I’ve been traveling for over 40 years – by thumb in my early days, by boots in the Scouts, a Lambretta came next, and then my first old banger followed by newer old bangers to the beaches of the Costa Brava.
My thumb, boots, bikes, and bangers took me all over Europe and the UK before finding that a charter flight to Spain on an old ‘Connie’ could get me to the beaches and bars a lot quicker and allow more time to enjoy the local travel opportunities by horse and cart and the occasional bus and train.
‘Go West and Prosper’ seemed to be a good idea, so instead of taking an 8-hour flight, I took an 8-day transatlantic crossing from Tilbury to Montreal on the Stephan Batory of Polish Ocean Lines ensuring that jet lag did not trouble my travel plans. Some years later, I crossed the pond again on a ship, but this time, it was 5 times more significant, and I traveled in style on the QE2 and died in the Queen’s Grill, somewhat removed from my earlier experience. I highly recommend ocean voyages but cannot see myself on one of the modern cruise ships going from port to port with constant line-ups to get on and off to buy t-shirts. However, I have done 10 Windjammers and a Star Clipper cruise in the Caribbean, which were all memorable (let’s hope Windjammer Barefoot Cruises recover from their woes). But I digress.
I had read that Canada is a spectacular country, from sea to shining sea, and my entrance into the St. Lawrence River to Montreal and then heading west in an old Econoline van from the Great Lakes, across the Prairies to the Rocky Mountains before ending up whale watching off of the Pacific Coast of Vancouver Island was a trip of wonder to a bloke from London. Today the scenery is still spectacular, and the best way to go is still by road so rent or buy a car, motorhome or motorbike, take the train or tour bus but remember the maps, a fly rod, good boots and take your time.
My favorite part of Canada / USA for adventure travel has to be Northern BC / Alaska, to hike the Chilkoot Trail in the steps of the gold seekers of 1898. The Northwest Territories canoe the Nahanni River and the Yukon to drive from Dawson City to Chicken, Alaska. If you like the outdoors and can put up with a few bugs, cast a fly and scale a few hills or drive on endless dirt roads sharing the space with moose, caribou, elk, bears, and eagles, then these are the places to put on your list. The pleasures and experiences in driving to Inuvik on the Dempster Highway or to Prudhoe Bay on the Dalton Highway or even the Canol Road can only be felt by doing them. I would have mentioned the Alaska Highway, but now it is an easy drive, unlike the aforementioned.
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Today the costs of driving these distances may mean that sharing the journey with others is required, but RVing or simply vanning and camping is a great way to see beyond the horizon. Some en route adventures now need to be booked in advance, whereas when I hiked Denali and the Chilkoot Pass, it was just a case of turning up, registering with the local ranger office, and heading on out. A little more planning is needed for today’s traveler, and cost considerations of lengthy flights or drives have to be somehow countered with more careful planning. In the days of reasonable gas prices, I would not even consider the driving or flying costs and have driven to Key West from the northwest coast, down the west coast to the Baja, and the west coast from New York.
I once even flew my 1946 Fleet taildragger from the Pacific to the Atlantic and back using around 5 gallons an hour of avgas. Before the oil and credit crisis, I drove from Rio de Janeiro to Lima, down to Tierra del Fuego, and back to Rio, covering over 15,000 miles of spectacular scenery and no consideration of gas’s cost. South America should be on your itinerary too! Some other memorable drives that may now require a mortgage with the gas companies include London to The Nordkapp, Norway, Skippers Canyon in New Zealand, the loneliness of the far north of Australia, and the amazing coast of Western Australia stopping by at Monkey Mia and Wave Rock.
We tend to forget that the real cost of traveling is often less today than over the 40 years of my travels. In 1977 my round-trip airfare from Canada to Australia cost over $1700 in 1977 dollars, so today, it is far cheaper to fly, even with the airlines gouging for fuel, extra baggage, no service, and no pleasure. The ‘Big Mac’ method of price comparison as developed by The Economist newspaper gives us a good gauge for most expenditures of today compared to yesterday, but my $1500 cost to get a private pilots license in the 1970s seems cheap by comparison to today, but obviously not when using this Big Mac principle. Other travel costs are also far cheaper today, but this should not mean that travelers should disregard the many methods of saving costs that can be put to extended or improved travel experiences.
