Category Archives: Tips for Travel

Visiting Paris This Year? Plan in Advance

If you have a hope of seeing the Mona Lisa at Le Louvre, book your timed ticket as soon as you book your travel to Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

If you are planning to visit Paris his year, it is especially important to make plans really early, lock in reservations to visit the sites, attractions, restaurants, hotels, even train or bus transportation you most want to include if you are going outside Paris.

Paris (with 85,000 hotel rooms) is expecting about 15 million visitors as it hosts the Olympics (July 26-August 11) and Paralympics (August 28-Sept. 8. Other events to keep in mind: Tour de France, from June 29 to July 21; and Tour de France Femmes, from August 12 to 18.

The fact is, Paris is so popular (for good reason), there is no longer the “shoulder” season or “off season” (especially as more travelers seek the comparative comfort of cooler seasons, known as “coolcationing”). No matter when you travel, to get the most out of your visit, it is essential to do pre-planning. The days of just strolling into the major attractions are well gone, so advance purchase of timed- and capacity-controlled tickets will still be essential. Book online as soon as you know your dates of travel. In that way, you can avoid wasting valuable time and money waiting on line for tickets (followed by the line for security). Moreover, having a set time to visit the key attraction on your list will help you structure your day – while still allowing for serendipitous experiences and discoveries.

I must admit that my decision to spend four days in Paris at the end of my European Waterways canal boat cruise in the Alsace-Lorraine was a bit spontaneous and I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to do the research and preparation which I am recommending here. (So I didn’t get to go up the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower.) And planning out my visit for a city as big (and yet, as I found, not so big that I couldn’t walk everywhere), with as many highlights, was intimidating from a logistics point of view. So I began as I would hope other travelers do: I consulted what other travel writers have written about “four days” in Paris, and checked the various lists of “top attractions” like on tripadvisor.com.

Listen, while most travel writers will focus on the “off the beaten track” and “hidden gems” and “local favorites,” if, like me, you haven’t been to Paris in eons or ever, you want to experience what everyone else is talking about. They are the top attractions for a reason. But by preparing in advance in order to reduce wasting time waiting on lines, you will (I guarantee) have those serendipitous discoveries of “hidden gems” and “less known” that you can then boast discovering.

I had my list of top attractions, but how to organize in the best way?

Book your tickets to Musee D’Orsay in Paris in order to have more time to really enjoy the spectacular art collection, housed in this former Beaux Arts train station, in relative calm © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I started with figuring out the priority attractions – Le Louvre, Musee D’Orsay – that would require advance, timed tickets, and made each of them the centerpiece of a day. Musee D’Orsay is closed on Monday; Le Louvre is closed on Tuesday. Then I looked to what was around, but much of how I spent my day after was pretty spontaneous.

The city was hopping with visitors this year – as tourism recovered globally after pandemic closures and it seems the world decided never to put off again their dream destinations. I visited in late August, a very busy time in any year, and the city is already preparing for the Olympics (I happened upon a city-wide practice run for security street closures.)

And most surprising to me, was how easy it is to get around Paris – especially walking and by bicycle (with loads of bicycle share stations), with its special biking lanes and traffic signals, and traffic signals and crossings that favor pedestrians. For those who prefer, the superb metro and bus system has multi-day tickets.

I walked everywhere – because it is the whole of Paris that is the attraction – the architecture, the people, the street activity, and the sheer beauty of the city, absolutely one of the most beautiful, enchanting in the world. And not just around the stunning sites of the Eiffel Tower, Le Louvre, Musee D’Orsay and Notre Dame (which you can see as it is restored), but neighborhoods that are so picturesque, interesting, and full of character. So I plot the walking time into my day.

It is thrilling to watch the progress of the restoration project at Notre Dame © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But walking around, is the best way to come upon those “hidden gems” that no one else knows about. You have a cascade of serendipitous experiences, compelling places and surprises around every corner. It’s like surrendering yourself to the universe, or in this case, the city, and let it find you. And sometimes, when you set out in search for something, all these other things emerge.

(GPS is only helpful when you already have internet, but you should plot your route and then download so you have the maps offline or at least download the Paris map, which I kept forgetting to do, so I often relied on actual maps and the kindness of wonderful strangers, even with my very limited French, to point me in the right direction.)

During my four days in Paris, I visited:

Arrival afternoon:

Arc de Triomphe

Stroll the quais along the Seine for the magnificent views of Eiffel Tower at sunset into the night

Day 1: (Sunday)

Musee D’Orsay

Isle de la Cite (to see the restoration of Notre Dame)

Sainte-Chappelle

Tuileries Gardens

Place de la Concorde

Stroll the quai along the Seine to the Eiffel Tower at night

*

Day 2 (Monday)

Le Louvre

Notre Dame (again)

Isle de France

Marais District/Holocaust Memorial

*

Day 3 (Tuesday)

Marais District/Holocaust memorials

Place des Vosges

Museum of Paris History (a highlight)

Musee d’Art D’Histoire du Judaism

Musee Picasso-Paris

Bastille monument

Place Royale

*

Day 4 (Wednesday)

Montmartre

Musee Montmartre

Dali Gallery

Sacre Coeur

(Not on my list: Versailles, which I visited many years ago but any first-timer should visit)

And here are my regrets at having missed out: Victor Hugo’s House (turns out I was right there but didn’t know to look); Petit Palais which has marvelous exhibits (couldn’t time it right); the Crype Archeologique de L’Ile de la Cite (right beside the Notre Dame, but I never time it right to visit); and Catacombs (intriguing!). And yes, I regret not climbing the stairs up the Eiffel Tower (didn’t realize you can get that ticket on the spot) and seeing the museum and climbing inside the Arc de Triomphe

Yes, these are the most popular sites, but they are popular for very good reason, and if you are not a frequent visitor to Paris, you would be doing yourself a disservice not to experience them yourself. But there are ways to make the experience your own. Your list of “highlights” might be different – like the bateaux mouches cruise on the Seine (included in the Paris attractions pass).

Try to book your visit to Le Louvre either early in the morning or on one of the evenings the museum is open late © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I highly recommend getting the Paris Museum Pass (https://www.parismuseumpass.fr/t-en, which provides admissions to 34 museums in Paris and 11 more in the region) or the Paris Pass (parispass.com) which not only makes attractions and experiences more affordable, but will absolutely add to what you see and do, and also provides such helpful information as hours, location, proximity to where you are. When booking, try to book the earliest available times or evening times, and midweek over weekend.

You are likely to arrive in Paris at the Charles de Gaulle Airport, which has easy train connection to downtown – purchase your metro ticket in advance at a wonderful visitor information office as you walk out, and even a multi-day ticket. This will cut down on wasted time waiting on line to buy a ticket and the confusion of knowing what zone you need. And it saves quite a lot of money. But the best part is you don’t think about how much you are spending – it all seems free.

If you are traveling in France, remember to book your train or bus tickets in advance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Coming from Strasbourg by train at the end of my six-day canal cruise of the Alsace Lorraine aboard European Waterways’ Panache, I arrived at Gard d’Est and made my way on the metro (after going in the wrong direction on the metro) to a stop just in front of the Arc de Triomphe. My hotel, the Hotel Napoleon Paris, a five-star boutique hotel which put me perfectly into the atmosphere of Napoleon’s Empire period, is not even a half-block away, and one boulevard over from the magnificent Champs Elysee. (Note: book train tickets in advance, www.raileurope.com)

It was afternoon, and I quickly checked in to this charming boutique hotel, dropped my bag, and went out to explore the Arc de Triomphe.

Arc de Triomphe

Visitors along the Champs-Elysee on their way to the Arc de Triomphe © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This iconic symbol of France is set in the middle of a roundabout (the Place D’Etoile, like a star”) where 12 busy boulevards converge, including the magnificent Champs Elysee which is aligned with its center. Don’t even think about trying to cross the roundabout – you must walk through underground passageways to get across the busy boulevards that encircle the monument (There’s a pedestrian tunnel at Place Charles de Gaulle on the north side of the Champs-Élysées that will take you down to the arch.)

Don’t even think about trying to walk across the roundabout encircling the Arc de Triomphe. Use the underground walkways © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Building the Arc de Triomphe began in 1806 on Napoleon’s orders. Just a year earlier, in 1805, Napoleon’s forces won a decisive victory over Russian and Austrian troops at the Battle of Austerlitz. French architect Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin took his inspiration from the great arches of the world and designed Triomphe to be the largest in the world. The arch is 164 feet tall, and twice a year, the sun sets directly in the center. It took 30 years to complete the arch which was officially opened by King Louis-Phillipe on July 29, 1836.

The Arc de Triomphe is a triumph of architecture and decoration © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the years since, soldiers have marched past the arch as a victory lap – France and its allies did in 1918, 1944 and 1945; Germany in 1871 and  1940. Every year, a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, buried below the arch, marks the anniversary of the armistice signed on Nov. 11, 1918.

The Arc de Triomphe is a triumph of architecture and decoration © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Today, the Arc de Triomphe is more of a symbol of peace and is very recognizable as the end point for the Tour de France cyclists. For the French, the Arc de Triomphe goes well beyond being commemorative, but is foundational in the French national psyche.

Each day at the Arc de Triomphe, there is a ceremony to honor France’s fallen soldiers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In 1921 the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was incorporated into the monument, and today the tomb’s flame is rekindled every evening at 6.30 p.m. to show respect for All of France’s fallen.

One such event was just winding up as I arrived.

The Arc de Triomphe is a symbol of the French people’s national pride © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I was transfixed by the arch, the spectacular bas-reliefs of historic events that grace each pillar – The Entry of Napoleon, The Conquest of Alexandria and The Battle of Austerlitz. The most famous of them, The Departure of the Volunteers, also known as La Marseillaise, was created by the Romantic sculptor François Rude in 1792. The others were crafted by two other sculptors, Antoine Etex and Jean-Pierre Cortot Plaques list the names of hundreds of generals and battles.

Stunning reliefs decorate the Arc de Triomphe, recalling France’s history  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Admittedly, I didn’t know that you could enter the monument and climb the 284 steps to to the terrace (an elevator is available for those who require it) for a view, or that there is a museum inside – The Permanent ‘Great Moments of French History’ exhibition which traces the story of the Arc de Triomphe and explains the architecture, friezes and sculptures. So I definitely did not book tickets in advance. But the line to purchase tickets was ridiculous so I happily contented myself to just study the stunning reliefs and be transfixed by the arch’s form. (Having a Paris Museum Pass would have provided free admission without the need to reserve a time.)

Stunning reliefs decorate the Arc de Triomphe, recalling France’s history  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What I missed though was the dramatic view from the top: looking down the Champs-Élysées to the Louvre, out to La Defense, around to the Eiffel Tower. And you look straight down at one of the world’s largest round-abouts, where the 12 avenues come together.

The Arc de Triomphe is a triumph of architecture and decoration © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can purchase tickets in advance; the Arch is also included on the Paris Museum Pass http://en.parismuseumpass.com/

I continued my walk well into the evening, following the route the concierge at the Hotel Napoleon laid out for me: strolling down the Champs Elysee, turning onto the Avenue George V (and passed the famous Hotel George V), to the Seine.

Paris is truly magical, truly the City of Light and romance. Couples walk along the quai, attach a lock to just about any wrought iron they can find, pose for a selfie.

That first view of the Eiffel Tower at night, reflected in the Seine, is breathtaking © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

That first view of the Eiffel tower from across the Seine, the bateaux mouches sailing by (I’m seeing Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant in “Charade”) as the sky takes on the rosy tones of sunset, fills you with a giddiness that can be described as joie de vivre. By the time I headed back along the quai, passing couples in amorous embraces, night has descended and the views of the lighted tower, bridges, and reflections on the river take your breath away.

Walking back to the Hotel Napoleon on a tony residential street just off the Champs Elysee, I felt more like I am going back to my swank Parisian apartment rather than a hotel. I get another view of the Arc de Triomphe as I turn the corner.

Walking back to the Hotel Napoleon Paris at night, you get a view of the Arc de Triomphe © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hôtel Napoléon Paris 5,40, av. de Friedland 75008 Paris, Direct phone   +33156684480, www.hotelnapoleon.com, https://www.historichotels.org/hotels-resorts/hotel-napoleon-paris/, https://preferredhotels.com/hotels/france/hotel-napoleon-paris

More planning help from the Paris Tourist Office, https://parisjetaime.com/eng/. Online ticketing at https://parisjetaime.com/eng/tickets.

For Olympics planning (and where you can purchase tickets that become available), https://www.paris2024.org/en/

Next: Musee D’Orsay Highlights Day 2 in Paris

See also:

ROMANCE IS AT THE HEART OF THE HOTEL NAPOLEON IN PARIS, CITY OF LOVE

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© 2024 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

Experts at NY Travel Show Offer Tips for Satisfying, Meaningful, Purposeful Travel

A wedding couple in Hangzhou, China. Travel is how ideas, innovations and progress, improved living standards and quality of life are spread among peoples, as Marco Polo proved. Travel is humanity’s best hope for peace and cooperation as people from different places see and appreciate that we are more alike than different, and appreciate the differences. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s like this: travel is humanity’s best invention to promote the advancement of civilization. Travel is how ideas, innovations and progress, improved living standards and quality of life are spread among peoples, as Marco Polo proved. Travel is humanity’s best hope for peace and cooperation instead of zero-sum annihilation, as people from different places see and appreciate that we are more alike than different, and appreciate the differences. Travel is a community’s best hope for providing the economic underpinnings that provide jobs, upward mobility and enable people to stay on ancestral lands, have the funds to preserve and protect the environment, culture and heritage, and yes, make the adaptations and mitigations to prevent the ravages of climate change. Indeed, just as the travel industry has led the way with e-commerce, yield management, and  loyalty programs, the industry – the third largest in the world – is leading the way on climate solutions,

Tourism is what provides the economic underpinnings to support jobs and upkeep of such treasures as the Treasury at Petra, Jordan. To avoid crowds, stay overnight and enter the ancient city in the early morning © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Travel also is life-enhancing, enriching, potentially life-changing and among the best therapies against despair – providing a conduit for forging social connections, self-improvement, overcoming fear, anxiety and apprehension by fostering understanding and empathy, broadening perspectives. The experience of travel fosters resilience, self-confidence, self-reliance, adaptability, forges lasting bonds of family and friendship and broadens perspective and outlook.

