Monday, September 13, 2021

Why a travel advisor is more important than ever

With so much information readily available on the internet, is there any reason to work with a travel advisor when planning a trip?

The short answer is Yes.  Especially now.

If you’re anxious to go somewhere, anywhere, after a long dry spell due to the pandemic, you probablyrealize that that the travel landscape has changed significantly. And it changes every week. 

A travel advisor listens and suggests.
Countries like Sweden no longer allow Americans to visit. Others still require 14-day quarantine upon arrival. Quantas, the Australian airline, now requires a vaccination to fly. Italy began requiring a Covid test to enter the country just a week ago. Additional countries are regularly added to the CDC “avoid” list, meaning they are level 4 or higher. Navigating the changes can be tricky at best and devastating for your vacation if a requirement is overlooked.

Beyond Covid-related issues, a travel agent or advisor can help you get the best value for your travel dollar and help ensure your travels go smoothly. Here’s why you need the assistance of a professional.

If you don't know where you want to go,
a travel advisor can help with plans. 
Help with planning.  Travel agents can help you sort through thousands of options. Because they are familiar with the logistics of traveling to different places, they can help you avoid disappointment.


Say you want to go on a cruise. You’re fully vaccinated and the ship you’ve chosen requires a high percentage of vaccinated passengers and staff. But have you checked out the status of each port on the itinerary? If a destination is rated 3 or 4 it’s possible that the ship may not be allowed to dock, or if it docks, passengers may not be allowed to disembark.

I was anxious to cruise again,
but decided to wait. 

We recently cancelled a cruise because 4 of the 7 ports were level 4 and the others were level 3. We didn’t want to take a chance on not being able to visit the places for which we booked the cruise originally. This holds true also on land tours if museums, restaurants, and other attractions happen to be closed or operating at minimal levels. Ever-changing restrictions can result in disappointment if you are not allowed into a special place.

Help with cancellation or delay.  We just returned from a trip to Italy that had been rescheduled three times. The advisor company covered any additional expenses that resulted from the delays, rescheduled all activities and tours, and reworked parts of our itinerary as needed. We didn’t have to deal with the challenges of making everything fit together.

If you’re working with a third party, the agent can facilitate getting a refund or future credit. Also, you have someone to call if anything goes wrong while you’re on the trip.

Help with getting the best value. As travel picks up, many companies are offering low prices and incentives to attract travelers. Travel agents often know about special deals and will know how much your trip should cost. An advisor can sort through the options and find those with the best prices, best service, and most perks.

We wanted to visit northern Italy.

Help with personal requests.
Set tours may go to places you’ve already seen or that you have little interest in. A travel advisor can suggest an itinerary that fits your specific needs and desires. This can be especially helpful if you have dietary needs, accessibility issues, or just want to do something a little weird or off the beaten path. 

An advisor can arrange guides and/or drivers if needed as well as accommodations, so you don’t have to research all the details and then hope your information is good. Many have traveled extensively themselves and can make recommendations based on their insights and experiences.

We wanted to hike in the Dolomites (Alps).

Whether you need help from start to finish for your trip or just need someone to fill in the gaps, a travel professional can help assure that your vacation goes as smoothly as possible.

Photos from free sources.

 

 

 

 

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Create special moments by the sea

What’s more fun in the summer than a trip to the beach?

Even if school has started, a day or weekend at the beach is a great way for the family to beat the heat while enjoying the magic of surf sand at the ocean.

Even better, take along 50 Things to do at the Beach by Easkey Britton (Princeton Architectural Press, 2021). This handy book is chock full of tips to transform your day into a meaningful and inspiring return to nature. 

Follow along as Britton, an environmental scientist and professional surfer, shares important information about the connection humans have with the sea—its impact on our health and well-being, benefits of seaweed varieties, medicines, calming effects, ability to lower heart rate, and more.

At the same time, the sea is a powerful force that we strive to understand. Learning about tides, rip currents, waves and the creatures that live there can help preserve the ecology of our land. Knowing details like that can also help keep you safe at your chosen beach, Britton says.

