Live large; take a limo

Airport transfers

You’re exhausted from your overseas flight. You stagger through Customs, struggle with comprehending the heavily accented English and now you need to find some way to get to your hotel. 

The taxi driver speaks little to no English and you simply point to the address on your confirmation voucher.  You settle back and hope that you arrive in the right place safely.

Sound familiar? You can avoid the stress of on-the-spot negotiations and price gouging by pre-arranging your arrival transfer.

There are several different options to choose from. Each has its advantages and setbacks.

Shared shuttle

This option has you sharing the cost of a vehicle. The shuttles usually run every 30 minutes and if you miss one, you simply wait for the next. 

This option is the most economical, but you generally must wait until the shuttle is full before departing the airport and you are likely to make many stops along the way before reaching your personal destination.  Prepaying allows you to budget in advance and be prepared to find the correct shuttle company by name at the airport.

Private transfer

Ahhh, the indulgence of exiting the Arrivals Hall and finding a driver with your name on a sign.

This option is less expensive than what you’d expect and is a wonderful way to travel if sharing the cost with another couple. The driver will help with your luggage and you depart when you’re ready. Your transfer is a direct, nonstop ride. 

Disadvantage is if your flight is cancelled or re-routed for some reason. The drivers monitor your flight number and are aware of delays, however if you have been re-routed to another flight and are now arriving at a different time altogether, it is your responsibility to contact the supplier. 

This can, of course, be difficult without international call service or if you are not connected to wi-fi. I always recommend that you have the airline service desk that is re-routing you call or email the arrival transfer company.

VIP transfer

Like the private service, but with a higher level of service and amenities. This is for those lifetime memory trips.  The 50th wedding anniversary or honeymoon vacations. A full limo or luxury vehicle is detailed to include special inclusions such as champagne or toiletries. 

The driver is in uniform and speaks excellent English. Your transfer can include stops along the way to pick up additional refreshments, etc.

Each International airport has its own rules and security measures when it comes to driver access. There are times when the drivers are not allowed to be in the Arrivals Hall. They must wait with their vehicles in a designated parking area. 

In situations such as these, the traveller must have their own cell phone with international service to advise their arrival or be willing to approach the Info Desk and have one of the airport staff make the call for you. 

A prepaid arrival transfer is a wonderful peace of mind accessory to any trip. Sit back, relax and let your first impression of a destination be a good one.


Group travel 101

Why travel as a group? 

It’s an opportunity to share adventures and experiences with people with whom you can later commiserate and laugh with. 

It’s an opportunity to travel with people who have the same appreciation of interests or activities. 

It’s also an opportunity to create savings or value-added benefits to an existing departure or the chance to create a customized itinerary which highlights specific inclusions and once in a lifetime experiences.

There are a couple of ways to facilitate a group. One is the Volume Approach. Ideally, you find a pre-existing itinerary that includes all the desired inclusions and/or experiences you desire. 

Rather than re-inventing the wheel, you block many seats within a set departure. 

Group discounts or “tour conductors” can be earned for as few as eight people depending on the product booked. These savings are then distributed evenly amongst the group members. 

A variance on the Volume Approach is to re-invest the “discount” back into the group itself in the way of value-added benefits such as pre- or post stays, shipboard credits or inclusions such as culinary classes exclusive to the group members themselves.

To create a fully Customized Group departure takes a lot more time and organization. 

This avenue is not about saving money, but about creating a travel experience tailored specifically to special interests or activities. This is best applied toward land-based travel as most cruise itineraries cannot be altered to suit individual requirements. 

Imagine that Vietnam is the destination, but you want the emphasis to be on photography and culinary experiences. Working with in-destination suppliers travel organizers can create itineraries that facilitate wonderfully immersive culture exchanges and adventures. 

Unlike the Volume Approach, the customized itinerary requires commitment from a group of individuals prior to the development of the tour. Perfect approach for previously formed affiliations such as cycling groups, clubs or business organizations.

Successful group creation requires planning. It is not meant for the “last minute” traveller. Ideally you should look at opportunities six months to a year in advance to facilitate the best availability and pricing. 

Secondly, don’t try to do it yourself!  Find yourself an experienced and professional travel adviser who can connect you with reliable and trustworthy travel suppliers. 

He or she will be responsible for negotiating the pricing, the deposit requirements, creating the special inclusions and generally keeping the group on track with the payment schedules and can advise on any required visas, insurance or inoculations.

The world is your oyster to explore and experience as you choose. Travelling with a group of close friends or family is the perfect opportunity to build lasting memories to enjoy for years to come.

Take the inside track

Every now and then, over the course of my 30-odd years in the industry, I am surprised and pleased to discover little gems that make my life and profession that much easier.

My most recent find is Urban Adventures. A division of Intrepid Traveller, Urban Adventures is a series of day tours ranging from a couple of hours to a full day, perfect for those independent travellers looking to fill in a four-day weekend or for those DIYs who want the independence and spontaneity of a free-flow vacation.