That’s not just me saying it. It’s what travel experts with collective experience of decades (including myself), have seen and experienced firsthand.

“When we travel, experience the world, it changes us in a deep and profound way,” Pauline Frommer of frommer.com, told a standing room only audience at the most recent New York Travel & Adventure Show at Javits Center. “Right now we live in such a divided word – different facts inform our view but when we travel, we see the truth on the ground, that other countries have something to teach us, we can bring that back, and present an impression of America that is positive in places that may not have positive impression of America. Even with climate change, travel is one of the best tools in our ongoing search for creating world peace. So have wonderful, relaxing vacations, but your trips also can be meaningful and you can make a difference when you travel.”

“Consume news, but don’t let that make you a frightened person,” advises Rick Steves of ricksteves.com. “Be outward looking. If we want world to be peaceful, we have to build bridges. We can be challenged and stimulated by smart people who do things in smart ways. We can celebrate the Moroccan dream, the Bulgarian dream, just like the American dream – there is room for lots of dreams, As a traveler, we get to enjoy them all….[If we want a world of] peace and stability, the most powerful thing we can do as individual Americans is to travel and get to know people.”

Machu Picchu, Peru: travel has the potential to be life-enhancing, life-changing. But don’t put off your “bucket-list” experiences because you never know if there will be a pandemic, a political issue, a climate disaster. “Carpe diem,” says Patricia Schultz, author of “1000 Places to See Before You Die”

The COVID pandemic reinforced the value of travel – the three years of lockdowns and constrained travel upended local economies, while shutdowns that kept people from traveling underscored the human need for connection, for renewal, for new horizons to broaden perspectives.

“A life lesson we took away from COVID and postponed pleasure is that there is never a guarantee that we will be able to travel tomorrow or next year- our health, our need to care for people, political situation, climate disasters. Carpe diem,” says “1000 Places to See Before You Die” author Patricia Schultz.  She reflects on the places that she had included but have had to drop off her list recently – Ukraine, Syria, Iran even Jerusalem. “The lesson from this image [of people at the Western Wall] is carpe diem – if some place is on your bucket list and you think, well, the Pyramids will always be there, guess what? Don’t take anything for granted.”

And so with the pandemic in the rearview mirror (at least for now), people are traveling with furor and we are back to worrying about being crowded out and the potential impacts – and actions to prevent – overtourism. COVID-generated technologies and policies for advance purchase, capacity control are here to stay.

The excitement for traveling to the four corners of the globe and in every style, from decompressing on a beach, to joining an expedition to see gorillas in Uganda, to standing up for Ukraine by showing up in Ukraine, was evident at the New York Travel & Adventure Show, where booths were crammed and talks by experts including Rick Steves, Peter Greenberg, Pauline Frommer, on traveling smart, well and meaningfully were standing room only.

But because there is a whole world out there, you can make choices of where and when to travel. Don’t like crowds? Try to visit a destination when less crowded (though there is less of an “off-season” or “shoulder” season these days); find the “hidden gems” that offer as much atmosphere, experience and character; visit attractions either very early or later in the day (to avoid the hoards of cruise passengers and daytrippers); overnight in those charming, historic cities and villages (preferably in or within walking distance of the historic district) so you are there in the early morning and the evenings to enjoy the stillness and light without the hoards of cruisers and daytrippers; and pre-purchase tickets, city/museum/attractions passes so you don’t waste valuable time and money standing in line to purchase tickets. Climate and weather also have become major issues that should factor into where and when you travel.

Their message: By all means, experience the highlights of a place, but go further afield to seek out local experiences, opportunities to visit or stay in neighborhoods. Be a mindful traveler, a purposeful traveler: enhance the experience by learning the background, the stories and back-stories, hire a local guide, take a “free” walking tour (you basically tip the guide), sign up for some volunteer opportunity to give back to the community; seek out those tour programs that provide immersive opportunities to engage with locals.

The Pont du Gard aqueduct, for example, is the most-visited ancient monument in France. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is one of the best-preserved Roman sites in the world. Most people see it as a pretty photo op and do not understand how innovative the engineering was – how the Romans brought water from 30 miles away – and what a difference it made in the lives of people who didn’t have to spend hours of their day in pursuit of water.

Meet the people who live on Inle Lake, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“For a lot of tour groups, it is just a pretty bridge, a potty break, a souvenir stand. [But learning the backstory], humanizes this site,” says Rick Steves says. “How to carbonate the travel experience is about how to connect with people..Too many tourists sit on folding chairs watching yodeling on stage, but not connecting, and back in the hotel, only interact with other Americans. It’s a vacation, to be sure, but what is missing is what it means to travel.

Steves urges travelers to “get out of their comfort zone, to see culture shock not as something to avoid, but as the growing pains of a broadening perspective.”

“Become a cultural chameleon – physically change from culture to culture because it’s different.” That means going to where the locals hang out in the evening, drinking Ouzo in Greece, whisky in Scotland, tea in England, red wine in Tuscany, beer in the Czech Republic.” Go three blocks off the main drag to find the restaurants popular with locals; for some meals (breakfast, lunch) go to local groceries and markets and picnic. Seek out the family owned two-star hotel, inn, lodge, hostel or AirBnB – that not only saves money but adds enrichment because of a more “authentic” experience.

Pre-planning is the way to mitigate wasting time and money in line or with crowds.

“There are two types of travelers: those who wait in lines and those who don’t. Think carefully of minimizing lines,” Steves notes.

Crowds in front of the “Mona Lisa” in Le Louvre in Paris. Travel experts at the New York Travel & Adventure Show offered tips on how to avoid crowds and the lines, especially in places like Paris, where advance purchase of tickets to major museums and attractions is essential. In Paris, purchase the “Museum Pass.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Before you go: get an idea of the attractions and sites you want to visit (I query “Three days in….” at TripAdvisor and other travel writers to get some idea). Then, go to the attractions’ websites to get all the visitor FAQs (can I take a water bottle into the Vatican; a backpack into Le Louvre – not likely after the latest incident of vandalism against the “Mona Lisa”). As soon as you have your travel dates (that is, your air fare), immediately reserve the tickets– if the attraction is a highlight for you it is a highlight for most others. Your priority places will set the framework for your itinerary, and the time saved by not waiting on line can go to those serendipitous experiences and discoveries. The same with restaurants you have your heart set on frequenting – book a reservation as soon as you settle your dates.

Take advantage of city passes, museum passes (a must for Paris) and attractions passes from companies like GoCity.com and CityPass.com, as well as the passes offered by the cities themselves, like the PragueCoolPass.com. They not only let you breeze through, but give extremely helpful information about current exhibitions, hours, directions, visitor information.

The PragueCoolPass maximizes your enjoyment of this historic city, like visiting its famous Castle © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Try to book the earliest opening hour of the day in order to minimize the crowds, but in any case, book the earliest time available in order to have the most amount of time.

If you are visiting an outdoor site like the Acropolis in Athens, avoid mid-day when it is not only hot as blazes, but overrun with thousands of visitors who have come off cruise ships or day trippers. Come either as soon as the Acropolis opens in the morning, when it is cool and uncrowded, or at the end of the day (as I did), when the light is a gorgeous golden, the views of the city are amazing, it is cooler and the biggest crowds have left.

Visit attractions like the Acropolis at the beginning or at the end of the day to avoid the crowds and the heat and enjoy the golden light © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

This is also the advantage of overnighting in the most charming cities like Bruges, Strasbourg, Seville, Venice, Prague, Amsterdam, Fez and important sites like Petra – choose a hotel in the historic district that is walking distance to everything but you get to enjoy in the early morning and evening when the lights/lighting/colors are so amazing, the canals like mirrors, the city streets are quiet and empty, before the onslaught of cruisers and daytrippers.

Overnighting in the boutique Flanders Hotel in Bruges’ historic district means you get to have this impossibly picturesque city to yourself at night and in the quiet of the morning before the daytrippers overrun it © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Take advantage of “free” walking tours in cities – local guides work for tips. These are great way to get an orientation. Search “free walking tours” and read the reviews.

Also, in major cities like Paris and London, you can buy mutli-day transit tickets for the train/bus (you can also do bikeshare), so that instead of paying the price of a taxi or Uber from airport into downtown, you can purchase the pass that includes the train or tram from the airport, and not have to wait on lines to purchase individual tickets from machines and deal with the confusion of zones and station names.

Searching muiti-day tour finders is a great way to get an idea of how to organize your time, what to see, what you should pay, and find tour programs that might best meet your needs. Frommer recommends Travelstride.com and Tourradar.com. These marketplace sites, she notes, can introduce you to local companies instead of the big-name tour operators.

Considerations for choosing the right tour company: price (per diem) is only one consideration, also consider what is inclusions (all meals aren’t necessarily a good thing, you might prefer to be able to go off and find those local favorites instead of a restaurant that caters to foreign groups); traveling companions (it is fun to travel with people from other countries, not just Americans); expertise of the guide; demographics of the tour company (often there are family itineraries; women-only; solo travelers; small groups (EF Tours, Audley Travel); price (luxury versus mass market) and age such as younger travelers (Contiki) versus older (Road Scholar) (visit www.frommers.com: How to pick the right tour company for you”).

Discovery Bicycle Tours stops at a winery at the end of the day’s ride in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Bicycle tours are ideal for women and solo travelers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

To find day tours, attractions, guides: Getyourguide.com; airbnb.com/experiences; tripadvisor.com. Foodies could look to TravelingSpoon and Eatwith. I like contexttravel.com.

Also be sure to pre-book rail (for example, raileurope.com) and bus transportation (flixbus.com is terrific) between cities. Find schedules at Rome2Rio.com.

Taking the train from Paris to Strasbourg, France. Be sure to book your ticket in advance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

To find the best airfares (always tricky), Frommer recommends searching Momondo.com/Kayak.com, Skyscanner.com, and CheapoAir.com. Momondo (and Kayak, which are owned by the same entity) tended to consistently find the lowest fares, and have filters that let’s you select for everything from the type of plane (if you wanted to avoid a Boeing 737 Max 9, or if you wanted to find the airlines with the cheapest fares with a checked bag.

But the experts also recommend that after searching for the best fares, you book directly with the airline, ”because if you book through a third party, you can’t rebook as easily as directly through the airlines” if there is some delay, cancellation or need to change. “Search but don’t book,” Frommer says.

Frommer also railed against “drip pricing” – the extra fees that airlines attach (even though Biden has waged a campaign against junk fees.) US airlines average $78 in added fees; European airlines average $58. So for United, the average is 122% of the base fare; for jetblue it’s 147%; but for Sun Country its 201% and for Frontier, its 376%, so the added fees can be higher than the fare.

When you search for an airline, Frommer consistently recommends you “Hide your identity” “Use a privacy setting on the browser, or use a different browser and different computer if you return to search fares” because the airline will track you, gauge your interest and post higher fares.

Also, there are optimum times to search and book:

  • Purchase airfare on Sundays (6% cheaper domestic travel, 13% cheaper international)
  • Book 28 days out (“the sweet spot”) for domestic travel (24% savings), 2-4 months out for international (10% savings)
  • Start your trip on a Thursday (16% savings over flying on a Sunday)
  • Fly before 3 pm (to avoid the 50% increased risk of being cancelled or delayed)

For best hotel rates, book 3-plus months in advance for resorts like Hawaii, Mexico, Caribbean, Florida but just one week before in business cities (New York, London, Paris, Denver). “It takes courage to wait to book one week before travel, so book a refundable room in advance, then search a week ahead of travel.”

“For first time in 20 years, I am having to research New Jersey hotels for people coming to New York City, because on September 18, the city got rid Airbnb, and all the cheap hotels are filled with migrants. Hotels were  charging $900 in December compared to $129 in January for the same room.”

Welcome to Riad el Yacout, built in 1347 for Professor Laharchi, philosophy who taught at the famous Al Qaraouvine university, which stayed in the family until 2000, when it was converted to a 33-room guesthouse, Fez, Morocco, booked on hotels.com © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

To find “secret hotel discounts, Frommer is recommending seeking out travel clubs like RoomSteals, the new Travel & Leisure Club, professional associations’ travel clubs – some which have fees to join – and @Hotel on Instagram (no fee to belong).

How do clubs have “secret: rates? “Hotel companies have contracts with Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity etc. and are not allowed to offer publicly deeper discounts (more than 5-10%) than they give to expedia, orbitz). But if they can’t fill their rooms, they turn to the clubs.”  On the other hand, the clubs often do not show as much information as you need about services and the like.

Also, Frommer notes, Airbnb isn’t necessarily a bargain over hotel rates. “Now because so many extra fees, a recent study showed in 48 of 50 states you pay more at Airbnb than hotel (two exceptions are Nevada and Louisiana). But AirBnB is great for groups, families, if you need a kitchen (and want to save money cooking), but on average, you no longer save money on a rental vs. hotel.”

On the other hand, Frommer has always been a big booster for home exchanges – where you actually trade the use of your home for someone else’s – a way to save money but also really live like a local.

“You can go anywhere in the world – a Paris apartment, a houseboat in Sausalito.” Among the exchanges are HomeExchange.com.

Pauline Frommer cautions about getting too cautious – fearful – of traveling abroad,

Pointing to the recent US State Department’s worldwide travel advisory in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war, she notes that Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Uruguay, and Venezuela all have travel advisories against coming to the US because of the gun violence epidemic. “Venezuela thinks it is too dangerous to come here.”  The State Department’s worldwide caution for Americans, is as if to say, “’Don’t travel anywhere, the world is too dangerous. That’s mind boggling. Yes, listen to the US State Department, read the cautions, but understand the rest of the world is terrified to come here.” There is a lot to listen to, though – such as where women of child-bearing age should be mindful of Zika, or where there is political instability or widespread crime, and urges travelers to enroll in the State Department’s “Smart Traveler” program.

