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?

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

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!

What to Pack In Your Carry-On

As a Tour Director with Starr Tours for the past thirteen years, and living by the Girl Scout motto of “always be prepared,” I have increasingly added travel “must haves” to my onboard travel list.

Here is a list of what I pack whether on a day trip or multi-day bus tour which may prove helpful to you as well!

IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS — Perhaps it goes without saying that you should always have your driver’s license/photo id, medical insurance card, prescription medication information, medical id (if needed) and doctor’s phone number, credit card numbers and financial information (in case a card is lost or stolen), and travel documents and travel insurance (when necessary). Keep these items on your person at all times and leave a copy of these items with a family member or a friend back home.

MEDICINE — If you are taking any prescription or over-the-counter medicines, it is always a good idea to keep them near at hand whether at your seat or in the overhead compartment. Over-the-counter medications such as headache/pain reliever, motion sickness pills, and antacids are worth having with you on the road.

WATER — I can’t emphasize enough about bringing along a bottle of water or two.  When medicines have to be taken at specific times during the day, and a rest stop is some time away, it is convenient to have water at your side.  Also, dehydration plays a major role when you are traveling.  It’s the change in climates, altitudes, and the amount of walking/exercise you may not be accustomed to that will make you feel thirsty sooner than if you were home.  The minute you are thirsty you are dehydrated!

SWEATER/JACKET/HAT/SOCKS — We do our best to control the temperature inside the bus for everyone’s comfort; however, there may be times when you will feel more comfortable wearing a sweater or throwing a jacket over your shoulders.  Likewise, if it proves too warm to your liking, removing your outerwear might just do the trick!  It is also not uncommon for outside temperatures to fluctuate from the time you board the bus to your destination.
Along these same lines, you may want to throw in a pair of socks in case your feet get cold and you are wearing sandals.  A hat can come in handy on those bright sunny days.

RAIN GEAR/UMBRELLA — As much as no one likes to carry an umbrella, you just never know when it will come in handy.  The skies could be clear as we make our way from the departure points, and it could be pouring at our first rest stop.  There are multiple stores that sell plastic ponchos for a few dollars and they don’t take up much room in your carry-on.

SNACKS — Just like the ocean air at the beach,  the excitement of traveling on a bus can make you feel hungry!  Although we do make rest stops approximately every two hours, it doesn’t hurt to have your favorite breakfast bar, piece of fruit, pretzels, crackers or candies only an arms reach away!  Tea, coffee, juice, and sodas are also welcome as long as they are in a container with a lid. You may want to throw in a couple of plastic baggies just in case. They come in handy for leftovers, etc.

SANITIZING WIPES/TOILETRIES — There will be many times when you will be in touch with grab bars, railings, door handles, etc.  It is always a good idea to keep sanitizing wipes, gels, sprays, etc. nearby to keep those germs away. Also, keeping a few essential toiletries with you comes in handy when you want to freshen up at a rest stop or when we get to the hotel. Sometimes it takes the hotel a few minutes to sort and deliver luggage to everyone’s room so having these items with you is a nice convenience.

SMALL NECK/BACK PILLOWS — Our seating is ergonomically comfortable!  The seats are fitted with handrails, headrests, and recline with footrests, but if you need a little extra comfort, bring a small pillow for your neck or back – I do! Ear plugs can also come in handy if you want to take a nap.

READING/GAME MATERIALS — There is so much to do while riding on the bus — catching up with your friends/family, making new acquaintances, looking out the window and enjoying the beautiful scenery while listening to soothing music, taking a cat nap, engaging in the fun games your tour director is playing or watching the pre-selected movie.  Our buses are equipped with secure WiFi connections. So, even with all of that to do, there is always time for you to relax using your personal electronic devices to check email, Facebook, play games, read your favorite book or magazine, and do word and number puzzles — don’t leave home without them and be sure to pack your charging cables and headphones!

EMPTY SATCHEL/BAG — There are so many opportunities to bring back souvenirs that it may help to have an extra empty bag or two to protect your new found treasures.

Oh, one more thing—make sure you pack your enthusiasm for another great adventure with Starr!

I look forward to sharing your list of onboard items when I see you on the road again!

Happy travels,
Christine Durling, Tour Director

4 Tips For Making Friends When Traveling Solo

4 Tips For Making Friends When Traveling Solo

Traveling solo can seem a bit daunting or lonely, but it does not have to be! Making friends when traveling solo just requires a little bit of effort – and sometimes a willingness to try something new. It serves even the most introverted person well to get out of the box once in a while. Take your trip and dare yourself to make a new friend!

Here are a four tips to help:

seniorfriends-meeting_iakovfilimonov-photog_shutterstock_398921350-max600x600#1: Start a conversation on transit

At Starr, many of our trips require a bit of time before reaching your destination. Instead of plugging in headphones or turning to the next chapter in your book, why not start up a conversation with your fellow travelers? You already have your destination in common. With that knowledge, you can simply ask what they are looking forward to seeing on the trip, have they visited before, etc. Make the most of the drive by socializing.

 

#2: Make small talk over meals

Dining with others is always an easy entry to making small talk. A few simple conversation starters are: Where are you from? Is this your first trip with Starr? What has been your favorite part of the trip so far? Open-ended questions are always best because they leave room for the conversation to grow.

 

#3: What NOT to do

Don’t expect everyone to have everything in common with you. It’s a GOOD thing to meet new people who are passionate about different things. Be open to people with diverse backgrounds and interests, varying ages and life experiences. This gives you the opportunity to learn from each other and you might find out you have more in common than you think. Don’t be discouraged to make a new friend or let your fears hold you back. Many times, we can “clam up” if the conversation goes dry. If that happens, just ask another question!  Don’t ask personal questions too quickly or act nosy. This can deter people away.

 

#4: Forget Your Hang-Ups

This might be the most important tip. If you’re anything like me, you might make excuses for meeting people or trying something new. You might say you’re too old, too young, too scared; the list goes on.  Leave the excuses at home and meet someone new.

 

girlfriends_123rf-max200x200#4 Staying in touch

After returning from your trip with new friends, find a way to keep in touch. It may be a little awkward to say, “Hey, I really enjoyed spending time with you on this trip. Would you like to exchange numbers and meet for lunch sometime?” but put yourself out there. The worst they can do is say no. Exchange numbers and other contact info – connect over social media. Find a fun class to take together or, better yet, plan to get together again on another Starr trip! A friend you meet traveling can easily turn into a friend for life!

 

When traveling solo, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to put your fears aside and enjoy the adventure. Strike up a conversation while standing in line or step out of your comfort zone to try a new class. There’s no need to stick to the norm, especially when it comes to meeting new people. Traveling solo is all what you make of it. Make your trip a great one and make a new friend!