoid the quarantine, but that poses the question, what if you are asymptomatic but test positive? Or, what if you get sick on your fifth day of vacation? On the surface, it may seem like a good idea to test everyone before allowing them to wander at will, but it’s far from fool proof.

You might be hearing in the news (if you haven’t shut it off completely) about lots of countries with plans to open up to travellers for June and July which are great steps in the right direction, but it’s important to look closely to determine who is allowed to travel. For example, most of the European countries are opening to domestic and regional travel first with plans for international travel to open up at a later date. It’s great to see that many countries with land borders are partnering up to boost tourism between their countries, freely, but they aren’t yet ready to allow international travellers in.

If you are looking at potential for somewhere to go this fall in Europe, my feeling is that Greece and Portugal will both be great options, as will Iceland and Greenland. All are anticipated to open in June / July for international tourists. I hope that Italy will be ready as well, as they need tourism dearly after the difficulties that they had with Covid, but it is yet to be seen when International tourism will return to any of these destinations for sure. Hopefully we’ll know more by the end of June or mid-July.

Lisbon, Portugal
Cinque Terre, Italy

Moving on to the Caribbean, various parts of Mexico, Dominican Republic, Antigua, Saint Lucia, Grenada and more, are reopening throughout June and July for tourists with various rules and regulations. Flights with West Jet and Air Canada are resuming out of Toronto or Montreal for many of these destinations at the end of June or beginning of July, although at a much lower frequency than past years.

I suspect most Maritimers will be waiting until the winter to head south. If you missed your Spring vacation this year, or you just need another one, you won’t be alone! Lots of travellers are booking All Inclusive and cruise vacations right now for November/December and March Break. If you wish to ignore the Avoid Non Essential Travel Advisory though, Saint Lucia is a great spot to go in June and they are not requiring you to quarantine for 14 days on arrival, so you can enjoy your vacation without stress. You may, however, still have to quarantine when you return to Canada depending what each province decides in the next few weeks.

South America and Africa are a little farther behind. They are having more difficulties with the testing and treatment of Covid-19 patients. In many places they have less infrastructure, larger populations of poverty and overall, more obstacles than we do, in fighting the disease. I think you’ll see most of these countries remain closed until the beginning of September. And then, it is yet to be sen if they will open up internationally or just regionally. Argentina, for example, has already grounded international flights until September.

Twelve Apostles Mountain Range, Cape Town, South Africa

Parts of Asia are open, although very few flight options to get you there. Air Canada has flights from Toronto to Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo with a small selection of flights from three per week to one per day starting late in June.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Australia and New Zealand are doing well fighting Covid-19 and are working on an agreement between the two countries to allow travel, but it will be awhile before international travellers can enter without a 14 day quarantine.

All in all, it’s positive to see countries beginning to allow their citizens to move about more. Tourism is starting to open up world wide; restaurants, museums, parks and gardens are slowing getting back to business. This means many people in the tourism industry are going back to work. The progress will be slow over the summer though and many businesses who were forced to close will not reopen this season, if at all. This is the same all around the world.

In my opinion, I think we will be able to travel relatively freely throughout Canada by the beginning of July, hopefully with no further 14 day quarantines for changing provinces. This will also encourage lots of staycations in your own province, road trips to other provinces and domestic travel across the country. This summer and fall are going to be all about supporting local and supporting Canada!

Howe Sound, British Colombia, Canada

I’m hopeful that our borders will stay closed to the US for leisure travel until sometime in July as they have such a long way to go before the situation is controlled. I know the current ban is only until June 22nd, but I hope for an extension of another couple of weeks on top of that. I think shortly after travel to the US is reopened, we’ll see the Avoid Non-Essential travel advisory lifted. I wouldn’t be surprised though, if many provinces continue to recommend 14 day quarantine upon arrival home from international travel. And, unfortunately, that makes it a bit more difficult to take vacation. Unless, of course you work from home and can work and quarantine at the same time, or if you are retired and don’t need to return to work.

Tour operators around the world have suspended their tours until the end of June. Some have already further suspended until the end of July, August or September since it is clear that International travel will not be widely available to all countries this summer. I’m hopeful for September and October trips to Europe and the Caribbean and I’d like to think that international travel will be available to those interested in going to South America, Asia and Africa by November / December.

Of course, having the flights and borders open makes international travel possible, but for many, that won’t be enough to get them travelling again just yet. I know many of you are waiting for vaccines before you travel abroad and rightfully so. Everyone has a different risk tolerance, different health concerns, different family and work matters to attend to.

Most importantly though, when you do decide to travel again, it’s going to be a whole new world of processes, paperwork, testing, rules and regulations. There’s no time like the present to commit to working with a knowledgeable travel agent who will have your back if something goes awry along the way.

Personally, I hope to head across Canada some time late this summer or early fall just before business fully picks up again. Like many of you, I didn’t get my vacation this year and there are many spots in Canada that are worth checking out. Last year I had a fantastic trip to Vancouver, Squamish and Whistler.

This year, I’m thinking maybe Yukon for the Northern Lights or Haida Gwaii islands off the coast of British Colombia or Banff and Jasper. Watch my Facebook Page for upcoming webinars and conversations with companies who provide amazing trips right here in Canada. More information and inspiration will be coming your way soon!

As always, I’m here to help plan your next amazing trip. You can reach me by phone at 902 402 7646 or email – stucker@tpi.ca.

Five Reasons Botswana is perfect for your Dream African Safari

If geography isn’t your forte and you don’t know a whole lot about the continent of Africa, then you might have no inkling as to why Botswana is an incredible destination for your dream safari experience or what makes it special! Let me share with you a little about the country itself and then we’ll get in to the reasons why it is perfect for your dream safari!

