6 Awesome Benefits of Group Travel

When I founded Bon Voyage by Barbour in 2012, my goal was to specialize in cruises. I knew enough people who liked to cruise that I figured I could book one or two, here and there, and make it something fun to do on the side. I also figured I’d dabble in some all-inclusive resorts; my experience at the Barcelo Maya Palace Deluxe was so incredible that I wanted others to experience the “AI” life too!

Almost immediately I received a request for a group cruise. Then another. And then yet another. Now, I’m finding myself working on 3 group cruises (so far) for 2014, a group AI getaway and two destination weddings. WOW!

I’m not sharing this information in a boastful way whatsoever. I never intended to work with groups, but I’m finding that they are SO much fun to work with, as everyone is SO excited about their vacation. Furthermore, group trips can often offer additional incentives to make this type of travel even MORE beneficial than they already are.

barcelogroup

So here are my reasons why group trips are awesome, in no particular order:

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Hurricane Season is Here!

Tropical Storm Andrea dumped on Florida’s Gulf Coast earlier today
Photo Credit: tbo.com

 

 

Hurricane season is effective every year from June 1 until November 30. Those of us in the directly affected areas (namely: Florida) expect balmy mornings, afternoon showers and steamy humidity on a daily basis. Typically, hurricane and tropical storm activity picks up from August until October. So imagine my surprise when I found myself driving in the midst of a tropical storm this morning. What?

Yes…5 days into hurricane season, the Tampa Bay area was blessed with Tropical Storm Andrea. This one snuck up on everyone, I think. The area has been afflicted with tornadoes and floods today, but thankfully no one lost their lives. Some businesses closer to the beach suffered property damage, and many of the tourist attractions (Busch Gardens, Sea World, Legoland) closed early today. We remain under a tornado watch until 10pm, so although the worst has passed, we are not yet out of the woods. In fact, the wind is howling against my window as I type this.

I’m reading reports that this early tropical activity is a warning of things to come. If so, this will be an active hurricane season. Someone even said that this may be the year that Tampa is hit with the “big one”. (*knocks on wood that this isn’t true*)

If ANY of this ends up being true, then it leads me to emphasize the importance of Travel Protection insurance if you are planning a trip to a hurricane-prone region. Some may remember the mess that Hurricane Isaac caused for Royal Caribbean and Carnival last year; those with insurance were able to easily rebook their trips and return home (or get refunded), while those without had a bit more trouble. Travel Protection covers severe weather events that may interrupt, delay or cancel your trip. You can purchase it through the travel supplier, or an outside vendor (I personally work with TravelSafe and Allianz). Many of the plans also offer a “Cancel for Any Reason” option, which would allow you to cancel the trip for an “uncovered” reason (i.e. not due to weather, medical emergency, etc) and still receive some or all of your investment back.

Obviously, no one can predict the future or what could happen; you could pay for the protection with no need to use it…which would be ideal, really. However, I personally believe that Travel Protection is a small price to pay for peace of mind.

Jamaica FAM Trip: Club MoBay

Before I get into the reviews of all of the resorts that I visited during my recent trip to Jamaica, I wanted to touch on the specifics of actually getting TO the island. (plus, these resort reviews will take forever and I’m procrastinating bigtime). Since this was my first time going to Jamaica, as well as my first time flying internationally unaccompanied, I had a healthy amount of anxiety going into the trip. I repeatedly confirmed that my passport was with me and not about to expire — fortunately, it doesn’t expire until 2022, but it’s still worth checking, right? (smh)

Prior to leaving the US, I purchased an arrival/departure package from Club MoBay, an exclusive service operated by VIP Attractions in Jamaica. There is also a Club Kingston for those guests flying into Norman Manley airport. Upon arrival, Club MoBay provides guests with escorted arrival services through baggage claim, a fast track line for Immigration and Customs, and a VIP lounge complete with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages (rum punch, anyone?), snacks, warm towels and free wi-fi while awaiting resort transfer. It feels good to get off of the plane and have a person standing at the end of the jetway holding a sign bearing your name. It was also nice to skip all of the lines in the terminal and go straight through immigration. This service would be very beneficial to folks traveling during Jamaica’s busiest tourist seasons, couples there for their weddings, senior citizens, and families traveling with small children. The less lines, the better.

