Falling in Love with Sailing – Part 2

SAIL-AWAY

WOW! I had no idea I would be so completely amazed and in awe by the beauty of the send off. The sun had already set and sunset itself was kind of lack-luster, but when the music started, the deck filled with people, the deck hands started raising the sails and the Captain started commanding the ship, it was a magical, beautiful moment. It was then that I started to get excited about my big adventure. There had been too much stress leading up to the trip, that until I saw the sails of the ship I don’t think I really believed it was happening.

With the sails raised we started our slow sail through Venice, seeing St. Mark’s square off one side of the ship and the Molino Stucky hotel (where I almost stayed) off the right-hand side. With the sail-off anthem playing and the beauty of the lights and sails against the dark blue night sky, I got a little lost in my own little world.

Molino Stucky in Venice

Molino Stucky in Venice

The process probably takes about half an hour to 45 minutes and they do the sail-away ceremony every single night that you leave port. For me, it did not lose its charm. I watched every single night, even when it was cold and misty. Looking up up up as the sails come down, spread out and begin to catch the wind. Every night I spent 30 – 45 minutes lost in my own thoughts, amazed at the beauty and gentle power of the wind in the sails.

A couple of nights I actually helped the deck hands with the process, not that I feel I really did a lot, but I learned how to coil the rope properly and how to let the rope out slowly. I felt like it was an insignificant task, but yet there were six or ten different staff doing the exact same thing at different stations on the boat, so it couldn’t have been worthless. And I got to chat with one of the staff from Goa, India. He was really a great guy and so friendly! Sorry I made your job more difficult Shalesh! Glad you could at least have a laugh at me. (I admit, coiling rope shouldn’t be difficult, but somehow, it just wasn’t my thing!)

 

Deck hands raising the sails

Shalesh showing me how to coil rope (making fun of me actually).

Even though the process is the same every night, the light is different and the port is different. Some nights departure is after dark and the sails are raised into the dark night sky full of stars, other nights they are raised just as the sun is setting. Each night with a beauty all its own.

Royal Clipper Sail-Away from Venice

Royal Clipper Sail-Away from Venice

Royal Clipper Sail-Away from Venice

Royal Clipper Sail-Away from Venice

Each night I noticed something new, found a new process to watch or just simply breathed in the calm energy and beauty of the sails lifting to the sky as we were lulled away to our next destination.

Most people congregated at the front of the boat (bow) where the Captain was commanding the ship and where passengers could take turns learning how to steer. Although I didn’t take a turn at the wheel, I photographed several of my group mates giving it a shot.

Deanna steering the ship

Deanna steering the ship

 

Michelle steering the ship

Michelle steering the ship

Francine steering the ship

Francine steering the ship

Captain Sergei

Captain Sergei

Florentina steering the ship

Florentina steering the ship

What a different atmosphere from a regular cruise ship where you only interact with the wait staff. All around, staff on the ship, were wonderful, fun, friendly and accommodating. After all, I’m sure that Shalesh probably had to redo all of my rope coiling after I turned my back!

Royal Clipper Ropes

Royal Clipper Ropes

On our last sail-away from Porek, Slovenia the last tender to the boat was at 6pm. 6:30pm was set for sail-away. I arrived back on that last tender as I had been on a tour of stunning Ljubljana and our tour had run late returning. I didn’t even go to my room when I returned, I went straight to the sun deck for send-off because it was golden hour and I just knew it was going to be simply beautiful.

When I arrived on deck, I went to the bow where there were surprisingly few passengers. Just one or two. I thought it was unusual, but convinced myself it was just early and people would come in a few minutes. Then the music started and deck hands were everywhere working away. I was busy snapping a few pictures and taking it all in, but felt like I had missed something because no one was on deck!

Slovenia at sunset

Slovenia at sunset

Porek, Slovenia at sunset

Porek, Slovenia at sunset

Just then, one of the deck hands said to me ‘Why are you here? Why aren’t you out on the tender?’ I said ‘What tender?’ He pointed to the tender that was already out in the water staring back at the beautiful Royal Clipper with sails being raised in the setting sun. A perfect moment and I was missing it. My heart sank instantly. Then he told me that there was another tender and hurried me along to go catch it. And I did just that. I arrived at the second tender just on time.

I suspect there had been announcements earlier during the day on board, but because I arrived on the last tender back, I had missed them.

As we moved away from the ship to a better vantage point on the tender, the beauty of the ship, the perfect sunset and the beautiful week I had enjoyed on board all culminated together for a fantastic memory.

