Author Archives: Debbie Ross

Tips for tipping….

TIPS FOR TIPPING: When is it appropriate to acknowledge services rendered? And how much?  

To tip or not to trip. That is often the question when travelling, where customs in far-flung destinations may vary from norms at home, or in new and uncertain situations. When to offer a gratuity, to whom and most important how much.
 
In which currency to tip…..  
It’s always best to tip in local currency; however, in many places, such as the Caribbean, Vietnam or India, U.S. dollars acre acceptable and often welcomed.  But bills, never coins unless the local currency.
 
The ethics of tipping…...
For the most part, tipping is always welcome – especially for services rendered. While tipping a porter is obvious, tipping a local who led you to somewhere you needed to go or a local whose photograph you took would be a kind gesture. However, local guides will often caution against simply giving money for nothing, especially to children.
 
When, and when not to tip……..
For all those rules and etiquette, tipping of  course is optional and the amount is discretionary. Exceptional service sometimes warrants a larger reward while overtly bad service requires nothing. But, no matter how much you leave, don’t forget those two magic words “Thank you”
 
Who to tip and how much.
Amounts vary widely according to destination and quality of service. Here is a general guideline that will work wherever you travels take you.
 
Airport
 
  • Porter: $1-3 per bag
  • Wheelchair attendants: $3-5
  • Shuttle driver: $1-3

Hotels

  • Bell boy: $2 for first bag, $1 additional
  • Housekeepers: $2-5 per day depending on how messy year are: note the staff may change from day to day so daily gratuities are best
  • Concierge: 10% of activity fee arranged up to $20 for standard requests

Transportation

  • Taxi: 10-20% of fare, or modest round-up
  • Uber: not required, but suggested for outstanding service

Restaurants

  • serving staff: 10-20%

Tours

  • Guides: $10-20 per person per day: 10-15% of the cost of a day tour
  • Drivers: $5-10 per person per day

Cruises

  • Once the bane of cruises – who, how much, how many?
    Tips can now be prepaid and included in the overall price.
    If not, the cruise line will provide a suggested guideline.

Spa Services

  • 10-20% of treatment cost

How travel changed my life.

Thank you to everyone that entered our contest by submitting a story on how travel changed your life.  Travel has changed my life in so many ways and continues to do so with each trip I take.  Here’s a famous quote that I live by.
“To Travel is to Live” – by Hans Christian Andersen

Happy travels everyone!

Debbie Ross
Founder of the Womens Travel Network

Following is the winning story “Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb” by Carol from Calgary, Alberta.

Congratulations Carol,  you’ve  won a $100 spa gift certificate.  Enjoy! 

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Thanks for inviting me to contribute an experience from travel that changed my life.  I have so many however the one I’m going to share had a significant impact on me.

In Dec. 2014 I was booked on a cruise departing Sydney, Australia.  I had been in Sydney 4 or 5 times previously however this time I had a strong desire to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  The desire started in August of that year when my Australian friend and I were finalizing the cruise plans and my arrival in Sydney.  My friend Cheryl advised that she’d already climbed the bridge however she’d be willing to do it again.  I found this quite intriguing as I felt that it would be a once in a life time event that I’d have no desire to tackle again.  You see, I’m petrified of heights and couldn’t figure out what was propelling me to do it in the first place.  I just knew that I had to do it!

At 7:30 am Dec. 22nd, 2014 we made our way to the base of the bridge and the starting point of the climb.  After completing the required documentation and getting into the climbing attire, we were ready for our instructions and practice climb within the base of the building.  At that point I realized what I had just committed myself too and started to panic!  I practiced my calming tactics including meditation and EFT tapping.  I also reminded myself that I’d just paid $240 Australian dollars, so I’d better ‘suck it up’ and get on with it.  We walked along the pathway high above the cars and trains zooming across the bridge.  I was in awe of where I was and couldn’t believe that I was actually doing this.