In my 40 years of travel, I have had to use travel agents to make even the simplest of reservations and buy tickets, not even thinking to ask them if they had “been there, done that?” It was just a case of there being no other options to buying travel. Now we have unlimited choices and can seek out better travel agents, better prices, better selections and information about anywhere in the world for our trips – without even leaving home.
The Internet now gives travelers ideas and options of Where to go, When to go, Why to go, What to do, Who to book with, and How to save money and offset costs. We can search and find experts for every travel option. If we are comfortable with the Internet, we no longer have to go to a travel agent to make reservations and buy tickets except to book with some of the larger travel companies that still produce glossy brochures and offer all-inclusive packages tours that only sell through the agency system. The Internet also allows those of us who are smart enough to know when to seek a top travel agent with knowledge, experience, and expertise (KEE skills) of destinations and activities about where to find them. There is no longer a need to use our local agents to find one somewhere else in the world. When we do not need ‘the knowledge’ and can do it, we surf the web to book directly with tour and travel operators wherever we have decided to go.
Some travel agents operate their own tours, some are both wholesale and retail, some limit consumer selection by only selling their ‘preferred’ suppliers, and some have professional consultants with years of experience invested in gaining knowledge, experience, and expertise and are worth their weight in gold to the savvy traveler. Beware, though, as some are also called destination specialists, and some of these designations merely require the agent to take a rudimentary test offered by tourism offices, destination marketing groups, or even tour operators and, in my opinion, can harm the reputation of the travel industry. A specialist is not necessarily an expert.
Travel is probably the most used commercial aspect of the Internet. If retail agents want to harness this exciting medium to offer ‘the knowledge’ and their ‘key’ skills to a global audience, not just their local community, they must embrace the changes that are happening. Travelers now have the ability to seek answers to the 5 W’s of travel and the important ‘How to’ save money and offset costs by having information just a click away.
And then it occurred to me that even internet travel prices often include a commission element even when sold directly to the consumer. If we book directly with operators, we should not have to pay full retail costs as we are doing for ourselves what a retail agent would normally do for us. The operator’s dilemma is that to show both a retail and a cost price option could deter many agents from selling the services as travelers could use an agent for free advice and book directly with the operator to get a ‘net of commission’ price. Obviously, this two-tier pricing is not often available, but travelers who do not need advice should also not be penalized by retail pricing. A new way had to be found, and I think I have found it!
The need for fairer fare prices is why I developed the Top Travel Voucher program at The Top Travel Club, and I even found a dot com for it. All travel selections on the site are at ‘net of commission’ prices for members who handle their own travel arrangements directly with the operators linked on the club website using our voucher program. I am inviting travel operators worldwide to join this program, from B&B’s, Motels, Hotels, Luxury Lodges, Eco Resorts, Beach Resorts, and Tour and Adventure Operators who want to promote their products and services to travelers who are comfortable with direct bookings and reservations.
I am also inviting Travel Agents with knowledge, experience, and expertise of destinations and activities to showcase their skills to a global audience of travelers and the members of this new travel club. I am leery of ‘specialist agents’ and only want experts to showcase their services. This opportunity is available to the travel trade at no cost except for them to offer net, wholesale or outlet prices to club members and visitors to the website using top travel vouchers. I believe this program offers fairer fare prices to direct-booking travelers. The operator would usually be paying commission anyway, but now travelers get the savings because they make their own arrangements.
The Top Travel Club opened in mid-April 2008, offering thousands of top travel vouchers for travel in over 70 countries with around 150 travel operators onboard. Every week we add more travel operators with more choices for members. Currently, you can get savings on accommodations, adventure travel, boat charters, culinary tours, hike, bike and dive tours, auto and RV rentals, fishing lodges and guides, safaris, vacation rentals, single travel, women only, and dude ranches. Members get the vouchers free of charge by paying an annual membership fee, and non-members can buy the coupons on the internet at Top Travel Sites at deeply discounted prices to the face value.
The future growth will include restaurants, travel clothing, travel insurance, and the opportunity to access air ticket consolidators who want to deal directly with consumers. The way I have traveled and the way I see travel is that consumers should have unlimited access to every travel opportunity with the ability to do their own due diligence or to find a professional who can offer quality advice and services at fair prices, and to see all of this without needing endless hours of searching.