Sunday, 30 November 2014

Travel Tip of the Week - Reviews are in the eye of the beholder

When booking vacations reviews play a very strong role in providing written information, photographic images and a rating system. Yet how do you make a sound decision when there are so many different reviews for same site? The example I have chosen is from one of the best places we have stayed in Europe. As you see from the screen shot there were 30 reviews ranging all the way from Excellent to Terrible. So when there is a 3.5 star rating and almost 50 percent of the reviews rated it as average, poor or terrible should you keep looking? Here are so tips for making sense of the reviews:
* Read the reviews from each rating scale and make your own opinion. Everyone has different expectations of a  trip regarding safety, price, location, entertainment options and so on. Their reviews will help you to determine if the site is an appropriate match for you.
* Some people are never happy and will complain about everything from the weather to electric blackouts. These are factors not under the control of business and should be judged accordingly.
* Take a look at the pictures posted by other travellers. This will give you insight into the location as well as capture the ambiance of the setting.
* The more remote areas you travel the less likely they are to be fluent in your language. This is part of the charm and while it can lead to some frustration we do live in an era of technology were mobile apps can provide some assistance.
* Cross reference on various sites such as tripadvisor,,, airbnb, vrbo and flipkey to name a few. As you see #CivitaB&B had 30 reviews on #TripAdvisor yet on there are 102 reviews with a 8.2/10 rating. Compare the comments and make your decision based on your own travel goals.
* Weigh the pros and cons. Do you mind climbing a few stairs to your room or a large hill for five minutes to get to one of the most beautiful hilltop towns in #Italy?
* Listen for powerful descriptors like magical, enchanting and romantic. They are written by reviewers days, weeks or months later as they reflect on their experience and the place it now holds in their heart.
* Because you rely on reviews to create your memorable vacation it is important to give back by writing your own review when you get home. This helps the owner, future travellers and gives you a moment of recapture a peace of your vacation when you return to your hectic life.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Travel Tip of the Week - Everything but the Kitchen Sink

Packaging for travel, whether it be for days, weeks or months is always a challenge and, with a tendency to take more than is necessary, it is easy to throw extra items in 'just in case'. As I write this post I pause to remember that only a few years ago I was packing a large purse, carry on luggage and a forty pound suitcase to go to a tropical resort for only one week. I have since evolved to one carry-on backpack and a small sport bag for 26 days. While that may seem too restrictive for some the concept remains the same - keep it simple by:
* Making a list and try to stick to it.
* Using packing cubes to help categorize your items (pants, tops, intimate wear), get quick access to your clothes without them all falling out, and minimize wrinkling by rolling rather than folding.
* Buying sun screen and bug lotion when you get to your destination and leave it behind for the next fellow traveller. 
* Washing clothes nightly with shampoo or dish soap allows you to pack less.
* Purchasing quick dry clothing weigh less, wear well, dry quickly and is available at numerous retailers
* Packing items that have multiple uses (ie. scarf can also serve as a beach cover up, skirt, or shoulder wrap in the evening)
* Choosing items that easily coordinate with each other.
* Leaving the bling at home. Difficult as it may be it makes packing simple and you lessen the risk of being robbed.
* Pack snacks for long trips and layovers.
* Limiting footwear as it is both heavy and bulky. One pair of beach shoes, dressy sandals and good walking / running shoes is plenty.
* Packing everything a few weeks ahead and then go back and take a few more items out.
* Reviewing your list when you get home. Deleting anything from the list you did not wear or use and adding items you found to be necessary.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

SADly seeking sun

One cannot deny the beauty of the first snowfall, the magic of the holiday season, special moments with family and friends, snow on the ground as it sparkles with diamonds, seeing the joy in animals and children as they embrace the winter season and its many activities. Yet for those of us that are emotionally affected by the darkness, dreariness and merciless winds the many months of winter are sometimes too much to bear. While I envy those who can truly appreciate skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, sledding, skating and so many other forms of seasonal fun I must admit for me it is the countdown to warmer weather where a bikini, hammock, convertible ride or outdoor patio have my heart.
So equipped with a Seasonal Effective Disorder lamp, a home gym decorated in Caribbean decor, and the thought of future sun destination vacations I hang on, dealing one day at a time, strategically obtaining new skills and formal education in the hopes that my 'next chapter' will involve working remotely from a tropical destination where walking on the beach is a daily event and I can feel like 'myself'' once again. I wish to extend a special thank you to  Sherif Abu baker and others who regularly post gorgeous photos of tropical shorelines that serve as a source of cyber therapy.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair

This weekend we had the pleasure of meeting 
 #TedReader (Celebrity Chef and event MC) and #CraigVenn from 94.9 The Rock radio station at the 92nd annual Royal Agricultural Fair. With VIP seating, won through #949TheRock, we tasted local beers and watched three Ontario chefs compete in The Road to the Royal chef challenge. Congratulations to Chef #BrettPottruff from the Forks Restaurant. 
Not only was the event entertaining but also a reminder 
of the need to support our local breweries, wineries and farmers. 

