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Travelling Tips

To travel is to live!

Jonathan van Bilsen



January 6, 2019

To travel is to live!

Traveling continues to change, mostly because current events and situations constantly change. I have been at this for many, many years and recall how simple life was, prior to 9-11. Most countries began scrambling and made changes, without much foresight, and unfortunately today we are in an environment where most airports and airlines have different rules.

People travel in various ways.  Ocean liners, river cruises, coach tours, adventure travel, individual tours, etc. Each comes with its own set of circumstances, which may or may not be your type of travelling. Travel agents are well trained in assisting travellers with the best alternatives, and many people use them. They can filter through airlines and tour companies, and do all the legwork for you.

I have never been on a cruise ship, so I cannot speak to them. I understand they are comfortable, floating hotels and are perfect for certain travellers. Daily unpacking doesn’t exist, good, safe food (and lots of it) is standard, organized tours off the ship can easily be arranged, and the social element is non-stop.

River cruises are similar to large ships, but tend to be geared for smaller groups. Where the average ocean liner holds 3,000 passengers, the new ones, like the Genesis will hold 6,400 people at a construction cost of $1.24 billion. Most riverboats hold between 200 and 250 passengers, making the boarding and disembarking much easier.

Many people purchase tours on board, which ensures your prompt return, as the ships do not wait. This year has been a problematic year for river cruising in Europe, as the rivers are too low for the ships to navigate. This results in bus tours, ferries and generally upset passengers.

Coach tours can be good, if you enjoy travelling in groups and meeting new people. They make travelling simple and take most of the organizing away from passengers. Hotels are looked after, meals are usually organized and excursions are both, included and optional. Normally there is a tour manager who looks after all your needs, and local guides who hop on at various points along the trip. They even rotate passengers in seats each day, so everyone has a good vista through the window.

For me, the downside of coach and ship travel is lack of freedom to explore areas when you want, and as long as you want. I want to eat where I want and the food I want, and I am not a fan of waiting for the slowest person in the group to get on the bus.

A lot of people are staying close to home (US and Canada), which is great, as there is so much to see and explore. RV-ing is a great way to explore this continent, but as I require room service, running water, a big bed and little chocolates on my pillow, I have absolutely no experience with camping (I did it when we first came to Canada, but soon discovered Marriott).

I have travelled all over the world (102 countries) and my formula is quite simple. I decide on a destination and look to see where tour companies visit. I normally look at coach tours, as they hit the highlights and also have a list of excellent hotels. Once I hone in on the destination to what I want to see and do, I search for hotels, using TripAdvisor as a reference. If 80 out of 100 reviews are bad I will pass, but if 1 or 2 are bad I will delve deeper. For me it’s a numbers game. My grandfather used to say if one person calls you an ass you hit him, but if 20 people call you an ass, you buy a saddle.

Once I decide on route, hotels, duration etc., I send out emails to tour companies asking their opinion on my requests and include a driver, guide or driver/guide. I usually reach out to 4 or 5 companies, local to the area. It does not take long to see all types of recommendations filter into my inbox. Changes such as routes due to traffic and conditions, hotels because of locations, sightseeing based on entry times, etc. The end result is a very detailed itinerary, which I then send back to each company and ask then to quote.

The cost of individual travel is higher, however, dealing locally you cut out a few levels of re sellers. I don’t always go with the lowest, but base my decision on the comfort level attained from communicating back and forth (timeliness, listening to what I want, suggestions, etc.). Of course cost is important, but quality outlasts the price.

When I finally make my decision, I have a great understanding of everything I can expect on my trip. If something goes wrong, more than likely it will always be my fault. Before I finalize I contact the airlines and find out the best routing at an affordable price. Important questions have to be answered: do airlines allow upgrades for bulkhead seating? Are meals included? Is there enough time to make connections? And most important for me, am I allowed multi-day layovers (I like visiting destinations enroute for a few days prior to and after my trip).

To travel this way has its drawbacks, in that it can take a long time to plan an excursion. You are also roaming with a guide in a car and do not have the safety of group travel. The advantages for me, however, are endless: I can start each day when I want to and end when I decide. I receive vast amounts of information as the guide is dedicated to me only. Mostly though, it is the flexibility, in that I can stay longer at a site, skip one altogether, move things around, etc.

I never rent a car and drive, as I can’t find my way around a shopping mall, leave alone a strange country. I always book hotels in advance ensuring I have a place to stay. Whatever your favourite method of travel is depends on your needs and wants and the comfort level you seek. No matter what your age or what destination you want to visit, there is a method of travel out there for you. The key is to do it!

Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit

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