travel to sri lanka

In 2019, travel to Sri Lanka was set to be at an all time high. The Lonely Planet had just named the island ‘The Best Place to Travel in 2019.’ With various campaigns splashed across social media, travel writers and influencers filling up the pages of their blogs with images of dreamy, palm fringed beaches, and romantic jungle settings, a tourism boom seemed inevitable. Even my partner agency, Tripzter Travel, was in talks with a luxury travel brand based in Sri Lanka. We were mere weeks away from launching our own bespoke tours to the island jewel. The world was finally waking up to this ‘resplendent‘ landscape.

Serene Life in Ella

That all changed on April 21, 2019, Easter Sunday, when three churches and three luxury hotels were simultaneously attacked by suicide bombers across three different cities. Two-hundred and forty-five innocent Sri Lankans and foreign nationals lost their lives and it was the first time, after a decade of peace after the Civil War, that Sri Lanka had experienced a major terrorist attack. The fanfare around this newly crowned destination was silenced. And once again, travel to Sri Lanka was placed on most travelers ‘maybe someday’ list.

travel to sri lanka
Audience Hall at Temple of the Sacred Tooth

Well, we didn’t want to wait for someday. We knew how far the tourism industry had come before the attacks, and we also knew that travel to Sri Lanka would happen sooner than later. Two months after that Easter Sunday, we returned to our talks with Atravele, our luxury supplier in Colombo, and hatched a plan to get some boots on the ground. As an ambassador of sorts, the intention was to first, put our clients at ease, and demonstrate that Sri Lanka was safe, resilient, and still, very worthy of making the trip. And second, I wanted to showcase the uniqueness of this storied land, by covering as much ground as I could, and by experiencing as much as I possibly could. I spent twelve days exploring Sri Lanka by car, train, safari truck and by foot, zig-zagging across some 2000km. After the third or fourth day, I decided this was going to be where I launched my very first all-female private solo group.

Hill Country

From the moment I touched down back home in Vancouver, it was four months of research, countless emails back and forth, information sessions with clients, online discussions, and client polls all with the hopes of curating and designing the perfect Sri Lankan itinerary. Stephani Fernando, Inbound Director for Artavele and myself, would chat over WhatsApp into the wee hours of (my) morning, pouring over every detail. Choosing hideaways, calculating driving distances, hand-selecting culinary experiences, dreaming up authentic cultural experiences, and selecting archaeological sites, Stephani and I wanted to design a full sensory experience our guests would never forgot.

In mid-February of 2020, I launched my first all-female private group tour: The Great Ceylon Gathering. There had definitely been some interest in the tour itself in the days leading up, but within three days of the launch, I couldn’t keep up with the applications. It seemed that once again, Sri Lanka was on everyone’s radar, and come September, just in time for the Elephant Gathering, my group and I would be experiencing everything Stephani and I had worked so hard to architect.

Nine Arches Bridge

And then, Covid-19 struck. We all know what happened next. Cases out of China in January, a Canadian travel advisory the third week of February, and by mid-March, a complete border shutdown around the world. Once again, Sri Lanka, and every other destination was put back in the ‘maybe someday’ box. I was forced to cancel my tour, and the future of international travel became temporarily, uncertain.

Hardworking Tamil Tea Harvesters

Despite everything, this proud island nation has endured, Sri Lanka and its people are resilient, courageous and forgiving. The unspeakable acts of Easter Sunday were never a true reflection of Sri Lanka’s present, but merely a cowardly echo of it’s distant past. They have more than proven that they can come back from decades of civil war, they can survive attacks against their peaceful way of life, and now, they will show us that once again, the world will once again wake up to it’s resplendence. So let’s travel to Sri Lanka. Later.

Culinary Ceylon

**This post is dedicated to the 245 innocent victims of the Easter Sunday Attacks, the resilient people of Sri Lanka, my dear friend Stephani Fernando and the incredible team at Artravele and Walker Tours who work tirelessly every day to care for their clients and graciously share their beautiful country with the rest of the world.

danube river cruise

In Central and Eastern Europe, home to the second largest river in Europe, you’ll find some of the most spectacular landscapes, architecture—castles, churches and war memorials—as well as some of the most colorful, inviting cultures in the world.  So how is the best way to see it all? You could take a roadtrip, which happens to be one of my favourite ways to travel, but the issue is time. Escorted coach tours are another great option, however, it’s a lot of moving around, different hotels every other night, and neither of these experiences compare to the ease and luxury of a Danube river cruise.

The Danube river flows through the second largest number of countries in the world, and here are 7 incredible storied landscapes you get to explore on an AmaWaterways Danube river cuise:

Danube River Cruise
Nuremberg, Germany

Germany

The journey begins with a guided tour through the beautiful medieval city of Nuremberg where you’ll see the Imperial Castle, the famous town wall and the legendary fountain of the Market Square. For history buffs, there’s a guided tour of the city’s most significant WWII sites, including the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds, and the Nuremberg Trials Memoriam and Courtroom 600 (if the courtroom is not in session). The sheer size of these grounds is chilling, and often stirs up unexpected emotions.

Next, to lighten the mood, you can savor traditional Franconian specialties including Nuremburger bratwurst, rotbier (red beer) and lebkuchen (gingerbread). While en route to the next destination, Regensburg, you’ll cruise through the man-made Main-Danube Canal.

At Regensburg, you’ll be treated to a guided walking tour through one of Germany’s best-preserved medieval cities.  In Regensburg, you’ll see all the city’s architectural highlights, including the Old Town Hall and the Porta Praetoria. And if all that walking makes you hungry, there are plenty of old Bavarian specialties to sate your appetite—beer, sausage, and pretzels galore.

