Traveling Abroad -What Information to Leave Behind

“Hope for the best, prepare for the worst” is a mantra to live by when traveling. Natural disasters and civil unrest derail the best of plans, but more often it’s the mundane things that disrupt our travel – a lost wallet, a bottle of prescription medicine left on the bathroom counter, a hotel reservation that can’t be found. Err on the side of caution by leaving vital information with a trustworthy friend, coworker or family member. More than likely you’ll never need it, but if the unexpected should arise, you’ll be thankful you planned ahead.

What information should you leave behind?

  • A copy of your passport and visas: If your passport is lost or stolen, a copy can help the local embassy replace your documents faster, saving you time and money.
  • Credit card information: Having someone at home who knows how to quickly cancel or replace your credit cards can be invaluable if your wallet should go missing.
  • Copies of hotel and car rental reservations, train and plane tickets: Help those who might need to help you, give them the information they need to find you as quickly as possible.
  • Copy of prescriptions and contact information for your doctor: Having a prescription filled abroad is not always easy. Should you need an emergency refill, access to this information can save time and confusion.
  • Consider registering with the U.S. Department of State so they know where you are in case of an emergency. Local embassies can’t help ensure your safety if they don’t know you’re in the country.

Tips For Getting Into Airport Lounges

Airports can test the nerves of even the most well-balanced traveler. There are places, however, where calm and tranquility reign – where a comfortable seat is always available, fresh coffee and snacks await, and a glass of prosecco can be had a moments’ notice. We are talking, of course, about airport lounges. Rack up several hundred thousand air miles on the same airline, and you’re sure to get an invitation to join the club. For these rest of us, there are other options, and given the benefits, they’re worth exploring.

1. Join a Lounge Network
Depending on how often and where you fly, joining a lounge network such as Priority Pass might be your best option. Priority Pass offers access to over 1,000 worldwide lounges for an annual fee of $99 with a per visit fee of $27 (alternatively, an annual fee of $399 gets you unlimited access).

2. Buy a Day Pass
Have you ever been stuck at an airport for hours on end? Next time, a day pass to a lounge might be your saving grace. Prices vary considerably between airlines, but for around $50 you can have a day’s worth of food and drink, free Wi-Fi, and a quiet little corner to call your own.

3. Use Your Credit Card
Several credit cards, including the American Express Platinum card and the United MileagePlus Explorer card, offer free or reduced-cost lounge access. The drawback is that these cards often come with higher annual fees, but added benefits such as travel insurance, priority boarding and free checked bags might make the upfront payout worthwhile.

4. Upgrade Your Ticket
Buy an international business or a first-class ticket and more than likely you’ll also receive complimentary lounge access. This can be a particularly nice perk on long haul flights, as most international airport lounges have private shower rooms where you can freshen up after your flight.

Antigua Land of Sea and Sun

The Caribbean was hit hard by hurricanes this year, but nearly 80% of the islands are still gorgeous destinations open for tourism business. Luckily, the picturesque island of Antigua is one of them.

Read anything about the island, and you’re bound to learn that Antigua has exactly 365 beaches – one for each day of the year. You’ll also read about the island’s endless days of sun and stunningly gorgeous azure water. And while these things are true, they don’t capture the heart of this friendly little island, a former English colony where cricket games are an afternoon tradition and colorful roadside restaurants beckon with cornmeal and okra dumplings and cold bottles of Wadadli, the local lager.

Barely a hundred square miles, Antigua is particularly accessible, and exploring by car is a fun and rewarding experience – just stay alert for the bearded goats who sometimes wander into the road! Here are our personal recommendations for exploring the island:

1. Take the Dip in Half Moon Bay
No trip to Antigua is complete without a visit to Half Moon Bay. This family friendly beach is a national park that attracts visitors and locals alike for its stunning pink sand beach and quality snorkeling. Local vendors often sell food here, such as salt fish sandwiches topped with the local hot sauce, making it the perfect spot for a snack and swim.

2. Explore English Harbour
One of the most popular spots in Antigua, beautifully restored English Harbour has enough attractions to last an entire day. From pristine beaches and panoramic trails to restaurants, art galleries and historical monuments (this is where you’ll find Nelson’s Dockyards, the world’s only surviving Georgian dockyard), English Harbour is a must see.

