All posts by admin

I am disappointed that it took me this long to learn about Westjet’s member exclusive fares, a very cool fixed mileage redemption program.
I had some Westjet dollars kicking around from a credit card promo (thank you RBC for the $350 Westjet dollars) and booked a flight to Toronto, clicking the “member exclusive” fare button and surprised at how cheap it was.

I have previously been a fan of the Aeroplan program due to it’s fixed rate mileage redemption, allowing to maximize miles for peak travel times unlike programs like Avion who have a maximum ticket price or BMO World Elite mastercard who base the miles on the ticket price.

Reasons I am switching from Aeroplan to Westjet dollars as my primary credit card rewards program:

– The Westjet member exclusive fares allow you to use your Westjet dollars towards a fixed rate program OR use your dollars towards a regular ticket price.
– The accumulation rate on the Westjet RBC Mastercard is equal with the TD Aerogold Infinite for groceries, gas, and drug store purchases, and higher for all other purchases. (Assuming 1 Westjet dollar = 100 Aeroplan points based on the North American long haul fixed rate fares of $250 Westjet dollars or 25,000 Aeroplan points) as the Westjet RBC Mastercard gives you 1.5% back on ALL purchases vs. the TD Aerogold Visa only giving you 1.5% on groceries, gas, and drug store purchases.
– International redemptions are overall, less with Westjet dollars. For example, Canada to Asia is $549 vs. 75,000 Aeroplan points.
The Prince of Travel has posted a fantastic redemption chart on his blog which you can compare with the Aeroplan redemption chart on their page.
– Westjet’s companion fare. With the RBC Visa you get a companion fare to bring someone with you for $119 (plus taxes) or higher for international. Air Canada/Aeroplan do not offer any similar benefits
– Ease of booking. Westjet’s member exclusive fares are searchable from the main westjet booking site, allowing you to compare with their regular flight prices whereas Aeroplan requires you to search with a separate page or app.
– Westjet uses Canadian made and vegan companies Matt & Nat and Rocky Mountain Soap Factory for their premium and business class toiletry kits, as well as in their lavatories. These are two of my favourite companies to support as they are Canadian made and ethical.

As an added perk, Westjet had a status match promo allowing me to transfer my elite Aeroplan status to Gold status with Westjet. Unlike the Aeroplan program where there are a fixed number of eupgrade certificates, not valid on Aeroplan redemption tickets, Westjet’s Gold program appears to have more benefits although I will update this further when I actually fly and attempt to use an upgrade.

The only downside I can see at first glance of switching loyalty from Air Canada’s Aeroplan to Westjet’s rewards program is losing out on the Star Alliance network which has more reach to more destinations, and some of the best airlines (I still think Air New Zealand is the best airline I have ever flown!) Westjet does allow you to use their member exclusive fares on a number of other airlines internationally (including a few of my favourites Air France, KLM and PAL, as well as many others)

Since I haven’t been flying, I haven’t had the opportunity to do a full review. A couple things I wonder about are availability of flight rewards (which is why I have always suggested having multiple frequent flyer accounts), availability of upgrades, and the price of taxes on redemption which is always a concern with Aeroplan as often the taxes cost more than a good sale ticket with another airline to Europe.

One last tip, if you are like my dad and have been hoarding Avion points from RBC due to blind loyalty to this weak program, keep an eye out for the transfer bonus where RBC will allow you to transfer your Avion points to the Westjet Rewards program with a 20-30% bonus (apparently this happens a few times a year)

I accumulate a large amount of my frequent flyer points through credit card reward programs. The standard promos for the RBC Westjet program seem to be 250 Westjet dollars and then either the first year free ($120 bonus) or 100 extra Westjet dollars. I opted for the first year free promo but I think this card is probably worth the annual fee and is something I will be switching to as my primary credit card.

Ultimately the travel rewards program you choose needs to be the right one for you based on your particular needs. At first glance, the Westjet program looks to be better suited towards my needs and is why I will be switching loyalty to them for 2020. Stay tuned for updates on how the actual experience plays out…

Did I miss something? Please send me a message and let me know if there are any considerations I didn’t include in this review of the two programs!

