Sunday, October 22, 2017

Travel Planning to Make the Most of your Holiday - Part One

My friends, family, and clients can tell you that I have some of the most amazing, fun-filled and rewarding vacations that they have ever heard anyone speak of. And this is true. My theory is that if I am going to spend X amount of dollars on a trip and take time away from my day-to-day life, then I want to make the most of it. I want to come home raving about my adventures, brimming with excitement, and owning a plethora of incredible memories and experiences that I will never forget. And that’s exactly what happens, every time.

I am a planner by nature, but I also have a spontaneous streak, which when going on holiday, ends up being a 80/20 split. In other words, I will plan out most of my vacation in advance, but will leave some of it to chance, depending on the place I am going and what it is I am doing. My agenda over the last 5 years has been focused mainly on Britain and Europe, and as such, good planning has allowed me to see and do every I wanted to enjoy. Yes, it takes time and effort—but I can assure you it is well worth it.

The first thing I do is think about what is of interest to me at this time in my life, simply because my interests and curiosities tend to change and evolve all the time. Last year, I was thinking of Greece for 2017, and the reason why is because I have always had a fascination with Greek history, mythology and architecture since I was a kid. I have drawn the Parthenon about 15 times, have read and re-read Homer’s works and those of the great Greek philosophers too. Having a personal interest in the place(s) you’re going to actually changes the dynamic of the trip itself. It starts to create meaning and will absolutely enrich your travels. Take the time to think about where your interests lie, and what would be fascinating for you to see or do.

Once you decide where you would like to go, you need to take into account the time of year, which may include some restrictions based on your job, family, etc. For me, January and February are considered two of the busiest investment months in my industry. I tend to choose September because I don’t have small children and I prefer to go after the summer when the crowds have disapated a little, and ok, when the kids are back in school. The weather should also play a part in your timing—two different hemispheres and all. I wouldn’t want to accidentally book a trip somewhere where that country’s “summer” may cause me to spontaneously combust when I’m not used to that kind of heat. You get my drift.

Next, do you go on your own or with a friend? If you have a boyfriend/girlfriend or a spouse, it might be a given you would go together, or possibly not, depending. I am single, and have a preference to travel on my own; however, on my last two trips, my friend Sheila accompanied me. If you do decide to travel with a friend, then my suggestion is to make sure that you are very comfortable being in the same space together for the duration of the trip. An honest, open dialogue is required before you decide on travelling together (and during, for that matter), because once you are at your destination, you don’t want discover that every little quirk about your friend is making you mental. Set out some rules and guidelines for some “alone” time so you don’t end up killing each other. Also, you need to have the same objectives as to what you want to get out of the trip. It’s fair to say that you can have different objectives to some extent and still make it work, but if one is a beach bum and the other is looking to seek out historical monuments, then you may find it a challenge. Also, being on the same economic level is important. If you are like me and picky about where you stay, then set a price range at the beginning of your research so there are no unpleasant surprises or disappointments.

Now it’s time to write down an itinerary; for example, if you are going to Italy, where do you want to go in Italy and for how long. For me, this takes a little research that can easily be done through travel guides, either on-line or the old-fashioned way. I absolutely LOVE Rick Steves’ iBooks because they work off-line, have great tips and recommendations, opening/closing times, maps, etc. Rick also has great TV shows and Travel Talks that you can access on You Tube that help you actually see the places you may want to go to. I also like the Eye-Witness Travel books—they have very detailed explanations and gorgeous pictures, and each area of a city is broken down into subsections that help you efficiently plan your time. I am not in the ranks with the aforementioned travel guru; however, I will also explain in each of my posts for my trips, where I went and why, so that may help you as well.

Once you have an idea of where you would like to go, start writing out dates and places. I do it the old-fashioned way, with paper and pen. That way you can cross out and change things as you play with the dates and the length of time in each place—and believe me, there will be a lot of that. Of course how long you plan to stay somewhere is based on what you want to do there, and if there are specific events you are going for, you will have to coordinate your timing to make it work. It’s like the chicken and the egg in some ways—which comes first. It’s actually a combination of both determining what you want to do, but also researching what there is to do—making the unknown known.

These are the primary considerations I use to get started, and as you begin this process, you will start to feel the excitement building—I know I do! Part Two of this post will be more focused determining your activities, points of interest, etc., how to finalize your plans and ensure you don’t waste time in line ups!

      PART TWO

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Enjoying the Expedia Experience

The opportunity to start writing about my travels finally surfaces!  I thought I would begin with how I book some of my travel.  My next blog post will be a little more about how I make the most of my holidays through some advanced planning, and then finally on to my actual trips—the latest one being Greece!  Thank you for following my blog as it develops into a travel focus—I truly appreciate your support!

There are a number of different third party services that offer discount travel that you can book on-line or over the phone.  I personally like Expedia as they have been consistent in their service and reward you for their usage.  I have been using them for a number of years now to book most of my travel.  The main reason I do so is because not only do I get discounts if I book a flight and hotel together, but I also see a variety of choices that I never knew existed before. 

Their on-line system is quite easy to use, so I start with my destinations, and scope out the hotels in the cities that I am travelling to first.  You can search by area, for example, London England is a fairly large city--so if I want to stay in a hotel on The Strand, then it will populate with just those hotels.  If I am going somewhere new, it’s great to have all the hotels in front of me, each with pictures, map, amenities and traveller reviews, all on one page.  It also gives you various rooms and price points, and allows you to reserve in advance with free cancellation, or book straight away.  If you reserve without paying, then you simply pay the hotel when you check out, in whatever the local currency is.  The price is guaranteed, but of course the currency conversation is not!  There are ways to hedge you bets with currency; however, that is a whole other post.

