Travel Tips Archives - Starr Tours & Charters
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Conversation Starters

One of the most enjoyable things about traveling is the wonderful people you meet. Whether it’s across a continent or at a new coffee shop down the street, chatting with new people can be very rewarding. Starting conversations is hard, and continuing them is even harder. But fear not, because having great conversations with strangers is easy, and they can lead to some great new friendships.

 

Here are five tips for having great conversations:

 

Timing Is Everything

When starting a conversation, take into account the setting. If the area is busy and loud, you might not be able to keep your full attention on your conversation partner. Choose a person who looks happy, and make sure they aren’t busy. A conversation with a new person could be a wonderful and fascinating experience, but if the other person is in the middle of something, they can’t give you their full attention. Conversation with a new person is a great way to spice up a boring wait or a long bus ride, but can be awkward and annoying if it happens in the middle of a guided tour. If the setting is good, then it’s time for the next step.

 

Lead With An Observation

When starting a dialogue with someone new, it can be tempting to open with an introduction. This is a simple way to start a conversation, but it leads to a screeching halt after both parties say their names. Avoid the awkwardness by starting with an observation instead. For example, point out the great shirt they’re wearing or make a joke about the warmer weather. This is a great way to engage people in conversations other than the typical introduction. An observation can lead into a deeper conversation, and gives your conversation partner a chance to add on. When you compliment their coat, they can tell you where they purchased it, and before you know it you’re both talking about your favorite store. Then you can move on to introductions when it feels more natural and you’ve built a rapport already.

 

The Magic of FORD

So, you’ve started chatting with someone, led with an observation, and now you’re stuck. You’ve talked about the weather, introduced yourself, and the conversation has stalled. Welcome to the magic of “FORD.” FORD is a handy acronym that’s a great way to remember some great conversation topics. It stands for Family, Occupation, Recreation, Dreams. These are all great topics to converse about when talking to someone new. Their answers may open the door to other topics, allowing you to learn more about them. Until you know the person better, FORD is a great place to start, and an easy way to identify common ground when chatting with someone new. When the conversation hits a lull, ask a FORD question. The answer is a great way to steer the conversation to something more personal, thus giving you a stronger connection.

 

Fight Awkward Silences

Everything seems to be going great in your conversation, and then suddenly it happens: the dreaded awkward silence. It may have been something you said, or a joke that fell flat, or nothing at all, but now the silence is in the air, and the conversation is dying fast. When confronted with an awkward silence, don’t let it hang. Use this time to change the subject. Ask a follow up question to something that was discussed earlier, or use another observation. Awkward silence can be a great way to incorporate a new topic to a conversation. Chances are, your conversation partner will be relieved to end the silence, and happy to chat about anything else.

 

Get Deep

It’s great to hear about the surface details of a person’s life, but the most interesting conversations I’ve had are when the conversation moves on a deeper level. This is a hard thing to do when you’ve just met someone, but a simple tactic is to ask them a “why” question. If they say they are a retired teacher, ask them why they decided to go into teaching. Their answer will be much more telling and interesting then if you asked them what grade they taught. “Why” questions are a great way to glimpse a person’s psyche and really helps understand them on a deeper level, and opens the door for much more in-depth conversations than simply talking about the weather. “Why” are great follow-ups when learning about someone’s hobby, home or occupation.

 

So there you have it! These are five ways to have great conversations with strangers. Hopefully you’ll use some of these on your next bus trip and meet a new friend! Your next great conversation is just a person away. On your next Starr vacation, take advantage of the wealth of new people around you, and get to know them a little. Your new best friend might be on this very trip!

Be sure to check out our other blog post – 4 Tips for Making Friends While Traveling Solo!

 

What are your tips for carrying on a conversation?

Ways to Go Green on Your Next Vacation

Ways to Go Green on Your Next Vacation

Contrary to what Vogue may tell you, green really is the new black. With Earth Day coming up, many of us are in the environmental spirit, but it can be hard to stay eco-friendly away from home.

