*disclaimer* I’m talking Canadian credit cards here. Y’all in the US and other countries have your own cards i know nothing about.
First of all, if you’re the type of person who carries a balance on their credit card paying 20% interest, stop reading right now and get some credit counselling. No rewards on any credit card will make it worth carrying a balance. Get that balance to zero before you even think of getting another card.
Ok, for those who pay their entire balance off every month, now that it’s just us, lets talk how to maximize those free incentives.
All the different offers from credit card companies can be incredibly overwhelming… how does one choose the right card?
For me it comes down to the following:
– First year free. This is essential. I like to churn my cards, rarely paying an annual fee. Also, they will typically waive the annual fee when you go to cancel. These promos are always changing so if you find a card you like, do a Google search to see if they’ve had past first year free promos and patiently wait until they offer one again.
– Maximum value for my flight rewards. Since I can be flexible, I focus more on programs with greater value than flexibility such as Aeroplan, over cards that offer a maximum reward value such as Avion, who have maximum ticket price limits.
– Travel medical, car, lost baggage, etc. insurance are an absolute must! When you get down to comparing cards you’ll notice some offer 15 days medical vs. 21 days. This could make a big difference if you enjoy longer trips. There are other subtle differences (ie. no trip cancellation with Amex Colbalt) in insurances so read the fine print if this is important to you. I still can’t believe people buy travel insurance and the extra car insurance when credit cards are handing them out for free!
– Additional insurance. I love purchase protection and extended warranty protection and it only seems to be offered with about half the cards out there. This offers an additional warranty on any purchases made up to one year AND protects from lost/stolen/broken items within 90 days of purchase. Amazing if you bring a new phone or camera traveling and are worried it will go missing!
– Exchange rate for foreign transactions. Credit cards have notoriously shit rates but there are a few that offer better rates. If you use your card a lot overseas, this should be a consideration.
– Random additional bonuses. Amex is famous for having their various promos for card holders but my favourite would have to be any card that gives me lounge passes.
I typically use Greedyrates to decide which card(s) I’m going to get. The decision is incredible individual so I cannot recommend one over the other but can give you an overview of the cards I currently have in my wallet and why:
– TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite. This is my go-to card since I am an avid Aeroplan collector. It has all the insurance I look for, a kick ass sign up bonus of 35,000 Aeroplan points if you click through Greedy Rates before June 2, 2019 and I tend to accumulate a crazy number of Aeroplan points giving me at least one or two free flights a year.
– BMO World Elite. This had a decent sign up bonus but I found the points accumulation and value to be weak. I do like the flexibility of using partial points towards flights and paying the remainder. Mostly I just keep this card around for the free lounge passes and since I bank with BMO, I don’t pay an annual fee. If they wanted to charge an annual fee, I’d be cancelling right away as after the first year bonus offer, I don’t see a huge benefit.
– Rogers mastercard with cash back on foreign exchanges. I keep this card exclusively for foreign purchases and since it has no annual fee, it doesn’t cost me to do this. The cash back pays my Rogers bill and is a much better deal than the high exchange fees charged on other credit cards.
– American Express Colbalt. I’m embarassed to admit I haven’t cancelled this card yet. As soon as I deplete the points I have accumulated, it will be gone. Typically points are worth approximately one cent and in this case, I’m better off with a cashback card at a higher rate. The $10/month fee makes it even more shameful, even though I try to tell myself the bonus points for the first year promo make it worth it, who am I kidding? It needs to go. I didn’t do my research and initially thought I could transfer the points to Aeroplan like the Amex gold (great card btw) but alas, am stuck with a bunch of points worth one cent each at best unless I convert them to hotel programs (a complicated way to maximize Amex points).
– RBC Avion. I signed up when they had a sign up bonus of 25,000 points and first year free. As soon as I realized how limiting Avion points are (maximum value for flight tickets and must book two weeks in advance) I converted my miles to BA’s Avios program (waiting until they had the additional 25% bonus promo for conversion) and cancelled this card. I keep it in my wallet as a dummy card to hand over if I’m ever robbed but it’s actually been cancelled.
Overwhelming right? If you aren’t sure which card is right for you, stick with a cashback card as cash in your pocket is better than any rewards points sitting in your account (especially since they are devalued as time passes and programs change) but do make sure whichever card you get has the additional insurance to suit your needs at the very least, and that if you do go with a points program, you are aware of how to maximize the value of these points.
Flight changes… any non status traveler hates them.
Travel plans change and airlines capitalize on this by charging exhorbant change fees. Below is how I was able to make multiple flight changes without a fee and some general tips.
– The number one way to get free flight changes is to book a flexible fare or get frequent flyer status with an airline.
– The best rule of thumb for flight changes for the rest of us is same day at the airport. I’ve typically been able to get change fees waived this way (and even an upgrade once!) but this requires an openness to stay on your ticked itinerary. If you absolutely need a flight change… best of luck to you. You’ll be paying a lot. In some cases, it is even cheaper to book a whole new ticket than to pay the change fee plus fare difference.
– Check if your change is covered by your credit card insurance. When i became ill in New Zealand, I considered flying home and was happy to find out VISA had my back and would cover this flight.
– Changes within 24 hours of booking are generally free for most airlines unless you book through a sketchy booking site. A good booking site like Expedia will not charge a fee to honour airlines’ free 24 hour cancellation fee. Other than booking direct with the airline, Expedia is the only booking site I use. And usually only because I like my Ebates cash back.
– If you’re not in a hurry and simply looking for a more convenient route home, consider taking a bump which can often get you a better routing, free hotel and flight credits on an oversold flight.
