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Travel stories, tips and advice for those wanting to take a step beyond

How to save money on great hotels!

Even the most exclusive hotels and resorts offer special deals - you just have to ask.

Even the most exclusive hotels and resorts offer special deals - you just have to ask.

Hot Hotel Booking Tips

These days we’re keener than ever before to get the most value for our dollar – particularly when we travel.  Are there ways to upgrade your accommodations without increasing your bill?


Start by minding your manners and lay the ground-work that will enable you to ask for the best deal available, in the nicest way possible.  Staying at a big chain hotel?  Call and deal directly with the reservations desk at the hotel you’ll be staying at, rather than working through their central booking system.  Explain why your stay is going to be a special time for you.  Perhaps you’re celebrating a birthday, an anniversary or even planning your honeymoon.  Be sure to emphasize that you put a great deal of thought into selecting just the right place to stay, and chose their property.

Having now set a friendly, positive tone, you’ll be in the perfect  position to ask for an upgrade or a lower rate.  Ask for their best price, after mentioning any memberships etc. you have that might qualify you for a cheaper rate (Canadian Automobile Association, for example.) Mention the rate you’ll like to pay, but if it isn’t offered say, “Hmmmm.  That’s more than I think we can afford.  Can you possibly do any better?”

If the answer is no, and you’re willing to consider staying somewhere else, say so politely.  If you’ve done your homework, you’ll know which competing hotels are in the vicinity, so you’ll be able to say, “We really wanted to stay at your hotel, but I don’t think we can afford that rate.  I guess I’ll have to check with xyz hotel.”

That may be the end of the conversation – and if you truly can’t afford the rate, it will have to be!  On the other hand, the reservations agent may rise to the bait and offer either a better price or some other incentive to encourage you to book.   If no discount is being offered, ask about an upgrade to a higher quality room, for the same price.  If a suite’s empty, and you’ve been pleasant to deal with, you might find yourself settling into more spacious accommodations at no additional cost.  No larger rooms available?  Ask about the possibility of having breakfast included in your room rate.  Note: the reservations clerk may not have the clout to make upgrade decisions without a manager’s approval so, if you sense confusion or confusion, ask to speak to a supervisor – and then roll out your whole charming manners once again.

At the very least, when booking a hotel room, ensure that the location of your room suits you.  Some people care most about their view, while others prefer to be as close to the elevator as possible, so suitcases etc. don’t have to be lugged very far.  By contrast, other people hate to be disturbed by the sound of elevators clanking up and down all night.

Tried your best, but still not scoring any deals with the reservations clerk?  Say “No thanks,” don’t book and call back later in the day or evening, when shifts have likely changed.  Sometimes, a different reservations agent will take a whole new approach!

Posted 8 years, 10 months ago at 3:58 am.

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Travel Gear to Get You Where You’re Going!

Great travel can depend not only on where you go and how, but on what you take with you. As a columnist for the Toronto Star, I write “Gearing Up”, a weekly round-up of the best travel products on the market – everything from suitcases to luggage scales, headlamps, water purification tablet and more. I thought readers of my blog might enjoy some of my best finds…

Travel Gear to Get You There


Sip Safely

Add one Aquatab Water Purification Tablet to any glass of questionable water, and leave it for 30 minutes. The iodine-free tab  will dissolve rapidly, providing effective protection against giardia, bacteria and viruses.  Safe for adults, children and pregnant women, this product is approved for treatment of drinking water by the US EPA, and used by such international aid agencies as NATO, Unicef, International Red Cross, Medecins Sans Frontieres, and Oxfam.  (Important to note: these tablets have not been proven effective against the cyst cryptosporidium when in the oocyst stage of its life cycle.)

Available for $17.00 from Mountain Equipment Co-op, 400 King Street West, Toronto, 888-847-0770. For other store locations or to order, visit

Not a Wrinkle in Sighttravel-iron

You’ll be fit to meet the queen, with not a wrinkle in sight if you’ve packed the Hamilton Beach® Travel Iron with steamer.  Compact and lightweight, it features a lint brush attachment, storage bag, dual 120/240 voltage and water cup.

Available at major department stores for $29.99 or by contacting 800-267-2826.

Travel Trouble!Book photo

We’ve all been on trips from hell and nobody wants to repeat the experience! Don’t Go There! The Travel Detective’s Essential Guide to the Must-Miss Places of the World by author Peter Greenberg offers a need-to-know guide to where to – and not to – go and why!

Available from for $14.56

Posted 8 years, 10 months ago at 4:02 am.