The experts advise purchasing travel insurance and soon after you purchase your flights, so that you are covered if for some reason you have to cancel.

Pauline Frommer suggests looking for travel insurance that covers “Cancel for any Reason” (CFAR), includes medical evacuation and covers pandemics (policies do not necessarily cover “fear of travel” if there is a pandemic but a destination isn’t closed by authorities).

“Say the destination has a new strand of COVID but didn’t shut down, and you decide not to go – if you cancel with regular insurance, it won’t be covered – because ‘fear of travel’ is not included. A CFAR policy allows you to cancel for any reason – it’s more expensive, but will repay 75% of costs.

All the experts discourage purchasing travel insurance from the travel provider (tour operator, cruiseline), but to use apps that give you different policy recommendations based on your needs (date of travel, who traveling, age, destinations) such as Squaremouth.com, Insuremytrip.com and Travelinsurance.com.

“Inevitably the most expensive policy covers the least, but the best is usually in the middle,” Frommer advises. “Never ever buy from the travel company you are going with – if they go belly up, you’ve lost insurance too.”

Angel Castellanos (www.angelestravellounge.com) offered more tips on traveling smart with technology, like Google Fi (which makes its own SIM cards and has free international data roaming in most countries) and T-Mobile (which do not charge roaming fees for international calls; calls are 25c/minute; unfortunately, it is rare to get internet service with T-mobile abroad; you use the available WiFi) instead of having to pay for an international phone/data plan. Also, consider purchasing an international SIM card for $2.

For digital safety, he recommends installing a VPN (a virtual private network) on to mask your identity when you are on a public network, with digital thieves trying to steal passwords. He recommends ExpressVPN which works all over the world.

Flying, definitely register for TSA Precheck (costs $75, good for 5 years, and some credit cards rebate the charge), and CLEAR, which uses biometric data to verify your identify, and let’s you go directly from the kiosk to the front of the line “like a VIP. In certain airports that can make the difference in making the flight.” And several business credit cards like American Express Platinum rebate the cost of Clear.

Denver International Airport. Use TSA PreCheck, CLEAR, MyTSA, to breeze through the airport © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can also install the MyTSA app on your device, a free app that gives real time information for what is happening at airport – how long the security line is taking, if one area of the airport is closed and you need to go through TSA in a different location.

Now, the Homeland Security department offers mobile passport control, even if you are not registered for Global Entry (which is similar). You can enroll by submitting passport information and responses to CBP (Customs & Border Patrol) – the free version requires you to enter passport information each time – answer the questions, then you get to whisk through a third line (the regular line, the Global Entry kiosk, and now the Mobile Passport control).

“Google is one of biggest game changers for international travel,” he notes. You can download maps in advance so they are available when you do not have access to WiFi.

The same is true for languages. “Language is no longer a barrier. You can program a phrase like ‘I’m allergic to peanuts,’ and it will show it written as well as speak. You can download the language in advance so it can translate even when offline. You can use the camera function to translate foreign languages into English.”

Of course this eliminates the delight and satisfaction of finding a local person who can either speak English or mime an answer to “I’m lost, Can you tell me how do I get to….?”

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© 2024 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

Best Things to Do at Your Destination? These Apps Help Organize Your Visit, Save Money on Attractions, Experiences

See Rembrandt’s Night Watch as it undergoes restoration at the Rijksmuseum, one of the attractions included in GoCity’s inclusive Amsterdam pass © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are many apps and websites to help you get to a destination (skyscanner, kayak, expedia, momondo, googleflights, flighthub, travelocity, cheapflights, flightfinder, hotwire, cheapoair) and apps and websites that help you find a place to stay (hotels.com, booking.com, trivago, agoda, airbnb, vrbo, glampinghub), but which can help you plan what to do when you get there? 

Go City 

Go City sells passes that let you experience as many attractions as you want in a city at one set price. You can purchase the pass for an unlimited number of visits for the number of days you want to, and use the pass to choose which attractions (museums, etc.) you want to visit, seek out experiences based on whether you are a couple or family traveling, or find  “hidden gems”. Or you can purchase an “Explorer Pass,” that lets you access four or five attractions (you don’t have to choose in advance and have 60 days to visit).

In New York City, the Go City pass offers 100 different options in all five boroughs. The two-day all inclusive pass, giving access to as much as you want/can do from among 105 attractions is $134 – regardless of how much the actual attractions charge.

Go City offers 1,500 attractions in over 30 destinations from major metropolises like London and New York to oceanfront oases like Sydney, Cancun and Oahu. Among the newest entrees: Madrid and re-launching Hong Kong. There are also Go City passes to Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, Orlando, San Antonio, San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago; Paris, Dublin, Stockholm, Vienna in Europe; and a growing presence in Asia.

Among the attractions and experiences the GoCity all-inclusive San Francisco sightseeing pass includes is an all-day Blazing Saddles bike rental © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The app is helpful because you can see the full list of attractions, heart/star the ones you are interested in want; it will notify you if the attraction requires advance booking or recommend purchasing the ticket in advance, and you can do that on the app – like a sunset view from an observation deck.

Some cities – like Prague (praguecoolpass.com) and Antwerp (visit.antwerpen.be/en/antwerp-city-pass-en) – offer their own inclusive city pass (highly recommended as we found in Prague), and Go City operates some city programs for them (like London and Paris).

Go City, which began as Smart Destination, then Leisurepass, has been around for 25 years.

In some cases, the pass provides experiences that are exclusive to Go City customers– such as behind the scenes experience to Yankee Stadium– and can give you ideas that you might not have considered – like the Top Observation decks, a Central Park bike rental; an East Village walking tour; a food tour in Williamsburg. The app also provides an interactive map, so that while you are walking around, it can highlight some interesting attraction – like the Whitney Museum – that you might decide to check out, even for a short time (it’s included!).

“A lot of people say they did something that wouldn’t have otherwise.”

It’s very likely you will save money if you take full advantage of the pass (the app let’s you compare the cost). For example, Top of the Rock costs $43.55 and a one-day pass is $142, so that if you did three other things, it would save money. (I found that the inclusive pass means you can run in and do an attraction if you have an hour or two that otherwise wouldn’t be worth the admission price for that amount of time.).

The app also offers sample itineraries, and you can compare the price of going a la carte or purchasing the three-day all-inclusive. Say you do the bus hop on/off sightseeing trip, the Empire State Building, Madam Toussaud’s, the Statue of Liberty and the 9/11 Museum, the pass would save 42% off the face-value cost of $218.

Prices are based on adult or child (a family pass is under consideration). And the passes can be sent as a gift.

“A lot of cities have a family friendly option, so teenagers can split off and do their own thing.”

More at GoCity.com, 800 887 9103. 

TourRadar 

TourRadar claims to be the world’s first Adventure Booking Platform, where you can effortlessly book private, group, and tailor-made multi-day organized adventures worldwide.

Founded in 2010, TourRadar was among the first to transition multi-day tours to an online marketplace. In 2021, TourRadar introduced the Adventure Booking Platform, connecting travelers, operators, and travel agents to organized tours through one, easy-to-use platform. Whether booking directly with TourRadar.com or through your trusted travel advisor, you can access large and small operators providing a broad spectrum of experiences. TourRadar works with 2,500+ operators to offer 50,000+ adventures in 160+ countries.

It offers a live inventory, so you can book on line at tourradar.com – whether river cruises, biking tours or bird watching, seeing llamas in Colorado, self-guided trips, or if you are planning to go solo.

“There is an artificial intelligence component – a robust search engine,” said Lisa Verbeck, head of communications.

Solo trips are now 40% of travelers. “People are traveling on their own independently. We have a department that will put together a curated trip – Italy for a week, wine tasting in Tuscany.”

Tourradar’s inventory includes everything from big-name operators like Trafalgar, Cosmos, Globus to the smaller specialty companies like Intrepid, river cruises in Europe, hiking, biking, sailing.

“We are an aggregator, an Expedia for multi-day tours.”

TourRadar can steer you to self-guided bike tours, like this one that took us from Venice to Croatia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the best features is access to a whole category of self-guided trips – for example self-guided bike tours where a tour operator has laid out an itinerary, mapped out the route, booked accommodations (such as inn-to-inn), picks up the luggage each day and delivers to the next inn, but you go at your own pace rather than with a group, guides and support vehicle. It’s ideal for couples, families, or your own group of friends.

You can also use TourRadar to customize, tailor or craft a tour especially for you; plan an independent tour; organize a self-drive tour where you take to the open road with car and trip notes, or organize a private tour where you get your own vehicle, your own guide and everything to yourself.

Founded in 2010 in Australia by two Australian brothers, TourRadar is getting 3 million visitors a month – many do their research on the platform, then book with a travel agent, but many book directly on the site.

TourRadar also spotlights deals of the week, home page spotlight tours, discounts like 2-for-1, extra add-ons, and great deals. (www.tourradar.com).

More Sources

Drive an exotic car, learn to fly, rock climb, skydive, bungee jump. Virgin Experience lists some 3000 different experiences in 122 regions from 600 “best in class” partners that their gift card can be applied to (bioluminescent kayak adventure in Tomales Bay, CA; drive a stock car on Thompson Speedway, CT; learn to fly in Mesa, AZ. (www.virginexperience.com)

Whether retracing the Revolution in Paris, diving into the ecology of Venetian canals, or exploring Kyoto’s teahouses at twilight, Context Travel offers tours with experts. Context offers personal walking tours in 60 cities across 6 continents.  Skip the line and get off-hours access to popular sites in the world’s cultural and historical capitals. Tours range from half-day to 7-days plus.  Context Travel also offers the “gift of learning” – virtual and in-person sessions with top experts– you can explore the Colosseum with an archaeologist, uncover masterpieces of the Louvre with an art historian, or explore the palaces of Istanbul with an architect — from home, or in person. Gift cards available. (www.contexttravel.com)

TripAdvisor.com is excellent for doing research about what to do, and provides the links to the listings to book. I typically Google “highlights of a visit to….” to get ideas and traveler reviews.

Want to hire your own local guide? ToursbyLocals.com can hook you up with 4,715 guides in 187 countries.

Spafinder.com offers a compendium of resorts, wellness centers and day spas, which you can book (or buy gift card).

Magic Garden, Philadelphia. Destination websites like VisitPhilly.com can help you find interesting places to visit and link you to the sites to pre-book tickets © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Destination websites also provide listings, links, often suggested itineraries based on interest, and to varying degrees the opportunity to link to sites to book/purchase tickets directly, such as Philadelphia’s visitphilly.com, Wilmington/Brandywine’s CVB’s www.visitwilmingtonde.com and Washington DC’s washington.org.

Organizing your own tour and need to get place to place? I find Rome2Rio extremely helpful – you can find local transportation, and then click links to get to the site. Rome2rio searches any city, town, landmark, attraction or address across the globe with thousands of multi-modal routes to easily get you from A to B. It links up to 162,238 train lines via 4594 train operators; 854,876 bus routes via 79,480 bus operators; 12,998 ferries via 4,128 ferry operators; 53,532 flight paths via 1,142 airlines. It also includes schedules, routes and price/fare-ranges.

I used Rome2Rio to figure out a complicated link up from one tour that ended in Porec, Croatia to my next tour that began the same day in Llubjana Slovenia. That’s how I found Flixbus in Europe, which is now in North America and Brazil offering inexpensive fares on wonderfully comfortable buses (and now intermodal with trains) with 350,000 daily connections in 2500 destinations in 38 countries (Europe’s largest long-distance bus network), and since 2018, train connections and intermodal travel options. Flixbus now even offers trip ideas. (https://www.flixbus.com/discover)

I also used Rome2Rio to find local train connections and book my ticket on raileurope.com from Berlin where I ended a CroisiEurope river cruise, to Bruges to start a BoatBike tour.

Life Rewards

Imagine you have booked a really expensive luxury hotel stay at a premium rate during a major event – think Oscars, World Series, Superbowl – and you find you can’t attend after all and the room can’t be cancelled for a refund. Well, a new online travel service, Life Rewards, for the first time ever will facilitate the sale to someone else, and you may even score a profit on the deal. The travel tech company plans soon to make it possible to resell airline tickets.

Life Rewards seeks to be the next big thing in travel, an alternative to other online hotel and airline booking services (OTAs) but with this twist: the ability to resell, much the way people sell NFTs (digital assets), shaking up things the same way as Priceline’s audacious travel auction program did (LIFE Rewards’ founder and CEO Eduardo Ibañez, was Priceline’s Chief Scientist). Life Rewards’s fee is 2% from both the buyer and the seller.

Life Rewards claims it will be the first online booking platform to make large volumes of hotel bookings available for trading on secondary markets, just as baseball or Broadway tickets are today. By creating liquidity in bookings, both hotels and travelers will get more flexibility and an improved booking experience, the company maintains. Users can pay via credit, debit card and (no surprise) crypto currency.

Based on AI (artificial intelligence) that services a large online travel agency, LIFE also offers discounted prices and negotiated rates for hotels globally.

Life Rewards hopes to become the next thing in travel bookings by embracing cutting edge AI and blockchain technologies, it is also going old school: travelers who pay an annual $500 membership fee can access a network of (human) concierges who can help plan, arrange and book what happens at the destination – opera tickets, a Michelin-starred restaurant, excursions – your “admin” of travel.

Using NFTs to digitize your hotel reservations and events bookings will enable travelers who want access to hotels and events that are sold out on the primary market to find bookings on a secondary market. If travelers are unable to go-away, they can re-sell, much like a concert ticket. Or if a hotel is sold out and someone wants to stay there specifically, one can still work a deal out with someone else who owns a room night. A two-way marketplace for travel makes it all possible. Hotels and travelers get more flexibility and an improved booking experience by creating liquidity in bookings.

“Travel and entertainment are ripe for disruption by the blockchain, which enables travel reservations and event tickets to be tokenized and traded securely and seamlessly,” said Ibañez, who launched the web-based travel platform in December.

