How we plan our travel

Travelling concept.Two men choosing place of vacation, exploring compromise on map, taking notes in notebookLately I have been doing a lot of planning for our upcoming trips. We are currently snowed in so that gives me time to catch up on a lot of things. Since I have been doing this I thought I would give you a little insight into how I plan travel.

First we decide where we want to go. Often this is spur of the moment. In the case of booking our next trip, our cruise on Celebrity’s Reflection to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, we decided to do this trip almost three years ago when we were onboard Celebrity Solstice sailing to Alaska with our Martini Mates. We booked it because we wanted to go to New Orleans (one of the few US cities on our list that we haven’t been to yet) and going during Mardi Gras is a big bonus. So we started planning this that long ago.

When we first book a cruise or decide we are going to go someplace, I make a list of everything I need to do for that trip. I will usually do this in my packing program (Packing Pro)  that has a place for tasks as well as packing lists. This includes booking the cruise and flights to get there. Then I get on my Mac and go the King County Library website and search for all the travel guides they have about that place. I place them on hold and they ship them to my local library.

Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 4.20.52 PMWhen I tell people I do this, they ask why don’t I just buy the books in paperback or Kindle editions? Because nothing gets out of date like a travel book. That’s why people like Rick Steves and Fodors, Blue Planet, Top Ten and Frommers do a new/update about most places every year. Hotels, restaurants, tour companies all open and close so why should I spend money to buy them when our library does a great job of keeping up. I have about six books on the Galapagos, Portugal, Budapest, Vienna and Prague in the house right now and all of them are 2018 and 2019 editions. If I like one a bunch and want to refer to it again and again, then I will buy it. Usually the Kindle edition because then I can have it on my phone when we are traveling.

About this time is when I do my preliminary research. I am looking for the best part of town to book pre and post cruise hotels (or in the case of a land trip, just hotels) as well as trying to find out if we want to rent a car or rely on public transportation and if we need restaurant reservations to get into the places we would love. I will usually get books from the aforementioned Rick Steves (great for restaurants and tours but he and I never agree about hotels), Frommers, Fodor, Lonely Planet, Top Ten and Eyewitness.

I won’t read every page in the books but I will peruse all of them to see what they mention as top destinations, lodging and restaurants. If a few mention the same places as being great, they usually are. At that point if I am going to do hotels, I then check with friends who I know have traveled to that place. My first stop is ALWAYS the website of our good friend Mike Preisman. Mike not only picks great places, he does a great job of giving you his opinion of them and has really great photos of them as well. I know from experience if Mike liked a hotel, I am going to like it and it will be a good value. And I can be sure his photos will show me what a hotel room really looks like.

After checking with friends, it’s time to book hotels or, in some places, AirBnBs. Before I do that, I will have looked at every actual hotel website as well. Then I have my travel agent do the booking 😜 (that would be me).

11 months before we travel (especially true for international travel) I start looking for airfare. We have been very lucky in that up to this point when we travel internationally we have been able to use miles/points to buy all our tickets since our first two trips. Getting those can be a challenge because there is less and less availability than there used to be. More people with more miles competing for the same seats. That means I start as early as I can. We are going to Europe for a river cruise in December and the hunt for air will start in early February. In case you don’t know this, 11 months is usually the earliest you can book a flight.

Another thing we have to decide before we book a flight is where do we want to go before we go where we want to go. I really did mean to type that. Many times we are taking a cruise but we may want to go someplace else first. For instance, last summer we were taking a cruise from Dublin to Iceland and back. But it was just an 11 day cruise and Europe is way too far to go and use our valuable miles to just take an 11 or 12 day vacation. Plus since we are semi-retired we can spend more time away from home. So as we planned this trip, we decided that instead of flying directly to Dublin, we would fly to Edinburgh, spend four days and then a train to York and six days with our Leeds buddies before we flew to Dublin for the cruise. We have to decide all that before we book air. Lots of research.

Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 3.58.18 PMOnce the cruise is booked (if this trip involves a cruise) and the airfare purchased and hotels reserved, I start with the sites we want to see. We do a lot of research on those as well using notes I made from the books (Kathleen and I share notes on our Apple devices about our trips), websites (especially Mike’s)  and other recommendations on what to see. Then I create a Google map. I have done one for every major trip we have taken. I put our lodging on the map first and then all the places we want to see while there. I use a different layer for every city on the same trip. So for instance on our Mardi Gras trip we are going to Sarasota and Boynton Beach pre-cruise and then New Orleans, Costa Maya and Cozumel. So each of those places has its own layer with all the places we want to see. To get an idea of this, you can click here to see this one.

Once we have seen where everything is, we start planning our day…or I do. Kathleen seems to like where I decide to go and she does contribute places she wants to see if I have missed them.

