A Wonderful Travel Experience

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination Specialist and Europe River Cruise Expert

May 3, 2017 was Travel Agent Appreciation Day.  But for me, this is the wrong approach—it should be Travel Clients Appreciation Day.  While it is nice to be appreciated, it misses the whole point—we are in business to make your travel better, hassle free and provide ideas you never knew existed—in short, provide a wonderful travel experience

I could tell the reasons to use us—experience (20+ years), certified (we are well trained), we know the industry (often we have vendor contacts that allow us to get you the best value for your travel dollars), first-hand knowledge (we have most likely been where you want to go), and we are members of professional travel organizations (we must maintain high standards to remain members).  But for me, there is one overriding reason—TRUST–We are honest, hard-working with one goal—to serve you—we will do what is best for you, not us.  We try to remember this in every aspect of our dealings with you.  In almost every email or phone conversation, we always try to end with these words—Thanks for your trust in us!  It’s not just a slogan—it is our sincere way of reminding both you and us that our whole relationship is built on trust.

To honor your great travel experiences, we have created the Dream Destinations Travelers Hall of Fame.  To get in, all you have to do is allow us to plan your travel and send us a picture we can post on our website.

So, let’s take a look at some of your trips—for us, there is nothing better than celebrating you, who have trusted us to become your travel advisors!

Some Wonderful Travel Experiences

For 2018, we have already planned a Regent Seven Seas cruise, a group on an AmaWaterways river cruise and an Africa river cruise on AmaWaterways.  All are repeat guests—thanks for your continued trust in us!

In April 2017, we planned a cruise and marriage proposal for Ragan and Megan.  Ragan wanted to surprise his bride-to-be by proposing at the Mayan ruins of Tulum.  We arranged a special tour, complete with a photographer, and completely surprised her—she never suspected a thing and said yes.  When you look at these photos they just shared with us, we were proud to be part of this—Thanks Ragan and Megan for trusting us!

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In January 2016, we arranged a special trip in Asia for my West Point classmate Jack and his wife Mary.  As part of their trip, they visited the ancient temples of Angor Wat.  Thanks Jack and Mary for trusting us!

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In 2015 we were honored to lead my West Point Classmates and other West Point Graduates on 2 Different river Cruises.  Almost 45 years ago, after 47 months of training and studies, 729 of my classmates graduated from West Point.  Prior to beginning my training as an Army Officer, I took my first trip to Europe.  43 years later I took several of my classmates on 2 different river cruises.  What an experience—Anne and I helped introduce these wonderful guys and their wives and some of their family members and friends to the joys of river cruising.  We laughed, shared stories of West Point and had so much fun that many decided to take a river cruise in 2016, 2017 and 2018.  Thanks folks for your trust in us!

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In April 2015, we helped 2 wonderful couples go on the Enchanting Rhine River Cruise on AmaWaterways.  The photo shows Jerry, Mary Kay, Bill and Becky at dinner on their 7 night Enchanting Rhine AmaWaterways River Cruise from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands in April 2015.  We also arranged a pre-cruise stay in Paris and a post cruise stay in Brugge, Belgium.  Thanks Jerry, Mary Kay, Bill and Becky for trusting us!

Jerry, Mary Kay, Bill Becky Enchanting Rhine River Cruise

In June 2014, we planned and led a group tour for the week long D Day 70th Anniversary.  Here is our group prior to the visit of the Churchill Museum & Cabinet War Rooms in London, England. 

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D Day 70th Anniversary Trip we led in 2014
We also visited Portsmouth, England, and took an overnight ferry to France.  We toured the key D Day sites.  The tour highlight was a chance for the male members to march in the parade honoring D Day participants and veterans of the military on 6 June 2014.  Here are 2 photos just prior to marching in the parade.  Thanks Ann, Wendy, Sandy, Clare, Irene, Trish, Jim. Tom, Allan, Bill, Mark and Joe, for trusting us!

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D Day Men

In November 2013, we planned a 7 night Blue Danube Discovery river cruise on AMAWaterways for 3 great couples.  Here are some photos of their adventure.  Thanks Bob, Dena, Brenda, Ray, Joy, and Vic for trusting us!

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In June 2012, we planned an Alaska cruise for a great group from the Houston area on the Celebrity Millennium.  As one member of the group said “The shipboard experience was spectacular. The recommended ship offered a truly uniquely Alaskan experience of cruising into Yakutat Bay and spending the morning enjoying the sight of the Hubbard Glacier.”  Here is a picture of this wonderful group—Thanks for trusting us!

Alaska Adventure Group

Thanks for your trust in us!

Looking back on these trips, we are humbled and proud to help all of these folks.  We look forward to helping you in the future to take your next trip.  When you are ready, why not give us a call (Hank at 713-397-0188) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com so we can help you plan a wonderful travel experience. We want you to: Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

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6 Europe Capital Cities Have the Cleanest Air in the World!

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination Specialist and Europe River Cruise Expert

According to a recently released report on air pollution by the World Health Organization, 6 of the 10 cleanest capital cities in the world are in Europe.  The basis for this report is the amount of PM 2.5 (particle matter measured in micro millimeters) that was measured at various locations in the world.  The tiny particles of PM 2.5 have shown in a 2013 study to increase lung cancer by 36%, because the particles can penetrate deeper into the lungs.  The good news is that 6 of the 10 least air polluted capital cities in the world are in Europe.

Each of the cities is a place either I or Anne have visited and really enjoyed.  They also have great sites to see and things to do.  If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you already know all of these cities have been covered by our 49 Europe City guides.  The purpose of these guides is to see the best sights in the most efficient manner.  Although there are some great guide books available, who wants to tear a book apart or lug an entire guide book around for 3 weeks for a one day trip?  Our solution—49 Europe City guides that are 2-4 typewritten pages anyone can easily slip in a pocket or a purse.  These are a great way to not miss the important sights and provide practical tips to enhance your trip.  But the best thing is—they are FREE—just send us an e-mail and we will send you a PDF copy of as many guides as you desire.  To learn about our guides, please visit our European Destinations pages (there are 5 regional sections).  Here is the link LEARN MORE

Here is the list and ranking of the least polluted European capital cities, listed in their rank order of all capital cities in the world:

#10 Madrid, Spain

A great public transportation system, combined with numerous parks and green spaces, help Madrid win the tenth spot on the least polluted list.  The public transportation system includes a large metro (about 183 miles), light rail and buses and half the population use public transportation.  Madrid has the most trees and green spaces per inhabitant of any European city.  I visited Madrid in 1971 on my first trip to Spain and had a wonderful time.  This is the political, cultural and commercial center of Spain.  It is the third largest city of the European Union (London and Paris are larger), so it is quite an achievement to make the top ten list as a clean air city.  Among the top sites are, the Prado (famous art gallery), the Royal Palace (largest in Western Europe), the Plaza Mayor & Puerta del Sol (2 great public squares) and El Retiro Park.  It is also home to Real Madrid, the most valuable soccer team in the word.  With all this going for it, I need to go back with Anne!  Here is our guide to Madrid

#9 Monaco, Monaco

With only 37,000 residents and no industry, this tiny city state makes the list.  I also visited Monaco in 1971 and went to the elegant casino.  It was fun.  Monaco is an old principality—it is about 2 square miles.  It has the highest population density of any country in the world.  This country is known for being a tax haven and is home to the most famous casino in the world—Monte Carlo.  In 1860, Monaco built the casino after losing 2/3 of its previous territory, France connected it with a rail line and the tourists came flocking.  It has one of the best formula one races in the world—the Monaco Grand Prix.  In Monaco, they speak French and use the Euro for currency.  Best sites are the Princes Palace (can be toured) with its changing of the guard at 1155 daily, the Cathedral of Monaco, the Cousteau Aquarium, the Jardin Exotique (desert garden) with best views of the surrounding area and, of course, the casino.  Here is the guide for Monaco