Next, take a bike tour to Walhalla where you will see the neoclassical white marble temple inspired by the Parthenon in Athens.

The journey continues as you cruise to lower Bavaria’s city of Passau, where a walking tour will take you along cobblestone streets to explore Gothic and Italian Baroque architecture as well as St. Stephen’s Cathedral. If you’re looking to work in a little more exercise, choose between a guided bike tour along the Danube, or a guided hike up to the Veste Oberhaus Fortress.

Wachau Valley, Austria

Austria

Continuing down the Danube, next stop is the scenic town of Melk, renown for its magnificent Benedictine Abbey. The abbey contains the tomb of Saint Coloman of Stockerau and the remains of several members of the House of Babenberg, Austria’s first ruling dynasty.  Consider joining a guided bike tour that takes you through the UNESCO-designated Wachau Valley; or slow it down and take a walking tour along Dürnstein’s cobblestone streets to the famed Baroque church tower, Stiftskirche. Later in the day, set sail through the vineyard rich Wachau Valley.

Belvedere Castle, Vienna

No trip to Austria, nor Danube river cruise, would be complete without a stop in Vienna, “The City of Waltzes.” Vienna is a treasure trove and your tour showcases its regal splendors, including the majestic Opera House and the former Imperial Palace of the Habsburgs. Conclude your tour in the designated historic city center and visit St. Stephen’s Cathedral. For a more active exploration, take a guided bike ride to Klosterneuburg Monastery.

Budapest, Hungary

Hungary

The city of Budapest is known as the Queen of the Danube, and your tour begins with a visit to the Great Market Hall. The remainder of this tour takes you to both the Buda (hilly) and the Pest (flat) sides of the river. Alternatively, hike up to Castle Hill for breathtaking views of the city. Cap the day off with an illumination cruise.

Puszta, Hungary

Continue your trek through Hungary with a pit-stop in Puszta. Known as the Great Hungarian Plain, tour a genuine Hungarian csárda (farm) run by world-champion carriage-drivers. Afterward, be treated to an unforgettable performance of horsemanship and then experience the Hungarians’ warm hospitality, along with a traditional lunch complete with authentic goulash.

Széchenyi Square, Hungary

From Puszta, set sail to Mohács where you’ll enjoy a scenic morning cruise past a town sprinkled with magnificent churches, including the 18th-century Baroque Protestant church, the Roman Catholic church (1776), the Serbian Greek Orthodox church, the votive church (1926), and the Avas church with its bell tower.  Next, you’ll cruise to Pécs, a city founded more than 2,000 years ago by the Romans. In Pécs, you’ll find a city filled with historic architecture including the Christian Necropolis; St. Peter’s Basilica, the city’s main Catholic cathedral along with its catacombs; and Széchenyi Square, the heart of Old Town Pécs. For wine connoisseurs, there’s the Szekszárd wine region, one of the oldest red-wine-growing areas in Hungary, established more than 2,000 years ago.

Vukovar, Croatia

Croatia

By now, you are starting to appreciate the cultural, architectural and culinary diversity on a Danube river cruise. Next up, a “Best European Destination” winner, the Baroque Croatian city of Vukovar is situated at the banks of the Vuka and Danube Rivers in the region of Srijem/Syrmia.  Known as the “hero town” for the valor of brave Croatian civilians and volunteers during the 1991 war with Serbia, your city tour will include important war landmarks such as Ovčara Memorial and Eltz Castle. Or, you can opt to go wine tasting in Ilok, a center of wine production since Roman times, where you’ll sample its famous Grasevina, Traminac and Frankovka wines. Back on board, cruise to Novi Sad, sometimes called the “Serbian Athens.” Discover Novi Sad on a walking tour to Dunavski Park and through Stari Grad, the Old Town center. If you prefer a more active exploration, join a guided biking or hiking tour. During the evening, visit Petrovaradin Fortress.

danube river cruise
Novi Sad, Serbia

Serbia

An under-explored and underappreciated Serbia awaits. Explore Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, on a city tour that includes the Kalemegdan Fortress and the Serbian Orthodox Temple of St. Sava. Later, choose from three intriguing excursions. Visit the Royal Palace, the official residence of the Serbian Royal Family; and then tour the House of Flowers, the mausoleum of Marshal Tito, who became the first President of Yugoslavia. Or enjoy a taste of the region by sampling Serbian plum brandy, Šlivovitz, and delicious local delights at the Quburich Distillery. For those wishing a more active adventure, join a guided bike tour.

danube river cruise
Iron Gates, Romania

Romania

Romania, without a doubt, is a country you are going to want to revisit after you set eyes on these mythical landscapes. Enjoy a full day of scenic cruising as you pass through the Iron Gates, one of Europe’s most awe-inspiring natural wonders. At the Iron Gates, the Danube narrows as it winds through a series of magnificent gorges between the Carpathian and Balkan Mountains.

Belogradchik, Bulgaria

Bulgaria

Next up on your Danube river cruise, explore Vidin, a city that has existed for over 2000 years and is one of Bulgaria’s oldest. Discover Baba Vida Fortress, the largest preserved medieval castle in Bulgaria. Continue on to Belogradchik, one of Bulgaria’s natural wonders, where you can hike around its most spectacular rock formations. Alternatively, visit a local home for a culinary demonstration on traditional Bulgarian yogurt and Banitsa, a pastry you will also get to make! You also have the option of cycling through Vidin and to the castle.

danube river cruise
Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

Visit Bulgaria’s ancient capital, Veliko Tarnovo, with its medieval fortress and multiple orthodox temples. You can opt instead to go to Rousse, known for its 19th- and 20th-century Neo-Baroque and Neo-Rococo architecture, and then afterward visit the Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo with frescoes revealing exceptional artistry of 14th-century paintings.

