Saturday, October 28, 2023

Woulda Coulda Shoulda

If things had gone as planned with the 3-year cruise I signed up for in March, I would be on a flight to Istanbul CLICK HERE (ad) right now. I was one of the lucky ones, as it turns out. I cancelled my trip once I learned the management team had a falling out with the cruise line with which they had been in business. According to a recent CNN article I read, (link below), the cruise line hasn’t even completed their purchase of the ship that was to set out on November 1.

One-way flights are more expensive than round-trip tickets, but that is what I had planned to purchase. Those who decided to stick with the cruise, instead of cancelling as I did, and booked their flights will find themselves in a jam. That is, unless they purchased trip cancellation/interruption insurance. I always do so when flying. It has saved me lots in the past.

Once such case was my three-week trip to Key West, Florida CLICK HERE (ad) a few years before Covid struck. I booked my flight and paid well in advance. This way my purchase price was much lower than it would have been if I had waited. This could have been a disaster for me, as the airline decided to move my connecting flight to Key West to several hours earlier than my arrival in Atlanta. There was no way I would have been able to make the flight, as I would have been in the air.

Since my flight was cancelled by the airline, my money was refunded. However, the new flight I needed to book was at a much higher cost. Since I had purchased the right type of insurance, the company paid me the difference between my original flight and the new one I had to book. I really hope those passengers still planning on taking the Life at Sea cruise protected themselves in this way.

The other expense they may be on the hook for is their hotel reservation. I always check the cancellation policy. I had booked my room for this trip long before deciding not to go but made sure the hotel would allow me to pay when my stay was concluded, rather than in advance. There was also no penalty for cancelling the reservation up to one week in advance of the trip. Life Lesson. Never pay in advance for hotel stays. Always make sure you can cancel without penalty, if necessary. The farther out a trip is, the more important this becomes.

Years ago, when taking students to Europe over Spring Break and over Summer Vacation, I used a travel agent. She looked out for our interests. Once, she called me at the end of the school day. She told me, if I could bring back the airline tickets we had already purchased, she would be able to refund over $300 for each participant on the trip. All we had to do was to spend an extra two days in a five-star hotel in Amsterdam. Because we had used a travel agent, she saved us enough money to pay for the extra two days, in which we toured the city via canal boat, and visited the Anne Frank House CLICK HERE (ad). Priceless. 

The passengers still booked on the 3-year cruise won’t need their hotel reservations in Istanbul. From the CNN article, I learned the cruise won’t be leaving from Istanbul for some reason. The new port is in Amsterdam. The cruise line representative mentioned to the reporter that this is just a short flight from Istanbul. That’s absurd. It’s an added expense for the flight and another hotel to be booked.

It looks more and more like the original management team was correct. They warned us the cruise line may not have a ship ready for the cruise to start on time. They were also worried about what they perceived as a lack of transparency. Both issues are mentioned in the new article as well. You would think six or seven months would be enough time to make such a purchase, especially since a ship had already been located and the process had begun.

Perhaps my fellow travelers should have pulled back when I did. Some sold their homes, quit their jobs, retired early, and took money out of their retirement accounts. I’m saddened our dream was put in jeopardy. I hope they did the things mentioned above, bought trip cancellation insurance, and worked with a travel agent. This might help them recover some of their funds if the cruise doesn’t happen. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for them, as I know how important this trip is to them. It was to me too. At least, for me, there is no longer any risk to my finances or health. I wish them all a bon voyage.


 Photo Credit: Google Images

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Sunday, October 22, 2023

Avalon, Catalina Island, California


Decades of Destinations

While getting ready to write another article for this blog, I thought about how interesting it might be for readers to know all of the places I’ve traveled to so far. At first, I thought I’d create a list, but soon realized how boring that would be. Instead, I’ve decided to show you where I went and add a fact about the location, or perhaps an impression it left with me.

Sunday drives and summer road trips were common when I grew up. I learned to enjoy looking out the windows of our family station wagon as we traveled from place to place. In high school, I took a photography class, and added a camera to our family excursions. I expanded my travels internationally as an adult, even taking my language students to Europe repeatedly.

