25 August 2017

Budget Car Rental - a not-so-budget-friendly experience

I am recently returned from a whirlwind trip to the Okanagan Region of British Columbia, Canada. My friend Tami and I traveled to this area to cheer on my friend, Deb, as she participated in the World Championships for the Sprint Duathlon (Run-Bike-Run) in Penticton, British Columbia. Deb was amazing!
Deb and I - best friends since high school.
I'll write more about my extended weekend in Peachland, British Columbia later but right now I have to write about the shady tactics of the Vancouver International Airport Budget Car Rental...

When I planned my trip to Deb's event, I did everything online - lodging, air and car rental.  I stuck with Budget for the car rental because they usually have the best prices and I've always received very good customer service and dependable cars.  I found a good rate and locked in my reservation, not to worry about it again - or so I thought.

Tami and I arrived in Vancouver late on a Friday night and we still had a four hour drive so we just wanted to get to the car, load up and head out. Everything was moving along smoothly in the plan until it came time to sign the contract, provide my credit card and get the key.  I was quite surprised when the estimated total came out CA$120 more than the total I received when I booked the car. I asked the customer service representative, Dylan, what the deal was with the additional charge. He told me that because I booked through USAA, they added the "Loss Damage Waiver" (at CA$25 additional per day) and that because USAA added it, he could not remove it.  I questioned him on this, even argued with him but he insisted that there was nothing he could do.  I either signed the contract with the added charge or I wouldn't get the car.

I signed the contract, got the keys and off we went.  We had an amazing weekend (more on that to follow) and I decided I would contact Budget when I got back to see what they could, or would do.

3 days after I sent my email explaining the situation, I received a very nice email from Maria H who sent me her kindest regards while explaining that the service I received was unprofessional and I could rest assured that the situation would be corrected for future renters.  And then I got to the part in the email when she tells me that I'm basically SOL because, "The renter authorizes additional coverage and that decision is noted on the rental agreement when the customer signs for the coverage. We have checked our records carefully and find that additional coverage was offered to you, and you indeed signed the agreement...therefore no adjustment is due."  She didn't even address the issue of me being told that I either sign for it or don't get the car.  I'm a little peeved, a lot disgusted and pretty irritated with myself for not standing by my guns stronger.

Needless to say, I will NOT be renting from Budget again and I advise you, as a renter, to not give in - if you don't want the additional coverage, don't take it.  No matter what the little customer service dude threatens you, you do NOT have to take the additional insurance if you don't want it.  I wish I had stood my ground a little bit more.  Learn from my mistake, friends.  And don't look to a company to do what's right.

31 July 2017

Suitcase Debacle or A Blessing in Disguise

In November 2016, I had a trip to the wilds of Norway scheduled.  Because I was going in the winter and I remembered the chilliness of Finland, I packed.  A.Lot.  I had sweaters and long johns and wool socks and jeans, scarves, gloves and hats and winter boots and a heavy winter jacket.  Even though I am not a clothes horse and do not feel it necessary to have a different outfit for each day (not even a different outfit for every other day), I packed enough to change twice per day and not duplicate.  In addition to basically my entire dresser, I also packed a bunch of stuff that I thought I MAY need.  You know, power cords, extra mittens, a light jacket, adapters, a second pair of shoes, hand warmers, feet warmers, etc, etc, etc.  I turned into one of those people who I laugh at for packing 2 suitcases for a weekend adventure.  It wasn't my proudest moment.

As I am lugging my suitcase to check in for my flight, I learn of a strike by Lufthansa pilots. When I asked the counter agent at the United check in desk if this was going to affect the rest of my flights (they were all on Lufthansa from Denver), I was assured that I would be efficiently re-booked if needed.  Not wanting to think negatively, I bravely (and oh-so-gleefully) hand over my suitcase (1 pound under the max weight, I might add) to check that bad boy all the way through to Oslo.  As I board one of three flights I'll be taking the next 24 hours, I catch a glimpse of the Lufthansa strike on the news.  If only I knew what would happen next...

Needless to say, the strike messed with a lot of travelers that day (and the next couple of weeks as well).  In the span of three hours, I was booked and re-booked on 4 different routes and airlines - some getting me to Oslo in 2 days, some getting me there close to when I was originally scheduled.  I ended up with a flight from Denver to London to Oslo on British Airways and I had to do a mad dash to the new gate which was, of course, at the opposite end of the terminal.  When I get to the gate, I check with the British Airways agent about my suitcase.  I'm a little worried that it won't make it to Oslo with me but I am reassured that indeed my suitcase will be thumping down the baggage carousel in Norway and to relax and enjoy the journey.


Long story short - my suitcase never made it to Norway.  It stayed in Denver with its treasured contents safely removed from any extreme temperature.  And I was left, for 10 days, with just what I wore and what I carried in my trusty backpack.

At first I was a little worried.  What I had was good enough for Oslo as the weather was very similar to what I am used to at home but I was scheduled to head up to Tromsø and it's quite colder up there.  It was then I realized I had a choice: make due with what I had or be miserable.  I chose to make the best of the situation and move on with my exploration as if I had always planned to go with one outfit that I had to wash every night and without boots or a winter jacket.

Jeans, a sweater, a hat and a light jacket.  This is what I had.

Because I did not have a suitcase weighing me down, I was able to walk for miles without killing my back or hands while searching for my lodging in Oslo.  Because I didn't have two-ton Tessy with every conceivable convenience thump, thump, thumping behind me, I was able to navigate easily the very efficient public transit system in Oslo.  Because all I had was was carry-on, I was able to breeze right through to my gate for my flight to Tromsø and I couldn't believe how unencumbered I was going through customs on my way home.  Yes, there were some things I couldn't do in Tromsø because I did not have appropriate attire but it was just a small portion of my overall trip.  AND I HAD THE BEST TIME EVER!

