Go with a Local

I’ve spoken many times about the importance of using a local guide when you visit a destination that is new to you. It’s just one of the many ways that we encourage our clients to #VacationForGood and I was able to follow my own advice on our trip to Northern Ireland.

This was not the first trip to Ireland for myself and my husband, but it was our first journey into Northern Ireland. During our previous Ireland trips, nearly 15 years ago we had always toyed with the idea of visiting the North, but never felt that it was quite stable enough for us to do so.

 

When the opportunity presented itself for us to visit Northern Ireland on this trip, we jumped at the chance.  We planned out an itinerary that included two nights in Belfast and knew that we wanted to learn more about the “Troubles” as they call the years of conflict that marred this beautiful country for decades. I was able to contact a local supplier and arrange for a private tour of the neighborhoods and murals in the city.

 

Murals along Shankill Rd

 

 

Our driver, Eugene, picked us up at our B&B. We spent the next three hours learning about life in Belfast and it was fascinating to learn more about the events that took place in my lifetime.

 

 

Eugene sharing the story behind this mural in the Protestant neighborhood
Eugene sharing the story behind this mural in the Protestant neighborhood

 

 

Eugene shared his story with us, he is 63 and grew up in Belfast as a Catholic. His wife is Protestant. Shortly after they were married they lived in a Catholic neighborhood. However, once the landlord discovered that Eugene’s wife was a Protestant they were given one week to move. He then changed his name, apparently Eugene is not a Protestant name, and they moved to a Protestant neighborhood for a few years. Unfortunately for them, Eugene ran into someone that he had known as a child – obviously someone who knew he was Catholic. That night men in balaclavas and weapons gave them only 24 hours to leave their home. They left Northern Ireland for the next 8 years and only returned when Eugene’s mother in law was in ill health.

 

Mural in the Protestant neighborhood.
Mural in the Protestant neighborhood.

His story certainly struck a cord with each of us and greatly enhanced our experience. This was not the kind of information we could have gotten on a HoHo bus (those big, double decker hop on hop off buses with narration in any language you choose) but his information didn’t stop there. He took us into the Protestant neighborhoods first and showed us many of the murals lining the streets and posted on buildings. He took the time to explain what life was like both at the height of the troubles and still today. There are murals for “heros” who killed many Catholics – there are also murals of Protestants that were killed by rival Protestant gangs and painted as a warning to others. There were memorials to those who fought for their communities and tributes to those who endured hunger strikes.

 

 

Mural on the Catholic side of the peace wall.
Mural on the Catholic side of the peace wall.

Eugene took us to a section of the wall that still divides the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods of Belfast. He showed us photographs of the streets and the aftermath of bombings.

 

Eugene showing us photos of the area during the height of the Troubles.
Eugene showing us photos of the area during the height of the Troubles.

 

He took us to a section of the wall, now known as the Peace Wall and explained how this particular section was designed by the children of Belfast. In the photo below you can see the windows and doors that represent the future, the metal waves are meant to represent jump ropes and display inspirational quotes from the Dalai Lama “Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values”; Kahlil Gibran “Your neighbor is your other self dwelling behind a wall”  and Bill Clinton, who helped broker the peace agreement “Strength and wisdom are not opposing values.”

 

 

Along the peace wall
Along the peace wall

 

It was particularly touching to see my daughter add her name to the signatures on the wall.

 

 

 

 

Adding her signature to the peace wall
Adding her signature to the peace wall

Eugene explained to us that there are 6 gates in the wall, 4 of them are still closed nightly and the other two can be closed at any time as well. He showed us where the wall had been raised in the 90’s and again in the 2000’s due to increased violence. He showed us where as recently as 10 years ago bombs scorched sections of the wall very close to homes.

