I wanted to shake up my life and go sailing (or learn on the job, so-to-speak) so headed to Florida to crew on a catamaran. This is about how it went or, rather, didn't - and my life since. Hopefully it will lead to a catamaran on the clear aqua blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, watching the sunset, a coconut rum and coke in hand. You must START AT THE BEGINNING of the blog, April 2009, to get the whole story...

Sunday, November 30, 2014


It's videos like that which make me want to travel with carry-on only. I have done so in the past... once for a 5 week trip. I managed quite well with what I took, actually. But this time I want to check a bag with my snorkeling gear (doesn't all fit in carry on), my liquids (sun lotions, hair products, bug repellents, perfume etc), and the 8 rolls of McVites digestive cookies I am taking (don't ask). As well as some clothing... whatever won't fit in my carry-on.

Also, I recently purchased the most beautiful set of luggage I've ever laid my eyes on.

I mean, can you stand it?  I saw it from across the store at WINNERS when I was in Kelowna this summer helping my daughter paint her new condo.  I HAD to have them.  I didn't buy the big one because I tend to go overweight if packing a big bag and I am done...DONE... spending hundreds of dollars on an extra 10lbs of stuff, but I walked out of there with the other two and a huge...HUGE...smile on my face.

I didn't just buy new luggage because I couldn't resist the colour (although who could blame me if that was the reason?!)  in fact, the last time I dragged a heavy bag on two wheels through miles of airport, the stupid thing sometimes twisting off the wheels and wrenching my arm, I watched others blithely stroll by with their 'spinner' bags, upright, just gliding along beside them.  I determined then and there that I would have bags with FOUR wheels on my next trip. 

And now I will.

But I don't want that gorgeous finish to get scratched, dented or *gasp* cracked.  And if the baggage handlers treat it like the bags in above video, or pitch it down 20 feet or so to the tarmac below like in another video I saw, then my gorgeous bags might not survive (not to mention what would happen to the aforementioned biscuits packed inside!!).

So what to do?  

How about a little 'sucking up' to the baggage handlers?  Let them know that they are appreciated.  It couldn't hurt, right? 

This is what I came up with:

On both sides of the bag.

Let's hope it works and that I don't end up with something like this:

But get something more like this instead:

Well...without the 'HEAVY BAG' tag, and the poor spelling.

Here are some tips on how to get your bag safely to your destination:

Buy a four-wheeled bag.
With a four-wheeled bag, the only time your luggage will be airborne is after takeoff.
"When we load a plane, we have to slide that bag along ... the cargo floor," Henry said.
"With four wheels, they can just roll that bag," he continued. "Now if it doesn't have the wheels, they'll throw it, kick it, toss it."
Pack your items in a sturdy bag.
(Let's hope this gorgeous new bag is sturdy)
Make sure your bag won't crumble under pressure.
When shopping for luggage, look for bags made out of strong material. There are even bags available for purchase made out of the same material that the NFL uses for its shoulder pads.
"You should assume that this bag is going to be handled in the worst way," Henry said.
Don't check in for your flight too early.
(I am bad for this... part of my nervous traveler thing.)
Ironically, to ensure your bag's on-time arrival, don't check in too early.
"If you do it more than two hours early, they don't even have things set up for your flight yet," Cigelske said.
Your bag could get lost in the shuffle if it's set aside.
Skip the curbside check-in.
(Never done this)
Even if you're rushing to catch your flight, avoid checking in at the curb.
"It does add one more layer to the process, more people to the equation," Cigelske said. "More hands, more things, means more things could go wrong."
Instead, head to the ticket counter, especially if you're past the cutoff time to check your bag in.
"You can ask the ticket-taker to have the baggage handlers come and make one more run," Cigelske said.
Buy traveler's insurance.
(I have it through my Credit Card. I DID have it with the first insurance I bought for this trip but don't have that anymore!!!)
Airlines are only liable for $3,400 for loss, delay or damage to luggage. Some airlines don't even cover certain items, such as electronics or jewelry.
Travelers agree to this contract automatically when they purchase their flight ticket. Purchasing traveler's insurance can protect the contents of your bag in the event it is lost, stolen or damaged.
Buy a bag with anti-theft technology.
(Ooops.  Gorgeous luggage has zippers)
Even if your bag is locked, a person can still get into your luggage by cutting the zipper open.
Luggage without zippers can help deter would-be thieves immediately, as people will be unable to easily use scissors or knives to cut it open.
Invest in a tracking device.
(Hmmmm...tracking device huh?  I do always pack my info and itinerary inside, along with a list of everything the bag contains and a note saying I have a copy of the list with me)
Be sure to remove old routing stickers from your luggage. In case your bag goes astray, add a tag to the outside with your information, and pack an itinerary inside.
If your bag does indeed get lost, it might help if you have a tracking device. Certain devices can message you the location of your bag once it's landed.
Use a carry-on bag.
(Right.  See above.)
It's recommended not checking any bags.
And if you are forced to check your carry-on at the boarding gate, remember to remove your valuables before handing it over.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


