travel: prague, vienna & budapest today!

well, today is the day!  my flight departs at 4pm to take me into prague via amsterdam.
and man, i am EXCITED.
i have the pleasure of visiting 3 of the most beautiful cities in eastern europe and its all because of the fabulous folks at contiki.  so my huge thanks to them for hosting me!

prague is a city i have always wanted to see… vienna is a city my mother mentions over and over as being her favourite in europe… and budapest is a jewel i never dared to dream i might be able to cross off my travel list.
so this is not an opportunity i am taking for granted.

but as i’ve mentioned, it will be a whirlwind tour.
2 nights in each city will pass in the blink of an eye… and less than 7 days after departing, i’ll be back in vancouver.
and then i get to chill out on the flying front for a bit.
well… i’m off to hawaii on nov 17th.  but thats like a month away.
*then* no more travel until at least march.  maybe may.
but who has time to think about the future when tomorrow i’ll be looking at this:

to be honest, i haven’t done any research.  i’m basically going into all this blind.
i know that i’ll get the major highlights with contiki and then there’s a little free time in the afternoons and i figure i’ll just kinda wing it.  see what catches my fancy, wander around and take pictures… and just go with the flow.
i won’t really have enough time to really do anything big and i’m sure i’ll make friends with some of my tour mates, some who may have been to these places before, so i’m open to suggestions.
or you know, naps, lol.

anyways.  i haven’t packed, i’m still doing laundry from italy, and i guess i should check the weather forecasts to see what kind of clothes i need… so i literally *am* winging it this trip, lol.
i love this whole guided tour thing, its really allowing me to relax and not be that anal uber planner for all my trips.  its wonderful really to give up the control to a pro and just sit back and show up.  and for anyone thats ever been on a vacation with me, they know that i’m not good at giving up the planning control.
but now that i have, its so freeing.  i should have done this years ago!

okay. time to sort myself here and do the packing.

i believe our hotels will have wi-fi, so please follow me on instagram (vancityrockgirl) for pictures and also on facebook – EatDrinkFlydotcom where i’ll put some pics and updates for you.


smart travel tips

the number one thing that smart travelers do: they get travel insurance.

every day at my job i hear stories and see the proof of its importance and value.
when something goes wrong, its my first question.  did you take the travel insurance?
if the answer is yes, then my job just became a lot easier because i can say with confidence, “don’t worry, we’ll figure it out”…
but when the answer is no, thats when you get the deep sigh and the “okay let me see what i can do for you” answer.

obviously i don’t need to sell the virtues of medical coverage to most people… it pretty much sells itself.
outside of BC we have very limited medical coverage and outside of canada, pretty much none.
and i don’t think i have to give you scary stats about the average hospital prices in the USA to prove my point.
we all know… american hospital visits will cost you money and could even bankrupt you.

full travel medical coverage is a couple bucks a day.
which is insanely cheap for the potential return.
to me this is the biggest no-brainer.  you’re just outright stupid if you travel to the USA with no medical coverage.

cancellation and interruption is the other insurance that i buy for every trip i go on.
why?  because i know how much a one way last minute flight home costs.
and yes, while i’m convinced i’m going on holidays come hell or high water… what if something happened at home while i was gone?
my “worst case scenario” is my grandmother… she’s 83 this year.  healthy… but 83.  if something was to happen to her health, i would immediately rush home regardless of where on the planet i was.
my travel insurance makes sure i could do that at NO COST TO ME.
the reality of this is that in a crisis situation, i don’t have to hunt for the cheapest way to make it happen and waste valuable time… i can just go to the airport and get on the first plane with a seat for me and be confident that it’ll be paid for.
that assurance to me is worth every penny i spend on travel insurance.

as well, it means that if i have to fly home and i’m… say… halfway through my italy tour, i can claim back for my unused days.  my investment is completely protected.

because i travel often, and yes, even dipping down over the border for groceries counts as travel… i buy an annual package.  i pay a little over $200 and for an entire year i am fully protected for trips up to 16 days in length.
this year, that covered me for 2 trips to vegas, hawaii, seattle twice, numerous bellingham visits and most of my italy trip.
since my italy trip runs a little long, i just purchased top-up days to make sure my whole vacation is covered.

the annual package means that i don’t have to worry about my travel at all.
i can fly to vegas last minute for a weekend away… i can go shopping in bellingham and not have to worry about food poisoning or car accidents… and i can fly to the other side of the globe and not have to think twice about my worst case scenario.

sure, i may never have to make a claim… but if something goes wrong… i know i have options.

my annual package covers my medical, cancellation & interruption and my baggage and personal effects.
so if the airline loses or delays my bag, i can go buy new stuff… in addition to whatever paltry amount the airline offers…. if my hotel room is broken into or someone swipes my camera from a restaurant… i’m covered.