The company insists the reselling will not run afoul of laws prohibiting scalping tickets and that hotels will be amenable to someone reserving a room at $500 and reselling it at $1000 – because it is more important to have a high occupancy rate in the bag and not worry about an unsold room or one that it would have to heavily discount to fill

How to get around the security involved in booking an airline ticket? The agency will reserve the seat and lock in the fare, but hold back the actual reservation until 24 hours before the flight.

More information at https://LifeRewards.ai/

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© 2023 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/KarenBRubin 

Alpaca Expeditions’ Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu is Personal Test of Mind Over Matter

Our Alpaca Expeditions group strikes a celebratory pose after reaching Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest point on the four-day classic Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, with Eric Leiberman and Sarah Falter

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The day after we cross over Dead Woman’s Pass at 13,829 feet above sea level on the Inca Trail and the day before reaching Machu Picchu – the destination of this Alpaca Expeditions four-day/three-night trek –  I celebrate my 71st birthday. I say this because I am not a habitual hiker or climber, am reasonably but not especially fit and live at sea level.  So I had been really, really anxious for weeks about whether or not Dead Woman’s Pass, named for its shape, would take on literal meaning.

And while age would normally be a private matter, I say this because if I could do it, anyone who is determined (it is mostly about mind over matter) can do it too.

Early morning breakfast before we head out to conquer the Dead Woman’s Pass on Day 2 of the four-day Inca Trail trek © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But my success (and yes, I do considerate it a major life accomplishment, if only to overcome fear and go outside my comfort zone to take on the challenge) has a lot to do with how well Alpaca Expeditions, the tour operator, runs this trip –all that our guides do to make the trek as comfortable and enjoyable as possible; how the porters (who are carrying our gear) all line up to applaud and cheer us when we come in from the hike; the quality of the camping and trekking equipment; the incredible food, snacks and teas (tea time!) that Chef Mario serves that are not only the quality of a fine restaurant but seem perfect for the task; providing basins of hot water and soap and delivering hot coca tea as our wake up call. (The private porto-potty tent, and an actual “sanitation engineer” assigned to keep it functioning, is also extremely appreciated.)

Alpaca Expeditions’ “Green Machine” team of porters cheer us as we set out on Day 2 for Dead Woman’s Pass © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The hike itself – 26 miles with some fairly steep ups and downs – is actually considered moderate difficulty, along a trail of stones, albeit some high (especially for someone like me with short legs), some narrow, and some that can be slick.

Imagining the people who laid these stone steps, carved the trail, and the pilgrims who used it to trek to Machu Picchu 600 years ago © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

The main problem comes from the altitude. And my great fear that inhabits my mind with each step as I try to prepare myself by walking up and down the steepest hill in my neighborhood for an hour (fortunately, it is on my corner) is Day 2, when we climb not one but two mountain passes – the first to Dead Woman’s Pass at 13,779 ft., which will take four hours, and the second, Runkuracay, at 13020 ft, a total distance of 10 miles that involves 10 hours of hiking. I calculate the amount of sunlight in the day and am concerned it will take me 12 hours and I won’t get into camp before dark.

I console myself by giving myself an escape plan: I figure that if I have difficulty on Day 1 (the second toughest day) when the hike is  8.7 miles taking 7 hours to get to the campsite at 10,827 feet elevation, I can decide to simply walk back to the start. (I believe the tour operator also has this as a plan; in fact, we ask what happens if somebody is injured along the way and we are told that the porters, who carry huge loads, would carry the person on their back.) It is also a comfort to know the guides carry satellite phones which they can use for an emergency. I also pack my headlamp in my daypack. Just in case.

The view from Dead Woman’s Pass. Altitude was the major concern in doing the Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu. Otherwise, the hike is considered “moderate.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And I prepare myself for altitude sickness – not having any alcohol before the trek, taking Sorojchi pills (mainly aspirin and caffeine, sold over the counter in Cuzco) and drinking plenty of water (which works!). I also have Ibuprofin with me.

Trekking among the peaks of the Andes along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our guide, Lizandro Aranzabal Huaman, cleverly stops at opportune times to talk to us about plants, insects (used for medicine as well as for dyes, cactus for rope for bridges and to haul stones), the tribal people who still inhabit the mountain villages where he grew up, the Incan sites along the trail, the history, culture and legacy of the Inca Empire. This not only enhances the experience as our imagination fills the images of what we see, but (cleverly) gives us time to rest and acclimate to the higher and higher altitudes, get back our legs and our fortitude, and get revitalized for the next stage.

And on Day 2, on one of these stops, Lizandro takes out a bag of coca leaves and shows us how to pack it into a cheek and let the juice mix with saliva to help avert altitude sickness. Then, before we are about to ascend the stage to Dead Woman’s Pass, he whips out a vial of an oil, like eucalyptus, which he puts into our palms, tells us to clap three times, then inhale the vapors to open our nasal passages and make our breathing more efficient. That really helps, too.

Our Alpaca Expeditions guide Lizandro gives us an oil that helps us breathe more efficiently as we climb the last stage to Dead Woman’s Pass © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But we also go at our own pace – our guide, Georgio, typically stays in the back of the pack, so we can stop as often as we need, and admire the view, take a photo, take some extra breaths. (Which interestingly, is why they say older folks like me actually do better than the younger, eager beavers.)

I am surprised the trek is not as much about the landscape, scenery, or nature– the views of the pointed peaks with clouds and mist are beautiful, to be sure – as it is a conversation with the people who built the trail, laid the stones that line the entire trail, built the fortresses, enclaves, resting places for pilgrims and nobility on their way to Machu Picchu.

Alpaca Expeditions “Green Machine” team of porters haul up our duffels and camping gear © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You feel a oneness with the pilgrims, as you walk in their footsteps. It all becomes a matter of personal challenge and self-discipline, mind over matter, just as it would have been for the pilgrims 600 years ago when these sites were built. Each step engages you with the human dimension in time, space and substance.

And I can’t stop thinking about the people who actually built all of this.

Lizandro stops at Incan sites along the trail to tell us about the history and culture of the Inca, which also gives us time to rest © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our voyage in the Galapagos, where we had just traveled, was about natural selection, survival of the fittest and the ecosystems in the natural world. Here, trekking on the Inca Trail, going from site to site, we learn about the human ecology. I can only wonder as I plod up these trails, what was involved to hoist those multi-ton boulders and set them in place to build these structures, the amount of food production that must have been required to sustain a population with the numbers of laborers and soldiers to build, expand and secure the Empire, and the calorie count to create and sustain all of this, without the benefit of draft animals, the wheel, iron tools, written language.

So much surprises me about the Inca Trail trek, but most of all is the number of Inca sites – resting places along the pilgrimage route, defensive forts built by Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, the ninth ruler of the Inca, in the mid-1400s in support of Machu Picchu, his most monumental project– that we encounter. Like Machu Picchu, they were reclaimed from the overgrowth after 400 years being abandoned to Nature. How meticulously they were restored (not rebuilt) by the government– so that we could better appreciate the society, the culture and the history in their context.

The view of the Patallacta from above on the Inca Trail near Willkaraqay on the first morning of the four-day trek to Machu Picchu © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

They were built to accommodate people making a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage. This is once-in-a-lifetime for me, as well, or as I tell myself, “now or never” as the window of opportunity closes for me. So seize the day, which is my motto.

You read about these sites, see photographs of it (indeed, the photos archaeologist Hiram Bingham published of Machu Picchu, “The Lost City of the Inca”, is what inspired the excavations and spurred this multi-million dollar tourism industry that supports preservation and conservation). But it is only when you are physically here, climbing the steep stone steps, seeing how they are built into these mountains, the scale and the precision with which they were built 600 years ago, feeling the stone, that you can understand and can appreciate this achievement of human endeavor.

Lizandro says, “Okay, team.” Giorgio calls us “Family” and in no time, we are, as we set out on the Inca Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The story unfolds as we haul ourselves up the heights, over mountain passes and down onto plateaus.

Lizandro says, “Okay, team.” Giorgio calls us “Family” and we are off and in no time at all, we are a family as we set out on the Inca Trail.

Tips to prepare: Comfortable hiking boots are essential. Since so much of the four-day, 26-mile hike involves steep stone steps, I wanted a light boot with good grip and as comfortable as possible (hard for my hard-to-fit feet, I went through several different brands). After several trials and errors, I was exceedingly happy with the Altra lone peak all-weather mid (wide)  hiking boots I bought at REI just before I came – as comfortable as sneakers, but great grip and ankle support. I broke them in (and tested them) on my daily “workout” going up/down the steepest hill in my neighborhood.

Our tents are set up and ready for us when we come into camp. Alpaca Expeditions’ excellent camping equipment (even a private porto-potty tent) make the Inca Trail trek as comfortable as possible © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hiking poles are essential (if you don’t bring your own, you can rent from Alpaca Expeditions). They provide the tents but you rent the sleeping bag, and mat (really recommended).

Bring a power bank to recharge your phone and camera batteries (no place to plug in for four days; bring extra, charged batteries for camera). Bring a light, compact camera, like a point-and-shoot, to hike with so you don’t carry any extra weight (I packed my Nikon Z5 in Sarah’s duffel but hiked with it the last (easiest) day into Machu Picchu).

Comfortable hiking boots and hiking poles are essential for the Inca Trail trek © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bring two water bottles (they provide boiled drinking water to fill). Bring layers and hats for cold and warm weather; expect rain or mist (you trek through the Cloud Forest). The first two nights camping are likely to be cold – the sleeping bags are excellent quality winter grade but I am thrilled with the warm knee-high alpaca wool socks I had bought for $4 at the shop just before starting the hike). A headlamp is a must – I  love the Black Diamond Astro 300 lumens from REI)

Bring altitude sickness medicine (there is a prescription medicine, but I am happy with the Sorojchi Pills you can purchase over-the-counter in Cuzco), also people bring coca leaves or candy; have Ibuprofen on hand.

Definitely do what you can to prepare yourself physically (and mentally). As I was walking up/down the hill for an hour, I was contemplating doing this for 9 more hours and it wasn’t a pleasant thought. I resigned myself to feeling very uncomfortable for 12 hours, and that in itself was comforting.

The permits to do the Inca Trail trek are limited to 500 a day for all the trekking companies (this amounts to 200 trekkers and 300 porters, guides and staff) and get booked up months in advance.

More information: Alpaca Expeditions, USA Phone: (202)-550-8534, [email protected], , https://www.alpacaexpeditions.com/

To check with the US State Department to get the latest information on travel to Peru: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Peru.html.

Next: Setting Out on the Inca Trail

See also:

VISIT TO PERU’S SACRED VALLEY IS BEST WAY TO PREPARE FOR INCA TRAIL TREK TO MACHU PICCHU

INCAN SITES OF PISAC, OLLANTAYTAMBO IN PERU’S SACRED VALLEY ARE PREVIEW TO MACHU PICCHU

ALPACA EXPEDITIONS’ INCA TRAIL TREK TO MACHU PICCHU IS PERSONAL TEST OF MIND OVER MATTER

DAY 1 ON THE INCA TRAIL TO MACHU PICCHU: A TEST

DAY 2 ON THE INCA TRAIL TO MACHU PICCHU: DUAL CHALLENGES OF DEAD WOMAN´S PASS, RUNCURACCAY

DAY 3 ON THE INCA TRAIL TO MACHU PICCHU: TOWN IN THE CLOUDS, TERRACES OF THE SUN & FOREVER YOUNG

DAY 4 ON THE INCA TRAIL: SUN GATE TO MACHU PICCHU, THE LOST CITY OF THE INCAS

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© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

As Travel Resurges, TripAdvisor Launches Reco to Match Travelers with Trip Designers

A HelloReco trip designer can curate a trip through Portugal’s Douro to see the terraced vineyards and have a private wine tasting and even participate in crushing the grapes © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The news that the European Union is opening to American travelers has people pulling out and revising their bucket lists and not wasting time to get out there.

Travel is back. We can testify to that from our recent visit to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Getting flights, hotels, car rentals, even restaurant reservations have become difficult. We were lucky – we booked back in March, but now we see “No Vacancy” signs up everywhere; even Glacier National Park turned away a camper who had traveled 1000 miles, who didn’t have a permit.

The desire to come together – family and friends – and have the special shared life-enhancing experiences, bonds, lifetime memories that traveling provides are propelling an explosion of travelers who are finding, for the first time in more than a year, “no vacancy” and “flights full” signs.

“After a year spent at home, consumers are more eager than ever to travel: 75% plan to go on at least one vacation this summer, and they plan to spend more money on travel than any other category,” a survey by payment network Affirm found. Affirm polled 2,000 Americans on their spending plans and found that half are going all-out this summer once vaccinated, to make up for lost time. 

Travel is back! Lines to go through security at Denver International Airport © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.comravel is back! Lines to go through security at Denver International Airport

Meanwhile, travel advisors (a more apt term than “travel agents”) are making a comeback. Bucking the DIY trend that was part and parcel of the boom in online travel sites, the dizzying changes in travel, increased concern for health, safety and security, and scarce availability in face of increased demand and limited supply, combined with a new appreciation for how precious the travel experience and more ambitious travel plans, more travelers, from millennials to retirees are seeking out professionals.

A study by the trade association American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) shows a significant increase in the percentage of travelers who intend to use a travel advisor, from 27% who always or often used an advisor prior to the coronavirus pandemic, to 44% who say they are more likely to use a travel advisor now.

Travelers correctly assess that travel advisors, with deep knowledge of destinations and connections to travel suppliers, have greater ability to get free upgrades (or even actual rooms) at hotels and resorts or know suitable or better alternatives; get complimentary breakfast; access special pricing; steer travelers to experiences and attractions they might not know; and arrange unusual and extraordinary experiences. Significantly for these times, travelers want their knowledge of what’s open and what’s safe, putting the logistics together in the best itinerary, and addressing any emergency or change in condition that may occur once the trip is underway.