The first trip I took as an adult was to Avalon, on Catalina Island, off the coast of Southern California, where I grew up. I visited once with my parents, but this time, they didn't come. Four high school girl friends and I (along with one of their mothers, to act as a chaperone) stayed for a week, one week after graduating high school. I was eighteen.

A few days into our carefree trip on the island, my friends and I decided to stroll along the boardwalk. It was late at night. As we were walking along, enjoying the vibe, chatting and having a snack, we were approached by two uniformed police officers. They informed us that it was past 10:00 p.m., and we had to go back to our hotel, since we were minors. We asked how old our chaperone had to be. After they told us the person must be at least eighteen years old, I volunteered that I was, in fact, eighteen and was "supervising" the minors. 

Then they asked for my I.D. Not realizing this might be a issue, I had left it in the hotel. That is exactly where we were ten minutes later. Life lesson. ID? Never leave home without it.  

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Saturday, October 14, 2023

Getting Ready for a Lengthy Trip: Six Months Out, Part II

During the month of April, I started keeping a list of expenses. I put them in one of the lovely notebooks I ordered to use while cruising, CLICK HERE  (ad). I know that putting off recordkeeping makes it a brutal task. Keeping a running list and making entries once a week keeps it simple.

On April 10, I signed the contract for the cruise. I kept a copy online, of course, but also printed it out, so I would have a hardcopy. I kept all my cruise documents in a large plastic envelope,  CLICK HERE  (ad). Life lesson. This made it easy to locate anything I might need going forward.

Once I decided not to go on the cruise, I added my cancellation documents to the pile of others in the envelope. I’ve used colorful, clear plastic envelopes like these for years. They come in handy, especially for planning trips.

The next thing to take care of was my car registration. Although I had not really decided what to do with my car, I knew it had to be registered. My three choices were to sell it, store it, or give it to my nieces. Eventually, I decided to sell it. Leaving a car in storage for three years just leads to problems. Giving it away, although generous, was not wise financially. It was fortuitous this was my decision, as I still had it when I decided to stay put in California.

During the month of April, the Management team at Life at Sea made a portal available to passengers, so we could communicate with them, and with each other. This proved to be quite valuable. Many of us were concerned about how to receive mail and packages while aboard ship. The Management team took care of this for us. They set up a once-a-month delivery system, but it wasn’t inexpensive. However, one of the other passengers contacted me with an idea. We would find two others to join us and sign up for the service. All our packages and mail would be sent to him, and we’d pick up our items once they were received. Brilliant. This would cost us a few hundred dollars each, instead of thousands.

The next thing to happen turned out to be great fun and resulted in my starting this blog. One of my Twitter followers sent me an article about two sisters who took a tour around the world. The article had been published by CNN Travel. I read the article and responded to the question at the end. They asked if we had ever had a unique experience while cruising. I responded to the article and told them my plan to take a 3-year cruise around the world. (Typing this makes me sad, as I was so looking forward to the trip.)

Briefly after sending off this reply, I received an email from a reporter with CNN Travel. She asked if I would participate in an interview about the trip. I agreed and the article was written. When it came out, I was surprised. It was more about me than the cruise itself. What happened next was an out of body experience. The article bounced around the world, was reprinted in several languages, and reporters and podcasters used it for the basis of articles and podcasts of their own.

My 15 minutes of fame lasted far longer than that and spread to several million people all over the world. (That was a shock.) It led to another interview, this one for a television station in Germany. People I knew saw one of the articles, as did people I met that spring. They were excited for me both about the adventure, but also about being “famous”, if only for a short while.

Sometime after the debacle that resulted in my pulling out of the trip, I was contacted again by CNN Travel. They wanted to do a follow up interview about the unpleasant situation that led to my decision. I was happy to participate. This is because I had learned several people signed up for the cruise because of my initial CNN interview. (This was very cool.) I didn’t want my initial enthusiasm to continue to convince people to sign up for the cruise, since the situation had changed. I was no longer sure it was safe and didn’t want their future happiness or safety on my conscience.

As you can see, when planning a long trip, or moving to another country, there’s lots to do. Some of it you can plan for, some things, however, pop up unexpectedly. Life lesson. This is why planning is so important. If you act in a spontaneous manner, and something unplanned happens, you may not be able to roll with it, or take advantage of the situation. 

