Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Vacation Planning 101

How do you plan your vacations? Do you obsess over every last detail? Do you plan down to the minute? Or do you prefer to simply book a flight and wing the rest of your time?

I love to plan. I’m pretty sure part of the reason I love to travel is so I get to plan something. There is something quite satisfying about taking a broad question, “Where should we go on our next vacation?”, and turning that into a detailed itinerary. Can you see my OCD tendencies coming through yet?

This post is about the process I take when planning any type of travel. As a software developer, I essentially use the same process for solving any large and complex problem. I take my initial big question, “Where should we go on our next vacation?”, and break it down into smaller manageable tasks. Once one task is completed I can then iterate of the process by breaking down the remaining work into smaller tasks until they all get completed.

Naturally, the first step in answering the big question is deciding where you want to go. No other tasks can be completed until this gets done. To determine an appropriate destination you must ask yourself what the goal of the desired vacation is. 

Are you visiting family? 
Do you want to escape the cold? 
Are you looking for adventure or relaxing? 
Who will you be travelling with?
What is my budget?

I think you get the picture. Once these questions are answered you can start narrowing down the types of places you could possibly visit. I started planning my next vacation about 10 months in advance. I knew I would be travelling in August, with my wife and two kids and was looking for adventure. Early on I thought about going on a three week road trip looking for some adventure. This started out with an elaborate plan to drive to Canada’s east coast all the way to Newfoundland. While this certainly would have been an epic adventure after some initial research and reading related travel blogs I decided such a trip would involve too much driving and not enough adventure.

I restarted the process again with a revised set of goals. 

The next destination I set my sights on was a road trip to West Virginia. This is another location that has plenty of adventure but required less driving. This time around I got much further in my planning. Using a combination of Google Maps, travel blogs and tourism websites I was able to come up with a three week loop with stops in key areas along the way.

This brings me to my next point. Areas or zones. Once I’ve answered the big question and have a destination in mind I break the work down further by coming up with a list of broad areas or zones that look like they would be worth visiting. A zone could be a city or a geographic area that I am interested in exploring. I find having these areas defined makes it much easier to plan a route as well as understanding how many areas can feasibly be visited. Depending on the location it may make more sense to find a home base to make day trips to each area instead of packing up and traveling to each area.

Determining the areas to visit goes back to the original questions on why a specific location was chosen. With the broad location already known it becomes a lot easier to discover the areas that will provide the desired activities and exploration. For this process I rely heavily on existing travel blogs from past travellers as well as Tripadvisor reviews and forums.

Now we are getting to the fun part. It is time to start booking. This usually happens 4-6 months out. For accommodations I generally book a combination of mid-range hotels and AirBnb's. On longer trips AirBnb is great since it provides an opportunity to do some laundry and make our own meals. Hotels are also great for the additional services they provide like on on site bar/restaurant and pools (important with kids!). 

There is still plenty of work to be done such as planning driving routes, renting a car and booking activities but those will be saved for a future post.

Also, stay tuned to see my planning steps in action as I embark on an epic six-week adventure with my family in August.  We will be visiting three very different locations in three very different countries.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Land Down Under

The furthest destination, by far,  I have travelled to is Sydney, Australia. I was in Australia for two and a half weeks in July 2015 for a business trip.

Since I was traveling to Sydney on business I had plenty of opportunity to explore the city of Sydney but I did manage to explore a few locations outside of the city as well on the weekend.

The two locations I managed to get to were Katoomba in order to explore the Blue Mountains National Park and Cairns in order to fulfill a lifelong dream of SCUBA diving at the Great Barrier Reef.

Getting to Katoomba was an easy day trip by train from Sydney. Katoomba is where most people kick off a day exploring the nearby Blue Mountains National Park. I planned a route that included viewing waterfalls, going on bushwalks in the rainforest, travelling on the world's steepest railway and visiting the famous "three sisters" landmark. I used the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus which was a super easy way to get around all the major attractions in one loop.

The following weekend I ventured out to Cairns in Queensland which was a mere 3 hour flight to the north.

The reason for this trip could be summed up in three words: Great Barrier Reef. As a certified PADI diver, being able to explore the Great Barrier Reef was on my bucket list so there was no way I wasn't going to miss out on the opportunity due to a three hour flight. Luckily domestic flights in Australia were pretty reasonable. Cairns itself is a small seaside town that pretty much only caters to the crowds wishing to explore the Great Barrier Reef. I researched the countless tour operators in Cairns and eventually decided on Tusa Dive. Based on my research I felt that Tusa Dive provided the best facilities and support for experienced divers over some of the the operators that were more focused on the snorkelling traveller only. The entire experience was truly amazing. The Great Barrier Reef was an absolute joy to explore as a diver and the Tusa Dive staff were second to none.

