What’s Your Travel Style?

Recently I was asked about my travel strategies, so I’ve decided to share them along with a few recommendations. There is no one size that fits all when it comes to travel. It is a matter of personal taste. One person might be a luxury traveler while another might prefer a no-frills, bare bones travel experience.

IMG_8497I started traveling 30 years ago and my travel taste has evolved through trial & error and experience. After visiting 27 countries, taking 18 cruises and countless other trips around the U.S. here are a few of the things that work for me.

Destination – First I identify and select a destination. That entails doing thorough research on the weather, currency exchange rate, food, culture and political climate. For instance, I visited Istanbul, Turkey several years ago and look forward to going back, but in light of the current events in the region I would not plan that trip right now. Once I select a destination I look at dates and pricing. rob profile pic

Cost – The next thing that I consider is cost, since every trip is driven by my budget. My mindset is that every trip is an investment, so I research my trips as thoroughly as I research my stock investments. I want to get the biggest and best return possible for my investment. There are literally hundreds of travel websites, tour companies and travel sellers. However, I use my resources and expertise as a travel professional to narrow my search. There are many factors to consider when it comes to financing a trip and several payment options are available: cash, credit card, payment plans, etc. All have their pros and cons. I prefer to pay cash, so in order to do that I keep an ongoing travel fund that I contribute to regularly. That way I always have money available to travel. I have also used payment plans since they work very effectively if the trip is booked far out in advance. Some travel packages can be booked with small deposits – sometimes as low as $100 – and the final payment isn’t due until 45 days before departure. That way the trip is paid in full before I leave.

A travel budget can be set aside very easily. For example, if you work Monday-Friday and spend $5/day on lunch or Starbucks, you’re spending $25/week and $100/month. If those monies were put into a travel fund instead, you’d have $1200 each year to put toward your travel.

istanbul rob shoots videoGetting the Best Price – It seems like everyone is in the travel business these days; Costco, AAA, AARP and hundreds of online choices. It can be overwhelming and very time consuming. So how do you narrow it down? The simple way is to consult with a legitimate, experienced travel agent. You need to vet that travel agent the same way that you would vet a doctor or dentist. Find out about their qualifications, certifications and travel experience – don’t do business with a travel agent who doesn’t travel. They will be able to find the best prices for your selected travel dates. Or if you’ve already done research they will let you know if they can beat the deal that you have found. It doesn’t cost anything to find out if they can beat what you’ve found.

Keep in mind that many online prices are not the bottom line prices. The advertised price is always the lead-in price and does not include taxes, fees or other hidden costs. So a cruise that is advertised for $799 can easily cost in excess of $1000 once all components have been added. So when you’re looking at an online price be sure to walk it all the way through to get the true total.

Getting the most out of your trip – You need to determine what you want to get from that trip – relaxation, adventure, luxury, nightlife, culture, nature, etc. You also need to determine your own personal preferences. If you don’t like hot weather, you wouldn’t book a trip to Dubai in June. Or if you don’t like cold weather, you wouldn’t go to Alaska in December. I prefer not to drive in foreign countries, so I take public transportation, taxis and tour buses. It’s all a matter of personal preference.

I have gotten the most out of my travels by using professional tour guides – and I’ve used them all over the world. I have used guidebooks, maps and doing it on my own, but they do not compare to having a professional tour guide who can provide hidden secrets and personal knowledge. For instance, in China our tour guide added several special activities that were not on our tour itinerary. We had dinner in a private home and even took a Tai Chi class that he arranged. I’ve had guides who arranged special entry into museums, mosques and many other attractions – allowing me to avoid long lines.

Using a local guide also adds an element of security, which is very important in today’s travel arena. They are your eyes and ears and will alert you to potential dangers. In Paris she pointed out pickpockets. In China our guide warned us about vendors who often give counterfeit money with change and even taught us how to recognize it. The benefits of using a local tour guide are endless.

barcelona rob profile gothic

Packaged Tours – Booking packaged tours is another good way to save and get the most out of a trip. Air/hotel packages are often much cheaper than booking air and hotel separately. The more components you add to the package (rental car, excursions, show tickets) the better the value.