#8 Helsinki, Finland

A huge emphasis on public transportation, may be one reason, Helsinki makes the list.  This city wants to make cars obsolete by developing an on-demand-public transportation system.  The current diverse public transportation system consists of trams, commuter rail, bus lines, 2 ferry lines, and some on-demand minibuses.  There is also a big emphasis on bikes and developing bike paths.  One third of the city is green spaces.  Helsinki grew up around its harbor.  Helsinki and Finland has one of the world’s highest standards of living.  Key sites are the market square harbor, the Esplanade (a great pedestrian walkway and boulevard), and the Senate Square.  We have visited twice and really like Helsinki—our favorites are the market square area and the Esplanade.  Our Guide Helsinki

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Market Square, Helsinki, Finland
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Esplanade, Helsinki, Finland

#7 Tallinn, Estonia

The well preserved old town area, surrounded by medieval walls, has limited car traffic and all contribute to the clean air in this Baltic Republic capital city.  Tallinn with its population around 400,000, sees itself more influenced by Nordic tastes and traditions—Scandinavia with a twist.  Visiting Tallinn is like going back to the middle ages, because some of the buildings date back to the 1500s.  There are 26 watch towers on the almost intact city walls.  It was an old trading partner of the Hanseatic League and the old town is really two towns separated by a wall.  The upper town (called Toompea) was the governmental center of Estonia.  The lower town was for the merchants, usually German, Danish and Swedish.  We just love roaming the old town—great sites, reasonably priced food and drinks and good shops.  Here is our Guide to  Tallinn  See if these pictures make you agree:

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Tallinn, Estonia
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Town Walls, Tallinn, Estonia

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Market Square, Tallinn, Estonia

#5 Edinburgh, Scotland

By far the most surprising city on the top ten list, Edinburg at one time was a dirty city covered with smoke from the industrial revolution.  It now emphasizes bikes, walking and has the cleanest bus fleet in Scotland, but some heavily trafficked streets are still a concern.  Located in the lowlands region of Scotland, Edinburgh is the historical capital of Scotland and a really cool place to visit.  The compact old town, especially the Royal Mile street with Edinburgh Castle high on the hill (awesome fort and crown jewels) and Holyroadhouse Palace at the bottom of the mile, may be the best mile walk in all Europe.  Since Anne is related to Calvinist John Knox, visiting his house on the Royal Mile was a true highlight.  She also loves her whisky, so the several whisky houses were great places to visit.  And who could not love a man in a kilt!  While all this was great, it gets better in the nightlife section of Rose Street—great pubs and Wildfire, an over the top eating establishment.  We could visit several more times.  Here is our guide for Edinburgh

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Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland
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Anne in Edinburgh, Scotland
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Wildfire Bistro, Edinburgh, Scotland

#1 Stockholm, Sweden

The 2010 Green Capital of the World, Stockholm wants to be fossil fuel free by 2050.  During the 1990s, Stockholm was able to reduce carbon emissions by 25%, so you can see they are serious about cleaning up the air they breathe.  Development is strictly monitored—even cars must pay a tax to enter the city.  It also has an extensive public transportation system.  85% of the population work in service industries and there are hardly any heavy industrial factories, so this is one reason Stockholm has such clean air.  30% of Stockholm’s area is green spaces; and it has over 1,000 parks.  Stockholm is built on a series of 14 islands connected by bridges.  This is a town of great old sites and really new modern places.  The old town is really good and one of my favorite sites.  The Gamla Stan (old city) was a part of the Hanseatic League and the resulting trade helped the city grow and prosper.  You will enjoy wandering in the old town.  In the more modern part of town, we even went to an ice bar for a drink—pretty cool to say the least!  Here is our guide to Stockholm

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Old Town Stockholm, Sweden
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Old Town Square, Stockholm, Sweden

Hank & Anne, in an ice bar, Stockholm, Sweden

Our Final Thoughts

No matter how you examine Europe, its diversity, history and ever evolving story, makes this a place we will continue to visit.  Who would have thought so many European cities could have clean air?  We have quickly learned that one visit to a place is just not enough—there is so much to see, learn and enjoy!  We hope this will inspire you to visit Europe—a Baltic Cruise for example, would let you visit 3 of these wonderful cities with your floating hotel—a great option for sure!  Please contact Hank by email hschrader@dreamdestinations.com or call 713-397-0188 to get started on your travel dream to Dream Destinations.  Until then, we stand by to help you:  Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Do You Like to Travel?

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination Specialist & River Cruise Expert

My guess is that you do like to travel or you would not be reading this blog.  Travel opens the world to those who take advantage of the opportunity to learn about new places or cultures or visit a familiar place.  You know the benefits of travel.  But how do you turn those dreams into reality?  Our solution—let us plan it for you!

The 5 Stages of Travel

Google has determined there are 5 Stages of Travel.  They are 1) Dreaming; 2) Planning; 3) Booking; 4) Experiencing; and 5) Sharing.  We can help with all 5 stages of travel.

Stage 1—the Dream.  Our name says it all—Dream Destinations.  Close your eyes—where do you want to go, what is the must see place or experience—we can get you there.  Every time you see a cool cruise ship or an ad for a river cruise or the iconic sights of in a Europe picture, you can’t help but dream a little.  Our thoughts are very powerful—we all have amazing minds that are in constant motion.  In fact one survey says that 49% of all leisure travelers reported they started researching online after an ad or picture.

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Doesn’t this picture make you start dreaming?  Colorful Mykonos, Greece

While that may be a good idea to do it on your own, we have a better idea—contact us on our web site at www.dreamdestinations.com or by phone 713-397-0188 (Hank) to ask for help.  There are 2 ways we can help you get through the clutter.  First, on our website we have a great tool banner called Send Us Your Travel Request (located towards the bottom left of our home page) and just answer a few questions about what you want to do for your vacation.  The best part of this is, you do not have to be traveling in the next month or 2 months or maybe you only have ideas now.  We will put your ideas in a Future Travel Plans Data Base and when good opportunities that match your dream trip come from travel vendors, we will let you know.  Saves a lot of time and hassle.  The second way we can help is to use our web site to research your travel.  There are 37 PDF PowerPoints about ocean cruises, 8 PDF PowerPoints about river cruises and 51 PDF PowerPoints about traveling to Europe.  That’s right—96 in-depth slideshows to help you learn about great travel.

Stage 2–Planning

Why visit 20 or more travel sites to plan your vacation?

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According to Google, 85% of travelers search the worldwide web for travel information when planning a trip and 62% visit 20 or more different sites prior to making a booking.

Trip planning does require a lot of work to get it right, and it is a hassle.  Wouldn’t it be better to let us solve the trip research for you?  Here are 7 Benefits to you if you let us plan your trip:

Your first problem– Will I get the best value for my money?

Everyone wants to spend their money wisely.  But how can you really know the vacation you want will give you the trip you desire?  Our solution–We match the right vendor(s) to provide a trip that will exceed your expectations. 

Your second problem– Will I get the right trip?

You want the best vacation possible.  With so many choices, how do you know it will be the right trip for you?  Our solution–We learn about your dreams and turn them into a reality.  Experience planning travel is critical to getting you the right trip.

Your third problem– Will I make wise choices?

You want a better vacation and may fear of missing out on great experiences by making the wrong choice.  Our solution—We have 21 years of experience in the travel industry, and, coupled with our first-hand knowledge and numerous professional certifications, we can provide you with the best options available

Here is a good example–Thinking about a river cruise?  Why not use an advisor who has been on 13 river cruises and written a comparison of the 8 major lines that market to US consumers?  Not many advisors have the experience to help you make the correct choice for your vacation.

Do you know the difference between AmaWaterways & Scenic–we do and can help you make the choice that is right for you!

