What one word or phrase describes the type of traveller you are? Why?
Creative. I don't like generic trips (tour tours, all inclusive, cruises) and rather make up my own. Yes, there is more stress and planning in this, but the rewards of not being yet another sheep on a tour are well worth it. You also learn a lot more about the culture by mixing with the locals and getting off the beaten path. In recent years this has become a lot easier with email and Google translate for advance planning. Language is sometimes an issue, but usually with some patience and a lot of fingers and drawing you can get by! Travel also does not have to be expensive if you stay away from the tourist traps.
What was your most memorable trip?
There are two top contenders for this spot: Japan and Jordan. For Japan, this was a trip that started in Hakodate and then Tokyo to Hiroshima by train. Japan is an interesting culture, but everyone understands some English if you write it down. Getting around Japan is very easy and there is lots to see. The food tastes so good everywhere you go. We ate in 7-11's a lot, where things are cheaper, but the food is still delicious (no, no hot dogs). I think everyone should visit Hiroshima's peace museum and learn the stories behind nuclear war and I guarantee regardless of how tough you are that you will not leave without red eyes.
Jordan's trip started in Amman and headed south to Aquaba, passing several different sights and of course visiting Petra. Jordan is quite conservative and the people are friendly and go out of their way for you. Petra is a must-see and for those that don't know of the famous Treasury, you'll recognize it from the ending of the Indiana Jones and the last Crusade. "Only the Penitent Man Shall Pass".
What's the worst thing that has gone wrong on your travels? How did you recover from it, and what did you learn?
South African airlines lost my baggage from Victoria Falls to Capetown. Seeing that there is only one flight a day, I'm not too sure how one loses bags. The next day I was in Namibia on a camping trip and it took a week for my bag to catch up. Nothing like having just the clothes on your back sleeping in a tent near freezing degrees at night with no sleeping bag. This trip was part of an overland tour and the tour leader obviously did not like South African airlines and I had to pay for it seeing that he was not willing to wait an hour at the airport for my bag to show up. Instead the bag chased me around for a week. I was quite upset by the whole matter and I reflected this in the lack of a tip at the end of the trip for that particular tour leader. Furthermore this tour leader refused to stop anywhere in the towns for me to buy essential gear. Several of the other people on the tour were also disappointed with this attitude and gave poor tips at the end.
This stemmed the rethinking on how you pack. Pack at least a change of clothing in your carry on and if travelling with someone else, put half of your clothing in their bag and vice versa. That way if one bag goes missing then all is not lost.
How do you prefer to get to/from the airport?
It all depends where I am and what options are available. I prefer trains and shuttles if they are available and they do not take too much longer than the taxi option. Buses are sometimes okay, but if they are not set up for luggage or you need to make several connections then they are not worth it. I generally do not like taking taxis as they tend to be the most expensive transportation option and the rip-offs are concerning, even at home.
What was your worst airport ground transportation experience?
Coming back from an island south of Krabi, Thailand, Todd and I hired a shared taxi service back to the airport and allowed for ample time for delays. The driver was terribly slow and missed the connecting ferries and then loved chatting it up with everyone. He had also been told in Thai that we needed off at the airport before hitting town. Being over 2.5 hours late, he drives right by the airport and then claims because he is running late that he cannot stop. Our flight left in 30 minutes and we did not have time to go into town, find another taxi, and then head back out to the airport and if we missed this flight, it started a delay cascade effect where now you are re-booking 5 flights and having to book additional hotel rooms due to the delay. I was about ready to slam the taxi into neutral to make a point, but it was all the other travellers that forced him to stop so we could get out and run back to the airport.
What gear do you travel with?
Backback, minimal clothing, and probably too many electronics.
What's always in your luggage that might surprise people?
Solid laundry soap for washing your clothes. It is hard to find in North America, so I usually stock up elsewhere.
When did you first get the travel bug?