I decided I was fed up with the back and forth phone calls about the missing travel insurance policy and the "we can't refund your money until we find the policy" nonsense.  SO ... I did what worked so well for me once before.

My friend, when reading the story (linked to in above paragraph) of how I got AA to find my daughter's lost luggage PRONTO, commented that I sure was one "can-do broad".  I liked that.  I decided it was time to bring out the "can-do broad" in me once again.

I start searching online for the name of someone in authority in either sales or customer relations at Allianz in the Ontario office.  It takes a long time, like well over an hour.  It is information that is really buried  but I end up finding a woman on Linked In who is the head of Customer Service in Ontario.  I can't see any contact information for her as she is not connected to me in any way and there is only a first name and a last initial.  So I Google her name with the initial and ALLIANZ, and I find a link back to Linked In with her whole name.  I still can't see any contact info but... the personal email of the agent I have been talking to was his first name - dot - his last name and then @alianz-assistance.ca  I had seen online another person's email at the company and it was his first and last name with the same ending so I start an email to her and type in her name etc and hope it works. I detail everything that has occurred to this point, ask her to intervene for a resolution, and hit send.  Heading off to bed (at close to 4am) I hope I wake to good news.

I do... it worked!!!! And she has replied to say she has some people looking into it. Actually what I wake to is a phone call from Shawn, the agent, to say that they are going to refund me the money.  THEN I go check my email and see she wrote to me three hours ago (time difference) to say that she has some people looking into it.  WOW.  So it worked.  Go to the top and you get speedy results.  I am ecstatic.

That done, it is now time to select some seats with more leg room on the longer legs of my flights to and from the Dominican Republic.  I pull up my flight itinerary on American Airlines website and... hellooo... what is this now?  My flights home have changed.  Now instead of Miami to LA then home, I fly from Miami to Dallas.  Excuse me?  Especially seeing how this means I fly out of Miami two hours earlier than the previous plan, did no one think this might be information important for me to have?

So I call AA.  The woman on the other end tells me that it is the responsibility of the sales company - in this case Flight Hub - to let me know.  AA sends an alert of changes to the company I bought tickets from and they then are to contact me and alert me.  I know she is telling me the truth because that is how it has always worked.  That is how it worked on the flights I had to cancel already (because the changes did not work for me).  As it happens, these changes I can live with - I no longer have a long lay over waiting for the flight to Vancouver so I am getting in four hours earlier.  But that is not the point.   She is rather surprised that I have not received notification and so takes all my information so that if there are any more changes, they can contact me directly.

I then call Flight Hub, ready to tear a strip off of them as the changes were made over TWO WEEKS ago.  Again, had I not wanted to upgrade my seats, I would have had NO idea that this had occurred.

The woman on the other end tells me they never got the alert from AA, thus they had no idea the flights had changed.

Sigh.  Typical blame game... NO ONE is responsible.  Right.

Whatever.  I now have my new itinerary printed out.  I will be checking AA's site daily to see if there are any more changes as I don't trust anyone now.