Travel is back – and travelers are being confronted with “no vacancy” signs in popular places like Yellowstone National Park. A travel advisor can use contacts, destination experience to book lodgings, attractions © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

All of this is driving travelers to rediscover the benefits of using skilled travel professional who knows the destination or type of travel (adventure, ecotour, family travel), how to get the most value for dollar, and has the inside track for putting together all the elements in the most cost-effective way.

The most ambitious example is a new matching service that ironically comes out of TripAdvisor – the online compendium of everything travel, and the parent of a score of online travel sites. Reco from TravelAdvisor (HelloReco.com) does for travelers what Uber does for drivers, offering an online platform linking travelers to a specialist “trip designer” to customize your itinerary (what used to be known as FITs, or foreign  independent travel).

What Reco offers are links to experts in a destination or a type of travel, who essentially offer their skills and you get to choose. You pay a single fee of $200 for their help preparing the itinerary, regardless of how simple, how long, how complex or expensive. It can be a reunion of family members coming from different parts of the country to an andbeyond safari camp in Kenya or a hiking/camping trip to Machu Picchu.

“Reco from Tripadvisor is seeing increased demand for ‘big, trip-of-a-lifetime’ vacations as Americans look forward to traveling again,” said Erik Ornitz, General Manager of Reco, which debuted in December 2020.

“Trip Designers on Reco are helping make long-awaited vacations possible with personalized planning and expert advice on navigating today’s complex world. The excitement of newlyweds actually being able to plan their honeymoon, or families getting ready for a trip together after months apart, is a light at the end of this long tunnel.”

A sampling of recent trips planned for Reco travelers showcases the diversity of destinations and experiences in both international and domestic locales:

Overseeing the planning of these highly anticipated, hand-tailored getaways are more than 300 highly qualified Trip Designers whose expertise spans more than 100 countries.  Each Reco Trip Designer specializes in one or several destinations he or she is personally connected to; many have access to special perks like complimentary room upgrades and breakfasts, even special pricing. Trip Designers work directly with each client on custom plans, and remain in contact to help adjust or change plans throughout the entire trip journey. The one-time fee to hire a Reco Trip Designer is $200 (the trip planning does not include airline travel; also, travel agents typically earn commission from the travel suppliers they book).
 
How Reco Works

Travelers start by simply sharing details and preferences about their next trip on HelloReco.com – such as destinations, the type and purpose of the trip, their interests, who they are traveling with, and budget parameters, in an online questionnaire. The Reco platform immediately matches users with a selection of curated Trip Designers that meet their specific needs.
 
After an initial conversation via messaging within the platform, the traveler chooses one of the trip designers and pays a $200 hiring fee for the selected Trip Designer to begin designing, planning, and booking a custom itinerary for a stress-free and highly memorable travel experience. Throughout the process (pre-, during-, and post-trip), Reco connects travelers with their personal Trip Designer and saves all important travel documents and confirmations. The Trip Designer remains available to Reco users throughout their trip and can also navigate and help manage any changes or cancellations.

“Every trip designer has either lived in destination they specialize in or traveled there many times,” Ornitz  said. ”They are incredibly knowledgeable about destinations they are creating itineraries for – most have contacts at the beautiful hotels, know the concierge, can get room upgrades, complimentary breakfast. For example, trip designer Danny specializes in culinary and wine experiences through Portugal and Spain; an American, he has lived there for over 10 years and has gotten to know so many of the wine makers (that most don’t know about) that he can get clients in to meet the winemaker for private tastings.”

A visit to Rully castle, Burgundy France. European Union countries including France are reopening to Americans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Traditional travel advisors have already been seeing renewed interest among travelers who appreciate the time-savings, and reduction in stress that comes with trip planning. Very often, travel experts can also build in greater value and savings or taking advantage of special pricing.

I tell Ornitz that I find it a bit ironic that Reco, which is old-school people-to-people is a subsidiary of ‘new-school” online travel.

“It is a bit old-school but also new school – that’s what we’re excited about,” said Ornitz, whose role in TripAdvisor was to run its new ventures team.

“The travel economy is large, with lots of innovation. TripAdvisor.com is the world’s largest travel site but we see startups, small companies, doing things we haven’t done. The ventures team was born out of that. We looked for a start up that expanded our reach, our scope in travel.

“Quickly, we started talk to customers – TripAdvisor has access to data about travel but also travelers. TripAdvisor came into the industry to help travelers DIY – linking to every hotel, activity, restaurant, so you can pull your trip together. Millions of people do that every day. But we also heard about special trips, occasions, places people had never been, more complex itineraries, and people asking, ‘Can I get more help?’ We dove into the world of travel advisory and custom travel planning – what can we do to help those travelers looking for good advice, local knowledge, insight? How can we serve them?

“On other side, there are a phenomenal number of travel advisors, some in industry for years, some just started, who launched a career on Instagram or social media.

“Reco was born out of the idea of matching those – TripAdvisor with travel advisors – for curated trips – custom, bespoke, luxury.”

Reco is not a travel agency, but rather recruits travel advisors who may be part of different host agencies. Essentially, it is a platform that connects travelers with travel experts, who are independent.

The travel advisors – who may be part of prestigious agencies like Virtuoso or Signature Travel Network – are vetted in order to be part of the Reco platform. They may also be earning commission on the travel services they book, which is why they can afford to do the work on a $200 flat fee.

“Two things are unique with Reco: we pride ourselves on curating trips with amazing trip designers, and matching travelers with them – a lot who have never worked with advisor, and have no clue how to find such a trip designer.” That’s what the Reco platform does.”

He expects clients to span a demographic spectrum – millennials to retirees – and everything from safaris and food-and-wine trips to destination weddings.

One of the specialty areas that caught my attention was the ability to help design trips for families who have autistic and special needs children.

“As a company, we care about inclusive travel, helping travelers with all sorts of needs travel better. As a team, we are thinking about different ways we could embody that mission to be an inclusive travel company, and several trip designers said it is difficult for family with autistic children to travel – especially with all these [COVID-19] restrictions.” There are five trip designers whose specialty is working with families who can curate such trips.

“It shows we can accommodate special needs, complex travel. It is an initial effort by us to serve those families, helping those families travel again in a world where it is harder to travel.

“It goes to the root of Reco – we are all about custom travel, matching people with right designer who can meet their needs, whatever they are.”

HelloReco.com, a wholly owned subsidiary brand of TripAdvisor, Inc., is currently available for U.S. residents and is also available as an iOS app. An Android app will be available in coming months. Visit www.helloreco.com to start the process.
 
Tripadvisor is one of the largest travel guidance platforms in the world, helping hundreds of millions of people each month travel better, from planning to booking to taking a trip. Travelers across the globe use the Tripadvisor site and app to discover where to stay, what to do and where to eat based on guidance from those who have been there before. With more than 884 million reviews and opinions of nearly 8 million businesses, travelers turn to Tripadvisor to find deals on accommodations, book experiences, reserve tables at restaurants and discover great places nearby. A travel guidance company available in 49 markets and 28 languages, Tripadvisor facilitates travel planning of all types. 

In addition to www.helloreco.com, Tripadvisor’s online travel brands and businesses include: www.bokun.iowww.cruisecritic.comwww.flipkey.comwww.thefork.com (including www.lafourchette.comwww.eltenedor.comwww.bookatable.co.uk, and www.delinski.com), www.holidaylettings.co.ukwww.housetrip.com,
www.jetsetter.comwww.niumba.comwww.seatguru.comwww.singleplatform.comwww.vacationhomerentals.com, and www.viator.com.

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 © 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Travel in a Time of COVID: We’re Getting on a Jet Plane….

Onboard our Delta flight to San Francisco, with plenty of spacing in the seats and masks on © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Dave E. Leiberman & Laini Miranda
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Who would imagine that going to airport would be adventure requiring intense planning beyond packing to fit a carry-on? – the decision of which airlines keep the middle seat empty and have a high rating in COVID-19 procedures, routing (direct, or what airport and for how long to lay over?) self-driving and long-term parking over Uber or taxi service?; masks, face shields, wipes, sanitizer, food and a water bottle (refilled after going through security) so you don’t have to buy at the airport.

With all these considerations in mind for a trip to San Francisco (a calculation in itself, taking into consideration infection rates at the destination, the confidence that California, hit early and hard by the coronavirus, is taking COVID-19 mitigation seriously, and seeing the timing, in October, as a window-of-opportunity before a likely lockdown in fall and winter as infection rates re-surge), we decided to fly out of Albany airport (small compared to flying out of JFK) on Delta, which scored extremely high marks for its new COVID-19 safety standards and policies.

It also afforded us the ability to drive our car, park in the long-term lot just a few minutes walk to the terminal and avoid any car service or shuttle bus.

After reading what the airlines are doing to keep passengers safe – including HEPA filtration and ventilation systems on par with hospitals (health tip: this means you need to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and avoid getting headache or nauseous) – I was more concerned about going through the airport itself and security.

The choice to fly Delta from Albany (versus JetBlue out of JFK) meant a layover at Detroit, a city and state that has seen a surge of infections. I actually called to find out if there were numbers of cases traced back to the airport (I was told to check the CDC). I was told the airport takes every precaution with its workers.

Arriving at Albany airport for our flight to San Francisco. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We arrive at Albany Airport in plenty of time for our 12:50 pm flight. There is hardly anyone around. We wait outside for David to park the car. Inside, there are sanitizing stations everywhere. The restrooms are extremely clean. There is hardly anyone going through security so we breeze through, following the marked-off places on the floor. All the airport and TSA personnel are wearing masks and gloves and most are behind plexiglass shields. We drop our mask just long enough for the TSA agent to check face to photo.

We get our seats at the gate – people are sitting one to a row on this small (2×2 seating) aircraft to Detroit; the flight from Detroit to San Francisco is 3 x 3, with the middle seat kept empty.

As we enter the plane, we are handed a sanitizer packet.

The new safety speech (fasten your seatbelt, your life preserver is under your seat, in the event of loss of pressure, a mask…) now features new safety protocol, delivered with cheery smiles which, like the traditional safety speech, makes it all routine and not alarming at all. “Wear your face mask over nose and mouth… underneath these masks, we assure you we are still smiling.”

We are told about the “new standard of health and cleanliness” – high grade ventilation, hospital-grade filter, all surfaces sanitized prior to each flight.

During the flight, just 1 hour, 19 minutes to Detroit, the flight attendants in masks and gloves come by with a plastic bag filled with packaged snacks (biscotti, cheese bits, bottle of water) and a Purell packet and a notice about supporting one of Delta’s sponsored charities, for breast cancer (on the next flight, the safety video features a split screen showcasing Delta’s support of Habitat for Humanity, done extremely well). “We are excited to see the world together again,” it ends.

We aren’t restricted in terms of going to the restroom and there never is a line.

Deplaning isn’t a wild scramble either. We are told to wait until the passengers in front have taken their items and moved out (I would suggest they unload from the front and middle, so two sets of passengers can leave at the same time, and to let the people making connecting flights leave first) to preserve social distancing.

At Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, a major hub airport, there are a surprising number of people (at least compared to Albany) but not nearly the crowds of normal times. Traveling by air is remarkably unharried © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, a major hub airport there are a surprising number of people (at least compared to Albany) but not nearly the crowds of normal times (DTW handled 36 million passengers in 2019, 1,100 flights a day to and from 140 destinations on four continents). Indeed, there is a sense of “new normal,” a new routine.

Everyone is wearing masks; seats at the gates are marked off for social distancing, food services take orders and hand them out by number.  In fact, while airports in these days of mass travel, are typically hectic, frenetic, frantic places, it feels amazingly calm, refined, a throwback to the old days when air travel was special. And the attitude of the airport and airline personnel is calmer, welcoming, even appreciative of having passengers.

The Delta agent at the gate at Detroit who gives us our seat assignments to San Francisco says that they get as many free COVID tests as they need, and if they aren’t feeling well, if they have a cough, they are told to stay home.

On board, we are handed a packet of sanitizer as we enter and seated spaced apart, and I could feel the enhanced ventilation (tip: drink plenty of water because you feel your essence sucked out of you). We used the sanitizing cloth over the chair, hand rests, monitor, tray, headrest (for our own peace of mind).

On this flight, about 5 hours (two movies worth!) we are again handed a plastic bag with snacks and Purell.

Riding the air train into the San Francisco airport terminal from the car rental drop-off © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Delta has taken major steps (some you may not even realize) – in fact, more than 100 measures – to keep passengers safe and equally as importantly, give passengers confidence to fly, which it calls the Delta CareStandard intended to provide layers of protection (see: (see: https://news.delta.com/delta-keeping-you-safe-blocked-middle-seats-hospital-grade-air-filters-and-more):

In the airport: There is touchless check-in(download the Fly Delta app to access a digital boarding pass); check-in lobbies, self-service kiosks, gate counters and baggage claim are thoroughly wiped down during the day. Electrostatic cleaning, used on the aircraft, is also deployed in key airport locations. There are plexiglass shields at check in counters, Delta Sky Clubs and gate counters across the globe; social distancing markers at check-in, jet bridges; hand sanitizer stations are ubiquitous.

San Francisco airport at 11 am is uncrowded. Airlines do as much as possible with as little contact as possible © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In partnership with the Transportation Security Administration, Delta is rolling out antimicrobial bins that prevent the growth of a broad spectrum of bacteria to automated screening lanes in Atlanta, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Los Angeles, New York-LaGuardia and New York-JFK, with other markets coming online.

Customer care kits may be obtained at Delta ticket counters and gates with sanitzer wipe, mask and informational card.

Air filtering systems that pump outside air into jetbridges and parked aircraft are being replaced with LEED Platinum MERV14 filters.

Onboard experience: Delta was the first US airline where customers can find hand sanitzer stations near boarding door and bathrooms on every aircraft. The boarding process is adjusted to encourage more space – boarding all flights from back to front so dcustomers shouldn’t need to pass one another, and limiting boarding groups to 10 or fewer.

Through at least Jan. 6, 2021, Delta is blocking the selection of middle seats and limiting the number of customers preflight.

In order to accommodate extra spacing, Delta may put higher-capacity aircraft or add flights on routes where there is increased demand .

