Now that we're back in the proverbial saddle we'd like to reconnect with all of you. Havana Heartbeat was a wonderful experience with an awesome group of guests, and even though we were a couple of hundred miles away it seems like we came from absolute paradise to utter chaos. Thank goodness nobody broke into our homes to steal our toilet paper!
Now that it seems everyone on the trip is settled and healthy, I've had a chance to tend to business, reflect on what to do and how to manage the storm both professionally and personally. Locally in Sarasota business in the tourism sector has come to a complete halt. During that time I've focused on next year and even the following. My heart goes out to those businesses and individuals that are suffering through this but at some point, it will come to an end.
In the meantime, we're doing our best to keep our chins up and our sense of humor intact. Look out for our Weekly Adventure Insights for potentially useful information, some humor, tips, and travel deals. We'd also love to hear back from you on any stories or activities you've been doing to stay healthy and upbeat. Please give us a shout out so we can share with the rest of our subscribers.
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If you tuned in to Tru-T on Sunday December 15, 2020 there was a segment featuring Daniel Milks from My XO Adventures. The topic was some of the recent fallout from Travelers booked with a local Sarasota Agency, as well as large Tour Operators like Thomas Cook when both companies took a tumble, leaving passengers holding their bags, quite literally. The situation was unfortunate all the way around, for the employees as well as the passengers, some of which were stranded an no way to get home.
We'd like to give you a few tips before booking your vacation with any Tour Operator, and we're included! The first thing that we feel is a major mistake is purchasing any travel using check or cash. Some operators will offer a discount to get customers to pay this way. It can save you a few dollars, but it's NOT worth it. There is no recourse if the company goes into default. Always use your credit card, and preferably one that has extra travel benefits associated with it. You'll find many cards offer certain protections just for using it to purchase the vacation.
Secondly, please wherever you travel always buy travel insurance. This not only can protect you from default, but is just plain wise to do should anything go wrong with your vacation. If you travel, you know the chances are eventually something will happen and you want that reassurance that it's all going to be ok.
Third might be obvious, but its important. Check out the ratings through companies like Trip Advisor, Facebook Ratings, and Google the Company to see comments and ratings there. Balance this however, as someone who has had a bad experience is 10x more likely to go out of their way to post it than someone who had a perfectly good experience on the same vacation. So don't stop at the first review. Asses multiple reviews and make your own determination.
Lastly, and I'll just say this. The bigger they are the harder they fall. Check out and verify the credentials of the Agent/Agency and it's always best to go with someone you know. Ask a friend or acquaintance who is in the business that runs a small operation. (We) They take less risk, but offer some of the most exciting and detailed oriented trips you'll ever go on. Remember it's about the experience of travel and the boutiques and niche travel operators are likely going to offer more interesting vacations, and at reasonable rate. We believe in supporting small business and many of us offer group sizes of 8-12 people in size. Should some unfortunate circumstance arise, a smaller group is much easier to remedy than thousands of passengers all demanding their money back.
Travel Agents are experiencing a come back In recent years, and for good reason. A good, educated agent can help create the experience of a lifetime, and if you like to book it on your own just know that you will be booking with a massive company that in the travel world is called an OTA, or online travel agent. So really what's happening here is they are utilizing you as the travel agent, unqualified and not paying you a penny. Cruise A booked with an agent costs $100 dollars. Cruise B booked with the client Costs $100. Congrats to the cruise line, they don't pay anyone in that transaction.
In most cases the Travel Agent if certified and familiar with the area of the world you will be adventuring, already knows way better than the online booking systems how to get you a better deal. In the end, you save a lot of time with an agent in the form of a professional that you pay absolutely nothing to have as an advocate for you, doing their best job in the hopes you will return.
That's all I have today for travel tips, but please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions as it relates to travel or our company information.
We get this question all the time, and the answer is a resounding YES!! It is legal for Americans to travel to Cuba. We've done it many times, with many happy guests. It's the best place in the Caribbean by far, and unlike the islands the cruise ships take you to, Cuba couldn't be more different. It's vibrant, exciting, non-touristic by in large, and offers a wide variety of interests for those who travel to the island. It's one of our personal favorites and we'd like to take you there.
We believe one of the reasons many believe that you cannot travel to Cuba is because of the recent changes from the Administration that restricts the WAY you can travel to Cuba. One way no longer available is by cruise, and to tell you the truth this wasn't the best way to get there anyhow. You would overnight on a cruise ship, see a limited part of Havana and off you went. You had your stamp and were proud of it. There is much more to Cuba than that, and more time is needed to explore the hidden treasures Havana and Cuba has to offer.
The reason It Is legal Is very simple. There are 11 OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) categories that allow you to travel to Cuba. One of them, and the most common is the "Support of the Cuban People". This category, simply put means that you must support private enterprise while in Cuba. Here are some examples:
That's the long and the short of it. There are plenty of places to fly directly into Havana and due to all the misconceptions, prices are good right now, especially ours. Take one of our private small group fully escorted tours to Havana and the surrounding countryside, with our next being on March 12, 2020. For more answers to questions, we've provided a link below with answers.