Yesterday I purchased additional travel insurance through my union's provider to pad out what I already had with them.

I don't have trip cancellation insurance now, which I thought I had before.  I also don't have baggage loss insurance... just what I get with the credit card for charging the trip with them.

It is astounding to me how much incompetence there is everywhere.  Astounding.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


So in my last post, I wasn't quite forthcoming about how I ended up choosing Sosua as the destination for my upcoming trip to the Dominican Republic.  Yes I had looked at property there online and yes, I wanted to make it part of my trip.  But my initial searches for accommodation on Airbnb had lead me to a small enclave to the west of Puerto Plata named Costambar.  From the descriptions I first read it sounded very pleasant; a small gated community of mostly expats from Canada with a lovely beach, a few restaurants and a couple of small grocery shops.  Perfect.

I selected a nice little apartment in a complex with a pool and proceeded to book it for the month long stay at $780 US.  Not bad at all.  The furniture in the place was a little heavy and dark, but I liked the look of the pool and it was a very short walk of about 50 yards to the beach.

Then, as time permitted, between setups on my show, I started to research Costambar a little more.  I began to discover that it was rather isolated, was near a big power processing plant, had unpaved roads that turned to mud in the rain, and was not advised to walk alone at night even a short distance from the restaurants to the apartment.  I really did not like the sounds of this.

I made some enquiries on a Trip Advisor forum as to if it was a good place for a single woman to stay and got some assurance that I 'should' be alright.  One fellow replied that I must take a few trips to Sosua as the main street was closed to traffic each evening to allow the restaurants to put tables and chairs out on the street for outdoor dining with live music.  It sounded lovely and festive.  As I researched things to do and excursions from Costambar, I learned that there were sailing trips to what was called a gorgeous beach perfect for snorkeling in Sosua.  I began to wonder why I wasn't staying there instead.

Once you book what is considered a 'long stay' at an Airbnb location (a month or more) there are no refunds offered with the site.  It is only at the graciousness of the host that a refund may be obtained. I found the place I wanted to stay in Sosua and checked with the host for dates and if she would hold it for a few days while I sorted out my reservation in Costambar.  She agreed to do that and then I contacted the first host and, much to my relief, she readily issued me a refund.

Once I booked my room in Sosua, I then turned my research efforts in that direction.  It didn't take long for me to start to freak out a little bit and wonder if I'd made a huge mistake.

Why you ask?

Because Sosua is renowned for it's sex trade business.  That's right, it is the red light district for all of the Dominican Republic!!  Men from all over North America travel there just for the young women they can buy.  I was horrified.  Horrified.  What had I done?!?

More panicked research uncovered a YouTube video from a guy called Cuba Dave who has sort of a internet travel show on that site for men travelling for sex.  In this video, he was advising men to stay away from Sosua as it was no longer the playground it once had been. A little more research revealed that apparently the city fathers had decided they'd had enough of this rather appalling reputation and were going to clean up their town. So they closed all of the brothels and strip joints, closed in the clubs (no windows, no outdoor seating) and cracked down on the street girls.  They began the task of encouraging a more family friendly, couple friendly environment.

Somewhat reassured, I decided to keep things as they were and hopefully all would be good.  We shall see I guess.

About three weeks after I booked my flights, I received notification from Ticket Pilot that my reservations had been changed and when I took a look at how, the changes were unacceptable to me. I called them and said I wanted to cancel.  They contacted the airline, United, and in a three way call it was explained that because the new flights changed arrival to a destination by more than two hours, I could cancel without penalty.  I had just upgraded the seats a few days prior but was assured that I would be reimbursed for the cost of that at the same time.  When I later checked my credit card, I was refunded the cost of the flights but not the upgrades.  Another call to the airline rectified this and the refund showed up a few days later.