Your fourth problem– Will I remember all the details?

The last thing you want is to get part of the trip right and then overlook part of the trip planning.  Our solution– We check all the details so you do not have any missteps or forgotten arrangements. There are a lot details that could go wrong, such as forgetting transfers, selecting connections that are too tight to make, or selecting the wrong train stations in a town.

Do you know how to get the right train in Europe and get off at the right stop? We can help  you get it right!

Your fifth problem– Will I spend too much time researching my trip?

I am sure you would like to save time and eliminate hassles in the trip planning process.  Our solution– Once we know what you want, we do research to get you the highest quality, expertly planned trip.  The key here is a lot of questions—what do you like, what do you not like, where have been your best previous vacations, what is your goal for this vacation—the more we know, the better the plan and result for you.

Your sixth problem– How can I best protect my vacation?

No one expects problems on their vacations.  It does happen occasionally.  We know you want peace of mind.  Our solution–We can help lead you to the right people to answer your questions about insurance options.

Your seventh problem– How do I know I can trust my travel advisor to do the best for me?

Trust is not given; it is earned.  Once you contact us, we are thinking of your best interests.  Our solution–We are members of two professional organizations (Cruise Lines International Association & the Travel Institute) and we have earned the trust of hundreds of clients.  We encourage you to read their comments about our service

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Stage 3–Booking

You may notice there is no booking engine on our web site.  There is a really good reason why—we need to make the booking for you.  A booking engine does not know what you want—that’s where we come in—we book exactly what you want combined with our vast experience to insure you get the best possible vacation within your budget and time constraints.  We look for the right room, the right cabin, the right ship, the right tour based on really knowing you.  We also insure you get the correct confirmations.  Besides just booking, we make sure the little details like transfers, experiences and help learn how to protect your trip if something unforeseen happens.  A booking engine may be quick but we are through and respond quickly.  We are here to serve you!

Stage 4—the Experience.  Since we have been on many of the trips you are considering, this is the part that makes us shine.  Like some proof—we have over 4,500 pictures on our Pinterest site (www.pinterest.com/visitdd) and 99% are taken by us, not pinned from some stock photo.  We took our pictures at the places you want to go. We know the tips to make the trip go more smoothly—on our website alone we have 7 links to resources ranging from weather to passports to help you quickly get the answers to your questions.  We have 5 PDF PowerPoints on travel tips.  We have packing lists for you.  We provide complete itineraries so you only have to enjoy—all is planned for you.  While seldom is there a problem, if something goes wrong, we are here to fix as best we can.  If we do not know the answer to a question, we will find out the right answer form our widespread contact with the vendors who provide the services for your trip.  Having the right persons on your side makes all the difference in the world!

Stage 5—Sharing your Experiences.  53% of leisure travelers like to share their pictures of their travels and 49% of leisure travelers like reading others reviews, and opinions.  As soon as we can, we will contact you to learn all about your trip, both what you liked and did not like.  We keep good records to help make sure your next trip will be better.  But best of all, if you send us a picture, we will induct you into our Traveler Hall of Fame.

Two of our Traveler Hall of Fame Inductees

The Bottom Line

You can plan your own trip and take your chances or we can help you have a better trip.  Our Goal—Customer Bliss—Unforgettable experiences—We are not selling travel, we are helping you make memories to last a lifetime.

Why not call Hank now at 713-397-0188 or email him at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com and let’s get started getting you to your personal Dream Destinations!  We will help you: Savor life . . . make memories . . . visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

 

My Opinion: Let’s Slow Down & Develop a Greater Appreciation of Our World!

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, European Destination & River Cruise Expert

The other day, watching the PBS evening news, they said that the average cell phone owner looks at their device 150 times a day—150!  I guess it is not a surprise–since I have been traveling to Europe, starting in 1971, the 3 biggest changes are—Euros, access to the former Iron Curtain communist countries and cell phones.  So, let’s talk a little about  slowing down and answer the question—”how can Anne & I help you develop a greater appreciation of our world?”  We are going to show how we add value to folks who travel to Europe, to make our point about developing a greater appreciation of our world.

Overview

In a world of 24 hour news channels, constant connectivity to the internet, and a work obsessed country, many just have let the daily grind dominate their lives.  Vacations, when correctly planned, can help eliminate that stress.  Most of the time when planning a vacation, many folks, especially if the plan their trip on their own,  just make reservations and do not consider the whole trip.  We always look at the whole trip .  This includes 8 items that we try to include in your trip planning.  Our goal–under promise and over deliver a great vacation.   I’ll bet that if you consider these 8 items and add some or all them to your trip, it will be better experience.  They are:  1) Make sure there is time to share with your travel companions; 2) Remember and celebrate important dates (milestones); 3) Connect with the locals; 4) Put away devices for most of the trip; 5) Laugh and be positive; 6) Make your significant other feel special;  7) Show kindness to others, and 8) Be thankful.

Time to Share

Most first time travelers to Europe, just try to fit too much into a trip.  It is so common—FOMO—fear of missing out.  Trying to do too much just causes too much stress—assume you will travel to Europe more than once—most do.  Treasure the slower meals, and enjoy each others company.  We just returned from Paris in December—maybe our 10th visit?—and there are still things we have yet to see there.  We can help here by using one of our 49 Europe City guides—pick the most important sites and we can tailor your visit so it becomes an experience you will never forget with just the right mix of key sites and free time to wander and explore.

Remember and Celebrate Important Dates

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Anne’s 60th Birthday–we made our own dinner at a cooking school in Wales

In an earlier blog, I wrote about celebrating milestones by taking a great vacation.  Life is short, some Americans do not even use all their vacation days—other things are just too important.  Don’t let that become you—as many age, one of their biggest regrets is working too hard and ignoring family and friends.  We will help you remember important dates and milestones and offer suggestions based on us knowing your likes and dislikes.  Here is the link to my milestones blog Milestones, Memories and Celebrations—Why You Should Travel to Mark Those Special Days

Connect with Locals

You would be surprised how easy it is to get to know local folks during your travels.  You do not need great language skills—many, many Europeans speak surprisingly good English.  Consider this—if you are a guest in your friend’s house, do you act with respect?  Be a guest in Europe, avoid rudeness and the trip will be better.    Many who travel with us, always make a great effort to learn local languages and act with respect.  We will help create these opportunities when we plan your trip.

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Anne’s latest Facebook friend, Tanja, from Croatia

Put away your Devices for most of the trip.

Recently, when we were in Bruges drinking at a local pub, there was a sign in English—WE DON’T HAVE FREE WI-FI—TALK TO ONE ANOTHER!  Wow, what a great reminder—curb your urge to use your devices 24/7, talk and stop being obsessed with the internet or your texts, or your email.  Use your devices to help you navigate or for reservations but not when you should be talking to your traveling companions.  We can help here by suggesting places to visit that encourage conversation and sharing.

Laugh and be Positive

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Danton’s Cafe, our favorite in Paris, where Hank spilled his morning coffee

If you focus on the good things about the places you visit, your trip will be better.  Respect differences.  In Danton’s, our favorite cafe in Paris, with its tiny tables, I managed to spill coffee and juice all over—it was pretty bad and I was feeling pretty clumsy.  All of a sudden, a voice behind us said “How bad can it be?—you’re in Paris!”  We both just started laughing.  Turns out, she was an author and college professor—what started out poor got a whole lot better.  Great lesson—most embarrassing stuff in our lives is really pretty trivial.  Again, we can help here by using our extensive experience to help you become a more relaxed traveler—maybe our travel tips, or these blogs to build your travel skills and confidence.