– Last tip: the gate agents are always more flexible and likely to make free changes. If you strike out with the above options, you can try the gate agent before boarding your flight. When I kindly explained I had a cold and wanted to skip my day in New York city, a kind gate agent in Sao Paulo, Brazil rerouted me home for free. And upgraded me.
On a recent trip to Panama I had booked a super inconvenient trip home (6 hour overnight stopover in SFO) based on a schedule from the group I was with. Things changed and I was able to get to the airport earlier and I was hell bent on getting home that night instead of that icky overnight stopover. I hate 6 hour stopovers. They aren’t long enough to justify a hotel stay but are long enough to slowly destroy your soul, especially if you are a frequent traveler.
My first option was to try to get on the flight with only one stopover by using the same day change at $75. The United app wasn’t working for this change so I went to the airport the night before (I was staying less than 5 min away and would have waited longer on hold if I called). The agent moved me to a slightly more desireable flight for free but was unable to change the routing, still leaving me with 2 connections and an overnight in SFO. Tip: same day changes do allow rerouting on United if the departure and destination are the same, this guy and the app were both just not working for me. At least this change was free because he was kind.
As I left, I received an email that a wind storm in SFO meant all change fees were waived for rerouting. This is best case scenario for a traveler wanting a free change.
Again, the United app wasn’t honouring this option (great app, need to fix the glitches) so I went to the airport for my original flight with intention to change routing to get home sooner. The agent notified me that my ticket didn’t have the change fees waived according to his records but after I showed him the email, he agreed to the change. He was able to reroute me through Calgary instead of SFO, getting me home to Vancouver in record time. Amazing.
Until I got to Houston and missed my connection to Calgary. Air Canada, I’m loving that you have been departing early a lot lately but closing boarding over 20 minutes before departure just isn’t cool. In their defence, I wasn’t checked in for this next leg (another problem with the app!)
I went to the United desk in Houston airport to get rerouted (again). The options the woman suggested all required an overnight somewhere as it was late in the day. I pulled up my phone and noticed a flight on American Airlines leaving shortly that would get me home that night. The woman stated a policy requiring her to book me on United or partners for at least one leg of the journey. I politely, kindly, and with a huge smile insisted and was booked on the AA flight through Dallas and then direct to Vancouver.
My Houston – Dallas flight was delayed, making it unlikely I’d be able to make it from terminal C to terminal A in 20 minutes from touch down until boarding for my next flight closed. I asked a flight attendant on my flight if he thought I’d make it, and he shrugged with an apathetic “probably not, nothing you can do” reply. I managed to be one of the first people off that flight and sprinted my way to terminal A just as they were making the final boarding call.
And I made it home.
My bag did not, which I expected. When playing the flight change game, always come prepared with everything you need in your carry on. When I arrived at YVR the same night, I completed my lost bag paperwork and headed home to sleep in my own bed instead of the floor of the SFO terminal 3 yoga studio.
We had read there were only 2 hot springs near Santiago (between Cabo and La Paz) we could reach without 4WD and since we had a small Kia Rio rental, we opted to head to Santa Rita hot springs. The other accessible one is El Chorro.
The previous directions we read made no sense to us so below is an up to date (December 2018) guide on how to get to Santa Rita hot springs.
Using google maps will get you as far as San Jorge by simply typing in San Jorge or even Santa Rita hot springs. I recommend using google maps (download the offline map if you don’t have roaming data) to get you as far as San Jorge, especially for the way back where there is a deceiving fork in the road back to Santiago. Unfortunately the Google maps directions won’t get you from San Jorge to Santa Rita.
If you don’t have Google maps, follow the signs for Santa Rita from Santiago. You will be turning right just before the zoo. If you pass the zoo, you have gone too far and somehow missed the turnoff for Santa Rita and San Jorge. From the turnoff in Santiago, you will drive 7.8 km to San Jorge down a dirt road – a small area (I can’t really use the word town, it is so small) with a church and sports field.
One you arrive in San Jorge, make your immediate right – you will see a large sign for Santa Rita here. This is before the church or sports field, literally the immediate right.
Follow a super sketchy dirt road for 2.1 km (approx. 10 minutes) and you’ll come to a small parking lot. There were several times we were convinced we were going the wrong way. Keep going. Although it is possible in a small car, 4WD (or an ATV) would be preferable.
We paid a man sitting at a table at the entrance to the hot springs. Entry was 100 pesos for 2 of us. I’m not sure if some of that was a fee for parking or that was just entry.
From parking lot, walk down the path to the hot springs for about 5 minutes, past the campsite (yes! Camping here is possible and would be very cool!) and over 2 little wooden bridges. To the left, just after the wooden bridges will be the hot springs pool. A small pool of warm (not super hot) clear water. We were fortunate enough to have the whole pool to ourselves until a group of locals came. We did not see any other tourists the entire 2 hours we spent in this area.
In search of more hot springs, we climbed the rocks up from the hot springs pool. There were no more hot springs, verified by locals, but a beautiful swimming hole fed by a waterfall. This isn’t the easiest climb and proper footwear is essential! Tip: stay to the left of the pool above the hot springs for the easier route to the waterfall. Initially we went right and after some serious maneuvering over huge rocks, we hit a dead end and turned around.
If you can handle the climb, this waterfall pool is a refreshing (cold) place to cool down and do some cliff jumping into the clear, deep, hole. Absolutely amazing! But seriously, be careful. This is all natural so no safety stuff or lifeguards and can be a little sketchy.
Facilities: none. There is a small bathroom at the campsite but otherwise come prepared with snacks and anything you may need for a day at the hot springs.
To get back, reverse these directions back to Santiago, but pay attention to where the road forks from San Jorge to Santiago. Make sure to use Google maps or stay right. On the way back to Santiago you will see a sign to El Chorro hot springs. If you’re feeling like more adventure, head down this road.
