The first day of your trip | Go!

The small town of Alert Bay on Cormorant Island is near the northern top of Vancouver Island, Canada. — Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian

When traveling far from home by plane, take it very easy on that first day away. You are not in your native habitat and are not quite yourself. You need at least a day to get grounded.

Flying itself has its challenges and like I have said before, you’re not on vacation until you are where you are going to stay. And, getting to that place can be difficult if you don’t have someone you know picking you up. This column is not for wealthy travelers but cabs, Uber, Lyft etc. are the easiest, especially in foreign countries where the dollar is strong or cabs are regulated by the government. Drivers can give you helpful and interesting information and it’s definitely easier with baggage. I suggest researching travel books or online sites that can help prepare you and can recommend what to avoid and watch out for. On that first day, sometimes it’s just best to spend more money and do what’s easiest.

Travel resources can also help with alternative ways to get out of the airport like minibuses, vans, buses, subways or other alternatives. They often recommend a certain company or give public transportation routes. My husband and I just came back from New York and flew in and out of Newark, New Jersey. We didn’t want to pay big money for a cab or use ride-sharing software, so we decided to take public transportation using Google maps and asking people along the way. It took us about forty-five minutes on two trains and one subway for a total of about $14 each. We also provided many people with the good feeling of helping someone in need. It definitely was more complicated and troublesome because we had to carry our bags up and down stairs and buy multiple tickets from confusing machines. But we felt braver, stronger and luckier when we made it. If you like challenges and adventures, you will be gratified by these real-life – not virtual – experiences.

Foreign travel can be much more complicated. I recommend getting a few hundred US dollars’ worth of foreign currency – or more, depending on where you are going – at the airport you are departing from. On the flight you can figure out the equivalencies. If not, get money at your arriving airport. Assuming your lodging is paid for or can be paid for using a credit card, you will need some cash to get you through at least the first couple of days. Although airports can have higher fees and exchange rates, you will be adjusting to so many new things like language, customs, food, environment, traffic laws and more, that you don’t want to have to figure out banks, ATMs or money exchanges yet. We spent a frustrating lot of time in Beijing trying to find an ATM that we had been assured through our research would be easy to find and use. It turned out we kept going to farmers’ banks even though we were in the central area. We finally found an international hotel that poured out money like a slot machine.

With foreign travel, it is even more important to do research about how you are going to get to your lodging. Even with that, I had done my research and read that Beijing cabs were highly regulated and very inexpensive. We confidently found a cab at 5 am after a long and grueling flight. Is there any other kind? I gave the driver a print out in Mandarin characters of our hotel’s location and off we went. Frankly, all I remember is that it was a really nice cab and we were on our way.  We arrived at our hotel and the cab dropped us off. We paid whatever was asked and gratefully checked into the hotel and went to sleep. Later, when I figured out the foreign money and the cab system, I realized I had over paid ten times what I should have. We must have gone to the wrong cab station. I can shake this off fairly easily these days even though it cost over $50. This kind of things has happened to us so many times, I’m surprised when it doesn’t. Get used to confusion.

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This totem pole is among a large collection of totems in the small town of Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, British Columbia, Canada. — Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian

Summer is a great time to see our northern Pacific Coast neighbor, British Columbia. It stays light until after 10 pm and the weather is usually pleasant. We fly into Seattle, rent a car, and drive up to Vancouver and beyond. Flights are usually cheaper to Seattle but you can fly into Vancouver too. We often stay at the Sylvia Hotel, on English Bay. It’s not real cheap but it’s right on the bay and around the corner from Stanley Park, a beautiful city park with a lot of things to do like Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. It is near Denman Street, a lively street with lots of restaurants. From there, walk Robson Street east into downtown. Visit Murchies, an authentic tea shop, Gastown, Chinatown and the Granville Island Market.

If you have more time, drive north fifteen miles to Horseshoe Bay and take the ferry – check ferry schedule – to Nanaimo on the east coast of Vancouver Island. If you are really adventurous and have even more time, drive up Vancouver Island, 216 miles north to Port McNeil, leave your car there, and take the ferry to Alert Bay, a small island two and a half miles long by one mile wide. Visit the U’mista Cultural Society and see the masks that were confiscated from the Kwakwa ka wakw people during an, at the time, illegal potlatch in 1921.  Walk the main seaside road and watch killer whales swimming by and visit the Namgis Original Burial Grounds. Half of the island is Namgis First Nation land. There is an eagle sanctuary on the top of the island and Alert Bay is also home to the world’s tallest totem pole. My first husband’s father was the doctor there for many years. I lived there for five years in the 1970s. Say hi for me.


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