A couple of weeks ago I went to the ALG Silver 500 trip in Puerto Vallarta to represent my agency LTW Travel. The Silver Trip is a reward trip for travel agencies that have met a certain selling tier with certain suppliers within Apple Leisure Groups portfolio of brands (in this case Funjet Vacations, United Vacations, Southwest Vacations, and Blue Sky Tours).
While on this trip, we were given the opportunity to do a "Give Back" project where we were to go to a public school; for this project Netzahualcoyotl Community Elementary School, in Puerto Vallarta and help paint, clean, and organize. Before travel we were given a list of things that we could bring to donate to the school including backpacks, books, crayons/markers, scissors, games, puzzles etc. LTW Travel donated as much school supplies as could fit into a checked bag to the cause.
When we arrived to the Silver 500 trip hosted by Secrets Vallarta Bay Resort & Spa; we were able to drop off all of the supplies so that they could be transported to the school on the day that we were to help with the project.
The day of the project, I was very nervous. I had never done anything like this before (sad I know...we should ALL be giving back); and didn't really know what to expect. I pictured organizing carts of books in an air conditioned school quietly to tell the truth. I had never been to a school anywhere outside of the United States. Riding on the way to the school, I had the pleasure of being on the same bus as the President of Funjet Vacations. He let me know that he had done this sort of thing in numerous countries on his own personal vacations and how rewarding it was for him and his family. He also told me that he wanted to incorporate this type of thing into the suppliers travel portfolio to offer to clients if they were interested, which I think is pretty amazing.
When we arrived to the school I was shocked. The school was comprised of 4 portable-like small buildings surrounding an outdoor courtyard. Each small building was one classroom. Each classroom had a small ac unit, desks, chairs, a chalkboard and was full of kids.
The head of the project, an AmStar Representative (AmStar is the transportation company that we use in Mexico & The Caribbean), let us choose what we would help with. She called out tasks and had us raise our hands if we wanted to do that specific job.
She announced "painting" (no); "building shelves" (gosh no); "organizing the library" (that could be easy) so my friend who was traveling with me raised her hand quickly--and mine followed. It was already SUPER hot at 9AM, the sun was beating down in the courtyard, and organizing the library sounded easiest of all.
We walked over to the "library" and saw that we had chosen quite possibly--one of the hardest tasks. The library had 2 fans that were bent and busted. This was terrible because it was hot and there was no air conditioning in the room--no airflow whatsoever. Just standing HEAT.
There were random papers, electronics, and books EVERYWHERE. The library truly looked like an episode of the television show "Hoarders." You could tell that at one point that the library had been functional, and that somewhere along the line it began to be used as a storage space, and now was that way permanently.
We all started by making an assembly line and getting EVERYTHING out of the space--which took forever. We put the items into piles: children's books, teacher books, cassettes, VCR Tapes (yes); CD's, computer equipment etc. We found that large spiders had apparently inhabited this library--that was fun! *sarcasm*
After clearing and putting the items into piles, we went to work boxing up and bagging anything that was NOT a children's book or game; and throwing away random stuff (like "Windows 95 guides").
One of the AmStar representatives husbands fixed the fans in the library while we were cleaning up. Functional fans made such a big difference in there. While he worked on the fans, we swept and mopped inside of the library and wiped down shelves. The new shelving was brought in and drilled to the walls and we started putting in all of the books that could fit on the shelves and organizing them.
The library looked so cozy and nice after being redone. I was super excited for the kids.
Secrets Vallarta Bay provided lunch for the kids (and everyone at the site). It was an AMAZING lunch of sub sandwiches, Pringles, M&M's and Coca Cola. The kids were so happy--especially for the Pringles & M&M's--one kid jumped and screamed for joy!
During lunchtime we were told that we could go into the classrooms and eat with kids. A lot of people went to hang out with the smaller kids, but my friend who I was with suggested that we go sit in the older kids classroom. We sat with the most amazing 5th graders. I tried my broken Spanish with them and asked them how to say some things in Spanish, while they in exchange asked me how to say things in English.
