I believe that travel should be enjoyable, but it should also nourish our souls and broaden our horizons. While there's nothing wrong with a relaxing beach vacation or hedonistic getaway, travel should also challenge us, and sometimes take us out of our comfort zone.
That's why I believe overseas travel by young people should be encouraged and supported, whether they are children, university students, young professionals or families. To this end, TravelMaven created a Youth Travel Fund to financially support young people travelling abroad.
TravelMaven contributes $25 on behalf of every client to our Youth Travel Fund to make this happen, and clients may also make additional contributions if they wish.
The first project for the Youth Travel Fund was working with the Rotary Club of Haliburton to send 2 young people from our community to attend the World Youth Forum in Seoul on July 14-19, 2019. After interviewing five excellent candidates, two young women were selected. One is a local high school teacher and the other is a social worker in our community. Upon their return to Canada they reported that they had learned a lot, and had met lots of amazing young people from around the world during the conference.
As a result, the Rotary Club of Haliburton and I plan to send more young people in 2020. We hope they will also have a once-in-a-lifetime experience, bring back lots of good ideas, and share what they've learned with others in Haliburton County so that our community will become a better place.
The first step in booking any TravelMaven tour is talking to Barry. He will explain the nature of the tour you're considering, and detail what you should expect. This is particularly important on tours that involve long flights, exotic locations, hiking or lots of walking. Barry will also present flight options, so you can determine what's right for you.
Once you are ready to proceed with a reservation, the next step is to talk with our booking agent. She will take your basic information, and explain what else may be necessary for the tour you've selected. She will also describe the overall booking process (including cancellation and payment schedules) and lay out the travel and health insurance options available to you. Finally, she will take a $250 deposit that will reserve your spot and guarantee your price. If you are ready to book a flight, she can also take that booking. (This can also be done later.)
Note: In November 2019 TravelMaven became an affiliate of DeNureTours. As a result, TravelMaven tour bookings will now be made through DeNureTours' sophisticated reservation system, This ensures a professional and thorough booking process, and gives TravelMaven clients access to DeNureTours' buying power in the travel marketplace when purchasing travel insurance or flights.
In the travel industry, the term 'Land Package' refers to a tour package that does not include airfare. For TravelMaven tours, our Land Package price typically includes accommodation with breakfast, some lunches & dinners, daily walking tours & programs, entrance fees to all included tours & activities, all ground transportation including airport transfers, a full-time Tour Concierge and all taxes and fees.
On most tours, guests are required to book and pay for their own flights. They are also responsible for drinks, most lunches, some dinners, and entrance fees incurred for activities during their free time.
Every TravelMaven tour is based on the timing of a flight plan, and this information is shared with clients during the booking process. However, these flights are not included in the Land Package price and must be booked separately. There are several reasons for this.
First, some guests may wish to depart earlier or return later than the group. In fact, TravelMaven suggests guests consider extending their tour by a few days if time is available, and we are happy to facilitate arrangements for hotels and transportation.
Second, some guests may want to use loyalty plans (e.g. Aeroplan, AirMiles) or specific airlines to book or upgrade their flights. Once again, we are happy to help guests find what works best for them.
Third, some guests may prefer a different departure city, such as Ottawa, Montreal or Buffalo. TravelMaven is happy to discuss and coordinate plans whenever possible.
Fourth, some guests may prefer to book their flights through their regular travel agent, someone who is familiar with their preferences and would be available if there is an issue. As always, TravelMaven is happy to cooperate.
Fifth, prices for airline tickets fluctuate constantly, but as a rule of thumb, the earlier you book, the cheaper the fare. As such, those who book early usually get better fares than those who book later. Surprisingly, early birds usually get better deals than group rates too.
This sounds like a simple question with an obvious answer, but it really isn't. There are several kinds of tours, which can begin and end at different points on the first and last days. Please let me explain.