Royal Clipper at Sunset in Slovenia

Royal Clipper at Sunset in Slovenia

IMG_8717 IMG_8714

Royal Clipper at Sunset in Slovenia

Royal Clipper at Sunset in Slovenia

I sat on the tender with 30 or so other passengers who were equally enamored with the beauty. Our two staff members, the tender Captain and Shalesh (deck hand) did a great job taking us to all of the best vantage points to see the beautiful Royal Clipper as she started to sail away.

We were treated to the opportunity to sail along beside her, to see her with the sun shining on her and the sun setting behind her. I climbed all over the boat, standing on seats, poking my head out above the top and standing precariously on the edge to take a few photos. I think my jaw was open the entire time as I just could not even believe I was part of something so stunning.

Royal Clipper at Sunset

Royal Clipper at Sunset

Royal Clipper at Sunset in Slovenia

Royal Clipper at Sunset in Slovenia

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, we were taken to the bow of the ship in our tender where about 14 of our crew members walked to the very tip to give us a grand send off with a bow and wave. An amazing end to a very memorable trip.

Royal Clipper send off wave

Royal Clipper send off wave

Royal Clipper send off wave

Royal Clipper send off wave

The next day, I went back on deck to find the deck hand who had pointed me toward the tender, to say a huge thank you for telling me to go as I definitely would have regretted it if I hadn’t caught that second tender. Thanks to his extra care, I shared in one of the most beautiful moments of the entire trip. He didn’t have to tell me about it, but he did and I am most thankful. The sunset was beautiful, but if it hadn’t been for the exceptional staff, I would have missed out.

What do you think? Are you ready for an adventure with Star Clippers tall ship sailings? I can’t wait to do another one. I’m not a fan of cruising, because isn’t adventurous enough for me, but somehow sailing has completely captured my heart.

If you are interested in more information on Star Clippers and the beautiful ports that I visited while I was on this 7 day Mediterranean Cruise, please join me for a Free Travel Talk at the Merit Travel Halifax office on November 10th. Exploring the Balkans by land and sea. Please RSVP here.

We also have some great 2 for 1 deals with Star Clippers, but they are only available until the end of October. If you’ve already made up your mind that this is the adventure for you, please get in touch and we can review options to see if one of the specials will suit your needs! STucker@MeritTravel.com

They do also run ‘No single supplement specials’ as well, so if you’re traveling solo, let me know and I’ll keep an eye out for deals for you. There were lots of solo travellers and all were welcomed and made new friends quickly!

A quick note. I am not being paid to write this post. I simply adored my travels with Star Clippers and believe they are an amazing company with an interesting background, amazing ships, unique and fun products. I’m sure if you try them you will not be disappointed!

Falling in love with Sailing – Part 1

Star Clippers

When the opportunity came for me to set sail on the Star Clipper’s Royal Clipper in the Mediterranean, I couldn’t believe it. I had almost booked my flights that day, but hadn’t finalized them yet, when the call came from my Star Clipper’s rep, Florentina. She had a space available for me on a 7-day sailing adventure departing from Venice, with stops in Croatia, Montenegro and Slovenia. I had been considering doing these areas (at minimum Croatia) by land and now, here she was, offering me the chance to do them by land and sea.

Taking the opportunity would mean leaving Canada a week earlier than I had planned and finding a way to deal with the sea-sickness that I’m prone to. I love the ocean. I love boats. I love sailing (and the cute sailors in white don’t hurt!). But, about 75% of the time I’ve been on boats, I’ve been horribly ill. Could I really go on a Mediterranean sailing and enjoy it? I was really worried about being sick the entire time.

In the end, my thirst for adventure and love of the ocean far outweighed my hatred of being sick. I researched some options and decided to get the ear patch and hope that it would work.

I’m a believer that when good opportunities throw themselves at your feet, you don’t walk away, you give it a try. So, I excitedly accepted the opportunity and a couple of days later I booked my flights for the European part of my epic adventure!

When the time came to depart, of course it wouldn’t be a Shari-Adventure without some difficulties getting off the ground! You can read about my experience with the Air France strike here. But, eventually, I landed in Venice, took a cab directly to the port and saw her sitting there … just waiting for me to meet her! (The boat that is!)

Royal Clipper

Royal Clipper docked in Venice

Before boarding, we filled out a tiny bit of paperwork and then streamed through security and walked to the gangway. Easey peasy! With only 200 people to board and only half of them there at beginning, wait times were non-existent.

Royal Clipper boarding

Royal Clipper boarding

We were greeted with a welcome drink, snacks and music and then I filed through the short line up and one of the staff members eagerly showed me to my cabin, gave me a quick overview and left me to settle in.