They were typical kids, showing us the hottest new dance moves (the same as my kids do back home--crazy); asking to see pics of our families on our phones, and just clowning around. It was a wonderful time.
After lunch, we were all asked to stand behind the tables of supplies that we had brought. The kids thanked us for being there, and we thanked them for allowing us to come spend time with them.
The kids were hesitant to come and look at all that we had brought for them. It would be distributed among them later, but they didn't really seem like they wanted to be near it at first. We later learned that they were so hesitant to approach the table because they thought that we were there to sell them the things that we had brought. That broke my heart.
On the ride back to the resort I thought about how things were for those kids. They were so happy and grateful. I was told while there that because this was a public school that they would never really be taught English. Most parents who can afford it send their kids to private school--and only in private schools do they learn English. That severely can limit the jobs that the kids can have when they are older. I was also told that the same government runs the public and private schools there. When going to the bathroom, the kids had to bring a roll of toilet paper and bring soap with them, and then return it to the classroom. This is because the teachers/principal was supplying these essentials for the kids and they basically have to ration them off.
I will definitely be participating in more "Give Back" programs in the future. I thank ALG, my travel colleagues, my friend who traveled and did this with me, AM Resorts, AmStar, and ESPECIALLY the Principal, Teachers, & Students of Netzahualcoyotl Community Elementary School in Puerto Vallarta for the opportunity. It opened my eyes to so many things. I didn't "change the world" but I, and all of the others involved, helped out and made things a little bit easier for people. That is something that I will always feel great about, and now I want to do more.
I will let my current & future clients know more about volunteer tourism if requested. For now, I don't have a supplier that offers to set this up as part of a travel package, but HERE is a list of non-profits that you can help out with if desired in Mexico.
One of my favorite things to book for clients are Group Cruises and Cruise Weddings. I'm sure that if you are a client of mine and have heard me tell my "story" of how I got into the travel industry, you know that I used to work for Carnival Cruise Line in Sales for a time, then Customer Service.
Group cruises are amazing for so many different reasons. Here are my TOP 3 Reasons to Book a Group Cruise:
If you are interested in planning your own Group Cruise for a Family Reunion, Birthday Celebration, Corporate Group (Company Outing), Church or Religious Group, High School Reunion Group, Cruise Wedding, or any type of Group (10 passengers or more); don't hesitate to contact me.
I can guide you through the process Step by Step and work with my Preferred Cruise Line Partners to make your Group Cruise unforgettable!
Thanks for reading!
There are a few travel apps out there that I believe stand out from the rest and that have made traveling for me all the more better!
Take a look at my list below and download them for yourself if you think that they would benefit you.
Do you (like me) want to SPEED PAST everyone in the Customs line at the Airport? If so, you need this FREE app. You download it, go in and take your photo, add your passport info and VOILA you can answer all of your customs questions on the app.
This app ONLY works when you are going back into a United States airport after traveling out of the country (and ALL airports DON'T have it, though most major ones do). After you answer the questions on the app, it gives you a receipt which stays active for 4 hours. So if you are on a quick flight from Cancun to Houston for example, you COULD do it before you leave Cancun and have it ready when you land.
TRUE STORY: on a flight from Cancun to Columbus, OH I had a stop at EWR in New Jersey and that's where I had to do customs since it was my first stop entering the United States. I swear I was the ONLY person with this app. The customs line was INSANELY long, and I just zipped through with my app. BEST DAY EVER!
This app keeps all of your reservations, points programs etc. in line. There is a free version and a Pro version (which I have) that costs $49 a year. I like it because you don't really have to worry about carrying paper around for your reservations. It also lets me know at airports when there are gate changes (before the airline apps); flight time changes (before the airline) and more. ALSO, it saves your seat preferences, updates you on seat alerts, keeps track of hotel and airline points and more.
There is also a "Flight Refund Monitoring" feature on the Pro Version. It will check the airline prices and see if there's a better price for you (less change fees). If they think that you are eligible for a credit or refund, you receive an email or alert to contact the airline or agent (ME). Does this happen often? NO, but its still a good feature for just in case!