Some overseas tours begin and end in Ontario, either at the airport in Toronto or with a bus pickup in your hometown. If you're part of a group from the same place travelling on a charter tour (e.g. high school students going to Europe), this is usually the case. This is the easiest option and is particularly good for inexperienced travellers.
At the other end of the scale, if you're travelling with a big international tour company with guests coming from many different cities or countries (e.g. G Adventures, Rick Steves), the tour usually starts with an evening reception or dinner at the first hotel and ends after breakfast on the last day. In this case, guests travel on their own from their home to that hotel (in Paris or Cape Town), then back home from the final hotel afterwards. This requires more from the guest, but works well for travellers with more experience who may want to arrive earlier, stay later, or add another stop or two to their trip.
TravelMaven tours fall in between, and we think we have combined the best of both worlds.
For every TravelMaven tour we provide a "recommended flight plan" from Toronto, and Barry meets that flight at the destination airport and delivers guests back to the airport on the last day of the tour. (Barry may or may not be on those flights.) This approach offers a couple of advantages. First, for flights arriving early in the day (such as in Europe), we take advantage of the first day for group activities. Secondly, our approach recognizes that while most people are comfortable getting themselves to their home airport, they prefer to be met at the destination airport by a familiar face who knows their way around.
At the same time, our approach allows clients to easily extend their trip or use points from loyalty plans, such as Airmiles or Aeroplan. For example, several clients going on MARCH BREAK Kruger Safari 2020 are adding a stop-over to break up their flight to South Africa. One family is spending 2 nights in Amsterdam, a second is doing the same in Paris, and a third will spend a week in Abu Dhabi. In all cases, these are experienced travellers, and the best part is their total airfare was the same or less than the suggested direct flight option!
For guests who make alternative travel plans, Barry does his best to facilitate their arrivals and departures, but cannot guarantee to personally meet each flight at the airport. That's because they may arrive before him. Or, if they arrive after the group, Barry may be busy with other activities. In cities like London with several airports, it's also easy to imagine an Air Canada or British Airways flight arriving at Heathrow at the same time as Westjet or Air Transit is arriving at Gatwick. As a result, Barry deals with each tour and each client individually, and comes up with a plan that works for every one.
In the final analysis, we believe that by selling Land Packages instead of tours including flights, we provide more flexibility and choice for our clients. By helping with personalized flight arrangements and/or meeting clients at the destination airport, we also provide the best possible service and take full advantage of our first day.
Given the small size of our tour groups and Barry's creative approach to flight planning, we are confident we can figure out an arrangement that will meet every client's needs. In the end, that's one big advantage of dealing with a small company like TravelMaven!
Gratuities, or tipping, can be tricky to calculate when travelling. In North America, there are well established norms, which are different from those in Europe and other places where tipping is less common. (In those places, servers are paid on a different scale and there is less tipping expected).
In the tourism industry, guides and instructors typically receive about 10-20% of their fee as a gratuity, usually more for a private experience than with a group. With multi-day tours, drivers and tour directors each receive about $4-5 per person per day. Similar gratuities are the norm on cruises.
On TravelMaven tours, gratuities for group meals are included, however, guests are responsible for alcoholic drinks and consequential gratuities. Small tips to walking or museum guides are always appreciated, and gratuities for TravelMaven Tour Concierges are at the discretion of the guest.
Things happen, and sometimes plans must change. We understand this. That's why we offer a generous cancellation policy, and airlines offer flight full-fare tickets, change options and cancellation insurance.
At the time of booking, a $250 deposit is required to secure a spot and guarantee the Land Package price in place at that time. If a client cancels their tour prior to departure, their deposit is not lost, but will be retained by TravelMaven as a transferable credit towards a future tour or travel planning fees.
Tours cancelled by clients 60 days or more before departure will receive a 100% refund minus deposit. Clients cancelling 31-60 days prior to departure will receive a 50% refund minus deposit, and those cancelling 30 days or less prior to departure will receive a 25% refund minus deposit.