Every single one of these breathtaking countries is worthy of a trip all on its own. I took my young son to Germany a couple of years ago, and I couldn’t believe how much was left to explore even after we absolutely crammed our itinerary. It was exhausting. A Danube river cruise slows the pace right down, transports you back to the days of the Roman Empire and lets you literally step into the heart of some of the most picturesque cities on Earth, all on one itinerary.

I know, with everything going on in the world of travel right now, you may be hesitant to consider a river cruise, but remember this: Most guests book their river cruises a minimum of 6 months to a year in advance, so don’t worry, you’re right on schedule. And if you’re worried about putting a deposit down, there are flexible booking options aplenty. So put your worries aside, give yourself an experience to look forward to and let’s schedule a complimentary Zoom meeting to answer any questions you may have.

It may be hard for a veteran ocean cruiser to be convinced they’ll love river cruising, but I want to give it my best shot. Ocean cruises may have been a popular way to ‘sea’ the world for decades, and for good reason. They’re affordable, convenient and offer travelers peace of mind knowing that everything they need for a fantastic getaway is all in one place. What could be better than that? But perhaps its time to come in from the ocean and take your experience inland on a culturally enriching river cruise.

You might think that the words “inland” and “cruise” are incompatible. Well, let me take the month of May to convince you that a luxury river cruiseline like AmaWaterways will have you re-thinking life on the ocean. AmaWaterways river cruises combine all the comfort and convenience of an ocean cruise with the excitement of European excursions at each port of call.

To all cruise-lovers, perhaps it’s time to shake up the ocean liner experience for an entirely new way to explore the world’s waterways. Let’s talk about why my past ocean cruisers love rivercruising, and why they love experiencing Europe, Egypt and Africa’s iconic rivers with AmaWaterways.

Here are the top 10 reasons we know why, as an ocean cruiser, you will love river cruising, and why AmaWaterways is an excellent first way to experience the world’s most iconic rivers:

love river cruising

1. The Scenery Changes All Day

While ocean cruises take you to countries, river cruises take you through them. You can spend two full days at sea or more getting to a destination, and don’t get me wrong, there is something incredibly serene about endless ocean as far as the eye can see. However, river cruises boast postcard perfect scenes all day, and because of their smaller size , river ships bring you to destinations ocean cruises cannot.

2. A More Intimate Experience

River cruising offers a more intimate setting. While ocean lines can be anywhere from 600 – over 5000 passengers, most river ships range from 144 to 196 passengers. This means that you’ll never have to wait in line, for anything. You have more time to enjoy all of the onboard amenities and experience closer encounters with your fellow passengers and crew. It’s hard not to become fast friends on a river cruise. There are also no tenders, which means you don’t have to waste time getting to and from ports so no more worrying about ‘beating the crowds’ off the ship.

love river cruising
Rouen, France

3. Dive Head First into the Local Culture

Ever get that sinking feeling when you pull into port on one of those smaller, more intimate islands and there are already 4 other gargantuan ships when you arrive? Me too. AmaWaterways lets you get away from the touristy ports and explore hidden gems. Large ocean liner ports can receive up to 20,000 visitors on the same day but with a river cruise, you’ll arrive into port with only a few hundred visitors. Not only will you avoid long lines at your destination, but you’ll also enjoy leisurely excursions at each incredible port of call.  You’ll be able to take in the local culture and history of every unique town that you visit.

love river cruising
Porto, Portugal

4. Take Your Time On Shore

With many departures from the destinations being later in the afternoon or evening, unlike most ocean cruises, river cruises allow you to enjoy local nightlife in select ports of call. Whether you choose an evening walk through cobblestone streets, catch a local show or performance, or savour a cocktail after dinner while listening to a local musician. Being able to immerse yourself in the local culture day and night is far more fulfilling than just popping onto an island for the day.

Durnstein Castle

5. Castle Views

That’s right, castle views from the luxurious comfort of your private balcony. From Amsterdam to Basel, along the Rhine River and in Budapest, Bratislava, Durnstein and Passau on the Danube, there are castles aplenty. And what’s more, you get to throw on some walking shoes, step ashore, and take a wander through the pages of your favourite childhood fairytale.

On-Board Happy Hour

6. 5-Star Reviews

5-star reviews are only earned through 5-star service. River cruises in general have a much higher satisfaction rating than most ocean cruises. And whether you’re unwinding with a glass of wine on the Sun Deck, enjoying the night breeze under the stars, or enjoying an unexpected encounter with kind locals on a meticulously arranged walking tour, you’ll soon find out why AmaWaterways is award winning.

love river cruising
An On-Shore Cycling Excursion is Perfect for Families

7. River Cruises Are Perfect for Families & Groups

One of the biggest misconceptions about river cruising is that they are for individuals of a certain demographic. Not true. I’ve personally booked a number of multi-generational families, from grandparents, to teenage children. The entire family will bond over a range of themed cruises and activities from food to history to countryside excursions. As for groups, AmaWaterways offers the ideal venue, luxury accommodation, superb food and drink and of course, myriad activities and excursions. Some members of your group may choose to take advantage of spa services, or the sundeck pool, or cultural activities, while others may prefer to seek out a quiet space with a book. And mealtimes are the perfect opportunity for everyone to come together again as a family or group.

AMA Waterways, Bordeaux, France

8. Taste the Difference

Whether you’re into wine tasting or local street food, a river cruise provides an exceptional culinary experience both on the ship and at every destination. The onboard culinary team focuses on utilizing fresh local ingredients. Dishes are paired with local wines. There are absolutely no mass-produced meals, nor any basic buffet food when you cruise with AmaWaterways.