Every flight is thoroughly sanitized prior to boarding using electrostatic sprayers, then cleaning crews use high-grade disinfectant to wipe down personal and common areas of the cabin.  “If an aircraft doesn’t pass our spot check before you board, our teams are encouraged to hold the flight and call back the cleaning crew.”

The air on all aircraft is completely recirculated 10 to 30 times per hour with fresh, outside air through industrial-grade HEPA filters, which extract more than 99.99% of particles, including viruses.

The airline is installing Vyv antimicrobial LED lighting above high-touch sinks and countertops in lavatories on select aircraft to continually reduce the growth of bacteria – one of many clean innovations that Delta is bringing onboard.

“The (travel) experience is a very comfortable, a very safe experience, we have taken actions, even above and beyond what the CDC has recommended to ensure safety,” Delta’s Chief Customer Experience Officer Bill Lentsch told ABC News. 

Delta has formed a new Global Cleanliness Division which is working with teams across the airline and partners like Mayo Clinic and RB (makers of Lysol)

In a similar vein, United Airlines assures its passengers, “We know travel looks a little different these days, but rest assured that we’re here for you every step of the way. Throughout your journey, we’re putting safety and cleanliness at the forefront of your travel experience through our United CleanPlus℠ program and by teaming up with Clorox. We’re also working closely with the experts at Cleveland Clinic to advise us on enhancing safety measures.”

Actually, it is remarkable how “normal” these new procedures seem.

A notable absence of people on line to go through security at San Francisco airport © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, according to a Pentagon study, since airlines began putting these measures in place in spring 2020, “there has been little evidence to date of onboard disease transmission,” according to researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Their report notes that when the “highly effective” ventilation systems are running from boarding until deplaning the risk of exposure falls below that of activities like grocery shopping and dining out.

As reported by Ellen Mitchell in The Hill, the risk of contracting an airborne virus such as COVID-19 is very low when traveling aboard a large commercial aircraft when most people are wearing masks, the Defense Department-led study concluded.

The study found that due to air particle filtration and ventilation systems, 99.99 percent of particles released into the air from an infected person wearing a mask were removed from the aircraft cabin within six minutes of being released.

Even if someone were sitting directly next to an infected passenger, 99.7 percent of the virus particles around them would be removed in that timeframe, the study found. That’s roughly 15 times faster than the particles would take to dissipate in an average home and five to six times faster than in a modern hospital, Mitchell reported.

The study concluded that it was “extremely unlikely” passengers would be exposed to an infectious dose of COVID-19 while on a 12-hour flight. (See: thehill.com/policy/defense/521303-pentagon-study-low-risk-of-contracting-covid-19-on-planes-with-passengers)

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Travel in a Time of Pandemic – Phase 1: Armchair Travel, Staycations, Planning Bucket List Trips

To think: exactly a year ago I was embarking on a Global Scavenger Hunt which brought me to the ancient city of Petra, Jordan. Use this time of enforced isolation to plan a trip on your bucket list, take advantage of airline, tour operator and hotel flexible booking, change and cancellation policies as well as discounts and incentives © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Travel is vitally important to rejuvenating one’s body and soul, not to mention providing life-enhancing, experience, new learning and new understanding; it offers a chance for bonding with loved ones, building new relationships. But to mitigate the spread and consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, travel has all but shut down around the globe, creating an unprecedented situation for the worldwide travel industry.

But eventually, it will be safe to venture out, and because travel offers a universe of possibilities, there are options that might better suit the circumstances. Travel suppliers are doing their best to accommodate, offering flexibility in making changes, eliminating cancellation fees, offering credits for future bookings. And with many offering sharp discounts and other incentives for putting deposits down on future bookings, this may well be the opportunity to fulfill that travel bucket list. Indeed, many travel companies are bringing destinations and experiences to you, virtually, to inspire and inform travel planning.

There will be phases and stages of re-entry that will parallel the progress of the coronavirus pandemic, the wider availability of testing and significantly, for antibodies, and the availability of vaccine. The stages might follow in this way: just venturing outside for a walk, run or bikeride in your immediate area; a staycation; getaways within shorter then longer driving distance; a domestic trip by air; longer-haul trips abroad and finally returning to those bucket-list travel experiences.

The situation changes frequently and planning can be for trips months from now. And be aware: once the “all-clear” is given, there will be a surging release of pent-up demand to get out and cure the burning cabin fever; to explore, discover, experience and make up for lost time by building memories for a lifetime. Putting down a deposit on a future booking not only secures a place, but also does your part to assure that the travel companies can weather these uncharted waters.

So make plans with flexible cancellations or change policies; use respected and well established tour operators and travel companies which can adapt quickly on the ground and revise itineraries as necessary and even extract you if conditions warrant, and if traveling abroad, purchase travel insurance that incorporates health coverage (your domestic health insurance does not provide much coverage) and for added protection, insurance that allows for “cancellation for any reason” (New York State just made this kind of insurance available). US Tour Operators Association is an excellent source (ustoa.com).

Conditions are constantly changing – some communities are telling AirBnB hosts not to take bookings, Florida’s Governor (who did nothing to stop Spring Breakers from frolicking on the beaches) threatened to turn back New Yorkers at the I-95 border – but there are still places that are taking guests, recognizing the extreme need for release. For example, the Southhampton Inn on Long Island is inviting guests needing respite (91 Hill Street, Southampton, NY 11968, 631-283-6500, [email protected]https://southamptoninn.com/).

If ever there was a time to rely on travel professionals who are clued in to what is happening on the ground, how to alter and change in order to address changing circumstances, this is it.

Protect your travel investment as you would any other – by seeking professional advice, says Virtuoso. A leading luxury and experiential travel network, Virtuoso has been closely monitoring the impact of coronavirus, collaborating and consulting with its travel agency members across the world as well as its preferred partners. 

“It’s important to give my clients all of the facts about their trip, their destination, and the policies of their travel supplier,” says Virtuoso agency executive Amanda Klimak. “I then help them make a decision about travel based on the facts. I also recommend they speak to their personal physician to discuss the risks based on their medical history. Then I let them know I’m here to help, no matter what they decide.”

A travel advisor knows if or when airlines, hotels, cruise lines and tour operators have waived change and cancellation fees (many have): “The entire travel industry is in uncharted territory now due to coronavirus,” says Virtuoso agency executive Mary Kleen. “As travel advisors, our current role is to listen to travelers’ concerns and provide the most up-to-date options so they can make informed decisions at a minimal cost.”

To avoid losing out on future travel opportunities, Virtuoso agency executive Ange Wallace reminds her clients to start planning now. “Book 2021-2022 trips now, because everyone else is and you will have trouble finding space. Many travel companies have relaxed deposits, cancellation penalties and cancel for any reason waivers to encourage those willing to start thinking about the next window of opportunity.”

Grand Canyon: Once the “all-clear” signal is given, there will be an enormous rush to counter cabin fever of enforced isolation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Travel insurance is always a good idea. While “cancel for any reason” (CFAR) travel insurance policies may partially cover trip cancellations and adjustments related to the coronavirus outbreak, there are some restrictions, and the policy has to be purchased within 21 days of making an initial trip deposit. Make sure you have travel insurance that will cover medical expenses should you become ill while traveling,” Klimak advises. (My go-to travel insurance is worldnomads.com)

Practice good travel hygiene. Wash your hands! As soon as you get through security at the airport, make a beeline to the restroom to scrub, Virtuoso agency executive Tania Swasbrook advises. Cash frequently changes hands, so she also recommends using credit cards that you can wipe down with a sanitizing cloth. While at it, wipe down airplane surfaces and wash your hands before and after using the restroom on the plane.

As a rule, Wallace recommends taking veranda accommodations on any cruise and requesting hotel rooms with a balcony or outside terrace so that you have access to fresh air.

Be prepared. Virtuoso agency owner Cristina Buaas refers travelers to the CDC and U.S. Department of State websites for the latest travel advisories (including health, natural disasters, crime), and Klimak recommends travelers sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which shares your contact information with the nearest U.S. embassy and sends travel alert notifications. The STEP app is worth downloading prior to traveling – and while you’re at it, swipe that phone with an antibacterial wipe. 

Plan now, travel later. “Traveling is meant to be fun and educational,” says Wallace. “If you’re going to be worried and anxious about your trip, find something that you’ll be comfortable with and enjoy. If that means you sit out travel in the short term, that’s fine. But while you’re waiting, look forward to the recovery, because it will come, and you’ll need to be ready to jump on that trip you’ve been drooling over.”

(For more information or to find a Virtuoso travel advisor, go to www.virtuoso.com/travel-advisors.)

Create a “staycation”: Jones Beach State Park is open, but be sure to maintain six-foot separation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Context Travel, which specializes in walking tours, is, in addition to new itineraries, is offering virtual travel:  “As dedicated lifelong learners, we don’t see any reason why the world has to be off limits when you stay at home. We’re keen to keep our minds lively by bringing Context to you—wherever you may be—through online seminars with our scholars (seminars.contexttravel.com/), podcasts (coming soon!), and ongoing contributions to our In Context blog.”

“Now more than ever, developing a shared understanding of the world around us and recognizing our role in the broader community is critical in being a curious traveler—and a responsible global citizen. We wish you health and understanding, in any form that your travel takes. We’re all in this together.” (800-691-6036, contexttravel.com)

In the immediate term, create your own “staycation.” Find local trails to bike or hike for example Bethpage State Park which has fabulous bike trail and Jones Beach State Park which at this writing was open – being careful to maintain six-foot separation.

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

New York Times Travel Show: Pauline Frommer Offers Sage Advice to Satisfy Wanderlust

“Don’t forget hostels” Pauline Frommer tells the New York Times Travel Show. Staying at the Green Tortoise hostel not only provided a lower-cost alternative to commercial hotels in San Francisco, but is an experience in itself © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The New York Times Travel Show is the largest consumer travel show in North America and this year hit record attendance – a good indication of the eagerness and ability of people to pursue their dreams to explore, discover, engage, rejuvenate.

Each year, one of the best of the programs offered at the travel show is the presentation by Pauline Frommer, travel expert extraordinaire and scion of the legendary Arthur Frommer, whose famous book, “Europe on $5 a Day” was a bible for a generation of Boomer backpackers, including me.

Each year, her tips (best travel sites, best time to book, best ways to save money, best ways to have an enriching, immersive experience), trends in travel that will shape your next vacation, and suggestions of where to go (this year, a focus on alternatives to places despoiled by overtourism) are spot on, delivered with sincerity and sheer joy of travel. 

But this year, she starts off with why it is so important to travel, especially now.

On the one hand, she observes (as did Nicholas Kristof in his New York Times column, “Why 2018 Was the Best Year in Human History!”), that despite the anxiety-provoking headlines, humanity has never been better off than now – certainly there is no better time to be a woman than now; the percentage of population in extreme poverty has fallen from 90% in the 1820s to 15% today (despite the fact that three Americans have as much wealth as the bottom 160 million); the life expectancy of Europeans and Americans in the 1700s was 35; by the 1950s, 60, and today, 75-80 (60 in the Developing World).

“We’re on a good path, but we don’t realize this.” This is largely because of media and how we consume it.

“So if we see nothing on the news but plane crashes and murders – even though air travel is statistically the safest way to travel and the murder rate is on the way down – fear today is making us make bad public decisions, and not just in the United States.” (And some have seized on this power to shape perceptions.)

She notes that these countries have something in common: UAE, Ireland, Germany, Canada, Bahamas, France, New Zealand, UK. What do they have in common? All of them have travel warnings against coming to the United States because of gun violence.

But, she says, “When we go out in the world, we have such a great opportunity to explore and see what’s going right, what’s working, what isn’t working in terms of social issues in Europe, Asia, Africa. We come back and tell our neighbors, Mexicans are not rapists and there is no such thing as shithole countries.

“Travel is a fun thing, a relaxing thing, but today, it is also important. We are witnesses and we need to be good ambassadors of United States.”

Indeed, she offers a quote from Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on These accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Notably, Mark Twain was also a pioneering travel writer.

Renowned travel expert Pauline Frommer shares her sage travel advice at the New York Times Travel Show © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

So what are the trends and tips for travel in 2019?

New distribution capability (NDC): Airlines (who pioneered e-commerce, Customer Relationship Marketing – Loyalty programs – and yield management) are working on incorporating artificial intelligence to track all your buying decisions and bundle air fares to what they “assume” you want (or rather, what they assume you will buy). “But say you are traveling on your boss’ dime, so you checked a bag and paid for priority boarding, but when you travel on your own, you don’t want to pay for that. In coming months, the program they are rolling out, if it works as planned, when you search for an airline ticket, you won’t be shown tickets without luggage or priority boarding, they will already be bundled into the quoted fare, because they think they know what you want. It will make air fare searches even more opaque than in the past.”

Frommer’s advice: “You need to be anonymous – clear cookies, use a different computer. It will be less convenient, but it’s the only way to get true fares.”

She recommends two sites as best for airfares, based on a survey of 10,000 searches, beating out Googleflights, Expedia, Orbitz and the rest.

Momondo.com

Skyscanner.net

“They consistently came up with lower prices.”

She adds, “Timing is everything in booking airfares.”

Based on analysis by the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), the middle man between airlines and travel agents and OTAs (online travel agents):

Booking on Sunday can mean a 17% savings (“possibly because corporate travel agents don’t work on weekends, the airlines know you are leisure traveler, and therefore more cost-conscious, so will get better deal)

Don’t book on Friday, prices are up 12%

February is the least expensive for international flights; December is most expensive month; September the cheapest for domestic flights, June the most expensive.

Artificial intelligence will affect hotel stays – they are tracking you there as well.”I was at a travel writers’ conference and met a woman who supports her writing (most freelance journalists living under poverty line) by renting out her apartment through AirBnB when she travels. She asked a friend to look at her listing. But her friend couldn’t find the listing because her friend usually spent more than she charged, so AirBnB didn’t deliver it – even on the last page she couldn’t see it. This is another case where you need to be anonymous as you can.”

