Category Archives: Tips for Travel

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 FamTravLtr@aol.com. 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, reservations@southamptoninn.comhttps://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 FamTravLtr@aol.com. 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 FamTravLtr@aol.com. 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 FamTravLtr@aol.com. 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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© 2017 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. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Just Ahead National Parks App Voted Among Top 5 Best New Travel Apps

Just aheadJust Ahead (http://www.justahead.com/), an award-winning smartphone app for road tripping through national parks, was recently voted a top five Best New Travel App by USA Today 10 Best readers. USA Today’s 10Best.com provides users with original, unbiased and experiential travel coverage of top attractions, things to see and do, and restaurants for top destinations in the US and around the world.

This distinction wraps up Just Ahead’s first full year of producing distinctive GPS-guided smartphone audio tours of this country’s most dramatic landscapes. To date, Just Ahead has concentrated on narrations on the lore and not-to-miss features of national parks in the West. It has produced 13 audio tours covering 15 national parks and monuments, and is gearing up to extend its coverage nationwide. Scheduled for early 2016 release are Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee, Petrified Forest National Park and Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, and South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills, and Badlands National Park.

In addition to the USA Today honor, Just Ahead has been named Best Travel App by the North American Travel Journalists Association and Best App by the editors of Sunset magazine.

The Just Ahead mobile app turns an Apple or Android smartphone into a hands-free audio guide to the most beautiful places on earth by delivering professionally written and narrated audio tours to vacationers who want an informed travel experience as they drive.

Just Ahead utilizes GPS technology to know exactly where drivers are on the road, and delivers stories and maps relevant to their exact location. The groundbreaking app points out not-to-miss features while also helping drivers avoid getting lost. It suggests directions and tells drivers why they should turn or not, what they should do after a turn, and the best direction to take if there are multiple route options.

A satisfied user had this to say about the app and tour guide, “LOVE this idea! It’s like you went into my brain and pulled out something I never even knew that I wanted but now can’t think to live without.”

Just Ahead guides are currently available for the following National Parks: Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Zion & Cedar Breaks, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands & Arches, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Rocky Mountain. Many additional park and road-trip guides are in production.

The Just Ahead app is a free download available through the Apple App Store (iPhone) or Google Play (Android), and each destination guide is available as an in-app purchase. Guides range from $7.99 to $9.99 and include a free trial and free guide updates.

Just Ahead’s award-winning audio guides work without an Internet connection or phone service and use a smartphone’s GPS to deliver hands-free, customized audio tours based on a vehicle’s location. The guides and built-in maps also provide helpful suggested directions, and offer more points of interest and stories than any other GPS audio travel app. Ideal for families, Just Ahead’s audio guides help create shared experiences, conversations, and memories that will last a lifetime. The Just Ahead app is a free download, and each destination guide is available as an in-app purchase that includes free guide updates.

For more information, visit www.justahead.com.

 

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CardHub Lists Best Credit Cards, Tips for Travel

CardHub is offering tips to get more bang for your buck when you travel © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
CardHub is offering tips to get more bang for your buck when you travel © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

American households are reaping a boon from lower energy costs in recent months, with dramatically reduced prices at the pump expected to save the typical family roughly $750 over the course of 2015 and airfare finally starting to reflect reduced jet fuel costs, according to CardHub. That’s freeing up cash to spend on travel.

But there are more ways to save money while traveling. Another important financial tailwind – historically valuable credit card rewards – have actually grown even more lucrative in the past year, according to CardHub’s latest Credit Card Landscape Report, with sign-up bonuses worth up to $625 and various other perks available to people who have above-average credit standing.

In the interest of helping folks take full advantage of plastic this winter travel season, CardHub compared more than 1,000 credit card offers (some of which originate from CardHub advertising partners) in order to identify the most rewarding travel deals. You can find our best in class selections below, followed by CardHub’s money-saving travel tips.

