Monday, March 31, 2008

Spring cleaning.

Did you know that Switzerland boasts more than 60,000 kilometers of hiking trails? That’s the equivalent of more than 37,000 miles of cross-country goodness. A person would have to through-hike the Appalachian Trail 17 times to rack up that kind of mileage.

Here’s another perspective. A person could walk around the entire circumference of the Earth at the equator and they would still only cover around 25,000 miles. This means that they would have to walk half way around the world again in order to bring their total up to Switzerland’s 37,000 miles. I think the stats are pretty impressive for a country that could settle down inside the borders of a state like Pennsylvania and still have plenty of room to spare. (Switzerland’s surface area is about 41,000 square kilometers compared to Pennsylvania’s 119,000). Switzerland is a small country that’s BIG on hiking.

Thinking about all of that hiking gets me excited so this morning I made a checklist of a few things that I like to do to every spring in order to get my hiking gear ready for the summer season.

1. Test the rain gear. Most rainwear features some kind of water repellant finish on the exterior commonly referred to as a DWR, (Durable Water Repellant). The DWR allows water droplets to bead up and roll off the garment. This action keeps the underlying fabric dry and allows the technical laminates like GoreTex to do their job more efficiently. The DWR can lose performance or even just wear off over time, especially following multiple machine washes or a history of downpours. Test the rain gear for leaks and reapply the DWR if the water just saturates the fabric instead of beading up and rolling away. Your local outdoor shop should carry a variety of easy-to-apply water repellant finishes.

2. Take your old footwear for a walk or buy new shoes and break them in. Are your shoes or boots still comfortable? Consider replacing the insoles. New insoles, especially custom insoles, make an old pair of hiking boots feel like brand new. Consider re-treating the water repellancy on your footwear as well. Spring is the time to break in your system to prevent blisters during your hiking vacation.

3. Inventory your socks. Do they have holes? How is that area around the heel and ball of your foot holding up? Do you have enough pairs?

4. Examine your gear for signs of wear. Look for worn or ripped seams and abraded fabric. Examine the zippers. This goes for backpacks too. Look at the area where the shoulder strap connects to the bag. Make sure that all the seams look tight and repair any problems. Try things on. Do they still fit? Do they still feel comfortable? Are they clean?

5. Make a gear wish list and then go researching. Summer gear inventories are large during this time of year so it’s a great opportunity to shop around and to see what’s new. Look through previous journal entries to remember things that worked and things that didn’t. Do you remember how your knees felt during last year’s long descents? Did you wish that you had trekking poles? You can look at our equipment list and get more ideas by clicking here.

Vacations don’t come along every day so you might as well make a production out of the whole affair. I find that it helps to prolong the excitement. So put on your gear, stash a few pieces of Swiss chocolate in your pocket, and tell the kids that you’re going for a walk. Take a walk in the rain. Go out in the sun. Beg for wind. Look for mud. Work out the kinks in your system before you go on vacation. Spring is a great time to do it.

Friday, March 21, 2008

No Surprises.

A gentleman once pulled me aside and asked, “Will you give me money back on my tour if the dollar gains value against other currencies?”

I responded, “Only if I can charge you more when it loses.”

It’s no secret that the U.S. Dollar and its relationship to other currencies continue to weigh heavily on those of us that work in the travel industry. The short story is that it’s getting more expensive for U.S. citizens to travel abroad. There is some good news though.

First, we won’t surprise you with an adjusted invoice a few months after you register for you tour. If you sign up for a tour at $1200 then that’s what you’ll get unless we make some special arrangement. In the rare case that there is some special agreement that includes a currency supplement, you’ll know about it in advance during the planning process. We sometimes do this with groups that demand a lot of flexibility and cannot always commit to an established package until closer to tour departure.

Quite simply, we will never surprise you down the road. What you sign up for is what you get. We’ll stick by it because we value loyalty. In fact, here’s an inside tip. Given the current exchange situation, the guided Engadine Trek is a real steal.

Second, our tours are becoming increasingly attractive to our guests from outside of the United States. See my post from April 18th 2007 titled, “UK Travelers get a hiking tour for half price!” Canadians, Brits, Australians, Europeans and even the Swiss benefit as their currencies become increasingly stronger against the U.S. Dollar.

Finally, (here comes the fluff): We are experts at putting together customized tours. Our planning department is in full swing and we love developing itineraries that meet your particular needs and concerns. Do you want to hike the Alps but can’t afford the luxury four-star accommodations? How about a visit to a simpler, yet uber comfortable berghaus? Many of them have private rooms, hot showers, well-stocked bars and great food. Check out my post from October 8 for a brief glimpse of one of our simpler “huts.” What’ if you’re looking to visit the U.S? Now is a great time to do it. Our Telluride Trek is sold out but we still have space on the Arches & Canyonlands hike.