Travel Tip of the Week - "Miss Understood"

While there are so many exciting aspects of travel, language barriers can serve as a source of frustration when you are in a country that does not share your dialect. Here are some strategies that we have employed in an attempt to improve communication: 

  • Install a translation app on your mobile phone or tablet
  • When looking for directions carry a local map and point to where you want to go. At least you will be sent in the right direction and know how far away you are
  • Utilize bus stations, airports, train stations, main tourist areas and large hotels as they often have multilingual employees
  • Print an agenda with names of hotels and attractions and translate into the country's language  before you leave. When seeking assistance local residents will be able to recognize their language where attempts at the spoken word may not be as successful if you lack fluency
  • Carry a pocket translation book
  • Ask a young person for help. They are often well versed in many languages 
  • Utilize opportunities to at least learn some of the basics. When flying #KLM Airlines they offer  translation programs and related video games in many languages on the individual seat TV consoles. 
  • Ask the locals to help teach you words when you have the opportunity so you can learn along the way
  •  Be patient with yourself and others as you try to make sense of it all. The mishaps will make for great stories when you get home.

          Cheers, Jean and Barry

Humble Beginnings

When we started this travel blog a few years ago it was created as an online album to keep in touch with family and friends when we were away, to let them know where we were, that we were safe, and to (virtually) bring them with us to see some of the world's treasures. Barry and I have had a very blessed life with regard to constant employment, good health and 27 years together. Over the past few years travel has become our top leisure priority with an emphasis on creating relocating for a few weeks to rent, shop, travel and experience different cultures. While not travel experts we have learned much along the way from both experts in the field and through our own adventures. We usually travel only with carryon luggage, modest jewellery, few clothes and focus on the experience itself rather than fancy accommodations, modes of travel or fine dining. While this type of travel is not for everyone it has taught us that we see more, spend less, and that some of our best memories were the things unplanned .
Having shared our photos and stories on #Google+ we have blown away with the kind response, enthusiasm and comments received. Our goal for the blog has since expanded to reach a larger audience so we can share stories with others and hear theirs as well. With the internet the world has become a very small place and it is exciting to get recommendations from others on places to visit, stay and experience. We are merely everyday people who save our vacation days, and budget all year,  to visit 1-2 very specific locations. We are strategic about our travel plans using the best discount sites, reward systems and comparison shopping.
In the broader scope, as we fine tune the message we are hoping to convey, it continues to come back to "the local experience" for us. With that in mind travel does not mean you have to fly half way around the world to appreciate new experiences. It can be camping, a weekend away, visiting a friend or family member...but, to us, the most critical part of travel is not just to breeze through on your way but to try to understand, experience and support the community.
So, until next time, we truly appreciate your likes, comments and sharing of our story and photos and thank you from the bottom of our hearts for allowing us the opportunity to be part of 'your world'.
Cheers, Jean and Barry

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Travel Tip of the Week - Leaving you in 'Good Spirits'

Visiting places outside of our own community provide us with an opportunity to sample the local cuisine and also to appreciate local beers, wines, and liquors. Whether a refreshing cold beer after a long walk, glass of fine wine or sweet liquor with dinner, or sampling moonshine at the market every experience tells a story about the culture and your experience there. Family recipes passed down through generations, stories exuding pride about personal brewing techniques, selections in grocery stores not seen elsewhere, and recommendations from the locals make the experience that much richer.
Cheers, Jean and Barry

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Travel Tip of the Week - Don't Rob Yourself of a Good Vacation

When travelling most of us want to pack our very best, look our very best, fit in with our environment and dress to impress. On a cruise ship, resort or tour group experience this is a more feasible yet, if pursuing independent travel, you may actually be standing out in the crowd as a target for thieves.
We have compiled a list of suggestions for a more simple approach to travel:
* Leave the bling at home. Anything shiny or sparkly is going to attract attention. Few love accessorizing more than I do but expensive or flashy jewellery needs to stay at home. Remember,
in some countries the locals live in poverty and your level of wealth will be assessed by the image you portray.
* If you can't bear losing it don't pack it. Never will you see our wedding rings on when travelling as they are the most accessible items to thieves. If you feel you must wear a ring or want to be seen as a married couple purchase costume jewellery as a substitute.
* If you are wearing some type of armband, signifying you are with a resort or tour company, take a snap watch to cover it up. When you are touring around a local village on your own it is not ideal to advertise that you are staying at the fancy resort down the road.
* Take multiple sd cards with you. We change them regularly so, if ever our camera was left behind or taken from us, we would not lose the pictures from the entire trip. We also try to upload our pics to Facebook, Flickr, iCloud, OneDrive or Dropbox as often as possible to ensure our images are safe.
* Use the Lonely Planet website to research the area you are staying and become aware of potential hazards.
* Use a money belt and store it on the inside of your clothing.
* Utilize hotel safes and take as little with you as possible on excursions.
* Ensure there are photocopies of your passport with someone you can easily reach in the event of a need for replacement. Pack the number for the Canadian Embassy office in the country you will be travelling to,.
* Ensure your luggage is locked at all times and keep it with you rather than having someone transport it to your room.
* Withdraw small amounts of money every few days. Distribute cash between yourself and your partner and disperse small bills in various areas of clothing and money holders.
* If some thing / some one / some where does not feel right follow your intuition and remove yourself quickly from the situation.