IMG_2284All the way through this process I have been adding these to my TripCase app on my phone. You can find the one by clicking here. It keeps track of everything I book. Some of it automatically. For instance, when I buy my air, I just send the confirmation e-mail to TripCase and the schedule is automatically added. It places everything in one place for that trip and,  when we are traveling, everything is in once place and as long as I have synched it while we have internet access, I don’t need to have access again to get to all my info. One of my favorite Canadian readers told me about it and I can’t thank her enough. It has been awesome.

All this time, if we are going on a cruise, we are posting on the Cruise Critic Roll Call for the cruise trading info and getting suggestions about things to see and do and having people ask if we want to share tours and day trips.

At this point, we are just about ready to go. The only other thing I sometimes do (if we will be doing any driving) is stop by AAA and grab some actual paper maps (yes, I still use those—it gives me a better overview) of where we will be driving as well as put all the places we want to drive through into our Garmin GPS (yes, I still have one of those because I like it better than my phone).

I welcome your comments or questions on this process. I should add that we have lots of friends and relatives who travel with us who rely on us to plan the trips and we are happy to do so. The fact that I love doing this is one of the reasons I love being a travel agent. And I love planning travel for anyone and everyone.

My father’s plan was, we were going to grow up and travel the world.
—Philippe Cousteau, Jr.

Coming soon…in 2020. A HUGE year!

Happy New Year!

Just want to say that I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions. What I do believe in is New Year’s goal setting. So I have been doing mine this past week and things are looking good. Of course like everyone else I know—I would love to lose weight. And I have a continuing goal of learning new things. I want to be a better photographer, a better cook and to get better with technology. And I have to find a way to deal with logins and passwords 😜. They are my nemesis.

But the one goal both Kathleen and I have this  year is to TRAVEL! To lots of places. If you have been following this blog during 2019 you will know that we lost two of our beloved Martini Mates. After losing Carol and Sandra, Kathleen and I decided that we should not put off some of the travel we kept saying we would do…someday. So far this year we have the following planned:

New Orleans collageLate February/Early March—Sarasota, Florida and a Celebrity cruise to New Orleans for Mardi Gras

One of the few major cities we have not been to in the US is New Orleans. We were looking for a way to go there and spend a few days and see the city. When we heard about this cruise we thought, what a great way to see it. Then we heard that it was going during Mardi Gras. After our experience going to Edinburgh during the Fringe and Military Tattoo we thought AWESOME!

Just so you don’t think that we are nuts to go to New Orleans on a cruise ship, we are there for almost three full days, docked right downtown just blocks from the Mardi Gras parades. And yes, we fully realize that there will be crazy crowds and it will make it hard to get into restaurants but anytime we want to, we can head back to the ship and get away from it all. Besides New Orleans and Mardi Gras we also get two other ports, a cruise and we are going with a bunch of friends.

Pre-cruise we are going to Sarasota, Florida with our buddies Bob and Judy. The cruise is only 11 nights so we could not see just flying all the way to Florida for just those 12 days. Since we had been to the Keys a few years back pre-cruise we were looking for someplace else to explore. About five years ago I spent three days in Sarasota teaching a workshop and I was really impressed so we decided to go there first, then rent a car and drive down to the Fort Lauderdale area the day before the cruise. We will stay with our awesome buddy Mike pre-cruise and then he is coming with us on the cruise as well.

Holland America cruise ship Koningsdam in HelsinkiLate April—Pacific Coastal cruise from San Diego to Vancouver, BC on Holland America’s Koningsdam

You may remember that our good friend Seth Wayne (the guy who I did all the radio shows with). Well, he has left KOMO television and radio and taken a position with Holland America Cruises as their new Director of Communications/Brand Ambassador. In that new job he will be doing a lot cruising and this is one of the ones he will be on so we thought, why not run down to Southern California, see my brother and his wonderful bride (who is now RETIRED) and then sail to Vancouver and take the train home from there.

Besides the fact that we will be onboard with Seth, this will be a learning cruise for us as Koningsdam is an entirely new class of ships that we have never been on so we will love that part. It’s only a four night cruise but it should be a lot of fun. And I forgot to tell you all the exciting new ports we will visit between San Diego and Vancouver, BC. That’s because there aren’t any. On those four nights, we only stop once—in Seattle. LOL

The Galapagos Islands letter conceptLate July/Early August—Quito, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands

10B_ZODIAC-OPEN-WATER_4948_v4This is the BIG trip of 2020! We are flying down to Southern Cal again to see my brother and his bride for a few days before we fly Copa Air through Panama City to Quito. We are there for two nights before we fly out to the Galapagos Islands and board Celebrity’s tiny (only 100 passengers) ship, Flora. On Flora we will sail around the islands for seven full days, only getting off on Zodiacs with naturalists as our guides. I have started following Marvi Cordova on Instagram. She works on board Flora and take the MOST AMAZING PHOTOS of the ship and of the wildlife on the islands. If you want to see what we will be seeing and what I will be posting to this blog, check out her gorgeous photos.