The interview with CNN Travel, and the resulting international buzz online resulted in a message landing in my inbox. It was from someone I did not know, but he did me a big favor. He suggested I strike while the iron was hot and do something with the attention I had received. He’s the reason I started my journal, which led to this blog. Even though I’m no longer taking a 3-year cruise to 300+ destinations, the knowledge I have gained can encourage others to travel, whether as a family, couple, or even solo. This is a good thing. I’ve done all three types. I know the ropes and am happy to share them here.

Photo Credit: Google Images

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Sunday, October 8, 2023

Getting Ready for a Lengthy Trip: Six Months Out, Part I


Years ago, I went to my travel agent and asked her to arrange a weeklong trip to Cape Town, South Africa for me. I told her I was going over Spring Break in order to figure out what I needed to do as I was planning on moving there in the summer. She was aghast since Spring Break was less than a month away. She told me she really needed more time to plan a big trip like this.

I was confused. I was only going for a week, so it wasn’t a big trip. For her, the distance made it a “big trip” and not the length of time I would be gone. Okay. Life lesson. This past March, when I heard about a 3-year round the world cruise, I was pleased since that would give me eight months to get ready. I began by creating lists of what I would need to do in the interim. I dedicated one page to each month, CLICK HERE (ad).  Drew a line vertically down the center of the page, and labeled the pages by month.

Today I’m going to start by telling you some of what I decided to do in April. I completed each of these tasks within the time I had allotted, one month. There are far too many to include in one blog post, so I’ll continue in my next post, on Saturday. 

Some of what I did was related to research or planning. Most of the tasks, however, were more hands on. The first was money. I had to move the down payment from my savings to an account where I could wire it to the Life at Sea team when requested. This was a large chunk of money, so I moved smaller amounts weekly. By the end of the month, all the money I needed to send was ready. If you’re reading my blog to plan for a big trip yourself, thinking about your finances is the first and most important thing you should do. This was true when I moved to South Africa years ago too. 

The next most important chore was to find an international phone plan. I started online, but quickly realized for my purposes keeping my Verizon Plan and adding their International Plan on top of it would work best. This isn’t always the case. Depending upon where you intend to travel, and for how long, other plans may suit your purposes better. However, to keep yourself sane (always a plus), start with your current carrier. If they have a plan that works for you, it will simplify your life.   

The next two items were time sensitive. I needed to start the series of shots for Hepatitis A & B immediately. Since it takes time to arrange for these shots with my HMO, I ended up starting the series at my local CVS. This meant shelling out over $100 for the first vaccine. The next two at my HMO would cost me nothing. 

Here’s a scary thought. My passport would expire in March 2024, while I was cruising. Finding a place to have passport photos taken wasn’t as easy as it should have been. I ended up having two sets taken at two different places. The backdrop at the first place I went, was the same color as my hair. With the light directly overhead, the top of my head blurred into the light. When I was finally able to obtain a clear set of photos elsewhere, I paid extra for expedited passport service. I didn’t relax until my passport arrived in the mail, with plenty of time to spare. 

Each week I tackled hardcore decluttering by room. I began in my bedroom, handling one piece of furniture at a time. Depending upon how long you plan on traveling, you may not need to be as brutal as I was. Remember, my plan was to live on a cruise ship for three years, then either move to Lagos, Portugal, or Laguna Woods Village, California. I had no desire to pay to store my car, furniture or other household items and then ship them somewhere. 

During the month of April, I completed going through all the furniture in my bedroom, my closets and one area of my garage. I made multiple trips to my local Goodwill drop-off site. It helped that I had decided not to try to sell anything. I didn’t have the time or energy to deal with that. 

The last thing I want to cover today is making doctor appointments. I don’t know about you, but I see a long list of specialists (oh, the joys of getting older). I made appointments with all of them, trying to fit them within my busy schedule of other activities. I wanted to make sure everything was shipshape before boarding. 

I kept all these appointments even after deciding not to go on the cruise; some were completed in September, one just this week. Everything was indeed good to go, although I am no longer going. That’s a pity, but from everything I have heard lately, both about the cruise going forward and strife in many parts of the world, I’m happy to have decided to skip it and stay in California. 

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Sur le Pont d'Avignon