Make your significant other feel special

It is amazing how positive thoughts, actions and just telling your significant other how important they are to you, will enhance your trip and your life.  We all need to work on this, especially me—it is just too easy to take someone you live with for granted.  While on your trip, complement your significant other, be patient and your trip will be better.  Great planning will help alleviate the stress of the unknown—that’s where we come in.  Tell us how you would like to make that person in your life feel special and we will turn those dreams into reality.

Show kindness to others

Try to learn at least one word in the language of the country you are visiting.  Hello, goodbye, thank you please are generally not hard—make an effort.  Ask a local for help to say it in their language—you’ll be amazed how much it means to them.  If all else fails, smile, say thank you in English—just do what you can to respect others, especially those who are making your vacation better.  I just can’t tell you how many times a complete stranger in Europe has helped us when we were lost or needed help.  Here’s a great example—in Romania, we had learned to avoid being overcharged for a taxi, they have a machine in the rail stations with tickets that insures the driver will not overcharge riders.  Turns out the machine was not working correctly.  A young lady behind us, tried to help but it just wasn’t working.  We were trying to figure out how not to be overcharged and suddenly this young lady brought us a ticket from another machine to help us.  Wow—is that awesome?—please remember to pay it back on your travels.

Be thankful

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Flowers sent to Anne From our AmaWaterways by Director of Field Sales, Charles Van Elten, in appreciation of this blog–Thanks Charles!

Please be thankful you get to travel and see the world and different cultures.  I wrote a whole blog about this for the Thanksgiving holiday last year.   One part was about wonderful vendors, who provide great trips to our clients–we couldn’t do it without you!–and see the wonderful gift of flowers from AmaWaterways in the picture above.  Another part was about our wonderful clients who are our trusted friends.  I wrote:  Anne & I work in the best possible business—we make travel dreams a reality!  THANKS ALL YOU WONDERFUL FOLKS WHO TRUSTED US TO PLAN THEIR TRIPS—WE LOVE YOU ALL!  Here is the link to the whole blog  What I am Thankful For

In short, respect our world and the wonderful people in it!

We hope these words inspire you to become one of our clients or continue our travel relationship with us and learn to appreciate our world more.  We want to help you achieve your travel dreams—remember if you want to Visit Dream Destinations—please contact Hank (713-397-0188) or email him at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com to get started or just tell us about your travel dreams.  We are here to help you:  Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

How Can We Make Your Day Better?–Our Goal for 2017!

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

We just returned from our 12th Europe River cruise on AmaWaterways and had a wonderful time.  A large part of why we had such an enjoyable cruise was the crew and how they took every opportunity to make each day better.  After working 20 years as a military officer, graduating from West Point in 1971, and coaching high school football for 16 years, I really think I understand what makes an organization great.  The simple answer is teamwork with the right chemistrySo, our goal for 2017 is to try to help all by making their day better—even more than past years.  To help you understand our emphasis, I liked to tell you about 2 organizations that have the right chemistry—AmaWaterways and my 2001 Bellevue Wolverines Washington State High School Championship Football team and how both have made us better travel advisors. 

And, I’d like to thank my wife Anne, who reminds me every day that I need to deal with our clients with the “How can I make your day better” spirit.

AmaWaterways

From top to bottom, AmaWaterways just does it right.  There is a real emphasis on working together and it shows in all they do.  I will tell you about the crew shortly, but the total organization, that works so hard to deliver good travel experiences, deserves recognition.  Yesterday was a great example of how good companies work with us to help our clients have better vacations. 

I called them 3 times to help our clients.  First , for an already booked river cruise client, was a simple check of an air quote for our good friend—answered by friendly person who quickly supplied the info so I could help my client.  Second was a call to my group coordinator, Kristie, for a client to find a cruise that would work for a family celebration.  Not only did she find a great deal for me and the clients (saving my clients $1000 per person on the cruise we selected), she saved me considerable time by volunteering to email the group sales manager and set up my new group.  About 20 minutes later, I got a call from Christine, the group manager, who put together the contract for my group and within an hour all was ready for me to sign the contract.  About an hour later, I got an email from our Business Development Manager, Shelia, who congratulated me on the new group and offered any help she could.  I called to thank her and to catch up on her travels.  Not only did they help me, all treated me like a friend not a business partner, ask personal questions about our travel with Ama on our Christmas cruise.  Wow—three folks made my day better—do you think there is a lesson here for all of us?

Our recent experiences with the crew of the AmaCerto on our Christmas Markets cruise on the Enchanting Rhine route from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands was made special by how efficiently the crew took great care of us and how they did it with the “how can I make your day better” spirit.  While in the military, I went to work one day and came home 3 months later—a no-notice deployment.  Why do I tell you that?—the crew is on an 8 or 9 month deployment and they work 7 days a week often for 12-18 hours a day.  Yet every day, they greet you with the spirit—how can I make your day better.  Smiles, efficient service, real interest on who you are.  Everyone pulls together—great teamwork and good chemistry. 

Although they are all good, I’d like to provide a little insight to 2 folks who make our cruise better.  The first is Tania, from Croatia, who worked as a waiter in the dining room.  We have sailed with her on previous cruises but the pride and professionalism and cheerful manner just made every day better.  We got to meet her boyfriend (he is one of the chefs in the galley) late one night as they were taking a break after all their duties for the day were done for a quick visit onshore—they were just going out and we were returning.  Thanks, Tania—you made 7 days better for us. 

tania-anne

Tania & Anne on our 2016 Christmas Markets Cruise

The second was the hotel manager, Martina, also from Croatia.  The hotel manager basically takes care of everything on board except sailing the riverboat.  Imagine managing the bar, dining and housekeeping every day for up to 164 guests and keeping all happy.  The hotel managers do not have a closed office to concentrate on their job—they sit at an open desk and are constantly interacting with crew and guests—constant interruptions.  Always smiling, helpful and never annoyed by the constant interruptions.  She helped us surprise the crew with pizza for all (I would be remiss to not mention our traveling companions, the Thomases, who once the learned of the plan, joyfully chipped in and paid half to honor the crew—class act folks!  Mark is a retired Master Chief who served his country for 33 years in the Coast Guard and Denise is Doctor of Nursing, great wine lovers, and even better traveling companions).  Good leaders earn the trust of their folks and it was very clear to us she had developed quite a team and all bought in—great job Martina!

Some pretty good lessons here—difficult conditions, handled with poise, can result in exceptional results–Thanks for making our 7 days better!  Anne and I need to deal with all with the same spirit—how can we make your day better?

The Bellevue Wolverines

picture12

I was the defensive coordinator of the Wolverines for 2 years.  In my last year we won it all—the best 3A (second highest classification in Washington) high school team in the state of Washington.  We were 13-0.  But the real story is the teamwork and chemistry of all.  Football is a sport that no one ever does everything right every play.  It is a hard game and easy to get discouraged.  Working as a teacher and coach, I have heard just about every excuse you can imagine about why someone couldn’t get the task done.  Yet this group of 55 young men decided they were going to be champions and nothing was going to stand in their way.  No one pointed fingers, all accepted responsibility, all worked for the common goal, not individual glory.  There was respect for all.  We all worked for success by trying to be better every day.  The made each day coaching a joy—they made my day better by giving all they had and never anything I asked them to do was too much.  While they were a great team, the even better story is that all 55 graduated from college and have gone on to be successful in life—too cool for words!

bellevue-football-team-2001

2001 Bellevue Wolverines–Washington State 3A Champions

The travel lesson here is that partnerships with our clients, where we work to get them just the right trip together, will result in experiences that will last a lifetime.  Just like when I was coaching, and I asked myself every day, how can I do this better, we must ask ourselves every day, how can we make our client’s trip better?  We also must work hard every day to become better at our jobs, so we can make our client’s trips the best they can be.  The more we can be involved in the total planning of the trip, offering wise suggestions to enhance the trip, making arrangements for all phases of their travel, and listening to their thoughts, will make their day better.

