Monday, November 28, 2016

When is the best day to purchase airline tickets?

If I had a $1 for every time I was asked this question, I swear, I would be writing this blog from my beach house in the Caribbean instead of Minnesota, sipping sumatra coffee trying to keep warm on this dreary November day! Somewhere along the line some travel guru or website made us believe that there was a magical formula to booking tickets.  I’m not sure when or where it started but to be honest, I followed the sage advice of these gurus as if they would take me to the Promised Land.  That was before travel was my career.  Now that I’ve been in the business almost 10 years, day in and day out creating memorable vacation packages for people around the globe, I can tell you what I have learned.  The magic formula is, well, bullshit.

Fact or Crap?  Tuesday is the best day to buy airline tickets.
Crap.  Last week as a recent example, I quoted a client a package on Monday and they had to talk it over before making a decision.  I offered to lock in the rate for 24 hours while they consulted their calendars, babysitters and bank account, however, they declined.  The next day (Tuesday) I received the email they were ready to book!  Yay!  Except, now the price had increased over $75/ticket.  What the?  “I thought Tuesdays were cheaper days to book”, questioned my client.  Yeah, you and the rest of the world apparently.

Fact or Crap?  You need a Saturday night stay in order to find the cheapest tickets.
Crap.  Even if you do manage to lock in a cheaper fare, here’s the part most people never consider: Saturday nights are the most expensive nights to stay in a hotel, go to dinner and simply do anything out on the town.  So the few bucks you may have saved on your airfare has been quickly washed away to finance your most expensive evening on your itinerary.

Fact or Crap? Nonstop flights are the most expensive.
Crap.  Did you know it actually costs the airlines more money to run more than one flight to a destination?  Imagine if you only had to employ one crew, one plane, one tank of gas, one stocked beverage cart.  Behind the scenes what you don’t see is the taxes that are on a typical plane ticket.  There is a departure tax and a landing tax built into each ticket.  Now if it takes you two or three stops to get to your destination, that’s two or three more sets of taxes added to your ticket alone not to mention all the other expenses the airline incurs with the multiple segments, planes, crew, etc.  

Of course there is an exception to every rule but for the most part, what I’ve learned is that there is no magical formula to getting the best airfare.  It’s a matter of supply and demand.  If everyone is online searching and booking airfare on Saturday morning and the planes begin to fill up, the price goes up.  Not because it’s Saturday but because of the supply and demand.  If you wait until the last minute to book your airfare, generally speaking, you will pay more than the one who planned a little further than a week in advance.  By booking early you will get the best itinerary, seats and hopefully price.  Most planes are overbooked these days so it’s foolish in my opinion to play Russian Roulette with the most important piece of your vacation - the one that determines IF you go at all!  Bowing out of a trip because you couldn’t find good airfare is the lamest excuse.  It just means you were too darn lazy to look sooner or enlist the help of a travel pro!  

Here are a few of my favorite go tos to watch for or search for best days to travel ~ download them, save your preferred gateways and get ready for your next Divine Destination!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

FOX 21 How To Stay Healthy on a Plane

Many travelers would swear that they get sick after every trip or vacation. They wonder if it was the food, the water, the pina coladas -- or, like me, the airplane ride. While I don't think you can count out the pina coladas (or that burrito you bought on the street), it turns out you could be right about airplanes; the most likely culprit: extremely low cabin humidity.
Most commercial airlines fly in an elevation range of 30,000 to 35,000 feet, where humidity typically runs at 10 percent or lower. At very low levels of humidity, the "natural defense system" of mucus in our noses and throats dries up and is crippled, creating a much more tolerant environment for germs to infect us.
Tips to Avoid the Airplane Cold
1. Stay hydrated. It turns out that drinking plenty of water will not only counter the overall dehydrating effects of air travel, which can lead to headaches, stomach problems, cramps, fatigue and more, but can actually help your natural immune mechanisms to function considerably better. In an airplane, where your nose and throat are on the front lines of the war with exceedingly dry air, these are the first places to suffer. Sipping water or some other fluid regularly throughout the flight may be more effective than drinking a lot of water at one time. Additionally, hot drinks are a good way to keep your protective mucous membranes working.
2. Keep your hands clean. Your hands are the most consistent point of first contact with cold, flu and other germs. It is a direct line from armrest/ handshake/seat back to a full-blown fever a few days later. Hand washing is not just for restaurant workers and travelers; If possible, wash your hands before any in-flight meals, and after your flight as well.
3. Don't forget the dental hygiene. Just as keeping your hands clean can prevent transmission of germs, using a germ-killing mouthwash in-flight may add another layer of protection while simultaneously helping to keep your throat moist. Just make sure your mouthwash bottle is three ounces or smaller to comply with the latest carry-on rules for liquids and gels.
4. Take your vitamins. The rapid response effect of vitamins is unproven, but many travelers swear by them.  In addition, drinking an immunity booster chock full of Vitamin C such as Emergency C or Airborne is never a bad idea. Personally, I have no idea if it helps at all, but of all the flights I have taken, I rarely get colds. The department of health tells us that no conclusive data has shown that large doses of vitamin C will prevent colds, although it may reduce the severity or duration of symptoms.