Their tours get you off the beaten “tourist” track and effectively immerse you into the regional culture, nightlife and cuisine. The expeditions are led by local experts who lead you on fabulous interactions with local transportation, businesses, food and drink. Authenticity is the key.

Groups are kept to a maximum of 12 to ensure a truly intimate experience where no one loud individual obnoxiously dictates the course of the conversation. 

I did their Experience Bohemian Paris tour while I was there in June. Truly a unique behind the scenes look at St Germain and the history of the Latin Quartier. I have since recommended the company to many of my clients and all reports back have been stellar.

For those of you arriving independently into a strange new city consider doing one of their Locals on Tap tours. Forget online searches, queuing up at tourist offices or relying on outdated information from well-meaning friends. Meet up with a friendly native who can give you “the skinny” on everything you need to know about your destination. 

Locals On Tap is a city intro, travel meet-up, info session, and walking tour all rolled into one. Join a bunch of like-minded travellers and an Urban Adventures guide for a neighbourhood stroll, then kick back in a cool little bar or café. 

You can meet new friends, make plans, ask all your questions and find out where the locals really hang.

The In Focus series is a partnership with local NGOs, non-profits and social enterprises tackling real local issues. You gain access to people working to make the world a better place.

The United Nations declared 2017 the Year of Sustainable Tourism. This series of tours is Urban Adventures effort to publicize these outstanding individuals and their efforts.

The Pop Up Tours operate during special events, festivals and holidays  Enjoy the Xmas Markets of Budapest or celebrate Diwali in Jaipur. They even offer a Hockey Night in Canada Tour for visitors to Canada. Beer and Timbits!

Tour pricing starts from as little as $30CAD pp. Reservations can be made through your travel consultant or online. Limited to only Halifax, Ottawa and Toronto in Canada, they nonetheless offer many more choices for cities in the U.S.

Urban Adventures currently operates in 95 countries and 162 cities. They employ over 1,124 local guides and operate over 826 different itineraries. 

Their website is well worth a visit before you head out on your next adventure.


Travelling for healthcare


According to Patients Beyond Borders, more than eight million patients from around the world travel to obtain medical treatment somewhere other than their own country. 

Medical Tourism is a burgeoning industry worth $24-$40 billion on a global basis.

Lesser cost of course is a major factor, but people also decide to travel abroad to facilitate shorter wait times, access new and emerging treatments, better care and in some cases the ability to access procedures deemed illegal in their own countries.

Our global connectivity allows for easy verification of standards, certifications and verifiable endorsements from previous patients. 

Many physicians trained in top American, British or other European schools opt to live and prosper in countries where the lower cost of living allows them to live in veritable luxury and still provide excellent health care services.

There are many organizations providing information regarding international options. The Medical Travel Quality Alliance and The Medical Tourism Resource Guide are two excellent research tools.

Overseas patients are treated like royalty in countries such as Thailand and India. Private VIP transfers from the airport, luxurious spa-like accommodations within which to recuperate and state of the art, world class surgery theatres staffed by renowned specialists for a fraction of the cost of at-home procedures. 

With every “rose coloured glasses” story one must do their due diligence and underscore the possible setbacks. 

As a Canadian patient opting to get their hip surgery elsewhere, one might feel justified by “freeing up” our medical system from the cost. 

The reality is if there are complications resulting from the out of country procedure then you are right back into the Canadian healthcare system. Unless you can stay overseas on a long-term basis, monitoring your recovery remains a home-care issue. 

Another reality is that if you undertake any kind of voluntary medical treatment while abroad, it will completely invalidate any out of country medical coverage you may have. 

For some, the cost/risk ratio will be too strong to resist.  Here are some of the most popular medical hotspots.

  • India – IVF treatments, orthopedic, organ transplant and cardiac procedures
  • Mexico – over 50,000 Americans a year travel across the border for dental work. Weight loss surgery is also a specialty.
  • Thailand – meticulous cosmetic surgery. No. 1 destination for gender reassignment. Average cost for rhinoplasty is approx. $6,500CAD
  • Brazil – though not the most economical, Brazil is known for its cosmetic surgery. A forefront for developing new procedures and applications.
  • Turkey – gaining a worldwide reputation as a leading eye surgery destination.  Laser treatments start at $750EUR and includes three nights stay in hospital
  • Hungary – cosmetic or restorative dental treatments
  • Singapore – Gleneagles Hospital is rated as one of the Top 10 hospitals in the world. Specializing in orthopedics and gastroenterology, the average knee replacements costs approx. $10,000CAD

The consensus would be that overseas medical treatment is a “first world” problem or one only attributable to a wealthy individual, but the truth is that health is a priceless commodity that does not discriminate among the classes. 

A lifesaving transplant, a new drug advancement or a less expensive avenue to a pain free existence is an option that most people can achieve if willing to look abroad.

More The Joy of Travel articles

About the Author

Joy has long been a believer in the art of travel: the belief that a vacation is something to be anticipated savored and then long remembered as one of life’s great adventures. 
Website: thejoyoftravel.ca

You can contact Joy by email.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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