A travel blog
Our family recently said goodbye to our beloved Helen Leidner Kenney, mom to my husband, grandma to my kids, and the matriarch of our family. Her life was a testament to positivity, grace, faith, and adventure!
During her 98 1/2 years, Helen traveled the world and embraced new experiences with excitement and curiosity. When she was 92, she accompanied me on an Eastern Mediterranean cruise. I remember wondering at the time if she could do it. I felt a tremendous responsibitly for her, but I knew that she was in great shape for her age and was ready for another adventure.
Now, looking back at these treasured moments, I am so grateful for this trip and all
that we got to experience together...Barcelona, the Great Pyramids, the Sphynx, the islands of Malta and Rhodes.
My friends were amazing and someone was always gladly holding her hand. The cutest thing was how one of the husbands ended up being the official purse carrier. He made sure that it didn't get out of his sight (well, there was that time when he jogged past us back into the bar to retrieve the precious leather bag!!)
It makes us think about Life and how rich and rewarding it can be. Mark Twain had some wise words about seizing the day and the opportunities for adventure:
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails."
And that is just what Helen did....
The poet Maya Angelou once said, “You can tell a lot about a person from the way they respond to three things: a rainy day, tangled Christmas lights, and lost luggage.”
On a recent trip to Italy and Greece, I experienced a myriad of trials that tested my patience and fortitude. Determining that there were some important lessons to learn, I decided to share them with my clients, hoping that I could save someone from the same hassles.
As a travel agent, I pride myself on being in the know as far as best travel practices are concerned. But, on this trip some things IN my control and OUT of my control came into play creating some challenging moments.
Spend a little more money and purchase Economy Plus seats for long flights. In addition to more legroom and wider seats, you get a travel kit with personal care items and an enhanced food and drink menu. Arriving at your destination feeling rested and pampered for a fraction of the cost of Business or First Class is priceless. I experience this level of service for the first time on my recent trip and it made a huge difference in my comfort level.
Tip#2NEVER TRAVEL ALONE. Okay, I’m not referring to you young folks who are still operating on one very functional brain. I have seen that sometimes (for the mature traveler) it takes a mutual effort to navigate the murky travel waters - especially the airport waters such as confusing signage for terminals, gates, and baggage claim.
I’ve seen adults wander off in the wrong direction and require herding back to the fold. Or people who didn’t hear the correct time or place for a meeting spot and getting lost (in the Vatican and at the Colosseum). It takes a village sometimes...
My own case in point:
I arrived at Charles De Gaulle airport with plenty of time to catch my 12:35 flight to Venice. I walked around, found my gate 47 which was quite small and seemed to share the same waiting area with gate 48. A small digital sign displayed upcoming departing flights. There were several destinations taking off from that same area. I began reading my book, The Orphan Train and got the feeling that my flight was running late - no one around me was lining up and I heard no announcement. At some point, I looked at my watch and felt totally sick when it read 12:40.
I HAD MISSED MY FLIGHT! It’s a sinking, sickening feeling when you know that you’ve created a situation that can have some rather dire consequences. Of course, I was extremely mad and disappointed in myself, wondering how a travel agent like me could do something “so stupid.”
I simply had not heard any announcements. I realized later that they were given in rapid French and repeated in garbled English. And, I had observed no one lining up around me
to get on the flight. Back home I am totally keyed into and aware of the time when boarding a flight. But, that is because I am relying on visual and auditory clues which were not apparent in this airport.
Huge lesson here – be very vigilant about your flight time or any changes in gate, etc., and don’t rely on old clues that may have worked in other situations.
I immediately found the Air France customer service desk and explained my predicament. It took close to an hour for that agent to find another flight for me. Unfortunately, it wasn’t leaving for another 8 hours and would cost an additional $300. The agent assured me that my luggage would be put on my 9:05 flight to Venice.
I did a lot of talking to myself during these moments. I repeated that I was not in any danger, I would eventually get to my destination, and to keep breathing. Easy words, but not always easy to follow when you are so disappointed in yourself. These were the most difficult moments of the trip when I first had to face my mistake and figure out how to deal with it.
I called my Venice hotel to let them know what had happened and that my private water taxi transfer would need to be rescheduled for 11:00PM.
I also asked them to inform my travel partner, Shawna, about my missed flight. They were very gracious and told me not to worry.
In planning our trip Shawna and I had decided that it probably wouldn’t be a problem to fly separately and that we would just meet at our Venice hotel. However, now arriving late at night meant walking by myself from the airport terminal to the water taxi port- about 15 minutes past a deserted parking lot. It was dark and raining by then and I felt a bit vulnerable walking by myself. Note to self - travel with a partner!
Always pack your carry-on bag with several outfits, undies, jammies, medications, makeup and any other items you consider essential. You never know how long it may take for your checked luggage to catch up with you. When I arrived in Venice my bag did not show up. I filed a claim at the lost luggage counter and was assured that my bag would be brought to my hotel the next morning.