I also recommend booking packaged international tours that include air, hotel, tours and most meals. For instance, our recent 10-daytrip to China (Beijing, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai) included round-trip flights from LAX, in-country flights between Beijing and Shanghai, bus transportation, entry to museums, 4 star hotels, tours with English speaking guides, daily breakfasts and several dinners – all for only $1399 per person. Booking that trip a la carte could easily have cost $5000 per person. There was no stress involved because everything was planned for us. And we still had plenty of free time to explore on our own.

I have learned as a travel professional and frequent traveler that like most things that you purchase, you get what you pay for and there are really no giveaways. Travel vendors are in business to make money. Some prices are lower than others, but it just depends on when and where you go. To get the very best rates, you have to be able to travel ANY time. However, if you have specific dates, those deep discounts may not apply. The bottom line is, you have to do your homework to find the best rates for your travel dates and preferences. Happy traveling!


It’s a Family Affair

  • Watching the sun melt into the Caribbean Sea from the front of a cruise ship
  • Riding the gondola chair ride up to the top of the Isle of Capri
  • Driving golf carts on Catalina
  • Snorkeling in St. John
  • Climbing Dunns River Falls
  • Climbing the Great Wall of China

These are just a few of the experiences that our family has shared while traveling the world for the past 25 years. We began when our son Marcus was small and we’ve gone somewhere special every year since then. Some trips were domestic, others international, but all have allowed us to share some really good times.

Our first family trip was to the Bahamas when Marcus was one year old. When we arrived at the airport he was amazed at seeing so many people. That’s when we realized that his world really had only consisted of his baby sitter, a few relatives and us. So seeing hundreds of people walking down the concourse was quite an experience. He was elated and seemed to think that they’d all come to meet him. We knew then that he had the travel bug.

Dad & marc_dunns river falls

Marcus has become a true citizen of the world and his experience has expanded his education far beyond what he was learning in school. We’ve always taken St. Augustine’s quote quite literally, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”.

When visiting the Island of Kiribati he saw children living in simple dwellings and playing with simple toys and realized that not all children were as fortunate as he was. While visiting the Acropolis he saw the Parthenon that he’d been studying in his world history class.

Much of our travel has been on cruise ships since cruising is a great way for families to travel together while enjoying many different activities – and there’s something onboard for every age group. So Marcus could play and go on scavenger hunts with other children while we enjoyed a little “grown folks” time. He also learned to meet and connect with other children from all over the world. On one of our early cruises our family was seated with a family from Sweden during dinner. They didn’t speak English and we certainly spoke no Swedish. But Marcus and the 2 children were able to connect because they all shared a love for ketchup. We’ve snorkeled in the Caribbean and one of our most memorable experiences was climbing up Dunns River Falls in Jamaica. Cruising also gave him exposure to fine dining and he learned to order multi-course meals at an early age. – although most of the time he preferred to eat chicken fingers & fries – and those were readily available too.

Lee family cruise pose

Our most recent adventure was spending 10 days in China where we visited Beijing, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai. We were truly captivated by the culture, cuisine and history of that ancient country. One of the highlights of the trip was climbing the Great Wall of China together. I’ll be honest, Robert and I didn’t exactly climb all the way to the top, but Marcus and his GoPro did, so we still got some amazing photos.

lee family at great wall

As much as we’ve traveled, we’ve seldom seen other Black families. We see other races of people with their children in tow or in backpacks, and we always ask, ‘Where are our families?” Of course money is always a challenge, and the more children that a family has, the bigger that challenge becomes. But we cannot afford to deprive our children of experiencing a world outside of their own neighborhood.

When I was growing up my parents also had a love for travel – but not much money to finance that passion. So sometimes our family trips consisted of loading us 3 kids into the back of our station wagon with a lunch and driving up the coast. Even that was an adventure to our little minds. And we made some great memories.

