TRAVEL TIPS

This column is a travel guide for seniors who may be hesitant to travel very much and want encouragement to strike out on one’s own. We older folk have to think about things most people never do: stairs,  how heavy things are to carry, how far it is to walk anywhere, and of course where is the nearest bathroom.  For everyone else, my experiences may or may not fit your situation, but we can all learn something from each other.

In many countries of the world my comments may even appear rude, since North Americans tend to be much more open about personal matters while others are taught to be deeply private. No offence is intended. My desire is simply to offer knowledge and wisdom I have learned. Most  of it is current information,  but also some memories  when travelling the world when I was young.  

October 2017

It is cheaper to fly to London, England ($231 all inclusive) direct one way in 7 hours  than it is to take the train 24 hours from  where I live, via Toronto, to Halifax, Nova Scotia ($279 in a seat, no sleeping berth or cabin or food) to the Maritimes, Eastern Canada.

London is twice the distance across the Atlantic Ocean on an overnight flight from Toronto International Airport to Gatwick Airport, outside London. Flight costs are usually considerably higher than that, easily $850 CD return, maybe as low as the $600 range, so this is a deal.  Are you aware that the cheaper flights  go to Gatwick and the more expensive ones to Heathrow Airport? Both are about 20 miles outside the city, meaning you need to find a ride to go in any direction from there.

Yes, there’s a train into the city. If you have a train pass for Britain, have it stamped to activate it before leaving the airport. Also buy a plastic Osyter card for London’s underground if you expect to use it.  You have to scan that card going in and out of stations. You may be charged a fee to take a rental vehicle into the city and you’ll be facing all the left hand driving adjustments for being in Britain. No thanks.

Buses go everywhere, but the train is easier, roomy with tables to sit at,  and faster and zooms you from London up to Scotland in four hours. It is only three hours south instead to Torquay, the English Riviera,  for Agatha Christie fans (she had a summer house there) while enjoying the beautiful English countyside. I did both areas in my last trip there.

I like England and seeing more of its countryside. My initial plan was to travel with my friend from New Brunswick and take the ferry across the English Channel from Dover to  Dunkirk and drive along the Normandy coast. Direct flights to Paris are not yet in the same price range to change direction. I have Google search engine watching flights there (and other places) to notify me when prices drop. However, my friend has to start her university course, so that trip is delayed for now.  Meanwhile gathering information about the soldiers whose graves  I will visit is keeping me busy.

 

A real problem for older seniors has arisen in that rental car places don’t want to give a vehicle to someone in their 70s. It seems the cutoff age is strongly held at about 65 and younger drivers preferred.

I’m leaving today for an overnight trip in Ontario. The hostel I plan to stay at is still $25/night for shared 6- bunk room co-ed  or $45 for a more private situation.  Since I’ve stayed at the place three times, I already know there is a lot of freedom to find a private spot if others show up. But this is the season to see the fall leaf colour in Ontario, which are about half down, so not sure how busy the place will be. I never go there on a Friday or Saturday cause the bar downstairs roars to 1am with karoke and I can’t sleep.

Hotels in Ontario, however, are about $144-165 per night plus tax,  motels sometimes less but not much, and I might have to shift there if my companion cannot handle roughing it a bit.

Yes, this is the first time I’m taking this friend from Germany with me today, and I’m a bit concerned cause she is used to comforts. I’m more focused on costs and privacy, wishing the nights would hurry up so dawn breaks. Today’s trip will be a testing ground how we get along in my mode of travel instead of hers. Of course, realistically, if I had her money I might change my ways. Life–and choosing to enjoy it, and having fun in the process.


Yesterday.

Yeh, we made it and are back home, and are still good friends. Not without some moments of course when we both got too exhausted because we travelled all day for two days,  with many stops in between. I missed my usual afternoon nap. I had to stop once to stretch out for 15 minutes to recover.  These mini breaks really work for me. She happily went shopping and woke me up excited with her find.

I had a hard look at the hotel industry when we decided to book into a major hotel chain in our travels. As I parked the car, my friend went in to get us a room.  I found her deeply upset because the agent wouldn’t accept her cash payment for the night. I think she was offended.  Apparently she no longer carries a Visa.   Even after safely settled in a nice clean room, it took her hours to get over that.   We spent a quite a bit of time the next morning discussing this experience and what we could learn from it. A good reminder that what seems so common really isn’t for some people.