Best Initial Bonus 

Citi ThankYou® Premier CardApply Now 269 reviews

Spending $3,000 during the first 3 months you have this card will score you 50,000 bonus points, which can be redeemed for a $625 statement credit applicable to travel-related charges that post to your account. On an ongoing basis, this card provides 3 points per $1 spent on travel and gas, 2 points per $1 on dining and entertainment, and 1 point per $1 on everything else. Its $95 annual fee doesn’t kick in until the second year either.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardApply Now 2,319 reviews

Spending at least $4,000 during the first three months your account is open will trigger a 40,000-point rewards bonus, which can be redeemed for $500 in travel accommodations booked through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Program or a $400 statement credit.

This card does not charge an annual fee during the first year ($95 thereafter) and does not assess foreign transaction fees for purchases processed abroad. For more information, check out ourfull review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

All-Around 

Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ Credit Card 2,365 reviews

Perhaps the best rewards credit card on the market, Arrival Plus offers a 40,000-mile rewards bonus – redeemable for $400 in travel expenses – in return for spending $3,000 during the first three months your account is open. You’ll also earn the miles-equivalent of 2% cash back on all other purchases and receive a 5% rebate on miles redeemed for travel.

This card does not charge a foreign transaction fee and its $89 annual fee is waived for the first year. Check out our Barclaycard Arrival Plus Review to learn more.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit CardApply Now 1,451 reviews

Spending $3,000 in the first 3 months will get you 40,000 bonus points, which can be redeemed for a $400 statement credit attributable to any travel-related expenses. The ongoing reward rate is 2 miles per $1 spent, with no limits or expiration dates. This card charges a $59 annual fee, beginning in the second year and does not assess foreign transaction fees for purchases processed abroad.

For a more in-depth look at this offer, check out CardHub editor’s review of the Capital One Venture Card.

Airline Rewards 

Frontier Airlines Credit Card 137 reviews

Spending $500 or more with this card during the first 90 days that you have it will get you 40,000 bonus miles, which can be redeemed for 2 round-trip domestic flights.

You’ll also earn 2 miles per $1 spent on FlyFrontier.com and 1 mile/$1 on all other purchases. There is a $69 annual fee.

PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express® Credit Card 212 reviews

In addition to a $200 initial bonus for spending at least $2,500 during the first three months, this card provides you with 5 points per $1 spent on all airfare and 1 point per $1 on everything else.

It does not have an annual fee, but you might have to pay a one-time $15 to join an eligible association, if you don’t initially meet PenFed’s eligibility requirements.

Hotel Rewards

Club Carlson℠ Premier Rewards Visa Signature® CardApply Now 56 reviews

You may not have heard of Club Carlson, but it represents a number well-known hotel brands such as Radisson, Park Plaza, and Country Inn & Suites. This eponymous card Club offers 50,000 bonus points with your first purchase and an additional 35,000 points for spending at least $2,500 within 90 days.

You can redeem your 85,000 total bonus points for up to 9 free hotel nights and your 40,000 annual bonus points for up to 4 more nights, depending on the category of hotel you select. There is a $75 annual fee and a 3% foreign transaction fee.

IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit CardApply Now 149 reviews

You’ll get 60,000 bonus points in return for spending at least $1,000 during the first three months you have the IHG Credit Card. That bounty is redeemable for up to 12 free nights, as IHG offers rewards nights for as low as 5,000 points through its PointBreaks program.

IHG card users also receive one additional free night each year on their account anniversary and an annual 10% point rebate (up to 100,000), in addition to 5 points per $1 spent at IHG hotel chains, 2 points per $1 spent at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants, and 1 point/$1 on everything else.

This card does not have a first-year annual fee ($49 thereafter) and does not charge a foreign transaction fee. Hotels operating under the IHG umbrella include the Holiday Inn family of hotels and Crowne Plaza.

More details about this offer can be found in our IHG Credit Card Review. You can also learn more IHG Rewards Club in general by checking out our IHG Rewards Program Review.