My Wife Anne

Every day, in our business, Anne reminds me to take care of our clients before I do any other task for our business and asks me about our clients and what they need for their upcoming trips.  She always is going the extra mile, worries about the smallest details, and has great ideas to deliver exceptional trips to all we help.  What she is really saying is “How did you make their day better?”  It is the guiding principle of our company. 

Thanks, Anne, for reminding me what is really important!

The Bottom Line

There is a lot to be learned from these two really good organizations.  Do our job well, do it cheerfully, work well in partnership with our vendors and clients, and try every day to improve.  Big challenge, but we thrive on getting it right.  I think our goal of “How can We make your day better” is a great way to welcome in 2017!  We hope you agree with us and will let us help in any way we can.

Happy 2017—May all your travel Dreams come true!

We hope this will inspire you to give us a call (Hank 713-397-0188) or send me an email (hschrader@dreamdestinations.com) so we can help you have a better day, plan a great trip for you, or visit Europe on a river cruise and help you:  Savor life . . . make memories . . . visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Buying Travel from us– What Is In It For You?

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

We sell travel to many satisfied clients.  Our mission is: Anne & Hank Schrader, of Visit Dream Destinations LLC, are certified travel professionals who will provide you with the highest quality, expertly planned domestic and foreign leisure travel with a focus on cruises, European river cruises and European vacations for discriminating travelers.

So, let’s talk a little about our sales process and answer the question—what is in it for you?

3 Questions Most Folks Ask Themselves When Presented a Travel Offer

We are all overwhelmed with ads and offers daily.  We also meet many folks who are selling to us.  I’ll bet that most of us are thinking about 3 questions when they met a salesperson and are listening to their pitch.  They are 1) Can I trust this person? 2) Do they know what they are talking about? 3) Do they care about me and what I need?  So, we want to enter the conversation you already having with yourself about these 3 questions.  These 3 topics deserve a more detailed approach so you can decide if we should be your travel professional.

Can I trust this Person?

Trust and integrity are valuable traits and, in my judgement, in short supply in our country.  Too many make promises they can’t or won’t keep.  My whole life has been devoted to service after graduating from West Point—20 years as a US Army Officer, 20 years as a coach and teacher and 20 years helping others travel to the right location.  Anne is equally dedicated to trust and integrity—she always thinks about what is best for our clients, every single time.  We think trust is the cornerstone of our relationship with you.  We try to under promise and over deliver a great travel experience for you.  We strive to make your travel experience better by helping you make wise choices, eliminate hassles, and help you get the best value for your money.  In short, while working with us, we want to provide a trip that will exceed your expectations.  I guess the best thing we can provide you is some comments by several of our clients.   To read A Few Words From Our Clients, Please click here

Do they know what they are talking about?

With over 20 years of experience selling travel to many satisfied clients, we know both what you need to make your travel experience better and the knowledge of what is available to match you with just the right vacation.  We have extensive first-hand knowledge and do comprehensive research on trips.  We have planned hundreds of successful trips to delighted clients and we are eager to plan yours.  Like a little proof?  Ask for one of our 49 Europe City travel guides (email Hank at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com), or click on one of our many (80 or more) PowerPoint presentations on our web site) or visit our About Section of our website to get travel tips (www.dreamdestinations.com )or visit our Pinterest page—over 4,500 pictures (www.pinterest.com/visitdd)There is one common thread herealmost 98% is our own pictures or written by us—in truth, it would be hard to find many travel professionals who have been to so many of the places we sell.  If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know we know our stuff.  As I used to say as a coach, when evaluating good football players, “he is the real deal!”  Well folks, we are the real deal!

Do they care about me and what I need?

We treat each of our clients as friends, because we don’t sell travel to clients—we sell travel to friends.  There is a big difference—how your trip goes makes a world of difference to us.  We like to say we are small enough to deliver personalize serve but big and experience enough to get you just the right trip.  We try to match you to just the right experience and make it logical, realistic and affordable in your price range.  Don’t get us wrong—we do not sell on price—we sell on value.  We try to demonstrate how valuable you are to us in many ways (many love our handwritten thank you and welcome back notes) but how many other travel professional have a Traveler Hall of Fame?  We are proud we could help you and want to share with others your joy and satisfaction.  To see some of the folks who we have added to our Hall of Fame, Please click here.

Some of our Awesome Friends in the Traveler Hall of Fame

What we do not do

Our goal is to provide you with information but not bombard you with offers you do not want.  We really try to get to know you and match your desires to opportunities when they arise.  We are low-key and strive to provide the right info in a relaxed, no pressure situation.  In my opinion, there is a big difference about being eager to be your travel professional and being an obnoxious salesperson.  We are eager to help, but know the boundariesthe truth is we want to form a partnership with you—not sell you something.  It is as simple as this—we inform, you decide.  We also realize you are busy and we respect your time by trying to contact you in the form (phone, email or written) that works the best for you at the time that is the best for you.  In short, we respect you!

We hope these words inspire you to become or continue our travel relationship.  We want to help you achieve your travel dreams—remember if you want to Visit Dream Destinationsplease contact Hank (713-397-0188) or email him at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com to get started or just tell us about your travel dreams.  We are here to help you:

Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Our Ideal Customer—It’s Probably YOU!

 

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

This might seem like a strange topic for our blog, but in reality, it may be the most important—who is our ideal customer?  In my lifetime I have been a career Army Officer, a teacher and a travel advisor.  These 3 careers have one item in common-it’s all about relationships with people.  We think our best asset, while advising you about travel, is our relationship with you—we are your trusted travel advisors. We will do the best for you and match you with the right trip so you can experience the joy of being in a wonderful place and learn all about it and share these experiences with family and friends.  So I would like to boldly tell you who you are, what you want from travel and how we can help you achieve your travel goals.

Who You Are

First and foremost you are active folks.  You have succeeded professionally, physically and socially in your lifetime.  You are a college graduate and you are married.  You may still be working or just recently retired but you have been in the workforce for over 40 years.  You are reasonably affluent and willing to spend $10,000 or more on a trip that matches a travel experience you want.  You are well traveled—you probably have visited Alaska, Hawaii or Europe, or all three.  You might have even lived for a while in a foreign country.  You probably have been on a 7 day ocean or river cruise.  You have realistic expectations—you know great trips are expensive.  You seek great value in your trip—the best experiences for your money.  You know geography and world events—chances are you read a lot.  You like art and history.  You like both big cities and small villages and historic sites.  You really like good food and wine.  You want to be pampered—you want to have a temporary lifestyle that exceeds your daily lifestyle.  You want to mark milestone celebrations with unique travel experiences.  You have worked very hard in your lifetime and you want to reward yourself for your past and future achievements.

Some of the Great Folks We Have Helped Achieve Their Travel Dreams

What You Are Seeking From Your Travels

You want travel to enrich your life with experiences.  You want to travel with friends and family to share these experiences.  You have done your research before you seek us out and you want to turn your dreams into reality (according to Google, 62% of all leisure travelers use the internet to research their trip and the average traveler visits 20 different websites prior to making a purchase—you may be one who has done such extensive research).  Sometimes it is a new experience.  Sometimes it is a familiar place.  Sometimes it is an escape.  Sometimes it is pure luxury—the best the world has to offer.  Sometimes it is active and full of adventure.  I’ll bet if you close your eyes and start thinking about where you would like to go and what you would like to experience, you can quickly think of 3 or more places—your own personal bucket list.  You want a vacation that is fun, safe, hassle free and a good value for your money.

