Discovering the Joy of Travel

I’ve recently been wondering as to whether people who love to travel are born with the “travelling gene” or if instead, they acquire a taste for it. In a way it might be similar to how some develop a taste for wine or classical music. You might recall how much you enjoyed your first sip of Zinfandel and have now expanded to explore other varietals. Perhaps you started with Beethoven’s classic “Ode to Joy” and have developed an appreciation for Wagner’s darker moods. Travel is similar and that desire to see more of the world is likely to grow from your first trip to the grand theme parks in Orlando, Florida. In my early travel career I visited Orlando on an annual basis.Image result for orlando skyline But my journey towards travel goes farther back. I believe that my love of travel began in elementary school.  Love might actually be a word too strong for that tender age, but it was definitely a crush. At 7 or 8 years of age I was the star of a school play that featured the lead character (me) as someone who travelled the world.  According to my mother I “wore a navy blue dress with beautiful small white striping all over”. I carried a small suitcase as I met other children in other nations as portrayed by fellow students in regional costumes. At one point in the performance I was on stage solo, likely for the finale. I sang Disney’s classic “It’s a small World after all!” to tons of applause (also according to my proud mother). The experience allowed me the simulation and thrill of travel without leaving the Bronx. It was a good indicator of what my future would hold. Living in the city is likely where I also learned tolerance and appreciation for other cultures and different foods. My first journeys started with my family travelling from New York City to Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, where the biggest attraction was and still is the Zane Grey House. Zane Grey was a dentist but better known as a prolific writer specializing in the Western genre. His former home is set along the Delaware River and functioned as a private bed and breakfast before the National Park Service acquired it. It currently operates as a museum.Image result for zane grey house However, that wasn’t what brought us up to the idyllic little town. My Grandfather travelled from Manhattan to buy his meat from the Lackawaxen butcher, because, in his words, it was better. He also stopped to fill multiple empty bottles with the fresh water that flowed from a spring on the Hawk’s Nest highway that runs along the Delaware River. The long car ride from the city was boring but what I hated most was crossing a single lane rickety wooden bridge. It caused such panic that my grandfather insisted I put my head down in my lap as if not seeing the actual bridge would assuage my fears. In later years I learned the bridge that I feared was designed and built by John Roebling. Mr. Roebling is considered the “father of the modern suspension bridge” and is also the designer of the iconic Brooklyn Bridge.  I was leery of both the sturdiness of the structure and potential oncoming traffic as the bridge was built with a single lane and drivers waited to take their turn crossing. Given Mr. Roebling’s experience and the patience of the locals, both were needless worries.

Long before Mickey Mouse set down roots in Orlando, Florida, Disneyland in Orange County California was the penultimate family trip and travel wish for every child. I was very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to attend a regional school competition for students excelling in the field of retailing. The winner would progress to the next level of competition in Anaheim California. I was successful in the visual display category, what you might call “window dressing” and in a prescient peek into the future, won with a travel themed display. It was then that I visited my first travel agency to request travel brochures for my entry project. I also visited a luggage store where the Manager was kind enough to lend me a few suitcases to promote my theme. To my surprise, I won first place elevating me to the next level of competition and was soon singing “California here I come” courtesy of DECA, Distributive Education Clubs of America. According to their website DECA “is a student-centered organization whose program of leadership and personal development is designed specifically for students enrolled in marketing education classes.” It wasn’t my first plane ride but it was the longest. Our group arrived from all 50 states and we were given the special treat of a reserved private visit to Disneyland.Image result for disneyland The only way to top that would have been to win first place and move on to the international competition. But a second win for me was not in the cards. The park and freedom from parental guidance were both a distraction from the task at hand and I returned home without so much as an honorable mention. Did I lose? Yes, at that competition. However, I came home a winner having discovered the joy of travel.

