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Travel Advice

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Use the ActiveTravels Blog as a Resource for Your Travels

It’s been a decade since I began blogging at ActiveTravels. In 2008, I lost more than half my editors as magazines closed down and newspapers cut back severely on their travel pages. But a writer needs to write. Instead of begging for crumbs from editors, I started posting blogs the next year and haven’t stopped since. A decade of content is a lot of material to play with and I always steer clients toward the blog when researching an upcoming trip. Simply type in “Vermont” in the advanced search column to the right of the blog and then type in “Vermont” a second time in Search by Keyword, and you’ll have 155 blog entries on Vermont to choose from. That should keep you busy. Interested in going on a safari? I’ve written 68 blogs that relate to safaris. How about heading to my beloved Nova Scotia on a last-minute summer driving trip? You’ll find 40 entries on Nova Scotia. If you have trouble accessing the content, please let me know and I’ll help you find it. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/25/19 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, June 21, 2019

Savoring the Great Outdoors in the June ActiveTravels Newsletter

It’s the beginning of the big family travel season. If you want to keep your kids happy with as much activity as possible, in some of the most spectacular settings in the world, then try one of the tried and true trips in the latest ActiveTravels newsletter. They all received rave reviews from members or from our own firsthand experience. Also in this month’s issue, we offer you a Quick Escape to Provincetown, Massachusetts, and a wonderful deal in Napa Valley. Please check it out! 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/21/19 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Still Possible to Visit Cuba

While cruise ships can no longer visit Cuba and the People to People Educational travel category is being eliminated, we still have clients traveling to Cuba over the next year. Our friend Megumi, who runs the tour operator HabanaLive in Cuba, tells us that clients can either join a People to People trip that has been grandfathered in (they have grandfathered FIT bookings available on multiple dates throughout fall/winter/spring) or travel under a different approved travel category. They have fantastic programing options under the Support for the Cuban People, Professional Research & Meetings, and Religious travel categories. So if you want to visit Cuba, ActiveTravels will get you there! 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/20/19 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, May 24, 2019

Spain, DayTrip, Montreal, and More in May ActiveTravels Newsletter

We were picked up promptly at 9 am in Granada, Spain, by Damir, a driver and guide for a company we’ve been working with more and more in Europe, Daytrip. We could have rented our own car and made the 3-hour trek from Granada to Seville, but it’s so much more relaxing to have someone else drive, especially when you want to stop and visit another town along the way. Two hours later, after sitting in the back of a comfortable Mercedes sedan and peering out at the rolling hills and mountains of this bucolic region of Spain, we arrived in Ronda. Damir guided us around the town, walking along the edge of the famous gorge, touring the oldest bullring in Spain, the one Hemingway wrote about when he lived here (it’s also the town where Orson Welles retired and died), and the historic Moorish settlement at the bottom of the hill. After a lunch of tapas, we arrived in Seville around 4 pm. It ended up being one of the most relaxing days of our recent Spain trip. Daytrip is now expanding to Asia. It’s a wonderful way to connect the dots between destinations, while stopping at off-the-beaten track locales. 
 
To read more about our trip to Spain, a special deal on Relais and Chateaux properties, and what’s happening in Montreal this summer, please check out the latest ActiveTravels newsletter. Have a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/24/19 at 05:00 AM
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Friday, April 19, 2019

Seven Trips to Try, Quick Escape to Porto in ActiveTravels April Newsletter

Every March or early April, Lisa and I go to an annual 4-day travel conference arranged by our fantastic host agency, Largay Travel, the gateway to all those Virtuoso amenities clients receive including complimentary hotel room upgrades and breakfasts, shipboard credit on cruises, spa treatment freebies, meals, and much more. Largay celebrated 50 years in the industry at the latest bash, so all the finest hoteliers and suppliers came out to introduce themselves in 15-minute meetings throughout the event. In this month’s ActiveTravels newsletter, we present the trips that left us most excited from the event, including seeing the monarch butterfly migration with Natural Habitat Adventures, a South African safari on a budget, and active yoga trips with Backroads. April is also a wonderful time to visit Portugal, especially Porto, with its excellent restaurants and port wine tastings on the banks of the Douro River. Please have a look! 