If a tour is substantially changed by TravelMaven (e.g. date or hotel change), clients will be offered the option of a full refund, including their deposit. In the unlikely event that a tour is cancelled, clients will receive a 100% refund, including their deposit.
In terms of airfare, most airlines offer a full-fare option that allows cancellation with full refund at any time. Unfortunately, full-fare tickets are usually very expensive. As an alternative, most restricted fares offer partial refunds, and flight cancellation insurance is offered during the ticketing process. Most premium credit cards also offer cancellation and 'failure to deliver service' coverage. Each case is different, and TravelMaven will explain details and options during the booking process.
Yes. Every Ontarian leaving the province should have adequate out-of-province medical insurance. Ultimately, it is up to each individual to make sure they have sufficient coverage. TravelMaven requires proof of medical insurance coverage before departure, but we do not assume any responsibility as to whether a client's coverage is appropriate or sufficient.
Some good news here is that many people already have out-of-province medical insurance through their employer, pension, association, credit card, or a policy purchased from a bank or insurance company. People should make themselves familiar with the coverage they already have, and not pay for additional coverage they do not need.
Clients wishing to purchase medical insurance coverage may do so through TravelMaven's booking agent. She will explain the options available, and process the application. Since November 2019, all TravelMaven tour bookings are handled by our affiliate, DeNureTours. As a result, TravelMaven clients benefit from DeNureTour's 60 years of experience and their buying power in the travel marketplace.
People buy insurance because unexpected things happen in life. For example, sometimes people become unable to travel after they've booked (and paid for) their trip. At other times, trips are interrupted. Bags can also be lost or damaged.
The challenge here is that the complexity of travel insurance can be overwhelming at times, and the cost of various (and potential overlapping) coverages can really add up. There is insurance for emergency medical & dental, trip interruption & cancellation, emergency evacuation & repatriation, business and income interruption, lost & damaged luggage, and much more.
To make things even more complicated, many people already have certain types of travel insurance coverage from their employer, pension fund, association, credit card company, or an annual policy purchased from a bank or insurance company. In these cases, it is important to read the fine print to identify restrictions or limitations on this coverage, as it is rarely universal or unlimited.
Haing said all that, those clients wishing to purchase comprehensive or cancellation-only insurance may do so through TravelMaven's booking agent. She will explain the options available, and process the application. Since November 2019, all TravelMaven tour bookings are handled by our affiliate, DeNureTours. As a result, TravelMaven clients benefit from DeNureTour's 60 years of experience and their buying power in the travel marketplace.
As the name suggests, TravelMaven mostly offers 'walking tours', not hiking expeditions or coach tours or river cruises. This means that most days, we will do a significant amount of walking. Guests should be regular walkers who are comfortable being on their feet several hours a day, and are also able to climb stairs in places like subway stations.
As such, guests will need comfortable walking shoes, and may want to bring a small daypack, all weather jacket, umbrella and water bottle. In other words, think of our tours as easy urban hikes, rather than days on a bus or boat. While we aren't out to win any races, and will take lots of breaks, guests need to be able to keep up with their fellow travellers.
Having said that, one advantage of staying in one hotel for the whole week is that it's easy for guests to take a day off, or return to the hotel early if they're fatigued or not feeling well. This is especially handy if a couple is travelling together, and one would prefer a less active pace. In this case, that person could skip an activity, and spend time in or near the hotel until the rest of the group returns.
Not too big! Because our tours use public (rather than private) transportation to shuttle from airports to hotels, and from city to city, guests need to manage their own luggage. To this end, medium sized suitcases with good wheels are highly recommended.
As a general observation, the people who travel the most carry the smallest bags. (Next time you're in an airport, check out the frequent flyers - most of them go "carry on" only!) Another reason to avoid 'steamer trunk' luggage is that hotel rooms in most of the world are smaller than in North America. As such, there's often no place to conveniently store a large suitcase for a week in your hotel room.
