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Travel is stressful. There are some things you can do to mitigate the stress. Here is my continuing lecturette on how to enjoy your trip to almost anywhere. I am intentionally forceful in my writing here. I am PASSIONATE about these points. I hope they help you as well as provide some understanding of those folks by whom we are tested when they become, occasionally and unavoidably, our seatmates or tour mates. Here are some of my pet travel issues. Travel Well!

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The State of Alaska


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Show up, On Time, Dressed to Play!

TRIP OF A LIFETIME - Wherever you go!
bumble beeA trip to Alaska, on a cruise, by RV, or independent travel, truly is the trip of a lifetime. It is a peak experience for many people who have saved money, bided their time, raised their kids, until finally that year arrives when they come "North to Alaska"! Here in the north country (a U.S. Territory from 1867 until 1959 when statehood was granted on January 3) people have a tradition of welcoming visitors with open arms. Alaska is an exotic destination while still offering the security of being a part of the Good Ole USA. Here we speak English, use American money, rely on the U.S Postal Service, and share our experiences in this wonderful place we call home. For some visitors it feels just foreign enough to be exciting, with a rich history, amazing Native cultures, an impressive natural history, spectacular scenery, wildlife, and something you can not be sure of in other places -- we will not strap explosives on our friends and family members and have them join you at a crowded public event! It just does not get any better than that! That said, here are some travel-tested tips based on our experience (working in the industry, cruises, caravans and independent) including every region of the USA, Russia, China, Mexico, Western Canada, the Caribbean, and even the distant Marshall Islands. They are not just about Alaska, but about traveling well.

Maybe you are retired. Maybe you are on vacation. Time still matters. It is nature's way of making sure everything does not happen at once! When a departure time for the bus, boat, train, or donkey ride, is 9 A.M., be on time! If departure time is 9 A.M., that does not mean dragging your tired travel worn carcass onto the field of battle at 9 A.M. In my book if you show up at 9 A.M. you are LATE! I encourage operators to leave on time. Of course that seldom happens and the slow, the lazy, the LATE are seldom punished for being inconsiderate. (OK, look, this sounds harsh. Yes, sometimes there are late buses, stalled elevators, traffic jams and flat tires -- NOT as often as reported.) My personal take on it is that if a company cannot deliver its passengers to the excursion departure point on time, maybe they are not quite ready for prime time! And if independent travelers can't be on time, maybe they should stay home. It is simply NOT FAIR to have 200 people sitting in an airplane, ferry, train, boat, whatever, waiting on latecomers. How difficult is it to be on time? A watch is cheap! There is nothing more frustrating for an operator than being on schedule, pulling the gang plank, or jetway and into the parking lot comes a car load of people who show up at exactly the departure time. If you are unsure of the departure time, ask WHEN you should BE THERE. Learn to differentiate between the sounds of "They leave the dock at...." and "You should be on board by..." and "Check in time is..." These sounds and times are seldom the same. Travel agencies should give cheap watches instead of cheesy canvas hand bags; and with the watch comes the admonition, "learn how to use this, then show up on time, dressed to play"!

Everyone puts tags on their luggage. If it is not the law, it is certainly required by the carriers. dog houseHeck! In addition to your own baggage tag, they provide tags; even bar-coded routing tags on the off chance that your bags will go where you are going. OK, so you have tagged your luggage. Do you know what is in your luggage, mostly? Used clothing and personal items. And yet I have seen people put MORE labels, tags, colorful identification ribbons, etc., on bags full of used stuff, than they put on their cameras, camera bags, purses, eye glasses, computers and the more expensive stuff they lug around. I have been asked to announce that someone has lost, or found, digital cameras, cell phones, and binoculars in some cases worth more than what is in the average piece of checked luggage! On these expensive items, nary a single identifying mark! So, here is a tip: Get a hand full of those address labels you stick on your letters, and stick them on your stuff. Oddly, most stuff missing in travel is not stolen, it is lost, misplaced, put down and forgotten in the rush and chaos of getting on board. A label would get it back to you MOST OF THE TIME. A lot of travel paraphernalia looks alike -- disposable cameras, for example. Put a sticker on it. Carry a Sharpie marker (they come in key chain sizes now) so you can label anything, even that cup of latte so when you go through security you know you are getting YOUR drink back.