EclipseLate September—Pacific Coastal cruise on Celebrity Eclipse with Bob and Judy

We are always looking for a chance to get away and a chance to get on a cruise ship. When it leaves from Vancouver or Seattle, that is really a big plus because we don’t have to fly anywhere. And we are always looking for a reason to sail with Bob and Judy. This five night cruise does stop in a few places—like Astoria, Oregon, Seattle and Victoria. But since we don’t have to fly at all, this one will give Bob and I a chance to get our tuxedos out of mothballs and formal around a little bit. We like that kind of thing. 😀

Early December—Our first river cruise on Viking to see the European Christmas Markets

This is one we have been planning for quite awhile. You have to if you want to sail with Viking because they do sell out quickly and early. We are going with our traveling buddies my brother Steve and his bride Jamie. Jamie’s brother and sister-in-law are also coming along.

We start with three nights before the cruise in Prague, then we join the boat (and it is a boat because it is small enough to go ON a ship) in Nuremberg, Germany where we will visit our first Christmas Market, the oldest of them all. Then it’s on to Regenburg and Passau Germany, Krems and Vienna Austria and finally we finish in Budapest, Hungary. We spend two nights after the cruise in Budapest and then we are deciding where to go next because we will NOT fly all the way to Europe for less than two weeks. It just isn’t worth it to us to go that far and spend that much on airfare and then stay for less than that. We are still debating between three days in Paris or three days in Lisbon.

We would love to have anyone out there who wants to, to come and join us on any of these trips. You can make your own arrangements or call your favorite travel agents (that would be us, right). We promise lots of FUN!

So that’s it! It’s quite the year and I am sure that in between these major trips we will fit a few smaller ones like a hockey excursion to Chilliwack, BC or a wine sojourn to the east side of the mountains. You know us, we hate sleeping in our own beds.

Wherever you go, go with all your heart.—Confucius

 

 

The BEST and worst of travel in our 2019

Seasons Greetings to all! I have been working on this post for a few days now and I thought I would try and get it online before the new year. I am starting the actual post  on December 22 but probably won’t finish it today as we are headed to our Christmas tradition this afternoon—Seattle Men’s Chorus. The concert isn’t until tonight but we always get a hotel room downtown, go out to dinner and then hit the show—it’s our holiday tradition. We have done this now for more than 10 years. If you live near Seattle (or even if you don’t) you should get here around Christmas to see the Chorus.

Picking this up again on December 27. Looks like I will finally get it online tomorrow, the 28th. We had a super Christmas and we hope you did as well. Spent Christmas Eve with our adult kids here at our place and Christmas Day with my daughter, son-in-law and my grandkids. First time I have spent Christmas with my daughter in 20+ years. Long story.

But enough about now, let’s look at last year. Here they are, the best and worst of our travel year in 2019.

Best of Travel-2019

  • Best dinner companions—Our grandkids, Mason and Maylee on our Alaska cruise on Ovation of the Seas. Can’t begin to tell you how great it was to introduce our grandkids to cruising. In all likelihood, they won’t go on another cruise for quite a while…unless we take them. But every night (except one) we sat next to them in the dining room and had their undivided attention and they had ours. We kid that Kathleen’s arm was bruised from Maylee poking her and saying, “Grandma K, Grandma K, Grandma K”. That’s not only funny but pretty much a true story. I loved getting Mason to try new foods like escargot. He is not the most adventurous amongst us but by the end of the week he had moved totally to the adult menu and had escargot two more times.

  • Best cruise—Reflection from Dublin to Iceland and back. We had the best time on not only this cruise but on the almost two weeks that preceded it. From our four days in Edinburgh, to our week with Paul and Gail in Yorkshire, to our 11 night cruise from Dublin to Irish ports and to incredible Iceland, it was outstanding. We were thrilled that after the disappointments of our New England cruise in October 2018, Celebrity cruises came back big time with this one on Reflection.

  • BirkirBest tour guide you can hire that we used in 2019—Birkir Mar in Reykjavik. We found Birkir on Tours By Locals. If you need a guide in Reykjavik, let me know and I will get you Birkir’s info. He was outstanding.
  • Best tour guides you can’t hire that took great care of us this year—Our long-time Martini Mates, Paul and Gail who took us everywhere in Yorkshire and the Lake District of England. We have never had so much fun and toured some many places in one short week. It was the best part of our awesome almost-a-month trip in June. We would do the whole thing again in an instant…but sorry, you can’t. They only do tours for their close, personal friends. We are so glad they are ours.

  • Most incredible child we spent time with that was not our grandchild—Paul and Gail’s granddaughter Jemimah. This girl can write stories and then act them. She can even get her grandparents to play parts in them. Quite the accomplishment for one so young. Meeting her (after hearing so much about her) was a true highlight.
  • Best storyteller—Frank (Dobby the House Elf?) at Stirling Castle in Scotland. When we were in Edinburgh we took a bus tour north to see the Kelpies and Stirling Castle where were led on the castle tour by Frank (who we think looks like Dobby the House Elf from the Harry Potter books) and it was OUTSTANDING! If you are in Edinburgh, the Kelpies and this castle are well worth the trip. But ask if you can wait to take the tour with Frank, it will be worth the wait.