For more information on this topic or any other travel questions please contact me.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

River Cruises Are Rising In Popularity

Have you ever awakened to a new world? Have you ever taken a trip that satisfied your mind, body and soul? Have you ever had a place far, far away hand delivered to you and you to it? Have you ever traveled across a continent without touching a suitcase? Or been on a cruise with endless views?   
Imagine beginning your journey in Amsterdam where a childhood storybook comes to life as you sail through Germany, Prague and even Vienna! Prefer views of castles and vineyards instead? There's an itinerary for that; especially noteworthy would be France! Prefer hops over tannins? You'll love the authentic brew tours throughout Germany and Austria!  What's even better is you can customize your itinerary by adding a few days at the beginning or on the end to see more of Europe your way. Prefer to stick with the schedule? Be sure to take advantage of the cooking classes on board or the lecture about the upcoming highlights at the next port. With exclusive admission to museums or even theatrical performances, there's never a dull moment on your cruise!
River cruises are rising in popularity, and it’s no wonder why. Less passengers, more inclusions, and unpacking once are just a few reasons why people are realizing that river cruising is the best way to explore Europe!  At Divine Destinations, we’re experts in travel, but we think Avalon Waterways are experts when it comes to river cruising. We compiled a list of tips and tricks to help you once you get on board your next  river cruise ship.
  • Get extra closet space by storing your empty luggage under your bed.  More space makes you feel less crowded and more comfortable.  Trust me when I say you’ll want to hang out here and take in the gorgeous view, but with less “stuff” in the way.

  • You can create a name tag when you arrive –  it’s a fun way to get to know our fellow cruisers.  Chatty Cathys unite!

  • Include binoculars in your luggage. There is so much to see along the shores and it’s fun to be able to look at small castle and vineyard details from your stateroom..

  • Port talks and the entertainment are very popular – if you want a front-row seat, we recommend getting to the Panorama Lounge early

  • Don’t forget your included headset for shore excursions – the Local Guides bring the destinations to life with their rich and historical commentary

  • On the last day of the cruise, you can print out a full set of the dinner menus for the cruise – such a fun keepsake to remember all the amazing meals you’ve eaten

  • Is there was a particular dish that everyone loved? Ask your server at dinner and your chef will provide your travel group with the recipe

I would love to talk to you about all of the different River Cruise options that you have for your next vacation. Please give me a call for more information.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Welcome to Grenada!

Amid packing for a week in Paradise, my plans were slightly disturbed with an email from my host hotel announcing I would be virtually homeless for my first night in Grenada due to an overbooked Saturday night.  Nothing says, “we can’t wait to meet you” like an email announcing your eviction.  Luckily, I had the pleasure of meeting some wonderful people from the Grenada Tourism Board a month earlier at a travel convention, so I was able to not only figure out a place to lay my head that first night, but also the logistics of traveling to said hotel.  Francine put me in touch with Mount Cinnamon.  The name couldn’t be more perfect!  Set high atop the mountainside overlooking the sea I felt like I was in some fancy European coastal town I couldn’t pronounce.  Do you smell that?  What is it?!  Nutmeg? Cinnamon? Could be both, afterall, it is the island of spice and whether atop the mountain or out to sea you can smell this inviting smell.  It’s heavenly!

They say if Paradise was easy to get to everyone would go.  It took me three connections and four flights to reach my destination.  Partly because of the season, the gateway and because I was using miles.  There are daily flights from Miami so depending on your location from Miami, it may not be as much of a challenge as it was for me coming out of northern Minnesota. In October.  Arriving into Grenada is something like circa 1950s where we deplane outside and walk the tarmac to the airport.  You know you are in the true Caribbean when you get to do this! Our flight arrived 30 minutes ahead of schedule which allowed us to clear through customs and immigrations a bit quicker without much hassle.  Outside the airport we witnessed herds of people awaiting their all inclusive shuttle.  As they scrutinized their paperwork to make sure they had the right shuttle that would take them to their Americanized resort abroad I sauntered to the taxi hub where I was able to grab a local beer, Stag or Carib, and I whatsapped my friend to let her know I had arrived.  I wasn’t in a hurry to go anywhere.  Afterall, I had just arrived in Paradise.  It was fun to people watch.  I especially love to watch Americans.  You can always pick out the ones who haven’t traveled much.  They are the ones who stick together like they may be separated and never see each other again.  The ones who are horrified when they see the speed of the drivers or how many people they can pack in a car (or on the back of a dump truck)!  They also are the ones who somehow find it necessary to put on this “gameface” of all seriousness and don’t smile and refuse to talk to locals without the fear of being had.  It’s ok, I’m not judging; I was one of those Americans once too.