3. Watch a Cricket Game
Cricket is serious business in Antigua, a passion considered more of a religion than a sport. From schoolyards to beaches, games are never hard to find, but for a truly fantastic experience, head to the impressive Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium, built for the 2017 Cricket Cup, where you can join the cheering crowds for an afternoon of fun.

4. Hike Mount Obama

After Barack Obama won the presidential election in 2009, Antigua’s prime minister renamed the island’s highest peak after the U.S. president. Mount Obama, as it is now known, is an easy stroll along a lush jungle trail and offers spectacular views of the neighboring islands of Monserrat and Guadeloupe.

5. Dance the Night Away
Rum punch and live music fuel Antigua’s famous dance parties, where tourists and locals alike shake and shimmy to the rhythms of the West Indies. From rustic beach bars like Beach Limerz to the ever-popular Shirley Heights Lookout sited high above English Harbour, there is no better way to experience Antigua’s hospitability than on the dance floor.

6. Sail into the Sunset
Antigua has long been a favorite destination among the international sailing set. Join them by chartering your own classic wooden sailboat for the day or watching the sunset from the deck of a catamaran. Whichever way you chose, this is the quintessential Caribbean experience you’ll never forget.

Playa Mujeres, Mexico – A Mexican Secret

Playa Mujeres, Mexico

Looking for your next getaway? Check out the miles of uninterrupted beach—and thoughtful luxury—in Playa Mujeres, Mexico.

Just 25 minutes north of Cancún International Airport is Playa Mujeres, an exclusive beach destination. This up-and-coming slice of paradise is perfect for those who seek a luxury travel destination that’s more private than other Mexican vacation hotspots.

cancun resorts

High-end, all-inclusive resorts like Finest Playa Mujeres, Excellence Playa Mujeres and Beloved Playa Mujeres by Excellence Group prove to be elegant retreats on tranquil beaches. The area offers easy access to Cancún’s energetic nightlife and culture, celebrated Maya archaeological sites, cenotes (natural sinkholes) and other favorite tourist attractions.

Caribbean-style island

Perhaps best of all, Isla Mujeres lies just off the Playa Mujeres coastline. Several hotels offer day trips to this beautiful Caribbean-style island, where you can snorkel, fish, swim with whale sharks, relax on white sand beaches, and admire the Sea Walls Murals in el centro. Rent a golf cart or bicycle for your island tour, and be sure not to miss the ocean views from Mexico’s easternmost point at Acantilado del Amanecer, or Cliff of the Dawn.

 

Images courtesy of Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau

Travel Agents vs OTAs

What would you say if I told you that travel agents aren’t in competition with online travel agency giants like Trip Advisor, Booking.com, Expedia, Priceline and others? Maybe you’re waiting for a punchline, but I’m honestly not telling a joke. What would a travel agent vs. booking online face-off look like?

While starting a home based travel agency in the shadow of internet giants like Expedia can feel like a David vs. Goliath scenario (umm, where the travel agent is measly little adolescent David), I’m here to bring you glad tidings of why travel agents have an edge over OTAs, and how they can save travelers TONS of time (and money) on their vacations.

Suspend your doubt and hear me out.

No Seriously, Americans Spend So Much Time Online Planning Travel, It’s Ridiculous.   

Recent data published by Expedia documented that American travelers an aggregate of 8.7 capital-B-BILLION minutes of travel planning and booking time per year? It seems ludicrous, right? I know, I did a double take too. But that is the amount of time Americans spent consuming digital travel content in 2015, according to Expedia’s white paper, “The American Traveler’s Path to purchase.”

In the 45 days prior to booking travel—from beginning research to final purchase—the traveling American visited a whopping 140 travel websites. No seriously, that is a not a typo.

How much time does this add up to? Well the report indicates that in the six weeks prior to booking, Americans consume 22.95 hours of digital travel media.

Is your jaw to the floor yet? Well it’s about to get even more slack: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistic, the average hourly wage in the U.S. as of Aug. 2017 registered at $26.39/hr 1, which means that it costs American travelers $605.65 of work time to plan and book vacations.

What does this mean for travelers?

A). They better research and book vacations while they’re on company dime (preferably not their company) and hope they don’t get fired for it.

Or, better yet,

B.) Go with a travel agent, don’t get fired, and save over $600 of your time.