Botswana is a land-locked country bordered by Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Over 70% of the country is the semi-arid, Kalahari desert, but within that desert is one of Africa’s Seven Natural Wonders, the Okavango Delta which floods every year and then evaporates. Botswana is one of the least densely populated areas in the world and its economy and standard of living are one of the highest in Africa!

hmmm … Maybe it’s not the ‘Africa’ you’ve been picturing for Safari! It’s low human population and large number of protected areas is a perfect harmony for wildlife viewing. Some of the amazing animals you can see on safari in Botswana are: lions, leopards, cheetahs, caracals, rhinos, hippos, crocodiles, giraffes, zebras, monkeys, bat-eared foxes, wild dogs and various antelope such as the kudu, impala and lechwe. Not sure what all of those are? You’ll be well-educated about these and may other animals after a week on safari with your expert guides!

Check out these five amazing reasons you should enjoy your dream safari in Botswana!

1. If you are an elephant lover, you will not be disappointed in Botswana! This beautiful country is home to Africa’s highest concentration of elephants! Sure, you can see elephants in many African countries, but Botswana is special for the sheer number of them. There are estimated to be over 130,000 elephants in Botswana, although it is hard to get exact numbers as the ones who make their homes near borders, roam freely between countries.

Momma and baby elephant in Chobe National Park, Botswana.

2. If you are truly interested in the well-being of our earth, the land and the animals that you are dreaming of visiting, let me tell you that Botswana is top of class when it comes to conservation and anti-poaching measures. They take poaching so seriously that they have a ‘shoot-to-kill’ law that allows rangers to literally shoot to kill anyone, unauthorized, who makes their way into reserves, parks or protected areas after dark. For this reason, all game drives close down at dusk and boats no longer traverse the waters of the Chobe River and the Delta. Not to worry, you are perfectly safe at your camp. Poachers are doing their best to avoid camps and people so they make their way to the deepest parts of the bush. The roadways, waterways and bush are highly patrolled by skilled rangers and anti-poaching units to protect wildlife in general, but most specifically Elephants, Rhinos and Pangolins.

Elephant in the Okavango Delta Region, Botswana

3. If you are a photographer or birder, you’ll be particularly taken with the colorful sights and sounds of Botswana! Home to over 595 species of birds, you’ll just have to look a different direction to find something new. Your safari guides are adept at deciphering and sometimes even mocking, bird-calls, almost as if they were part bird themselves!

4. One of Africa’s Seven Wonders, the Okavango Delta is truly spectacular. In the middle of the Kalahari desert, each year the inundation arrives and the plains fill to the brim with water. This begins most years, in March and continues to swell until August, before receding. What most people don’t understand about the delta is that it does not rise because of rains in Botswana. The water comes from rains in Angola, in the north, and can take nearly six months to make its way south into the great delta panhandle. The Okavango Delta is home to an incredible and diverse variety of wildlife, some whom have adapted specifically to live in both the desert and water-filled delta conditions.

Sunset on the Okavango Delta.

5. One of the biggest reasons I loved traveling in Botswana and that I love recommending Botswana to clients looking for a safari is for the different activities and styles of safari. While your anticipated game drives in open vehicle trucks will take you through great game-viewing such as, Chobe National Park, you also have the opportunity to speed along the Chobe River in and out of the tributaries on small boats perfect for bird watching, a fishing experience and to get a water-level view of elephants basking in the waters, hippo, water buffalo taking a drink and so much more! Keep your eyes open for incredible birdlife who stick close to the water and incredible crocodiles!

You can take a river cruise on the Chobe River in various levels of luxury, from four to forty passenger boats, where you get the experience of sleeping on the boat each night and exploring in smaller boats during the day. Or you can stay in a unique houseboat deep within the Okavango Delta! If you have the chance to enjoy a mokoro ride, don’t miss out! The polers are particularly adept and moving you in and around the delta, through the reeds and lily pads.

By land, you can stay at lodges and do open-truck, safari game-drives, or you might stay at one where all the safaris are done by some form of boat. Then there is the adventure, education and excitement of heading out into the African bush with your ranger on foot to learn about the plants, trees, animal tracks and smaller, but equally important insects and amphibians that you don’t encounter from your truck.

Want something even more unique? How about a horseback safari, riding along side a herd of elephants or zebras, a hot air balloon ride to see the vastness from above or a light aircraft sight-seeing flight to take in the wonders of the inundation of the Okavango Delta?

You can take a safari in many countries in Africa and each have their own special, unique features, but I for one, am a fan of Botswana for its beauty, its waters and its unwavering commitment to protecting the flora and fauna, which in turn help protect our earth as a whole. It’s all intertwined. We only have one Mother Earth.

If you’d like to start the conversation about your dream safari in Botswana, or explore other option, reach out by email or phone 902 402 7646.

Travel Industry Updates

They say hindsight is 20/20.
With the state of the Covid-19 situation in China, then Italy, Iran, Spain and then the USA, I think we were all a little naive about how hard coronavirus would affect us in Canada. Maybe it was denial or lack of information from those in power, who knows. No point in playing the blame game.

Not in a million years did I foresee a State of Emergency, Social Distancing, panic at the grocery stores and not being able to visit friends and family for months in 2020. Not in a million years did I see the travel industry crumbling and coming to a complete halt for an indefinite amount of time. It was unfathomable that cruising, river cruising, land tours and all but the most essential of flights would come to a halt long term.

Travel Industry Closures and Updates

The travel industry has been one of the hardest hit industries. It was the first to be interrupted and will be the longest lasting. Long after the parks open, you return to dining at your favorite local restaurants, you go back to having care from your trusted (and much missed) massage therapist or chiropractor, the tourism industry will still be struggling.

For some businesses (not all), it’s as easy as returning to work and within a few days to a week, paying clients will return, cash will start flowing and business will steadily increase. Not that it will return to what it was before, but cash will begin to flow. For much of the tourism industry (airlines / tour operators / cruise ships / travel agents), we have to wait for world borders to reopen, international flights to restart, tours and ships to fill and people to feel comfortable traveling abroad.

As of today, April 15th, here’s a quick, very short and general list of what is cancelled in the tourism industry. This changes regularly and is only up to date as of today.