9. A Higher Variety of Experiences

Let’s not forget just how diverse every European country is. Some ocean cruises can feel like much of the same over and over. The charming towns and cities perched on the banks are both in close proximity to these iconic rivers, and each port is treasure trove of history, culture, architecture and stories. Guests can choose from myriad experiences like visiting local breweries, hiking to castles, cycling through trendy neighborhoods or visiting museums that highlight the local culture.

love river cruising
Twin Stateroom (Two Balconies)

10.  WorldClass Accommodations

One of the reasons ocean cruisers love river cruising is because river cruise have some of the highest percentage of repeat clients is because of where guests like you get to lay their head every night. Guests love stepping into a luxurious and spacious suite or twin-balcony stateroom that becomes their home away from home for the next 7, 9, or 10 days. Each of AmaWaterways staterooms is tastefully decorated and is river facing. Whether you choose to have a window view, a private balcony, or twin balcony (both a French and outside balcony), you’ll always have a room with a view.

So, there you have it. 10 great reasons why ocean cruisers love river cruising, and why YOU will love cruising with AmaWaterways. Have I convinced you?

Whether you’re planning a special anniversary trip, want to take your group or family on the river, or you want to get away with some very special friends, I would love to help you start laying the groundwork for your first (or fifth!) journey with AmaWaterways. Be sure to visit my Facebook Page to join me for a Live virtual cruise event!

post-pandemic trip

Thinking about your first post-pandemic trip yet? If you are currently in quarantine with your spouse, or kids, or both, you may not be sold on the idea of dragging the clan along on holiday. You’ve probably been day dreaming of 7 days of complete solitude on some tropical beach, with no human sounds for miles. Or, travel may be the furthest thing from your mind because you may have lost your job, or you might be struggling with a newfound anxiety around the idea of traveling because of this new existence we live in. Or maybe you are dying for a family escape because your spring break plans fell apart (just ask my clients) and you’ve been dealing with broken hearts and dashed dreams around the house. Life is anything but normal at the moment, but if you’re a true traveler, you know that we will return to travel. When those travel bans are lifted and after all of this social distancing comes to an end, maybe, and just maybe you’ll be convinced that a post-pandemic trip with the whole family is a great idea. Here are a few things to consider…


1. Travel is the Ultimate Way to Celebrate Milestones

Put your hand up if you’re celebrating your birthday all by your lonesome this month? There will be SO MUCH to celebrate when all of this is over, now tack on all of the missed birthdays, cancelled weddings, delayed graduations and family reunions. Travel is a perfect way to mark those occasions, and to give yourselves a re-do on all of the missed fun. Whether it’s renting out a Riad in Marrakech, taking a river cruise between your favourite European cities, or spending your time on a tropical beach in the South Pacific, as long as you’re all together, you have the perfect recipe for unforgettable memories.

2. Travel Rekindles Family Relationships

If life during this strange and frightening time has taught us anything, it’s that we are all way too busy. How many times have your heard your mom or dad scold you for not calling them more often. Or heard a sibling grumble that they haven’t seen you enough. It is especially difficult to make time to connect with one another if you’re living on opposite sides of the planet! My brother lives in Lund, Sweden while I live in Squamish, British Columbia. By most standards, we’re very close, but work, parenting, and life in general have gotten in the way of “checking-in” on eachother. Travel has a delightful way of disconnecting you from your routine, and when you travel with family, it’s the ultimate way to not only catch up, but build on that foundation. My family is planning to spend our first post-pandemic trip in the Caribbean for New Years!

post-pandemic trip

3. Travel Turns Family into Teammates

Traveling is a great way to bond, and learn from eachother in unfamiliar and challenging environments. When my whole family gets together around the dinner table (which is rare, because as I mentioned, my baby brother lives in Sweden), our biggest laughs always centre around some crazy family holiday we took where something went horribly wrong. Be it our Mom getting dysentery while driving across Mexico (yeah, that wasn’t so funny at the time), getting lost in East LA and asking for directions from a bullet-ridden gas station, or getting practically thrown into a van when a relative had to race into the middle of Nazareth in Israel to rescue us because of a mob of teenagers shooting AK-47’s into the air (umm, yes, my family is a bit on the adventurous side in case you haven’t noticed). You don’t have to experience anything that extreme to learn from eachother, but you certainly learn what eachother are made of when a crisis hits (Plus, you end up with some pretty badass stories…if you live to tell the tales!)

post-pandemic trip

4. Travel Makes You Appreciate The Importance of Time

I mentioned above that travel can help us rekindle family relationships and help create lasting memories, but it also teaches us to live..in…the…MOMENT. This is something we are getting a serious dose of right now – living in the moment. And it’s not a state we are accustomed to. My biggest fear when this is all over, after all of the celebrations have died down, and we’ve returned to the rat race we’ll go on forgetting about eachother. We’ll forget this newfound sense of community, even if it is socially distant closeness. Family travel is an opportunity to hit the restart button, leave all negatives in the past. And remember, living in the moment actually can make time go less quick, and feel more rich.

We may be in quarantine for some time more, and that’s okay. Now is the time to conserve, practice lot’s of self-care, reach out to friends, family and loved ones and make sure your tribe is coping well. And if you’re up for it, it’s also a great time to hit up your favourite travel blogs, sites, and guide books, call a family Zoom meeting and start planning out where on earth you all want to take your epic post-pandemic trip!