I booked new flights with American Airlines through Flight Hub.  I was pleased to no longer be connecting through Newark as weather conditions there in winter had me somewhat concerned about possible delayed or cancelled flights.  Now I was connecting through Los Angeles and, back to two connections instead of just one, Miami - on both the trip there and the trip back.  I had a 14 hour overnight wait for my flight out of Miami on the trip home so decided I would go to South Beach and get a hotel for the night.  I had spent only an hour or so there on my way through from Tarpon Springs to Key Largo back in '09 and loved it so the idea of an evening there was very welcome.  I'd look for a hotel once the show was over and I had some time to think.  Also, to get flights I wanted, my trip was now extended by two days.

Having flights confirmed, a place to stay, and trip insurance paid for at the time I booked the first flights there was nothing much more to do until the show wrapped and I had some time to devote to the rest of the planning.  I would need to contact the insurance provider to extend my coverage the two extra days and I needed to look at upgrading my seats on the long flights. But that could be done once I had more time.

Now that the show is wrapped, and my two grand babies have arrived (did I fail to mention that my son and his wife and my daughter and her husband were both expecting boys within days of each other?!) I finally have that time.

I set about looking for a hotel in Miami first and after much searching, pretty much settle on a beachfront place at the exorbitant rate of $375 US for the night.  As I contemplate this, I suddenly have an epiphany.  I won't be arriving at the hotel until sometime around 7pm.  I will want to go for dinner and stroll Ocean Drive, maybe stop at a place or two for a drink and soak in the atmosphere.  My flight in the morning leaves at 7am so I'll have to be out of my hotel by 4am or so.  I'll probably be spending less than 4 hours in my hotel.  That will amount to $100 an hour!  Why spend the money on a hotel?  Why not stay up all night and enjoy what Miami Beach has to offer in the way of people watching etc as I am sure it is open all night long on a Friday night?!  What a great idea!  So that is what I decide I am going to do.

That all figured out, I call up the insurance agency - Allianz Global Assistance - to set about extending my coverage.  I have paperwork in hand with the policy number and when I give the agent on the line the information he astounds me by saying they have no such policy registered with that number.  He asks me to check my credit card statement to see if I have indeed been charged and if so, was it the Ontario office or a US office listed.  I know I have been charged and find the statement with no problem and it was the Ontario office.  He is stumped by this as he was sure it was because it was a US policy, which would have to be cancelled and a new Canadian one issued.  He clicks about on his keyboard a bit more and puts me on hold.  When he returns he tells me that he has informed his superior of this anomaly and that he will call me at 3pm my time to update me as to what they find. He asks me to send him a copy of my credit card statement with the charge and gives me an email address to send it to.

I hang up feeling very unsettled about this turn of events as I send off the PDF of my statement. What if I had never had to extend my insurance?  What if I had an issue while in the DR and needed medical attention and THEN it became apparent that there was no policy with that number?  I could only imagine the horror that would ensue for me in that scenario.  I decide that, should they find the policy or not, I am cancelling it.  I have medical insurance now with my union, thanks to the show that just wrapped, and I can get baggage and trip delay insurance through BCAA.  That is what I usually do and I wish I had done it this time but I foolishly decided to use the insurance presented at the time of buying the first set of tickets because I thought it would save me some hassle.

He never calls me back as promised.

So I call again the next day.  I of course get a different agent, I ask for Shawn and am told he is on another call but will call me as soon as he is off.  He calls a few minutes later.  I ask why he did not call me as he promised and he said because he never received the credit card statement.  I am aghast at this.  I assure him I did indeed send it and it did not bounce back, therefore he must have gotten it. And if he didn't, why on earth would he not call to alert me so I could resend it?  He replies that the email address he gave me is a general one that gets thousands of emails a day and so it must have been buried.  He then proceeds to give me his personal work email.  Exasperated, I ask why he didn't give me that one in the first place and he replies that he isn't allowed to give it out.  I respond with, 'well you're giving it to me now so that can't be true'.  He gets testy with me so I drop it and he never does explain why he wouldn't have called me to let me know about this.  I resend it to him while he is on the line to make sure he gets it this time and he does.  I tell him that now that he can see I did get charged, I want to cancel the policy and be refunded.  He proceeds to tell me that they can't refund me until they find the policy.  WHAT?!?  I am starting to lose it a little at this point and get rather testy myself.  I tell him that I have paid for something that I don't have, he has proof I have paid, and I want a refund.  Now.  He refuses, telling me that they can't do that until the policy is located.  He assures me it will be located and that there is lots of time before I leave to sort this out.  That they will refund me once they find the policy.  I then recall that the credit card I used is no longer active due to fraudulent activity and I will need to give him the new card number and tell him as much.  He tells me that I can have it refunded to any card I want and that he will call me for that information as soon as they have located the policy.