Disclaimer: I was conflicted about sharing these tips as this area is essentially untouched and natural. If you go, please respect the enviromment and the people. Do not leave any garbage and avoid obnoxious tourist behaviour (ie. Blasting loud music) – save that for your resort.
When you end up on a small island in Honduras needing to pay the dive shop and the island’s only ATM is down, or when you have $1000 cash stolen from your bag in NYC, you realize the importance of figuring out your finances prior to going travelling.
My main money tips for travelling abroad:
Know if where you’re going is cash or card friendly. Most countries in Europe require little to no cash (even the bathrooms in Copenhagen take credit cards!) but in Central America and parts of Southeast Asia, if a place accepts cards, they tack on an extra fee so cash is best.
Most credit cards charge a foreign conversion fee of 2.5%. Find a credit card that doesn’t charge this, or offers you a higher rate of cash back on foreign currency purchases. The Rogers World Elite mastercard is a no fee card giving you 4% back on foreign purchases.
Carry local currency. There is no point in changing your money twice because you have an idea that US dollars are widely accepted. They are pretty widely accepted at a shitty exchange rate so you might as well bring the correct currency for the country you are visiting.
Carry a small amount of your home currency to avoid having to make an expensive withdrawal on your last day on vacation when you run out of cash. This saves you from converting too much money and losing money converting it back, but allows you exchange small amounts to cover your last day expenses. Most countries have a bank or exchange booth that will allow you to exchange your home currency for local currency without too bad of a rate.
Download the app xe.com to have a quick conversion calculator.
Not all currency exchanges have equal rates. A bit of research ahead of time can save you a lot of money. As a general rule, airport currency exchange booths offer the worst rates (and charge a service fee!)
Know your bank charges in advance and factor this in when making withdrawals. If you are planning to take out $100 every two days and your bank charges you $5 on top of the local bank charging you $5, you’re paying an extra 10% on top of the exchange fee. Balance this with the risk of carrying a large amount of cash on you – in countries where theft is common, that $10 every couple days might be worthwhile insurance. Better yet, get a card that allows for free withdrawals abroad. I use the free Tangerine card allowing me free withdrawals in many countries. If you use the orange key 16663560S1 they’ll give you a free $50 for signing up. Free account, $50 for signing up, and free international withdrawals? Why not!? Once small catch… they have a few countries that are “white listed” meaning you need to have your card unlocked before you travel or it won’t work. When I phoned to inquire, I was told Australia and New Zealand are current white listed countries (2018)
Carry two debit cards and two credit cards from separate banks. Or three. Because when your Tangerine card isn’t working in Australia and you locked yourself out of your RBC account, you’ll be glad to have access to funds.
Keep your money and cards in separate places. If you’re robbed, you’ll be grateful you stashed a back up cards and some cash in your dirty underwear at the bottom of your backpack.
When booking travel, check which credit card offers the best insurance. Most travel rewards cards have incredible travel insurance but require you book your trip with them.
Use those extreme couponing skills when booking travel. I’m very into Ebates right now and then grabbing extra coupon codes for Hotwire, Groupon getaways or collecting Expedia points on top of my cash back. Don’t sign up to these sites without getting the significant sign up bonuses through referral codes. One of my biggest travel fails was signing up for Uber without a referral code and paying for my first ride while the rest of the world gets their first ride free!
For more tips on saving money while booking travel click here. I’ve included links for some kick ass sign up deals like $45 off your first Airbnb stay.
If you spend any period of time in the Philippines you’ll notice the number of strays and the poor condition they’re in. If you’re like me, you’ll be inspired to bring one home. The Philippines does not make it easy to export a dog. Your home country has its own import requirements and I suggest you check with them before falling in love with your new furry family member. Once you’ve confirmed you can import a dog, the work begins. It is not easy but the life you save will be worth it.
These steps are specific to Bantayan but could easily be applied to any place in the Philippines.
1. Confirm with your airline that dogs are accepted or find an airline that does fly pets. You can start with www.pettravel.com to get general ideas but will want to confirm with your airline. At the time of writing Philippine Airlines had an embargo on bracychephalic dogs (short snout nosed dogs, like a pug) but then arbitrarily changed to a full embargo on shipping pets the day before I made my reservation, despite their website not being updated to reflect this change. Singapore airlines also informed me they do not transport dogs. Cathay Pacific informed me that they do ship dogs. This is probably your best bet for an airline out of Cebu.
2. Bring the dog for rabies vaccine and medical certificate from a vet on Bantayan Island (200 php as of April 2018)
There are two veterinarians on Bantayan Island but neither seem to be super engaged in providing care to street dogs but will give you the certificate.
3. Bring vaccine record and quarantine certificate to quarantine officer located at the ferry terminal near where you purchase your tickets to obtain your permit for local travel (called shipping permit). There is no cost for this. There is a 14 day waiting period after the dog has received the rabies vaccine before it can be eligible for this permit.
4. The ferry did not appear to have any specific transportation protocols – I just sat with the dog in my lap. They also did not ask to see the paperwork I had gone to so much trouble to get and did not charge me extra for the dog.
5. When you arrive in Cebu city, if you find a taxi or Uber willing to transport you and your dog, keep their phone number! Many will turn you down when they see your dog. There are several pet friendly hotels in Cebu city – www.booking.com has an option to click pet friendly. They will have an additional charge for pets in most cases.
6. Find a good vet in Cebu that can assist you in preparing for your export and import requirements. Cebu based rescues can likely recommend someone. Below is an email I received from PAL outlining the requirements but I suggest obtaining a list from your specific airline. Keep in mind you cannot get the export permit until 15 days after the rabies vaccine. *ensure you check requirements of any countries your dog may transit through on stopovers* You also want to confirm what kind of care they will receive if they have a stopover. Qatar airways and Cathay Pacific apparently have excellent stopover service for pets. PAL does not (maybe why they no longer transport pets).