  • Adventure Travel: G Adventures, Intrepid Travel, Peregrine Adventures – Worldwide tour operations suspended until (at least) May 31, 2020
  • River Cruise: Ama Waterways , Scenic Touring – Suspension of all river cruises embarking through June 30, 2020.
  • Ocean Cruise: Almost all cruise lines have cancelled sailings worldwide until June 30, 2020 / Many companies have cancelled their Alaska itineraries for the complete 2020 summer & fall season / Many new ship launches have been postponed / All ships sailing US waters are cancelled until July 19, 2020 / Canadian ports are closed to ships carrying over 500 passengers until (at least) July 1st, 2020.
  • Rail: Rocky Mountaineer – departures suspended until July 1st, 2020 / Via Rail Toronto to Vancouver suspended until June 1st, 2020
  • Airlines: Air Canada and West Jet are operating essential flights between various domestic destinations, but with extremely limited routes. Air Canada is operating flights to six international hubs, while also continuing to operate cargo flights of supplies. Most flights for the late summer and fall are still scheduled, as per usual, but I think we can expect to see many more cancellations, although hopefully only to specific routings and not en masse.

The Return of Travel

While I believe there will be travel to some extent this summer, fall and winter, I expect it to start with domestic and business travel before leisure travel picks up full force again. I think those great bucket list trips and dreams of traveling in our own great country of Canada will come to the forefront as many people still wish to vacation, but have concerns about going too far from home. I think we’ll see Nova Scotians who want to visit the Rockies, take that bucket-list Rocky Mountaineer train trip, Via Rail across Canada, spa vacations to Quebec, visit Canada’s North to see the Northern Lights, ski Whistler, visit the Polar bears in Churchill and Great Lakes cruises (did you even know that was a thing?).

Shameless self-promotion – I can help you with any of these amazing trips within Canada! If you’d like to go somewhere on short notice, maybe later this year, but aren’t ready to start international border hopping, there is plenty of adventure and beauty to explore in Canada. You can always reach me by email.

What’s Next?

It is still almost impossible for me to wrap my head around the complete crumble of the tourism industry, pushing back travel dates month after month, now shut down for the most part from mid March until the end of June. Will that extend further? We are yet to see.

I know many of my clients are itching to get a move on, but realistically we are all aware that international leisure travel is still months out of reach. The tourism industry has crumbled for the time being, but it will come back, one step at a time.

For now, don’t stop dreaming of where you’d like to go. Write down a list of places you’d like to wander to, things you’d like to see and do. Then, when the time is right, let’s work on making each one of those come true!

While I may not be earning an income at this time, my business is still very much here and I’d love to hear from you with what’s at the top of your travel list when Covid-19 is behind us, so leave me a comment below so we can all dream together.

When you are ready to plan your next trip, in Canada or International, I’d love to hear from you! You can email me, or contact me through social media on Facebook or Instagram.

Airline Prices in a Crisis

Covid-19 has set the world into a frenzy that saw thousands of people in difficult situations, trying to get home on some of the last flights departing many destinations. I understand that people are frustrated by not being able to find flights at a reasonable cost, but I’d like to clear up a common misconception.

AIRLINES DO NOT RAISE PRICES DURING A CRISIS!

At any time of a ‘normal’ year, if you try to book a one way flight anywhere internationally, on short notice (1-5 days, maybe even up to 14 days), prices are going to be high, you’ve probably just rarely had to do that, so you are surprised when you see it. The airline is not out to get you. They haven’t raised their prices. They aren’t trying to gouge you, but yes, the ticket price could be five times higher than what you paid.

Here’s what’s happening.

There are a fixed number of seats on any plane. Each airline has a variety of options ranging from the most restrictive of fares in economy class to the most flexible of fares in Business Class. While you and your bestie may sit side by side on the plane, have the exact same size seat and get the same meals and service, you may have paid two very different prices. Sometimes they could be hundreds of dollars difference.

How can that be?

Most people just think of it as Economy, Premium Economy or Business class, each with their own section of the plane, but it’s far more complicated than that.

It’s not just about the physical location on the plane. The prices are based on a package of benefits. It includes the location of your seat on the plane, the leg room, if your luggage and seat selection are included, if your ticket is non-refundable, changeable or refundable for a fee and how many loyalty points you earn. Then it is also based on the level of service you receive on board, how many flight attendants per passenger there are, the quality of food and extra amenities like hot face cloths and champagne served before take off, just to name a few.

Each class of service has a different set of rules, and a different amount of flexibility. The cheaper the price, the fewer benefits you get and the more restrictive the fare is. If you pay for a business class flexible ticket, you can change or refund for no fee in some cases. If you pay for a cheap, basic economy ticket, if you need to change, you are SOL my friend. You get to buy a brand new ticket and you don’t get a refund for the cheap one you bought earlier.

Keeping in line with this, as you can imagine, the bulk of the seats on a plane fall into Economy Class. Within that, there are various pricing levels with different flexibility options when it comes to inclusions, refunds and cancellations. You might have paid $100, but have a fully non-refundable ticket, pay for your luggage separately and only collect 25% loyalty points. The person sitting to your left might have paid $300, have a change fee of $150 and be getting 50% loyalty points. The person on your right pay have paid $500, have a change fee of $50 and be getting 100% loyalty points. All of you are in Economy seating.

Woah! Did I just blow your mind?

Covid-19 Crisis

Now, let’s bring it back to Covid-19, or any crisis, really, where people for whatever reason need to buy flights on short notice.

Airline tickets are normally available for purchase somewhere about 10 – 11 months in advance. It varies a bit by airline and route, but that’s a general rule of thumb.

Most people buy their airline tickets three to nine months in advance. Of course there are always people who buy flights, especially domestically, one or two months in advance.

The majority of people book into the Economy Class category where they are looking for the cheapest flight to get them to their destination. Let’s just say, for ease of math, there are 100 seats on a plane. 10 are business class, 20 are Premium Economy and the remaining 70 are Economy. Break it down further now and of those 10 business class, you have five basic business class and five flexible business class. In Premium Economy you have 10 flexible and 10 more restricted. In Economy, there could be up to four variations and different prices, so 17-18 seats at each level. In this example alone, that gives you eight different price points.