Hotels booking sites are working on the back-end to make it ‘more convenient’ for you to find them.

Here are where you can find the best prices for booking hotels:                      “

Bookingcom (has best rates– beat the big ones everywhere but Asia)

Agoda.com – best for booking hotels in Asia

There are also sites that give you the best hotel rates for booking “blind:”

Priceline.com

Hotwire.com 

BiddingTraveler.com

TheBiddingTraveler.com

“BiddingTraveler and the TheBiddingTraveler.com are manned by travelers who say what was bid and what they got -prices can be extraordinarily low.”

But alternative lodgings – hostels, apartment-sharing, home exchange – not only can save money over commercial hotels, but afford a special experience.

“Don’t forget hostels –they’re not just for young people, not just dorm meals – some offer private rooms, are lovely places to stay. There is no more fun than going into the lobby of hostel and speaking to people from all over the world.”

“Sharing” Accommodations Sites:

AirBnB.com

Homeaway.com

Zonder.com

Flipkey.com

VRBO.com

The ‘sharing’ sites are starting to affect commercial hotel pricing, [but they also are] adding more and more fees. ”A lot of individual owners are getting smarter about charging high cleaning fees – so be careful and go all the way to the end [of the listings] before you book. When you book are these sites, you aren’t booking with an agency but with an individual owner –who may have one or 20 homes, but not the heft of a hotel. That that can make cancelling a reservation very costly.

Taking “sharing” a step further is home exchange.

“Home exchanges are a great way to travel and have an authentic experience,” Frommer says, but emphatically advises, “Not Craigslist.”

Frommer recommends:

HomeExchange.com

GuesttoGuest.com

Through Friends

“A friend who was tracing her geneology and did home exchange, had a knock at the door, and a neighbor invited her to tea; another came and invited her to a ramble; another to tour the local factory. This kept happening and she finally realized she was the single most exciting thing to happen to this small town in Wales. On the last day, a group of neighbors presented her with a framed painting of town square, and they are still in touch.  With home exchange, you will meet locals – everybody sends over their friends to check you’re not busting up the place.”

As for safety, she says, “It takes so long to set up a home exchange – so many details – Do you exchange cars? Leave the cribs? – it wouldn’t behoove a criminal to take part –there is  not enough payoff. It’s a very safe activity.”

For car rental she recommends:

AutoSlash.com is best. “When you go to the site, it asks, ‘Are you a member of Costco, AAA, AARP? It applies all the discount codes to your rental and any other discount that could be on the market. So they start off with lower price, then track rental, so if the price drops, rebook at lower rate.”

Frommer relates that she used the site two years ago for a trip to New Zealand, and because of all the price drops and discounts, saved $400 on a rental in northern New Zealand and another $400 on a rental in southern New Zealand.

A barge hotel cruise on canals through Burgundy, with bikes on board, has appeal for younger travelers. The rivers and canals were the arteries that connected towns and communities; you step off the boat right into a cobbled town square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

River Cruises – Europe, Vietnam, United States, Amazon rainforest – these rivers were the arteries that connected communities. You wander off the boat directly onto a cobbled town square, the great cathedral you came to see – this is how people traveled for eons.

“But river cruises are not for everybody. My father turns 90 this year and 10 years ago he took a river cruise and raved – and claimed he was the youngest on board. River cruising attracts a certain demographic.” (Probably because they tend to be very expensive.)

“Certain boats get younger travelers, like UbyUniworld

Over the top river cruises: Uniworld, Tauck, Scenic

Luxurious: AMA Waterways (have bikes onboard, so get more active travelers); Viking Cruises, Avalon Waterways

Budget: Emerald Waterways; CroisieEurope; Grand Circle; U by UniWorld; Vantage

Family friendly: Ama Waterways; Tauck

Best rivers: Danube, Mississippi, Mekong

“The dirty little secret about river cruising is that while everything is included (more than on ocean cruises) – all the alcohol, daytrips for initial price – but with the exception of UniWorld and Grand Circle, all the companies share the same pool of guides on shore – they take whatever guide is available. So you could be paying $550/night on Uniworld and get the same land experience as on Emerald paying $200/day. 

The best rivers for cruising, according to Frommers guidebook editors Michelle Baron and Fran Golden, are the Danube, the Mississippi and the Mekong because they have the best variety of things to see and do.

“On many river cruises, Day 1 has the most gorgeous cathedral, Day 2, Day 3 the same. But on the Danube, Day 1 is a winery, Day 2 a castle, Day 3 a cathedral, Day 4 an art deco spa. There is more variety.”

How to find the right tour for you? Frommer recommends:

Stridetravel.com

Tourradar.com

Evaneos.net

Viator.com – does short/long term tours. “You put in where you want to go, dates, and get something like this: a list of 8/day trips to Masai Mara (the cheaper one stays in same camps with almost same itinerary)

Frommer, who notes she had just met the TourRadar CEO, says, “When you buy a tour through them, they hold the money until after departure, so they do the best they can to vet the tour operators. They want to bring in Mom-and-Pop and local companies – so you often get greater value, more authentic, closer-to-ground experience. They hold the money until after departure and if necessary, book another tour for you.”

For big-ticket items for rentals, cruises, safaris, tours, Frommer recommends buying travel insurance:

SquareMouth.com

InsureMyTrip.com

Travel Insurance.com

(My favorite is WorldNomads.com)

The most expensive policies usually don’t cover everything, Frommer advises, but never buy insurance from the travel provider you are traveling with – if the company goes out of business, you’ve lost insurance as well as money for the trip, and they get commission (kickback) from insurance. You can get more coverage by going direct (to the insurance company).

Foodies who appreciate the lusciousness of truffles should make a beeline to Portoroz in Slovenia and Rizi Bizi restaurant for a gourmet experience. Culinary experience is increasingly steering travel choices © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Next big thing in travel:

Foodism – culinary travel is shaping the travel experience. “Thanks largely to the late great Anthony Bourdain, travelers know food is an extraordinary window into different cultures, and are demanding more and more authentic food experiences. On tours, like Country Walkers (a glamorous high end walking company), you end the day with a 5-course meal with the chef or going to a farmhouse for dinner.

“There are foodie-experiences on every tour, but you don’t have to take tours to have unusual food experiences – there are a slew of new websites that help you find them yourself”.

Eatwith.com

Travelingspoon.com (you eat in people’s homes around the world, like the best Italian grandma/chef in Palermo, where you go into her kitchen. They guarantee all hosts speak English)

Foodietrip.com

Airbnb.com/experiences – for example, an ex-tv producer became an Airbnb experiences guide, who takes travelers to dining experience

BonAppatour.com

Another unusual way to have authentic, immersive travel experiences: short term work

Frommer offers the example of her daughter, a college freshman, who took a gap year last year and went to Japan with Workaway.com. This is a website where would-be employers post job listings, employees know they will work 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, for full board –you  just pay airfare. “She worked at a ski resort (got lift tickets), a farm selling sweets (learned Japanese to give a spiel on candy), a traditional inn (we have a photo of her cleaning a toilet with a big grin on her face). She met people from all over the world, all ages doing this.”

Some of the sites:

Workaway.com

WWOOF.org

WWOOF.org (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) – Sweden, Netherlands – free vacation but do some work

Vaughan Systems (https://grupovaughan.com/teaching-english-spain/), which offers a series of English language programs in Spain. “They want volunteers who speak different kinds of English. They don’t expect you to have any experience teaching, they just want you to talk. They give wine at every meal so it is easy to talk and talk. They are doing this at a campus in Salamanca, a medieval university town, another in Pyrenees, and in Madrid. People who have done it said was a life-changing experience. They made dear friends among those teaching English.”

Digital nomad careers – for people who want to hit road and don’t want to come back – skills to work remotely – who don’t have to be in same timeszone as post – whole cultures are growing up around digital nomadism

Jobatical.com

Remotey.com (remote year – finds places to live and work with WiFi – different jobs; people live together, work in the same space and socialize together and every month, the whole group moves to a different city; there are 4 and 12-month programs)

Jobspresso.com

RemoteOk.lo

The Frommers host a regular radio show, publish their famous travel guidebooks and produce an outstanding travel site, Frommers.com.

Next: Pauline Frommer’s Picks for Best Places to Go in 2019 – and They’re Not the Most Famous

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

State Department Implements New Travel Advisory System, New Info Hub for US Travelers

A biking and wildlife safari in rural India: India has been issued a Level 2 Travel Advisory, with a particular warning for women not to travel alone since rape is one of the fastest growing crimes. Also it warns of terrorist or armed groups active in East Central India, primarily in rural areas. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

On January 10, 2018, the Department of State launched changes in how information is shared with U.S. travelers, replacing Travel Alerts and Warnings for countries that warrant them to a new system where every country has a Travel Advisory with a level ranging from 1 to 4.  The advisories are hosted in a redesigned hub for traveler information, travel.state.gov.

“These changes are intended to provide U.S. citizens with clear, timely, and reliable safety and security information worldwide,” the State Department stated in a press advisory.

  • Level 1 – Exercise Normal Precautions: This is the lowest advisory level for safety and security risk. There is some risk in any international travel. Conditions in other countries may differ from those in the United States and may change at any time.
  • Level 2 – Exercise Increased Caution: Be aware of heightened risks to safety and security. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.
  • Level 3 – Reconsider Travel: Avoid travel due to serious risks to safety and security. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.
  • Level 4 – Do Not Travel: This is the highest advisory level due to greater likelihood of life-threatening risks. During an emergency, the U.S. government may have very limited ability to provide assistance. The Department of State advises that U.S. citizens not travel to the country or leave as soon as it is safe to do so. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.

The Travel Advisories for each country replace previous Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts. While the State Department will issue an overall Travel Advisory level for every country, levels of advice may vary for specific locations or areas within a country. For instance, U.S. citizens may be advised to “Exercise Increased Caution” (Level 2) in a country, but to “Reconsider Travel” (Level 3) to a particular area within the country. Detailed Travel Advisories also will provide clear reasons for the level assigned, using established risk indicators, and offer specific advice to U.S. citizens who choose to travel there:

  • C – Crime: Widespread violent or organized crime is present in areas of the country. Local law enforcement may have limited ability to respond to serious crimes.
  • T – Terrorism: Terrorist attacks have occurred and/or specific threats against civilians, groups, or other targets may exist.
  • U – Civil Unrest: Political, economic, religious, and/or ethnic instability exists and may cause violence, major disruptions, and/or safety risks.
  • H – Health: Health risks, including current disease outbreaks or a crisis that disrupts a country’s medical infrastructure, are present. The issuance of a Centers for Disease Control Travel Notice may be a factor.
  • N – Natural Disaster: A natural disaster, or its aftermath, poses danger.
  • E – Time-limited Event: A short-term event, such as an election, sporting event, or other incident that may pose a safety risk.
  • O – Other: There are potential risks not covered by previous risk indicators. Read the country’s Travel Advisory for details.

The State Department stated it will review and update each Travel Advisory as needed, based on changes to security and safety information. Additionally, U.S. embassies and consulates will now issue Alerts to replace the current Emergency Messages and Security Messages. Alerts will inform U.S. citizens of specific safety and security concerns in a country, such as demonstrations, crime trends, and weather events.

Revamped Website, Travel.State.Gov

The Department’s newly-redesigned hub for traveler information,travel.state.gov, will host all Travel Advisories, recent Alerts issued for each country, and an interactive map in mobile friendly formats.

Country pages on the site will continue to include all travel information currently available, including details about entry/exit requirements, local laws and customs, health conditions, transportation, and other relevant topics.

To receive security and other important updates while traveling, U.S. citizens can enroll their travel plans in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (step.state.gov), and follow on Twitter (@travelgov) and Facebook (facebook.com/travelgov).

Enjoying a sailing adventure in the Philippines. The State Department issued a Level 2 Travel Advisory for Philippines: Terrorist and armed groups continue plotting possible kidnappings, bombings, and other attacks in the Philippines. Terrorist and armed groups may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities. © Sarah Falter/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We posed additional questions to a spokesperson for the Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs:

How was the new Travel Advisory system created? How has it been received by travel professionals and travelers?

“Over the past year, we received feedback about our consular safety and security messaging from State Department colleagues throughout the world and from our many outreach activities to the public and other government stakeholders.  This feedback helped us tailor our new Travel Advisories to the information travelers need most.

“The revisions to consular safety and security messaging improve the Department’s ability to inform the public in an efficient and comprehensive manner.  Information is easier to find, understand, and use. Travel Advisories ensure U.S. citizens receive important advice for every country, applying a consistent worldwide standard.”

“Our goal was to improve our communications with U.S. citizen travelers to provide clear, timely, and reliable safety and security information worldwide. So far, the feedback was been positive.

“One thing I’d point out: it’s important to read the full Travel Advisory for the country your visiting.  In some cases, we have different Advisory levels for different parts of the country.  Mexico, for example, is a Travel Advisory Level 2 – Exercise Increased Caution, but some areas of Mexico are Level 3 and 4.  So it’s important to read each Advisory carefully.”

How do you determine the overall level for a country?

“We consider many factors to determine the Travel Advisory level for each country, including crime, terrorist activity, civil unrest, health, natural disaster/weather,  and current events.  We clearly explain the reason for the Travel Advisory level and describe the safety and security concerns.

“The information used to formulate Travel Advisories is collected from a range of sources, such as crime statistics and other information that is publicly available, information gathered from U.S. government sources, as well as assessments by our embassies and consulates.  Travel Advisories also take into account decisions made to protect the security of U.S. government personnel overseas and ensure that U.S. citizens receive appropriate security information.

“This analysis is undertaken without regard to bilateral political or economic considerations.  Travel Advisories represent our commitment to protect U.S. citizens traveling  and residing abroad by providing them important safety and security information.

“Travel Advisories are based on safety and security conditions that could affect the lives and interests of U.S. citizens abroad, not on political considerations.” 