ROOMS

I was really quite impressed with the cabins. They are beautiful, clean, lots of storage space and have two port holes and lots of lighting. The beds were comfortable and everything you needed was there for you. I was especially impressed with the beautiful bathrooms. I felt right at home, except for the tiny corner shower, but that’s to be expected on a boat! There’s no room for a tub! The shower worked well, had lots of pressure and hot water. There were toiletries available and replaced daily just like a hotel would and the towels were fresh and clean (except of course when you ask for them not to be replaced to save water!)

Royal Clipper Cabins

Royal Clipper Cabins

Royal Clipper Cabins

Royal Clipper Cabins

Royal Clipper Cabins

Royal Clipper Cabins

Royal Clipper Cabins

Royal Clipper Cabins

Florentina had made arrangements for a group of us to meet for supper, so I took a few minutes and unpacked my entire suitcase. One of the best parts about a cruise is that you can unpack because you stay in the same room for the duration of your trip. I hung up my dresses, stored my shoes and put my toiletries in the bathroom. After cleaning myself up from a long day of travel, I got dressed up and headed up to the sun deck for our very first sail-away, from Venice, at 7pm.

Part 2, coming soon!

If you are interested in a sailing adventure, I highly recommend Star Clippers and would love to help you find the destinations that are perfect for you! We also have some current specials for 2 for 1 sailings or save the single supplement, but you’ll have to get in touch to get details! You can reach me at stucker@merittravel.com

I’ll be doing a FREE Travel Talk on Nov 10th – Exploring the Balkans by Land and Sea. If you’d like to hear more, please RSVP!

Dubrovnik, Croatia – Photo Essay

On September 22nd, 2014 Dubrovnik, Croatia was the port of call from my Star Clippers Mediterranean sailing. It was our first stop and the one that I was most anticipating.

The old city of Dubrovnik is a Unesco World Heritage site. The old city is surrounded by approximately 2 kms of city walls protecting it from intruders in all directions. From the moment I saw the city from the sun deck of my tall ship, I knew why people were amazed at the beauty.

We anchored off shore and tendered in to the lagoon which is hidden by a portion of the city walls. I spent an hour or so wandering the flat part of the internal city and meandering through the very crowded, tiny streets. When I was tired of the crowds, I bought a ticket ($10 US approx) and headed up, up, up to the city wall and started slowly making my way around the entire city from above.

There are over 1000 steps along the 2 km stretch of city walls, and I decided to hike it in the hot mid-afternoon sun. Phew! Luckily there are a few small shops / cafes along the wall with water and snacks. You could likely walk the walls in about an hour if you moved along at a good pace without stopping, but what would be the point? You should plan for 2 – 3 hours, stop and take in the stunning views in every direction. It is absolutely breathtaking.

Even at the end of September, Dubrovnik is a busy spot for tourists. My tall ship was able to anchor nearby and we tendered in to the city, but several cruise ships dock each day as well and send bus-loads of passengers into the old city. Upwards of 6000 people a day, usually between 10am and 4pm. Be prepared for crowded streets and chaos during the day. If you have the opportunity to stay around after 4pm, the crowds thin out and you get a better feel for the city rather than the tourism.

After walking over 1000 stairs in the blazing hot sun, I came down from the wall and met up with my Legends & Curiosities city tour. The guide took us through many small streets and pointed out interesting buildings, as well as sharing the history of some of the lesser known sites.

Although I did not stay on land in the evening, Dubrovnik is known to have a nice little night life with many nice restaurants, bars and even some clubs.

Please click on any of the photos below to see larger images. Images will be available for purchase – details coming soon. Please send me a message if you are interested in purchasing images for your home or office.

What’s love got to do with it?

What’s Love got to do with it?

Having dated some really great guys over the past 7 or 8 years since my divorce and some really rotten ones, I find myself 35 and still single. There’s potential out there, but yet I haven’t found the ‘one’ yet.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, first off, some of you may remember my blog posts back in March / April where I was talking about a lovely man that I had met and although I was planning to move forward with my travel plans, they were changing to accommodate someone special in my life. I was considering traveling for a shorter period of time, possibly having him join me for portions of the trip and just in general, making choices with someone else in mind. I don’t say this in a bad way, just that I was open to seeing where things would go with he and I. I remember saying that I didn’t want to give up on a chance for love just because I had decided to go travel, yet I didn’t want miss my big journey for a relationship that may or may not be ever-lasting.

I’ve been asked about this mystery man regularly by my readers over the past few months. Sadly, we decided to part ways. We still remain close friends, but are no longer in a relationship. This happened months ago but I just wasn’t sure how to write about a break up. Months later, much less emotional it is easier to write it from a practical perspective.