To complicate things further, the prices on International flights fluctuate not just with the class of service, but with the exchange rate of the connecting flights that are going through different countries and the taxes of each separate airport, which also fluctuate with exchange rate. Sorry, there is no ‘fixed price’ for an international flight.

If you are flying Halifax – Toronto – Frankfurt – Addis Ababa – Johannesburg and then return, you are affected by the taxes at five airports in four countries and the exchange rates of four different currencies that fluctuate daily.

If the majority of people buy their flights six to nine months in advance and are looking for the cheapest prices, what do you think is the first to sell out? That’s right, the cheapest fares on the flight with the most restrictive rules and fewest inclusions.

And, at two months prior to take off, what do you think is left? The higher priced classes of service within Economy, with more inclusions and fewer restrictions. By this point, you’ll also often find that Premium Economy is sold out as many people choose to pay extra for the extra comfort and benefits offered. Then you are left with Business Class, if it’s not full, and the most flexible options of Economy class.

Fast forward to the plane being nearly sold out one month in advance. People who were late buying their tickets missed out on the cheapest level of service and paid more. They likely don’t understand that they have a more lax cancellation policy or that the cheaper price didn’t included luggage.

Let’s say there are five seats remaining on the plane, because 95% of the plane sold out more than one month in advance. Let’s say there are three Economy seats, one Premium Economy and one business class seat available.

All of a sudden on March 13th, 2020 you are already in destination and discover that you need to get home before the borders close on the 15th at midnight due to a crazy pandemic. Let’s call it Covid-19!

There is one flight left and it has five seats available but 100 people trying to get those five seats. The prices of the five seats don’t change, but once the three cheaper economy seats sell out, all that’s left is Premium and Business Class. To make it more complicated, if you are searching for two seats, for you and your partner, and two of the economy class seats have already sold, you’ll get an error saying there are no seats available.

Not quite true! I’ll tell you a secret; one of you could go in economy and one in Premium Economy, but an online system won’t tell you this, or allow you to book this easily or quickly enough when there is high demand. You could get one seat booked and then the other one is gone and one of you is staying behind. How’s that for scary?

Travel agents have ways around this … It might literally be the difference in both of you getting on the same plane or not. You might not pay the same price for both seats, but you might arrive home together!

It is the same reason that your travel agent will tell you not to wait until last minute to book flights for your vacation and that it is very unlikely there will be a ‘sale’ if you wait until one month prior to travel. The cheap seats will already be sold out, therefore you end up paying a higher price. The airlines did not raise the prices, you are just paying the rate of the day for the class of service that is available at that time.

In a crisis situation, where countries are restricting travel and closing borders, it is also important to note that there are many fewer routing options available and much higher demand for those last few seats. If you don’t get on them quickly, you might miss out. It’s good to have a professional watching for these things for you while you are on vacation!

There are lots of reasons to book with a good travel agent. The intricacies of airline bookings are just one of many. If you get stuck abroad due to a natural disaster, or pandemic, do you want to deal with it alone, spending hours on hold trying to reach each airline or would you rather have a professional taking care of the arrangements for you and telling you what you should do next?

If you’d like to work with a professional on your next trip, for peace of mind and so many other great benefits, I’d be happy to hear from you at stucker@tpi.ca or 902 402 7646.

Covid-19 – A Travel Agent’s Opinion

Coronavirus, or Covid-19, is top of everyone’s minds these days. It’s impossible to avoid the information overload through the news and social media. It is extremely important to make sure you are taking in reliable, factual information and not just the hype and fear that many media outlets are spewing.

My business
I am just one travel agent in Halifax, NS with a small, but mighty business. To date, I have not had one cancellation due to Covid-19. I’ve had to rearrange flights to avoid China, but not one of my clients has cancelled their trip.

It’s incredibly busy though. Airlines, cruise and tour companies are all fielding more calls than normal. This doesn’t always lead to cancellations though, just a lot of questions! Clients are calling with travel concerns and insurance sales are soaring as we are one of the few still protecting people if they purchase insurance before an Avoid Non Essential Travel Advisory goes out. Many companies have revised their policies to exclude pandemics, but as yet (March 6th, 11am AST), our policies remain the same.

I currently have clients traveling in Australia, New Zealand, Qatar, Thailand, Hawaii, just returned from Caribbean Cruising and Portugal, 17+ people heading to Italy in the next 2 – 6 months on various itineraries, River Cruise season is soon starting and my mom and I are heading to Australia at the end of April.

Despite mass media and panic, what seems like worldwide, folks here in Halifax, at least my clients, are taking it all in stride.

You are going to get sick. #SorryNotSorry
In case you didn’t know …. At any time, anywhere in the world, you can get sick. Comforting right? HAHA In fact, I’m sick with a cold right now as I write this. I got sick in November when I travelled to Nepal and I often get sick when I travel to the Caribbean. I’ve had stomach problems in various countries, I’ve gotten parasites, colds and who knows what else. If I stopped traveling because I ‘might’ get sick, I’d never go anywhere!

The truth is, there are a lot worse things out there than Covid-19 and you haven’t cancelled your trips for any of those … so why would you cancel for this?

You travel to the Caribbean all the time where there is risk of Malaria, Zika, Typhoid, traveller’s diarrhea or Africa where there is Ebola and Yellow Fever (although there is a vaccine for that!), along with other mosquito-bourne illnesses. You may or may not get your yearly flu vaccine; do you have your hepatitis shots? No?

I don’t say any of this to scare you, just to point out the hypocrisy in it all. If we aren’t scared enough of getting the flu to go get our flu shot … if we travel without our Hepatitis A & B shots, if we go to Malaria areas but don’t take medication, if we go anywhere without checking the health risks, if we eat fatty foods, smoke cigarettes, vape or drink too much, then why are we so scared of Covid-19? If you get it, you’ll likely be sick for 7 – 10 days and then you’ll be well again. Many of the things listed above do not have the same happy ending, but we don’t seem to be scare of those!