I am a strong proponent of prepaid Visa cards which you load with funds first and then draw upon them as needed. No bills when you get home. No debt. I’ve used mine extensively in booking flights, and all kinds of various incidents. I sat at a computer in Edinburgh and bought a one-way flight to Ireland with my prepaid card. But some hotels won’t accept them.

Prebooking and prepaying for accommodation over the Internet is one way to get around this, and I did this on my last trips. No problem at all for those of you are suspicious of finance on the world wide web. When I arrived in Scotland, my earlier Internet payment was immediately acknowledged and I was shown my room. I  really liked private rooms in hostels in both Glasgow and Edinburgh, far better than two bed and breakfast locations I had elsewhere in the country.

I do most of my banking from my computer and have for years.  Glad to be home, but here’s a few more ideas about bank cards that I find interesting. For Snow Birds about to head south, this might interest you:

  • “ATM Cash Withdrawals – You can get a U.S. debit card that allows you to withdraw U.S. dollars in the United States from ATM machines without having to incur foreign exchange costs, and if the ATM is affiliated with your bank, no transaction fees. For withdrawals from non-affiliated ATMs, you’ll likely have to pay a small transaction fee, just like you would in Canada if you use an ATM that isn’t affiliated with your bank.
  • Debit Payments – You can get a U.S. debit card that will allow you to make payments at retailers throughout the U.S. with no foreign exchange or transaction fees. This is a big benefit over using your Canadian debit card in the U.S., as most U.S. retailers don’t accept Canadian debit cards, and those who do will charge you foreign exchange and transaction fees.”

The Middle East

I like to drive people places just for the pleasure of the trip, and their company. I also do longer trips for others just to have my basic expenses paid. That’s anywhere in the world one can legally and ‘safely’ go.  When I was young, I would brave any country, and tried to walk into Tibet from India when China was a closed country. If my child tried to do that today  I think I might have a heart attack. My poor mother–what she must have suffered. She once phoned the Director of the organization I was with because she read in a newspaper that Bombay was ablaze with riots, which it was. We were hiding out in our apartment. Now I get it, Mom! The Director contacted me to make sure I was okay. What was I to say?

Dare I mention I was caught in a Communist uprising in Bihar, Northern India, and hid for 15 hours in a closet in a train station while the screams and pounding went on all around me.  And earlier than that I was dropped off in a village in no man’s land between Afghanistan and Pakistan cause I needed a VISA and had to find the villager who could stamp my passport, then find a local bus to catch up later with my team.

We had driven for a month from Belgium overland through the Middle East, heading to India.  I didn’t know the local language, but between hand signals and a few words, I was able to move on. But those were a few scary moments when I was standing there all alone  and everybody else drove away.  Memories. Let’s make more of them. Here’s a photo of our group in front of our truck.  I’m the woman on the left reaching for the child. We had two vehicles loaded with supplies and tires, then mattresses on top where we slept.

We blew a lot of tires on that trip fording rivers and rocky creek beds. There were few roads or bridges  once we past Ankara, Turkey. Locals told us to head for a point on the horizon cause there was a pass somewhere in that direction. We  sometimes could see a faint indication in the dirt that others had gone the same way.  The trucks became  dusty and hot, and I often wanted to walk instead of ride.  We slowed  to a crawl so often, driving day and night. I’d wake up in the darkness and wonder what country I was in, and what side of the road we were supposed to be driving on.

I loved buying bread fresh out of the oven in many of the village markets in the Middle East, the cups of tea, even early dawn runs in front of the truck when we first got up. Bathroom breaks without a bush in sight, so holding a blanket with other girls in a tiny circle so someone  could squat down and find relief. Such a ‘delicate’ thing to mention, but part of the reality of life on the road, a trip that the Internet says stretches 4, 462 miles/7.167 km by air. I bet we doubled that chugging up and down those huge mountains ranges.

We arrived at Iran’s border at supper time only to have the official slam his window shut in his little hut and leave for the night.  It was a tiny stop in the middle of nowhere with a bar across the road.  We had to wait until he came back the next morning to hand him about 14 passports to stamp, anxious to get going again.  A glance at each passport, then bang with his seal, and we were moving again.

Reaching Tehran for a three-day stop, I hunted for an English newspaper in the market, wondering if Trudeau had won the Canadian Election. The father, not the son. I forget where I saw a camel train.  Then there was a group of black tents of Kurdish nomads we decided to visit, but the snarling dogs came rushing at us, and we backed away.