Burn marks on the wall, above the flower arrangement
Burn marks on the wall, above the flower arrangement

 

 

He told stories that will stick with us for years to come. These are the types of personal experiences that truly enhance your understanding of the destinations you visit. These are the types of experiences that make you dig deeper to understand the similarities that we share are much greater than the differences. Northern Ireland is a First World country, the stories we heard from Eugene and others that we met would have you believe that perhaps we were in the Middle East, not Europe. It was important for me to share this experience with my  my young daughter so that she can expand her education beyond the walls of her classroom and have a better understanding of the world around her. She was able to interact with people younger than myself who looked like her, believe in the same God she worships, lived much like she lives and had experienced a much different life. Again, we could not have had the same experience on a large tour, or had we insulated ourselves from the locals we met while in this beautiful city.

 

 

I encourage you to step a bit out of your own comfort zone the next time you travel and take a private tour, engage with the locals, and simply immerse yourself in the culture. You will be rewarded in ways you can’t yet imagine.

Are you ready to try it out for yourself? Click here and let’s get started on a local immersion for your next vacation today!

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Don’t stop exploring

“Memories are the best Souvenir”

Do you follow me on social media? You’ve seen that I recently took a family vacation to Ireland and Northern Ireland. My family took advantage of the short school week with days off for both Election Day and Veterans Day during the same week. Y’all know how much I love photography! My first college degree was actually in photography, so when on vacation I’ve constantly got a camera (even if it’s the one on my phone) and taking photos.

Taking photos at Giant’s Causeway, NI

 

I’ve even been blessed with a husband who shares my love of documenting moments through photos, and lucky for me does a great job with his super long go-go gadget arms to take some pretty fantastic selfies of us.

 

 

A selfie at the Peace Bridge in Londonderry, NI
A selfie at the Peace Bridge in Londonderry, NI

However, sometimes selfies just don’t capture the essence of the moment, and I don’t always want to travel with my “big” camera and all of it’s lenses.

One of the highlights of our trip was hiring a professional photographer with Flytographer for a 60 minute photo shoot with our friends while we were in Dublin. The photo below is our photographer, Vanessa at work with the kids.

 

Our Flytographer Vanessa hard at work capturing images of the girls - Dublin
Our Flytographer Vanessa hard at work capturing images of the girls – Dublin

 

Flytographer is a network that connects travelers with photographers in nearly 200 destinations around the world. It’s a service that we, at Slaydon’s Travel, are thrilled to integrate into the vacation plans for our clients. I’ve been following the Flytographer mission for quite a while and couldn’t wait for the opportunity to try it out for myself.

 

Vanessa with Flytographer - Dublin
Vanessa with Flytographer – Dublin

 

Hands down it is the best way I’ve found to capture those priceless memories you make on vacation, and it’s fun! We take care of all of the set up for you. Once you decide on a destination we’ll share the portfolio’s of the photographers that service that destination, pick one and we’ll set up the shoot! If there are specific locations that you know you want to capture the photographer can meet you there. Perhaps it’s your first time to a particular destination and you’re not exactly sure of the location you want to capture, no problem! These are professional photographers, if we let them know what it is that you envision they can bring that to life. Our photographer, Vanessa met us in the Temple bar area of Dublin and did a series of shots down Dame Lane that were exactly the atmosphere had pictured in my mind. Then we took a short walk through the streets of Dublin as she shared her love of the city with us and ended up at Dublin Castle where we captured some more priceless memories.

 

Taken by our Flytographer, Vanessa, in Dublin
Taken by our Flytographer, Vanessa, in Dublin

 

We spent just over an hour with Vanessa and knew when we were done that she had captured some great shots. We left Dublin the next morning to return home. A few days later I got the email I had been waiting for with our portfolio of images! All high-resolution and we can do whatever we please with them – no extra charges to get additional images, no per down load fees, nothing extra after having paid for the initial session! It’s as easy as that! I’m confident that your experience with Flytographer will be just as fantastic.

Whether taking a family trip or simply reconnecting with your spouse on a trip to celebrate each other, it is an enhancement that you won’t regret. 

 

Taken by our Flytographer, Vanessa, in Dublin
Taken by our Flytographer, Vanessa, in Dublin

 

Are you ready to try it out for yourself? Click here and let’s get your session integrated into your next vacation today!