  • Biggest travel surprise—how much we liked the floating behemoth, Allure of the Seas on our FAM cruise in October. We were certain we would hate the BIG ships. Just didn’t think that cruising with 5,998 other people would work out that well, but it did. Royal Caribbean has figured it out on these BIG ships. Too bad they haven’t yet on some of their others.

  • Akureyri-072Best meal on a trip—lunch at the Porch on Reflection—amazing seafood. If you sail on Celebrity’s Reflection or Silhouette, you have to try The Porch. It’s a little outdoor specialty restaurant on the side of the Lawn Deck. just to the right of the Lawn Club Grille facing forward. The seafood is amazing and you can eat as much as you want. They have a seafood tower that includes so much shellfish you won’t believe it. It’s almost worth taking a cruise just to eat there. We are going back in February and can’t wait. Of course having the gang above with us made it that much more fun.
  • Best sangria we have ever had—during lunch at the Porch on Reflection. Maybe the food wasn’t that good 😂 (it was!) and it was just the Sangria talking but this was DELICIOUS and memorable! And they just kept it coming—so BEWARE! It sneaks up on you. Can’t wait to go back and get more of this as well.
  • Best video blog about a place we were goingThe Broonford’s video blog about Edinburgh. If you go to Edinburgh without seeing Tony’s YouTube videos, you are nuts. We learned so much from him before we went and we are still watching them sometimes because Tony is just a hoot. I wish he had them for every city we want to visit.
  • Best travel experience—climbing Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh before dawn. One of the experiences I learned from Tony on The Broonford’s video blog was that a great thing to do in Edinburgh was to climb the mountain/hill known as Arthur’s Seat. Alright, at just under 900 feet, it’s really not a mountain but it does tower over downtown Edinburgh and to an average guy like me, it feels like a mountain. Hopefully you all know by now how much I love getting up before dawn (way before dawn) and going out to take photos. Especially when we are on trips. So I set a goal to climb Arthur’s Seat after hearing Tony Broonford talk about it. It was cold! It was windy! REALLY WINDY! And I had injured my knee just a few weeks before so I was wearing a brace…and shorts, but I did it! And I have some amazing pics as well. I would do it again in a minute.

  • Best cruise on a ship we hated—Ovation of the Seas to Alaska with our grandkids and their parents. Ovation just doesn’t understand Alaska yet. And they don’t understand taking 5,000 American to Alaska as opposed to sailing around in Asia with nothing but Asians on board. It’s an entirely different experience and last summer, this ship’s first in the Alaska market, they failed. Sold out, but failed. But the cruise was AWESOME for us because of the company we kept. Having the grandkids with us for an entire week was wonderful.
  • image0Best reunion—spending three days with our friend and fellow Martini Mate Mike at his place in Boynton Beach. We had not seen Mike since his wonderful bride and our dear friend (another of our Martini Mates) Carol had passed away earlier in the year. Although we have had some political differences in the past few years, we have been able to see past those and stay friends. When we decided to take the Allure cruise we e-mailed and asked if we could stay with him pre-cruise. Thankfully he said yes and we had three great days running around the Boynton Beach area with him (not to mention a bunch of great meals at some outstanding restaurants). We can’t wait to see him again when we spend one night pre-cruise with him in February and then he joins us on that cruise.

Worst of Travel-2019

  • IMG_1627Most disappointing evening: Going to a Mariner Spring Training game in March in Arizona and freezing so bad we had to leave after the third inning. I can still feel that wind blow. In Arizona! In March! Are you kidding me?
  • Biggest travel screw-up I did—booking a jeep ride in Sedona for the day after we we supposed to leave. We did get our money back but we missed the jeep ride. Then got stuck in traffic on our way to a horrid dinner. I knew being able to book the exact time we wanted to take the tour was too good to be true when I only did it online about three hours before the tour. I should have known better. I will next time. And we won’t travel again without dinner reservations. That’s about the only time we ever argue on trips—when we haven’t planned in advance. I know that some of you will think this ruins spontaneity, but we can always cancel plans if something else comes along but that night in Sedona, the restaurants were PACKED and we ended up in a place I would never have eaten in if we had planned it. (BTW: If you go to Sedona, plan a lot of extra time to drive to dinner. Around 4:00 pm, the traffic goes from bad to stopped.)
  • Getting the flu on Allure of the Seas, a cold at Paul and Gail’s and having a bad knee for all of it. After our Allure of the Seas trip, someone at our travel agency where we work remarked  that they wouldn’t cruise with us because I was always getting sick. And this year it felt like that really happened. The worst was the Allure version of the flu. At least four members of our Allure travel agent class came down with it and two had to be hospitalized. Thank goodness, that wasn’t me. It did seem like I caught everything when we traveled this year but I think that is because I am no longer spending a lot of time in schools (for my real job) and I don’t get exposed to as many germs until I travel.