The absolute best service I can recommend to assist you with veterinary care and the complicated export process is My Travel Companion Although I started doing the research on the airline requirements myself, they were able to do all the veterinary care, paperwork, everything. If you use this service you won’t have to worry about anything. They also care so much and continue to check in on how Mena is doing. These people have heart!
7. Book a reservation for your dog to fly either with you as excess baggage, or as cargo with an airline. You’ll need the dogs weight and crate measurements when you phone to book this reservation. Be mindful of connection times. My first attempt at booking left my dog with an overnight layover unaccompanied. I was able to switch to a more reasonable flight. Cost for shipping my dog was $800 US but it will vary based on airline, dog size, crate size, etc.
8. Go back to the pettravel.com website to review how to prepare your dog to fly safely and comfortably. Ensure you have a well labelled IATA approved crate. I found the crates to be cheaper at the Gaisano department store rather than the SM mall pet store but your veterinarian likely has a better suggestion of where to get a crate or may sell them. Again, My Travel Companion can do all of this for you. Mena arrived with a well prepared crate and I didn’t have to stress about any of this. Their costs are reasonable and they are the experts in ensuring the crate is prepared for travel.
*pet supplies are incredibly limited on the island but the Chinese store in Santa Fe does sell some leashes and collars and the grocery store does sell kibble* You may want to start leash and crate training ASAP as a beach dog can easily become overwhelmed in the city.
9. Give that dog all the love it deserves once it arrives home.
I have visited China twice on stopovers, the first time to Beijing in 2016 and the second; Shanghai in 2018.
I won’t be going back.
The best advice I can leave you is to avoid China. Perhaps there are nice spots to visit outside of the cities and maybe there are some beautiful parts to the culture but this was not my experience. Also, do you really want to use your tourism dollars to support a country with a dog meat trade? I have never been particularly interested in China but always like to use stopovers as an excuse to visit new spots (The Art of the Stopover) and thought I’d give this country a try… twice.
My first stopover in Beijing was mostly spent getting pushed around a freezing cold city (it was January) in search of vegetarian friendly food or fresh food to eat (I found none) while observing some pretty buildings with heavy police presence on the streets. I rode the metro from the airport with ease to get around, however struggled to find things as I wasn’t aware that google maps wouldn’t work and despite finding free wifi in many places, and was unable to google anything. I ended up leaving China hungry, passing on the grilled cockroaches on the street and American fast food chains, disgusted at the polluted grey sky and the way the men spit everywhere on the street, and slightly traumatized by being pushed everywhere and the heavy police presence and random metal detectors on the street.
The second time I went to China I had talked myself into looking forward to my stopover there. I had googled a few cool things to do including riding the Maglev train (fastest land train in the world), visiting Disneyland Shanghai for a few hours and then going for a drink at the top of the Hyatt downtown to observe the view and then walking around People’s Square.
None of this happened.
My friends and I positioned ourselves well to make the most of our stopover. We had researched directions to all the spots we wanted to go, ensured our bags were checked through to our final destination in the Philippines, and sat at the front of the plane to avoid long lines for the tourist visa. As we departed the plane, we were greeted with almost no wait at the 24 hour tourist visa line at customs.
And we were turned away.
No explanation given. We were told we would have to stay in the airport for the entire duration of our 8 hour stopover. We went to the international transfer gate and inquired and were told by an airline staff that we should try the 24 hour visa line again. We attempted the regular foreigners visa line and were again told no. When we asked why, an angry Chinese police man yelled “no why” and pointed us back to the international transfer line.
Instead we tried the 24 hour temporary visa line again. This time we tucked our boarding passes for our next flight away, completed the blue temporary visa form with the date for the following day departure (the truth, we were leaving after midnight that night) and tried again. No dice. Again, no explanation.
After over an hour of trying to gain entry to Shanghai, we gave up. We went to the international transfer terminal to wait for our flight several hours later. The magic of Disneyland Shanghai and the excitement of riding the train destroyed. The most frustrating part besides not being allowed outdoors after a 12.5 hour flight from Canada was not being provided with an explanation as to why, as I previously had no problem acquiring a temporary visitor visa on a stopover. As we laid around the airport attempting to nap, we used the free wifi to discover this had been happening to several others recently without explanation. If anyone has info as to why people have been recently turned away, please email me at email@example.com.
Tips for China:
– As I mentioned earlier, don’t go.
– But if you do go, you will see information that you are eligible for a free transit visa if you’re stopping in on your way en route to somewhere else. Be prepared that you may be turned away somewhere else and don’t rely on this stopover as part of your travel itinerary.
– Pack warm clothes and blankets if stranded in the Shanghai airport. I live in Canada and don’t think I’ve ever been so cold!
– Forget using social media or any google based apps. On my first trip, whatsapp was allowed, but has since been banned leaving iMessage as my only communication option online. What I didn’t know my first trip, was that I could have used another search engine (Yahoo) to find a vegetarian friendly place to eat. Once I discovered that Google is banned in China and could search with Yahoo, using the internet became easier. If you’re super concerned about getting online, consider using a VPN app to use Google and your social media apps.
– The maps app on iPhones works for getting around
– Be careful what you pack in your carry on. A friend had her battery pack taken away because it didn’t have any factory writing on it. They are quite thorough at security and confiscate many items.
Shanghai airport tips:
– the airport is probably beautiful on a nice sunny day (does that happen in Shanghai?) with huge floor to ceiling windows but for us, it just meant the terminal never really warmed up and we were absolutely freezing.