It was not delivered the next day or the next. I was about to set off on a week-long Italy/Greece cruise with one outfit, one nightgown, one extra pair of underwear, my makeup, and vitamins in my carry on. Time again for more self-assuring self-talk. I was okay. I had a good jacket for the drizzly weather. I had comfortable shoes for walking. But, the thought of embarking on my cruise without all those cute outfits that I had so carefully packed was upsetting.
Once onboard ship, my predicament became a topic of conversation and the women I met all got the same OMG-you-poor-thing look in their eye when I told them why they would be seeing me in the same clothes – even on formal night. I got tears in my eyes when a new friend announced that she had thought about wearing the same outfit a second day – just to show solidarity- so funny!! It was good to laugh- Maya would be proud.
To their credit, the Costa customer service desk was very helpful and gave me a little kit with travel essentials and funny looking disposable, one-size-does-not-fit-all underwear. They offered free expedited laundry and I took them up on it.
Purchase travel insurance. When it was apparent that my luggage was lost, I contacted my insurance company. They took a report and immediately went to bat for me trying to locate my luggage. They sent emails to me and made calls to Air France. They reported back and I checked my email daily for updates. After an initial email from Air France, I did not hear from them until after my trip.
It took 7 days for me to receive my bag, which was delivered to Athens airport and ultimately to my ship and stateroom. This was on the 5th day of a 7-day cruise!
Always keep a copy of your itinerary, hotel contacts, travel vouchers, and a copy of your passport with you. I needed the hotel info when I had to inform them of my late arrival and when I filed my lost luggage claim.
Another case in point ...my mother-in-law tells a harrowing story of being “left behind” on her escorted tour of Italy many years ago before cell phones. Helen was walking around enjoying free time in Venice when she misunderstood the time to meet up with her group. The tour leader had to leave with the bus for their next destination and Helen was not to be found. (Another good reason for the travel-with-a-buddy rule.) Luckily, Helen had the name and address of her next hotel in her purse and was able to get there by train and meet up with her group!
Always book a hotel for at least one day before and one day after a cruise.
In addition to feeling more rested and ready for your cruise adventure, time on either end allows for the unforeseen flight delay or, in our case, a ship delay.
As our ship, the Costa Deliziosa, approached Venice on the morning we were to disembark it was met with a very heavy fog cover. The captain announced that we would have to wait until the fog lifted in order to enter the port. A couple of hours went by and the folks who had early afternoon plane reservations began to get nervous. We were with a group of travel agents and many had scheduled their flights for that afternoon.
The fog did not lift, and eventually we were informed that the ship would be traveling across the Adriatic to a different port in Trieste, Italy. Imagine the logistics of transporting 2000 people back to Venice by bus. Many of our fellow travel agents were trying desperately to arrange last minute flights and some actually lost their reservation and had to re-book. Another good reason to have travel insurance. We saw many of them that evening at our airport hotel that we had booked months earlier.
And, this brings me to my next tip.
Carefully consider the weather conditions for the time of year you are traveling. It’s a known fact that traveling during the high season is more expensive and that you can save a lot of money during the low season. Just be aware of how adverse weather
conditions may affect your trip. A little sprinkle on the shores of Maui is no big deal, but a deluge on Corfu can put a damper on your sight-seeing. A thick fog bank in a cruise port or airport can cause a major delay.
Choose the flight with the least stops. This perhaps seems to be stating the obvious, but there are reasons we sometimes choose extra legs. Breaking up a long flight or paying less for tickets are two common reasons. But truly, the more stops you make, the more opportunities for things to go wrong - flight delays, missed connections, long lines in security or customs, and more opportunities for your luggage to go astray are just a few.
Get your known traveler number and TSA pre-check. If you are a frequent traveler, it pays to apply for the Global Entry Program. Here is the website for more information and directions on how to apply: https://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry
A personal interview will be conducted after your application is processed.
It’s quite a serious process and can only be done at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection enrollment centers. My interview took place in Long Beach and I received my card within a week. Your TSA pre-check can be issued at the same time. Both allow for expedited lines which can help ease the stress of travel.
Carry a functioning cell phone with you and arrange for an international phone plan or purchase a local SIM card. A phone is essential since you are bound to need it at some point. Just consider it part of your travel expenses. More than once, I have had travelers ask to use my phone for their emergencies.
It is my hope that I haven’t scared you away from future travel. The benefits certainly outweigh the negatives. We just need to be savvy travelers and know that stuff can happen along the way.
If something does go wrong, I think Maya would want us to stop and assess our situation. Just ask yourself: Is this a TRAGEDY or a TRIAL?
How we handle it is important. We can’t let the small stuff ruin our whole experience. Flexibility, optimism and a forgiving attitude (for ourselves and others) go a long way in making a positive travel experience.
I hope that my tips will come in handy for you.