Saddest experiences of 2019

  • Worst cruise ship we sailed on—Ovation of the Seas. They just don’t get it. See above under Best Cruise on a ship we hated.
  • Losing four traveling friends this year.
    • We lost two of our Martini Mates who passed way too soon. Carol and Sandra will be so missed. Our Martini Mates have been reduced by three (including our beloved Jude in 2014) in the last five years and much to our trepidation and consternation, they were all women. What’s up with that? Our travels will never be the same without these wonderful friends.
    • We also lost two of our closest friends who we had traveled many, many places with since 2016, who just stopped talking to us, blocked us on social media and cancelled future travel plans with us and we still don’t know why. We miss them but have no clue what we did to make them do that.

Try celebrating the best and not the worst. —Rob Manuel

 

One year of writing about travel

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To celebrate my one year posting anniversary, I wanted to grace you with what I believe is the best travel photo I took this year.  This shot with all the incredible light was captured in Vancouver, BC (one of our favorite cities) where we were celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. It is exactly what I took out of the camera with no post processing. 

A year ago today, December 16, 2018 I tentatively started this…blog. My first post was about how much I don’t like the word blog. A year later I still hate the word blog. It sound so blahhhhgggg. But no matter, here I am one year later. In that time there have been 116 posts which averages out to two a week. Of course, I fully realize that when traveling I often do seven in a week and when we are home I might only do one, but I hope it all evens out for you, the readers.

Writing these posts (see how I avoided the word blog there 😀) has been a great outlet for my creative side and helped me share my love for travel. It’s been a good year for us in the travel game as we got to take a bunch of trips with more planned for the future. I promise more about the past year before January 1 and then a look ahead after the first of the year. As great a travel year as 2019 has been, 2020 will be even better.

Lastly, I need to thank my friends and those who have discovered my travel passion and stuck with me. I am thrilled that so many of you have read me on a regular basis and especially to those of you who comment. I only hope to grow this number in the future, so if you know anyone who loves travel, recommend it to them if you think they would like it. (But please wait until I write about something more interesting than this anniversary post 😀.)

PS: One other thing. If you are on Instagram I would love to have you follow me at (www.instagram.com/jimbellomo13). I recently took a photo class from the great Scott Kelby and his advice was that “to get your photography noticed, you need to be on Instagram.” So after trying to avoid it for years, I am now on Instagram, posting only travel pics from my library with comments about when and where the photo was taken. So if you are on Instagram, I would love to have you follow me and to let me know so I can follow you.

How does a project get to be a year late? One day at a time. —Fred Brooks

 

A personal note—why I am so lucky

Almost forgot I wanted to write this post today. Shame on me. Originally I thought it wasn’t going to be about travel but I guess in a way, it actually is. The trip of my life. It was 22 years ago today that my travel life was born.

Today (November 24) is what we (Kathleen and I) refer to as Lucky Day. It’s the day that back in 1997 my close friend Jocelyn came to my office in downtown Leavenworth to cheer me up. I was in the middle of a divorce that I was not sure I wanted. Jocelyn (who always speaks the truth—the most truthful person I know) told me to get over it. To move on! She said that I should look at a new website she had found called Northwest Personals. This was before Match.com or pretty much any other dating site. Jocelyn had the weekend before met someone on the site and was going to meet him that coming weekend.

She suggested I take a look and at least see if there was someone that I could at least correspond with. So I said I would. She wanted to make sure I did so she got me logged in and looking before she left. I looked for about five minutes before I saw this listing:

Kathleen-ad

This one interested me. See the part about the Mariners. That got my attention. I was (and kind of still am) a Mariner fan. Then, much more then now. But that’s what I noticed.  As I read it, this person sounded perfect. The only problem was, this person was more than 100 miles away but I said, what the heck and decided to respond. That was the ABSOLUTE BEST DECISION I HAVE EVER MADE IN MY LIFE!

Why, because Kathleen (the love of my life, my travel companion) placed that listing. My first wife hated traveling. Kathleen and I love traveling. At that point I had been to exactly two countries—the United States and Mexico (I went while in high school to help an orphanage that my church supported). The only places in the US I had been to were for business meetings. Since that day, she and I have traveled to forty countries and 30 states together and loved pretty much every minute of it.

So you see, this really is about travel. That day I met (online) the incredible woman who would become my partner is so many things, but definitely in travel.

Travel is a lot like love.—Alain de Botton

STOP DOING THIS!

AdobeStock_242985570Just a short blurb today about a subject close to my heart.

I think I have mentioned the column written by Chris Elliott before. Chris runs a website and is an advocate for travelers. He and his people help those who have had problems or been scammed while traveling. He has helped people who have need a refund from an airline, had to bail from a bad vacation rental or had any of hundreds of other travel problems.

