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We spoke with travel consultants about how to make your warm winter getaway the best yet

Need to get away this winter? Here’s what you should know to make your vacation go smoothly
tropical beach stock
Planning a winter getaway? Get some handy travel tips straight from travel consultants. (File)

It’s early December, and we’ve already had a month of winter. Snow-covered Sudbury is here to stay, for more months than it should be allowed. Even if you love winter, love the activities and the scenery, you have to admit that in the midst of it, even a diehard fan will have thoughts of sun and summer. 

 “I have had quite a few families who decided they were done with all the snow and want to find a nice beach to curl their toes into,” says Sherri Lavigne, licensed TICO (Travel Industry Council of Canada) travel consultant in Sudbury and member of Travel Professionals International.

“The most popular destinations out of Sudbury are the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Jamaica. I still have quite a few clients who enjoy Cuba, so I've booked quite a few on the long beach of Varadero.”

Leah Miller, of Merit Travel in Sudbury agrees that sun destinations are the hot ticket right now, and adds that she finds large party trips are on the rise. 

“Multi-generational family and group travel is so popular now, sharing the experience with loved ones.”

If you’ve had thoughts of escaping this winter … let’s call it wonderland — though most give that word up around mid-January — then there are a few things you should consider. First things first, book as early as possible. 

“I notify my clients who travel during the winter months in August and September that it’s time to take advantage of Early Booking Bonuses offered by suppliers. Families and couples can save several hundred dollars just by booking in the fall,” says Lavigne. 

She also recommends that if you have a certain preferences, certain room categories or even child-free resorts, that you consider this in your planning timeline. Merit’s Miller agrees. 

“Depending on the type of trip you are looking for booking trends have increased to six months (to) a year in advance,” Millers says. “Last-minute deals aren’t necessarily as ‘juicy’ as they used to be.”

For this reason, Lavigne recommends that her clients purchase what’s known as ‘Price Drop.’ 

“I suggest to my clients, when it’s available, to purchase the Price Drop offered by the supplier. This way, you book early, get the room and resort you want, and if the price goes down, you’re protected.”

Now that you’re set on booking a trip, what else do you need to know, other than how to fill a suitcase? Get your paperwork in order, for starters. 

“Check your passports,” says Lavigne. “Most destinations require your passport to be valid at least six months after your departure date. Nothing worse than showing up at the airport and your passport expires while you’re there.” 

She also recommends taking photocopies of your passport, itinerary, and flight information, and leaving it at home with someone you trust. Miller adds that checking every word of your paperwork for accuracy is important as well. 

“Review your documents for any typos, making sure your name on your documents match your identification, be sure that you have the right identification, i.e. passport and photo ID,” she says.

Lavigne also has some advice that may help you on your travels.

For security reasons, do not include your name and other identifying information on the outside of your luggage – conceal the information inside your suitcase. To make your luggage more identifiable, add ribbons or tape to make it easy to see on the carousel.

In your carry-on, include a change of clothes, a swimsuit and a pair of sandals.

“If you arrive early in the day, it’s possible that your room will not be ready, but you can change and start to enjoy your holiday right away. The front desk will store your baggage,” says Lavigne. 

As well, bring sunscreen – the onsite cost of it will blow your mind. And Lavigne suggests leaving any extras in the room. 

“Bring several bottles and whatever you don’t use, leave the remaining amount in your hotel room with a tip for the housecleaning staff. They will greatly appreciate it.”

Now, to technology. Remember adaptors to charge your phone, and if you’re bringing an internet-addict, prepare them for the spotty service – and extra costs – they may face. 

“For example, in Cuba, you have to purchase Internet cards, as not every place has access. So take that into consideration that there’s an additional cost when you get there, it’s not part of the all-inclusive package.”

But this could be a good thing – you are going on vacation. And it will help you as well to get used to the timeline of things in another country, where people may not want to move at the speed that Canadians do. After all, it could be said that we’re moving so fast just to keep warm. 

Lavigne also recommends travel insurance. While most trips run smoothly, troubles do happen, and when they do, they can cost you thousands of dollars – even when you think your credit card or employer plan will cover you. This is something you can speak to your travel consultant about as well. 

And this is one of the many reasons that both Miller and Lavigne recommend working with a travel consultant. No longer can you get better deals online, or find some secret trip that saves you hundreds of dollars. Now it will be the same price everywhere – but it’s the service that changes. 

“We get the same deals you find online, but when you have a problem, you’re going to appreciate speaking to the person who helped you find your perfect vacation and not someone at a call centre who has received tons of other calls of people in your situation,” says Lavigne. 

One example of this happened in 2017 when the Caribbean was hit by hurricanes. 

“Those people who had travel consultants had someone back home, looking out for them and on the horn getting their clients out of there. Personally, I had clients who were about to travel the day after one of the hurricanes hit,” says Lavigne. “The following morning I called the hotel to make sure it was still there and ready to receive my clients, and I contacted the cruise line to make sure the cruise was still a go. 

“The night before they left, my clients received an email that their flight was cancelled and they couldn't fly out until two days later — after their ship sailed. I got on the phone, had the supplier get my clients on a different plane — at no extra charge to the client — so they could make their cruise. The best part is my clients didn't need to worry, because that's what travel consultants do, they work hard for their clients.”

If you are looking to feel the rays of sun on your face once again – it’s hard to believe that summer was only a few months ago – your best bet is to get your paperwork in order, your bags packed, and consider using a travel consultant. You can find great prices, highly recommended beaches, hotels and activities - and any problems that arise are handled for you, while you relax in the sun and surf.  

Jenny Lamothe is a freelance writer, proof-reader and editor in Greater Sudbury. Contact her through her website,