Once the author has engaged readers with facts about the ocean, she delves into many fun things to do at the beach. Beachcombing (barefoot if the sand is soft) and finding seashells are popular activities which easily become part of your relaxing day or can be incorporated into a scavenger hunt for treasures like a crab shell, sea glass, something rough or something smooth, or whatever strikes your fancy. Watching sea birds and searching for dolphins or whales will also keep you occupied throughout the day.

Then make some sand art. It can be very simple or very complicated. Using a child’s sand pail and a stick you can create a wondrous selection of castles, moats, and rivers. Beautiful sea sculptures are often showcased at special festivals where artists try to build the most amazing structures; perhaps you’ll arrange your beach visit to coincide with one of these festivals.


Of course, you can head into the water to play in the waves or swim. Just be sure to follow any restrictions for the day and know where dangers might be hiding (rip tides, sharks, jellyfish, steep drop-offs, etc.) Britton recommends that vacation beach goers stay in water shallow enough to touch the bottom, use mineral-based sunscreen, and wear UPF protective clothing.

Finally, Britton encourages readers to give back to the sea: Practice conservation, eat sustainable seafood, do a quick clean up in your area, help restore coastal habitats, and leave no trace from your visit.  

Doing things like this will help ensure that our country’s beaches are safe and enjoyable for generations to come.

 Photos from free sources.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Swim in a Mexican cenote



Among the most enticing natural wonders of Mexico’sYucatan peninsula are cenotes. These underground pools are fed by subterranean rivers.
 While cenotes can be found all over the world, the Yucatan Peninsula. and especially the Riviera Maya where we were last summer, has an unusually high number. 

A cenote is actually a deep sinkhole that occurs naturally in limestone rock when an underground cave collapses in on itself and exposes water underneath.


During ancient times, cenotes were regarded as entrances to the mythical underworld, which gave them sacred status among the Mayans. In those days a number of the cenotes were used for sacrificial purposes and objects such as gold, pottery and even human and animal remains have been found at the bottom of some cenotes. Because they provided a source of fresh water in the jungle environment, they were important in the Mayans daily lives.

Larry and I enjoyed a refreshing swim in the deep pool of Cenote Siete Bocas, located about half an hour’s drive, partially on a bumpy, jiggly dirt path, from Puerto Morelos. The name comes from seven entrances to the cenote.

The cool water provided a perfect interlude as we travelled from Puerto Morelos to tiny Isla Holbox for our adventure swimming with whale sharks (more on that later!)


The main entrance of Cenote Siete Bocas leads to an open pool that is exposed to the sun. Other entrances have smaller steps or stairs that lead down to the water and the underground cave of the cenote. At some entrances, you can jump right into the water, or you can exit at any. Cenote Seven Bocas is approximately thirty to forty meters deep making it a good dive site—but only for advanced divers since the water can be murky in certain locations.


 

Although there are thousands of cenotes in the region, the one we swam in has comparatively few visitors. That means you can have a peaceful time enjoying the natural beauty and scenery. Life jackets are required which helped as we meandered through dark passages and under low-hanging eaves of limestone. The walls provided a prime example of erosion by outlining the path of water through the cave for thousands of years.


 

There are showers, bathrooms, and changing rooms, and you can even bring a picnic if you want to stay awhile. Cost is around $16 per person.

 

Photos by Larry and Beverly  Burmeier

Saturday, August 14, 2021

A photo journey through Zion National Park

Arriving in Zion National Park for our second long visit, my husband Larry and I and our friend Deb couldn’t take our eyes off the massive sandstone cliffs that soared into a brilliant blue sky. Shades of pink, red, cream, and tan gleamed in the sunlight as we began a day of hiking on several easily accessed trails.

15-mile long Zion Canyon is the most prominent feature, 
so look up to see the most amazing formations.

This followed our previous day of hiking The Narrows, a spectacular trek in the Virgin River through deep chasms. After the excitement and challenge of that water hike, we were ready to admire the beauty of Zion from dry land.

That’s the beauty of Zion—there’s something for everyone in this national park.