 
Have a Happy Easter and Happy Passover! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/19/19 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Hong Kong, Bangkok, and French Polynesia in the March ActiveTravels Newsletter

In the March issue of the ActiveTravels newsletter, we discuss our recent travels to Hong Kong and Bangkok. When we weren’t downing copious amounts of dim sum, we were checking out the art scene, the food markets, and the temples where residents were preparing for the Chinese New Year celebrations. We also experienced 5 of the best hotels in the region. We now only bring carry-on luggage because we change hotels every two days to experience as much as possible of what our clients will encounter during their stays. Also in this issue is a deal on cruising French Polynesia and the family friendly delights of a relatively new Montage resort just outside of Savannah, Georgia.

Tonight, we’re heading off to Spain to visit our daughter who is studying in Barcelona. We’re also seeing Granada, Ronda, our nephew in Seville, and Madrid. We’ll be back April 8th with more of the best topical travel content you’ve come to expect from ActiveTravels. Thanks again for your interest. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/19/19 at 05:59 AM
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Friday, March 08, 2019

How Travel Advisors Get Paid

We're a membership-based travel agency. Join ActiveTravels and pay the $60 yearly fee and you'll receive our monthly newsletters, be enrolled for hotel giveaways, and most importantly, have someone to help with planning and be of service if something should go wrong during travels. Once you join, you fill out a travel questionnaire that helps us custom-design your trip based on your likes and dislikes about traveling. We receive our commissions directly from the tour operators, hotels, cruise lines, etc. that we work with around the globe. You don't pay extra. We simply receive our 10 to 15% cut by sending them business. There are exceptions to this rule. First, airlines only pay commissions on business class seats. So we need to charge you $50 for flight for ticketing. Second, we design a slew of independent itineraries all over America, Europe, and beyond. I just finished designing a 4-month trip to South America for a couple who took a year sabbatical. This includes all logistics-planes, trains, buses, hotels, guides, even a cruise to the Galapagos Islands. This takes a lot of time and often includes small inns or boutique hotels that don't pay commission. So we have to charge the client directly depending on the number of days. But a typical weeklong independent itinerary fee costs $500-$700. 

It's been fun talking about my profession this week. Thanks for reading. Next week, Amy will be back to discuss her recent trip to Ecuador. Have a great weekend and keep active! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/08/19 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, March 07, 2019

How A Travel Advisor Helps Design an Authentic Travel Experience

As a young travel writer, working as a Contributing Editor at Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel Magazine, I would regularly meet Arthur Frommer in his office in midtown Manhattan. I would come prepared, ready to pitch my 3 to 4 story angles on a sheet of paper and the legendary writer, who made his name penning "Europe on 5 Dollars A Day" in 1957, would politely listen and shoot down every one of my ideas. He then would come up with his own suggestions: "Steve, why don't you do a story on the Caribbean islands that are rarely affected by hurricanes, like the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao?" One of those story ideas I would return to again and again in my travel writing career and, in fact, became the cornerstone of our beliefs when we opened our travel agency, ActiveTravels, 7 years ago. Arthur said to me, "Steve, these big-name American travel companies like National Geographic Expeditions are hiring smaller outfitters to run their trips in each of the countries they visit. Find the best small local ground operator in a dozen countries and pen a story on them. This way, you eliminate the middleman and save a bundle." 