The BEST thing about this app is that you don't have to do a lot of typing in or copying your travel details over. You can link it to your email address and it auto imports it all OR you can just email your confirmations to email@example.com and it will auto transfer the details into your trip. For points updates you just forward points statements that don't auto import to firstname.lastname@example.org. Its pretty amazing!
You can share your trip itinerary and details with family and friends if you'd like as well. I LOVE this app!
My Currency Converter
So this one is AMAZING when you're going out of the country. This app is so helpful when you are at Walmart for example in Cancun and want to know how much something equates to in US dollars (when everything is listed in pesos) or vice versa.
In Puerto Vallarta 2 years ago I had the nicest cab driver EVER get the BIGGEST tip ever...because I didn't have a currency converter, only had pesos, and just didn't know any better. He deserved a big tip...but perhaps not that big. I have for the most part gotten a basic conversion for Mexican pesos down in my head--but the currency converter is just quicker, easier, and I don't have to think as hard.
Amazon Kindle App
In my last post I told you all that I loved the Amazon Kindle (and I do) especially for if you don't have wifi on the plane. If you do not have a Kindle (and I didn't for years); the app itself is the next best thing. Just download your books to it BEFORE you get on the plane, and you can open and read with or without wifi.
When I travel I LOVE to have ANY gadget that makes travel easier for me. Some of the things that I like are kind of frivolous (like a discreet designer pill case); but some are life savers like my portable charger (the thing with portable chargers is that you HAVE to get the right one).
If you LOVE to travel; or know someone who does--below are some GREAT travel gifts to give (based on what I already own).
I hope that this gives you some ideas!
Travelambo Luggage Tags & Bag Tags Stainless Steel Aluminum Various Colors (mixed colors 10 pcs set)
These are just a FEW of the things that I travel with that I believe make my life easier when traveling. I hope that this helps with any gift ideas (or that you just look into them for yourself).
Back in 2016, my husband and I invested in TSA Pre-Check (we actually did it for our anniversary--we are such a romantic couple ?); and its seriously the BEST thing!
If you are a person who travels via airplane a few times a year TSA Pre-Check is so worth it (if you like to SKIP LINES like I do!).
TSA Pre-Check speeds you through security at the airport & there is usually a separate line just for TSA Pre-Check. Since having TSA Pre-Check status, I've never waited longer than 5 minutes in an airport security line. The only time that I've ever been to the airport and there WAS NOT a TSA Pre-Check line is when I've gone to the airport at an odd time (like 3AM for a 5AM flight).
The BEST part about TSA Pre-Check to me (besides being in a much shorter line) is that you don't have to take off shoes & socks when walking through security. The WORST thing is taking off everything to get through an airport security line.
TSA Pre-Check costs $85 but it lasts 5 years! So basically for $17 a year, you can have peace of mind at the airport instead of DREADING how long the security line will be.
To apply you fill out a form here. Then you must go to an "authorized interview" location to be fingerprinted and interviewed (this whole process took about 15 minutes per person when my husband and I went). Then they mail you your TSA Pre-Check number in the mail (Known Traveler Number).
When you book flights you just put that number in the TSA Pre-Check or Known Traveler Number (KTN) field. If you are using a travel consultant such as myself, you can just have them enter your number for you as well. You MUST enter this number as it has to be attached to your ticket when you get to the security checkpoint at the airport. If you get to the checkpoint and its NOT attached to your ticket, you will have to go through the regular security checkpoint line.
After your TSA Pre-Check status expires in 5 years, you can easily renew it online (without having to go to be fingerprinted and interviewed again).
The only con that I can see to investing in TSA Pre-Check is that it only works at US airports (Global Entry is a better option for International which I will cover in another post).
For a list of airports that offer TSA Pre-Check click here.
So, if you're on the fence about TSA Pre-Check and you fly more than I'd say TWICE a year and can't STAND to be in a line--this is definitely a great investment. I arrived at the airport 45 minutes before my flight took off to Cabo this summer and made it to my gate 5 minutes before boarding at IAH (Bush Intercontinental Airport) thanks to TSA Pre-Check.
NOTE: I don't EVER recommend arriving this late at an airport (lol)