In Tromsø. Glad I wore a sweater with a huge collar.

Yes, I would've LOVED to have my boots and my coat for my Arctic Circle portion but I didn't.  So I made due.  And I learned that I can have an amazing time with nothing more than a carry-on.  I am going back to Norway in December and this time I will intentionally travel with just a carry-on. Oh, and I'll have my boots.  I can't wait.

What is a lesson you learned while traveling?  Did it impact your travel philosophy?

28 June 2017

Top 7 Reasons to Travel in Winter

I do not like summer.  Wait.  Let me clarify that statement because I do, in fact, like summer.  I like the longer days and the star-filled nights.  I like wearing my birks and light tops.  What I don’t like about summer is the heat.  And crowds.  And idiots on their bikes, roller-blades and whatnot causing havoc on the trails.  Summer tends to bring out the crazy in groups and the heat just makes me wilt.  I love layers and big, comfy sweatshirts.  I love having a reason to have hot chocolate and I love to hear the snow crunch beneath my boots.  So when I choose to travel and explore, I choose the winter.  There aren’t many like me who willingly taking on heavy coats, frostbite and boots during their coveted vacation time.  I love the colder climates and in the heat of summer in Colorado, I will often daydream about my next winter trip.

The top 7 reasons winter travel is the best:

Crowds.  There are none.  Unless you’ve gone to someplace like the Alps for skiing or activities traditionally only done in the cold of winter, you’re not going to run into crowds.  And aside from skiing, even the winter activity crowds are less than the summer crowds.

This is 9 am on a Sunday in late November in Tromsø, Norway.  See any crowds?

Local Immersion.
  Because you’ve chosen to travel in “less than ideal” weather, you’re more likely to run into locals out and about doing their thing.  My experience has been that it’s a wonderful conversation starter – the locals want to know what you’re doing in their neck of the woods during a time when most tourists are lamenting the loss of their tank tops and shorts.

Meet kooks just like you out and about enjoying the non-crowds

The nights are long.  And the further north you go, the longer the night gets.  There’s something magical about the soft blue light of the midday sun above the Arctic Circle – it adds a softness to even the harshest of climates while helping you appreciate the adaptability of every living thing to the lack of daylight.

More opportunity to enjoy Nature's Light Show

There is less risk of sunburn.  With everything covered to avoid frostbite, sunburn is a distant memory.  Being a fair-skinned girl, this is important.  Don’t get me wrong, the parts of you that are exposed run the risk of getting burned but more likely they’ll develop frostbite first.  Dodged a bullet on that one.

A tad chilly.  No sunscreen needed.

Eyelash crystals and rosy cheeks.  It tickles me to no end to have eyelash crystals and I’m not quite sure why.  It’s just fascinating.  The beautiful rosy color that the brisk weather induces on everyone’s cheeks is charming.  It adds color and life and just makes me happy.

Eyelash Crystals!!
Lodging.  Aside from the airline ticket, lodging is probably one of the two biggest budget eaters (the other being food).  When you travel “off season” you generally get a break on rates.  Well, unless you’re hitting the famous Christmas Markets and New Year’s celebrations because those times bring in the tourists almost as much as summer.  But generally, lodging will be less of an impact on your budget in the off-season.

Off-season lodging - same room, often quite a bit cheaper

Did I mention the lack of crowds?  To me, this is the biggest and bestest reason to travel during the long winter months.  Granted, some things you’d like to see and do will be closed during this time but the trade-off of not having to race the latest bus of tourists to the attractions that are open is worth more than gold.  You also get to develop your selfie skills – learning opportunities and minimal crowds?  Score!

Tallinn, Estonia.  In summer, I would have to shuffle to get this view without a head or an arm in it.

I love traveling at any time of the year but I get the most out of my adventures during the brisk, cool months of late fall and winter. If you haven’t tried it, I think you should!

A fjord in Norway, November 2016

20 June 2017

A new look; a new direction.

When I first started this blog many moons ago, it was meant to be a narrative of my goal to run a half marathon in each state along with other ramblings that would amuse me.  Well, I've lost track of how many states I've completed and how many half marathons I finished and have even dropped (for the time being?) my goal to complete a race in each state so it was time to re-tool the blog.  From "Starunner's Galaxy", I present to you the latest incarnation of my blog, "Unfettered & Unfiltered".

The goal of this blog is to share my travel experience, insights, mistakes and successes with an audience of probably only my Mother and Father.  But should it reach someone who does not share a smattering of DNA with me and should it prove helpful to said individual, I will be content.

Travel is not just in my blood, it IS my blood. I live for it, I dream about it and every spare dime I have goes to it. Not just for the passport stamp collection or the ability to say, "I've been there" but to expand my world, understand my fellow humans and make a connection that can only come from being unfettered by the known and unfiltered by honesty. To travel means to challenge your understanding of what is normal, to question your why and share, if only for a moment or two, a snippet of life with someone else completely unfamiliar to you.

Whether you're an experienced traveler or toying with your first foray into this amazing world of ours, I can help you realize your dream. I'll share my own successes and mistakes to assist you in taking that dream and making it a reality. I'll open up ideas for destinations that you may never have considered and I will capitalize on your ideas - giving you the best experience you could imagine.

I love solo travel and hope to inspire at least one non-relative to give it a go.  Share with me your thoughts, dreams and goals and together we can figure out how to give you the wings to fly.

Are you ready for the journey?