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Travel Agents in this Era, 2018

A new year can be a time for change, reflection and improvement. A desire to improve my writing skills prompted me to review previously published articles to learn how I might enhance future articles. While scanning, I found this piece originally titled “Travel Agents in this Era”, written and published in February 2013. Several thoughts immediately crossed my mind; the first, “good gravy, have  I really been writing this column for 4 years?” The second, “where did the time go!?!” The third thought was that this particular topic of Travel Agent use was still very relevant. Four years later, potential clients still call the agency seeking help arranging trips and the first question is often a sheepish “are people still  using Travel Agents?” The answer remains a resounding “Yes, absolutely!” The number of bookings that we’re processing at the agency has surpassed the best year we previously enjoyed in 2001. That was prior to the tragic events of September 11 when travel came to an abrupt stop and the general population’s eventual discovery of Expedia. As a reminder, Expedia is also a Travel Agency, minus the local office. In comparing notes with other Travel Agents in the surrounding areas, they too, report that their 2017 booking numbers were up, way up and 2018 is starting strong. That’s good news for the economy, good news for us in the travel industry and even better news for you.Image result for increase There are many options available to help you with your vacation planning.  Some things have changed over the last 4 years. Bookings for river cruises have definitely increased and Destination Weddings have continued to experience a surge in popularity. I hope you enjoy this encore article and that a wonderful year filled with new adventures awaits you.

Someone recently asked me if I and my kind are extinct.  By “my kind” they were referring to Travel Agents. Well, honestly I don’t know. How does extinct feel? I assume the user was referring to the competition from online booking websites that today’s traditional Travel Agent has to take into consideration. However, unless you’re booking directly with an airline, then chances are, you are booking with a Travel Agent. They just happen to be an Online Travel Agency, also known as OTAs, without an office for you to visit and without brochures for you to thumb through.  Travel Agents have evolved and adapted to new channels of retail distribution. Most have web sites, Many are engaged in Social Media. But if you really want to be social you can stop in and meet us face to face. Planning travel is fun. Sharing that excitement with someone who plans travel professionally adds to the excitement and definitely adds a different dimension to the conversation. Some of us have traditional offices while some of us have decided that we wanted the more personal environment of inviting you into our home offices.  Unlike the average consumer, we in the industry eat, drink and breathe travel on a daily business while the average traveler increases their immersion usually only when preparing for a trip. Our idea of after work fun is meeting with the representative of a large cruise line to hear about their latest ship board products and promotions or new itineraries. I can almost hear you saying “boy, those Travel Agents really know how to party!”. Most Travel Agencies in Dutchess County have annual sales that would make other retail establishments envious. Yes, we talk about it and no, I don’t believe that we are falsely inflating our numbers in an attempt to flex our muscles at each other. We even consult with each other for special recommendations that we can trust and find that our working relationships are improved because of our interaction. It’s not unusual for a local Travel Agency to call me for a suggestion on Costa Rica because I’ve been there and they might not yet have had the chance. They will reciprocate when I want a professional suggestion for a client who plans on visiting a locale that hasn’t yet made it on to my itinerary. Let’s be real, if I simply travelled all the time, I would never be in my office to help others book their trips.Image result for travel agents

 

What exactly does a Travel Agent do? They stay current on developing trends and emerging destinations. They go from hotel to hotel in order to compare features and determine which would be best for their clients. Travel Agents also read trade papers and study and regularly attend travel conferences and product seminars on site to be able to say that they’ve been there and done that. Does it cost more to book through a traditional Travel Agent? That’s a question with several answers. I can attest that we are all price conscious. We want our clients to get the best value for their dollar. It is true that sometimes Online Travel Agencies will trade advertising space for a much better product rate than available on the open market. However, you also trade selection to a limited inventory in return for that better price. I know because I’ve tried to recreate some of my own journeys on line and in many cases, couldn’t.

 

How do you find a “good” Travel Agent? Well, you can start by asking your friends for a good recommendation. You can check with organizations such as ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents) who have strict guidelines of standards that Agencies must meet in order to be considered a member. Locally, there’s a group called Hudson Valley Travel Professionals of which I am also a member. This is a group of competing Travel Agencies who meet regularly, not to check out the competition, but to discuss emerging trends in travel, business challenges and how to be better at our trade. Along the way, we became friends and sometimes even travel together.  Many of us have taken our special interests and developed them into specialties. My agency, Embassy Travel, specializes in Vacations and Honeymoons.  I, personally, have an affinity for travel that allows viewing animals in their natural habitat.  Speaking of viewing animals in their natural habitat, I invite you into my office or into the offices of any Dutchess County Travel Agent. Come see what we can do to make your next trip even better.  I’m sure that you’ll find that we “dinosaurs” are far from extinct and as a matter of fact, plan on being around until the next era.Image result for exotic animals