Rocky in Greece

The situation for stray dogs in Greece (and many other countries) is dire. At the end of tourist season (or before) dogs can get rounded up or poisoned. Rocky was living in a remote area of Greece where she was much loved by local people even though she was a stray. She had 9 puppies, and there were plans to adopt them out.

Greece 2

Unfortunately the municipality had other plans, and Rocky was removed and her puppies disappeared. The people who had been feeding her were distraught and spent days searching for her and the pups. The puppies were never found, but Rocky managed to find her way back after 3 days. Two rescuers promptly scooped her up and took her to safety, and cared for her until she could come to Canada several months later. Things have turned out very well for Rocky (now called Lea), thanks to Carole who fell in love with her at first sight. She’s much loved and very well cared for and is safe forever. We wish this was the outcome for all strays.

Greece 1

Thank you to Sara for being her flight buddy, to her flight sponsor, and to her rescuers who work tirelessly to save, neuter and care for as many strays as they can while also educating people about caring for and neutering stray dogs. While we can’t, even collectively, save them all we celebrate every wonderful outcome like this.

– Kayra, Animals without borders.

Greece 3

Klang in Cambodia

 I came to Cambodia 4 years ago and intended to stay 3 months. After I decided I wanted to stay longer I came across a lovely pup with the cutest face. She was living at my friends house (local) and she was full of ticks, fleas and worms. The owners loved her (and all their other animals), but didn’t know about veterinarian treatments and disease.
cambodia 1
I asked them if I could adopt her, but they said no because she was sick. I told them I’m a veterinary nurse and could help her. Then they gave her to me.
Cambodia 2
The first thing was to give her a shower with tick and flea shampoo and I bought rice and beef for her at the local shop (after 2 days they knew ‘food for dog’ and they started to give a bigger portion for the same price). It was horrible weather so I couldn’t take her to the vet in mainland, but after 5 days I could get her on a boat.
The vet checked her out and beside being skinned there was nothing wrong with her. So just worm tablets and tick and flea treatment and of course proper dog food (Royal Canin, which costs a fortune here. But hey, she’s a princess) she gained weight and grew a lot.
Cambodia 4
Whenever she got scared of something she would run to the old house where she grew up and the owners would feed her and wait for me to finish work and pick her up. They saw how much she’d grown and we’re really happy.
She was about 3/4 months when I found her, now she’s 3,5 years and over 20 kg! Her name is Klang and if I ever intend to leave Cambodia she comes to Europe with me.
I had her vaccinated as soon as possible and is up to date since then. She has an international passport and a microchip. Since the day I found her I intended to bring her with me wherever I go. It happened I stayed in Cambodia much longer than intended but if the day comes, she’ll board a plane with me.
We’ve already been on boats, buses, cars and moto’s together. Maybe one day she’ll fly.
She got a bad case of tick fever 2 years ago and that resulted in a bad skin condition, which lasted till last summer. After numerous treatments and vet appointments her fur never looked shinier or fuller. She’s a happy bouncy girl and loves to run on the beach with her friends and ‘catch fish’ in the sea.
I don’t think she ever caught one, but she doesn’t seem to mind.
– Anne & Klang
Cambodia 3

Rescuing a pet from abroad

We’ve all been there… you’re traveling and enjoying your vacation and you meet a stray dog or cat that captures your heart. Maybe you buy them some food or connect them with veterinary care.  Or maybe you bring them home with you…

I wanted to create some space on this blog to share the inspiring stories of those who have rescued stray dogs/cats while traveling. If you are interested in submitting your own rescue story, you can email me at wanderingsincedawn@gmail.com to be featured.

Morocco stray dogs

 

Travel rewards credit cards

*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

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.

Success!

Santa Rita Hot Springs, Mexico

The Road to Santa Rita Hot Springs

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.

Cows on the sketchy dirt road from Santiago to San Jorge

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.

Church in San Jorge

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.

Campsite at Santa Rita hot springs

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.

Wooden bridge to hot springs

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.

The Santa Rita hot springs pool

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.

The Santa Rita waterfall

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.

Side of the road from Santiago to San Jorge

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.

Money while you are away…

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.

Adopting a dog from Bantayan, Philippines

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.

For more info on the stray dogs of Bantayan you can contact Island Sanctuary Santa Fe Bantayan

China

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 wanderingsincedawn@gmail.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)

Disappointments were:

– 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.