Modern Tehran, Iran

I remember crossing the Euphrates River. I also am trying to remember if it was  just past there that we almost drove off a cliff at night. The trucks crept ahead in a construction area high overhead,  in the mountains like you see in the photo above. We couldn’t read the squiggles on a sudden  little sign propped against a dirt pile. The lead driver stopped, puzzled. His caution saved our lives. The guys walked ahead with flashlights and found a huge  crater in front of us where an avalanche had wiped out the road. No barrier. The road just disappeared into darkness.  The trucks one by one  turned to the left a tiny distance,  then straightened slowly, carefully, to inch ahead, hugging tightly  the rock wall. We made it across a newly graded stretch of dirt just wide enough to get us past that dark emptiness. What relief that it didn’t collapse under us!!!

Some time later the Caspian Sea appeared far in the distance. I was disappointed  not to be able to get close to wade in its shoreline because of muddy flats.  Treeless terrain so much of the journey that flattened out now, then rose again abruptly in the next nation.

Afghanistan. Wow–that sudden, marvellous paved highway that took us rapidly from the border right across the country and through the Kyber Pass with ease.  The change in driving was really dramatic, a total surprise,  and we picked up speed. A modern highway– built by the Russians– stretched towards Pakistan and onward. As good as any highway in North America. I expect it is blown to pieces by now or nearly so.

The lonely landscape just north of Herat, Afghanistan

I became nervous, however,  when a group of turbaned, Afghan  men came into the tiny restaurant in the village of Herat. They spread out to sit on a platform all around the room against the wall, resting their rifles on their laps and stared at us young women who were eating at a table in the centre of the room. We got out of there.  I glanced at an old fort as we left, thinking of Ghenis Khan who may have passed this way and the history of this  area of the world. Herat was a place of a few huts, and now it is a city. Amazing.

We rented the whole bathhouse in Kandahar for my first real shower since Europe. It was heaven!!!  I don’t remember getting a shower in Iran’s capital. We stayed clean as best we could from the water that we carried, but this wasn’t the same thing. One of the biggest highlights of the trip–a shower in that little wooden stall and an old tap above and a stream of clear water that was simply marvellous.  None has ever matched it since in appreciation.

I went for a run in the hills outside Kabul, only to be called back for safety cause the danger of being kidnapped was a real back then as it today. Innocency, not naivety.

Modern Kabul, Afghanistan

During a brief stop at the university in Kabul, another girl and I were waiting in the truck when a group  of about 15 men bandishing sticks came noisily up the back alley were we were parked. We quickly locked the doors and slid down out of sight, when they were upon us, attacking the truck pounding and smashing it as they passed, even rocking it a little bit.  And then they were gone.

In the Kyber Pass, we pulled over to stop, and I looked down trying to pick out the five caravan routes far below.  I didn’t know the privilege that was mine– a simple farm girl on the other side of the world enjoying a sunny day in a country that would become one of the  most dangerous  places in the world.

Coming out of The Kyber Pass

The  mental snapshot of life in the Middle East from my trip before the violence began is something I cherish. Those places have changed forever. A million  people have been fleeing eastward towards Europe, terrified for their lives, their counties ruined behind them. That tragedy disturbs me a lot. I long to be of comfort, to help those who are suffering, and pray that the violence will stop.

What about travel there today? You can fly the same distance in about 8 hours (Belgium to Delhi), or take a train from  Tabriz just inside the Iran boarder to Tehran, and even drive your own car if you want to through the Middle East with considerable more ease than we did. Iran is now a tourist destination. Lots of  roads and modernization. But stay away from Afghanistan and Syria, and the military conflicts all over the Middle East. I’d think twice++ about travelling today through the regions we travelled, but the countries that have some semblance of peace? A Holy Land tour heads my list.  Airplanes carry people from all over the world to these countries almost every day.

As  I leave tips about the Middle East, I think of the Bible prophesy that the ‘land of Babylon’  will be destroyed and no one will ever live there again.   Isaiah 13, 14. We know that ancient Babylon was conquered about 536 BC by a man specifically named in the Bible by the prophet Isaiah, 150 years before he was born: Cyrus the Great, King of Persia.  Alexander the Great also conquered Babylon much later.  Daniel mentioned in the Bible lived here. The area has been a major archeological site. It was  used by US forces during the Gulf War. The ancient city is a heap of ruins within the modern day city of Hillah and several attempts have begun at recontruction. Click on this link to see photos and a commentary of Babylon that I really appreciate.

Is this prophecy  yet to occur in its fullness?  Isaiah Chapters 21, 46, 47, 48. Fascinating study in the  Major Prophets of the Bible and other books makes travelling in this part of the world come alive for me.