This morning Chris and his staff take a stand on a subject that is near and dear to my heart (being six foot two)—reclining seats in airplane economy sections. His attitude is EXACTLY the same as mine…STOP DOING THIS! Stop reclining. He makes some incredibly important points about why people should stop reclining (it isn’t because he’s tall or doesn’t like it personally) and I hope you will take a minute to read his article which you can find by clicking here.

You can’t be truly rude until you understand good manners.—Rita Mae Brown

 

Why we changed from hotels to AirBnBs

Screen Shot 2019-11-10 at 3.18.12 PMYesterday we were talking to someone about using AirBnB or just vacation rentals instead of hotels and I was telling them why we have pretty much stopped staying in hotels and just stay in vacation rentals now. 

Here’s why we have pretty much switched to AirBnB type rentals:

  • Different rising times. Most of my regular readers know that I get up early (really early—like 3:30 or 4:00 am) and Kathleen likes to sleep in (6:30 or 7:00). When we are in a hotel room, all I can do is lay there and look at the darkness but when we are in an AirBnB there is usually a living room where I can go and sit and read, work on my photos from the vacation we are on or get dressed to go workout. 
  • Check-in is usually a piece of cake. We have done 15 AirBnBs so far and have only met humans twice. Usually they will send you a key code you can use on the front door or on a lock box where the key is.
  • Check out is just as easy. You just leave the key or lock the lock and you are gone. If you are nice person, you can e-mail or text them and let them know you are out so they can send their cleaning crew.
  • You can sometimes get in early. We have had great hosts who will text us when the unit is ready. One guy in Tucson sent me a note around noon telling us that if we wanted to get in, the place was ready. I love that.
  • You can communicate entirely by e-mail or text. No phone calls which is my preference. I think I have only talked on the phone to three of the 15 hosts we have stayed with.
  • You can save some money by eating some meals in the unit because most have kitchens and dining rooms. Even if you just have breakfast (we have done that) it can save you money or be easier. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a coffee maker you have access to.
  • Most AirBnB’s have a washer and dryer which is great if you are traveling on longer trips. That means for a two week trip you only have to pack one week’s worth of clothes. When we did our New England trip last year we had been on the road for ten days before we got to our AirBnB in NYC. After four days in NYC we were going on a cruise. It was great to get on the cruise with clean clothes.
  • They are GREAT for groups. One of the best things about an AirBnB (as opposed to a hotel) is that when you are traveling with other people and you aren’t doing anything, everyone is in the same place. You have a nice living room to sit in and just talk, especially if you are coming from different places and haven’t seen each other in a while. Plus you have a fully-equipped kitchen you can do breakfast or snacks in. It’s a great way to go. We had an AirBnB in Dublin last summer that slept 8 so when my brother, his wife, their daughter, my sister-in-law’s sister and her husband and daughter joined us, we got to have this experience. It was great to have a place to just sit and talk…or play games. 

Some tips for booking an AirBnB

If you haven’t booked one yet, I will tell you some tips that Kathleen’s daughter and son-in-law (who have used it for years) told us when we started booking them and that we have learned from booking ours. These rules may not apply to all rental sites. My daughter has used VRBO, we never have. We use AirBnB pretty exclusively.

  • Always look at the photos of the unit. If there aren’t photos of most (if not all) rooms, move on.
  • Read the reviews. AirBnB will not allow owners to remove bad reviews (owners can respond to them, but not remove them). Pay special attention to mentions of cleanliness. Most people who stay in AirBnBs will write reviews. The owners will also review you when you do and you can’t see each other’s reviews until you both have submitted them. When you go to rent in the future, other owners can look at your reviews and turn you down (maybe you left a place a mess, had a big party, etc.). It’s a good system.
  • If it sleeps a bunch of people, make sure there are enough bathrooms. Some of the older homes have 4 bedrooms and one bath. Yikes. We always look for at least one bath per family. When we did Dublin we had three couples and two of them had a 20 something child with them. So we needed four bedrooms and 3 baths. 
  • Check the number of beds/bedrooms. If you have four couples in our age group, they may not be thrilled with bunk beds.😀
  • Make sure the unit is where you want to be—close to the action. When it comes to location, most will NOT tell you an exact address before you book but they will tell you a general neighborhood and show you a map with a circle that the rental will be in. That can help if you know the neighborhood. We had friends stay here in one who didn’t ask us about the neighborhood and wound up in a part of town I wouldn’t park my car overnight in. You can also look at street views on Google Earth which can give you some idea what you are getting into. If you are coming to Seattle and plan to rent one, just ask us.
  • AirBnBThe nightly rate quoted may not be the entire cost. Keep in mind that you will pay more than the nightly fee which is what they show to start. There is also a separate cleaning fee, service fee (I have no idea what this is for that isn’t cleaning, but they all charge it), Occupancy taxes and fees. Check out this example of the charges on a Seattle AirBnB.
  • The price may be different from one day to the next. One other thing to remember about the price: if you look at rental without putting dates in, you may find that when you do the price changes, sometimes dramatically. For instance, our last stay was in Walla Walla, on our wine tasting tour. We went with our neighbors in August for three days, mid-week and we rented at the last minute. The price for mid-week rentals in the heat of the summer and at the last minute was great! But in the spring or fall (peak months) and on a weekend, the price was literally double. 
  • Set up an account before you look. When you go to the site, click the sign up link and put in your info. This will really help when you want to save particular rentals and come back to them.
  • Refine your search. When you know where you want to go, search for where you want to go,  Then Click Dates, Guests, Type of Place (choose Entire Place) and go. That will show you only what you are looking for. 
  • Save your favorites. Once you have refined your search, look at each one and save it to a favorite list by clicking the heart at the top of the page. When the site asks you which list to save it to, create a new one for the next place you are going. We have lists for all the cities we have stayed in (about 15). 