The next time you’re exploring this beautiful planet, keep in mind these awesome travel tips:

1. Use Alternative Transportation
Forget trains, planes and automobiles. Did you know…

  • A couple traveling by bus will cut their carbon footprint nearly in half compared with driving even a hybrid car.
  • And if they take a bus rather than a plane, they will cut their emissions by 55 to 75 percent, depending on the distance they travel.
  • Buses emit the least carbon dioxide per passenger mile compared to other vehicles, and are 7 times more energy and fuel-efficient than single occupancy automobiles.
  • Buses are 3 times more efficient in reducing carbon dioxide output compared to commuter rail.
  • Buses are the most fuel-efficient transportation mode in North America when measured in terms of passenger miles per gallon of fuel providing 206.6 passenger mpg compared to commuter rail (92.4 passenger mpg), airlines (44 passenger mpg), and single occupancy automobiles (27.2 passenger mpg).

Switch up your usual style of travel and take a vacation by bus. It cuts down on emissions, making for a more fun trip with much cleaner air. Take a deep breath and enjoy the cool, clean clear air free of emissions and pollution.

2. Don’t Litter
Nothing wrecks a scene quite like a Coke can blowing in the wind. No matter where you are, it is awful to have a pretty picture ruined by some stray pieces of trash. Next time you have a wrapper, take the extra four seconds and toss it in a waste bin. You’re saving the view for others. Better yet…take care of someone else’s litter and improve the view for the next person.

3. Carry Your Own Trash
On a related note, sometimes you just can’t find a trash can. Whether you’re in a canoe, or on a long hike, it’s a good idea to bring a reusable bag to carry your trash. Whether it’s a bubble gum wrapper or your lunch debris, carrying a little extra trash can be annoying, but is worth it in the end. The earth and your fellow travelers will thank you.

4. Reuse Old Containers or Recycle Them
Reduce the clutter in your cabinets and reuse containers for other things. Old ketchup bottle? Clean it and use it for spare sunscreen! Recycle the ones you can’t use, but be sure to check to see what is recyclable in your area. Get to know your local Waste Management company to find out what is accepted in your recycling bin and what isn’t. For example, Mercer County, NJ only recycles #1 and #2 plastics and too much other plastic mixed into the batch could result in the entire batch getting tossed. “Understanding the seven plastic codes will make it easier to choose plastics and to know which plastics to recycle.”

5. Bring Your Own Water Bottle
In landfills, plastic bottles are everywhere. Cut down on your own personal waste, and save money by investing in a reusable water bottle. With countless colors and prints, you can even choose a pretty one. Stylish and environmentally friendly? Now that’s something I can get behind.

6. Pack Light
As anyone who has ever carried a heavy backpack knows, it can be a struggle. With sore shoulders, it can be a huge pain. But it is also a pain for the environment. The more weight on a vehicle (car, bus, plane, etc), the more fuel it uses. Every ounce counts, so save your back and your buck and forgo that extra four pairs of pants. The earth thanks you.

7. Bring Your Own Shopping Bag for Souvenirs
At the grocery store, we often hear the phrase, “paper or plastic?” Now, introduce a new option when you’re on the go. Bring your own reusable bags for souvenirs, and save the shop some money, and the world a few extra trees.

8. Go Digital Instead of Disposable
When it comes to capturing the perfect memory, there are a lot of strategies. Although many people are attracted to the convenience of a disposable camera, try a digital one on for size. It’s a long term option with great settings and HD. It can save the earth, and save your pictures – no print shop visit required.

9. Support Local Businesses
When out and about, it’s easy to go the Wendy’s or McDonald’s route rather than the local place. After all, we love something predictable. But trying out a local place is a new experience, it also helps support local businesses, and local farms. Take a bite out of the local agriculture and try Joe’s Grill for a change instead of Jack in the Box.