The flu is all around you right now. You are probably going to get the common cold if you haven’t already had it, and you might even get the flu as it goes around every year.

While I’m not saying that we should invite Covid-19 in and spread it around, I think it is truly impossible to stave it off forever and, quite honestly, maybe not even worth trying. If it doesn’t hit Halifax this year, what makes you think it won’t make an appearance next year? Hopefully vaccines will be tested and effective by then, but let’s be honest, if you didn’t get a flu shot this year, are you going to make time to get one next year? Or get the Covid-19 vaccine?

Should I cancel my travel plans?
For now, don’t cancel your travel plans. Don’t worry about the potential of getting sick. Just have better personal hygiene, wash your hands properly, stop picking your nose and biting your nails. Sneeze and cough into your elbow and if you are sick, just stay home. We will all thank you for it!

Getting the right information.
Last, but not least, follow credible health organizations like the CDC or WHO for your updates, check the Canadian Government Travel Site for health advisories and check your destination before your book! Work with a reputable travel agent who has access to the most up to date information, and can help you navigate your travel plans if cancellations are required. Stop listening to the bad news and surround yourself with the good news of the thousands of people who have survived Covid-19! We’ll soon have ‘I survived Covid-19’ T-Shirts, I’m sure!

Stay healthy everyone. Keep traveling. There are too many amazing things to see in this world to stay home because you ‘might’ get sick!

Disclaimer: Before anyone gets offended over my opinion … of course I understand that everyone’s health situation is different. People with compromised immune systems and respiratory problems have different concerns about Covid-19 and everyone has to look at their individual health situation. For the vast majority of people though, it’s time to just stay calm and wash your hands at home and abroad!

Orphanage Trafficking – It’s time to stop it!

In late 2019 I had the pleasure of traveling to Nepal with Intrepid Travel. What an incredible experience! Beyond the obvious education and excitement that comes with traveling to a new country; meeting the people, seeing the sights, tasting the food, there was a very specific “purpose” and educational component behind this particular trip with carefully selected agents from Canada and the USA.  Geoff Manchester, co-founder of Intrepid Travel would also be adventuring along with us in one of his favourite countries! Little did I know that one of the areas of education for us would be about orphanage trafficking.

Initially, I almost turned the invite down as I thought Everest and high altitude trekking weren’t for me. Then I discovered that Intrepid has this beautiful Experience Nepal itinerary that visits the cities, nature and cultural sites of the Kathmandu Valley. It had some great small hikes and everything was at low altitude. Even I, as a pretty savvy travel agent didn’t know this! Now I do. And now you do too!

Click these links if you’d like to read about my experience White Water Rafting on the Trisuli River or the story of Kumari, a living child Goddess in Nepal.

I accepted the invitation to go on this special agent-only trip and came out the other side, changed.

As a special inclusion, we got to visit Forget Me Not in Kathmandu, a project supported by the Intrepid Foundation.

Forget Me Not is not a tourist destination. It’s not a store. There’s nothing to buy. It doesn’t provide services to tourists. It’s an organization … a very powerful one … one that I truly will never forget.

Photo of travel agents from Canada & USA with Forget Me Not
Photo: Louise Booth

Years ago, The Intrepid Foundation partnered with an orphanage in Nepal called Twenty Girls.  These girls had been in the orphanage system for four to 18 years. Having done their research, the foundation was confident that this orphanage was well run and well equipped to support these young women with suitable living quarters, healthy meals and education. All checks were in place to make sure that this was a positive care facility, not one of the poorly run orphanages that were rampant in Nepal, Asia and Africa perpetuating the cycle of abuse to orphaned children. This orphanage needed funds and the Intrepid Foundation stepped in to help.

Not long after this, an orphanage in Uganda reached out to Twenty Girls for support in reorganizing and learning how to better operate. Throughout a long process of auditing, it came to light that many of the children at the Ugandan orphanage still had living parents or relatives. It was discovered that the children had been taken from their homes in various ways.

Around the same time, the girls in the Nepal orphanage had become their own close-knit family. They had begun to open up to one another and they were sharing their stories and feelings from what they remembered, if anything, of their families and their past communities. Some of the girls were having dreams, others had encountered people in Kathmandu, strangers, who seemed to know them.

Eventually one of the young women spoke out to staff at the orphanage in Kathmandu. Despite staff being threatened by organizations and government to stay quiet, they spoke up and began an investigation to learn where these twenty girls had come from.

With few paper records from their past orphanage stays, fading or non-existent memories of their families and often no information about their birth-homes because they were too young to remember anything when they were taken to their first orphanage, it was a struggle to retrace each girl’s history. Not only was it difficult from a paperwork perspective, as you can imagine it was also a delicate situation as the girls were remembering bits and pieces of a life that they believed no longer existed.  Most of them had been in the orphanage system for many years, suffering mental, physical and sexual abuse, living in deplorable conditions and being forced into child labor either at the orphanages or on the streets. For years they had been told they were orphans, that their parents and families no longer existed, that they were alone or unwanted.

Learning that the orphans they were supporting weren’t necessarily orphans, put the Intrepid Foundation in an awkward spot. They couldn’t simply pull their support and see these girls without funding or send them back into the corrupt orphanage system, but yet they couldn’t continue to support an orphanage where the children were victims of orphanage trafficking.

A large audit and investigation began into the operation of the orphanage, where the girls came from and what was really happening. Little by little, with funding from the Intrepid Foundation, cooperation from the Nepali Government and the incredible efforts of child welfare and social workers, the stories began to be revealed and families of these ‘orphaned’ girls were slowly, but surely being found. In the end, 18 of the 20 girls from this orphanage were reunited with their families after many years apart.

Through all of this, a new organization was born, called Forget Me Not. This new organization would never again operate as an orphanage, but instead would focus on child welfare and reunification of families.