The first major hurdle was climbing the ladders to get to the actual walk up to the top of the bridge.  Being extremely afraid of heights – tethered or not, this was my first real test at overcoming my greatest fear.  On the third step of the first of four ladders, ‘I froze’.  I had to decide whether to continue or not.  After a few words with myself, I took some deep breaths and calmly talked myself up step by step until I’d made it up all four ladders to the platform.  Shaking like a leaf and holding on for dear life I finally got to take my first look at the spectacular view.

As you can see by the attached photo I was absolutely beaming and amazed at where I was.  We carried on up to the top of the bridge, across the catwalk and down the other side.  The going down was far easier until I saw the ladders and realized that I would have to go down the same way that I’d gone up.  Once again, talking myself down step by step I managed to get safely back on level ground.

On that same trip I walked on the glass floor at the top of the Eureka Tower in Melbourne and then leaned against the glass windows at the top of the Sky Tower in Auckland, New Zealand.  Those two activities were not so daunting after the bridge climb however I would never have contemplated doing it before the climb.  I suddenly felt I had a new lease on life and was ready to try things that had scared me in the past. 

The most amazing part of this story occurred 6 weeks after returning to Canada.  I woke up one morning and said: “I’m done”.  That message was perfectly clear.  I was very calm.  That day I made the decision to close a business that I had started 9 years previously.  I didn’t know what I would do however I knew that it was the right decision.  Within a few months people started telling me that I looked ten years younger.  They wanted to know what I’d done.  Something happened to me when I climbed the bridge, I don’t know what, however I do know that something amazing happened and I’ve never been happier!

Today I can still tell you every detail about that climb and how amazing it was.  I’ll also tell you how it changed my life.  This is one of many events that have happened as I travel the world.  Travel has been a part of my life since I was in my teens.  I love exploring places and will continue to travel whenever the mood strikes me.

I hope you enjoy my short story of how travel changed my life.

To more travelling,

Cheers,

Carol

Vietnam & Cambodia day 7, Tan Chau, Evergreen Island and border crossing into Cambodia

This morning we visited took a boat ride through the narrow channels of the Mekong River to several scenic locations, including a small village known as “Evergreen Island. Huan guided us through the quiet farming community where the men and women tended the fields, children rested in hammocks, dogs lounged out from of their homes, chickens picked around in the yard and the locals greeted us with a friendly hello. It’s as if we stepped back in time.

We transferred by boat back to Tan Chau, a small Mekong River town unspoiled by tourism. We  enjoyed a traditional “xe-loi” (trishaw) ride around the town, with stops at a rattan workshop and a silk-making factory. There was some serious shopping at the silk factory.

They gave us a tour of the house that was in the front of the silk factory.  The home is very basic and the most important is the worship area.

This evening’s sunset over the Mekong river was spectacular. 

We cruised on to the Cambodian border and went through the visa formalities. The ship continued sailing overnight to Phnom Pehn.

Accommodation: AmaDara

Vietnam & Cambodia day 6, Cai Be markets and Sa Dec

This morning our cruise took us to Cai Be and its colourful local floating market. We passed the city’s beautiful French gothic cathedral then toured the historic An Kiet House with its beautiful surrounding gardens. .

We strolled alongside the waterway taking in the scenery and meeting the people.

 We visited local businesses where the women were hard at work making coconut candy, rice treats while the babies slept peacefully in their hammocks.  We had the pleasure of tasting a variety of typical Vietnamese sweets, popped rice and jasmine tea. The brave ones sampled snake wine. After an interesting visit we headed back to the ship for lunch.

Life on the river is bustling, fishermen our casting nets from their boats and various sizes of boats carrying all types of cargo.

This afternoon we took a sampan boat excursion to SaDec to observe daily routines of the villagers, We visited the home of Mr. Hyun Thuy Le, who inspired Marguerite Duras’ novel, L’Amant (The Lover) . The ornate table is used for family dining, the food goes in the middle and the family sits on the top around the food.  We were treated to delicious cup of lotus flower tea and candied ginger. The In the evening the table transforms into a bed. 

We continued our tour with a fascinating walk through the town’s market experiencing the sights and smells of the colorful fresh produce, meat, live fish, and seafood being sold. The locals drive their scooters, bicycles and motorcycles up to the individual stalls to pickup their food items then continue on to the next one.  The locals are friendly and many greet us with a smile and hello. Especially the children.

