Monthly Archives: June 2014

Extra Time Never Sounded So Good

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Call me a weirdo, but as I follow the games of the World Cup—like most of the rest of the world—my eye doesn’t just search for the final scores. I look to see where the game was played. The reason is because I’m not just fascinated with the games, but with the backdrop as well. Politics, riots, and social injustice aside, Brazil appears to be the consummate host and most appropriate setting for the games. Soccer may not have its origins there, but it can certainly be considered it’s home in spirit. And the already party-like atmosphere is enough to get even passive fans excited.

In 2013 my visit was limited to Rio de Janeiro and the Costa Verde, which more than filled the ten days I was in the country. Like other geographically large countries such as Australia, the US and China, it was immediately obvious that only a fraction could be seen in one practical visit. So as stadiums fill in Recife, Natal and Manaus, I intently observe whatever video snippets are shown of the cities and their surroundings. I also can’t help but think what early Amazonian explorers fighting native tribes, hordes of insects and malaria would think of an internationally televised soccer match being played in the lands they had to cut through with a machete (though I suppose the whole attempted cannibalism on the part of Suarez might seem uncomfortably familiar).

 

My favorite part of watching the games has been the reaction of the crowds massed together on Copacabana Beach. That place is already like a nonstop party, and when you throw in thousands of raucous supporters from around the globe cheering and dancing, it must be like Carnival every day of the week. The commentators and experts have the amazing backdrop of Sugarloaf Mountain and it seems they can’t cut to commercial without a shot of the famous Cristo Redentor statue. Rio—which is scheduled to host the next Olympic Summer Games as well—is definitely getting a lot of oohs and aahs from the international audience. Even people I know who are stationary homebodies have expressed a desire to see it for themselves.

 

One would hope that this influx of visitors and revenue will go back to the people of Brazil, creating further stability and greater incentive for travelers to come and spend their money. Either way, the majestic backdrop and natural eye-candy have already boosted people’s image of Brazil, and filled me with a renewed desire to return and explore the regions I couldn’t get to before. In this case it is the stage, and not the actors, who have stolen the show. Extra time never sounded so good.

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Categories: Destinations | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The Best Things In Life Are For Sale

All this can be yours!

All this can be yours!

For Sale: Priceless memories for right-minded person. Must be willing to travel, try new things, and be ready to see what comes around the bend. Sharing with family or partner is preferred. The ideal buyer would have a sense of adventure, love for nature, and appreciation of culture and history. Price is negotiable but will always have a greater value than what you paid for it.

 

In essence, the above is what travel agents (& consultants like myself) sell: experiences. That’s our real product. It’s not a tangible thing like an heirloom that can be handed down from generation to generation, but its value is certainly on par. And the opportunities, stories and curiosity those experiences may inspire have far-greater potential to change a life than a dusty old brooch.

 

From personal experience I can say that selling something that cannot be seen can be a real challenge. Web sites and brochures can only do so much to impart to the client that those pictures and those places will become part of their life history. An agent’s job isn’t just to book flights and reserve hotel rooms. To make the clients truly happy, they need to convey what’s really for sale: wistful memories that will pop into your head every third Tuesday, crowd-pleasing stories to share at dinner parties, poignant moments that will mark your life’s path, chance encounters that lead to lifelong friendships, and newly-opened doorways to worlds you’ve yet to experience. When presented in those terms, irregardless of the price tag, any trip can look like a steal.

 

My portrait in front of the Great Wall of China--many years before the invention of selfies.

My portrait in front of the Great Wall of China–many years before the invention of selfies.

That is why I’ve chosen to focus my business interests on destination expertise. Any agent with a phone or internet connection can book a trip. Only those whose passion is travel can really sell one. And what gets people excited? It’s knowing that they too will have pictures of that far-off place that you showed them on your iPhone. It’s them imagining themselves taking a selfie in front of the Pyramids, Taj Mahal, or Great Wall of China. It’s helping them to envision the stories they will tell about how close the elephant was while they were on safari in Zimbabwe, or how colorful the fish were when they snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef. This is what travel is all about; hotels, airlines, cruise ships–that’s just details.

 

This is not to say that how you get there and where you stay doesn’t matter. On the contrary, such ‘details’ can profoundly affect the quality of ‘good’ memories, etc on a trip. But regardless of whether you are the seller or buyer always remember what the real product is—experiences. At the end of the day—and extending a bit further—our days (yeah, like until death), what we’ll value most isn’t what we have, but rather what we’ve done. It’s up to us to direct our resources into what counts. Travel is unique in that even though it costs money, you always come home richer. So if you’re in the market for some travel memories of lasting value, I just happen to know a guy…;)

 

To all you real or would-be travelers out there, is this something you agree with? Share your thoughts with the rest of us.