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Pilot Butte, near Regina, Saskatchewan is home to the kind of rodeo that combines real cowboys, bucking broncos and snorting bulls. If you’re looking for serious rodeo riders and down in the dirt thrills, this is the place!

The bulls are big and angry at the downhome rodeo in Pilot Butte, Saskatchewan.

The bulls are big and angry at the downhome rodeo in Pilot Butte, Saskatchewan.

Ride ‘Em Cowboys !

“Folks, he paid his entry fee so let’s pay him off!” says the announcer at the Pilot Butte rodeo near Regina, Saskatchewan.

The crowd claps sympathetically for the red-shirted rider whose lasso has just missed the horns of a young steer. The prize money isn’t going to be his this time, but the rider is able to raise his hand in a wave anyway.

That’s what real cowboys do when they’re competing in small-town rodeos.  As the old saying goes, ‘they pays their money and they takes their chance,’ and if all goes well, the prize money is theirs.  If not, their payment is the applause of an appreciative crowd.

If you’re ever in Saskatchewan on a warm summer’s evening, you might want to experience the time-traveling sensation of attending one of the dozens of small town rodeos that take place in community centers around the province.  Don’t go expecting the Calgary Stampede – that’s not what you’re about to see.  Go looking for a place where time stands still and hometown values still count for something.

You could arrive to find a big pile of sand piled high beside the concession stand, and a passel of kids, big and small, happily digging in it.  You’ll wonder what they’re up to until you see the small, hand-lettered sign. “Find a token and get a free freezie.”

“We put ten tokens in there,” smiles the concession stand lady, “and those kids have been digging all evening.”

A free freezie.  Can you imagine a city kid rooting around in the sand for a freezie?  Not likely – but these kids are having fun.

And so are the kids sitting in the stands with their parents, digging into huge bags of kettle corn and sipping on soda.  You can tell this is a big evening for the whole family, because everyone’s Wrangler jeans are neat and pressed, their boots are polished, and there are more white cowboy hats than you can shake a stick at.  My husband and I look down at our shorts and t-shirts and feel a little under-dressed.  We’ll know better next time.

Serious rodeo riders compete for the cash at the Pilot Butte rodeo, near Regina Saskatchewan.

Serious rodeo riders compete for the cash at the Pilot Butte rodeo, near Regina Saskatchewan.

No one’s paying much attention to fashion anyway, given the action in the ring.  From calf roping to bull riding and bronco busting, the cowboys and girls of the western circuit are putting on a show that’s all about courage and competence.  At any moment, a stray hoof or horn could spell disaster for the young athletes and the crowd holds its collective breath until the event is over and the danger has passed.  Only then do the watchers ‘pay off’ the competitors with warm applause.

While the adult events are without doubt the most breathtaking, the most impressive is indisputably the junior chuck wagon race.

It’s a pretty simple system.

Each team has a small wagon, big enough for one child to ride on.  A piece of Bristol board is curved over it, to form the roof.  While the rider crouches inside the wagon, two other children perform the services of the horses, racing madly around the track beside competing chuck wagon teams.

That’s all there is to it.

Six teams are on the roster to compete, making a total of 18 kids.  Given that each competitor might only have two parent spectators and perhaps the odd grandparent, I expect the stands to empty for this final event – but I’m wrong.  Not one soul leaves.  The stands are packed and everyone rises to cheer on the victors as well as the also-rans.

And the prizes?

Every competitor receives – a freezie.

If the world has been moving a bit too fast lately, head for a small-town Saskatchewan rodeo and get a grip on what really matters – honest competition and genuine appreciation for hard work and talent.

Oh - and while you’re there - have a freezie!

Posted 8 years, 10 months ago at 3:55 am.

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Environmentally friendly travel tips.

Learn how to enjoy your trip while preserving the environment!

Travel Green!

When everything seems to have a green focus these days, it’s important to consider how our travel habits can have an impact on the environments in which we vacation.  We’re all becoming aware of the importance of off-setting the pollution we create by flying or driving and many of us are now routinely contributing to websites that enable us to reduce the size of our carbon ‘footprint.’ What’s equally important is to ensure that we continue to be eco-responsible when we arrive, and that every day of our holiday we show respect for the new surroundings in which we find ourselves.  As citizens of the world, we need to make sure that we care for every corner!  Next time you’re planning a vacation, pull out this list of eco-friendly travel suggestions and slip it in your suitcase.  Mother Nature will be glad you did.

Be careful never to let feet, fingers or flippers touch the delicate coral reef.

Be careful never to let feet, fingers or flippers touch the delicate coral reef.