After hanging up, I don't like this at all but I have no more time to think about it as I am due at my daughters to help out for a few hours.

Next Installment: My 'can do broad' comes out, and more issues.

Friday, November 21, 2014


Travel fever has hit again and hit hard.

I worked on a tv series this past summer for almost 5 months.  It was a great show, and I loved that we were in one location the entire time, mostly indoors.  But what that meant was, I never saw much of the great summer we had this year in Vancouver as I was indoors in dark studios 14 hours a day (except for the 45 min lunch break where I'd step out into blinding sunshine and stumble my way to the catering truck with the rest of the crew who were shading their eyes and grasping for sunglasses). I don't even think I went to the beach once.  Maybe once right before the show started... I can't really recall.  The show itself was really challenging for me, being that it was 75% CGI (computer generated) so lots of green screen work.  Shooting on a green screen stage is very different from practical sets and so that challenge, coupled with a big cast and SO MUCH CONTINUITY to follow (injuries galore - along with bandages and braces, a couple of props that appeared in many scenes but kept changing either their ownership [a magic ring] or their physical appearance [a rope weapon that sometimes had a weight on the end and sometimes didn't]) wore me right out.  The physical fatigue of 14 hour work days plus a two hour commute was matched only by the mental fatigue of keeping up with and keeping track of all the many many MANY details over 13 episodes of a linear storyline.  Basically a 13 hour movie!!

SO.... in September I decided I deserved a trip somewhere warm when it was all over - to get the summer I never had and to get some much needed R&R.  I wanted to go for a month but preferred to keep it to $2000 or so on the flight and accommodations.  Quite the challenge.  After looking at Mexico, the BVI and the Bahamas and ruling all out because of the cost, I turned to the Dominican Republic - somewhere that has been on my radar due to wishful searches for real estate in the Caribbean and discovering that you can get a lovely condo there for a shockingly low price.  I had, during said searches, decided that a discovery trip to the DR should be in my future to see if it was somewhere I could live for 6 months of the year, come retirement time.  I suddenly recalled this in my search for a budget conscious trip, and VOILA...

The condos I had found that I liked were in a small town on the north coast called Sosua.  I knew nothing of the place but eventually decided that was where I would stay so I could take a look at the real estate.  A quick search online revealed that the town has a lovely beach, many restaurants, and is popular with North Americans for both travel and relocation.  It is a short 20 minute cab ride from Puerto Plata and the international airport there, which was perfect,  so I booked my flight(s).

Flights to the DR from Vancouver are surprisingly cheap.  All in I paid $760.  What I really liked was that it took just one connection (instead of the usual two to the Caribbean) flying from Vancouver to Newark to Puerto Plata.

I decided to try Airbnb for accommodations, as I have had friends who have gone that route and had nothing but good things to report, not the least being the great prices.  After some searching, I ended up settling on a lovely place right in the center of Sosua owned by a couple from Sweden.  They have three suites with separate entries off of a large porch overlooking the main street and, bonus!! - there is a bakery downstairs.  The couple live at the rear of the building.  There were glowing reviews from previous guests so I booked it at $730 for the month!  A bargain.

My room in Sosua

Looking towards the entrance to my room in Sosua

My lovely bathroom in Sosua

Next I will post on how so many things have gone awry with this trip already, and I haven't even left my house!

All photographs are mine and not to be copied without express permission from me (click on them to see the large version).
Some names have been changed to protect my butt.

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