My first overseas trip was to the Caribbean in 1997, visiting a couple islands including one very un-touristy island. Landing in the capital was entertaining as the runway was very short and the control tower was the cab of a semi-truck on wood pallets. Driving through town was the quick welcome and culture shock as our taxi driver was very good at dodging the chickens and pigs roaming the streets. My first born was named after this island nation!
What is one very close call when travelling?
Todd and I flew through Singapore airport a few years ago and our arriving flight was late and we only had 50 minutes to get to the connecting flight. We ran as hard as we could to the gate to find out that we were in the wrong terminal. We then had to backtrack to the correct terminal and only knocked down a few people while running and didn't have time to pick them up or apologize. We get onto the plane just as they were shutting the door and sat down dripping of sweat and state that was a run of "Amazing Race Style". Then they handed out hot towels to all the passengers and Todd and I were mopping the sweat off our faces, backs, everywhere to the disgust of the passenger next to us. Oh well.
What's the biggest thing that bugs you about travel?
Other tourists that do not bargain and pay whatever is asked without question, thus spoiling it for future travellers by setting unrealistic prices. In western society you don't negotiate for prices anymore and unfortunately that carries over into travel. In most of the world's cultures there is a constant, yet fun, battle between the maximum profit a seller can take and what the buyer is willing to pay. When you grow up in a non-negotiating society, you become very uncomfortable when placed into negotiating for things at a market or even that taxi ride. In touristy spots, vendors know this and because the past tourists have paid whatever was asked for, new tourists are expected to pay the same or more.
I use the buying a beer at a store gauge for establishing local prices (or the bread prices in Muslim countries as alcohol prices are hard to come by) and then you feel a lot better and more confident on guessing what you should really be paying.
Try negotiating at home sometime, be it garage sales, electronic purchases, or just asking for a cash discount and it is amazing how far you can go. I don't recommend this in Australia though as it is seen as somewhat insulting. In China, the word discount is everywhere and you don't even need to ask.
What's the funniest thing that's ever happened to you when traveling?
We arrived late one night in Hurghada, Egypt off the ferry and needed to spend the night before catching the first bus of the morning to Luxor. We checked into a USD 4 hotel room and we found no sheets or towels in our room. The person at the front desk spoke no English and I did not know how to ask for towels in Arabic, so instead I made motions of having a shower and then using a towel to dry myself. His response was in Arabic with the fancy word of "housekeeping" thrown in. So I assumed that "housekeeping" would come by shortly with my request, although I seriously had my doubts as I returned to my room. Over the next hour I went back twice to the lobby and pestered the front desk for towels and sheets and again this "housekeeping" word went by. Finally he threw up their arms in frustration with me and made the "follow me" motion. I followed the guy up 7 flights of stairs to a room, but upon entering the room I realized it was HIS room that he lived in. There was a bar fridge with heaps of fresh towels on it and when I turned to motion to him about the towels, he had disappeared into his bathroom and came out with a well-used loofah sponge and was ready to throw it at me. I pointed to the towels and said "towels". He understood and then we both burst out laughing at the miscommunication and he thought that I was asking for a loofah the whole time. About 10 minutes later he showed up at our room with heaps of towels and sheets. That whole story was worth the 4 dollars we paid for that room and I also learned the English word for loofah comes from Arabic.
How do you capture your travel memories?
Internally. You can take all the photos, tell all the stories, and buy all the t-shirts, but unfortunately it is just not the same as having been there.
What's your travel style? (E.g. All arranged in advance? unplanned and figure it out as you go?)
I like to plan the critical parts first (flights) and well in advance, although sometimes the destination is chosen based on seat sales. Years ago we decided to visit Italy over the course of a couple of hours, although this had never crossed our minds before, but it was based on a very good price for an inaugural flight there. Next comes the hotels as it is less stressful, but usually these are not chains and more of "where the locals might stay". Usually everything else is left quite open. I've learned over many trips not to try to cram it all in and instead pick just a few locations and visit those and you can always return later in your life to see more.