Becoming a travel advisor was not a career I always dreamed of. I’m not what you would call a “natural born traveller”. Those who know me might be surprised by that fact, but nonetheless, it’s true. I wasn’t jet-setting around the world from infancy (like my own son). The extent of my travels, included family roadtrips, and the times we had to move because my parents were in the military. I wasn’t enamored with life on the road. I was a more of a reserved kid, with a big imagination. I loved the safety of traveling through books. I preferred skipping out on recess, and sitting cross-legged on the floor of my school library, flipping through the dog-eared pages of old National Geographic magazines. I was obsessed with Africa. The Great Migration. Endless herds of elephant, wildebeest, zebra being stocked by prides of lion splashed across those pages. But as much as I loved getting lost in those scenes, never in my wildest dreams, did I ever think I would travel there. Other people did that.

Or so I thought.

Fast forward a few years to one fateful day when I was strolling down the street and a glossy window display caught my eye. “Everything is better in Havana.” The advertisement practically shouted at me. I was intrigued. I had graduated high school a few months earlier, and unlike many of my friends who had taken off for Europe or Australia to trot around before Uni started, I didn’t have the funds to go on such adventures. But a quick little beach trip? I could swing that.

becoming a travel advisor
Trinidad De Cuba – Birthplace of My Travel Addiction

I breezed through the doors of the travel agency and was met with four sets of eager eyes. I was beginning to feel my palms sweat. “Hi,” I squeaked. I was just wondering about that ad on your win-” and before I could finish my sentence, they simultaneously replied, “I can help you here!” I slid into the closet chair to the door (in case I had to make a quick escape, lol). Turns out I didn’t need to escape. Because Sandra, my travel advisor, wasn’t just there to sell me a trip, she made it her business to make me fall in love not only with a place I had never been, but a place that was never on my radar.

Sandra knew Cuba like the back of her hand, and took upon herself to write out every not-to-be-missed activity she could think of. She told me what to eat, what to drink, what not to eat and drink, the climate differentiation from the mountains to the beaches, where the best dance clubs, hidden museums and daiquiri bars were, and how to escape the rowdy tourist hoards. She was a walking travel guide. She regaled tales of learning Salsa in Santa Clara, and taking a pottery class in Trinidad de Cuba. She told me where I could catch a Cuban ballet and gave me the name of a local guide who could show me underground art exhibitions. And to this day, I will never forget what she said: “Cuba isn’t fancy. It’s not there for you to be dazzled, it’s there for you to feel, to be moved by, to appreciate for what it is in this moment in time.” Sandra wasn’t just a travel advisor, she was a storyteller. And I wanted nothing more than to be a tiny An hour later, not only did I walk out of that agency with a trip booked, but a planted seed that would later flourish into a sixteen year long consulting career, a travel writing career that included an editing job with The Lonely Planet, nearly 80 passport stamps and a degree in anthropology. I guess that makes me a full travel convert.

becoming a travel advisor
Sao Miguel, Brazil

So why am I writing about becoming a travel advisor at a time like this? I mean, who in their right mind is looking at anyone working in the travel industry and thinking they missed their calling? NO. ONE. And I’m not going to sit here and pretend life is currently awesome. It’s been an endless tsunami of cancellations, disappointed emails, phone calls and messages, and obviously, devastating economic loss to my family. We as an industry are struggling. Yet I still think it’s the best job in the world.

In any given year, 98% of my job is making dreams come true. That isn’t the case for every travel advisor. Many of all of us started in brick and mortar shops, selling products we weren’t necessarily in love with, working for very little pay, working with clients that didn’t necessarily value our work. This career isn’t for the faint of heart. You have to earn your stripes. But when you start building those relationships, earning that trust, planning those family holidays, honeymoons, reunions, special occasions, you have a very unique window into people’s lives. They come to you to create, inspire and deliver something completely intangible, and incredibly memorable. Other than their loved ones, you are the one person in the world they turn to when they want to do something that makes them happy. If that isn’t a reason to love your job, I don’t know what is.

becoming a travel advisor
Enroute to Sri Lanka

Now, is it all rosy? No. Does it always go perfectly to plan? Absolutely not. That perfect hotel you hand chose may have let its standards slip since you were last there. Or that flight you booked with the amazing connection ended up being the flight from hell because of some sort schedule delay or substandard food, or lost baggage. Or, the virus of all viruses strikes, and everything to do with tourism grinds the entire world to an abrupt halt. No, this job isn’t perfect. So far from it. But I still love it. My clients are incredible, and they need me. They need me to stay positive, to keep my chin up, to keep inspiring them to travel, to encourage them to push their own boundaries by being an ambassador of sorts. We may all be grounded now, and this experience may change the way we travel forever, but becoming a travel advisor is a decision, that even in these trying times, I will never regret, and I cannot wait to get back to designing dreams.

Quad Biking the Dunes in Namibia
Air Bnb Hurts Not Helps

In an era where travellers seek out the coveted the local experience, no one wants to hear that the most popular home-sharing platform Airbnb hurts not helps local communities. If you live in a large city, popular mountain town or anywhere tourists frequent, you have most likely read or heard about the great AirBnb debate. And if you’ve checked in with your travel advisor lately and mentioned you might be considering AirBnb for an upcoming trip, they probably dished out a stern look of concern, and with very good reason. If you are unfamiliar with how AirBnb works, here’s a description of Airbnb according to Wikipedia:

“Airbnb Inc is an American online marketplace and hospitality service brokerage company based in San Francisco, California, United States. Members can use the service to arrange or offer lodging, primarily homestays, or tourism experiences.”