What follows is a selection of photos that showcase a few of the trails in this magnificent national park. 

Reflections on an early morning hike.

Walking the accessible Pa'rus trail, also good for biking.

These mountains make a gorgeous backdrop
for the bridge that crosses the Virgin River.

Rock strata visible on the Emerald Pool Trail,
great for families.

Reflections along the Lower Emerald Pool trail

The Virgin River flows through the park.

Along the River Road trail that leads to
The Narrows

                                     Beverly and Deb walking the often slippery Narrows trail.

                                    Walter's Wiggles switchbacks on the challenging trail to
                                                     Angel's Landing
                                                                 

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Is help on the way for air travelers?

If you had a flight that was cancelled or significantly changed by an airline during the pandemic, you probably know that the airline was required to provide a “prompt refund,” according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Hopefully, you received a refund without much hoopla.

However, many Americans proactively cancelled flights at the urging of health officials or because of conditions that made them feel unsafe. Refunds were not required in those situations.

In June Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg noted that Americans who canceled flights themselves were ineligible for refunds that would have been available had they waited for airlines to cancel their flights for them. 

Instead of a refund, many passengers were offered future travel credits with expiration dates. Lawmakers are now asking the DOT to take action to eliminate expiration dates on pandemic-related travel credits entirely and to urge airlines to provide refunds.

In mid-July, the president stepped up that request. He signed an executive order that requests a report from the DOT within 45 days regarding the airlines’ failure to provide timely refunds for flights canceled due to the pandemic.

Airlines have been urged to reimburse travelers for flights that were canceled, either by the airlines or by passengers, during the COVID-19 health crisis. That applies to flights to, within, or from the United States. At this point, the order is only a request for the DOT to investigate further, not law.

Charlie Leocha of traveler advocacy non-profit Travelers United thinks that’s not enough. “Consumers do not need another study,” he says. “They need a simple statement from the president that all flight credits should not expire. That is the consumers’ money not the airlines.”

And then there’s the issue of lost or delayed baggage. The new executive order requests a proposed rule that would require airlines to refund baggage fees when a passenger’s luggage is delayed or lost. And any other added fees should also be refunded if the service paid for is not provided.


Additionally, there’s a push to prohibit hidden fees. The DOT is asked to implement rules that make sure passengers are aware of all possible charges, including baggage, seat selection, upgrades, change, and cancellation fees at the time a flight is booked.

All this sounds good and would provide enhanced protections for travelers—if and when the requests are approved and mandated. Paul Hudson, president of consumer advocacy group FlyersRights, says the order “could be a game changer.”

Having this executive order is a start, but the requests will require further action to become law. Let’s hope that happens sooner rather than later.

 

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Should you visit the Skywalk at Grand Canyon West?

September is one of our favorite months to take a road trip. After touring Saguaro National Park in Tucson and playing golf in Scottsdale, Arizona, we headed to the Grand Canyon. Having visited the south rim several times, we chose a different destination this time—Grand CanyonWest. Of course, the big draw there was the see-through glass-bottomed Skywalk that extends out over the deep canyon.

Since the Skywalk is located on the Hualapai NationIndian Reservation, and there really are no large towns nearby, we chose to stay at Grand Canyon Western Ranch, only about 16 miles away, the night before our excursion.

Our drive from Scottsdale was very pleasant as we passed through the Sonoran Desert with scrub brush and the beginnings of hills, canyons, and valleys. We stopped along the way at Grapevine Mesa National Landmark and Joshua Tree Forest and took photos of mountains and a beautiful bluff before arriving at the Ranch.

The remotely located Ranch provided a simple cabin that overlooked the imposing bluff we had photographed earlier. A late afternoon walk, cowboy dinner, and singing around a campfire provided a somewhat “authentic” look at life in the desert.


The next morning we arrived early at the Skywalk, parked, and rode the shuttle to visitor areas. The first stop for the shuttle was at Hualapai Ranch, and old-time Western town with horse riding, zipline, gift shop and restaurant. We skipped this in order to get to the Skywalk before crowds came.