The exception to this 'smaller suitcases' rule is the CHRISTMAS MARKETS tour, which will include lots of shopping. For that tour, guests will need some extra capacity, and Barry has a few ideas of how to get your Christmas treasures home. (TravelMaven will also offer a bus to the airport at the end of the tour!)
Every TravelMaven tour description includes the following template:
'Type" refers to a primary characteristic, and we offer 4 options: Great Cities; Bucket List; Active Tours; and March Break Specials. Great Cities tours are based in one or two great cities, and involve lots of walking. Bucket List tours are usually based on a particular interest, and are often off the beaten path. Active Tours involve lots of outdoor physical activity. And, as the name suggests, March Break Specials fit into a defined time period, are geared to teachers and families, and require no Single Supplement from solo travellers.
"Hotel' refers to star ratings given by the hotel industry. Generally, we use 3 and 4 star properties. Guests should note, however, that while location is our primary concern, it is not considered in these ratings. As such, we will choose a well located 3 star hotel over a poorly located 4 star property every time.
'Pace' refers to physical effort required. Most of our tours are rated 'active', and involve lots of walking each day. A few are designated 'demanding', largely due to lengthy flights and long days, and one is rated 'relaxed' due to the laid-back mood and agenda.
'Length' refers to one or two weeks. All our tours fit within work weeks, leaving Friday evening or Saturday, returning Saturday or Sunday. In 2020, there are two 2 week tours: SOUTH AFRICA in February; and SOUTH KOREA in October.
'Group Size' refers to the maximum number of guests permitted on a tour. For Great Cities, the maximum is 10 guests. For Bucket List and March Break tours, the maximum varies from 12 to 24, depending on the nature of the tour.
The perfect hotel offers great location, endearing charm and sumptuous luxury - all at an affordable price. Whenever such a hotel can be found, TravelMaven books it. The Hotel Saint Paul Rive Gauche in Paris and the Rio Vista Lodge at Kruger Park are great examples of perfect hotels.
However, when all these elements cannot be found together, our top priority is location. While it might be different with a coach tour or self-drive holiday, on a walking tour there is no point having a great hotel if it's not in the right place.
Making a choice between charm and luxury is more difficult. Obviously, our hotels must meet certain standards regarding comfort and amenities. We aren't going to book a youth hostel, even if it's perfectly located and oozing with charm! And so, in the end, decisions are made on a case by case basis. For example, our hotel in Holland is perfectly located and quite luxurious, but doesn't offer as much 'Dutch' character as others might.
On the other hand, the two hotels selected for the CHRISTMAS MARKETS - Germany tour are perfectly located and very charming, but won't overwhelm with luxury. In Bamburg, a more luxurious alternative was available, but was sterile and far from the city centre. In Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a simple family inn that's been operating for more than 400 years was the obvious choice.
As you can imagine, on any tour with only one or two stops, the choice of hotel is critically important. That's why we spend so much time on this. We scout out several possibilities online, then visit each one in person before finally selecting the best property. Because in the end, no vacation is great if the accommodation isn't a positive feature.
Most TravelMaven tours are small groups and geared to active adults. Young children have different interests, and the dynamics between younger siblings can often be disruptive to others. As such, these tours are not suitable for families with young children.
However, our March Break Specials are kid friendly, so we welcome families and inter-generational travel. We know from experience that a trip can be a great time for a parent or grandparent to spend quality time with a child or grandchild. In fact, we think intergenerational travel is a wonderful idea, and welcome it on our tours, whether those 'kids' are 15 or 45!
TICO is the Travel Industry Council of Ontario. It is mandated by the Ontario government to administer legislation which governs 2,400 travel retailers and travel wholesalers in Ontario.
TICO registered travel companies provide additional consumer protection unavailable with unregistered agencies based in other countries or provinces. Benefits include a compensation fund and travel complaint resolution process. TICO also sets education standards for members, and financial requirements for travel companies.
TICO adds value for Ontarians buying travel services by offering another layer of consumer protection, and ensures that anyone selling travel products in Ontario is aware of their responsibilities and liabilities.