Sounds pretty benign right? Just a few folks, renting out their homes, a few days at a time to willing tourists, to make sure some of the bills are paid. There are currently over 6 million listings on the Airbnb website, in 191 countries and 65,000 cities around the world. According to this research site, Airbnb averages some half a million people are sleeping in an Airbnb every night. And the reason it’s so popular is three-fold: Reasonably priced accommodations with facilities such as kitchens and laundry (not generally available in hotels); Unique properties (everything from tree-houses, designer trailers to mansions); And most properties are generally based in residential neighbourhoods so you get more of that local feel. That all sounds fantastic, but without sounding dramatic, there is a much darker side to this particular accommodation option. Here’s how Airbnb hurts not helps locals:

Legality Issues

It’s estimated that well over 50% of all listings on the platform are in fact, illegal. That is, they don’t pay any form of taxes, have no licensing and operate completely unregulated. Now this may not seem like such a big deal, until we start getting into things like liability, safety (I’ll elaborate on this point later) and accountability. But back to liability – Illegally run Airbnb’s are not properly insured, meaning if any of your personal belongings are damaged by let’s say, a flood, bedbugs, another guest or any number of other instances, you are not covered.

Lack of Safety and Security

Over the last five or six years, I’ve seen a significant increase in traveller’s requests to feel safe and secure. The media is a proverbial minefield when it comes to frightening tourism stories, and while some of it may seem like hype, there is still plenty to be concerned about. While hosts are supposed to be verified, you have no idea who else has access to the property you’ve just dropped your hard earned money on. I’ve heard everything from friends of the host dropping in; Dog walkers dropping off pampered pooches to unsuspecting house guests (ACTUALLY HAPPENED); To nosey in-laws “checking-in” on things. If something like this happens in a hotel, it would be a massive invasion of privacy and breach of the hotel’s privacy regulations. The other issue is safety. Fire detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, these are just a few safety considerations that an Airbnb may not comply with (or have to) due to lackadaisical local laws.

Discrimination

Up until last year, Airbnb hosts were permitted to requests the photos of perspective renters before they requested to book a property. You can imagine the civil rights violations this caused in places like the United States. After operating for ten years with this policy, Airbnb finally wisened up and changed the policy so hosts could only request a photo after a traveller had already booked and paid for their stay. It’s an improvement, but there are still plenty of reports of bookings being cancelled, the majority of those being Black, Muslim, Arabic or other ethnic sounding names.

Interrupts Local Life

Wait, whaaaat? You’re probably thinking to yourself the whole reason you booked an Airbnb is because you want to live, breathe and explore like a local, right? The truth is, because so many Airbnb’s are illegal (especially the apartments), your presence is not necessarily welcome nor appreciated. Apartment owners pay strata and council fees that provide a framework of rules and regulations everyone who lives in the building must adhere to. Apartment building dwellers often complain they don’t feel safe with strangers coming and going, and temporary renters doing respect or treat common spaces with care which in the end, costs everyone money, not just the host.

Barcelona’s La Rambla

Airbnb’s Push the Locals Out & Contribute to Over-tourism

 This is a headline you’ve probably seen once or twice if you live in a tourist-centric city. My own hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia has a less than 1% vacancy rate and some of the highest rents anywhere in the world. With apartment owners opting to rent their spaces out on a nightly or weekly basis, they’re able to cash in big bucks, and with rental space scarcity, apartment prices not only sky-rocket, locals are no longer able to afford to live in their own cities. Airbnb’s are by no means the sole cause of this phenomena, but they certainly haven’t helped.

In cities like Barcelona, short-term rental companies have caught on and have bought out or developed entire city blocks, often in the most coveted neighbourhoods (ie. La Rambla) with the sole purpose of renting them out to tourists. A recent article in the New Yorker stated that historic neighbourhoods like Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter has seen as much as a 45% loss of local residents. So while one may be on the hunt for accommodation with a local feel, tourists may be hard pressed to find the locals.

airbnb hurts not helps
Trevi Fountain in Rome

Airbnb Doesn’t Exactly Support the Local Economy

In a time where we really need to start looking at sustainability and the impacts our travel has on local communities, Airbnb hurts not helps the local economy. First off, Airbnb’s are not subject to the same licensing costs or taxes that licenced and registered hotels and accommodation properties face. Basically, hosts pay the Airbnb platform a fee, and use the rest as a mortgage helper, or just pocket the profits, tax free. Now, you may argue that patrons of the property are contributing to the local economy, however, what they contribute is minuscule compared to what a registered accommodation contributes or, a permanent tenant. Hotels, B&B’s and hostels have full and part-time staff they must pay. Airbnb’s do not.

Properties are Not Properly Vetted

As I mentioned above, there are some 6 million rooms currently listed on Airbnb, and more being added every day. Do you think that every single one of these properties is inspected, vetted or managed properly? There are of course some highly respectable hosts on the platform, who provide their guests with wonderful stays, however, they are the exception and not the rule. Guests houses, hotels, B&B’s , hostels even registered vacation properties are required to maintain a certain standard If they wish to keep their licences.

The Airbnb platform has enjoyed wild success, and despite its negatives, still remains one of the most popular forms of home-sharing accommodation. And in locations where occupancy rates are not an issue, Airbnb can be a great way to experience life as a local. However, as a consultant committed to supporting local communities and sustainability, I will always endeavor to provide alternative options that still allow travellers to get their boots on the ground and soak as much local life as possible.

travel empowers women

Adventure travel has been my favourite niche to sell for over a decade, and for many reasons. I think it encourages travelers to appreciate the symbiotic relationship between Earth and animal kingdom; It provides travelers with the opportunity to experience an alternative way of life; And more recently, adventure travel empowers women in local communities by providing employment opportunities, financial independence and a sense of personal agency. And with rate of international tourism on the rise each year (up 7% according to UNWTO) and women occupying more than 85% of positions within the industry, it’s not only important but absolutely essential  to support women living in these local communities.

travel empowers women

Why women specifically? 