My mind keeps going back to the first time I left the U.S. to travel abroad. I was so excited, anxious and full of anticipation of what may happen, and then it was nothing like I expected. Over time I've learned that's the best part. In the business of travel you do your level best to make sure things go just as outlined on the brochure or in the itinerary but these are really best intentions and hopes as to the outcome of an adventure you've put together.
Sometimes you hit the mark around 95% and sometimes less, but I've found it's what you do with those moments that count. I've been reading quite a few other great travel blogs lately and one in particular of an accident prone blogger that has some of the most interesting experiences. As I write I think some of the best moments in travel adventures are when plans change, and the trip takes a turn that ends up being wonderful. Of course there are a couple of ingredients that need to be in play to make this happen. One is a flexible and resourceful guide, and the other are guests that look at the world in a glass half full situation. (I find the Aussies the best yet for this type of thing)
A situation in Romania with a friend (also above) driving almost lead to our death, literally. It involved a Skoda on the Transfăgărășan Highway around a narrow bend (pictured above). It resulted in a stop along the side of the road next to a shack that curiously had steam puffing out of a tin vent in the roof. To our surprise it was still producing a fruit alcohol called Palinka. Before you knew it we were being given generous shots and sharing pork belly fat with onion spread on fresh baked bread. How did that happen? We almost lost our lives, but we had an experience of a lifetime that we laugh at to this day.
Once I can remember missing a train in Basel that lead me to a fantastic moment in Strasbourg, or another in Olympia where it rained so hard we all stood in ankle deep water eating baklava and hot coffee, laughing and taking pictures the entire time. Another in Cuba of taking the wrong street in the right direction that resulted in an open door and a welcoming family with the most excellent Cuban coffee and company without speaking a lick of Spanish. Yet another was a surprise ending of a River cruise in Vienna to the Palace of Lichtenstein in a grand hall with 200 of the cruise guests. A front row seat, a conductor, band and a ballerina playing and dancing to the Blue Danube Waltz. The ballerina walks straight towards me and extends her arms and in a millisecond I must either refuse or get up and dance. I chose to dance (badly). I stepped on her toes and was told my face was as red as a tomato in the Florida sunshine. I could feel it and I'm sure it was. The experience was frightening, exhilarating and out of this world. Looking back had I refused I would never have forgiven myself.
Having traveled quite a bit from that point I find myself now looking for those moments. I may never be there again, so why not make the most of every second, and chose to be present. Travel is like life, it's not what the books tell you, its so much more. Expect the unexpected. Look for those moments and consider them a gift in their own right.
Not to worry, these are the exploratory trips and we review the death defying experiences so as our guests don't have to for themselves. Needless to say, we savor the travel experience and look for the moments where we are all able to get up and dance. We hope to see you on our next Adventure, and in the meantime keep an eye out for what's next. It's guaranteed to be good.
While there are many places in the world to travel, Cuba can be one of the safest. Surprised? We thought so. Over the last half-century there's been quite a bit of misinformation in the U.S. as it relates to Cuba Travel, and this is certainly one. At myXOAdventures.com, we've taken the time to explore Cuba. From Santiago to Havana, and Cienfuegos to Viñales we've made our way all around the island.
The first places visitors generally explore are the main squares of Havana, where you'll find shops, restaurants, statues and gardens with a rich history. These are considered very safe and the most common type of nefarious activity of course, is pick pockets. Although we've never had a guests experience, or witnessed this type of thing its always good to know where you have your wallet and valuables. Once you venture outside the squares, looks can be a little deceiving.
Some of the alleys and roads off of the center squares can look a bit sketchy, but in our experience there was no reason for alarm. Some of the most interesting places can be found on the side streets. Many of Cuba's historic buildings and streets are in various stages of age and decay. Sometimes this is strangely beautiful and sometimes not so much. One thing that we found is that regardless, you were perfectly safe. Violent crimes and gun crimes per capita are 19 times higher here in the U.S. than they are in Cuba. Although it was a different feel and place, we eventually felt perfectly at ease anywhere we went in the Capital City.
The people of Havana and Cuba in general are very friendly, and willing to help where they can. After spending several days throughout the island, you'll notice things from your past that we see little if any of today. Things like children playing ball in the streets, or marbles on the sidewalk. A couple of friends playing a game of chess or dominoes while enjoying some rum. From what I've seen, happiness comes not from possessions, but relationships.
Take it from someone who knows, Cuban society is actually much safer than many of our own backyards.
BY DANIEL MILKS
My travel experience as a profession began in 2011, and have since traveled all over the world. At this stage I've seen the good, bad and the ugly. I've guided and managed itineraries put together from those without care, or a complete lack of imagination. I've taken the terrible and used it as a learning experience in what not to do.