Florida bound – November 2017

A trip to Florida to escape the storms of winter appeals to many people, even me. But let’s wait a little while until hurricane season is over. A big one is heading there this week as I pen these lines. (Later: We’re now snowed in here mid November).

Many Canadians are getting ready to head to Florida for the winter, and occasionally hire a driver to  take them there or want their car delivered. There are single women who long for a dependable companion.  I like these travel opportunities.  Maybe you wonder what to expect in costs for this one?  RV travel is a bit different, since it costs about $34 to $50 a night in a campground and you carry your accommodation with you, but Walmart lets you occasionally stay in their parking lots for free. Heavier vehicles always use more gas consumption. This report is for a modern car using premium gas.

There are two main routes south from Ontario, and the shortest is via Highway 1-75 from Detroit, Michigan to Florida through Toledo Ohio;   Lexington & Richmond, Kentucky, Chatanooga and Knoxvile, Tennessee;  Macon and Atlanta, Georgia towards Tampa Bay, Sarasota and Fort Myers, Florida. That is a distance of about 1,170 miles, or 1883 kilometers, depending on where you are going. An average driving time would be about 19 to 24 hours, and the driver can cover that in about three days for an average daily driving period of  7 hours a day. If you share driving with someone else, you can get there a lot faster.

Gas consumption  in total is about 46 gallons of gas for the trip if one anticipates an average of 25 m/p/g . With fuel prices a lot less in the States than Canada, about $2.59 to $3.17 USD in the North in Michigan and a bit higher in Florida, that should cost the driver about  $150 US dollars just to round things off. (thats $189.75 CD current exchange rate).

I rated the motels by price and there are still some at about $58 USD a night.  Lots and lots of choices to suite everyone’s taste. So three nights travel will be about another $174 USD  $223 CD  as a minimum. Expect to pay more.

A return flight from Orlando with Air Canada is currently $184 one way  to bring the driver home, but one still has to get  two hours away, and an airport van charges $100 one way to this destination. Add food costs unique to the individual, and you have a simple summary like this:

  • Gas                             $    150.00   USD
  • Accommodation       180.00 @$60/night and up
  • Food                                 112.00 @$40/day and up
  • Travel Insurance       100.00 estimated
  • Miscellaneous             50.00 (Tolls, little souvenirs, etc and the unknown)

_________________Total= $592.00  USD___________________

TOTAL EXPECTED COST   It works out to about $100 USD a day,  plus the driver’s trip home.  Slow or fast travel is fine, and any route you like. The contract does have restrictions,  pertaining to privacy and safety especially. No illegal or morally objectionable activity or contents. The real problem is how to ensure that.  So it is better to begin a journey already in the country of one’s visit.

If you delete the driver costs of about $300 USD down and $300 USD return home, the adjusted budget for a fast trip down to Florida from Ontario to  drive yourself  by car or RV would still  be close to $600 USD or $759 CD, and up from there. Naturally if you travel as a couple, you can reduce some costs in half by sharing a room and the gas,  but food costs double and people  love to shop. This is the trip down or back, not to sustain you once there. I’ll discuss travel insurance in more detail another time because it is costing Canadians a lot more as well.

Companies currently charge between $850 to $1200 USD to deliver a vehicle from Ontario to Florida.


PACKING FOR A TRIP.  I’ve made a checklist I adjust for different kinds of trips, but at least it helps me not forget something important.  I think it so much easier for a man to stuff a few things in a dufflebag and take off, but we women do like a few more things than that. Here’s my list, and you adjust it to your own liking.                                  

 TRIP CHECKLIST

Small Suitcase with wheels & handle (for inside plane in bin above seat) LOCK IT. I had meds stolen from a bag in the overhead bin on my last trip to Cancun.  Liquids & gels 100 ml size and in plastic bags or sealed in a case. This very small suitcase size restricts the number of outfits you can take. I don’t like to roll up things tightly with no cosmetic type cases, but that does make a lot more room. My girlfriend takes twice the clothes I do that way. I just watched a packing tip for this on U-Tube. To each his own. Remember the danger in some parts of the world if you appear as a wealthy traveller. Not included in my list: shorts, bathing suit, suntan lotion, or sports clothes.

A lot depends on where you are going, where you are staying, how long, how hot it is or not, and if facing dressy or more casual situations.  Can I hire my laundry done,  use a machine, or do I have to do it myself by hand? Getting things dry is a huge problem with laundry if you are always on the go.