When it comes to education, women and young girls are the first ones to lose out or be denied access to formal education. Domestic or familial duties often see them plucked out of school, forced into marriage, made responsible for taking care of their siblings at home, or exploited in some way that takes away their agency. A lack of education may hinder access to economic independence and make them vulnerable to exploitation. Tourism can be a means for women to glean a respectable living without formal education. It can provide a way for them to participate in the formal economy and most importantly, this empowerment encourages them to create long-term and sustainable opportunities for themselves and their communities.

travel empowers women

So how does adventure travel empower women? 

Adventure travel tends to bring travelers off the beaten path, which often means you’re experiencing deeper cultural immersion and traveling through more rural and traditional communities. Travelers who choose these types of experiences do so because they want to engage with local cultures, they want to learn about their histories, art forms, cuisine etc. Adventure travel empowers women in a way that they are able to use their domestic skills such as cooking, hosting or creating handicrafts to make money. In parts of the world where a ‘working woman’ was against tradition, adventure travel and tourism has opened doors, planted the seed, and as you will read next, encouraged local women to be entrepreneurial.

What can I do to support women in local communities with my travel choices? 

When you are doing your research on adventure travel companies who give back, there are plenty of options, around the world, who contribute to the empowerment of women. However, not all give the same way. I have two organizations for you to consider.

The first adventure travel company to think about is Canadian based G Adventures. The company was founded in 1990 by avid backpacker Bruce Poon Tip, and has more than 680 itineraries in more than in 130 countries. After escorting travelers to the furthest reaches of the planet for 13 years, The Planeterra Foundation was born in 2003:

Planeterra connects social enterprises to the tourism marketplace by providing catalyst funding, capacity training, and a market link for small businesses supporting women, youth, and indigenous communities.

Planeterra focuses on long-term sustainability and social enterprise. Which means, they work in partnership with local communities, ensuring projects are spearheaded by those on the ground. 100% of the proceeds provided by G Adventures goes directly to fund the more than 50 projects they operate across 6 continents. From Women on Wheels in New Delhi, to the Sisterhood of Survivors in Nepal to the Nagadas Community Homestay in rural Java, there are ample opportunities to give, learn about local issues and fascinating cultures, and empower women.

travel empowers women

Another adventure travel company I enjoy working with is Intrepid and Intrepid Urban Adventures, an Australian based group offering up more than 1500 itineraries in 120 countries. Like G Adventures, their focus is on locally led initiatives:

We support local organisations tackling important community issues all over the world – from conservation and wildlife protection, to education, healthcare and human rights.

The Intrepid Foundation receives proceeds from its tours, but if you choose book your tour with them and donate to the Intrepid Foundation, they will match your donation (up to $1000 per individual donor), they pay for all administrative costs which means 100% of your donation goes to the project. The Intrepid Foundation not only supports the empowerment of women, but also works in concert with locally run organizations to eradicate illiteracy, provide vocational help and support to those living with disabilities, and encourage social change through story-telling. With forty-four projects in total, you are bound to find one that aligns with your passion.

So if you’ve been dreaming up a culturally immersive, environmentally enlightening or socially transformative trip, and want to support the most vulnerable in local communities, remember that adventure travel empowers women when you partner with the right organization.

“Why would I need a travel agent when I can book everything online?”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that or read that, I could quit selling travel and wander the world full time. With the plethora of online information at your fingertips, it would seem that booking that dream trip to Hawaii or all-inclusive getaway to Mexico is easy as pie. But before you jump on those rock-bottom cheap travel deals, or entrust some random booking engine with your credit card, find out why travel agents are still relevant in 2018.

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Bucketlist Alaskan Cruise

It’s high noon and while much of the ship is congregating in the Lido Market for lunch, or out on the crowded observation deck, we’re perched on our private verandah, cameras in hand, trying to catch our breath with every passing spectacle. The sun affectionately bathes the jagged shorelines of Glacier Bay, emphasizing glistening, snow-packed crevices high above and turquoise, iceberg riddled waters below. Seabirds effortlessly ride the arctic thermals at eye level, and in our gentle wake, small fish leap from the depths to catch levitating insects on the ocean surface. What is almost as impressive as the scenery, is how 82,500 tonnes of steel can navigate its way through such narrow passages, and making about as much noise as a small canoe. And then you see it. The Marjerie Glacier; An impressive twenty-one mile long, twenty-five story high wall of vibrant blue glacial ice. This is what a bucketlist Alaskan cruise is all about, and it’s not a trip you want to put off any longer.

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family fun

Traveling with children under age 2 (or any age) is a daunting proposition and can cause a great deal of anxiety if you’re not prepared. And therein lies the key; Preparation. When my little guy was born back in July, the countdown to getting his first passport stamp began, but so did the painstaking research into what we were going to need to make his first plane ride as seamless as possible. Here are some tips and lessons I gleaned from my own research and experience, as well as a few from other family travel experts:

Before You Get to the Airport

1. Baby Gear Rental Companies 

If you’re traveling with children somewhere in North America, look into renting baby gear to ease streamline the packing process. Loose Lips Magazine contributor and new Mommy Jessica Proctor was recently in Palm Springs (the same week we were as it happened) and rented a crib and high chair from Desert Baby  For a mere $40 a week this company dropped off and picked up the equipment from the doorstep of her AirBnb!