essentially it takes a whole mess of the STRESS out of a holiday.
and thats what you’re paying for; having a 24 hour support line in case there’s a huge car accident and traffic is shut and you miss your plane… or if you’re in europe and a volcano erupts and grounds planes for 4 days (remember that?  that was fun for me – not.)

anyways, as a travel agent i could tell you a million horror stories about what can go wrong… but i can also tell you a whole bunch of stories of people who had proper travel insurance and their horror was significantly decreased because of it.

my last word to the wise… don’t rely on “i have coverage through my work/credit card…”ect.
most people grossly overestimate what coverage they have.
work coverage is usually only limited medical coverage at best… and nothing for cancellation & interruption… and about 90% of credit cards are the same.
for many credit cards, if you’re opting to not pay the annual fee, you’ve also opted out of travel insurance.
read your fine print, know what you have and what you don’t have… and buy the rest from your travel agent.
trust me, we’re here to make sure that you’re protected.

the WORST things ever for me is when i get a call from someone in destination and there’s an emergency and i can’t help because they didn’t take the travel insurance.
i have had to tell people it’ll cost them thousands of dollars to get home because of unexpected circumstances on a package they only spent $900 on… all because they decided to save that extra $75 on an insurance policy that i offered them.
those days suck for me and they certainly suck for my client.  so don’t let that be you… plan ahead.

travel: always be prepared

well team, i’m off today for 15 glorious nights in hawaii.  so i’m just working on all that last minute stuff… you know, laundry, packing… blogging?  sure.

it occurred to me a couple weeks ago that i am in need of new luggage.  i’ve never actually owned a proper luggage set, just random suitcases that i’ve acquired as the need for them has come up.  i have no proper carry-on size suitcase… i’ve always just used backpacks… fine for the random things to carry when you’ve checked a bag, but not so great for those weekend trips where you really could just get away with that little bag.
also, my mid-size suitcase is starting to not zip so well… and my larger one is so giant that filling it means that my bag is always overweight.

so yes, it was time.
i’ve been on the hunt for a while… hard case or soft case?  this was the dilemma.  hard cases are lighter, but are they more durable?  i just wasn’t sure… but then i thought about it, and really, it’s not like i’m going to have this suitcase for the rest of my life.  i’ll use it for 5 years or so and then it’ll give up the ghost because i just travel so damn much.
really, my main priority was getting a bag with the 360 spinning wheels.  if you’ve never owned a bag with this, you’re doing yourself a disservice.  they’re so far superior, it’s actually not even fair.

so, after a lot of shopping around, price hunting and quality control, i am now the proud owner of an actual brand new, high quality set of matching luggage.

and i’m pretty stoked on it. they’re totally awesome.

i’m using the small one for my carry-on bag and the medium size one for my checked luggage.  but the big daddy is sitting this trip out.  he’s for my big trip to europe in september/october.

i went with heys, and yes, i did go for the hard shell.  they’re customizable with these cool dot stickers, but i’m not sure if i’m going to use them or not.  i might just throw on one or two so that i can be sure its mine.
but, i’m pretty happy.

now that i have the luggage, i’m on to the actual packing part.  the good news is that for 12 or my 15 nights, i’m in a condo with laundry, so i don’t need to pack everything i own for this trip.  also, it’s hawaii.  i really just need bathing suits & dresses.
buuuuut… packing is not really my strong suit.  i’m forever jamming my suitcases full of stuff i don’t wear at home, let alone on vacation.  and i usually come back with a lot of things that never saw the light of day.  so, i’m trying to do better with that.

the one thing i am really good at is the paperwork.  i mean, as a travel agent, i should be, but it’s definitely where my organization soars.  i have files and folders of things that i may or may not need.  this trip includes: plane tickets, hotel confirmations, spa confirmations & gift certificates, restaurant, luau & tour confs, more plane tickets, condo info & maps and various “facts & must-do’s” for maui.

but overall, i have very little planned.  it’s hawaii.  just being there is the plan.
tomorrow i have a massage, facial & body scrub at the spa at the hilton.  dec 23rd we have a luau booked… and dec 26th is my organic farm tour.  that’s it.
(unless you count dec 29th where i cry and hang on to a palm tree as my family tries to drag me home.  but that’s more of a tentative plan)

the other things to be penciled in are: molokini snorkeling trip, maybe the road to hana… ummm… maybe the sunrise over the haleakala crater?  because, i mean… come on! look at this!

ya, that’s pretty much the reason i’m packing my tripod.

alright, and speaking of packing, i best get on it.  the flight leaves at 2:30pm and i tried to check in online, but have already been flagged for “additional random checks” (hooray) so we’ll be getting there extra early.

i may or may not be blogging from destination… i have internet access, i just might not care to be on it that much, lol.  merry xmas & junk!