Continuing our tour we visit a two different temples, a Taoist pagoda then Cao Daism invented in the 1920’s and has prophets who range from Buddha , Jesus, Joan of Arc and Victor Hugo.

On our way back to the ship our guide treated us to an unusual fruit. It was easy to peel and very sweet.

Accommodation: AmaDara

Vietnam day 6, Embark on the Mekong River cruise

After breakfast we transfered to My Tho to embark on our Mekong cruise on board the  AmaDara, with luxurious suites, all with private French Balcony plus a full-size step-out balcony. The ship’s elegant public areas include two stylish restaurants serving delicious cuisine, an inviting lounge, a fitness room, hair salon, massage rooms, and a refreshing Sun Deck swimming pool.

The bus transfer took about 1 1/2 hours on the highway.  We traveled from city chaos to green countryside  where  rice fields and coconut trees cover the landscape. It’s a pleasant change from the hectic pace and noise of the city.  The AmaDara is welcoming and quite luxurious spacious comfortable cabins. Upon arrival we enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch. The afternoon was at our leisure to unpack, unwind and take part in the safety drill.  This evening we met the captain and crew, enjoyed a champagne reception and a sumptuous dinner.

Accommodation: AMA Waterways AmaDara 

 

Vietnam day 5, Cu Chi tunnels and exploring Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

This morning we headed out of the city centre to the Cu Chi region to visit the vast underground network of tunnels built first as a defence against the French and later expanded during the American war.  It was from here that the North Vietnamese waged their guerrilla warfare with secret trapdoors, underground kitchens, living areas, and meeting rooms.  The site is well laid out and our guide Huie shared a wealth of knowledge about what life was like for the Vietcong living in the tunnels. This was their home for 20 years.  The adventurous explored the deeper second, and even third level tunnels. 


We returned to Saigon for a late lunch at Xu Restaurant. The Vietnamese food is very flavourful and the service excellent.  This afternoon we visited the former Presidential Palace, now preserved as a museum and including the underground communications bunkers, headquarters for the Saigon Government during the American War. 

Onwards to visit Notre Dame, an impressive neo-Romanesque cathedral and the city centre.   The photo at the bottom of the page is where the helicopter landed to take the last US citizen out of Vietnam during the war.

This afternoon we had free time to explore the city, visit the famous market and take in the street entertainment. Saigon is a very cosmopolitan city. The locals enjoy socializing over coffee or tea, a meal at a local restaurant or to take in the activities in the main square. This evening some of us enjoyed a great dinner at Citadel Saigon restaurant.

Hotel: Liberty Central Riverside, Saigon

Vietnam day 3 & 4, Halong Bay overnight cruise and flight to Saigon

Hanoi to Halong Bay
This morning we departed Hanoi and transferred by road to Halong Bay, (approx. 4 hours). The traffic in the city is crazy, as usual. Bikes, scooters, cars and trucks all sharing the roads and walkways. Pedestrians bravely cross the road and the bikes and cars veer around then. There are no rules of the road. They drive everywhere and anywhere.  Somehow its organized chaos. On our way to Halong Bay we stopped for a break to stretch our legs. The rest stops are commercial  tourist shops. They have women sewing embrodery, and many items are for sale. Purses, shoes, silk items, dresses, jewelry and much more.  There are bus loads of people stopping at this shop.

Overnight: Halong Bay Syrena Cruise

Halong Bay is considered Vietnam’s eighth wonder of the world – three thousand spectacular chalk and limestone outcroppings, cliffs, arches, and coves form a dragon’s tail across the bay. Upon arrival at Halong Bay we boarded a traditional-style luxury sailing junk to meander through the area whose name translates as ‘Where the Dragon Descends into the Sea’. We stopped at an islet and climbed through a series of breath-taking caves and grottoes, marveling at some of the most impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations anywhere in the world.  A lunch of local seafood specialties was served on-board. If the weather is fine you may be able to swim in the bay and sunbathe on the deck.