– There are plenty of little shops and cafes however food and drinks are rather expensive. North American style, vegetarian friendly, and fresh dishes are extremely limited. Shop around. A bottle of water ranged in price from $1 to $7 depending on the store.
– There is free drinking water available at many stations throughout the terminal. Reduce plastic and bring your own reusable water bottle.
– Wifi is free and easy to access.
– The airport was not crowded on a Tuesday afternoon/evening when we went and has many long benches to stretch out on and sleep.
China Eastern airline review.
– I had hoped to book my Philippines trip on star alliance partner couldn’t pass up the opportunity for the cheap deal to Cebu, Philippines offered by China Eastern with a long stopover in Shanghai (I’ll always choose a long stopover over 3-6 hours as I like the chance to explore new cities and stretch my legs and mind on a long stopover rather than staying in the airport)
I was pleasantly surprised with:
– Leg room
– Seat back entertainment from Canada to Shanghai with so many movies, shows and games to keep us entertained.
– Food quality was surprisingly good. Better than most airlines.
– Free wifi. You have to register in advance for a code and the signal wasn’t particularly strong, and the wifi had all the same Chinese restrictions as mainland China but this was a nice perk. (Add link to register online here)
– strict flight attendants not allowing us to move to sit closer to our friends because the seats were “priority seats”
– Lack of alcohol on board. Even when requested, and not even for sale. No dice. Apparently there was one offering of wine on the 12 hour flight I missed while I was sleeping and was not able to access when I asked.
– Passengers with no shame. Whether it was the woman changing a diaper in the middle row (there are change tables in the washroom on board) of her screaming child (who screamed for the better part of 12 hours) or the passenger climbing and standing on the seats, or those who ran and pushed to be first on the plane (yes, they literally ran!) these passengers had no shame. This seemed consistent with my experience in other crowded places in China.
Our flight from China to the Philippines was quite different. No seat back entertainment, no wifi, terrible food, but did offer free wine and more considerate passengers.
If China Eastern didn’t require a stopover in China (they are a Chinese airline after all) I’d likely fly with them again as overall it was a positive experience. But I think I’ll stick to other Star Alliance airline partners through other countries for future travel to Asia.
In March 2018 I went to the Philippines for a vacation… and I returned with a stray dog.
Mena (as we’ve named her) was a stray dog who stole our hearts when she refused to let us leave Bantayan without her, swimming after our boat as we left the island, and then standing on a sandbar crying for us as our boat drove away. We met her on our first day on the island and she stayed by our side until we left, sleeping on the porch of our cabin, and laying at our feet at restaurants, and under our chairs at the beach. She had obviously just had puppies, as she was lactating but the puppies were nowhere to be found. A couple times she whimpered and led us to a spot under a cabin where she dug as if to show us where they might be. But there were no puppies there…
I learned some scary and devastating things about Bantayan while researching Mena’s home island. The dog catcher comes around to get strays (like Mena) and sells them either to the meat market to be turned into meat for human consumption, or places them into cages awaiting euthanasia, often without food, water, or shade. This pound unfortunately does not promote adoption or the welfare of the stray animals it finds. We found a litter of 7 puppies under our cabin on Bantayan – their eyes not even open. What will their fate be? As we travelled around we saw dogs and cats dying on the streets of the Philippines. I’ve been around the world and have never seen worse conditions for dogs and cats as what I witnessed in the Philippines.
I tried to continue on with my trip but couldn’t stop thinking about her and how badly she wanted to leave the island. I couldn’t erase that image from my head of her standing on a sandbar crying and yelping for us as our boat drove away. So I brought her home to Canada. And it wasn’t easy or cheap. But it was the right thing to do. With no viable local adoption option, overcrowded shelters, and the alternatives of death row or the meat market, bringing her home was the only thing I could do.
Everything about this rescue was ridiculous. I attempted to carry on with my vacation, heading south of Cebu city to do some scuba diving. I had been was waiting for the ferry to Bohol for 2.5 hours (Holy Week, earlier ferries were all booked) and when they made the boarding call for my ferry, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get on the ferry and continue on with scuba diving and visiting the beautiful sites of the Philippines. The next thing I knew, I was at the bus terminal for the 7 hour journey back to Bantayan to be reunited with Mena. The line to get a bus was much longer than the number of seats on a bus so I ended up sitting on my bag in the back of a van, grateful I had bought a local SIM card so I could spend the 7 hour journey trying to find a place to stay that night in overbooked Easter weekend in Bantayan. Thankfully Kota Beach Resort (where we had met Mena) had one last room available that night but of course the kind souls at the Habitat Sanctuary had already pitched a tent for me in their sanctuary, welcoming a person they had never met before but connected with over a shared passion for street dogs. I opted to stay at Kota as that is the beach Mena was known to hang out at. Greg and Tina from Habitat Sanctuary had located Mena for me earlier that day so I knew she was still around, and within about 30 seconds of arriving at Kota, Mena came running to me, as if I had never left. From there, I devised a plan to bring her back to Canada. And I couldn’t have done it without some of the incredible people I met along the way.
I met some of the most inspiring and amazing people who run small rescues in Bantayan and Cebu. These rescues don’t receive government funding and operate with minimal volunteers and resources. There are not nearly enough rescues to help dogs like Mena who are healthy, as they’re overrun with sick and injured dogs and cats, stretched far beyond capacity. Despite how busy they all are, they took time to sit with me while I cried on the beach with Mena wondering if I was doing the right thing, and met me in a park in Cebu again crying wondering if taking her from her home island was the right thing when we couldn’t find any grass for her to play on in the city. There are no words for the support they provided me as a random tourist on a mission to bring a dog home, but just one of the many selfless acts they perform every day in the name of love for the stray animals of the Philippines.