Side Note: I just checked the weather for the canyon country and next week’s forecast promises sunny skies and 70 degrees.

Just give us a call. We’ll put something together that works around your budget.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

One pass to rule them all.




If J.R.R. Tolkien’s One Ring represented all that is evil and dark in the world, then the Swiss Pass symbolizes light, and all that can be great with civilization.

It is difficult for a person living in a country that lacks good public transportation to understand the Swiss Travel System. Some people just don’t believe it until they touch down in Switzerland and experience it for themselves. Public transportation in Switzerland is timely, safe, clean, convenient, comfortable and extremely easy to use. Trains are a major component of the Swiss Travel System but boats, buses, funiculars, trams and cable cars also transport millions of people every day within Switzerland.

As if Switzerland’s travel network weren’t efficient enough, visitors to Switzerland have the opportunity to use one single pass that works for the entire Swiss Travel System, including lake steamers, trains, buses and some cable cars.

The Swiss Pass entitles visitors to unlimited travel on consecutive days throughout the STS network and is available in 4, 8, 15, 22-day or one month configurations.

The Swiss pass also covers scenic routes and local trams and buses in 37 towns and cities and offers a 50% reduction on most mountaintop trains and cable cars. The Swiss Pass also includes the Swiss Museum Pass, allowing free entrance to over 400 museums and exhibitions within Switzerland.

The Swiss Saver Pass is the same as the Swiss Pass but offers discounts for multiple people traveling together. The Swiss Flexi-Pass is also the same as the Swiss Pass but allows the traveler to choose their own dates. The travel days don’t have to be consecutive.

Advantages at a glance:

* Unlimited travel throughout the rail, bus and boat Swiss Travel network.

* Covers local trams and buses in 37 cities. This means that you can just hop onto the streetcars or busses in downtown Zurich Geneva or Bern.

* 50% reduction on most mountaintop trains and cable cars. Some private railways like the Jungfraujoch (pictured above) and Glacier Express will differ in price reductions.

* Free entrance to over 400 museums.

* Children from 6 to 15 years inclusive travel free with a Family Card if accompanied by at least one parent.

Another option is the Swiss Card. The Swiss Card works on the entire STS network and gives card holders one round-trip within a one-month period within Switzerland. The card is perfect for travelers that just want to get to and from their tour with minimal transportation in between. For additional transport, the Swiss Card offers unlimited purchase of train, bus, boat and some cable car tickets at 50% off the regular price within the Swiss Card’s 30 day period of validity.

If you plan to stay in Switzerland and do some traveling then please give us a call. We are happy to find the perfect pass for your vacation. We can upgrade your Swiss Card or help you purchase an entirely different pass altogether. If you’re looking to save money during your travels in Switzerland then these passes are the ticket, literally!

What could be more perfect that an all-in-one ticket?

Please contact us for more details.

STS products are not available to residents of Switzerland or the Principality of Liechtenstein.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I registered for my tour. What do I do now?


It’s hard to believe that we're only 3 months away from the start of our June tours. Even more surprising is the fact that we’re less than two months away from the Arches & Canyonlands hiking tour, our first guided trip of the season.

Here’s a quick 10-point checklist to make sure that you’re prepared for your upcoming hiking tour with Ryder-Walker.

1. Make sure that you haven’t lost your registration package. Guided and private guided travelers should have received a spiral bound notebook when they registered for their tour. This book contains an itinerary, equipment list, travel information and general info. Self-guided travelers should have received an initial package of documents that includes the equipment list, regional information and general information. The self-guided spiral-bound books and maps will arrive one month prior to departure, or earlier, depending on your tour.

2. Make sure that your passport is current. Get one if you haven’t done so already.

3. Buy your plane tickets.

4. Consider purchasing tour cancellation insurance.

5. Send in your waivers. You should have received two separate waivers with your registration package. The first waiver is a Travel Protection waiver/application. The second wavier is a release of liability. We need both waivers for every participant.

6. Apply your final payment. Final payment is due 90 days before departure. If your trip begins in June or earlier then your final payment is either due now, or due very shortly.

7. Inform us of any special needs. Are you a vegetarian? Do you have an aversion to yodeling or gnomes? Do you travel with excessive amounts of luggage? Do you have allergies, medications or medical requirements that we should know about? We’ll do everything we can to make your vacation spectacular.

8. Notify us if you need extra accommodations. Will you arrive early or stay late following your tour?

9. Contact us if you need special travel advice for logistics or accommodations surrounding your tour. Are you having trouble deciding where to sightsee? Do have all of the rail and bus schedules that you need? Rail passes, (for the tours that include them) typically arrive one month prior to departure or earlier. We can also purchase and/or upgrade rail passes to meet the additional requirements of your vacation. Are you heading off to Italy or Spain following your hiking tour? Will you put on the Ritz in Constantinople? No problem, just give us a call. We’ll help you plan the extras around your hiking adventure. If a destination falls beyond our scope then we’ll do our best to point you in the right direction.