The cool thing is that you can see a wide range of hotels, and also read the reviews.  A word on travel reviews:  There are people who generally have a pleasant disposition when travelling (and in general), and then there are people who bitch about everything little thing.  If the bulk of the reviews have a high rating, then go with that.  Expedia also gives the hotel the ability to respond to reviews, which is something that shows me the hotel management cares about their guests' experiences.  As well, after your check-in, Expedia canvases you for an easy 10 second review, with that feedback going directly to the hotel.  

This may sound weird, but I spend quite a number of hours researching hotels--I am very picky about where I stay.  The location is key--think about the things you want to see and where the hotel is relative to that.  In Athens for example, much of wanted to see was in the area around the Acropolis so I chose a hotel that allowed me to walk everywhere.  I also choose the location from a safety aspect.  Typically I find that hotels closer to train stations may cost less, but if you're a single female traveller like me, you may want to steer clear of those areas.  When I was in Naples briefly, I found it hard to find a restaurant around the train station which felt safe--lots of shifty eyes my way--and on my camera!  Once you have booked a hotel, Expedia will provide you with a variety of activities that you can book through them.  I have done this several times as well, from car service to and from airports, to catamaran sailing in Santorini.  The prices for the activities are paid in your local currency and up front.

I also do my due diligence though by way of pricing to make sure that I am indeed getting the best deal when I book through Expedia.  Many hotels would prefer that you book through them direct, and provide offers to reward you for doing that.  The challenge though in booking direct is that you don’t have the option to pay in your own currency, and, if you are booking a flight, hotel and car for example, it is much less expensive to book that all together on a third party site like Expedia versus individually.  However, as I said, I always work out the math to make sure it makes sense—I can’t help myself given I am a Financial Planner—it’s in my nature. 

I often get asked if, because I booked through a third party, I get treated differently at the hotel (they can see that you did not book directly through them).  For the hotels, it is a form of marketing—they offer those prices through Expedia at a discount so they can gain business they may have never had.  There is no questions that the market for deep discount is growing exponentially on a continuous basis, so it would be smart for the hospitality industry to partake in that. I can honestly say that I have never felt any sort of discrimination of any type by using Expedia to book my hotels.  But then again, it might be thanks to what I do before I arrive.

I contact each hotel about 2 weeks before I arrive to confirm my reservation (including room type, etc), let them know I am excited to stay at their hotel, and how much I look forward to writing a fantastic review on Expedia and Trip Advisor about their amazing hotel.  That last point is key.  I was just in Greece, and Trip Advisor signs were all over hotels and restaurants there.  The competition is fierce, and guest reviews are playing more and more of an important role in how travellers make their choices on where to stay, where to eat, and what to do.  Also, upon check-in, I confirm everything to ensure it matches what I have booked, along with mentioning the great review I plan to give.  I always have my booking information on my phone through Expedia’s mobile app readily available in case there is any discrepency.  

Lastly, I find all the people at the Expedia call centre in Cairo, Egypt, an absolute joy to speak with.  I will usually plan everything out on-line and then given them a call (especially if I am booking multiple destinations) and have them put the package together so I maximize my savings.  Every single time I have called over the years, I have always spoken to a knowledgeable, professional, and patient (my trips can be complicated!) individual.  Their focus on providing outstanding customer service is one of the key reasons why I am a loyal customer.  In fact, when I go to Egypt next year, I will be stopping in to see them whilst in Cairo—that’s how much of a positive impact that amazing team has made on me.

Thank you again for your support in reading my blog.  Please feel free to make any comments or ask questions if you like—I am happy to chat anytime about my travels!


Friday, April 14, 2017


I have been on somewhat of a hiatus from my writing over the last year. I suppose life has just happened to whisk me away into various directions, and I woke up one day (today, actually) realizing I have truly missed my long, lost love—writing. I also came to the conclusion as to WHY I love writing—I want to share my excitement of travelling! Just ask some of my friends on Facebook (yes, I went back)—every time someone travels and posts pictures and stories, I have to chime in with some suggestions or ideas or just plain “I love that place!”.

So, I have decided given the amount of travelling I do, that I would like to focus my “There Was an Incident” Blog specifically on sharing my travelling adventures. Don’t worry, there are plenty of incidents when I travel, so the idea of the title still holds true. Words cannot express (but I will find a way!) how much I enjoy going to new places, meeting interesting people, learning about the art, architecture, history and culture of wherever it is that I am, and then being able to impart that to others.

I am a Financial Planner by day (and a fabulous one at that), so it’s in my nature to plan. I don’t plan everything mind you, but when it comes to travelling here is my theory: If I am going to spend “X” amount of dollars going somewhere, and I have particular interests in the places I am going to, AND I hate standing in a line up, then why not invest some time into planning so I make the most of my time and see what I want to see. So far, that theory has tested well and I have had some of the most spectacular trips as a result. Just as a point of interest, I am now finding that my clients are asking me for travel advice along with how to plan their retirement—I’ll take that as a compliment and happy to do it!

My intention through this blog is to share my experiences with you, so if you happened to be thinking about going to the same spots, then maybe there is a tip or two that I have imparted that will be helpful to you. If you can’t get away to where you want to go, then maybe there is a sliver of inspiration or a thread of enjoyment reading about places you have dreamed of going some day in the future.

As a final note, you may wonder who Lady Levine is—well, that’s me! A few years back I made a land purchase outside of Canada, and received a lovely title certificate, giving me the option to use the title ‘Lady”. When I am in England, it works well, but most of the world thinks Lady is just my first name—I used to try and explain but only received confused looks in return. However, it makes for a lovely title to my travels…and so a new, wonderful direction is born through what I will call “The Travels of Lady Levine”.