Insights on Travel from Costa Rica Expeditions’ Founder Michael Kaye and his Expert Friends.

How Vacation Time is Precious is different from Trip Advisors and the other Mass Travel Review Sites

One difference is that we are creating this blog together, so what is in it will reflect our preferences.
For example, this post reflects your comments.

Max Waugh wrote:
“I think the idea has potential, though it will be interesting to see what can make it unique compared to other interactive travel resources such as Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum or Trip Advisor…”

Alex Sunarich wrote:
“I frequently use the web and sites such as Trip Advisor in order to research and/or share information regarding travel destinations or accomodation. The thing which is missing is a forum where travellers can share in- depth information and insights regarding specific concerns and issues on a one to one basis, from the “front lines”, so to speak. I would be very happy to participate!”

These comments helped me define one of the goals of Vacation Time is Precious more precisely than I was able to when I wrote the first post two weeks ago.  How does this strike you?
“Vacation Time is Precious provides forum for a virtual community of travelers who have a shared conversation of what makes travel valuable so that comments and recommendations in the blog will be much more useful than the ones that come from the mass “epinion” travel sites where the only thing the reviewers have in common is an interest in travel.”

That said, clearly the idea is not to replace the mass sites.  Their advantage is that they are huge. These provide instant information about virtually anywhere in the world—not to mention that they have functional subscription, search and navigation functions.  We are working on these as fast as we can, by the way.

So the take home from this post is that although I have a general idea of the direction that I want it to take, Vacation Time is Precious,  is still in its infancy. The specifics will very much be influenced all of you.  So please keep your suggestions coming— starting with suggestions for topics for the next post.

Inspired by your comments I am considering:

  • More definitions of goals and focus of this blog
  • When to travel on your own and when to use professional help to plan and arrange vacations.
  • Request for your feedback on specific questions I am wrestling with about navigation, search, how to manage subscriptions and notifications.

All help and suggestions gratefully received.

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Comments and Replies

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                  • At January 07, 2010
                    8:42:58 pm
                    Patty said:

                    Hi Michael, One of my favorite columnists, Nicholas Kristoff, wrote a wonderful piece about Costa Rica in the New York Times today! I wanted to share the link for this group to see. I’m wondering if he traveled with CRE? I used to work with him at the Times and he’s a tremendous writer with a heart of gold – has done so much to raise awareness of global issues. Check this out:

                    • At January 10, 2010
                      6:39:30 pm
                      Michael Kaye replied
                      to :

                      Hi Patty, He is one of my favorite columnists as well. In fact I changed the topic of this weeks post to address his column and the over 400 comments that column inspired. It will be up sometime tomorrow. I asked someone to check to see if we was traveling with us and if he was booked as Nicholas, he was not.

                      Which reminds me… A few years ago one of our guides called me and said, “I just finished a trip with a really interesting guy. I am not sure but I think he might be famous. “I asked his name and the guide said, “Harry Belafonte.”

                    • I’m a strong believer in self-planning. I know there must be altruistic travel agents out there, but I still think that commissions influence who/what they recommend. Why suggest a mom & pop B&B that doesn’t pay a commission when they can be sure of getting a percentage from the Brand X chain? I always look at Trip Advisor, but I agree with Michael’s comment that some advice is commercially motivated. I wrote Frommer guidebooks for ten years (Australia, New Zealand, and San Diego) and even though I am officialy a disgruntled former employee, I still buy and rely on their books. I liked planning our trip to Costa Rica with CRE because I had already done my homework and pretty much knew what I wanted – or thought I wanted. As it turned out, CRE’s advise was excellent and we loved our guides who took us off the beaten path and simply couldn’t have been more helpful. I’m currently writing “Authentic Luxury Travel,” a blog for folks like me who believe that the Third World and Four Seasons are not mutually-exclusive

                      • At January 04, 2010
                        1:09:06 pm
                        Renee Lasher said:

                        I use Trip Advisor in conjunction with several other sources – Frommer, Fodor, Lonely Planet, Orbitz, etc. I try to find consistent recommendations , so I’m not relying on one potentially skewed source. My hope for this blog is that it will be an exchange of ideas as much as specific restaurant and hotel recommendations. I usually have to travel within pretty tight time and budget constraints ( I work in the non-profit theater industry – enough said). So, for example, if I’m looking at a destination, I like to know if there is a time of year when rates are lower. Or, when I was researching Kruger National Park in South Africa ( haven’t gotten there yet), a friend told me that during national school holidays the park is packed with South African families. That’s not necessarily a pro or con, but it is good to know! I also have a particular travel planning issue: I don’t drive. So anywhere I go either has to be accessible via public transport or I need to make arrangements with someone like CRE (of course, driving wouldn’t have helped in visiting Tortuguero – and I’m not a pilot or a river boat operator either). My tendency is to make my own general arrangements and supplement with local tour companies. I’m a big believer in exploring on foot, but sometimes it’s not entirely possible to do it without a little expert help, or it’s enhanced by an acclimating guided tour.

                        • Finding the right balance between independent and “planned” or “guided” travel is always a struggle for me. I have a history of enjoying planning my own trips and winging it to an extent. However, the more trips I plan around my photography and the more remote my destinations get, the more I find myself relying on others (travel agents, companies and guides). This doesn´t always work well, but in many cases there is no other choice.

                          My perspective has been skewed a bit by my background, which means that my travel goals are often centered on getting to remote areas to find wildlife, such as Corcovado´s Sirena Station. I have also learned the value over the years of hiring a good local guide to explore some of these areas. Not only is the knowledge and insight you get from these guides often unmatched by solo exploration or guided group tours, but there´s more freedom when you are able to work on your own with a guide.

                          My first trip to Costa Rica was more on the independent side. We booked a stay at the Corcovado Tent Camp lodge with CRE´s help, but planned the rest of the trip on our own. When I decided to return to the Osa a few years later, I remembered the difficulty we had taking care of the park permits and Sirena booking on our own. That and the fact that I wanted to hire a guide for my stay led me to hand over all the planning to CRE. It was much easier getting the transport taken care of, the guide arranged and the Sirena stay booked.

                          Overall, my interactions with CRE have been extremely positive, but I´ve found that this is not always the case when handing over planning and booking responsibilities to agents or other companies. My wife and I are already experiencing such issues during our current trip in Argentina.

                          So what are the positives and negatives to using “professional help to plan and arrange vacations?” In my mind these are some of the things to consider:

                          -Obviously it takes much less work for you to let someone else plan things 😉
                          -They can arrange for guides or stays at locations that otherwise may not be accessible to you.
                          -Hurdles that may be causes by language barriers, poor international communication, etc. are easier to hurdle with a local company´s help.

                          -By handing over planning responsibilities to someone else, you are ceding control of your trìp, which is often an uncomfortable prospect to independent travelers. You cannot be 100% sure of what´s going on beforehand, since you are not personally making arrangements.
                          -Something may inevitably be lost in translation/communication. I don´t know how many times I was expecting an arranged tour to be one thing, and it turned out to be entirely different.
                          -It´s often more expensive. Agents and travel companies have to make their money somehow, right? 😉

                          I´m sure there are more… those are a few considerations off the top of my head. The choice between independent travel and enlisting help may ultimately come down to what you want to see and do, where in the world you´re going and your budget.

                          • At December 31, 2009
                            11:16:11 am
                            mskaye replied
                            to :


                            Great comment. I’ll probably use it as a point of departure for my post next week.

                            There is a large company called Akorn that provides very good services in many countries all over the world, that has a division in Argentina. Mark Wheeler, the managing director for South America is good friend. If you’d like I can ask him who you should contact in Argentina. Just let me know

                          • At December 30, 2009
                            10:36:10 am
                            John said:

                            We are big fans of Trip Advisor and use it extensively in planning vacations. We switched car rental company, guides, and hotels before our last big outing based on travellers opinions in TA.
                            When we completed our journey, we added a trip report on several locations we visited and services we used to help other folks – just as we had been helped.
                            I don’t know how you plan to be different than TA unless you will deal with expedition/adventure travel exclusively. I will echo the comments that we would trust CRE’s advisors to steer us in the right direction without question when we return to CR.
                            With TA you do have to wade through a lot of opinions from people who have widely varied expectations of travel and vacations. It is sometimes hard to know which to trust.

                            • At December 31, 2009
                              2:08:54 pm
                              Michael Kaye replied
                              to :

                              John, Where I do not have a contact I use Trip Advisor myself for our vacations and run to the same problem of whose comments to trust. One thing I noticed is that if somebody has thousands of posts on Trip Advisor. The are probably in the travel business. This does not necessarily mean that the advice is bad, but Trip Advisor policy and general good practice calls for disclosure of possible conflicts of interest. I am sure there are people who post a great deal simply out of desire to be of service, but on the couple of occasions that I have taken the trouble to dig deeper I found undisclosed conflicts of interest for people who post thousands of times.

                            • At December 30, 2009
                              12:35:27 am
                              Su Suits said:

                              Su Suits says (December 29, 2009 at 11:15 pm):

                              This is gonna be fun. What makes CRE standout to me, is that it is an “I can do it all” co. It is not like the Lonely Planet approach of access to complete independence, nor is it the guided tour trip. the mix and match aspects are what I find appealing. CRE can get me to where I want to go( in real comfort, with personable drivers)….they can set me up for an educational tour through Monteverde…..I can be on a remote beach and eat like a king, without being in the resort sort of enviroment. CRE can be what you need it to be. As I read and write on this blog, I am looking for more info on companies like this. On my virgin blog, I wrote about a trip to Spain and Morroco this past summer. My husband happened to be my CRE, because he speaks Spanish,Arabic, and French. He was able to make our connections happen with a fair amount of ease and comfort. I like that CRE did that for us on our trip to C.R. We did not have to worry about getting here, yonder, and everywhere. We could focus on all the senses, and had alot more energy to enjoy Costa Rica. I returned on a second CRE trip with a girlfriend, because I had 100% confidence that CRE would be there when we needed them, and evaporate when we did not. Though my husband and I had a fantastic time in Morroco, it was truly because of his language skills that it was a success. (Also the warmth of the people). I could not have done that trip alone, and felt comfortable, and confident. CRE supplies the confidence. That is my brainstorming for now. Feliz Ano Nuevo to all. Gracias.

                              • At December 29, 2009
                                3:21:44 pm
                                Linda Miller said:

                                I am always glad to hear about someone’s experience about a place they have visited. It helps me be more knowledgeable about a place I want to visit so I hope to use this site.

                                • At December 29, 2009
                                  3:13:59 pm
                                  Jennifer Fletcher said:

                                  Feliz Ano a todos! Happy New Year!
                                  We have been to Costa Rica twice.
                                  The 1st time, I found a great villa to rent on the Net,in Manuel Antonio.We went for 3 weeks, took the local bus,had a great time.We rented a car for only 3days,to drive down the coast a bit.
                                  So we (I!)did all the arranging ourselves & this was great.

                                  We decided to return, but wanted to see more ,whilst still staying near the beach. I had seen a article on Nosara in the Toronto Globe & Mail; it looked good. So I found a lovely little house in Guiones Beach,for 2 weeks.
                                  It was when I started trying to fit in San Jose, Monteverde, Arenal,etc, around this that I got really bogged down & frustrated & called on Costa Rica Expeditions to arrange our visits to those places.
                                  This was a wise & brilliant decision! Marco Hernandez organized this for us, & we were very pleased with everything.

                                  So…here’s my opinion: I can find a place to rent & live for a few weeks using the Net.It’s quite fun.
                                  But it was invaluable to have travelling to other places within quite a tight schedule ,arranged for me. It became a real headache trying to fit the excursions round the rental.

                                  • At December 29, 2009
                                    2:53:21 pm
                                    Chris said:

                                    The second commenter indirectly makes a good point. RSS exists for a reason. You do not need to send people an email every time you add a blog entry.

                                    This is offered as constructive criticism.

                                    • At December 29, 2009
                                      3:41:16 pm
                                      Michael Kaye replied
                                      to :

                                      Thank you, Chris, your comment is taken as a constructive criticism. I think that the ultimate answer is to give people a lot of choices about how they are notified. To do this takes programming. Our in house programmers are maxed out. It is the holiday seasons and all the free-lance programmers in Costa Rica are at the beach. I want to keep doing a weekly post. So we are going to try to activate the RSS feeds. What we still need to figure out is how to handle participants who are currently receiving email notifications and opt for the RSS feed. Do I automatically take them off the email list?

                                      • At January 06, 2010
                                        12:05:39 pm
                                        Jennifer Fletcher replied
                                        to :

                                        I don’t really know how RSS feeds work..Just tell me what to do, & I’ll do it!

                                      • At January 06, 2010
                                        12:46:08 pm
                                        Michael Kaye replied
                                        to :

                                        Frankly, Jennifer, I am still trying to figure out RSS feeds myself. That’s why I was asking Chris how to handle it. I have a consultant coming in Friday morning who I hope will be able to help us sort out how to handle subscriptions to the blog and notifications when there are new post.

                                        In the meantime please be patient and bear with us.

                                  • At December 29, 2009
                                    2:40:57 pm
                                    Cheryl Shnider said:

                                    I’ve been following all the comments and replies. No one has articulated a description of what type of travelers we are. I think defining that is key to establishing a focus.

                                    So here goes on what kind of traveler I am. I avoid tourist traps and most of the places where everyone else goes. I like to delve into the hidden gems and off the beaten track places that usually reveal more of the real character of the place and its people. I like to eat, shop and stay local/native. I don’t like chains, fast food, or Americanized places in other countries. My preference is for nature oriented and/or cultural experiences while on vacation. Crowds of tourists give me heebee geebees. I like to get the most out of wherever I am, not just skim the surface. I read and do a lot of research before traveling. I prefer rural to urban, god’s creations to man’s, active to sedentary and outdoors to indoors.

                                    I usually travel independently because I find that most tours try to do too much in too little time and meet the needs of the group rather than the individual. Invariably their itinerary includes places that I don’t care about. Costa Rica Expeditions was actually my first experience with a tour operator and I think I’m spoiled for life! I loved that I could determine my own itinerary with guidance from people who really know the country to help me determine how long to stay in each place and what locations were unique in respect to one another. Once there, I could do what I wanted. Everything was of high quality and so hassle free. That is worth its weight in gold to me. Are the other companies in other countries that can match CRE?

                                    My travel experiences outside the US have been limited in the past 15 years because of family obligations – Israel, Canada, St John and Costa Rica – but I am looking forward to traveling more as my kids get older. I’ve traveled a lot in the US.

                                    What kind of travelers are the rest of you? Happy New Year. May it bring lots of travel adventures!


                                    ps I have no problem traveling alone, especially when it means meeting people who I have an electronic relationship with!