1.  Enjoy nature but don’t chase or try to touch animals or sea creatures.  You’re visiting their world, it’s a special privilege for you to be able to do so, and you need to respect, not disrupt their lives.

2.  Don’t take anything away with you that’s part of the natural environment.  While it may seem like an interesting souvenir to remind you of your experience, removing bits of the natural habitat can be upsetting or even dangerous for the creatures you’ve been so keen to observe.

3.  Stay on marked trails to avoid trampling fragile plant life.  If you see litter left behind by those who’ve gone before you, clean it up.  Leave that little bit of the world a better place that you found it.

4.  If you notice any damage in any protected areas, be sure to report it to the park rangers before you leave.  Delicate ecosystems have to be carefully maintained and the park management can’t have eyes everywhere.

5.  Be sure to shop at local stores, deal with local people, show interest in and enthusiasm for their culture and try local specialties whenever possible, but avoid purchasing anything made from tropical woods, turtle shells, ivory, coral etc.  It’s your responsibility to ensure that you’re not encouraging the sale of products made from precious, endangered natural species.

Take only photos as souvenirs of the rare creatures you encounter,

Take only photos as souvenirs of the rare creatures you encounter,

6.  When you sit down for dinner, choose seafood and fish caught locally in a responsible, sustainable fishery operation.

7.  Swimming, snorkeling or diving? Be sure to keep your hands and flippers far from the delicate coral reefs.  Breaking off pieces of coral can have serious effects on the sea life that depend on the reefs for sustenance and a place to live.  Note:  staying away from the coral is also an important way to protect yourself from infection.  If you do happen to scratch yourself on the reef, be sure to wash the scrape with soap and water and apply a topical disinfectant.

8.  Lend a hand! If you have some extra time in your vacation schedule, consider volunteering to help refurbish a conservation area or clean up a beach.  Giving back is a great way to make your holiday memorable!

Posted 8 years, 10 months ago at 3:43 am.

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Anguilla offers beautiful beaches in a Caribbean paradise.

If you’re looking for beautiful beaches and friendly locals to welcome you to a charming Caribbean island, Anguilla has just what the traveler ordered.


A Little Piece of Paradise – Anguilla 



Anguilla boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean

Anguilla boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean


If escaping the rigors of the world to hide away on a relaxed island is your dream, make Anguilla your destination.  It’s a hidden holiday gem many North American travelers have yet to discover.

Just five kms across at its widest point and 26 km long, this tiny piece of paradise, the most northerly of the Leeward Islands in the Lesser Antilles, is a British territory.  Once Canadian tourists adjust to driving on the left side of the island’s one major thoroughfare and smaller side roads (no need to panic – the speed limit is just 30 kms/hr.), they feel immediately at home with the friendly, English-speaking islanders who want nothing more than the opportunity to welcome visitors tired of the more hectic pace of neighboring islands.  The population is small – approximately 13,500 – and not particularly entrepreneurial.  You could wander forever on the beaches of Anguilla and never have anyone try to sell you anything – in fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a t-shirt shop if you were desperate!

This is an island of beautiful, largely deserted sandy beaches – 33 of them in total – where the weary vacationer can set up a sun chair and bask in uninterrupted seclusion. 


Take snorkeling cruise and discover some of the friendlier denizens of the deeps!

Take snorkeling cruise and discover some of the friendlier denizens of the deeps!


If you really must… 

If you feel that you have to add more to your holiday schedule than hours of relaxing by crystal blue waters on silky sand beaches, Anguilla is ready to accommodate.  Nearly as beautiful beneath the waves as it is above, Anguilla is a favorite destination for both snorkelers and SCUBA divers.  You’ll find plenty of boats with captains eager to show you the island’s popular marine parks: Sandy Island, Dog Island, Prickley Pear, Little Bay, Seal Island Reef System and the Shoal Bay Harbour Reef System.  The sites offer not only mini wall dives and heritage dives, but also shore and wreck dives as well as the island’s most exciting attraction, El Buen Consejo, a 960-ton Spanish galleon, which rests in the waters of the award-winning Stoney Bay Marine Park. 

Prefer your sight-seeing to take place on dry land?  Birders enjoy visiting Anguilla’s salt ponds to train their binoculars on the variety of feathered visitors who flap by, while gourmet travelers rave about the outstanding cuisine offered at many of the island’s hotels and restaurants where the food is first-rate, the service is outstanding and making reservations is never a problem. 