How OTAs Work, and Why They Don’t Save Travelers Money Anymore

The $600+ savings in work time really just scratches at the surface. There are tons of other ways that using a travel agent vs. booking online save clients money.

1. OTA Access to Inventory Is limited

When you were a kid and asked your parents for a snack, they probably didn’t open the fridge and cupboards and let you have at it. No, they probably pulled out a few choice items and say, “this is what you can choose from.”

OTAs operate in the same way. OTAs used to rely on ample off-peak inventory, and empty seats on planes and rooms in hotels to offer discounts, and it worked. Vendors would dump their excess inventory on OTA sites for a premium commission to OTAs. Heck, at the end of the day, selling a hotel room for cheap is better than zippo, right? But the OTAs are no longer the land of milk and honey they used to be.

There was a huge rise in the number of OTAs and suppliers smartened up, doing things like having contracts where OTAs were not able to offer prices lower than what the traveler could find directly on the brand site. They stopped offering premium commissions, and some vendors (like Southwest) even refused to sell their inventory on OTAs. (Does this sounds familiar? Airlines did the same thing, cut commissions to travel agents in the 90s).

In fact, it’s the vendors that price the products—not the OTAs themselves. So, like the stingy parent, OTAs will not (and cannot) offer the smorgasbord of travel products and discounts they used to. They can’t.

Now let’s jump back to the travel agent vs. booking online thing. A travel agent will open all their cupboards, and find the best value available. Heck, they’ll even take you to the grocery store and present a full range of available travel options. Travel agents will not only have access to product and pricing, but they’ll also have the savvy to know the nitty gritty of things like which seats on the plane are more spacious for the same price.

2. Price Discrimination and “Steering”

According to a Wired article, the OTAs pricing would shift constantly due to supply and demand. This means that customers could potentially be directed to sites that weren’t the best deals, depending on the quantity demanded while the traveler book (remember how they try to scare you with warnings of “2 rooms left at this price?”).

OTAs with their Big Brother-like technology know when and how a traveler is booking. So if a traveler is attempting to book a hotel, on a mobile phone, the same evening of their desired reservation date, the OTA’s magic algorithm will smell their desperation, and potentially steer the customer to more expensive booking.

Price discrimination comes into play when they charge different consumers different prices for the same product (which is illegal). According to the Wired article, at one point, “Orbitz was steering Apple OSX users, for example, to more expensive hotels, since the algorithm assumed that an Apple user was more affluent than a PC user.”

Agent don’t, and can’t, do that. There is a level of price stability when purchasing from travel agent—who can put holds on tickets and packages to preserve the price until the end of the day or for 24 hours. (Read more real-life ways travel agents save clients money). 

 

3. Fine Print

Surprise! There are taxes and fees that might sneak up on the purchaser when they get to the checkout of an OTA.

With travel agents, the full cost to clients is transparent at the time they are quoted the price.

4. Group Bookings

Travel agents can especially save for clients who are traveling in groups. According to SmartFlyer’s CEO Mike Holtz in a Travel Market Report article, “travel websites will only show the lowest fare available for four tickets. But an agent might be able to find three seats at a fare hundreds of dollars less, with savings into the thousands of dollars.”

Travel agents—who are not governed by algorithms—have the experience and ability to analyze the options in front of them, and filter through them quickly in order to build group packages that maximize value and save money for their clients. Yet another reason to use a travel agent vs. booking online.

This Is to Mention Nothing of Customer Service and Client Satisfaction

Travel agents save clients money, but really it goes so much more beyond that. Travel agents also create high-value travel over OTAs because (the living, breathing, talented humans that they are) are able to advocate for clients when things go awry.

What can an OTA do for a traveler who is unhappy with a hotel room, let alone stuck in the middle of a natural disaster? The answer, not a whole lot, if anything at all.

Travel agents are able leverage their relationships with vendors in order to provide the best customer service possible to travelers. So not only will the traveler save money, but they can travel with the peace of mind that a travel agent can help them out in a bind if they transfer hotels, switch rooms, or re-book a flight.

In the same ASTA study referenced earlier, it was documented that “63% of consumers polled said using an agent makes their overall trip experience better.” So not only will travel agents save travelers time, money and stress during the planning and booking process––they’ll also help create a more satisfying and relaxing travel experience during the trip itself .  .  . and that, my friend, is entire purpose of a vacation.