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Use it or lose it

It’s that time of year again! When talk around the office turns to how much vacation time you still have on the books. It’s not too late to plan a last minute getaway and avoid the inevitable “honey do” list if you use that vacation time to do work around the house. I read an article this week that put the value on unused vacation days in America at $272 Billion (yes, Billion, with a B) up 21% from last year.

 

If you are one of the many Americans not utilizing the benefit of your paid vacation days, what are you waiting for?

Here are 5 hot destinations to stretch your vacation budget and use those days in 2016 before you lose them! 

 

#1 – London – Since the Brexit vote the value of the British pound has continued on a downward spiral. The good news for you is that your dollar goes a lot further now than it did this time last year in the UK! London is an easy hop for those of you who don’t have a full two weeks to spend abroad. Full of culture and fun it’s an easy destination to get away for a short vacation to reconnect with your spouse while you catch a broadway quality show and enjoy the pub scene.

#2  – Cuba – Still a new destination for many Americans this iconic destination can be a great value if you travel by sea. Consider the convenience of a Fathom cruise as you sail from Miami to three ports around this island, meet the people, hear the stories and of course, ride in one of those classic cars! On a side note there has been talk of Cuba’s border being cut off to Americans pending the election outcome, so if this is something that is high on your list, you might want to plan that trip sooner rather than later.

#3 – A river cruise visiting the European Christmas markets – in years past these ships would fill up months and months in advance. More recently so much inventory has been added with the release of new ships that believe it or not, there are still a few cabins available for sailings between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. There are some wonderful promotions for European airfare during this time as well – there is no better time to experience Europe via the rivers!

#4 – Iceland – who knew that a country with the word “ice” in it’s name could be such a hot destination? Sure it’s winter, so the days are short – but that makes conditions ideal for the possibility of viewing the Northern Lights! With a short flight time from the US we are seeing interest in Iceland skyrocket for the coming months.

#5 – A repositioning cruise – Now is the time that the mass market cruise lines are repositioning their ships from Europe, Canada and Alaska to winter in the Caribbean. We have seen 17 night cruises that visit up to 8 ports in 6 different countries for as low as $148 per person per night!  For those who dread the long flights involved in a European vacation this may be the option for you. Fly to Rome then cruise back to the US and you will be home before you know it as you fly in from Florida.

 

Hopefully I’ve given you some food for thought as you make plans for the rest of 2016. Don’t let the benefit of your vacation days go to waste. The travel professionals here at Slaydon’s Travel are ready to help you make the most of your vacation time. Click here to get started using those days before you lose them!

 

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The Comforts of Home

One of the first things that we start to discuss when making vacation plans with clients is the level of comfort they expect when they travel. It doesn’t take long to realize that 99% of us want to be pampered and taken care of more while we travel than we expect while we’re home.

 

I don’t remember the last time I had a consultation with a client who said that they wouldn’t mind going on a vacation and having the accommodations be a step down from what they are used to at home, didn’t mind cleaning their own room or villa each day, wanted to cook all of their meals and be able to do all of their laundry. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like much of a vacation to me! Certainly there are situations where you might want to have a nice quiet evening in while you vacation, or you might want to do a load of laundry if you are gone for more than a few weeks, but we don’t necessarily want to compromise on the level of comfort we’ve become accustomed to in our every day lives.

 

There are plenty of mundane tasks while we are home to keep us going. When we do get the rare time away to reconnect as a family and explore new things together it’s nice to know that all of the details have been taken care of, that you don’t need to worry about who’s cooking dinner or who’s going to do the dishes. You’ve got extra time to discuss the sites you visited during the day or extra time to linger in the morning before you set out to explore new lands. 

I remember when my daughter told me that the best part of a vacation was   “all of us spending time together” which surprised me, since we do a lot of activities together as a family.  When I probed a bit deeper what she really meant was that we spent all day together, just the three of us, no yard work, no house work, no cell phones, no checking social media or email. Just us, making memories together.

Are you ready to unplug and start collecting memories with the people you enjoy the most? Click here and let’s get started before another year slips away!