Hiring a local man in poorer countries to shop for you saves a lot of money in the end since prices triple as soon as they see a foreigner. Guard against being bit by mosquitoes, especially for women who are pregnant, and make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date before travelling to most areas of the world.

If you must have a complete change of clothing every day when you shower, that rules out visits to some countries of the world, since there may not be any showers. You can buy a portable shower (and a mosquito net) for those situations but you will need a bigger suitcase for more things, which will have to be checked for a flight. Always be ready in case your carry on suitcase is refused and must be checked for some unforeseen reason. A stewardess even had to put my mine in another section of a plane once cause there was no room where I sat.

I once lived with two saris as my wardrobe for a year in Asia, changing to the one I had washed the night before. There was only half a pail of water for everything in a day, including food prep. So this list has come a long way.

  • ID Label & support strap
  • Nightie & slippers
  • 4 dressy easy care tops & long pants (mix & match) – Wear 5th outfit with wrist watch & coat, hat/gloves/scarf in pockets, winter boots if needed. Wash and rewear as needed.
  • Sweater or hoodie
  • Sandals/shoes

Case #1 – Underwear

  • 1 -2 bras
  • 6 under panties
  • Pkg thin sanitary pads
  • 4 pairs of socks

Case #2Basic Care

  • Comb & brush
  • Shampoo & conditioner
  • Body wash
  • 2 new shavers
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
  • Perfume
  • Small jar of vaseline
  • Small pkg of disinfectant wipes
  • Small towel & washcloth (in a plastic bag for when it gets wet)

Case #3 – Cosmetics – delete on most trips

Case #4 – Jewelry – delete on most trips

Case #5 – Laundry Supplies & Dirty Clothes Bag. Packets of soap and dryer sheets based on number of washes needed during any trip. Just swish a dyer sheet in the rinse water to use as a softener.

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Personal Case (for under seat in front of me) A lovely deep shoulder bag with big side pocket and both with zippers. No flaps please over anything as they get in the way. Adjustable straps on this case can shorten so it hangs nicely on top of the suitcase while I’m pulling the case around the terminal. Remember size restrictions for this item on planes. Airlines are getting stricter and stricter on these items.   One airline is weighing passengers, and I wonder what new developments that will cause? For hunters to remember, I’ve  had my hands  checked for gun residue  before boarding  a flight back from Las Vegas. I was curious what was going on so I asked.  (Deer season has just ended here in Ontario – two bucks this year are hanging in the barn)

  • ID label
  • Travel blanket
  • Pillow
  • Flashlight
  • Empty water bottle – maybe
  • Alarm clock
  • Current  plugs in a bag for countries of travel
  • Maps
  • Finance Book
  • Travel Diary
  • To Do Book
  • Small Bible
  • Paperback to read – maybe.
  • Office Kit –small office supplies. Itinerary Printout & prepared file cards for research
  • Insect Repellant – extremely important
  • Small shoulder purse for daily use = contains: wallet for bank cards, Passport, VISA, Vaccination Card, International Driver’s License;  Flight Ticket & Boarding Pass; Currency in envelopes;comb, perfume, nitro spray
  • I have a neck pouch for a boarding pass/ticket so it is always in easy reach, but tucked out of the way.
  • Cell phone recharging chord (use cell camera for small trips) The 35mm camera with video program is only for major filming trips= this larger camera in its own case, new chip, 2 sets rechargeable batteries & battery charger for country to visit. Add photo journal to record shots.
  • Small Tablet, (or notebook or laptop in its case with wireless mouse, pad, surge protector) Some airlines are not allowing computers, but hopefully this will end soon especially to the USA.
  • Very small radio- maybe, for the very same reason.

Case 6 – Ear Plugs, Night shade, & little ear phone plug-in chord  for watching movies. Foam ear plugs are absolutely no good in blocking sound, so use the harder silicone ones for sleep on planes, etc.

Case 7– Bicycle Lock with key; padlock with key. All keys are on a neck lanyard kept in that case, which I then take with me  if my things are locked away in a hostel storage box or bus station office corner (the Irish are really helpful with this). Provides the freedom to leave your things and go exploring.

Case 8– All medicines in original containers plus a week’s pill dispensing box. Extras for longer trips and less supplies for shorter ones.

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Leather Fanny Pack (to wear around my waist during travel- sometimes used, not always). If not, then move a few of these items to purse.

  • ID label
  • Cell phone (charged) – mainly used as a camera
  • Compass
  • Comb
  • Address book
  • Pens x 2
  • Sunglasses
  • Day’s Currency in envelope – changed daily
  • Coin purse