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 bigger and I travelguidecompany in style on the QE2 and dined 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 goldseekers of 1898. The Northwest Territories to canoe the Nahannie 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.
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 enroute 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 forward planning is needed for today’s traveller and cost considerations of lengthy flights or drives have to somehow be 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 to 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 with no consideration about the cost of gas. 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 and 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 travelling 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 licence in the 1970’s 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 travellers should disregard the many methods of saving costs that can then 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 travels – without even leaving home.
The Internet now gives travellers 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 or tours that only sell through the agency system. The Internet also allows those of us who are smart enough to know when to seek out a top travel agent with knowledge, experience and expertise (KEE skills) of destinations and activities about where to find them. There is no longer any need to only use our local agents when we can find one somewhere else in the world. When we do not need ‘the knowledge’ and can do it ourselves we simply surf the web so that we can 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 traveller. 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 and if retail agents want to harness this exciting medium to offer ‘the knowledge’ and their ‘kee’ skills to a global audience, not just their local community, they must embrace the changes that are happening. Travellers 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 prices as we are doing for ourselves what a retail agent would normally do for us. A dilemma for the operator is that to show a both a retail and a cost price option could deter many agents from selling the services as travellers 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 travellers 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 there own travel arrangements directly with the operators linked on the club website using our voucher program.