 

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Creating Masterpieces

LEGO remains a mainstay in our house. This past weekend we drove to Richmond for the day to attend a festival devoted to these little plastic pieces. My daughter enjoyed crafting her own masterpieces to add to the displays set up throughout the arena. One of the areas they set up for building was with the Architecture series that LEGO has for several iconic buildings and locations. In this small set of Venice, pictured below there are 212 pieces! The whole set could fit in your hand, it measures 10 inches long, 5 inches high and 1 inch deep. Did you catch that it’s 212 pieces?

 

 

 

 

That is a lot of pieces just to make a skyline of Venice that can fit in the palm of your hand, right? Consider planning your own trip to Venice, while there may not be 212 components of the trip, there are still several aspects that go into creating your masterpiece of a vacation. What if you expand the trip to include other iconic sites throughout Italy? The component count goes up considerably! Throw even one other person into your vacation and the pieces of your vacation planning multiply.

 

Each member of the family has their own set of expectations for the trip. It’s my job, as their travel consultant, to take each of those destinations and expectations and put them together to build a fabulous itinerary.

 

Vacations of a lifetime are not simply plucked from the pages of magazines, no matter how flawless the photographs appear. They are created piece by piece and personalized to fit your style and budget, but exceed your expectations. I pride myself in getting you more from your travel budget than you ever thought possible.

 

Don’t wait to make memories that will last a lifetime, click here so we can get started planning today. 

 

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Every Kid in a Park

I have long been an advocate for using travel as a tool to enhance your child’s education beyond the classroom walls. There was even an article on Inc.com the week before last about how travel can help your kids succeed, click here to read the article.

For the next year 4th graders across the US are getting some help in that regard. In it’s second year, the  Every Kid in a Park Program offers the opportunity for  4th graders to receive their own National Parks pass free of charge. The passes are good for the 2016 – 2017 school year and do not expire unil August 31, 2017. If your family visits a park that charges per person entry fees, the 4th grader pass is good for all children in your party under the age of 16 and up to three adults. What if you visit a park that charges by the car? It’s still good! The pass will admit all children and all adults in one non-commercial vehicle for free!

From Acadia to Zion and every national park in between nothing is excluded for these 4th graders.

Maybe this is the incentive your family was looking for to finally take that trip to Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon next summer.

Of course all of us can read about destinations or historical events in a book, but actually standing next to a Giant Sequoia or watching an historical reenactment at Appomattox Court House puts everything into perspective, especially for a child.

“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.”

– Sir John Lubbock

On a related note, Canada announced late last month, that for all of 2017, to mark the 150th Anniversary of the Canadian Confederation, that all national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas will waive entry fees.

For more information on the pass for 4th graders, or pass information for military, seniors or the standard annual passes email or call Jennifer (757) 484-4015.

If you are ready to start planning a National Parks vacation for yourself or your family (4th grader not required) click here.

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10 tips for making long flights more bearable

10 tips for making long flights more bearable: 

As I prepared for a 14 hour flight between Los Angeles and Australia I wanted to take a few minutes to give you some of my top tips for making long flights a bit easier to handle.  

#1 – now is the time to pack those cool travel accessories that you really don’t need to lug around for short hops. Specifically the eye mask and  the neck pillow (preferably inflatable for space saving, but the J-Pillow is highly recommended by several of my colleagues)  

 

 

 

 

#2 – start your preparation a few days early by trying to acclimate yourself to the timezone you’ll visit – certainly easier said than done for some destinations. Australia for example is 14 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. I had no luck with this particular tip myself before traveling yesterday.

 

 

#3 – keep away from caffeine and alcohol. You’re better off sticking to water to stay hydrated. We all know how dehydrated we can get on a short flight – it’s really important to stay hydrated on long haul flights as well. I like to take along an empty water bottle to fill once I get on the plane. This way I don’t have to rely on the tiny cups of water being refilled each time the attendant is walking by.

 

 

 

#4 – drinking all that water pays off when it’s time to wander down the aisle to the restroom. Take advantage of the “fasten seatbelt” sign being turned off and make a few slow laps around the aisles to get some exercise.