10. Organize your equipment and start exercising. This is a great time to work out the kinks in your system. Check your old raingear for leaks. Break in your new foot wear. Have you ever considered trekking poles? Now is the time to buy them. How do those knees feel? Start small and gradually increase your intensity and mileage. If you start now then you’ll enjoy your vacation infinitely more. Please contact us if you need advice. Most importantly, have fun. Your vacation is just around the corner!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Simple pleasures.

I've been feeling anxious to get on the trail. It happens to me every spring. I wake up, open the window, and feel something that I haven't known for many months. A warm breeze ruffles the curtains. The slanted early morning light appears richer and warmer than before. My thoughts often turn to the words of author and naturalist, Sigurd Olson, who once shared his own musings about spring.

"The very thought of it is something to live for when the days are bitter and winter is stretching out a little longer than it should. When March comes in, no matter how cold and blustery it is, the time is ripe for signs. It makes no difference if the ice is still thick on the lakes and the drifts are as deep as ever. When that something is in the wind, the entire situation is changed."

We still have another month of lift-served skiing and snowboarding here in Telluride, and many more months of sliding in the backcountry. Still, I can't help but notice a faint softness in the air and a slight tempering of the cold.

This morning I dug through some personal photos from our Matterhorn Trek. May these photos remind you of simple pleasures and exciting days ahead.

Candlelight dinner in the Val D'Ayas.



A view of Mont Blanc looking back from the Col de Brison.




One of our simple dining rooms.



A classic view of the Matterhorn as we hike into Cervinia.



The best focaccia bread that you'll ever taste in your life.



Simple pleasures.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Will work come between you and your vacation?

We strongly recommend trip cancellation insurance because it protects you, and us, in case of an unexpected cancellation. The short story is that you get reimbursed and we don’t have to spend time trying to recover your money from our colleagues overseas. By the time you go on your trip, a number of transactions have taken place to ensure that your vacation stands out as one of the most memorable experiences of your life. There may be instances when we can’t guarantee a full recovery of your losses in case of an unexpected cancellation.

There are many insurance companies in existence and each one differs in the services that they offer. We work closely with a company called Travelex and we’ve been very impressed by their prompt and courteous service.

Until now, Travelex never really covered cancellations for business reasons. So, when the following message appeared in my mailbox, I was delighted to pass the news along to you.

The NEW Travelex Business Upgrade is now available!

This upgrade adds additional Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption coverage to our TraveLite and Travel Plus insurance plans for the following unforeseen business and military reasons for only $28 per person.

You can now recover up to 100% of your insured trip cost due to trip cancellation or 150% of your insured trip cost due to trip interruption when you, your spouse and/or your traveling companion who has also purchased the Business Upgrade:

* are required to work during the covered trip;
* have a pre-approved military leave revoked;
* experience a military re-assignment;
* have a business location deemed unsuitable for business by fire, vandalism, burglary or natural disaster; or
* are directly involved in an acquisition or merger of an employer.

$500,000 in Flight Accident Protection is also
included in the Travelex Business Upgrade!

Please Note:
- The Travelex insurance plan and Business Upgrade must be purchased within 21 days of your initial trip deposit.
- The Business Upgrade must be purchased for all travelers, including children, in order for them to receive coverage.

*This is a brief description of the benefits of the Travelex Business Upgrade. Certain conditions, limitations and exclusions apply as set out in the Evidence of Coverage. Please visit the TravelEx website at www.travelexinsurance.com and refer to the Evidence of Coverage for full details.

To enroll in this program, please contact TravelEx directly.

- Visit www.travelexinsurance.com .
or
- Call 1-800-228-9792.
or
- Mail or fax in a TraveLite or Travel Plus enrollment form included with your Ryder-Walker registration package and select Optional Flight Coverage of $500,000 Protection for $28 per person. The Business Upgrade will automatically be included.

Please contact us for more details.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Telluride Trek is Sold Out!

The Telluride Trek is officially full. What's the Telluride Trek? You can read about it here.

Don't despair if you missed out. We still have space on our Red Rock Tour that runs May 3-11, 3008. The Red Rock Tour is a great tonic for cabin fever. It's also a good choice for the financially conscious traveler. Let's face it, the foreign exchange rate isn't exactly working positively for everybody traveling to Europe. Why not explore one of the most beautiful regions of the United States? Do I hear any Australian or Swiss takers out there?

For those interested in Europe, we're still looking for a few hearty souls to accompany us on the following tours.

Engadine Trek I, July 1-8, 2008.
Berner Oberland Ramble, July 24-31, 2008.
Italian High Route, August 20-30, 2008.
Engadine Trek II, September 1-8, 2008.

Please contact us for more details.