The Philippines does not make it easy or cheap to export a dog for adoption and most Filipino people do not care for dogs and cats as pets the way Canadians do. The cost to bring Mena home to Canada was approximately $2000, a lot more than I anticipated before committing to this but this sweet girl gave me no choice. She made it clear she wanted to leave Bantayan.
After spending a few more days with Mena on Bantayan making travel, veterinary care and boarding options before she could join me in Canada, it was time to head down to Cebu City where the amazing people at My Travel Companion prepared Mena for travel to Canada. I went to the local office to get her paperwork to travel off the island and was informed she needed a medical certificate from a veterinarian. I offered to pay a little extra to save the quarantine officer another trip to the ferry terminal on the long weekend. He declined my attempt at bribing my way out of going to the veterinarian so Mena and I found a motorcycle to take us into town and see the local vet who specializes in livestock and clearly has little interest in a street dog. We got the certificate, and then the permit to travel. With a harness too large for her body (somebody stole the one I had brought her from the city) and having never been on a leash before, I was terrified to make the 7 hour journey alone with her. But I did it. After a tricycle (tuk tuk), ferry, and taxi we ended up in Cebu City at the veteriarians office to start the process for getting her healthy, vaccinated, and ready to fly. Back at the hotel room I tried to take Mena for a walk. She was terrified of every little sound and we couldn’t find any grassy areas. I made the decision to drop her off early at the home where she would be cared for until she could travel 15 days later.
Less than 24 hours before I was due to fly home, PAL airlines arbitrarily decided to suspend all transporting of animals, leaving Mena stranded in Cebu city as I did not have time to return her to her home on the island before flying home. PAL is the only airline flying direct from the Philippines to Canada and I did not want to try to connect Mena through another country, especially unaccompanied. Through the power of advocacy by a number of people to PAL airlines, Mena was granted an exemption and came home on April 19. One of the most emotionally trying moments of my life… Thank you to everyone for your support and advocacy – I had friends take time out of their days to flood the airline with emails explaining the importance of bringing this girl home. I was also in process of implementing plans B, C, D, etc. including having her picked up and brought to Bantayan, rehomed in Cebu, or certified as an emotional support dog so she could fly in the cabin of a PAL flight (yes… I was seriously willing to do whatever it takes to get that girl home to Canada)
Thankfully PAL made the exception and she was provided A+ treatment by the staff at PAL. I do hope they reconsider their embargo on shipping live animals so others can be given a chance as Mena has been.
We still have more to do for the other dogs of the Philippines.
I’ve had many people offer to help with the funds which is amazing but there is so much need beyond Mena. There are dogs and cats literally dying on the streets. The strays are rampant and spay & neuter programs just aren’t widespread enough. The knowledge just isn’t there as the problem continues to grow exponentially. Mena came home to Canada on April 19, 2018 after a crazy amount of bureaucracy and an emotional rollercoaster, but so many others are left in the Philippines without a chance.
I want to help and I know many of you do as well. Now that I am home, I’d like to do more as the needs are immense and would love your help in setting this up.
A few of the needs are:
1. Ongoing donations for vet bills, animal care and the running of rescue facilities.
2. Volunteers to assist with animal care, maintenance/construction, cleaning, etc. and to give the hard working people who run these rescues 24/7 a break.
3. Assistance providing awareness about spay/neuter clinics and humane treatment of animals, including advocacy with the Philippines government.
4. Website development and internet awareness.
5. Assistance in developing avenues for adoptions to suitable homes. For info on how to adopt a dog from Bantayan Click here
6. Advocacy with Philippine Airlines (PAL) to lift their embargo on shipping live animals, and requesting they develop a low cost option to ship rescue dogs to loving homes in Canada or other countries. PAL is the only airline with direct flights to Canada leaving it as the only real option for dogs wanting to escape the Philippines (other airlines require a stopover, and possible quarantine in other Asian countries). This embargo prevents the international adoption of all the dogs needing homes. I will be submitting a proposal to them in the coming weeks at which point will ask for your support in advocating for this.
Please do not feel obliged to donate any funds or help as there are more than enough important causes at home. That being said, the homeless dogs in Canada are treated far better than the ones in the Philippines which is why I need to do something and have spent my vacation doing this.
There are other ways to help, especially if you are travelling to the Philippines or looking to adopt your own rescue dog (or cat). Please email me if you can volunteer or want to adopt.
If you can help with any of the above, please let me know by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’d like to send a donation, Canadians can e-transfer to: email@example.com (preferable to avoid the fees of PayPal) and international can use this PayPal link:
If you’re worried about amount, keep in mind most costs are lower here than in Canada. A set of shots and medical check up at the vet is less than $20 CA. Your donation does not have to be large to make a difference.
And remember, adopt, don’t shop. There is absolutely no need to buy puppy mill dogs or backyard breeder mutts when dogs like Mena are dying every day here and at home in Canada.
To purchase dog mom products with proceeds going towards bringing Mena home Click here
Here are a couple of the rescues who helped me figure things out for Mena. I suggest following them on FB to learn more or donating to them directly.
Mena update: Approximately 3 weeks after coming home to Canada, Mena became very sick. I came home from work to find that she had been sick all over my bedroom, and in an attempt to get out (she had previously never had a single accident in the house) she had ripped open my walls and scratched up my doors. 4 veterinarians, several expensive emergency clinic bills, 2 rounds of antibiotics, and a surgery later, we found out that Mena had a mastitis in one of her breasts, as well as TVT, a common sexually transmitted infection that causes cancer in dogs. Unfortunately she became ill on a Friday night, meaning she wasn’t able to see my fantastic veterinarian at North Road Animal Hospital. She was given some misdiagnoses and had been recommended for emergency surgery despite fighting an active infection, thankfully I trusted my gut and waited to see my normal veterinarian who assured me we would do the surgery after her mastitis was healed.