 

#5 – when you do get stuck in your seat for long periods of time, it’s important to move around and stretch as often as you can. Do ankle rotations, neck rolls, look over each shoulder, anything you can do to keep from getting stiff. Follow this link to a facebook post I made earlier this week about some yoga poses for your next long flight. 

 

#6 – now is the time to binge watch those TV shows your friends have been raving about, or the newest movie releases that you’ve been too busy to catch. You’ll have plenty of time on a 14 hour flight to catch more than a few hours worth of entertainment.

 

#7-  once you board the plane go ahead and change your watch to the local time in your destination

 

 

 

 

#8 – when it gets to be your normal bedtime in your destination, that’s a good time to use the cool accessories we talked about in tip #1 and try to get some rest.  Make sure you stick with your normal bedtime routine as well, such as getting up to brush your teeth, wash your face, etc. This helps trigger your body into it’s normal routine.

 

#9 – pack a pashmina, light blanket or a sweater in your carry on. We all know how cold airplanes can get at times.

 

 

 

 

#10 – bring along a few of your favorite tea bags, especially those that you find help you sleep, calm your stomach or perhaps even give you that morning jolt, although remember tip #3 about staying away from caffeine!

If you’re interested in more tips and tricks to make your travels stress free sign up here: 

 

 

Top 5 tips for making the most out of travel mishaps

I spent this past Sunday afternoon at the beach with my family. We had a great day with friends, family and lots of fun, but it sure was hot. Even the water temperature was up, so there was no chance of a dip to cool down. Unfortunately, we came home to a warm house. Yes, the A/C was out.

I quickly picked up the phone, knowing that at nearly 8pm on a Sunday night that there wouldn’t be anyone in the office. I knew we had been experiencing record heat and was trying to make it onto the list for as early in the week as possible. Within 5 minutes of leaving the message I had a call back from the office manager offering a few things to try and letting me know that they would have the owner of the business out the next day. 

 

Parts were ordered and by the time I got home from work on Tuesday evening, the house was cool again. It was nice to know that with one phone call everything was taken care of, the fact that it was by a small business owned by a family that still lives down the street from my parents house made it even better.

 

It reminded me of all the travelers we were able to help with their travel plans when things didn’t go as expected in the past few weeks. Maybe you saw a news report or a few about the Delta computer problems, the power outage at JFK, the floods in Louisiana or even the false reports of shots fired, also at JFK, and that was all just within the past week!  All of these can wreak havoc on travel plans.

 

 

 

 

Luckily, much like I was able to rely on the expertise of the heating and cooling professional, my clients just had to pick up the phone and let me handle the rest. This week I wanted to share a few tips incase your next trip doesn’t go exactly as you had planned. In the meantime, remember, “It takes no more time to see the good side of life than it takes to see the bad” ~Jimmy Buffett

 

 

 

 

Top 5 tips for making the most out of travel mishaps: 

 

#1 – call your travel professional immediately – the sooner we know about a potential delay or problem, the more options we have access to if necessary.

 

#2 – inspect your luggage before leaving the airport. Most airlines require that you report any damages in person, within 4 hours of arrival at the destination.

 

#3 – keep your insurance paperwork handy. On the paperwork are the phone numbers to file a claim as well as emergency assistance numbers for locations throughout the world.

 

#4 – when your flights are delayed, stay close to the gate and listen closely for updates. The airline representatives will pass along updates as information becomes available

 

#5 – when you do get stuck, find a way to enjoy it, a bad mood is not going to change the situation. 

 

 

 

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Hello, my name is…

 

 

“Hello, my name is….”

This was the lesson when I participated in a session of Community English during my February trip with Fathom as a brand ambassador. We had the pleasure of working in groups of 6 – three Americans and three Dominicans in the first lesson of a 240 hour training program to teach these beautiful people English. The Dominicans in my group included a young woman and her 7 year old daughter as well as a very soft spoken woman a little bit older than me. Our session in February was difficult, those 8 years of French that I took in grade school and high school were of no help when trying to teach English to these women who spoke only Spanish.  During our time together neither me, nor my companions were able to get the soft spoken women to communicate with us.