In more than a decade of working at the frontline with hundreds of thousands of travelers, EVERY accusation that, "Someone stole my (insert any item here) and I want a search of everyone as they get off this (insert means of conveyance here)!" has been FALSE! In EVERY case the offended, accusing, ill-tempered, disturbed, upset, obnoxious, over-wrought traveler was not only wrong, but NEVER came back to the operator to apologize. The missing item invariably turned up in one of the following places: A restroom, gift shop or changing room, a similar looking area of the boat, train, hotel; in their hotel room because they planned to bring whatever it was but forgot it (maybe in their rush to be on time, bless their hearts!!); or on their tour bus where a long-suffering and patient escort or driver has watched over it so the traveler could enjoy his or her excursion (which apparently includes making unwarranted accusations to everyone in sight). I carry a note pad and make notes of what deck, bus number, parking area, whatever, I am on. C'mon! DO NOT accuse anyone of stealing, thereby alienating those most able to help. I label stuff so if I leave it, drop it, forget it, at the very least it might get mailed to me, or maybe even returned to my hotel before I leave town. On a cruise ship I always include the ship's name and my cabin number on a tag. And finally, never, never travel with something you cannot afford to lose! That includes jewelry and electronics. Here is a tip: IF you list your laptop computer or camera with your insurance agent such items are frequently covered under your homeowner's policy. Look, ARE there some dishonest people out there? Sure! Brooks and Dunn have a song: "It's kinda like a lost and found ... In a border town ... Askin' 'bout a diamond ring ... They just look at you ... Like you've lost your mind ... Say they haven't seen a thing!" Yes, some things are stolen or lost forever. You will never see them again. But most people are honest, they just need your help to get things back to you.

If you are on a tour with one of the big companies whose boats hold more people than many of Alaska's dog house 2 communities, don't complain. That is the way large numbers of people are managed. Some companies do it better than others, so do your home work. If that is not the way you like to travel, then don't. But spare the people in the industry the self-indulgent disingenuous indignant whining when you think it sounds worldly to talk about "not wanting to be treated like cattle." Your experience will be about as good or bad as you want to make it. OK, that said, there are times when buses are late, things break down, people get ill. But if you made a choice, make the best of it. Along those lines, keep in mind that Alaska's "tourist season" is barely five months long, closer to four. The winter tourist season barely exists. Alaska is not the land of five star hotels! There are plenty of nice facilities here in the 49th state but this is not New York, Denver, or LA. If a nice cruise line hotel in Alaska feels a little too rustic for you, stick to the big city. Most facilities in Alaska are first rate, even when they are not First Class. Another thing: Adults think like grown ups. If you are tempted to blame your lateness on the fact that you "woke up late" think about WHO it is that woke up late! If you miss the tour because of something you did (slept in, got sick, forgot to set the alarm, did not finish breakfast...) take responsibility for it and don't make 200 people wait while you deflect the blame. If you do miss the tour, there is plenty to do!

Coming to Alaska, or any exotic place, means taking what comes. You may not see Denali (also known as Mt. McKinley). Weather is a huge factor and Denali is often obscured by clouds. You may not see all the wildlife for which you'd hoped. Animals are not on the payroll. What you will experience is warm, friendly people who want your Alaska experience to be the very best. OK! Sometimes people are jerks. If EVERYONE seems like a jerk to you, look in the mirror.

THEY EAT WHAT???? Be a cultural anthropologist.
I have found that my travels are more comfortable and happier if I accept the fact that some people are not on the same cultural wave length I am. So, if it is bullfighting, dogs as food, killing animals for sport, mummified human remains on museum display -- whatever it might be -- keep in mind that if it is legal and a part of the culture, like it or not, unless you see your vacation as an opportunity to force your value system on others rather than experience the richness of other cultures, it is more comfortable to simply observe. You can fight your cultural battles later. This reminds me of the "first imperitive" on Star Trek, which is to not force change on other cultures. (This also applies to musical tastes and religion. Now there's a test of values!) I have found some cultural activities personally repulsive and obnoxious (as in "I would not do those things"), but as a visitor and guest it is not my duty to criticize the values of a culture not my own. That includes rodeo (where I cheer for the bull), hunters who ground-sluice birds (shooting before they take flight, very unsportsman-like) they will never eat (but give to friends so wanton waste is not the issue), or legally kill big game for sport (or food even though the supermarket is right down the street). These folks are living their lives. In fact, I am often surprised by my own misperceptions of what goes on behind the scenes and where these seemingly odd cultural artifacts have their roots. You're on vacation. Be curious, but enjoy.

There is a joke about folks who "go to the mall and stop in front of other people for no apparent reason." When you step into an aircraft, a stadium, the gangway of a boat, a dining room, a theater, or any public place and you are not sure where you need to be, step to one side and don't hold things up. Better yet, if you have a general sense of the layout, keep moving! This should be self-explanatory.

pipeline I am passionate. This lecturette may not apply to you. Maybe it applies to someone you know. Maybe they need it and you don't? If you find these tips mean-spirited, tell me where I am wrong. I consider myself forcefully practical. If you have suggestions, drop an e-mail and we will consider all comers, including adding your contributions to this list, with attribution if you like. Look, your travel agent has told you about getting your shots, updating your passport, keeping your medications handy, layering your clothes, all that. He or she has painted a glossy picture of your adventure as trouble free and wonderful. But travel is also real life, on the move. So, I offer my tips, worth exactly what you paid for them, as a shot of reality as you set out for Wherever-It-May-Be-istan. After your travel agent has stopped holding your hand, perhaps these tips will help.

Travel Well.



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