Bankie on It 

No visit to Anguilla is complete without an evening – and perhaps a day as well! – spent at the Dune Preservation Retreat at Rendezvous Bay, listening to the original reggae rhythms of owner and singing sensation Bankie Banks.  Banks is as integral a part of the character of Anguilla as Bob Marley is of Jamaica.  The difference is, he’s still very much alive and singing his heart out in his beach-side bar, built to feel as whimsical as the Swiss Family Robinson’s tree house. Go in March and be part of Moonsplash, Bankie’s own musicfest that draws thousands of visitors from around the world, or choose a quieter month, when you can relax in the bar after the show and share a beer with the great man himself. 

Getting There 

Paradise shouldn’t be too easy to reach…so getting to Anguilla takes an extra little step.  Canadian travelers can fly Sunwing to St. Maarten and then take a short ferry ride to the secluded shores.  It’s the shortest and most exotic little commute you’ll ever exp

Posted 8 years, 10 months ago at 3:15 am.

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Cuba celebrates the 50th anniversary of the revolution

As Cuba celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Revolution, Che Guevara remains its most beloved son and  iconic leader.


Che's legend is larger than the statue that looms over his shrine-like memorial.

Che's legend is larger than the statue that looms over his shrine-like memorial.

Revolution and Romance in Cuba


“What have you seen of the island?” I asked the older couple, sunning themselves poolside. 

“Nothing,” they replied.  “We never leave the property.”

I was stunned.  There we were in Cuba, arguably one of the most interesting areas of the Caribbean, and my two tanned friends were content with a lounge chair and a pina colada.

“We always do this,” they told me, explaining that holidays were always spent on the hotel property.

“That way, we always know what to expect.”

Vacation time should be spent whatever way makes you happiest – but, not exploring Cuba when you have the opportunity is…well…a loss.

Cuba is a fascinating mix of the beach resort atmosphere of places like Veradero, the full-on, Vegas-style glitz of the famed Tropicana show in Havana, and the still very serious official dedication to the heroes of the revolution.  The latest techno-pop tunes may blare in the resort discos, but in many ways, time has stood still since the beginning of Castro’s rule in the 1950’s.  There are cars older than most of the tourists, still in regular use.  Not the treasured babies of automobile aficionados, these cars are instead the basic means of transportation for many Cuban families.  Repaired for fifty years, the cars are held together by wire, glue and considerable faith.

But perhaps the most fascinating example of faith you’ll witness in Cuba is the on-going passion the country seems to exude for Che Guevara – long dead, but still the most popular figure of their revolutionary past.  Born Ernesto Guevara in Argentina, Che (which means ‘friend’ in Spanish) came to Cuba as a doctor to serve with Castro, quickly rose to military power and played a pivotal role in deposing the Fulgencio Batista regime. 

Assassinated in 1967, at the age of 39, while trying to lead another revolution in Bolivia, Che is an iconic hero in Cuba. 


Che watches over Revolutionary Square in Havana

Che watches over Revolutionary Square in Havana


In Havana’s Revolution Square, the enormous side of one building is adorned with a line drawing of his face while billboards showing him and quoting his most stirring revolutionary sentiments line the roadways. Every gift shops offers Che postcards – his face is unmistakeable.

A visit to his memorial, just outside the town of Villa Clara, is a fascinating study in both history and passion.  Regardless of your political views or your opinion of the man himself, a tour of the Che’s possessions and the photographic chronicle of his life will offer a rare glimpse into one of the world’s longest-standing love affairs between a leader and his people.

A chess set, doctor’s lab coat, a camera in its leather case, even a photo of Che holding a baseball bat are displayed with the kind of reverence reserved in other countries only for religious artifacts. His camera is the only one you’ll see.  Tourists and locals must leave theirs outside, to show proper respect.

In an adjacent room is a tomb containing the remains of Che and the small band of Cuban revolutionaries killed with him in Bolivia and returned to Cuba 30 years later.  Carvings of each face surround the central image of their leader, identified simply as Che. Visitors shuffle through the cool, candlelit darkness in silence.  Outside, cameras once more in hand, tourists snap photos of the enormous statue atop the memorial. 

It could be argued that, had he lived longer, Che’s luster might have dimmed in his adopted country.  We’ll never know –  he died young and has remained a cultural symbol for Cuba.  Sitting in the air-conditioned comfort of the Sunwing flight home, I raise a glass, not to revolution, and not even to Che, but rather to the timelessness of passion.

Posted 8 years, 10 months ago at 2:48 am.

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Motion Sickness Strategies

Watching the horizon can settle a queasy stomach...and a blast of fresh air is always a good idea too!

Watching the horizon can settle a queasy stomach...and a blast of fresh air is always a good idea too!

Help for the Queasy Traveler

Is a car trip your personal idea of hell? On a cruise, do you spend more time curled in the fetal position in your cabin than enjoying the sights?  Would you rather spend a week at the dentist’s office than an hour in a small airplane?

