Another great year of travels made possible by using points and finding good deals. What sticks in my mind though, is not scoring a low airfare or hotel rate, but all the memories made during trips that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Here are a few thoughts on what stood out for me in 2019.
When choosing your sightseeing agenda there will usually be some expectations attached. If you’re lucky, the reality will meet those expectations and occasionally even surpass them.
Butchart Gardens, Victoria BC
I’m not into gardening and can’t identify many flowers beyond the easy ones, but spending a glorious spring day in Butchart Gardens was the highlight of my stay in Victoria. We arrived early, it wasn’t very crowded and the sun was shining. We enjoyed a nice lunch and made another circuit of the grounds before catching a bus back downtown to our hotel. I highly recommend adding this to your list of wonderful Canadian sights to see if you haven’t yet visited.
Alcatraz, San Francisco
I had been to San Francisco once before and passed on visiting the former prison island. How interesting could old jail cells be? It’s expensive and tickets sell out so you can’t decide on the fly whether to go or not. After nabbing 2 of the last 4 tickets for the following day, it turned out to be a great decision. The facility is run by the US National Parks Service and the included audio guide really brings the history to life. It felt more like a visit to a museum than a touristy experience. If I return to San Francisco someday I might even try the night tour or the behind the scenes tour.
Museums of Gdansk, Poland
Unlike the previous two, I already had high expectations for the Museum of the Second World War and the European Solidarity Centre in Gdansk. And they certainly lived up to them. The European Solidarity Centre opened in 2014 and the Museum of the Second World War opened in 2017. They exhibits are very well presented with excellent audio guides. If you are into history and enjoy visiting museums, you need to go to Gdansk.
Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, Universal Orlando
Finally, to get right to the actual moment-in-time level of memory, I vividly recall briskly walking toward the ride after entering the park at opening. It was a mixture of excitement and trepidation because I am definitely not a thrill-seeker and I suspected this new attraction was going to be at the limit of my thrill capacity. I was right…but it was awesome. I will definitely ride it again although it will never be quite the same as heading through the turnstiles amid the crowd, wondering what it would be like.
Kindness of Strangers
Travel can be stressful. You’re in unfamiliar surroundings and possibly tired and/or confused. Or maybe things are going great and your worries at a distance. In either case, when a stranger offers genuine assistance it’s something that lifts the mood and renews one’s faith in humanity. Here are a few examples.
I didn’t even mean to say it out loud, but after a long flight to Vancouver, I saw that the escalator was not operational and said something like, “darn, the escalator’s not working” and a young fellow instantly asked if he could help. I felt a bit silly because I could manage my bag fine but I thanked him for the offer. Kindness was a reflex for him.
While in San Francisco, we did 3 walking tours offered by the non-profit San Francisco City Guides where visitors pay in the form of voluntary donations. At the end of our last tour, a retired couple who live in the city insisted on making a donation on our behalf.
People were incredibly friendly in Poland. Travelling with my mother, young Poles were quick to give up their seat or help her with her bag. When studying a map, people kindly tried to offer assistance though the language barrier was a bit of an impediment with older Poles. We appreciated the gesture nonetheless.
Repeat Getaway or an “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” Trip
My parents enjoyed a 2 night trip in late August to PEI for the 3rd year in a row. Its origin was an Air Miles promotion that offered tickets to Festin Acadien Avec Homard in Abrams Village for only 1 Air Mile. The following year the Air Mile amount was a lot higher but they decided to go for it again because it had been so enjoyable the first time.
This year, with no Air Miles tickets available, they paid cash and went anyway. They made good use of the annual free night offered by the Marriott Bonvoy Amex, using it at the Delta Prince Edward in Charlottetown. And they used a promo code on Booking.com for a reasonably priced stay in Summerside on the second night. Although it’s not my own travel memory, helping others put together a little trip is just as nice.
Mystery Revealed – Airport Lounges
I wouldn’t classify visiting lounges as a favourite memory but it was something new for me in 2019. I had always wondered what they were like and this year I visited several. Upon reflection, my determination is thus: free food and drink and a potential quiet oasis amid the chaos of a busy airport is very nice, but I’m not the traveller for whom lounges hold the greatest appeal.
For me, the free food is the biggest draw. It was always interesting to see what hot dishes were available. The “fanciest” was probably the chicken dish at the Centurion lounge in San Francisco but what I liked most was the plain old glazed ham, mashed potatoes and green beans at the Plaza Premium lounge in Vancouver.
If you partake of alcoholic beverages, your lounge pass will obviously give you more value than if you’re a non-drinker like myself.
I think when you’re travelling on business, a lounge is very convenient if you need a comfortable space to work or wait for a flight that involves no element of excitement for you.
A few people, I suspect, get some intangible benefit from the fact that access is restricted – the notion of exclusivity. I only really care about the practical value of what’s available inside. And restricted access doesn’t necessarily mean peace and quiet – some lounges were full and seating was scarce.
I certainly don’t relate to individuals who go so far as to plan itineraries around specific lounges. Although lounge access is definitely a nice thing to have, with the few trips I take in a year I’m happy enough with an overpriced grab-n-go sandwich as I wait for departure at the gate. If I flew more often or on longer trips with multiple layovers I would probably feel differently and likely be more interested in features such as showers and nap rooms.
I hope anyone reading this also made some nice travel memories in 2019. Hopefully we will see lots of good deals and promotions in 2020.
Happy New Year.