What an amazing structure this is! The ten-foot wide horseshoe-shaped walkway is constructed of three-inch thick plexiglass and lots of supporting steel. On this bridge you can look into the canyon 4,000 feet below to see the Colorado River, multi-colored strata, craggy precipices, and huge walls worn smooth by wind and water. It’s a geological marvel revealing millions of years of evolution.

We walked back and forth over the semi-circle taking in the marvelous views. I longed to have a camera, but visitors are not allowed to take anything onto the Skywalk. So we engaged the professional photographer to record this incredible experience. Looking down into the canyon provides a different perspective that we found insightful, although it might not be enjoyable for anyone afraid of heights.

Also at this site is a natural  photo-worthy formation resembling an eagle with spread wings that has been named Eagle Point. About noon we took the shuttle to Guano Point and hiked to the spot where a cave with bats was found years ago. A cable car was constructed to transport bat guano, which was used for fertilizer. After an Air Force jet damaged the cable car, it was never repaired.


We spent almost two hours walking along the canyon rim, soaking in excellent views of cliffs and river below. Rock formations in the area were simply made for climbing, so I scrambled to the top of one large formation while trying to follow an elusive trail. After descending at the other end, it took awhile to meet up with Larry again. He had been recording this geological history of the Earth as revealed in the rocks and cliffs with his camera.

While the Skywalk is worth doing because of its uniqueness, overall the Grand Canyon never ceases to amaze. It’s one of our favorite places because of the variety of scenery, changing colors throughout the day, the immensity of the canyon, and remembrances of our raft trip on the Colorado River below.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 

 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Essentials for your carryon bag

I’m ready to travel again!

And I’ve got several international trips planned during the next six months. After only domestic travel during the past year and a half, I’m trying to refresh my memory on what to pack in my carryon bag.


You see, I would never travel internationally by air without a carryon big enough to pack at least three days of necessities. The unthinkable (delayed/lost luggage) has happened more than once, and I don’t need to be hammered over the head to learn an important lesson.

On an overseas flight, there are several items that can make the journey healthier and more comfortable. While everyone has a few pet items they can’t do without, here are things I consider necessary to pack in my carryon. 

My list

Compression socks. Even if you’ve never had a problem with blood clots in your legs, long socks with mild compression will help relieve any swelling or achiness. You can find cute and crazy socks (forget blah black and brown) in varying levels of compression to fit your needs. Just catching a glance of these wardrobe necessities will cheer you up.

2.      


Disinfecting wipes and spray. You know what that’s for—spray or wipe all surfaces you’ll be touching in public transportation, and keep your hands clean throughout the journey.

      Eye mask. If you plan to catch a few winks on the flight, a darkening eye mask that fits snuggly to your face is a necessity. You can buy comfortable molded masks that fit away from your eyes so eyelashes don’t rub against it.

4.      Noise-cancelling earphones or ear plugs, if you are sensitive to surrounding noises. I usually am okay without these, but you might want to include them.

     
Slippers are handy if you want to remove your shoes on a long flight. That’s one of the first things I do, as my feet tend to swell when we get high in the air. Slippers are comfy and will keep your feet and socks clean (Who wants to walk on dirty airplane floors?)

        Hand lotion and lip balm or Vaseline will help your body stay moisturized even though airplane air is notoriously dry. If it’s scented with lavender or chamomile, you’ll enjoy the relaxing scents.

         A notebook is one of my essentials. As a travel journalist, I’m forever writing notes about what’s happening and what is in my surroundings. You’ll be amazed when you return from a trip how much you might have forgotten if not for whatever is jotted in your notebook. It’s a place to consolidate activities, descriptions, people you meet, place names, and much more.


8.      Don’t forget to bring in-flight reading material or movies that appeal to you. Yes, there will be movies, TV, and documentaries available on longer flights, and that’s another option if you don’t want to bother bringing your own. Traveling is my best time to catch up on magazines or books that I’ve put aside too long.

9.      Many airlines now have chargers, but you might also want to include an adapter in your carryon. It’s small, and you might need it if you arrive at a hotel that doesn’t’ accept or can’t charge your electronics.