When we parted ways, more than ever it drove the lesson home and reminded me that I need this trip for me, for my life for my health, for my happiness. I needed to make sure I was making decisions that were best for me, not best for anyone else. It’s something a lot of people struggle with … trying to please others before themselves.

Being 35 and single, successful and independent, many people say ‘what do you need a man for?’ Well it is true, I don’t need a man, but I am one of those ladies who does really want to find the right one and settle down. By the way, settling down does not mean quitting travel, maybe just smaller trips. Or, you never know. Maybe I’ll find a man who wishes to travel with me!

I think my biggest realization over the past few months was that even though I was open to finding that special someone, it just hadn’t been working out in Halifax. I felt like I was wasting my precious ‘young’ years looking for a special man rather than living the life I wanted to live. I was caught in the trap of what a ‘normal’ life looks like. What was the point in staying home in Nova Scotia waiting for a man to build a life with when I could be strengthening and building my own life while traveling the world.

Many people in my age group continually tell me they are jealous of my lifestyle. Most of them have partners and kids … or ex-partners and kids and feel like they missed out on the opportunity to see the world they way they want. I’m constantly reminding them that it’s a double edged sword …. Although I can go see the world and enjoy, I don’t have the pleasure and joy of raising children or a loving man to come home to each night. No point in being jealous of someone else’s life, you have to make the best of your own life. I’ve learned that my life will be what I make it and it’s up to me to make the choices to have the life that I dreamed of. In February 2012 I decided to design my life. I’m a doer and a dreamer and I am going to live a happy life with or without a partner.

So …. Here I am. I’m writing this post while sailing the Mediterranean between Italy and Croatia on the Royal Clipper. (although posting a few days later) I’m soaking up the afternoon sun with a warm breeze and ocean as far as the eye can see in any direction. I’m in the middle of nowhere, all alone, but surrounded by people and 100% completely relaxed and happy.

With about 120 guests on board, probably 50% of them are sitting at one of the several bars. A few are listening to the Captain’s lecture, and many are lounging on the sundeck …. Relaxing, chatting or reading.

For me, I’m on the sundeck, near the bar, drinking water … although I may splurge on a pina colada soon. Instead of reading a book, I’m writing one. A blog about my life, my travels and lessons that I’ve learned along the way. That’s pretty much a book right?

So, what does love have to do with all of this?

I’ve learned that love is everywhere, within everyone and its not just about finding a special someone. Before I left Halifax I realized that I am surrounded by love every day. Single or married, it doesn’t matter. Love matters, but love from friends and family and love for yourself, are the best way to live a happy life. And, isn’t that what everyone wants – a happy life?

Before I left to go away I moved everything (again) into my sister’s house. The first morning I woke up to my niece squeaking in through my bedroom door to come crawl in bed with me. As exhausted as I was, it was a moment that I cherished. What’s better than a morning cuddle from a child? Hmmmm not much. I felt loved and welcomed and content. So instead of focusing on love from only one person (an unknown man that I was looking for), I’m making a decision to make sure I fully appreciate the love of all of my friends and family … all of the time.

Life is good. Love is everywhere. You just have to open your eyes and heart to appreciate the love you already have rather than always wanting more!

And that, my friends is what love has to do with it.

Air Canada Rouge Review

Air Canada Rouge – Toronto to Venice – Review

Being Air Canada’s lower cost counterpart, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect for my first Rouge Flight. I was surprisingly welcomed by friendly and gracious staff with stylish uniforms and fedoras. Friendly, helpful, polite … can’t ask for much more from an airline. Compared to the regular Air Canada flight that I had just gotten off, where staff seemed to just be getting by, it was truly a pleasant surprise.

Not having much time before take off, I asked one of the attendants to assist with getting their inflight entertainment set up on my electronics. I was pleased to find out, all I had to do was download the app on my computer and my iphone before leaving and once we were up in air I’d be able to access a full variety of entertainment options – movies, tv, news, music, kids programming. Although I managed to sleep through about five hours of the flight, I still found time to give the Air Canada Rouge player a go. I successfully watched two episodes of Big Bang Theory (my go to on planes) at good resolution on my MacBook Air with no interruptions. It was simple to use. Just remember that you need your own headphones and a device. The service is free to use and the app free to download. Just go into your app store on your iphone and download the free Air Canada app. I’m sure it has many more great features, but I only checked out the bare minimum and valued my sleep instead.

Also remember that you have to have the app downloaded prior to take off as it is only wifi for their specific rouge app, not for surfing safari or checking email. I was a little disappointed by this as I was hoping to keep in touch via social media and had gotten excited at the wifi idea. Ah well … it’s coming, just not quite yet.