As the 80+ degree night paired with 90% humidity and slight sea breeze blew on my face I sat and enjoyed my cool beverage while I awaited my ride.  My hair morphed into some ridiculous mushroom cap and my pasty white skin sparkled (divas don’t sweat, they sparkle) yet the locals weren’t scared.  We chatted a bit about politics (of course, it was obvious I was an American) and I inquired about what were some of the must see things to do.  They boasted about the beautiful coastline, the Estates, the rainforest, the festivals, the chocolate, brewery tours and on and on….such a proud country with humble souls!  My phone alerted me my ride was on her way.  Mass had just ended and since my flight was early she apologized for running late.  No worries, this is the stuff I can blog about!  I began to giggle a little to myself after I realized how small the cars were.  I wondered how many others would be in the car and where my bags would go.  Not to be disappointed, in true Caribbean style, Francine pulls up in her personal car (not a company shuttle) loaded with kids from church and greets me with a warm smile and hug.  We situate my bag in the car next to her son who isn’t thrilled but takes one for the team.  I got to sit in the back seat with the children and I’m instructed to “hold the eggs” so they don’t break.  I love this!  To distract the children, about 8 and 10, from the fact we’re squished in the backseat I started asking them questions such as, “what do I HAVE to do while I’m here”.  Their answers surprised me; very simple yet so honest:  You need to go to the beach.  Look for shells.  Talk a lot because you have a funny accent.  Wear lots of that lotion because you are as “white as chalk”.   Before I knew it, the ride was over and I had to say goodbye to my little friends. Oh my goodness they were adorable!

Although many of you reading this won’t have an experience like this when you go to Grenada you hopefully got a sneak peek into what it will feel like to go there.  You will notice the friendliness, the sincerity, the servant hearts.  You will also notice the beauty of the island that is found out at sea and deep within the rainforest.  You will see lots of police officers but most of which don’t carry weapons on one of the safest islands in the Caribbean.  In a nutshell (ha! no pun intended) if you are looking for a new destination, something unique, consider Grenada.  You won’t be disappointed!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Pure Grenada

So many times I hear people say how the world is a scary place, especially outside the safe confines of our small bubble we call home.  As a travel consultant, it’s my job to not only find the best flight schedules and accommodations, but it’s also my job to make good recommendations on certain destinations based upon many other factors as well, including but not limited to: ease of getting to, quality of said accommodations, variety of food and activities and recommendations within these.  Another part of my job is to make sure I am recommending a safe destination.  How else do we know these recommendations to be true unless we experience it for ourselves?  Google & Trip Advisor are not the Holy Grail nor should they be revered as such.  Would you rather trust a computer whose sole purpose is to gather facts, a group of people whom you’ve never met to tell you their likes and dislikes or someone like myself who can tell you in great detail how things will work each step of the way, what to expect, make specific recommendations based upon your personal preferences and be there for you in the event you need me? That is why I travel; to be able to bring this first hand knowledge to you so that your precious vacation is about making memories, not mistakes.  

With that being said, this past week I had the privilege to travel to the far southeast Caribbean to a gem of an island called Grenada.  This is island is so small, from the air you can see the entire area inside my camera lens!

Despite it’s size, this destination offers just as much if not more than the other larger islands whom are a bit more popular.  First of all, this island is a bit of a challenge to get to.  From Duluth, it took me three flights and two airlines to get there.  However, as they say, if Paradise was easy to get to everyone would go.  

You know you are in somewhere fairly remote when you deplane outside and walk down the tarmac to enter the airport.  The warm Caribbean breeze tousling your hair instantly affirms your vacation choice!   From the airport, nothing is too terribly far, but I recommend an inexpensive American chain for your first night to sleep and the next day head over to your permanent home for the vacation.  Taxi service is abundant so getting where you need to go is simple, safe and convenient considering they do accept US dollars.  The island is quite hot, so a taxi with AC is a luxury.  I found one I highly recommend because of his cool car but also his cool vibe that will enhance your stay while here.  You won’t feel unsafe riding with Chris as he navigates the island on the left hand side or while climbing hills you thought only goats could.