2. Don’t Overpack Your Checked-Baggage

I admit it, I was so guilty of it this. My son was born in the summer and I was gifted so many adorable  outfits that he couldn’t wear because he was so little and since I was finally heading to the sun, I brought them with me. All. Off. Them. Let’s be real. He ended up wearing maybe 8-1o outfits during the 8 days we were there. An outfit a day is fine, plus a couple of extras for any possible “blow-outs.”

traveling with children

3. Pack Your Diaper Bag Carefully

Just because you’re traveling with an infant doesn’t mean Airport Security are going to go easy on you. If you bring your own formula/breastmilk (yes, you can do this), do yourself a favour and place it in one of those giant freezer bags for easy inspection. Do the same with your diaper creme, and anything else in liquid form. Here are a few things you should absolutely include when packing your diaper bag:

  • Plenty of Diapers
  • Diaper Creme
  • Wipes
  • Baby Tylenol – Frequent flyer Beth Claridge never left home without it
  • 2-3 onesies for any necessary outfit changes plus one full outfit in case your luggage gets lost
  • At least one outfit change for you (You can pack this in your own carry-on)
  • Plastic bags to place any contaminated clothes
  • Change Pad (Airplane and airport bathrooms are gross)
  • Anti-bacterial wipes (Airplane seats are even more gross!)
  • Teething toy, soother,
  • Burb Cloth
  • Bibs
  • Blankie for snuggling up
  • Toys you don’t care about (because let’s face it, something’s getting lost along the way)
  • Muslin Baby Cover – These are perfect for breast feeding, swaddling (if you’re babe is into that), or as as a blanket.
  • Freemie Cups – New Mama @criscortijo just took her little one on a long-haul flight to Peru and like most new moms, she had to pump every few hours. This product allows you to do it discretely.

3. Cover Your Bases with Travel Insurance

I have the insurance conversation with every one of my clients because I think it’s downright irresponsible to travel without it, especially if you’re traveling with children anywhere in North America. While many credit card companies offer travel medical it can be quite limiting, with lengthy lists of pre-existing conditions that would prevent coverage. Plus, if you miss your flight, are delayed or miss a connection, travel insurance is there to cover the costs. If you’re traveling with your wee ones, you don’t want to take any chances with substandard insurance. Ask your travel agent about the type of coverage you need and travel with peace of mind.

traveling with children

4. Book Seats Ahead of Time  

In the past you may have played the whole “I’ll-take-my-chances-at-check-in” game to avoid paying for advanced seat selection, but trust me, you don’t want to deal with that mess when you get to the airport. You are at the mercy of ground staff, and not to throw them under the bus, but it’s not their responsibility to seat where its most convenient for you. So unless you want be stuck in the middle seat, miles from the bathroom or separated from your travel partner, always pay the extra and book your seats (with me!) ahead of time.

5. Try to Book Flights According to Babies Sleep Schedule

This is not always possible, and often, we are at the mercy of carrier schedules. However, if you’re traveling overseas, red-eye/overnight flights can be easier in terms of your baby adjusting to jet-lag. Your baby can sleep through the night (if you’re lucky enough to have one of those little angels) and wake up in the morning in destination. Some moms find it’s easier to book their flights in the morning because their babies are fussier near the end of the day and into the evening hours.

traveling with children

6. Invest in Good a Travel Stroller

My smart minimalist friends prefer to use baby carriers when they travel, but consider either investing in a good travel stroller or rent one when you’re in destination. Strollers can double as a high chair and, if you’re traveling in a hot climate, having a miniature furnace strapped to you 24/7 is no fun. We use a Mountain Buggy Umbrella Nano Stroller – It only weighs 13lbs, folds up small enough you can store it in an overhead bin, and takes seconds to fold out.

7. Check-In 24 Hours Before Flight

Similar to seat selection, some people don’t bother checking in online 24 hours in advance, but there has never been a more crucial time to get into the habit than if you’re traveling with children under age 2. You want to avoid standing in as few line-up’s as possible, so pre-pay for your baggage, make sure your seats are selected, and if you haven’t brought your own snacks, consider purchasing your meals ahead of time (if you’re traveling with a low cost carrier) so you don’t have to worry about anything other than keeping your little one occupied on board.

At the Airport 

traveling with children

8. Arrive Early

I know, I know, I’ve just told you to check-in 24 hours in advance, so why should you have to arrive early? Because going through security with children under age 2 can be a stressful experience. And you never know if you’ll have to make a trip to the bathroom (or multiple) for a “hose down.” Arriving 2.5-3 hours before an international flight will give you plenty of time to drop off your bags, get through security and make the little one is as fresh as a daisy for their flight. Remember to pre-pack your milk and any gels or creams (diaper creme) in plastic bags (I used giant freezer bags) for quick inspection.

9. Board Last!

You know when they announce that anyone traveling with children or in need of assistance may board first, ignore that. Unless you have a grave concern about overhead space, you don’t want to pro-long the amount of time babe spends in close quarters. Use the “divide-and-conquer” method if you’re traveling with your partner. Have them go on board first with the carry-on, and you can follow later. Before your seated, make sure to have those secret weapons like snacks, fun toys, or GASP, a pre-loaded iPad tucked away below the seat in front of you rather than up above. It’s all about easy access.

10. Take a long, deep breath

Give your babe a bottle or the breast during take-off and landing. The sucking motion will help them equalize those little ear drums. Your little one might cry at one point during the flight. They may even scream for a brief moment. But remember, it’s only a moment in time. And while there may the odd dirty look, people do have more compassion for struggling parents than you might think. Chances are, many of your fellow passengers are parents themselves. Don’t be afraid to move around the cabin (when it’s safe of course), make friends with the flight attendants, and above all, breathe. It’s going to be okay.

 

traveling with children

Bon Voyage!