At Forget me Not, they proudly have a Change Makers Squad made up of five teens and young adults who were part of the orphanage system, four girls from the original Twenty Girls and one young man who spent several years in orphanages. These young Change Makers are bravely sharing their stories, spreading the word, educating their communities, raising money and standing up to governments, pressuring them to make changes to child welfare acts and to shut down improperly run orphanages.

Each of the change makers stood in front of us to tell us their role in the squad and their dreams for their future. Anisha, only about 17 years old, shared part of her story and brought me to tears.

Anisha and her sisters were taken to an orphanage when she was very young. Her dad had decided to give her and her sisters up and paid for them to have a ‘better life’, because in reality, he had wanted boys, not girls. Boys were perceived as more valuable in society.

Her parents had paid a handler to give them a better education and better life. The parents were tricked, as millions are, into trafficking their children to the orphanage system. While the parents believed they were doing something good for their daughters, as soon as they were out of sight, the children were taken hundreds of miles away and placed in illegal orphanages where physical, mental and sexual abuse (still, today) run rampant. They lived in unclean conditions with little access to food or water and many children are forced into child labor or the sex trade.

It’s easy for us to judge and say ‘don’t give your kids to strangers’, but it can be compared to paying for your kids to go to boarding school. Traffickers are well-dressed, educated, well-spoken and professional. They are friendly and seem trustworthy. They are offering a better education and better life for these children. It is a professional operation. It’s easy to fall for their charm, but never an easy decision for parents to give their children up.

It’s easy to place blame on the parents, but let’s get real for a minute and talk about you and I, as tourists, and how this is our fault too. Unknowingly, tourists are helping grow the orphanage trafficking trade. The more donations that orphanages receive, the more orphanages open and traffickers need children to fill the beds. Children are being stolen from the streets and lured from their parents with promises of a better future. The money tourists donate to orphanages rarely trickles down to the children that it was meant to help. Instead, it just creates more demand from the traffickers who keep getting richer. It’s heartbreaking. We are part of the problem and we can be part of the solution!

Children from these illegal orphanages are also being sent into the streets to beg for money from tourists, never keeping a penny for themselves, for fear of further abuse. While it is so very hard not to give a begging child money, I can’t stress enough the importance of this in breaking the cycle. The only way for these children to get off the streets is if there is no money for them to earn there. We must stop giving money to children on the streets immediately. The traffickers have money to take care of the children, they are choosing not to. When you give money to a child on the streets, you are not helping to feed that child, you are helping continue the cycle of orphanage trafficking. Let this sink in.

After moving between orphanages, each of Anisha’s sisters were eventually adopted by two foreign families. Anisha continued to be moved from orphanage to orphanage until she was taken to the Twenty Girls orphanage, supported by the Intrepid Foundation, where she found a sisterhood of 19 other girls. The girls became family and began to talk about their dreams and memories.

Eventually one brave girl spoke up about her memories and despite the controversy, an investigation was started in to the history of each of the girls at the orphanage. Where did they come from and were they indeed orphans with no parents?

Most of the girls remembered very little of being taken from their homes as they were so young. They didn’t remember their parent’s names or their communities. It took considerable support from the Intrepid Foundation, social services and the Nepali Government to reunite 18 of the 20 girls with their immediate family members.

Anisha was reunited with her mom, dad and younger brothers whom she had never met. She also reunited with each of her sisters who were adopted and currently live abroad.

If hearing her tell the story of her difficult life, and the emotional rollercoaster of reuniting with her long lost family wasn’t enough … just one year after they were reunited, her dad fell ill and passed away. She choked up a little as she explained that she never got to tell him how she felt.

Not a year after her dad’s passing, her mom also passed away, now leaving her and her two brothers orphaned, with no able relatives to care for them. This time she was truly an orphan. Being underage and not able to legally care for her brothers, they were placed in a legal orphanage in Kathmandu, where she can visit them regularly while she continues to finish high school.

Anisha bravely told us not only her story, but her dreams of becoming a lawyer and reuniting with her brothers to all live in one house as a family, when she is able to support them.

My heart absolutely explodes with heartbreak and admiration for this strong girl who has endured so much emotional turmoil in her short life, yet presses forward to pursue her dreams and take care of her younger brothers.

The Intrepid Foundation supports the vision of Forget me Not to fund the long and arduous process of tracking children’s families and reuniting them when possible. This means supporting the Change Makers’ efforts to raise awareness, educate the public and influence change. It also supports the counselling services needed for the children while they are dealing with the emotional turmoil that trafficking has created. While research and hard work isn’t very sexy or instagram-worthy, it is the right thing to do and drives Intrepid’s mission, through their entire business, of Purpose Beyond Profit.

The visit to Forget me Not is a day that is etched into my heart. It has inspired me to look for ways to give back and to never underestimate the power that travel has to change lives; mine, my client’s and that of the communities we visit.

Each year I choose a travel charity to donate to instead of sending Christmas cards to my clients. I feel the money is better spent making a difference in the lives of women and children around the world rather than paper and stamps in Canada. In 2019, I donated to Forget Me Not.

If this story has touched your heart, you can contribute through the Intrepid Foundation where every dollar you donate is matched (up to $600 000 AUD / year) and 100% of the funds go directly to the organization as admin fees are covered by Intrepid.

NOTE: This post is not sponsored. Views and opinions are my own. While I talk about Intrepid Travel and the Intrepid Foundation, it is not because they have asked or paid me to do so. It is because they are a company that I whole heartedly support for the way they are making positive change in the Tourism Industry and the communities we, as travellers, want to visit.

If you are interested in making a positive impact when you travel, doing the right thing, all while having a great trip, I would love to help you book your next adventure! I can be reached at 902 402 7646 or by email.