All this medical stuff has raised the ethical dilemma of bringing a stray dog back from a foreign country to Canada. Have I unknowingly exposed my other dog to a highly contagious form of cancer? Could the thousands of dollars spent on vet care for Mena been spent on helping other stray dogs at home or in the Philippines? I am constantly wondering if I did the right thing but then I look at Mena and how much she loves life in Canada, and can’t imagine leaving her on Bantayan where she surely would not have survived. There is something very special about this dog and how she chose me…
The prognosis for her cancer was positive. The remaining tumours started to regress after the surgery however at the one month mark post surgery my veterinarian had bad news for me… they hadn’t regressed enough and we would have to start chemotherapy. Although the mastitis had cleared and she is back to her energetic, playful, self, ripping around the dog park chasing other dogs, she still had tumours inside her. I was referred by my vet to the only dog oncologist in the lower mainland – the Boundary Bay Veterinary Specialty Hospital. I had no idea what to expect. The large word “Oncology” on the window had me terrified but this clinic was amongst the best I have ever been to (and we have been through a lot of veterinarians throughout this debacle!) If you want to meet some of the most devoted and amazing dog parents, spend some time in the waiting room of a veterinary oncologist clinic. Each dog we met had their own story and their own loving, devoted pet parent(s). After 4 rounds of chemotherapy, I took Mena back for a checkup to see if the tumours were gone. Bad news… they weren’t. We did another round of chemotherapy and waited a month. On October 3, 2018, nearly 6 months after meeting Mena on a beach in the Philippines, I got the news that she was cancer free. They threw a little party for Mena and gave her a certificate of graduation from treatment.
Now hopefully, we can move on with the freedom of being cancer free, and continue enjoying the life Mena came to Canada for. Although she is still learning to play with toys, likes to run wild and free despite my attempts at keeping her leashed, and is constantly fights with my older 12 year old rescue dog Pierre for the spot of alpha dog, when she is laying in bed on her back waiting for pets, or gently greeting patients waiting to see the psychiatrist or staff at my work, I know she is truly living her best life here in Canada.
Mena has changed me. She is a daily reminder to me of all the other dogs in the Philippines I wasn’t able to save. The ones who die every day on the streets not knowing what it is to be loved. I remain in touch with the incredible humans who run the rescue organizations devoted to these animals. I’d love to say I’d go back and visit again but I’m not sure my heart could handle it. This little blog is my attempt at raising some awareness of the dark side of this country, known for its beautiful beaches.
To watch the video of Mena’s first day home in Canada click here
For updated info on her journey and how to help other dogs in the Philippines Click here
When in Bantayan, we fell in love with a beautiful stray dog we named Mena. There were tons of strays on this island but Mena has just given birth but her puppies were nowhere in sight. She instantly attached to us and stayed with us for the time we were on Bantayan. Leaving her was heart breaking – she tried to swim after our boat and then stood on the sandbar crying for us.
You know you’ve got the travel bug when every time you open a pay stub you look at your vacation time accruals rather than your pay cheque amount. There isn’t a clear way to describe how I feel about travel, but others who suffer from wanderlust or fernweh conditions understand. You measure your bills in flight tickets (that property tax bill could have bought me a flight to Europe, or that car repair could have got me to Hawaii), you check seat sale alerts in the morning before checking any other social media or email, and you have anxiety for that two week waiting period during your passport renewal, worried that you might “need” to jump on a flight somewhere while passport-less wondering if you should have paid for the express renewal despite not actually having anything booked. This is me.
So how do I travel so often?
This is probably the most common question I get asked. I’m a regular person with a full time job, a mortgage, a dog, a hockey and softball team, and a yoga membership. I’ve got roots and am grounded in loving my life at home.
But I love to travel.
It is my passion and so I find ways to make it work. A few things that work for me are:
– I work 3 jobs. In addition to my full time job, I hold a causal job allowing me to pick up shifts with no notice (typically when the weather isn’t so conducive to my weekend outdoor plans) and another teaching at a local college when I can commit to staying in town for the majority of a semester (usually about once a year provided another instructor will cover for me for the inevitable need to travel mid semester).
– I’m cheap. Frugal. Whatever you want to call it. I fully embrace my post World War 2 immigrant Dutch roots. I don’t waste money by eating out, driving a nice car, or excessively shopping for shit I don’t need. Everyone has their spending priorities, mine is travel. Proof is in my ancient tv (which never gets turned on anyway!) I wouldn’t even know how to use a smart tv if I was gifted one – because I’d never buy one (that’s a ticket to Europe!)
– I collect Aeroplan points, follow posts that notify me of seatsales, and put into practice all the tips I’ve shared on this site to make travel more affordable.
– I keep a solid crew of friends who share the love of travel and are willing to roll the seat sale dice and end up in Cuba or the Philippines, or book a quick getaway to Mexico with less than two weeks’ notice, but I am also not afraid to travel alone and enjoy solo travel.
– Unfortunately I have a dog who hates being kennelled, and it would be unfair to lock him up so often, so I rent out the spare room in my condo (more travel money!) at a cheap rate in exchange for dog sitting. The dog gets to stay at home, and I have a built in house sitter.
– I maximize my time off. I travel over stat holidays to save vacation days and never have more than 24 hours between my flight times and work schedule. I often go straight from work to the airport. I usually have my work bag packed and ready to go and work clothes laid out when I get home since I often only have a few short hours to sleep before heading to work. I’ve also been known to take a red eye or early morning flight back and head straight to work. Those people who “need” a day or two to unpack, grocery shop, and rest after a vacation are people who either have way too much vacation time, or would rather spend a day with their washing machine than on a tropical beach.
– I have a rule that I don’t return from one trip without another one booked. This prevents any post travel blues and always leaves me with something to look forward to and plan for.