10. Leave the Aerosol at Home
Everyone loves the ease and quickness of an aerosol sunscreen or hairspray. It’s quick and effective, but it’s also torture on the ozone layer. Now, don’t forget the sunscreen, but protect your skin with a cream-based option instead. Every little bit helps. Even better, invest in biodegradable sunscreen to protect our oceans!

11. Avoid Paper Maps
In the wonderful age of technology we live in, there’s no excuse to waste money on heavy and wasteful paper maps. Print them out at home on recycled paper, or better yet, keep the information on your phone. Save a tree while exploring the forest.

This Earth Day, don’t leave the celebrations at home – take them on the go! Keeping it green at home or away!

What are your favorite ways to Go Green?

 

P.S. Go Greener with Starr!

Great Expectations! (NOT written by Charles Dickens)

Everyone looks forward to a vacation and many of us expect that our travels will be absolutely perfect and without a care in the world. We envision the destination, often disregarding the journey required to reach it. While no amount of preparation, planning or detail-checking can ensure a seamless travel experience, here are a few tips to help you maximize your travel enjoyment:

 

Know where you are going. This may sound simple, but some people choose a destination without much thought, research, or investigation. This can lead to disappointment. For example, I once had a tour guest on a Vermont fall foliage bus tour who asked me, “When will we get to the casino?” I explained that there are no casinos in Vermont to which she responded, “Well, I can’t stand to look at any more trees!” Unfortunately, my passenger was not happy with her experience on the trip. In this case, the situation could have been avoided if she had simply read the itinerary.

 

Put down the camera. Once in a while, put down the camera and actually sightsee. You may think that taking a picture of that spectacular view, attraction, or sunset will preserve the moment forever. However, did you know a recent study found that people had more trouble remembering details of a scene if they photographed it? Those who just looked at it remembered 90% of the details; the ones who took a picture remembered only 78%.

 

Getting to know you! As society has become more fast-paced, and electronic equipment has taken over our communications, conversation between strangers has dwindled. But you never know who you may meet while traveling. On a recent bus tour, two couples reluctantly shared a table at lunchtime. During their conversation, the women discovered that they had been childhood friends, attended the same elementary school, and grew up in the same Philadelphia neighborhood! They had a wonderful time on the rest of the trip, reliving old memories and making new ones.

 

Expect the best; but prepare for the worst. Just because it is sunny on the morning your tour departs, that does not mean it cannot rain later. Basic essentials like an umbrella (I prefer disposable raincoats from the dollar store), sunscreen, a hat, bug spray, Band-Aids, aspirin, etc. are important items to pack and can easily prevent small annoyances from ruining your day.

 

Be flexible. While driving in Hawaii (before GPS was available), we missed a turn and ended up lost for quite some time. On the surface, this seemed like something “bad” had happened. But we ended up viewing the most beautiful scenery on Oahu’s northern coastline due to our unintentional detour. We all agreed it was the most breath-taking view of the entire trip!

Embrace optimism; it is your best travel companion! The definition of “optimism” – A cheerful frame of mind that enables a tea kettle to sing though it’s in hot water up to its nose!

 

Happy travels and I hope to see you on the bus this year!
Jane Peters Estes, Tour Director

The Importance of Traveling With Your Children

The Importance of Traveling With Your Children

One of the greatest gifts you can give your children and grandchildren is the opportunity to get out of their comfort zone and experience the myriad of adventures that await them beyond their hometown. Travel provides not only the opportunity to see new and exciting things, but offers many valuable life lessons and skills as well.

Here are just a few ways that traveling with your children will enrich their lives:

Taking your kids on a trip with you demonstrates their importance to you.  When you actively show that you want to spend your time with them by choosing to take them along with you, they begin to understand their own value as individuals. Children learn more through your actions than your words and demonstrating that you are willing to spend your most valuable resource – your time – with them conveys their importance far more than the habitual “I love you.”

Travel teaches kids about diversity. Simply traveling to another state gives children insight into how others’ lives differ from their own. They get exposed to different foods, different living situations, even different accents and people. Interaction with a diverse population of people over the course of their childhood helps them become more accepting and open minded adults.