10


 Of course, you’ll need your passport and any required visas handy. In addition, make copies of your passport that are stored in a different place from the actual thing. It’s also a good idea to carry an extra passport photo that could be used if you lost your passport and had to get and emergency one. Some countries may require a record of COVID vaccination or other health immunizations.

1  While most people take a change of clothes including underwear, I take at least three days worth in my carryon. Experience has shown that it can take that long for the airline to locate a lost bag and transport it to your destination. And if you are heading to a hot, sunny place, slip a tube of sunscreen in your carryon, too.

 Enough toiletries and medications for three to four days. If you have travel insurance, you may be able to replace these in a day or two, but the timing depends on how quickly your insurance company authorizes new purchases.

13.  Travel insurance information. Be sure you can access the name of the company, number of your policy, and a phone number to call if you are unlucky enough to experience missed flights or lost luggage before arriving at your destination.


  As long as airlines require passengers to wear face masks in terminals and on planes, be prepared. Take more than one in case the mask gets dirty or lost.

   Images from free sources

Saturday, July 17, 2021

A quick primer on U.S. National Parks

As frequents visitors to and avid supporters of our national parks we contribute to several organizations whose missions involve improving the park system as well as individual parks in the U.S. In recent years funds have been cut which means staffs are smaller and maintenance issues must often wait for years.

Jackson Lake at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming

But U.S. National Parks have become even more necessary and more visited in 2021 as families re-emerge into tourist mode. National parks are seeing an influx of people arriving this summer, which has resulted they saying that we are “loving the parks to death.” The resulting creation of a reservation system has provided an additional layer of protection in some of the most popular parks.

Having enjoyed these parks without such restrictions, I wanted to understand how the parks came to be and how future parks might be created.

History of the National Park System

In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, and for the first time, the federal government set aside parkland for preservation and public use. Protecting Yosemite Valley paved the way for the creation of all our national parks.

Old Faithful in Yellowstone NP

The movement then took off with establishment of  Yellowstone National Park, the first national park, which was established by an act of Congress in 1872 "for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” You’ll see that phrase carved in Roosevelt Arch at Yellowstone. The park was placed under control of the Secretary of the Interior.

And in 1890, largely due to community activism, the Yosemite Valley was officially protected as Yosemite National Park. Amazingly, these acts began a worldwide national park movement. Today more than 100 nations have established 1200 national parks or equivalent preserved.

Half Dome at night in Yosemite NP

By 1916, Congress had designated numerous national parks and monuments, many of them carved from the federal lands of the West. The Department of the Interior was managing a large portfolio of protected landscapes across the country but had no official or unified leadership. Other natural and historical sites were still managed by the War Department and the Forest Service.

President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service, which would have the responsibility to protect the 35 parks and monuments then managed by the Interior Department as well as any yet to be established. The National Park Service was given the charge to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life" in these special places.

 

In 1933, by Executive Order, 56 sites were transferred from the Forest Service and the War Department to the National Park Service, expanding the park system in recognition of the historical, scenic, and scientific significance of these areas, deserving of special protection.

Rafting on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon NP

Additions to the National Park System are now generally made through acts of Congress, and national parks can be created only through such acts. But any president has authority, under the Antiquities Act of 1906, to proclaim national monuments on lands already under federal jurisdiction. 
Moose and bears are among the wildlife you can see in 
Glacier National Park

The National Park Service still strives to meet its original goals, while filling many other roles as well: guardian of our diverse cultural and recreational resources; environmental advocate; partner in community revitalization, world leader in the parks and preservation community; and pioneer in the drive to protect America's open space.

Mission Concepcion in San Antonio, Texas is one of 
 the National Park Service historic sites.

 America’s National Park System is huge—including more than 400 sites and spanning 85 million acres across 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands. Today more than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for the parks and work with communities to increase recreational opportunities.

Looking into the crater at Volcanic NP in Hawaii

Parts of this article were reprinted from National Park Foundation site, donorservices@nationalparks.org and Quick History of the National Park Service (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier