Terrifying times don't deter love of travel

BY DIANA PLATER
Last updated 05:00 18/03/2009

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Lorraine Sharp, the managing director of Insight Vacations, has experienced just about every mishap that can strike a traveller – from allergy-inducing hotel products to lost luggage and bomb scares.

But that hasn't deterred her love of travel or prevented her notching up more than 200 overseas trips.

Sharp is never short of a tip about a good destination or a memorable travelling experience.

But she also has a long list of near-disasters during her time in the business, which includes six years as vice-president of Sales and Marketing at Contiki Holidays in the US and six years with Tauck World Discovery, a deluxe tour operator.

For four consecutive years (1996-1999) she was recognised as one of "100 top women in travel" by Travel Agent magazine, a trade publication in the US.

Originally from Maitland in the NSW Hunter Valley, for the past five years Sharp has been with Insight (after two years with Trafalgar Tours), which hosts international coach tours, and has joined many of these trips.

Two years ago in Istanbul she wound up in the American hospital's pharmacy after having an allergic reaction.

The tour director translated for her and stayed with her the whole time.

"I don't think I would have been able to cope (without him)," she says.

While on another Insight tour in Egypt, the overnight train was cancelled. Once again, the tour director came through, organising accommodation.

While living in the US, about six years ago, she noticed on a Seattle to LA flight that the flight attendants were opening and closing overhead bins.

When the plane landed in a paddock near Oakland, California, it became fairly obvious there had been a bomb scare, she says.

"They had us sitting there until we got all the bags off," she says. "It was just a hoax."

During another flight to Dallas the flight attendants started getting their emergency procedures manuals out. The flight then went into an emergency landing with passengers having to take the brace position.

"It was terrifying. . .but thankfully it was able to land," she says although she never found out the reason why it was necessary.

At the time of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks she was in Brussels. Flights were frozen and many travellers couldn't get home for a week.

This time, they were able to keep their hotel rooms, because new guests were being told not to come.

Another time her bag didn't turn up on a trip to Las Vegas. Sharp was wearing pants and a casual top. But ever resourceful, she found a way round it.

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"When my bag didn't turn up I went into Macy's and picked up a shirt and scarf. I went to the makeup counter for a free makeover. Nobody knew the difference."

While in Killarney, Ireland she became very sick. Again the tour operator got her to a doctor, who prescribed antibiotics.

"I seem to have bad luck," she says remembering another incident. "I was in Casablanca. I put the cream on from the hotel. I had an allergic reaction, with welts all over my arms."

Her advice – take your own body cream or moisturiser.

In Morocco she had a tummy bug and the tablets she brought with her didn't work. She was recommended a local drug, which did the trick.

She has learnt from the Americans – without actually mentioning them – about how to be more a more assertive traveller.

"I think anyone who's travelled will know that. . . you need to be assertive."

She says you can tell which people have travelled a lot – just by how they get on a plane.

Many of her colleagues who also travel extensively have trained their children to be good travellers, although some can be princesses – one was horrified when she had to turn right when they boarded the plane.

"They're very savvy. . . they can order room service on their own."

What countries would she still like to visit?

"I've only been to Chile in South America," she says saying other Latin American countries are on her wishlist. And she hasn't been to China yet.

"I'm blessed, you get to see so many things you can't believe."

How to avert disaster when you travel:

* Take some clothes in your carry-on bags – enough for two days in case your luggage goes missing. Include a T-shirt and underwear.

* If you're travelling with your partner – split your clothes up in each other's suitcase.

* Photocopy your documents before you go.

* Visit your GP before the trip for vaccinations and to stock up on any medication you need.

* Take medication, including cold and flu tablets and if necessary antibiotics (especially if you're an older person)

* Use local medicine for conditions such as diarrhoea which can often work better than Australian ones.

* Research whether you need local currency when leaving the big cities as many places won't change Australian or US dollars.

* Drink bottled water.

* Avoid raw foods.

* Get comprehensive travel insurance.

* Create your own basic first aid kit.

* Use any down time on a tour to relax and rest.

- AAP

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