Nepal – Not Just for trekkers – Part 2 – River Rafting

Trisuli River Nepal

When I say Nepal, I bet you immediately picture snow capped mountains and sherpas trekking up narrow pathways, right? I bet not even one person’s first thought would be White Water Rafting!  Little did I know, there is amazing river rafting in Nepal. There are opportunities to raft on several rivers and I was lucky enough to enjoy a two day experience on the Trisuli River in Kathmandu Valley with Intrepid Travel.  Despite my initial apprehensions, it was one of the highlights of my trip!

The Drive to Trisuli River

I’ll admit, I was apprehensive about White Water Rafting in Nepal. The last time I did white water rafting was class 4 rapids in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic after a hurricane. While it was a helluva time, it also came with a sore back, a few waterfall drops and being flipped out of the boat under a waterfall. While I enjoyed it for the most part, I always wondered if I could do it again. I wasn’t a fan of being flipped out of the boat and caught underneath the pressure of a waterfall for a few seconds before being spit back up to the top. It scared me and I’ve never forgotten it.

I didn’t know what to expect for rafting in Nepal, but there was an option to sit the activity out, so I was safe. If I whimped out, I could sit out. Phew! That was enough of a safety net for me that I didn’t panic over being forced to do it. After our briefing with our guide though, it was clear that the rafting would be relatively tame in comparison to what I had done before. We’d be bopping along on class one and two rapids for a few hours, each of two days. And if we did it on one day and didn’t want to the second day, we could travel in the van (equally bumpy, by the way … just less wet!), to our next spot.

We drove about 60 kms from Kathmandu to Trisuli River, taking us about three hours to get there. Once outside of the city, the highway is not at all what highways are in Canada. It’s barely a two lane road, in various states of disrepair. This is the only road heading to the west, to Pokhara. It eventually splits where you can head to the south to Chitwan National Park and the Indian border, or there are a couple of branches off the main road to go to other cities or countryside areas. It is a very limited road network in general.

Being the only road between two of the major cities, Kathmandu and Pokhara, as well as connecting all of the other areas in the south and west to those two cities, as you can imagine, it is packed with traffic; buses carrying local people to the bigger cities, transport trucks carrying cargo, ambulances carrying patients to Kathmandu, locals going from home to work, or from one community to the next, tourists packed on buses and then us, tourists in a private van. Everyone uses this one road. There are no other options.

I can’t tell you how thankful I was for our stealthy, alert, non-risk taking and skilled driver who kept us safe the entire trip. We were safely tucked in to our clean van with an extra seat or two for space. Our luggage was all inside, not piled on top like on many buses. We had air conditioning, no crying babies and washroom stops. We could even request one if we needed it. You can’t do that on the public bus! The public buses, were standing room only, falling apart, dirty and dangerous. I can’t count the times they passed in precarious locations and the bus leaned so hard to one side that I thought it was just going to roll on over!

On one side of the road, the vehicle would be hugging the rock wall or dusty vegetation, which was only a foot from the window, separated from the road by a makeshift drainage system to keep the roads from flooding. The small drainage ditch had no recourse against mudslides though, which happen frequently during summer monsoon season, often creating damage so bad that it takes months to fix. On the other side were many sheer drops, only occasionally protected by cement block guard rails. Always, we were being overtaken by various trucks, buses and motorbikes weaving their way in and out through traffic, passing in the most precarious of locations with blind S curves ahead and patches of loose gravel everywhere. The buses and trucks have a way of communicating through beeps and blinker flashes to tell one another when it is ok to pass, but even still, it’s a dangerous situation. One of the only saving graces was that the roads were so narrow and bumpy that getting to above 60 kms an hour was near impossible.

We climbed up, up, up into the hills (they only felt like mountains) and started snaking our way through the S turns and switchbacks up, down and around the hills. The scenery was beautiful with its small communities perched high atop the mountains and intricately terraced rice fields spilling down over the sides of the hills.

We got stuck in a couple of traffic jams where it seemed like we might never move, but eventually the long line of traffic would crawl over the narrow bridge carefully or past a broken down vehicle, completely blocking one lane of the barely two lane road. Heavy trucks and buses struggled to slowly climb the hills, but most seemed to make it, eventually.

We passed through various communities and saw lots of rest stops, restaurants and washroom facilities along the way. Some looked better than others. At the halfway mark we made a pit stop for coffee, snacks and washrooms. While the washrooms weren’t sparkling, they did have one Western toilet and three squatter toilets. There was no toilet paper, but there were sinks with soap and running water. There was a coffee shop, chips, chocolate bars and local rum, which many of our group purchased to share around camp that evening.

As we passed the halfway point, the road levelled out and while still twisty and turny, it was considerably flatter as it travelled along the banks of the river. This made for beautiful views of the rushing waters, large boulders and suspension bridges stretching from bank to bank.

About three hours in to the drive, we took a sharp turn in a town and headed down a very steep road, on to a dirt road facing the river. We piled out, gathered our essentials for a day of rafting and got ready for the next part of our adventure.

White Water Rafting

Knowing the Trisuli River was fed by glacial waters, I struggled my way into a full-length wet suit with no sleeves. While the guide told us we weren’t going swimming, he said it cheekily and it was always questionable whether he intended to tip us or not. At this point, I still didn’t know what to expect for how big the rapids would be, so I decided a wet suit was the way to go. A couple of people in our group braved the trip without though and they survived just fine.

Trisuli River Rafting Nepal
November is peak season for tourism as the weather throughout the country is nice. In the Kathmandu Valley we had warm, sunny days of about 20 – 25 degrees most of the time. For the most part, swim suit, tshirt and shorts were fine for rafting, but it did get a little chilly if you were wet and in the shade, so the wet suits were a good decision!

After our safety briefing, we broke into two teams and hopped into our sturdy rafts. We practiced a few commands from our guide on the flat, calm waters and then we were off through our first class one rapids, smiling and bumping along, getting splashed with the chilly, refreshing glacial waters all along the way.

That’s me in the back!

We chatted amongst ourselves, laughed, shared stories, admired the beautiful hills, terraces and precarious suspension bridges. We rode the relatively mild rapids on and off for a couple of hours until lunch.