In Grenada their currency is Easter Caribbean (EC).  And the exchange rate as of October 2016 is $1USD = $2.65EC.  

Not the simplest math to compute in your head so lucky for you, they do accept US dollars.  I’m not sure I would recommend converting your cash to EC unless you are not staying at an all inclusive and are the type of traveler who will be out and about daily.  For the resort dwellers, the all inclusive plan means you don’t need to carry cash at all; it’s all included.   If your resort isn’t all inclusive, you can charge your food and drink to your room and pay with your credit card at departure.  More on my stay at the gorgeous Mount Cinnamon to follow.

Grenada is known as the Spice Island, so something I noticed throughout my stay is the scent of spices, mostly nutmeg and cinnamon, in the air.  What a welcome change from the Pumpkin Spice Everything season in the US!  You can buy spices from street vendors, at tourist attractions, supermarket and even at the airport.  
One thing I noticed is how affordable they were regardless of where you got them.  Such a fun surprise, especially as we are entering into the holiday season where nutmeg, cinnamon and other wonderful spices are used for baking, cooking and of course our holiday cheer!  In fact, there is such an abundance of nutmeg here, when I completed a survey at the airport, they thanked me with two whole nutmeg balls!  For the chocolate lovers, here you will find some of the purest and delicious chocolate.  You can tour the factory or simply buy the finished product.  

I can’t give you a rundown of Grenada and not mention how friendly the people are here and how low the crime rate is.  Despite being the only white person on the streets for a majority of the time here, I can honestly say, I never once felt out of place or uneasy.  I always felt welcome, safe and accepted.
 Grenada is a very religious island, therefore, many of the laws and dos and don’ts come from the countries leaders who also hold high positions within their church.  Catholic is the main religion here.  You won’t find strip clubs here as they are illegal,  yet you have access to the some of the sexiest, laciest lingerie on the streets at the market.  Starbucks is not here (amen) however a cool Carib beer just about at every corner (hallelujah because it’s hot here!)  In Grenada it is punishable by law if you are caught cursing or swearing in public.  $3000EC is the minimum fine, possibly with a month in prison if the judge finds you to be rude as well.  Holy $#*!!  
I noticed a fair amount of police presence on the streets.  This didn’t make me feel any more or less safe but what I did find interesting is that they didn’t carry guns.  Yes, unarmed police and a crime rate that is the lowest in all the Caribbean islands.  

I’ve only been in the US for less than 24 hours now but my time in Grenada seems but a dream!  If you are looking for something new, exotic and unforgettable consider Grenada.  I’ve tasted and seen.  Grenada has given me more hope in the human race since God knows when.  Come here to vacation and you will leave refreshed, recharged and rejuvenated with hope, love and a new zest on life.  They say the ocean is therapeutic and can heal many things that ail you.  Why not try it for yourself?  It’s cheaper than therapy and is way more fun! Ready to see for yourself? I'd love to chat with you! Click here to get started and soon you will be off on your own Divine Destination!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Passport Book Vs. A Card, Is There A Difference?

This is one of those subjects that is a little sour for me to talk about.  Why? Because I believe in being a straight shooter.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much straight shooting going on when a person applies for their passport.  And whichever one you get will determine if your travels will allow you to go on your adventure or not.  If you purchase the wrong one, then you will be forced to pay even more monies for the correct passport and most likely incur huge expediting fees too.  Read on…

A Passport Card will allow you to travel to Mexico and Canada via a motor vehicle or train, but not via an aircraft.  This makes it a great option for the annual fishing trips to Canada, however, when that once in a lifetime trip to Europe presents itself or your daughter announces she will be having a Destination Wedding in Mexico, unless you plan to drive there, you are not going anywhere!  A passport card is also good for cruising, however, if you get delayed and miss your ship only to find yourself stuck in Honduras, you will find it more than difficult to return to US soil since a passport card will not allow you to fly with it.  

On the other hand, a Passport Book truly opens up the possibilities for you and the world is your oyster.  You will be able to travel the world via cruise, airplane or car without any worries or restrictions.  They are valid for 10 years and if you are under the age of 16, they will need to be renewed every 5 years.

How Do I Get One?
The process is exactly the same whether you want a card or a book.  Go to your local Post Office and some DMVs do this now too.  Simply prove you are a US citizen with your certified birth certificate and a picture ID along with your completed application.  It’s a good idea to bring in your own passport photo (purchased at Walgreens or via a new app called ------)or you can have it done for you when you apply.