I also managed to explore the local Sydney sights as well. Notable activities I enjoyed were the Bondi to Bronte Coastal walk, jogging through the Royal Botanical Gardens, taking the ferry to Manly Beach, and the Sydney Zoo.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Happy Canada Day

As somone who lives in our nation’s capital I am quite fortunate when Canada Day rolls around each year. Hundred’s of thousands people decend upon this great city in order to collectively celebrate all things Canada and being Canadian. As a generally humble country it is quite inspiring to see so much red and white.

While I have many fond memories of Canada Day spent in Ottawa over the past 20+ years this post is not about them. What I am writing about today is the time I spent July 1st at the Canadian embassy in Paris, France.

Back in 2014 I had to travel to the Adobe Basel office in Switzerland twice over a three week span. The first week was for a conference I was speaking at during the last week of June. I then was scheduled to be back in Basel for meetings during the second week of July. I’m sure you can do the math and have figured out that July 1 just happens to fall between these two weeks. Instead of going back home or staying in Switzerland I decided to visit my family in the United Kingdom. At this point in time I had never been to Paris before so decided this would be the perfect opportunity to visit the city of lights for a few days en route to the UK.

Once I started planning the trip I quickly realized I would be in Paris on Canada Day. This realization led me down some internet searching where I ultimately discovered that the Canadian embassy hosted a Canada Day party each year and Canadians living in/visiting Paris were invited.
With a plan in place I jumped on the TGV and started my journey to Paris. The TGV itself was a perfect way to travel between Basel and Paris. In a little over 2 hours I was able to see the French countryside while not having to deal with airports.

Skipping ahead to July 1, 2014. It is Canada Day and I am in Paris, France!!! My plan for the day was wear red & white and explore the city with my trusty Canada flag in tow. I recall the Canada Day at the Canadian embassy was in the afternoon so I planned my day around that event.

My transportation for the day was the venerable Vélib bike service. My journey for the day took me by the Louvre, Tuileries Garden, the Eiffel Tower, Trocadéro and Arc de Triomphe. Unfortunately security would not allow my trusty Canadian flag up the Eiffel Tower with me but they were nice enough to hold it for me until I came back down and continued on my adventure.

The Canada Day party I attended at the Canadian Embassy was by far the highlight of my day. Not only did I get to spend a few hours with fellow Canadians but I also got to visit the inner courtyard of the embassy and probably rubbed shoulders with important people that I didn’t even know about. Also, no Canada Day party in France would be complete without some Canadian beer and poutine.

When I initially planned this trip I assumed this would be my only opportunity to visit Paris. Who knew that fours later I would actually start working for a team that was based in Paris resulting in two additional return trips to the city. Those trips will need to be saved for another day however.

To conclude, I will leave you with a photographic journey on how I spent a Canada Day in Paris, France back in July 2014.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Forty One Days

Hello and welcome!

I have been very fortunate in my career and personal life to travel to many locations across our planet. The goal of this blog is to hopefully chronicle these adventures from the past, present and future.

There's no time like the present, so let's get started!

Whenever I have an opportunity to travel for business I always make a point of exploring the new location the best I can. Sometimes it may only be for an afternoon or for an entire weekend. Either way I seize the opportunity to experience a tiny bit more of our amazing planet each time. My wife, two young daughters, and I also love to explore new and interesting places. These adventures may be one day, over a weekend or multi-week endeavours. My philosophy on travelling alone extends to these family vacations as well.

Why start a blog? Why now? Why forty one days?

My current employer offers an amazing benefit of a sabbatical every five years. Each sabbatical starts at 4 weeks and then eventually increases up to 6 weeks. This is an amazing benefit that gives each employee an opportunity to truly disconnect and experience a completely different routine of their choosing. So, this year I am fortunate to be taking a 6 week sabbatical along with some additional vacation days for a total of 7 weeks. During the majority of this time my daughters will also be off of school and my wife will also be taking a leave of absence. In order to seize such a rare opportunity I decided to ensure this time was not wasted and came up with a plan that included much needed family time as well as plenty of adventure.

I am starting this blog in order to not only share this upcoming adventure and document it for myself but also look back on previous adventures as well. My sabbatical starts in forty one days which is when the adventure officially starts. Between now and then I will provide clues on what has been planned so be sure to follow along to discover what happens.

Get ready to travel with me as we explore this amazing planet.