Travel helps kids overcome their fears. Venturing out of your comfort zone and into a new place can be daunting to anyone. Imagine doing so as a child with endless wonder and imagination. Children are safely led to confront all sorts of new experiences while traveling from new foods to new places to sleep and everything in between. When they safely confront and conquer a new experience, their confidence grows and their willingness and capability to tackle new challenges increases.

Engaging them in the planning process is a fantastic learning experience. Problem solving skills, map reading, decision making, budgeting, and scheduling are just a few of the lessons your children can learn as you include them in your trip planning and these are all important life skills that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. Including your children in the planning process helps them become engaged with the trip and the itinerary. They have a hand in the adventure and learn what is possible, how to make things happen, and then to embrace the outcome.

Traveling fosters independence. Allowing your children to be responsible for packing their own bag (with supervision) enables them to plan out what they need and what they don’t. Holding your children accountable for keeping track of their own belongings, making sure that their luggage isn’t too heavy for them to carry, and packing efficiently fosters critical decision making skills and living with the outcomes of your decisions. Helping them to plan ahead to save money to buy their own souvenirs and perhaps leaving one or two items behind to save room for those souvenirs also fosters these skills.

Traveling with your children builds communication. Getting away from the regular routine of school and extracurricular practices and into new and different experiences brings up a vast array of conversation points. Instead of asking about their day at school, you can actively engage them in a conversation about what they learned that day at the museum, or the aquarium, or the battlefield, etc. You can ask them how they felt to learn this, if it changed their minds about what they thought about life, how they will describe the experience to their friends when they get home, their favorite part of the day, the guide they met. The opportunities are endless and the value of having a deep and meaningful conversation about new discoveries is priceless.

 

Traveling with your children is an invaluable experience for them and for you! While traveling with little ones can be stressful, it doesn’t have to be. Starr offers a Kids Sale every summer that makes traveling with your children and grandchildren even more affordable and we offer great bus trips with a mix of planned activity and opportunity to explore on your own. Call us, or check out our website for more information on all that we have to offer! We look forward to welcoming you and your children on our bus trips!

For tips on Preparing Tiny Travelers for Big Adventures, check out our blog post!

All is Not Lost!

Traveling on a bus trip with Starr is an exciting experience, and you’ll want to bring all sorts of things to help you enjoy it; cameras to capture the scenery, hats to shield your eyes from the sunny skies, iPads and e-readers to pass the time, and of course souvenirs to remember your Starr Vacation!

 

Sometimes, however, these items don’t quite make it home with you, whether they fall out of a pocket, get left in a hotel room, forgotten in a theater, or fall to the back of a Starr bus’ overhead bin. That’s where Starr’s Lost and Found comes in. We see a vast assortment of items including souvenirs, shoes, alcohol, and laundry, which could be returned to their owners if a few simple steps had been taken before the traveler left for their trip. Here are some tips which could help return your belongings to you after a Starr Vacation!

 

Before Your Trip

  1. Label Important Items
    Print out a small piece of paper with your name and phone number, and attach it to important belongings, such as a phone, iPad, camera, book, glasses case, car keys, a medicine bottle, or wallet. This is the easiest way for us to contact you. Alternatively, attach an address label to each item.
  2. Bring Labels with You
    Pack a sheet of address labels, a stack of business cards, or several pieces of paper with your contact information in your luggage. These can be used to label your water bottles, souvenir bags, etc.
  3. Take Photos of Your Belongings and your Driver’s License
    In the event that you’ve lost or misplaced something, you can send us a picture of the item so we know exactly what to look for. You can ALSO take a picture of your driver’s license! As we scroll through the pictures on lost, unlocked devices, we are looking to see if we can recognize anything, and a driver’s license is very recognizable.
  4. Tell Siri/Google Who You Are
    Sometimes returning an iPhone is as easy as asking “Call my wife!” If your iPhone, iPad, tablet, or Android device can connect to the internet without wifi, leave that function on. Even if we can’t unlock your device, we can use a few smart built-in features like Siri or the Google Assistant to ask who the device belongs to! To help this work, make sure you have told Siri or your Google contacts who you are, who your spouse is, who your children are, and your home phone number.
  5. Find My Phone Function
    If you have an iPhone, consider activating the “Find my iPhone” function; and if you have an Android device, activate the “find my device” function alongside your GPS. Both of these can allow you to remotely lock and locate your phone should it be lost.¹