How We can Help You Achieve Your Travel Goals

According to Google, there are 5 distinct stages of travel. They are 1) Dreaming; 2) Planning; 3) Booking; 4) Experiencing; and 5) Sharing.  We help you in all of the 5 phases of travel by turning ordinary trips into extra-ordinary experiences.  How do we do this?—we really know who you are!  We know what you like and do not like.  We do not want your trip to be okay or good—we want it to be the best vacation you ever take!  We are not Hank.com or Anne.com—we do not work for a cruise line or a resort or a travel company—we work for YOU!  There is no booking engine on our website—we need to talk with you, really know you and then plan and book your trip.  We have been in business for 20 years.  We know what a great value is in travel and will find it for you.  Ask yourselves—who do you know that has been on 27 ocean cruises, 12 river cruises, visited over 80 countries and written 49 city guides for European destinations?  We really know our stuff about travel and we use our experiences to enhance your trip.  Maybe, most importantly, we don’t want to be one and done with your travel—we want to be your trusted travel advisors for life.  You aren’t our customer—you are our friend and we treat all our friends with respect and will do the right thing to help you achieve your travel goals.  Almost every time we plan a trip for someone, we ask ourselves why would anyone try to do it themselves, especially since it cost nothing extra to use us and you will pay the same regardless if you use us or not.  The bottom line is we know what you are seeking from your travels and we can help you achieve your travel goals so we can get you the right experiences on all of your trips. 

Did we get it right—are you our ideal customer?  We are pretty sure you are!  The next time you are thinking about traveling, why not contact us to help you achieve your travel expectations?  Let us make you member of the Dream Destinations Traveler Hall of Fame.  We hope this will inspire you to give me a call at 713-397-0188 or send me an email (hschrader@dreamdestinations.com ) so I can help you:

Savor life . . . make memories . . . visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Don’t Pack Stress in Your Vacation

by Anne Schrader, Certified Travel Counselor (CTC)

Summer may not be “officially” here, but even if you’re not already experiencing the 90 + degree weather associated with the season, we’re pretty sure you’re eagerly waiting for the date you’ve circled on the calendar for the beginning of your summer vacation.

We’re hoping you’ve already booked your trip (especially if you’ve used a travel professional, like either Hank or myself) so your trip is well-planned! But even if you braved the myriad of choices available on the internet, (or just booked a place based on the conversation you overheard standing in line at the grocery store or from the booth next to yours in the restaurant), we’re pretty sure you’ll still be faced with the arduous chore of packing for the trip.

Being in the travel business for 20 + years hasn’t lessened the time I spend trying to make sure I pack what I need for a trip, no more – no less. The luggage restrictions added by the airlines hasn’t helped, but it’s really more than that. There’s the actual physical exertion required to transport an overweight suitcase (or multiple lighter ones) onto the shuttle between the parking lot and the airport. And, then after claiming them, getting to next form of transportation: taxi, coach or train.

These days, most of our travels seem to be to Europe. This requires long flights, which, for me, means I’m going to want some of my “perceived” necessities on the plane. And, it also means that I’m probably not going to want to carry-on everything I’ve decided I’ll need for the trip.

When we are in Europe, we travel between locations by train. It is the most relaxing and time efficient way to experience multiple locations.  However, because trains stop at stations for only 3 to 5 minutes to board or exit, heavy luggage can be an issue. Then, once again, it’s getting to our destination, either a hotel or a ship. Just a tip: taxis in Europe often charge extra for more than one large case and one small personal item per person. And their cars are often small, so getting more than 2 people and luggage in one automobile can be tricky.

Several years ago, Hank decided we could both travel with a 21” suitcase and one carry on. It’s true, he can! For me, that’s not so easy. Luggage is my addiction. I’ve tried all types and shapes and sizes. I think (and Hank’s hoping) that I may have finally hit on the right combination (at least for now).

And, after 4-5 big trips a year, I think I’ve pretty much established my carry-on needs and clothing needs to ease some of the packing stress. I’m still pretty bad about being packed and ready to go more than a few minutes before we walk out the door. But at least it isn’t quite as bad as the time when Hank finally figured I’d never be ready, so he packed for me. One word of advice, ladies: NEVER let your husband pack your carry‑on or purse, especially if it is important to find your lipstick and hairbrush!

Based on our last trip in May, here’s the luggage and items I carried for our 2 week trip. And, I think it will work for our upcoming trips later this year.

My Carry-On Luggage

My new carry-on is the TravelSmith Spinner360 Carry-On with Free Tote. This is available online or through HSN.com. I haven’t spent enough time to really know everything it can hold, however, on my trip, I was able to carry:

  • Camera, lens and charger
  • electronic cords & chargers (in a small case)
  • iPad
  • noise canceling head phones
  • my makeup (in a small case)
  • my jewelry roll (NEVER CHECK in your luggage) and I don’t take jewelry that is irreplaceable
  • my medications (NEVER CHECK in your luggage)
  • clothing for a day
  • sleepwear
  • cozy socks
  • disposable slippers for the plane
  • a pair of shoes (very lightweight rain skimmers from TravelSmith.com)

The last item to go in was my zippered, clear quart-size bag which is TSA approved for 3.5 oz. liquids Flight 001Clear Carry-On Quart Bag (S) from eBags.com. The zippered bag is very handy.

Inside I carry a travel-size:

  • toothpaste
  • toothbrush
  • mouthwash
  • hand lotion
  • contact lens case
  • contact solution
  • lip balm
  • mascara
  • lipstick
  • small perfume

In the accompanying (and matching) tote, I added:

  • small clutch purse (for my night time purse)
  • mobile phone
  • passports
  • paperwork for our trip
  • money belt, (which I put on upon landing at the destination)
  • the linen/flax cape/shaw (I bought it in Helsinki – maybe the best souvenir purchase ever)
  • travel pillow (inflatable with soft cover)
  • foam eye mask (It has curved indentions so it doesn’t squish my eyes and is bright red, so if I pull off in the middle of the night, I’ll see it before we the disembark plane!)
  • emergency medication bag (inhaler, nitroglycerin)
  • a small bag with nail file, pens and extra eye glasses
  • iPod and small earbuds
  • a Ditty Bag from Vera Bradley (which I fill on the plane with everything I want out during the flight, so I’m not constantly digging in my carry-on. After boarding, I’ll pull out my makeup, liquid bag and iPad out of carry-on. The Ditty Bag allows me to gather everything up, like headphone, iPods, etc. before we disembark, rather than trying to reload my carry-on. I’ll put everything back in the carry-on while waiting for our luggage to arrive at the carousel.)

My Suitcase

For my 50 lbs. of clothing (I really try to be lighter so I can shop at my destination), I have found that a 25” lightweight hard-sided case with 4 spinner wheels is best for me. The only drawback is there is no outside pocket for my rain jacket and umbrella. So I’ll put them on top inside the case so I only have to slightly unzip the luggage,  if required.

In Europe, I stick to a basic color wardrobe, black, cream, tan, gray. For clothing, here’s what I’ve found works best:

Day time:

  • 2 pairs of slacks (navy/black or black/brown)
  • 4-5 shirts to go with each

Evening:

  • Black knit wrap dress
  • one pair nice black slacks
  • a few dressy tops
  • a dressy jacket or sweater
  • and, of course, my personables
  • also, any additional sundries not in the carry on.

Here’s always my biggest challenge – shoes! I believe in being comfortable, so in winter, it’s boots with flat heels and suede shooties to wear with my evening slacks and dress. In warm weather, I will carry black pumps for night time. I’m pretty set, although I have discovered on Caribbean cruises, I’ll take sandals, espadrilles, (because I’ll substitute the slacks with crop pants). And in tropical areas I usually wear khaki, white or a bright color.