Out of the 15 or so we have stayed in, we have only had one so-so experience (our first) and no bad ones. Here are photo (from their listings) of the places we have stayed. There are notes in the captions.

 

Two of my favorite things combined: travel and photography—asking for help

Screen Shot 2019-10-31 at 4.29.53 PMI fully realize that my posts are supposed to be about travel, but this one kind of is. Not my travel but the travels of some good friends of mine, Ellen and John Jarvinen. Their travel plus a HUGE project they are looking for help to make happen for this coming summer.

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Last summer John (who is an accomplished photographer and a retired teacher) and Ellen (who is also a great photographer and one of my favorite yearbook advisers) traveled to the remote Southern Pacific island of Aitutaki. Here’s what Ellen has to say about it on their GoFundMe site:

“During our month on the island, we fell in love with the people and want to do something meaningful for their children. We have the permission of Araura School’s principal to teach a digital photography course July and August 2020 as volunteers, supplying the cameras, computers, software, and peripherals needed to accomplish learning. Now we just need the equipment and to get it and ourselves there!

The photography class will include composition (rule of thirds, angle, line, framing) as well as learning to manipulate the variables (shutter speed, aperture) for effect. Students will also learn professional workflow with Adobe Photoshop to enhance their photos in terms of contrast, color, and sharpness. They will also learn to cut mats for their photos.

We also plan to teach a couple of the teachers at Araura High School so that they can continue to offer the class..”

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After hearing all about this, I really wanted to support Ellen and John in this really great endeavor and I hoped that some of you might as well. If you want to know more about what they are doing and what they want to raise money for and maybe even make a contribution, you can go to their Go Fund Me site by clicking here.

I had promised Ellen I would ask my readers for help and she dropped me a note this week to let me know that they now have 501-3c status which means that donations to their project are now tax deductible. Being a photographer and a traveler, this is my kind of project and I hope some of you will join me in supporting them.

The practice of charity will bind us – will bind all men in one great brotherhood.—Conrad Hilton

My perfect vacation

Sometimes you might wonder where I get my ideas. I am a walker. Each week I try and take at least two walks of more than six miles and while I am walking (takes me about two hours), I am thinking about what I want to write. On my last walk, this came to me. It is dedicated to all my readers who don’t or haven’t taken a cruise and don’t understand why anyone would cruise.

The Perfect Vacation Day

Imagine the following vacation day. It is my idea of a perfect vacation day. It’s not the day we fly in from somewhere, it’s just a typical day in the middle of a vacation. Maybe we are in NYC, Amsterdam or Barcelona.

Somewhere between 6:30 and 7:00 I wake up. Kathleen is still sleeping so I dress quietly in the dark and sneak out of our hotel room to go work out at the the fully-equipped gym in the hotel. Lots of bikes, weights, treadmills as well as fitness classes I could take. (I know some of my readers are thinking I am nuts, but I said this was MY perfect vacation day.) After I finish my workout I head back to our hotel room where Kathleen has risen and gotten ready for our day. I quickly do the same and we are off to breakfast.

For breakfast we have a bunch of choices. We can just go and get a latte and a piece of pastry, we can go to the hotel breakfast buffet or we can go to the hotel’s sit down restaurant and be served pretty much whatever we want. They have a fairly extensive menu. The food is good and we probably eat too much.

Then it is off to see the sites. We might walk around the city, we might take a tour—probably a food tour since we love those—or we might decide that we have had enough touring and just go and sit by the hotel pool (OK, not likely for us) or in a nice spot in the lobby area and read or I could write another post or work on processing photos from previous day tours or we could play a game with new friends we made the night before at dinner. Maybe Kathleen would head to the spa for a manicure. You never know.

If we decided to leave the hotel, around lunchtime we might find a quaint little restaurant in the town or city we are in and have lunch. We have done this many times before. We have found an awesome crêpes place in Eze, France, a wonderful Italian trattoria in Sienna, Italy and a brewery with spruce-tip beer and fantastic chili in Skagway, Alaska. But if we decided to stay at the hotel that day, we have the same choices as breakfast—the hotel buffet or a sit down restaurant. Or there is a really great burger place and maybe a few more spots to choose from. All are priced well and we eat for next to nothing.