Here’s where my next big surprise came in. Our guide navigated us to the side of the river where we hopped off the boat and stepped on to a beautiful, soft, sandy beach. I was absolutely enamoured by it. Who knew there were beaches in Nepal? It was clean, soft and beautiful! The perfect little rest stop for us to refuel before our afternoon rafting.

Our guides and support rafters quickly busied themselves setting up tables, unpacking plates, cutlery and drinks. Then they whipped up lunch in a flash. There was no shortage of food: Croissants and breads with peanut butter or jams, potato salad, corn salad, salami and samosas. We sat in a circle in camp chairs and stuffed our faces, gathering energy for the afternoon’s ride.

The guides and support rafters packed up all the bits and bobs as quickly as they had gotten ready and once again we were ready to take on the river. In the afternoon we had a couple of stronger rapids, one big ‘get down’ moment where we all hopped in to the centre of the boat and held on while the water washed over us and then we leisurely floated our way to camp for the night, arriving mid-afternoon.

Our guides and support staff were super friendly and clearly were having a fantastic time on the river as well. It was interesting to learn that many of them travel to other countries, such as Japan to train and learn on different rivers. One of our guides was from Japan, practicing in Nepal, getting different experiences around the world!

Trisuli River Rafting Nepal

River Life Camp

Our guide had done his due diligence in preparing us for our accommodations for the evening to be basic. We’d be sleeping in tents on the river side, so we shouldn’t expect any luxuries. Much to our surprise though, we hopped off at another lovely river-side, sandy beach and were immediately greeted by friendly staff and the lovable camp dog, Jerry.  We peeled off our wet suits and safety gear, hanging it on the line, hopefully to be dry by morning and gathered by the riverside for tea, coffee, hot chocolate and popcorn to keep us going until dinner.

We were shown to our nearby tents which were much larger than I had expected. They had a cement floor, a wooden base for the bed, a thin, but sufficient mattress, electricity and a plug in to charge your phone or camera batteries. For a basic camp, it was looking pretty good. Of course there were shared bathrooms, but they were nearby, clean, had toilet paper and western toilets. The shower left a little to be desired with only cold water, but after all, it was a camp, not a hotel.

River Life Camp Trisuli River Nepal

River Life Camp Trisuli River Nepal

The sun went down early as we were hidden in a valley behind some hills, so everyone gathered near the camp fire and they fed us more popcorn, some papadam (local bread), bbq chicken and french fries.  It likely would have been enough food for dinner, but they had a whole other meal prepared for us!

Next up, the locals from a nearby village came to treat us to a small party as it was the end of one of their festivals. There was singing, dancing, lots of hot rum punch and blessings on us all! The red symbol on our forehead is a blessing. It’s made from rice, yogurt and red coloring. It’s quite common to see people all around Nepal with this on their forehead.

River Life Camp Trisuli River Nepal
L-R — Susan Williams, Shari Tucker, Geoff Manchester (co-founder of Intrepid Travel)

Around 6pm we moved from the riverside to the main dining tent where there was a feast of spaghetti, garlic bread and several side dishes. Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling well by this time, so I didn’t eat much and went to bed early.  I tucked into bed for the night with warm pyjamas and a sweater, hoody and all! It wasn’t really that cold, but it was very damp as the valley we were in was humid and the sun didn’t really reach it for long each day to dry things out.

We had a leisurely next morning. Some of my fellow group members did yoga, stretching and read on the beach. I wandered around and took a few photos. Then we were served up breakfast of pancakes, porridge, eggs and sausage before suiting up for another day on the water.

River Life Camp Trisuli River Nepal

Day two rafting

River Life Camp Trisuli River Nepal

After we wiggled our way into our semi-damp wet suits, put on our wind-resistant jackets and life jackets, we piled into our boats and off we floated! We passed through a couple of fun class one and two rapids and then our guide directed us to a rocky shore where we had to clamour up over some rocks and boulders around a class four rapid. While they did not take us through it, the expert kayakers and supply raft made their way through with ease. None the less, it looked pretty crazy from the shore and I was glad not to be taking a chance with flipping out of the boat in the cold waters and being tossed around by the rapids.

Trisuli River Nepal

We climbed back into our rafts on the other side of the big rapids and meandered our way along the river, having a few good water fights between our boats along the way and riding some pretty good rapids! Along the way, we stopped at a hidden waterfall, enjoyed the great scenery, had lots of laughs and played a dizzying game with our paddles on the beach.

We also had the chance to hop in the water and float several hundred meters down the river. Three people from the other boat were first in, then my roommate, Susan. A few minutes later I decided that I’d probably never get to do this again, so overboard I went and I came up grasping for air. Holy! Cold! Somehow in my debate in my head on whether or not to jump in I had forgotten to weigh in the fact that it was a glacial river, so it was ch-ch-chilly … even in a wet suit. I stayed in for 5 or 10 minutes, where as the others stayed in for longer. You did get used to it and it wasn’t unbearable, just shocking!

Trisuli River Nepal

Trisuli River Rafting Nepal
We bobbed through our last couple of rapids early in the afternoon to our final stop where we had lunch and changed into dry clothes.

In the beginning I wasn’t sure if I wanted to partake in the rafting as I wasn’t sure what to expect. Even after the guides explained that they were small rapids and it would be unlikely to fall out, I was still skeptical. In the end though, even though I wasn’t feeling well throughout the two days, I am glad that I chose to participate. It was fun and relaxing. It was a totally different experience to have in Nepal than what I expected and I got to float in the glacial waters of Trisuli River!

If you are interested in exploring Nepal and enjoying your own river rafting experience, please get in touch. I’d love to help you find the perfect trip for an unforgettable experience! You can call me at 902 402 7646 or email stucker@tpi.ca.

NOTE: Many of the photos throughout this post were provided by the Rafting Company who photographed and videoed all of our antics for the two days. Thanks Intrepid Travel and Adventure Aves for the photo-memories!