I continually hear people say they’d love to travel but can’t because (insert excuse here). It’s bullshit. If you’d love to travel, you’ll find a way to make it happen. Follow my blog for some tips to make it a little more affordable, stop making excuses, and start getting that passport stamped!
“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal.” – Paulo Coelho
I’m at an age where I’ve had enough drama on vacations that I now closely screen travel companions… or travel solo.
After seeing a friend lose her shit and throw a bike at the bike rental shop guy, or having a friend tell you to Fuck off after clearly reiterating your no camping in Europe rule, or having a friend of a friend steal your boyfriends iPhone off the counter of the condo in Hawaii she was staying in for free, I’ve learned that more is not merrier and to be incredibly discerning with my most precious asset, my vacation time.
Group travel is fun when you’re contained in a space where you are all responsible for your own activities and entertainment such as all inclusive resorts and cruises. These environments are ideal for large groups where everyone can do their own thing and have their own space but connect over pool time and shuffle board. If you’re going to travel around, negotiating routes, sharing a car rental, or having to decide on where you want to eat, proceed with caution.
I’ve travelled solo, in pairs, and in groups.
Travelling solo is fun, freeing, and empowering. The downsides include:
– eating dinner alone. I’m typically happy to do activities throughout the day on my own but enjoy reflecting on the day with a friend over dinner or drinks. Who am I kidding though… I rarely end up eating alone when I travel as I usually meet other solo travellers happy to show me the best local food and drinks in town.
– Not being able to do certain side trips independently. I hate group tours and excursions but when travelling solo, I’ve had to sometimes sign up for that group tour to avoid wandering lost in the jungle alone.
– Not having a photographer but not wanting to buy a selfie stick. Typically people are around and happy to take a photo for you but there are occasional times a travel companion is a useful photographer
– Solo travel is more expensive. Whether it’s splitting that bottle of rum, or sharing major expenses like hotels and car rentals, solo travel can double your cost. But sometimes the freedom is worth it.
– Safety. This is rare as I tend to stick to the tourist track but there’s been once or twice where I didn’t feel entirely comfortable as a solo female traveller. If this happens, make friends with the least scary looking person. After a short conversation, your fears will usually subside. Or you’ll stay hidden in your hotel room until morning as I did in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
The freedoms of solo travel often outweigh the downsides. Having two friends get in a passive aggressive fight over the fan in the room in Colombia is a great reminder of how when travelling solo you choose the room temperature in addition to your routes, accommodations, transportation, activities and meals. Everyone should take a solo trip at least once in their lifetime. And I don’t mean joining a group tour like G adventures alone, I mean true solo travel where you plan your own itinerary and are responsible for your own activities every day. Do it.
Travelling with friends can make amazing memories even better. Dancing with an 80 year old man at the local pub isn’t nearly as funny as when you have friends there to laugh with. And those avocados the size of melons on the big island of Hawaii were meant to be shared.
If you are going to go on a group trip, choose your travel companions wisely. Have those conversations before you leave about budget, food, and activities, before you end up renting a surfboard in Hawaii and are out catching waves while a travel companion is throwing a hissy fit on the beach because she wants to go for lunch and you only have one rental car. Let people know your expectations and things you want from the trip so you don’t compromise what is important to you. I’m a diver and often travel with non divers so am up front that I’ll be going on some dives while they do whatever they want during that time. Group travel doesn’t mean you spend all your time together, and clearing that up ahead of time can save you the passive aggressive comments about something someone wanted to do but didn’t clarify with the group ahead of time. Group travel also means compromising and making concessions. Be clear about things that are important to you (ie. that I don’t camp in Europe) and don’t get manipulated into breaking your boundaries or you’ll end up frozen and soaking wet in a field in the middle of nowhere, England. Do make compromises on things that are less important such as eating at a restaurant that serves something other than empanadas or checking out that bar you really aren’t interested in (but then turns out to be amazing and you’re so glad you went!)
I typically take the lead in planning as well as driving (because people still don’t have free car rental insurance with their travel credit cards) but some of the best trips I’ve been on have been when I’ve taken a backseat and let someone else do the planning. Not a literal backseat because as mentioned, I’m always stuck driving, but am happy to take direction from my key navigator to find some cool spots I might not have decided to check out if I had done the planning alone.
If you’re going to embark on a group trip, follow these key points:
– Consider an all inclusive or cruise if your group is anymore than 2.
– Be careful about including friends of friends you have never met. The worst travel experience was with a friend of a friend who assured me she was cool (she was a yoga instructor after all!) but turned out to be bat shit crazy.
– Know each others’ strengths. One of you may have free car rental insurance and another has Uber discount codes. Someone might be better at finding cheap flights while another has organized and printed an entire list of every vegan restaurant in Portland organized by opening hours to ensure you eat well.
– Take responsibility for your role in travel mishaps. Like when you’re stranded on the side of the highway in Colombia for an hour and a half at dusk with no food because you had a fun idea of how to get to Totuma mud volcano.
– Have the conversation beforehand about not spending every minute together. Otherwise you could lose out on that $100 Breaking Bad slot machine payout to watch your friend put her makeup on in the hotel room in Vegas or having friends think you’re pissed off simply because you went to go for a walk alone in the sun.
– Set boundaries and stick to them. If you really don’t want to sleep in a tent in a field in Europe, don’t do it. Compromising what is important to you will raise resentment. If someone is trying to manipulate your clear boundaries, they probably aren’t someone you want to travel with anyway.
– Be flexible. Don’t compromise on your boundaries but with things that don’t really matter, be flexible. This is their trip too.
And lastly, don’t fear solo travel.
A wanderlust site for Canadian travellers with a focus on budget travel