Lucky you – you suffer from motion sickness!

It’s a malady that hits us all from time to time, no matter how much traveling we’ve done.  It’s a nasty trick played on our stomach by our brain that can spell the end to vacation fun unless you come up with some smart strategies to combat it.

What is it?

Motion sickness is a simple case of confusion.  Your brain isn’t properly processing what your body is experiencing and so sends messages to your stomach that cause nausea.  Ordinarily, your brain gets clear, dependable messages from your eyes and your inner ear that jibe pretty well with your expectations and previous experiences.  In certain travel circumstances, however, such as when you’re traveling in the back seat of a car, below decks on a ship, or in an airplane where your vision is restricted and you have no view of the horizon, trouble starts.  Your eye perceives your surroundings to be still, but your inner ear’s balance mechanism registers movement.  In short, your sensory wires are crossed and the ultimate victim is your stomach.  In no time, you grow pale, break out in a sweat and your lunch begins to threaten a hasty return.

So what’s an intrepid traveler to do?

Motion sickness can strike any time, whether you travel by boat, car or plane.

Motion sickness can strike any time, whether you travel by boat, car or plane.

Quelling the Quaking Within

The best solution for dealing with motion sickness is to practice preventative strategies.  Sit in the front passenger seat in the car, ask for a window seat on an airplane and choose larger planes over their smaller cousins – you’ll experience less turbulence.  Spend more time enjoying the fresh air on the promenade deck and less in your cabin.  If you go deep-sea fishing, try your best to avoid using the completely enclosed bathroom below decks (cross your legs – it’s preferable!)  Whenever possible, open a window or step out on a balcony to get fresh air – and always keep your eyes on the horizon.

While certain over the counter medications such as Gravol or Dramamine are helpful for dealing with and even preventing motion sickness, they can leave you feeling drowsy – not a great thing when every vacation moment is precious.  The good news is that Gravol (note: available in Canada) has introduced a new product – a chewable ginger-based lozenge which, if chewed in advance of a sick-making trip, has proved very effective for me.  Another great over the counter option is a product called Bonamine, an anti-nausea medication that has no sedating effects and lasts up to 24 hours.  I’ve also found it very effective.

If you’re planning a cruise and want a long-term solution, consider Transderm, a product that consists of two small circular patches (like the paper reinforcements we used to stick on three-ring binder pages) that adhere to the skin behind each of your ears. Over the course of 72 hours, the patches exude small amounts of anti-nausea medication that is absorbed through your skin to prevent you from feeling sea-sick. Most people report no nasty side-effects and find these patches a great way to enjoy every shipboard moment. Your pharmacist may also suggest that you try motion bands, which are snug bracelets of fabric with imbedded discs designed to press on certain areas of the wrist. The acupressure effect is thought to aid in preventing motion sickness, but I can’t say I’ve ever had any success with them.

If you don’t succeed in preventing the onset of motion sickness and begin to feel that familiar queasiness arising, fix your eyes firmly on the horizon, sip a cold can of ginger ale and hold another cold can against the back of your neck.  Nibble dry crackers, suck on a ginger-flavored candy or chew strongly flavored gum – cinnamon is a good choice.  If all else fails and you’re able to get to a source of cold water, take a shower or jump in a cool pool.  Strange as it may sound, you might even consider soaking a towel in cold water, wringing it out and wrapping yourself in it.  That was the cure offered to me after a particularly gagging flight in a small plane in Africa and I was so desperate, I went for it.  The soaking wet towel completely engulfed me from head to toe, my clothing was drenched – and it worked like a charm!

Posted 8 years, 10 months ago at 8:14 pm.

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Liz Fleming is an award-winning Canadian travel journalist who specializes in adventure, health and wellness and learning travel. Her articles take readers on a world of international, national and homegrown adventures – from the sunny beaches of the Caribbean to a tattoo master’s hut on a remote island in Tahiti.  She is the author of “Gearing Up” a syndicated travel products column in the Toronto Star and the Hamilton Spectator, and of “Great Escapes” another weekly syndicated travel column produced for the Canadian Press, and is the managing editor of NiagaraLife Magazine.    liz-photo2

Posted 8 years, 10 months ago at 8:09 pm.

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Welcome to TravelBold!

Welcome to TravelBold, a blog for travelers ready to go beyond the beach! You’ll discover great trip ideas, travel advice and the latest travel gear, regularly updated by a travel professional with access to the latest vacation news.

Posted 8 years, 10 months ago at 5:14 pm.

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