New Year, New Ideas

When I first decided to write a “Resolutions” column for the New Year I hopped on line to see if a similar article had been previously published. Dozens of pieces populated my screen indicating that the time worn idea might have or should have run its course. Still, the theme is appropriate. However, what I gleaned from my research is that all of the articles are self-centric. Each piece reflected the authors’ own goals for themselves. I’m feeling a bit brazen and have decided to craft resolutions for everyone else, whether or not anyone requested that I do so.  Here, I boldly offer my suggestions for truly making changes in your travel life.Image result for new year's resolutions

Baggage – a classic double entendre. For purpose of clarification, I am referring to luggage and not your personal misgivings about an ‘interesting” past.  Travel is as trendy as fashion in clothing. Remember saddle shoes and poodle skirts from the 50’s and bell bottom pants from the 60’s? If you’re still wearing the big shoulder pads from the 80’s you’re probably still carrying your baggage when you travel. I’ll jump past the early 2000’s with the pull behind you Roll-a-boards and suggest you consider investing in the latest in travel trends; luggage with spinning wheels. The Spinners will make the porter-less trip through the airport a breeze as your 360 degree turning wheels allow you to glide effortlessly to your departure gate. Image result for rolling luggage in airport

If you’re ready to live life on the edge, how about going cold turkey? I’m suggesting ditching the check in lines and going straight hard-line carry on. You’d be surprised with how far a little bit will take you. The most experienced travelers have baggage down to an art form. Poetry in packing. No lost luggage and no waiting at the carousels watching everyone else’s prized possessions spinning around and around.

Take the Path Less Travelled – Once you’ve upgraded your luggage you might consider downgrading your vacation. Perhaps it’s time to experience something other than a mega cruise ship or an all-inclusive resort. My next suggestion to travelers everywhere is to STOP doing what everybody else is doing. Dare to be different. The most requested vacation these days is often aboard a 5000 passenger cruise ship with all the bells and whistles that include rock climbing walls and Ice Bars. I’ll assume that everyone is now familiar with rock climbing walls and no explanation is needed. The Ice Bar is a newer and unique concept where you pay to go to a warm weather destination and then don a faux fur coat to drink cold alcoholic beverages in a room chilled to 32 degrees. The irony doesn’t escape me, nor hopefully you.Image result for ice bar The second most requested vacation is an all-inclusive resort. This is a land based vacation where your accommodations and all of your entertainment, meals and beverages are part of your package cost. The services are provided by, and experienced at, the host hotel.  I too would admit to enjoying all-inclusive resorts. They’re easy. You can continuously indulge in food, drink and activities without the worry of a post vacation bill coming due. In return for that bounty you trade the opportunity to meet the locals. You deny yourself the opportunity to find a gem of an authentic restaurant with truly incredible food. Sure, you are welcome to leave the resort for a day to seek off site experiences, but most don’t. That’s a shame because you never get to know the soul of a destination.

“Exploration is Really the Essence of the Human Spirit” – Not everyone has the opportunity to go to the moon like Frank Borman, the author of this quote. Astronaut Borman was the Commander of Apollo 8 on the first mission to fly around the moon. He was willing to take himself out of his comfort zone to seek a new horizon and have an out of this world experience. He literally changed his perspective on his daily life and how he viewed “home”. I suggest you do the same. Take yourself out of your comfort zone, make yourself nervous, challenge yourself and take the path less travelled. Really! The numbers are climbing for the amount of travelers who strike out solo. If the thought of wandering the back roads of Portugal searching for wineries on your own makes you really uncomfortable ask a friend to join you. What’s that? You say that you have no friends willing to accompany you? Join a tour. Today’s tours come in many different flavors and vary in flexibility. The latest trend in travel allows you to join like-minded travelers without having to share a room with someone you met 3 hours earlier. Travel experiences can be crafted to allow you the comfort and companionship of travelling as part of a small group for just a portion of your journey. You then have the opportunity to venture solo for a bit and either rejoin your tour in progress or become a member of a different tour. The options are almost limitless. You are bound only by your imagination and okay, perhaps your wallet. Wishing you a new year filled with marvelous journies.                      “Where ever you go, go with all your heart.”- Confucius