Reception at Club MoBay

Reception at Club MoBay

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Packing: The Bane of My Existence

I LOVE to Travel. This is the reason I became a travel agent. Leaving home to explore some new, unknown and exciting location gives me LIFE.

But I HATE packing. I hate it with the fire of 10,000 suns. I hate it more than Apple hates Samsung.

This is how packing makes me feel.           It sucks.

I have MASTERED the art of packing a carry-on bag for brief trips; for me, weekends and 4-5 day trips are a piece of cake. Even a one-week vacation doesn’t cause me much anxiety. But this two week adventure we are about to embark on? Whoooooole different story.

We have a number of challenges that are making this particular packing task a bit more formidable, such as:

1) The climate in our destination cities is pretty different from the one in Florida. We are accustomed to vacationing to the tropics, so to go to another destination with a more temperate climate is causing us stress. Although we were both raised in the Northern US, we don’t exactly remember how to dress for “upper 50’s/lower 60’s”. So we have a lot of sweaters, long sleeve shirts, short sleeve shirts and confusion thrown into our wide open suitcases.

2) The logistics of our journey are proving to be a challenge. We love that British Airways offers one free checked bag per passenger, but that does not bode well for our need to navigate through Termini train station in Rome, where thievery and pickpocketing already run rampant. For this reason we are trying to pack as light as possible. Reason #1 is making this whole idea of “packing light” not work so well.

3) Toss in the fact that we are cruising, and a whole other world of wardrobe opens up. Thankfully we are cruising Norwegian, who  is all about Freestyle Cruising and doesn’t stress the idea of a formal night, but still…it’s nice to have something to change into at night. On the other hand, the fact that we are cruising eliminates the need to unpack/repack multiple times which is great, since I hate packing sooooo much.

I am eternally thankful for Travel Fashion Girl and her packing lists, which have proved to be a God-send during this process.

Check this out!

Europe Packing List

But I still need help. So my people,  I am curious: how do YOU like to pack for a vacation? Do you have any tips you’re like to share with someone who hates packing as much as I do?

Traveling Abroad: Avoiding Pickpockets

In a few short months, I will be taking my first trip across the pond for a Mediterranean cruise. As excited as I am, horror stories about the pervasiveness of pickpockets and thieves in our ports of call – Rome, specifically- has me a little on edge.

I am active in our Cruise “Roll Call” on Cruise Critic, and one of the fellow posters shared some valuable safety tips that I felt compelled to pass along (with her permission, of course). Naturally, these tips would apply to you no matter where you’re traveling, but since Rome has one of the highest rates of pickpocketing in the world, I’m paying extra close attention to this information.
Before leaving for the cruise make copies of the back of your credit cards and passport. Leave a copy at home with somebody you trust and take 2 copies with you. If lost/stolen you will have handy the 1-800 to call for CCs as well as the CC info. The person at home could make the calls for you.

When abroad, leave passport in the cruise safe and bring the copy, unless required to have with you; i.e. Egypt where they clip/stamp the Visa to the passport and you HAVE TO have in your posession, specially if in an overnight (hotel check-in security process requires you present your official passport and Visa).

CONCEAL, CONCEAL, CONCEAL you valuables inside your clothing, even in an inner chest level pocket in front of your coat/jacket. Handbags and fanny packs are a horrendous idea. A sturdy shoulder bag with the strap worn across your chest and an inner money belt are somewhat safer.

I usually take 2 credit cards and place them in different pockets/places. This saved my 2010 cruise from Barcelona. The pickpocketers stole my wallet from my purse. I had place a second CC in another pocket in the purse. Same with passport; only saved because it was in a separate pocket (an American passport in the Black Market is worth $20K !)

Call your credit card company and tell them you will be using your credit card overseas. This could save you a horrendous headache when the CC calls you AT HOME to notify you they are shutting down your CC because of an overseas transaction. True story.

If you need to use an ATM while abroad, try to use the ones that are inside banks. Latest scam (Venice!) is a devide placed in ATMs that captures your card numbers and pins. The crooks use the captured information to access your bank at home.

If you wear glasses, pack an extra pair. Pack them and any medicines you need in your carry-on luggage.

The advice to pack light is critical to follow. Busy hands, unattended bags, and overpreoccupied minds are windows of golden opportunities for crooks. Times are tough and traveling American cruisers have zero simpathy from thieves.