Even if parents don’t have much money they can expose their children to historical sites and attractions, even in their own hometown. “Two of the greatest gifts we can give our children are roots and wings.” — Hodding Carter




Are You Fit to Travel?

Jerry Rice is one of the all-time greatest NFL wide receivers. In addition to his on-field excellence, he was known for his incredible off-season training regimen. One aspect that was always mentioned was how he ran hills near his northern California home. Many other NFL players even came to train with him in the off- season, hoping to tap into some of the greatness that he exhibited on the field. That greatness eventually led him to the Hall of Fame.

We don’t often associate physical conditioning with travel, but there is a definite need to be physically fit to handle the rigors of travel. This applies to much more than adventure travel, even luxury travel requires conditioning. For instance, some airports are so large that you can walk as much as half a mile from one terminal to another, or from your arrival gate to the baggage claim area. This can entail navigating inclines, ramps, steps, escalators or trams – all while pulling your luggage. And since everyone is in a hurry, it also requires being able to move fairly quickly. We have had that experience in airports all over the country and around the world. We’ve done some serious trekking around Lisbon, Barcelona, Dubai and Beijing – without ever leaving the airport. So working out and staying in shape is a necessary part of our lifestyle.

Travel requires good upper body strength. After all, you have to be able to pull and lift your luggage. Now that airlines charge baggage fees, people are packing as much as possible into their carry-on bags. That means that you have to be able to lift those bags over your head to cram them into the overhead bins. You gotta be strong.

You need to be strong enough to hoist your luggage onto tour buses and up onto airport and rental car shuttle buses. Sometimes the driver will help, but if he doesn’t, you’re on your own. You gotta be strong.

You need to be able to walk and sometimes even run to catch a bus or keep up with a guide. When we went to Athens we took a guided tour to the Acropolis. The guidebook said, “The Acropolis of Athens is an ancient citadel located on a high rocky outcrop above the city of Athens.” The operative word in the description is “high”. We had to climb a steep hill to get to the top. Since it is such a popular tourist destination there were literally thousands of other tourists there at the same time. So our guide rushed our group so that we could get ahead of the other groups and it was hot. That man almost walked us to death!

We had a similar experience in Santorini, Greece. We’d booked a walking tour of the town of Fira, so we expected a leisurely stroll around that picturesque little town – not. Our guide walked us at a surprisingly fast pace for a lady in her condition (she was pregnant). Fira is perched on the hillside above the caldera so there are lots of steps to negotiate and I think we hit all of them that day.


Often these “travel workouts” can be unexpected. On a trip to Montego Bay we decided to zipline for the first time. I knew I’d have to exert some effort and was ready to do that. However, I didn’t know how much walking we’d have to do before reaching the first platform…..down several hundred uneven steps…through the rainforest. My quads were shot…talk about feeling the burn.

bob flies closeup

Proper training requires proper equipment. Another aspect of travel fitness is having the right travel attire – especially footwear. You can always tell a seasoned traveler by looking at their feet. They wear shoes that can withstand the rigors of ancient cobblestones and uneven surfaces. Any city that has withstood hundreds of years has done so because it has very sturdy buildings and very hard walking surfaces. Those flip-flops and cute little kitten heels are no match for 500 year-old cobblestones. So do yourself a favor and wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes.

Our most recent challenge was last month when we climbed the Great Wall of China. I have several friends who’d been there and told me about climbing some steps then taking a ride on a gondola, so that’s what I expected to do. However, our guide took us to a section of the wall where there was no gondola, only steps. There were hundreds of uneven steps that went straight up. What a workout! If I hadn’t been in shape I’d have tapped out early in the climb. But it was an exhilarating experience and the view from the top was spectacular….well worth the effort.

lee family at great wall

Our travels have taught us to expect the unexpected. So we train 2-3 times each week so that we can continue to pursue our passion…travel.