 

During Your Trip

  1. Look Around
    As you get on and off the coach, check on your seat, under your seat, and in the overhead bins carefully to ensure you have everything that belongs to you.
  2. Souvenir Bags
    If you purchase souvenirs, place a business card, address label, or slip of paper into the bag along with the souvenir. If that is not immediately possible, write your name and phone number on the receipt. Consider putting the souvenir directly into a carry on or luggage if possible.

 

At the End of Your Trip

  1. Look Again
    Check again on your seat, under your seat, between the seat, in the seat back pocket (if your bus has them), in the overhead bin, and into adjacent seats. These are also checked by your escort and the driver at the end of the trip, and by the cleaners when the coach returns to our garage.
  2. Is That Your Bag?
    If you did buy souvenirs, check your bags to make sure they are YOUR bags and not someone else’s! We have had situations where people have taken the wrong souvenir bags home—and yes, they did get back to their original owners!
  3. Where Did You Sit?
    Remember the bus number and where you were sitting, the dates of your trip, and where you were going. If you were part of a large group of buses, perhaps for a charter, try to remember your driver’s name or some of their identifying attributes.
  4. Was there a Shuttle?
    If you have to take a shuttle to your final destination, take note of what kind of shuttle you have: whether it is a car limousine, a Starr van, another Starr coach, etc.

 

Where did my Item Go?

If you did leave something on the bus, it would be seen one of two different groups of people.

  1. Driver/Escort: They check EVERYWHERE before they get off the bus. They may even contact you before you get back home. If they can’t reach you, they’ll label which coach it comes off of and deliver it to the office along with their tour materials.
  2. Bus Cleaners: If the cleaners find it, it goes into a bag along with items from other coaches. A day or two later, it is delivered to the Starr Receptionists who handle the cataloging and processing of lost and found. Oftentimes, these items have no identifying information, which is why labeling your items is helpful to us!

 

Finding your Items

When you call our office to ask about your lost item we will ask you the following:

  • Give us a detailed description of the item
  • The dates of your trip
  • The coach number (or the driver’s name)
  • The group, the charter number, the trip, or where you were going
  • Your seat number, or where you were sitting (and if you changed seats during the trip)
  • If the item was on/under your seat, in the overhead bin, in the baggage compartment, or the seatback pocket.
  • If the item was in a paper or plastic bag
  • And if the item was a cell phone, what the number is so we can call it and listen for the ring

 

Please also keep in mind:

  • Our coaches have a high turnover rate in the busy season, and there is a chance that the coach you rode on over the weekend was cleaned overnight and is already out on the road again and can’t be checked right away.
  • We will make every effort to look for each item that you call for, but we are not responsible for items you have misplaced while on our coaches, and you may not get a call back from us if we are unable to locate your item.
  • If we DO find your item, we will call you back. It is then your responsibility to call us and arrange how you wish the item to be returned.
  • We keep all lost and found items that come to us for several months, and document them as they come in. If you realize a month after your trip that you lost an item, there is no harm in calling the office and asking if we have it.

 

Don’t let a fear of losing your items keep you from traveling. More often than not, Starr travelers are very proactive about keeping tabs on all of their belongings! The moral of the story is, LABEL your important things with your telephone number and your name at the very least.

 

Bon Voyage!
Ally Berger, Starr Receptionist

 

¹The author of this article has used Google’s function on a recent trip abroad to locate and erase a stolen smartphone, and can confirm her information was not compromised!