A couple of things I’ve learned to always travel with:

  • washcloth (in Europe many places don’t have them)
  • swimsuit (although I rarely use it, I’ve missed some great spas because I didn’t have it with me)
  • shaw/pashmina for the plane, restaurants and to enter religious sites

I may carry my travel hairdryer, although there is usually one in most hotels and ships. Amenities in hotels vary – some have hairdryers, magnifying mirrors, shampoo/conditioner/lotion; house slippers and robes. If your trip would be less than wonderful should any of those weren’t available, I’d recommend taking your own. Just remember, to avoid ruining your electronic gadgets, make sure they are dual-voltage (110-240 volts) and carry an adaptor for the country you will be visiting. (I  burned out a TV in England by plugging in my 110 volt power, even though I was using the correct convertor/adaptor. Needless to say, we no longer rely on the convertors.

Other items to consider:

  • Day pack (for sunscreen, water bottle, maps, etc.)
  • Plastic (foldable) tote bag with handles (or at a minimum grocery bags) for local purchases
  • TravelonMuV Digital Scale ( purchased at eBags.com). We’ve tried other luggage scales and this seems to be the most accurate.
  • Rain poncho (handy to cover your backpack or camera if caught in a quick shower)
  • Travel Valet (for dresser top with snaps at corners to corral you room key, pocket change, rings, receipts, etc. that you’ll use again the next day.)
  • piggy-back bungee cord system to securely hold a carry-on to the larger suitcase. It is made by Travelon, available from bagbungee@travelsmith.com

A quick word about prescription your medication. Never pack your medicine in your checked luggage. During your flight, if you have multiple medications that you’ll need to take at bedtime and/or early morning, put the correct dosage in a separate bottle or small zippy bag for quick retrieval.

 Remember, there are stores just about everywhere; you can always make any new purchase a great souvenir. It could end up being your most favorite purchase!

Now is the time to call Hank at 713-397-0188 to plan and book a spectacular trip! Grab your passport and go have fun! It’s not quite summer – you still have time to make those travel plans! Bon voyage!

 Savor life . . . make memories . . visit Dream Destinations! Your journey begins here!

Tips to Make Train Travel in Europe Easier

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination and River Cruise Expert

Europe train travel is a great way to get around Europe.  It is usually very efficient and fast, especially the high speed trains.  It does require learning some skills to help make this form of travel easier.  Here are our tips from 44+ years of using Europe trains.

  1. Before you arrive at the station put your train info on a small notecard or piece of paper. Listing the train number, car (coach) number, seat numbers, departure time and arrival time at the destination along with the correct station will make your train travel much easier.  It is amazing how many times we look at this piece of paper.  It also safeguards our train tickets—we are not fumbling around trying to get the right info.
  2. Make sure you are at the right Station. Many European cities have more than one station and if you are making connections, a wrong station can be a real hassle or cause a missed connection.
  3. Train Stations in Europe have a lot of things you might need for your trip. Many have information booths, food, drinks, restaurants, shopping, room-finding services, money changing stores, lockers to store your luggage, waiting rooms, and convenient bus, local light rail and subway connections.  We almost always get a picnic type lunch or least a couple of beers or a bottle of wine.  It often is better tasting and less expensive than the on board food.  On high speed trains, sometimes meals are included.  Here was one of our meals
    Train Food
    High Speed Included Meal

    With all the conveniences, also comes the occasional thief or beggar scam.  Watch your valuables and luggage and keep your money in a money belt or zippered pocket.

  4. At the Station, find the departure board to get on the right track. Most station have a big flip board or electronic board that has 10 or so departure and arrivals.  The boards are organized by departure and arrival times.  Find your train number and time on the departure board then wait until they post the track number.  Remember Europeans use the 24 hour clock—1300 is 1:00 PM. Also the city name will often not match your English names—Prague is Praha, for instance.  It can be easy to get confused—there may be identical times and similar trains—make sure you have the right one.  Long distance trains are easier—often there will be this big rush to the correct platform once the track number is posted.

    Flip Board
    Departure Train Flip Board
  5. Know the configuration of your train prior to getting aboard if possibleMany stations have the exact composition of your train on a display board.  These are on the platform where the train will arrive.  Locating this diagram can make boarding much easier. 
    Train Diagram
    Train Coach Platform Diagram
    High Speed Train Diagram
    High Speed Train Diagram

    Each platform often has letters overhead to indicate where you should stand when the train arrives.  If your coach is at the diagram for letter A for example, your coach should stop somewhere near that letter. 

    Track Locator Sign
    Track Locator Sign

    In addition, each track will usually have a sign showing the train arrival with a train number and other information so you can be pretty sure you are on the correct train platform.  Trust the diagram and local conductor–they ride these trains every day.  It is not uncommon for cars to be out of numbered sequence and just last year I ran after a train car while Anne waited at the right spot–she was right, of course!

  6. Tracks and Platforms can change. I missed a train to Berlin in 2008 once by sitting on the wrong platform—it had changed and I was too busy talking to my friend.
    Platform Arrival & Departure Board
    Platform Departure & Arrival Board

    Luckily, there was another train one hour later.  Even if you have scoped things out beforehand, if everyone suddenly starts running to another platform or track, just start asking—someone will tell you about the new track.  With the recent refugee situation in Europe, some trains change platforms or have unannounced train changes.  When we questioned a conductor just last year about a train change, he would only say you will make your connection, nothing more.  When we arrived at the unscheduled change point, it was clear why—all had to go through a passport control check to board our new train.  In the past at every border, the crew often changed and there was a passport check.  There are more checks nowadays with the recent problems but overall the hassles are minimal.

  7. Trains only stop for 2 to 5 minutes at most stops. If you have not been able to locate your reserved coach just get on the train.  Do not waste time getting on; clear the platform as quickly as possible.  Even if you are totally confused, just get on the right train and then get to the proper car and seat.
  8. Try to limit the amount of luggage you carry if you are using a lot of trains in Europe.
    luggage and back-packs
    Packing Light–our luggage for 21 Day Europe Trip

    We have seen people carry an amazing lot of stuff and have been guilty of this way too often ourselves.  There are 2 problems here—many platforms require you to walk down steps, go under train tracks and back up lugging all your stuff.  Often there is not a lift or escalator.  Heavy bags can be a real problem.  The second problem is putting your stuff away while on the train.  Most trains have overhead racks that will hold 21 inch luggage but larger bags can be a problem.  Sometimes there are luggage storage areas—sometimes not.  Also there are folks in larger stations who will try to help you for a tip—you often think they are just helpful fellow travelers.  We constantly count luggage and check even if it is in the luggage area of our car.  When in doubt, we carry a small chain & lock to make sure our items are secure.