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After lunch it’s more touring or more relaxing depending on what we decided to do. Around 4:00 pm if we are touring we decide to head back to the hotel and get ready for cocktails and dinner. Since we love to meet people, we change and head out to a hotel bar or maybe one nearby. The hotel has more than 10 different lounges and we are certain we will find something we like in one of them. When we are sipping and nibbling, we meet some folks from another state or another country. We are feeling great because we are all on vacation so we strike up a conversation. We find out about their travels and they find out about ours. We discuss their grandkids and swap photos. We talk about our kids and they tell us about theirs. We never talk politics or religion. Too dangerous.

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An hour or so later we head off to dinner. All those same options are open to us again (hotel buffet, sit down restaurant and lots of other slightly more expensive choices) and we choose the sit down restaurant. Because we have been there the night before (and maybe the night before that) the waiter knows us by name. He knows what we like to drink and it is already at the table.

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The menu is pretty good and we can have a full, three course meal. In fact if we want a four course meal or a five course meal, the waiter says he will be happy to bring us anything else on the menu we like. One night I am decadent and order both the shrimp cocktail and the escargot. We meet other people seated near us and talk and again discuss the same type of topics, sharing our lives. Over the years as we have traveled from hotel to hotel we have met lots of people this way. Many have become life-long friends. When it comes time to order the dessert, I ask the waiter if he can bring us one of every dessert on the menu and let us try everything with our new friends. He says, “Of  course sir,” and is back in a flash with something for everyone to try. He also tells us that if we like one particular dessert, he can bring us an entire one for ourselves.

Then it’s off to a show. We might see a show as good as one we have seen on Broadway, a Cirque de Soleil style performance, a jazz quartet or maybe just a comedian who cracks us up. But no matter what, the hotels lets us see these shows for free.

After the show we wander over to that lounge for a drink and to watch some of our new friends who are ballroom dancing. They finish and join us for a drink and then we all head off to our rooms in the hotel where a full turn-down service has been performed just like in any other five-star hotel. There’s a mint on our pillows and we are beat after our long but rewarding day. We are quickly asleep.

The next morning we wake up and open the drapes out to our hotel balcony and we are shocked (not really) to find that somehow our hotel has magically been transported to another of our favorite cities and we get to do the entire day all over again with new experiences and new places to see. We are a little sad because we had a few more things we wanted to do in the city we were in yesterday so we plan to come back and stay longer.

Here’s my favorite part of all this. If everything is perfect, our total cost for this vacation at this magical hotel is less than $250 day for both of us. Depending on the time of year (if we can travel off-season) it might be less. Remember I said this was my fantasy that I thought of while walking. But see, it really isn’t a fantasy. We have taken this same trip 28 times already and we plan to take it whole bunch more. This is a cruise and our hotel just happens to move most of the nights we are onboard while we are enjoying those shows and then sleeping.

That’s why we cruise. You should try it. If you are reading this, you probably already have but feel free to show this to all your friends who think you are crazy to cruise. Then tell them to join you on your next one.

I learned a long time ago that trying to micromanage the perfect vacation is always a disaster. That leads to terrible times.—Anthony Bourdain

 

On the radio…talking travel…again

IMG_2094This afternoon Kathleen and I headed into downtown Seattle to KOMO radio where we met up with our good friend and KOMO-TV weather guy and KOMO radio travel expert Seth Wayne. A year ago today we were getting off Explorer of the Seas after celebrating his 40th birthday with 61 of his closest friends (which we are proud to be part of) so it was only fitting we meet up with him today to talk travel.

Seth does a weekly travel radio show on KOMO radio that you can listen to by clicking here at 4:00 any Sunday. It is also available via Tune-In by asking Alexa to “play KOMO Radio 1000.” She will grab the show for you from Tune-In.

Seth tapes the show earlier in the week and sometimes tapes more than one to be broadcast when he is traveling. Today was a day like that. We taped two shows, one on apps for travelers and the other on general travel topics (how to pick the right cruise, travel insurance, having a passport) and we had a great time doing it.

Tentatively the apps for travel show will air this Sunday, September 22nd at 4:00 on KOMO radio and the general travel show at the same time on October 12. I would love to have you tune in for either of them. I would also love to tell you that they would both be available as podcasts but that would be wrong since the people who do the podcasts at the station are kind of slow adding the shows…like a year behind. But never fear, if you are doing something else on Sunday (like watching the end of the Seahawks game) I will endeavor to tape it and put it online for you next week.

In the meantime, I promised on the air that I would put the list of apps we talked about as well as the ones we didn’t get to on this site. So if you click here you can go to the page where those apps are listed. Some will have links that you can go right to the app when I can find them. Otherwise, just search the App Store of your favorite phone or tablet.

I like to discover new things, and I’m always testing new apps. –Francois-Henri Pinault