Categories: Travel Tips | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Humble Pie in Ocho Rios

Looking back to the starting point

Looking back to the starting point

I admit it. I’ve become a bit of a travel snob. Gone are the days when I was just thrilled to be leaving the country. Now, it seems that unless the destination is far away and relatively obscure, my inner snob considers itself above all that. And just like any snob, the antidote for such arrogance is a heaping serving of humble pie. I got just such a serving when I disembarked my cruise ship in one of the most routine ports of call in the entire Caribbean–Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

Though located in a lovely setting with lush green forest spilling down the mountainsides to the azure blue water of the Caribbean, it’s a scene I’d seen many times before, and like I said, I’ve become a bit of a snob, so it takes a little more than that to impress me. As I saw the hordes of tourists disgorging from the ship and packing into their waiting tour buses for the ride to Dunn’s River Falls–just as I was–my expectations dropped, and I thought this excursion could never live up to its billing as a world-class site with so many people converging on it at once. But the humble pie was ready to be served, and as our group gathered at the base and looked up at the human chains working their way up the multi-tiered cascades, I figuratively had my mouth full.

Going up?

Going up?

Suddenly the throngs of fellow tourists didn’t seem such a nuisance, and I quite enjoyed the unspoken camaraderie as we all made our way through the jungle and scampered over wet rocks in between stops to take pictures. Having been to New Zealand, Alaska, and the National Parks of the west USA, I thought I’d become a bit jaded to the spectacle of falling water. Not here. Each level had its own character, and watching the dappled sunlight reflecting in the swirling pools, I told my inner snob to choke on it.

Ready to tube the White River

Ready to tube the White River

Once that was done, I thought that the show was all over and that there’d be nothing else worth seeing. Well, apparently humble pie is best served with gravy, and our gravy was in the form of the swift running turquoise waters of the White River. Floating on an inflated inner tube and meandering along the curves brimming with green, even my inner snob had to finally admit that he was badly mistaken.

So for all you elitist travelers that consider yourselves above visiting any place that doesn’t require getting thirty-seven vaccinations, remember this one important fundamental truth: If a place is popular, its not without reason. Ocho Rios is one of those places. So get your bathing suit on, check the seal on your waterproof camera, and get ready to eat some humble pie. And since this is Jamaica, it might even be available in the form of brownies 😉

Categories: Anecdotes, Destinations | Tags: , , , , , ,

When On Tour, Don’t Sit Next to the Jerk

Taking an organized tour while on vacation is sort of like going to see a movie. Sure, you’ve got reasonable expectations of what you’re going to see, you only hope you’re not sitting next to some jerk. The fear of annoying tour group-mates is only all too real and while it is fun to laugh about them after the fact, while you’re actually there with them as they ask ridiculous questions, hold up the group because they want to save an extra twenty cents on a souvenir, or step in front of you when you’re about to take a picture, it can put a real damper on your level of enjoyment. So how do you avoid such unwelcome company? Try arranging for a private tour.

The first step would be to find a travel agent or reputable tour operator that operates in the area you wish to see. Be sure to do your homework and look for reviews. What would be the use of avoiding that overweight couple from the Midwest if you wind up left in a ditch on the side of the road of some foreign country? You will also have to find out what their pricing options are. Generally, the more people in your group, the lower the per person price. Just be sure to remember that these are the people you’ll be spending most of your time with, so choose carefully.

Touring Turkey was a pleasure with our own group

Touring Turkey was a pleasure with our own group

One of the greatest benefits of having your own private tour group is the flexibility. While group tours generally have a set itinerary and exhaustive timetable, when it is just you and your group, YOU get to decide what to see, when and for how long. When visiting India, our group of 6 not only specified where we wanted to go, but also enjoyed being able to alter that on the fly. For instance, after taking in the incomparable Taj Mahal and also-very-impressive Agra Fort over the course of a morning, we opted to skip our next scheduled stop and press on to the next town so that we’d have some time to rest. Such a move would invoke mutiny on your average package tour if it were even possible at all.

The Indianic Six

The Indianic Six

Another benefit of a private tour which I’ve alluded to at the beginning is not only controlling WHAT you see, but WHO you see it with. Annoying people aside, seeing the amazing wonders this world has to offer with the people you care about most or get along with best will greatly enhance the overall experience. Like any other shared experience, it creates a bond and will likely serve as fodder for some great laughs at the next party or family get together.

Of course, not all destinations are best experienced as part of a tour. But if you like the comfort of being directed by those who know best, I recommend you at least consider the possibility of arranging a private tour for your group. That way, when the obnoxious, whiny, and culturally-insensitive pre-packaged tours shuffle past you, you can retreat to the safety of your own bus and laugh at them at your leisure.

 

Do you have a funny story about traveling with a group? Share it here!

Categories: Travel Tips | Tags: , , , , ,

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