The following morning the early risers enjoyed Thai Chi on the upper deck.  The sky was clear and the bay peaceful. Coffee and a light breakfast were served before we headed out for a kayak trip about the bay.  The monkeys came down to the waters edge in hopes of receiving a treat from the tourists.   After a delicious brunch we checked out and transferred back to the mainland. We drove back to Hanoi to catch our flight to Saigon.  We stopped at pearl farm to learn how they cultivate sea pearls and a burial site to learn about their local customs. 

We transferred back to the Hanoi airport for our flight to Saigon, also known as Ho Chi Minh city.  Our guide Huie met us upon arrival  and transferred us to the hotel.  It was a late arrival.  Most wanted to skip dinner and head to bed early.  Some met at the rooftop bar for a night cap. The view of the Saigon River and the city lights are spectacular.

Overnight: Liberty Central Riverside, Saigon

 

Vietnam day 2, exploring Hanoi

It’s a warm rainy day in Hanoi.  Umbrellas in hand we boarded the bus for our drive through the busy streets to our first stop, the impressive Ho Chi Minh museum.  Here we learned about the life of the famous Vietnamese ruler, affectionately know as Uncle Ho.  Born in 1890 he grew up through the French revolution. He went to live overseas from 1911 to 1913 to learn about the ways of other countries. In 1930 he founded the communist party and put Vietnam on the world map., He lived a tumultuous life, was imprisoned in China and sentenced to death. A British lawyer came to his defense and saved him from execution.  He then went on to govern the country from 1945 to 1969, making many great changes to enhance the lives of his people.


Our next stop was the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first university.  Constructed in 1070, the university operated till 1779. The gardens and well-preserved architecture offer a relaxing glimpse into Vietnam’s past. Each plaque has the name of one of the scholars that attended the school to become a doctor. The turtle at the bottom of the plaque is a symbol of longevity.


We toured the Hoa Lo Prison also known as the Hanoi Hilton. Over 400 American pilots shot down in the war were imprisoned here, including Senator John Macean. Built by the French in 1896 to hold the political prisoners.  It was the largest prison in Indochina.  There were quarters for women, men and prisoners on death row. The conditions were abhor-able.  The small cells held up to 20 prisoners with no plumbing, electricity or heat. The original guillotine is housed here.


Wuan arranged for a lunch break at 5 Spices restaurant. The food was excellent.

 

After lunch we continued our city tour with a walk through Ba Din Square/ We strolled past Ho Chi Minh’s tomb, the Parliament House and the Presidential Palace .We continued on to the house on stilts which was once the residence of Ho Chi Minh. He lived from 1954 until 1969.  In the same complex is the One Pillar Pagoda, founded by King Ly Thai To in 1049.  On our way out a small group of soldiers marched by us.  Our Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau toured these same sites the day before us.  He is in Vietnam for the world summit.

On our way out of the complex we stopped at the temple to observe a prayer session. Enchanting.

Dinner this evening at Indochine Restaurant.  Another fabulous meal! Tomorrow we have an early departure. We are travelling to Halon Bay to spend a night on a junk.  Details coming soon!

Hotel: Silk Path Hotel, Hanoi

Vietnam, Hanoi arrival – day 1

After a long flight we arrived the bustling city of Hanoi. Upon arrival we are met by our local guide Wuan and transferred to the Silkpath Hotel located in the city centre.  Once settled in we set out to discover the city with a walking tour in the neighborhood.  The streets are bustling with people and thousands of scooters. We use a funny term when crossing the road. Sticky rice. This means stick together and walk with conviction, no stopping or sudden movements or you might get hit by one of the scooters. What an experience.
The stalls are brimming with foods, clothing, flowers, vegetables, meats and much more. Little restaurants set up on the side walk, serving the popular street food.  It’s such an exciting place, full of activity.
We enjoyed a very delicious dinner at  Wild Rice Restaurant.  A little tired from jet lag we called it an early night , tomorrow is a busy full day of touring Hanoi.

Hotel: Silk Path Hotel, Hanoi