Seating was comfortable and being in the plus section (not business), you could certainly feel the difference of the little extra leg room. Sadly I was late boarding (at final call because my previous flight was delayed) so carryon storage space was limited. I found room for my large camera bag, but wasn’t able to fit my laptop case in anywhere nearby. Sitting at the front of the section with a wall in front of me gave me a bit of extra leg room, but with the loss of room to store anything under the seat. Luckily a kind man beside me allowed me to invade his under seat space with my laptop bag for the duration of the flight. Thank you kind stranger! It’s never fun to have your carryon luggage spread all over the cabin when you go to get off the plane. Especially if you have to walk toward the back to get one of your items through the sea of impatient people crowding the aisles waiting for their turn to get off the plane even though the plane has barely come to a hault.

We were served a hot meal for supper about an hour after take off. Choices were pasta – beef stroganoff, or chicken and veggies. Although not the best plane meal I’ve ever had, the chicken was definitely sufficient, piping hot and decent flavor. The best part? The brownie for dessert … yumm!

Breakfast, about an hour and a half before landing was a piece of banana bread. Now, it was white banana bread … not at all the same as my momma makes! I’m used to banana bread that is marbled or spotted a bit. This bread was yellow and so banana-y flavoried that it may have been flavor-added rather than just au-natural. Regardless, it was moist and delicious.

Overall, happy with my first Air Canada Rouge experience. Although not the most luxurious that I’ve been on, it was still clearly well above a low cost carrier in space, options and meals.

Super happy that after having my Air France flights cancelled due to strike that I was able to switch on to Air Canada, collect my aeroplan points, try out Air Canada Rouge product and get to Venice with only one stop in Toronto.

Rouge is definitely a worthy option in the competitive world of airlines.

Working my way around the world

Working my way around the world.

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

WHO: Me – traveling all alone and happy about it

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

WHERE: Europe / South America / Caribbean

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

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

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

Pretty simple isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My three biggest struggles at the moment are:

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

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

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

Air France Strike

Air France Strike

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does all of that mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A couple of problems though …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lesson here for all of you is two fold:

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

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

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

How to travel solo and not be lonely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shari’s Epic Adventure 2014

For those of you who want to know what I’m up to and where I’m going this fall, here’s the quick version. Blogs with more details on each country to come soon.

Facts:

I’ll be visiting nine amazing countries in four short months.
Italy, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Turkey, Greece, Chile, Argentina and Dominican Republic.

Eight of those countries are places I have never been to before.

This is NOT vacation for me. I know this is hard for most of you to fathom, but I will be working while traveling. I will be working as a travel agent the entire time I am traveling. I will have a mobile office that just happens to be in a different country every couple of weeks. The only way I can travel is if I continue to work while I’m on the road, on a boat or in the air, so please, drop me a note if you are planning to travel. I’d love to help arrange your next adventure, big or small!

Highlights:
I don’t doubt that there will be an endless number of highlights that stand out from this trip and only a few of them are things that are planned. Most of the highlights are likely to be unplanned moments that spontaneously happen. For now, here are the things that I am most looking forward to:

Tall Ship Sailing on the Mediterranean. (Star Clippers, Royal Clipper – 7 days Venice to Venice) – Send your best wishes as I try to muster the guts (and a balanced stomach) in order to climb to the crow’s nest on the ship. Fully harnessed of course!

Cinque Terre, Italy – This is an area that I dream of visiting and I can’t wait to experience it’s beauty. The main highlight here will be hiking from town to town along the coast and up the mountains through tiny towns, lush vineyards, past monasteries and castles.

Cappadocia, Turkey – A sunrise hot air balloon ride over the valley. How does it get any better?

Visiting an estancia (ranch) near Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Patagonia – The southern most tip of South America crossing through both Chile and Argentina. Torres del Paine National Park and visiting a Penguin colony.

Studying Spanish in the Dominican Republic. I’m heading back to Sosua to Casa Goethe to study Spanish. I studied for 5 or 6 weeks in 2012 and lived in the Dominican for a total of 7 weeks. I can’t wait to go back to continue learning this beautiful language and visit with friends from all over the world.

I have one month before departure. I have no less than a million things to get done, but I have faith that it will all come together and that anything that doesn’t get done wasn’t that important.

Follow along on my Epic Adventure by entering your email to get notifications when I publish a new story (in the right side column on this blog). If you want to see photos, you should check out one (or all) of the following:

500px – My online store for purchasing prints will be opening soon!
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Air BnB – I found one – Now what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eva’s Rooms #3

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

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

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