What Does It Cost?
New, replacement or renewal of a passport book: $110 if age 16 and older; $80 if under the age of 16. New, replacement or renewal of a passport card: $30 if age 16 and older; $15 if under the age of 16.

So Why the Sour Attitude?
I feel like people will take the cheaper route when given a choice.  Unfortunately, this will ultimately lead to spending more money than necessary once they find out that they have the wrong passport.  I once had a client who was denied boarding because she had a passport card. She honestly didn’t even know there was a difference or an option.  So she then had to delay her trip by a day so she could drive to the local passport headquarters and apply in person for a same day passport BOOK.  This cost her $110 plus expediting fees, gas, food and lodging, not to mention a day lost at the resort.  
When in doubt, pull it out!  
When booking your trip, please please please pull out your passport to verify if it’s a card or a book.  The next step would be to make sure your name matches identically to your travel documents.  Chris, I’m talking to you.  I know your passport reads Mark Christopher, but we all call you Chris.  The TSA agent needs to know this too or you will not be going anywhere.  Yes indeed, you could be denied boarding if your name doesn’t match!  Finally, is it expired?  Some countries require you have at least 6 months until your passport expires in order to visit.  You won’t know the exact details unless you take the time to pull out your passport and take a good look.  

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Tips & Tricks For Traveling During Hurricane Season

As we all have been glued to the TV over the course of the past 2 weeks watching the tropical storm morph into Hurricane Matthew, I cannot not write a post on the importance of travel insurance and what to do if you are traveling during Hurricane Season. In this post I want to cover:

  • What to do if you're on your way to the Hurricane Zone
  • What to do if you are stuck in a Hurricane Zone
  • What if you're planning a trip in the future that happens to be during the Hurricane Season

If you are traveling to the Hurricane Zone and your flight has been cancelled you are entitled to a refund even if your ticket is nonrefundable. Sadly, cancelled flights generally don't happen until hours before departure. This means that you are stuck in limbo doing the dance of “do I stay or do I go”.  If you have travel insurance it's an easy decision because you can cancel or change your date without incurring any additional fees. However, if you don't have travel insurance you are at the airline's mercy of calling off the flight to avoid costly non-refundable fees. If you have a non-refundable hotel, travel insurance may cover your loss, however you cannot buy travel insurance once a storm is named.   As a side note, check your credit card coverage; some cards provide coverage even in cases of non-refundable travel losses including hotels and meal expenses.  One of my favorites is the Aadvantage American Airlines card which has excellent free coverage for trip Interruption and cancellation.

If you are stuck in a Hurricane Zone, again travel insurance or the coverage found on the credit card might help absorb some expenses you incur as a result of the storm. I had a couple of Honeymooners that were in St. Lucia while Hurricane Matthew was still a tropical storm. Although not a hurricane, it did certainly dampen (pun intended) their Honeymoon that week.  Tours were cancelled and because they were non-refundable the travel insurance allowed them to get a refund on the unused tours.  Thankfully, the St. Lucia airport opened so they were able to get out safely however some of my clients weren't as lucky.  In this situation, the hotels offered them one night stay for free and then after that a reduced rate for each additional night.  For the clients who did not have travel insurance they had to pay this out of pocket but for those (and there were many) who had travel insurance they could continue to eat drink and be merry and not worry about the extra expense of their impromptu extended vacation!

If you're planning a trip to the Caribbean during hurricane season, I cannot stress this enough, it's a great idea to consider travel insurance!  My own honeymoon was a debacle because I did not heed the advice of buying travel insurance.  I had non-refundable airline tickets to a destination that had just been hit by a hurricane and the resort I was to stay in looked like a pile of Pick Up Stix!  So save yourself the stress and agony and expensive change fees and non-refundable fees and by the damn insurance! It is a small price to pay for peace of mind.  There are a ton of reasons why traveling during Hurricane Season are enticing though.  Imagine less people, shorter lines at the airport, better service, complimentary upgrades not to mention reduced rates!!  Technically, Hurricane Season is from June 1 - December 1.  In fact, the bulk of my traveling is done during the Hurricane Season and I have yet to experience anything like Hurricane Matthew.  SO, the chances of a hurricane actually happening I realize are slim, and most everybody when booking a special trip always says, “I'm going no matter what”.   I think about the thousands of people who had it in their hearts that they were going ‘no matter what’ but when Mom has a stroke or the airline completely cancels every single flights going into Florida or even the one who said, “this is my honeymoon I am going!”  sadly these people's plans were affected big time by Hurricane Matthew.   Mother Nature is one hell of a force to be reckoned with always be prepared buy travel insurance!