  9. Train seats are not for your luggage. We watched an American on a very crowded train take up several seats guarding their luggage and being very confrontational to others.  Store you luggage properly—do not take someone’s seat on a crowded train.  If you are obstructing a seat, be prepared to move your luggage if a new passenger arrives.
  10. Screaming at railroad employees is rude and wrong. We watched an American scream at a reservation person because the person did not speak English well.  Finally a kind man who spoke English and French stepped in and helped resolve the problem.  Screaming and rudeness just makes the situation worse.  Our experience is that most railroad folks really try to help and resolve problems or get you a better train or seat or car.  Be patient, use short, clear words, no slang, and trust the reservation representatives.  When you enter the reservation and ticketing area, usually there is a number system, so get a ticket and wait your turn (now serving #).  If there is a representative at the entrance area, ask what the system is and if you have a short time to make a connection, let them know.  Always ask before standing in line.  Sometimes at ticketing offices in the stations you may have to wait up to a half an hour to get your problem resolved—so many travel by train, even in large stations the back log can be significant.  If you have a rail pass or first class ticket, sometimes you can skip the waiting lines and get served faster.
  11. Do not assume just because you got on the right train all the cars are going where you want to go. Sometimes a train will split apart at some stations and part of the train will head to a different place than you want to go.  Always ask the conductor if you are in the right car, right seat and right section of the train—especially if you do not have a reserved seat.
  12. Even if you have a reserved seat, someone may be using it. Just politely show your ticket and try & work it out.  Most often it is a family with young kids or some other good reason.  Sometimes it is a second class ticketed person try to score a free upgrade or just an honest mistake—right seat, wrong car.  Keep your cool and if it is a real problem, let the conductor work it out.
  13. Most announcements on the train are in English following another European language first, especially on long distance trains. We have learned to know about how long the trip is and get up early (about 10-15 minutes or so) so we can get off quickly, especially if we have 25 inch suitcases.  If the trip announcements seem to get a gasp or two from other riders, you can probably guess the train has been delayed.  Just ask—most folks who ride the trains speak a little English or are willing to help.  Also you often will not which side to exit the train, or in some smaller stations, especially in England, you may have to walk forward to others cars to disembark if the train is longer than the platform.
  14. Train Strikes do happen. We were in Brugge once ready to leave on a Monday and we found out while enjoying a small breakfast that all local trains in Belgium were on scheduled strikes on Mondays thru the month of December in protest of wages.  All the locals knew, but we sure did not.  We wound up splitting a cab to Brussels with another couple—an extra 80 Euros in cash we had not planned for.  Our lesson learned—ask the hotel at check in if there are any problems for departure transportation.
  15. Overnight trains. We have had some really good results and some horrible experiences.  First rule for us—get a private compartment.  In 1990, during the world cup, we wound up in a sleeper for 4 with 2 guys from Argentina.  We were all worried, but since I spoke Spanish, we worked it out.  It was so hot and if you opened the windows, a passing train would shatter any possibility of sleep.  We wound up the next day with heat rashes and were so exhausted, we just slept most of the next day.  On a recent trip in 2014 from Grenada to Barcelona in a 2 person compartment, it was very good—we got some sleep and a good meal.  And another good trip was from Amsterdam to Munich last year that saved us a cost of a hotel room—we arrived rested and ready to explore Munich after dropping our luggage of at our hotel.  Our advice –spend a little more and arrive rested, so you can save a hotel room cost yet not be so tired the benefit of the overnight ride is not wasted.

We love train travel.  Even though it is limited, it allows you to see something and not just fly over a country.  Europe is so small, you can realistically cover many areas in less than a 6 hour ride.  We always use a train on some portion of our trip.  We hope you will use these tips to make your train travel a better experience so you can

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European Ocean Cruising

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71 Certified Europe Destination and River Cruise Expert
Since Europe is a continent of peninsulas, a great way to visit Europe is on an ocean cruise. Only 17 of the 51 European countries are landlocked, so there are 34 countries that can be reached by the sea. Of those 17 land locked countries, 2 are easily reached by an ocean cruise (they are the tiny countries of San Marino & the Vatican) and 6 (Austria, Hungry, Luxembourg, Serbia, Slovakia and Switzerland) are visited regularly by river cruises. There are great sailing vessel options for anyone interested in sailing to this region. The choices of cruise ship includes ships in the mass market class, premium class, luxury cruise lines and ultra-luxury cruise lines—something that fits almost all travelers. Perhaps the easiest way to learn about European cruising opportunities is to look at the 3 major areas most cruise lines use to visit many fantastic European ports of call. The 3 areas are the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the North Sea & Atlantic Ocean area. Let’s explore these 3 areas together.
THE BALTIC SEA
The Baltic Sea borders Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Germany. We have been on two Baltic Sea cruises and had a great chance to visit ports in 6 of the 9 countries that border the Baltic Sea. To view a PowerPoint PDF of our cruises, please click the button LEARN MORE 
Baltic cruises operate between May and September. Most cruises last 10 to 14 days. St. Petersburg in Russia is the big attraction, with so much to see that most cruise ships stay at least two days, but other ports along the way are also crammed full of history and culture. Our favorite port is Tallinn, Estonia—the old town is one of the best preserved walled cities in all of Europe. In St. Petersburg, visiting the magnificent Peterhof Palace and its fountains and the Hermitage rate as some of our best experiences in Europe. Docking in the northern German port of Warnemunde allowed us to visit Berlin. If these weren’t good enough, Oslo’s wonderful harbor, Stockholm’s Old Town, the delightful Copenhagen sights and Helsinki’s harbor area and esplanade make this cruise an exceptional adventure.
THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA
There are 13 countries which border the Mediterranean Sea. They are Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Malta, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus. We have been on 3 Mediterranean cruises and visited ports in 9 of the 13 European countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. We have also visited San Marino and the Vatican while on these cruises. To view a PowerPoint PDF of our cruises, please click the button LEARN MORE
3 of the 13 countries do not really have good access to most cruise ships. Neum is the only town to be located long Bosnia and Herzegovina’s 12 miles of coastline, making it the country’s only access to the Adriatic Sea and only smaller vessels can port there. Slovenia and Albania also are not major ports but have better access than Bosnia. The remaining 10 countries have great port areas, with the larger countries have multiple ports that offer a wonder gateway to explore this area.
There are many cruise options ranging from 7 to 21 days or more. The cruise season is usually between April and October. By far, this is the most popular area for ocean cruises in Europe, so there is a cruise for just about anyone. Generally speaking, the cruise options are an Eastern itinerary from roughly Italy east to Istanbul Turkey and a Western itinerary from Italy to Spain and sometimes Portugal

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The Eastern itinerary highlights the great diversity of Europe—you can see the canals of Venice, the walled city of Dubrovnik, the fjords of Kotor, the sun drenched Greek islands( especially Santorini, Crete and Mykonos), the ancient city of Ephesus and exotic Istanbul to name a few. The region includes the Adriatic coast of Italy and Croatia, the islands of Greece, and Turkey’s Istanbul and Kusadasi (the port for Ephesus). The cornerstone ports for most Eastern Mediterranean voyages are the cities of Athens (served by the port of Piraeus), Venice and Istanbul. Some cruises also include the Holy land of Israel. One thing is sure—one cruise is not enough—these experiences and sights are so cool you will want to come back for another cruise or two. 2 of our 3 cruises in this region have been on the Eastern itineraries. To view a PowerPoint PDF of our cruises, please click the button LEARN MORE
The Western itinerary features the western side of Italy, Malta France and Spain and the islands of that are part of Italy, France and Spain. The itinerary is ideal for art and history lovers who also wish to explore the region’s landmarks, beaches, cafes and boutique shops. Italy has Portofino, Florence, Rome, and Naples and the Amalfi coast region—all amazing experiences to that range from cliff-side villages, ancient ruins, awesome food and wine and quality shopping. Other key ports include Barcelona, Marseille and the French Riviera, especially Nice, Cannes and Monte Carlo. To view a PowerPoint PDF of our cruise, please click the button LEARN MORE
THE NORTH SEA & ATLANTIC OCEAN AREA
There are 11 countries which border this area. They are Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom (we have visited 10 of the 11 countries). We have been on a great Azamara cruise from the UK to Spain and visited 3 countries on this voyage. To view a PowerPoint PDF of our cruises, please click the button LEARN MORE
The North Sea region is about nature viewing in the Scandinavian Peninsula, in my opinion. Majestic fjords, marvelous archipelagos, magnificent cliff faces–the North Sea coastline has awesome landscapes and unique towns like Bergen, Norway. Or a little further south, immerse yourself in the culture of the cities, such as London, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen. Or you can sail all around the United Kingdom and visit Ireland. Further south, the French coastline and the Iberian Peninsula are another delightful region– Bordeaux, France, Bilbao Spain. Lisbon, Portugal and Seville, Spain are all just waiting for you to explore these fascinating cities.
As you can see, at least 3 different cruises just begins to adequately explore Europe’s Oceans and Seas. We have sent many clients to Europe for both ocean and river cruises and we would love to help you get started—just call Hank at 713-397-0188 or email him at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.
Savor life . . . make memories . . . visit Dream Destinations! . . . Your journey begins here!