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.

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!

To The Octopus I Chanced Upon One Early Winter’s Eve

Nothing quite like hanging out with the locals down under (literally)
Nothing quite like hanging out with the locals down under (literally)

As if I needed another excuse to travel, in 1999 I became a certified scuba diver. All of a sudden there it was—another world to explore. In my enthusiasm I subscribed to a few glossy dive magazines, and soon noticed that nearly all the locales featured within with crystal waters and thriving reefs were places I had yet to visit.

 

Challenge accepted.

 

This spurred a several-year quest to visit the best places to dive, and introduced me to the thrill of underwater animal encounters both great and small. And though I’ve dived with sharks (lots of them), sea snakes, barracuda, and other menacing denizens of the deep, my favorite encounter was not with a fierce creature at all—just a multi-limbed one.

 

I was several days into a liveaboard trip (a.k.a. dive boat where you live onboard and dive remote sites) in the Bahamas, when on a night dive, my beam came across a juvenile octopus propelling itself in that signature way that only octopuses (octopi?) can. Immediately changing my vector, I headed right towards it, watching it transform from a shimmering blue-green color to a mottled orange, as it tried to camouflage itself on the reef. While I’d like to flatter myself and say it was putting on a show just for me, in reality I probably scared it half to death, and it was just trying to get away.

 

I was mesmerized. Sure, I’d seen them on TV documentaries and in National Geographic, but somehow it just doesn’t prepare you for the graceful movement and instantaneous transformation that played out in front of me. I was overjoyed, and spent nearly the rest of my remaining air hovering above it and hoping it would vacate the crevice it had wedged itself into and give me an encore performance.

 

Upon returning to the surface, I raved to all about the striking features of the creature I just witnessed, claiming it was the second-most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen—the first being my wife. Oddly, when I later told her that, she didn’t seem at all flattered. Apparently females have enough competition and do not need any more from cephalopods. When she voiced her displeasure, all I could say was, “You didn’t see that octopus.”

 

Sadly, I have no photographs or video to preserve my memory of that encounter. I cannot help but wonder what this octopus that touched me so deeply is doing now. I wonder if he (or she) is still alive, rambling across reefs and dodging other divers hoping to catch a glimpse of its beauty. And I wonder what might have been if our time together was longer, and not governed by petty nuisances like air and nitrogen absorption. Wherever it ended up, it will forever be in my mind, my heart, and with this post, the Internet. Never forget…

 

Has anyone had a special/amazing/amusing underwater animal encounter? Leave a comment and share it with us all.

Maximization & Other Made-Up Travel Philosophies

In my previous post If You’re Going To India, Turn Right At Finland, I mentioned the concept of ‘maximization’—a self-invented term of travel philosophy—when discussing the art of the stopover. I will now elaborate further on that concept and how it applies to planning travel. Just a word of caution: I WILL be using some made-up words. English language purists beware!

 

While one can certainly maximize their vacation by means of a well-placed stopover, my maximization philosophy encompasses a wider scope. In a nutshell, it posits: While you’re in the area, see as much of it as you can. That may sound so simplistic as to hardly count as a philosophy at all, but there’s actually a lot more to it than that.

 

Bonus Beach Time! Anse Source d'Argent, La Digue, Seychelles
Bonus Beach Time! Anse Source d’Argent, La Digue, Seychelles

Take as an example a trip I took in early 2009 to South Africa. This country is richly blessed in natural beauty and attractions, and could have easily filled the entire two weeks I had at my disposal. But—and here’s where the maximization philosophy comes in—while we were in the relativish area (yes, that’s a made-up term, in this case indicating a radius of a thousand miles) I opted out of a full two weeks in South Africa, and spent one of them in the idyllic Seychelles Islands. The benefits are two-fold. For starters, this gave us great variety in our vacation activities, allowing us to go from a safari in the bush to some gorgeous tropical beaches—the ultimate surf and turf if you will. We also saved ourselves another 16 hour flight to return to the ‘neighborhood’ of the western Indian Ocean, not to mention the cost of another set of airline tickets. In doing so, we mostified (got the most out of) the fact that we were already going to be within relativish striking distance.

 

Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey
Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

Another example would be in 2007, where we took advantage of an open jaw ticket. As the name would suggest, this is when you fly into one city but leave from another. Arriving in Istanbul, Turkey, we saw some of Turkey’s amazing attractions (See the post The Witty Traveler’s Guide to Cappadocia) before taking an overnight train to Greece, and then renting a car to explore all the way down to Athens, before hopping on a plane to finish up in Rome. Again whilst (I know it’s not a made-up word but Americans never use it) in the relativish area, why not take in not one but three former seats of empires?

 

So how can you go about maximizing your next travel plans? You can hire a competent travel professional such as myself to do it for you at a reasonable price (Pardon the blatanistic [i.e. shamelessly self-serving] plug for my Trip Accomplice travel service) or you can get out a map and see what else is in the general area you’re seeking to visit. With a little thought, some imagination, and a handful of guts, you can take your plainified, humdrumicated itinerary and turn it into an awesomotic, fantabulous maximized adventure. Just be sure to turn off spell-check.