Hilton HHonors® Surpass℠ Credit Card 145 reviews

Charging $3,000 to this card over the first three months you have it will trigger a 60,000-point initial bonus – redeemable for up to 12 free hotel nights, depending on how your hotel of choice is classified. Unfortunately, this offer comes with a $75 annual fee as well as a 2.7% foreign transaction fee, making it best suited to domestic travel.

You can learn more about Surpass and how it compares to Hilton’s other rewards cards in our in-depth HHonors card comparison. Additional details about Hilton’s rewards program more generally can be found in our full HHonors Program review.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American ExpressApply Now 279 reviews

You’ll earn a 25,000 points bonus after if you can manage to charge $3,000 to this card in the first 3 months your account is open. This bounty will score you 8 free hotel nights, depending on your hotel choice. The card has no annual fee in the first year, but will charge $95 after.

Road Trip Rewards 

PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Credit Card 933 reviews

This Pentagon Federal Credit Union offering provides 5 points per $1 spent on gas (at any station, as long as you fill up at the pump), 3 points per $1 spent on supermarket purchases, and 1 point per $1 on everything else. Signing up for the card will get you a $100 bonus for spending $1,500 in the first 90 days the account is opened. The Platinum Rewards Card doesn’t have an annual fee and no fee for foreign transactions, but you might have to pay a one-time $15 fee to join an eligible association, if you don’t initially meet PenFed’s eligibility requirements.

Blue Cash Preferred® from American ExpressApply Now 1,017 reviews

This Amex offers 6% cash back on groceries (up to $6,000 per year), 3% on gas and department store purchases and 1% on everything else – making it a great card for everyday spending as well as road trips.

While this card does charge a $75 annual fee and a 2.7% foreign transaction fee, you also get a $150 initial rewards bonus for spending at least $1,000 during the first three months.

Finance Travel By Reducing The Cost Of Existing Debt 

Chase Slate®Apply Now 1,571 reviews

If you have existing credit card debt (or you will after your impending winter vacation), transferring what you owe to the Slate Card could save you more than $1,000 in finance charges and help you reach debt freedom way earlier than you would otherwise. Just make sure to use our Balance Transfer Calculator to determine how much you’ll need to pay each month in order to be debt free by the time Slate’s 15-month 0% intro term gives way to high regular rates.

What really sets Slate apart from the balance transfer pack, however, is its lack of fees. More specifically, Slate charges neither an annual fee nor a balance transfer fee – which itself will save you hundreds. New applicants will also benefit from Slate’s new credit score tracking feature.

Get the full scoop on Slate from CardHub’s comprehensive review.

Finance Travel With 0% On New Purchases 

Citi® Diamond Preferred® CardApply Now 646 reviews

This card offers the longest 0% purchase APR on the market, at 21 months. So, if you won’t be able to pay off the cost of your coming trip in a single month, this is a great option to consider. All you have to do is use our calculator to see what monthly payments you’ll have to make in order to be balance-free by the time regular rates take effect.

It’s also important to note that this card probably isn’t your best bet when it comes to balance transfers, despite its near two-year interest-free term. That’s because it charges a 3% balance transfer fee. For the average consumer, who owes roughly $7,350, that fee alone would amount to $220.

Money-Saving Winter Travel Tips

Picking the right credit card can go a long way to saving you a bundle of money on a winter getaway. But there’s even more to vacation credit card use than applying for one of the offers listed above. There are certainly more ways to save as well. Here are some tips:

General Advice

  1. Use Plastic Whenever Possible:Credit cards provide a lot of value through initial rewards bonuses and 0% financing deals, but they also offer $0 fraud liability guarantees, the lowest possible currency conversion rates, and complementary rental car insurance coverage. It’s therefore a good idea to use plastic for the majority of your travel expenses.
  2. Choose Your Credit Card Wisely:Consumers who are interested in a new credit card mainly for quick rewards score should obviously concentrate on initial bonus offers, while people who prize the simplicity of having the same card in their wallet for a long time will want to check out those with ongoing rewards. Folks worried about incurring finance charges will find that a 0% offer has the potential to save them far more than even a great rewards card.
  3. Think Outside the Box:The most obvious vacation destinations and types of accommodations are naturally going to be the most popular and therefore the hardest to book on a budget. As a result, you may want to consider taking a mid-week flight, going to a small town, renting a house rather than booking rooms in an expensive hotel (especially if you’re traveling with a big group), and leveraging free resources like public transportation and destinations known for natural beauty.
  4. Mix Business with Pleasure:If you can find a way to squeeze in a few meetings around your trip, certain aspects of it may be tax deductible. While your travel must technically be “for business” and only your own business-related expenses are deductible, you’re allowed to tack a few recreational days onto either end of a business trip and you can certainly brainstorm ways to include your family under the business umbrella even if they aren’t employees (e.g. piling everyone into a rental car that would ordinarily be just for you).
  5. Comparison Shop:Comparing the prices of different air carriers, hotel chains, and vacation packages will enable you to identify best possible deals. You might even be able to score a more attractive price than what’s listed online by telling the sales representative that you’ll book immediately if they can beat a specific competitor’s offer.
  6. Maximize Your Credit Score:All of the Best Travel Credit Cards for 2015 require above-average credit for approval and therefore clearly illustrate the value of the best possible credit score. So, if your credit standing needs some work, make sure to have an open credit card that’s in good standing (look into opening a secured credit card if not), pay your monthly bill on time without fail, and you’ll see positive information flow into your credit reports on a monthly basis. This will either devalue negative information already in there or fill out a currently thin file.
  7. Tell Card Issuers You’re Leaving:Credit and debit card companies may suspend your account if a bunch of transactions suddenly originate from outside your normal spending area. You can prevent the resulting hassle by simply telling your issuer where and when you’ll be traveling. This is especially important if you’re headed out of the country, but it could come into play for long domestic trips as well.

International Travelers

  1. Take Advantage of the Dollar’s Strength:While weaker than both the Euro and the British Pound, the U.S. Dollar currently has a considerable advantage over the Swiss Franc, the Australian Dollar and the Japanese Yen. Selectively choosing your vacation destination is thus a distinct money-saving proposition.
  2. Use Your Credit Card for Currency Conversion:Visa and MasterCard offer exchange rates that are 3.66% lower than those offered by the average major bank and 6.90% lower than what Travelex charges, according to CardHub’s Currency Exchange Study.
  3. Avoid Foreign Transaction Fees:Around 90% of credit cards charge a premium to process transactions outside of the United States. You don’t have to be physically abroad to incur such a surcharge – which is known as a foreign transaction fee and can range from 2-4%, depending on the card. Rather, they apply whenever you make a purchase through a foreign-based merchant. As long as you have a no foreign transaction fee credit card, you won’t have to worry about these pesky fees.
  4. Take a Low-Fee Debit Card:You won’t be able to use a credit card for everything when abroad, so the best approach is to take a Visa or MasterCard debit card that has low fees for international ATM withdrawals so you can take out cash as needed and benefit from low card network exchange rates.
  5. No Need To Favor Chip Cards Yet:The international community is moving increasingly toward a chip-based credit card infrastructure complete with automated machines at places like train kiosks and parking garages that may not accept U.S. magnetic stripe cards. You might take that as a reason to get one of the chip-based cards now being marketed to U.S. consumers, but most of them are chip-and-signature cards while automated machines only accept chip-and-PIN (you can read more about the differencehere). Most international merchants still accept magnetic stripe cards anyway.
  6. Pay in the Native Currency:This doesn’t apply to domestic travelers, but those of you traveling abroad should make sure to only sign receipts expressed in the local currency. Foreign merchants sometimes offer to convert prices into U.S. dollars in order to charge a high conversion rate and line their pockets.

 

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