I was hesitant to participate in the Community English impact activity last week when I returned to the Dominican Republic aboard the Adonia with my family.

 

While we were on the bus last week on our way to the neighborhood we would be helping I noticed some familiar sites, eventually, it became clear. Out of the several neighborhoods that the Community English trip visits, I was returning to San Antonio. I wondered if I would recognize anyone.  I wondered if we would still be on the first lesson.  Honestly, I  wondered if the Community English program was working.

 

 

 

 

Upon entering the community center I did recognize some familiar faces, I scanned the room looking for Stacy, the 7 year old I had helped a few months prior. I wanted to introduce her to my own daughter, who is about the same age. I didn’t see Stacy, or her Mom, but I did see the third woman. I asked our guide, Abel, to translate for me and tell her that we had met during her first lesson.  He did and I was met with a huge smile and a hug.

 

 

I never expected what happened next. She extended her hand and said “Hello, my name is Jacinta. How are you?” I wasn’t sure whether I was going to cry or fall on the floor, so we hugged again. I couldn’t believe that after only a few lessons she had come so far. Remember, Fathom is brand new, we were the 6th cruise to the Dominican Republic. 

 

After a few ice breaker activities it was time to break off into smaller groups and begin the lesson of the day, food! Together my husband, daughter and myself spent the next 90 minutes with ElJuan, Emelda, Illuminatia, Juana and Sandra reviewing older lessons and learning each other’s favorite foods. The were very enthusiastic and quite patient, they also taught us a few words of Spanish before our time together came to a close.

 

 

 

We returned to the community center and participated in a few more activities, we also had the opportunity to share some of our experiences. One family talked about how much of an impact the Dominican family had on them and how they feel like they were the ones who learned that day. Another single man got up to say how much his attitudes about his own life and contentment had been affected by the activity. Several Dominican families also spoke about our time together and thanked us for coming. When given the opportunity to share I was able to tell the group that no matter how short our time together, or how much those of us struggled who don’t know Spanish, that together we are making a difference. We are building upon the lessons that previous travelers have completed and we are changing the lives of those in the community. These community members are learning English so they can get better jobs and in turn provide more for their families. It’s working for them, this was made crystal clear to me many of them with their gratitude, and one by her words, her name is Jacinta.

If this type of impact travel sounds like something you would be interested in, I would love to chat with you. If you would like to read more about impact travel sign up here 

Are you getting enough Craic?

What comes to mind when you think of Ireland? Is it the emerald green rolling hills? The iconic scenery of The Quiet Man or more recently Leap Year? 

 

Ireland is one of my favorite European destinations. When I think back on my time spent on the Emerald Isle I’m drawn to my visits to the local pubs and the towns so small that they were barely dots on the map.

 

 

 

It was in these tiny towns that we were able to really interact with the locals. Where my sister-in-law was approached by an elderly Irish man complete with beard and tiny hat, who gleefully asked her “Are ye gettin’ enough Craic*, lassie?”  Where we met Mary, the B&B owner who also ran the local pub. Where we played snooker with the locals and you didn’t have to pay for the game, but for the light overhead. This is the Ireland I remember, and would return to in a heartbeat. These are the same Irish men and women who surrounded a table of American tourists, weeks after the tragedy of 9/11 and sang God Bless America. 

 

*Craic – pronounced crack – the closest translation is having a good time, or simply, fun

 

 

Sure, the larger towns like Dublin, Shannon, Cork and Waterford are iconic and in some respects not to be missed, but it’s the small towns where you become a traveler instead of a tourist. The same is true across the globe.

 

Maybe you feel like you’ll blend in easier in a big city, or that you will find it easier to get someone to speak your language, but will you really get to experience the culture? Ultimately, isn’t that why we travel? I shared the sentiment below on social media last week, it’s one that I deeply believe is true.

 

 

 

Do you want to really experience the next destination you visit, rather than simply checking the boxes of sites that were recommended by friends and websites? When you are ready to be a traveler instead of a tourist, click hereand let’s get started.

 

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