Cuba-US People to People Partnership booth at the New York Times Travel Show: The US State Department’s Level 3 travel advisory (Reconsider Travel) for Cuba is controversial. The government says it is based on “health attacks directed at US Embassy employees” but Canada’s embassy had a similar episode and did not withdraw its diplomats, no other incidents were reported and tourists continue to come. Indeed, International Tourism Fair in Madrid recently judged Cuba “Safest Destination in the World.” © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

During the Obama administration there was an attempt to make it easier for travelers to come into US. How has the Trump Administration changed the way visitors are treated? Travel into the US from abroad is down 4-6% in 2017 – an otherwise a banner year for international travel – which is estimated to cost the US economy $4.5 billion and the loss of 40,000 jobs. Is this something the State Dept is concerned about?

“The Department of State remains committed to efficiently processing applications for legitimate travel to the United States.

“At the same time, every visa decision is a national security decision, and we must ensure that applicants do not pose a security risk to the United States.   We have never hesitated to spend additional time evaluating visa applications to this end.

“However, we do recognize the importance of international travel and tourism to the U.S. Economy. 75.6 million visitors traveled to the United States in 2016.  These visitors spent $244.7 billion and supported 1.2 million jobs here in the United States in 2016.  The U.S. travel industry (international and domestic) is a substantial component of U.S. GDP and employment, contributing $1.6 trillion in economic activity.

“Together with other agencies, we are in contact with industry groups and work with them regularly to discuss concerns and opportunities.”

Some 15 countries around the world have travel alerts about travel to the United States because of gun violence. Can you comment?

“Our responsibility is to provide information for U.S. citizens traveling overseas.  We’re aware that some countries have their own travel alerts, including regarding the United States, but we’d have to refer you to those countries for information on how they develop their alerts.”

During the Obama Administration, there also were programs to facilitate and encourage young people to travel abroad, take foreign internships, join programs like Peace Corps, coordinated through the State Department. Can you comment on such programs under the Trump Administration? 

“Again this year, the Open Doors student mobility numbers showed an increase in American students studying abroad, topping more than 325,000 American students in academic year 2015/16. Increasingly, U.S. colleges and universities are making study abroad an integral component of the higher education experience for Americans.  And more U.S. students than ever before are taking advantage of study abroad opportunities in a wide range of countries.

“To help facilitate this growth, the State Department launched the U.S. Study Abroad Office in 2015 with the goal of further increasing and diversifying U.S. participation in study abroad, including diversity of study, geographic representation and diversity of institutional types, as well as diversity of study abroad destinations around the globe. We work with U.S. and foreign institutions to expand opportunities and highlight the value of studying abroad. Our Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship Program increases participation in study abroad by providing resources to federal Pell grants recipients, and Critical Language Scholarship Programs provide training in over a dozen foreign languages critical to U.S. foreign policy priorities.

“Study abroad helps students understand the perspectives and values of others, enabling them to succeed in our diverse workplaces, communities and educational institutions. The State Department supports American colleges and universities in their efforts to increase study abroad. You can find more here: https://studyabroad.state.gov.”

Biking through Albania, a country totally unknown or misunderstood by Americans: The State Department designates Albania as Level 1: Exercise normal precautions. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What is the position from the State Department about the benefit of international travel – Americans going abroad and foreigners visiting the US – in terms of fostering people-to-people understanding?

“All of us who work in this field know how vital exchange programs and international study is to our shared future. It is one of the key means for the next generation of global leaders to gain the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in our global economy, foster progress in our societies, and address shared challenges.

“When people go abroad, they make connections that broaden their worldview.  They become part of an international network of individuals with the shared experience of navigating new and unfamiliar languages, cultures and institutions, as they gain knowledge and develop resourcefulness and critical thinking skills. This experience is especially crucial for young people who will increasingly compete and interact in an interconnected world.

“The State Department sponsors exchange programs to increase mutual understanding and respect between the people of the United States and the people of other countries, as a goal of U.S. foreign policy.  These include the International Visitor Leadership Program and Fulbright Program, our flagship exchanges, the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, Critical Language Scholarships, high school exchanges, as well as support for the global network of EducationUSA educational advising centers that provides information on U.S. study to international students worldwide.”

See also:

New York Times Travel Show: American Travelers Resilient In Face of Crises

New York Times Travel Show: Despite Trump Policy, Americans CAN Travel to Cuba!

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

NYT Travel Show: Greenberg Tells Intrepid Travelers to Exploit ‘Brave New World of Travel’

Biking in Albania.Go beyond your bucket list, Greenberg says. Pick a place and go there. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

According to travel expert Peter Greenberg, that dreaded four-letter word “fear” could actually work out to the benefit of Americans who want to explore the globe..

That, in combination with a strong dollar against just about every other currency, means that Americans have a buyers market in a “brave new world of travel” characterized by “disruption.”

Travel expert Peter Greenberg gives tips on navigating the “Brave New World of Travel” at the 2017 New York Times Travel Show © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Americans who travel abroad, though, tend to be open minded, able to adapt to different situations, and open to adventure and the unknown.

As it turns out, only 37% of Americans have passports (and, Greenberg notes, only 42% of members of Congress and Senate – a revealing aspect at why some have such an insular, provincial view, or who hold so ardently to the myth of American Exceptionalism. It’s easy to imagine America to be exceptional when you don’t actually see anything else first hand.)

“How can you make global policy if you have never left Kansas?,” Greenberg, a best selling author and TV travel commentator, asks the standing-room crowd  attending his seminar, “The Brave New World of Travel,” at the 2017 New York Times Travel Show  at the Javits Center in New York.

The Travel Show took place just as Trump’s Muslim/Travel ban was causing havoc and bringing out thousands of protesters at international airports across the country, an anathema to the people attending the show who clearly valued international travel as a bridge between peoples, cultures and politics.

The “disruption” that is at the heart of the “Brave New World of Travel,” is that there are more international airlines, creating more competition, more services, and keeping fares from rising, more competition among hotels and cruiselines. Even the uncertainty (insecurity) around global affairs creates a buyers’ market for intrepid travelers who see more reward than risk.

Since 2006, he says, there have been 75 new routes from such carriers as Turkish Airlines. Condor Airlines used to be a charter carrier, now is a scheduled carrier. Norwegian Airlines has really rocked the market with low fares.

It’s a buyers market in the hotel industry also, though it is harder to see why, with mergers and acquisitions like Marriott & Starwood giving a single entity even more control of the marketplace. It could be because after making their deals to sell inventory through online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia, now the hotel companies are trying to incentivize customers to book direct. “Why click around? They will give free WiFi and a donut.”

A boom in building new cruise ships – there are 56 cruise lines – has resulted in excess capacity. Last year, there were 18 new river cruise ships, and this year 10 new cruise ships.

How can you benefit? Greenberg says don’t book the newest ships (they aren’t discounting their fares); rather, “book the 2-3-4 year old ships that are just as good but have excess capacity.” Norwegian for example has fares as low as $65/night. “You can’t wake up in Brooklyn for that.”

Norwegian’s Breakaway in Bermuda. Greenberg advises that because of the onslaught of newer ships, look to cruiseships just 2-4 years old for better pricing. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Now you know you can go, the question is how do you go.” When he asks people to raise their hands if they make their reservations online and most people in the room do, he comes back, “You’re all losers,” with a smile.

“You’re operating on myth that all inventory is online. But only 52% of inventory is online because that all the inventory that travel providers want to make available online.

“I know why you book online –because you can do it at 3 am and you don’t have to talk to anyone. You’re very happy to hit a key and book. But now you have disenfranchised yourself with 40% of inventory.”

He derides the “lost art of conversation,” and says, “it’s okay to research online, but don’t book online.”

He notes (what Pauline Frommer had observed in an earlier seminar also), that when you search for an airline fare, and happen to wait and return an hour later, you will find the fare has increased, perhaps $100 more.

That’s because the computer remembers you, appreciates a supply/demand market and can pitch you a higher fare. “Clean up your cookies or use somebody else’s computer.”

“When you have a conversation with an airline rep or a cruise rep, you may think it is about getting the best rate – losers! –It’s not about the rate, it’s about the value. The internet does nothing creativity, thinks literally, it can’t answer the questions you should ask.

“You might get a good rate online, but when you have a conversation directly with a hotel, you can ask for the hotel to throw in free WiFi, get rid of dreaded resort free, get the kids to stay free, eat free.

With a cruiseline, “it’s not about the cost of cabin, it’s about onboard credits, which excursion should or should not take.” [In this respect, you are much better off booking through a travel agent, who can usually get free upgrades, free drinks, perhaps even a shore excursion thrown in.]

Where do You Want to Go?

“Where do you want to go?” he asks. “This is where you get into trouble – how many have bucket list? He asks, and a few people raise their hands. “Loser,” is his retort.

“Everyone wants Paris, Hawaii. There are 196 countries in the world. Pick one. There are only four I wouldn’t go to (my metric is ‘Who is in control.’ – There are four countries where nobody is in control.)

He says he wouldn’t say no to going to North Korea (I know who is in control), Iran [which is actually become a hot destination for Americans, up until Trump’s election and the travel ban]. I would even go to Northern Iraq, because it is under control of Kurds, every airline goes there and is safe.” [Which might have been true before the Trump travel ban which Iraq retaliated against in kind.]’

“‘Fear’ is a four-letter word. Don’t be motivated, don’t be driven. How many read US State Department travel advisories – you should read them but when people hear there is an advisory, they don’t go.”

The State Department’s travel advisory for Turkey advises travelers that Turkish  drivers pass on the left and on the right. “Have they been on Southern State Parkway?” he jokes. “I was in Turkey 48 hours after the New Year’s Eve nightclub shooting. I did not feel threatened or afraid.

“The best time to go anywhere is after natural disaster, civil disturbance, terrorism.”

[Indeed, six countries have travel advisories against the United States because of the epidemic of gun violence.”

“Tourism creates jobs – these destinations that have been hurt by natural or manmade disasters are desperate to have you there. And who wants to stand on line? Go to a place that is happy to have you, a great deal, an amazing experience. And it sends a statement that we will not be beaten by that.

He notes that 707 Americans have been killed in acts of civil unrest of the past 28 years. “Put that in perspective: every week in this country 800 citizens are killed or injured in accidents in their bathtubs. People worry about shark attacks –after 1 person is attacked. More are killed in auto accidents abroad; the second greatest cause of death is by selfies – people fall off cliffs, are hit by trains – 100 people are killed by selfies. Put the numbers in perspective.”

“All these passport holders, you love to travel. Now you’ve got to use them – you are in the drivers seat – the most beneficial position.

The New York Times Travel Show cultural performances introduce intrepid travelers to destinations to explore © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“It’s not seasonal – there will be deals all year long because economies are taking longer to recover – Italy, France, Turkey – you can go anywhere – Brazil, Argentina. Then, there are the deals airlines are doing with stopovers, hotels, tours.

“Now think of what’s on your bucket list, burn it and figure a place where you can have great experience.”

Beating the Airlines at Their Own Frequent Flyer Game 

Airlines have radically changed their Frequent Flyer programs. “If you didn’t pay a lot [for a fare] you don’t get much [in points]. It’s not just hard to earn miles but hard to redeem them.”

In fact, Greenberg notes that there are some 23 trillion unredeemed miles outstanding.

“Airlines, he notes, are free to constantly change rules for using frequent flyer miles to their advantage because there is no regulation by attorney general. They are protected by deregulation and can change the rules any time, which means every day, they have outstanding miles as a liability but they don’t want to displace revenue passengers.

“There is no such thing as a free ticket anymore; every plane is full.”

But miles are great to use to “figure a place you’ve never been, never wanted to go, and go there. Pick 330 days out and go.”

Still, you may just want to go to Hawaii and Paris and use your unredeemed miles to get there.

Greenberg proposes a rather adventurous way to beat the restrictions that make it almost impossible to use frequent flyer points,

“Let’s say you want to go to Hawaii a week from today and have enough miles based on eligibility– The carrier indicates you can’t have the fare at 12,000 points, but you can at 50,000 (extortion).

“You call up the airline to redeem miles. ‘When in my lifetime will  there be a seat?’ The airline tells you after Thanksgiving. ‘I’ll take it.’

“Then pick an arbitrary day. But now you have a ticket that has the flight and the cities just not the date you want. So you hang up and call the regular reservations number. You  tell them you want to purchase six seats on that flight. You just want to know there are 6 seats on the flight.

So you send your bags ahead by Fed Ex, he says.

“You know there are seats – every day you call, you  pick the first flight of the day – go down on the day want to fly, NY-Hawaii – 5 am with ticket – fly standby, no bags. If there is a seat on the plane, they will let you on. Or if that is full, the next or the next (there are many flights during the day).

“If you ask if you can fly standby with a Frequent Flyer ticket,  they will say no, but the counter agent will say yes.”

[I find myself thinking this is all well and good and wonderfully adventurous, but how would this work for the return flight?]

“The rule is – don’t hoard miles. There is no upside.” On the other hand, you are a full if you redeem your miles for a magazine subscription.

“54% of all miles earned is earned on the ground – that means that to get 25,000 – you spent $14,000, not counting the 11,000 miles you paid for when you flew.” If the magazine subscription wants 2500 miles, you spent $1200 to accumulate those miles, or for 6500 points, Delta will give you a $40 box of Godiva chocolates, but you spent $3800, or $190 each bite.”

“Don’t succumb to those offers. Instead, think 333 days out and beat the airlines at their own game playing by their rules.”

At the New York Times Travel Show, travelers eager to learn about new destinations © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

With the US dollar so strong, it isn’t just that the dollar has more purchasing power abroad, but that travel to the US becomes more expensive for people to come here. That means that it will be harder for airlines to fill their seats coming here.

(Of course, this, combined with the travel ban means that US inbound travel, a key export that contributes to a favorable trade balance and supports millions of US jobs and economic activity, will also be depressed, perhaps for Americans to fill the vacuum with domestic travel.)

“In a world of disruption, you get to disrupt. You have the knowledge. You can always go to Paris or Hawaii, but the world is open and [destinations] are ready.”

See also: 

Pauline Frommer at NYT Travel Show: How to Get Best Value for Your Travel Dollar in 2017

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