 
Working as a travel writer since 1990, I've had the good fortune to visit close to 100 countries, 46 American states (still missing Iowa, Alabama, Oklahoma, and South Dakota), and 9 out of 10 Canadian provinces (need to get to Saskatchewan). This has given me a wealth of knowledge to help design routes for clients when they travel. But let's be realistic. Even if I've traveled to the African continent 7 times, I'm no expert. In fact, I've barely scraped the surface. And what about those countries still on my Bucket List, like Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Uganda. It's simply unrealistic for any travel agency to have expertise on all countries. That's why we rely on local contacts we've made around the globe, these small tour operators Arthur Frommer first introduced me to so many years ago. They live locally, know every nook and cranny of their country like I know every nook and cranny of the Northeastern US, and they have become invaluable in our profession in creating an authentic itinerary that only a local could know. These include a New Zealander who designs detailed self-guided driving itineraries to his favorite sites and B&Bs on the South Island, a naturalist in Sumatra that will help locate the native orangutans, an art historian in Rome who will take you behind the scenes to talk about Caravaggio, and a Ecuadorean yacht owner who takes small, select groups to visit the Galapagos Islands on weeklong cruises. Whenever one of our clients returns with rave reviews for a local outfitter or guide, we add them to a growing list. That's how we find the perfect person to custom-design your itineraries based on your desires. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/07/19 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, March 06, 2019

How a Travel Advisor Helps With Hotel Bookings

In a story I wrote for The Boston Globe on "The Key to Getting a Better Hotel Room," I interviewed Jacob Tomsky, author of the best-selling Heads in Beds (Doubleday). Tomsky, 35, spent a decade in the hotel industry, seven of those years manning the front desk at an upscale midtown Manhattan hotel. I asked him is it better to book a room via a travel agent than to reserve through websites like Hotels.com or Priceline? His response: "From a business standpoint, people who book through third-party travel sites are looking for a discount. The likelihood that they'll return to your hotel is close to nil. So discount reservations are our last priority. They're the ones we put next to the elevator." It also doesn't help that these online travel agents or OTAs are reaping exorbitant finder fees from lodgings, up to 25 percent of cost per room from independent properties, compared to the average 10 percent commission for travel agents.

Hotels respond most favorably to repeat business. If a property like Relais Christine in Paris knows I call them first when booking my clients in that city, they will respond by giving our client the best service and room. Also, a good travel agent knows to call the hotel 2 to 3 days before you arrive to speak to the general manager or director of sales and "VIP the client." It's a business of people serving people. The more you can connect with the hotel, the better your stay. If this is your first time in Paris in 10 years and you only represent yourself, realize you don't have the same leverage as 50 bookings a year at the same property. If you're booking a 4 or 5-star property on your own, you're also missing out on hotels sweetening the pot during your stay. ActiveTravels is aligned with the travel consortium, Virtuoso. When booking one of the upscale properties in that network, we can offer free upgrades, complimentary spa services and breakfasts. 
 
Then comes the research that goes into finding that dream hotel. Google "Italian villas" and you'll see over 59 million results. Have fun with that research. That number will surely increase with the deluge of travel content. In fact, travel advisors have even coined a phrase for the client who spends far too much time researching on his computer, "analysis paralysis." The whole scene is reminiscent of the financial sector a decade ago when investors were enamored with the $10 E-trade. Why use a financial advisor when I can trade on my own? Well, because you don't want to spend a good chunk of your life micromanaging your investments. Today's travelers want someone with expertise to give their stamp of approval, having personally stayed in these lodgings or having known clientele who have stayed there. Thankfully, travel agents no longer sit behind their desks all day researching a trip from afar. They're often on the road gaining valuable expertise by visiting those hotels. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/06/19 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, March 05, 2019

How a Travel Advisor Helps with Flight Delays

Last week, we had three clients miss their flight connections and one ActiveTravels member break his clavicle and ribs on a motorcycle accident in Phuket, Thailand. Before our clients even got off their planes, they were rebooked and ready to go on the next available flight. No standing in line for hours at the customer service desk with all the other passengers. The man with the broken bones is still healing in a hospital, but we were able to cancel and reschedule his first-class flight with a slight change fee. In this Do-It-Yourself World, you're led to believe that you can easily book travel on your own. That's certainly true, but when a mishap happens, which is inevitable when you travel, it's good to have someone working on your behalf while you're still on a plane with no WiFi. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/05/19 at 06:00 AM
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photo of Steve Jermanok
Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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