Category Archives: Where to Go Next

From African Safaris to Chernobyl Nuclear Site, NYT Travel Show Showcases a World of Travel Experiences

Katoryna Aslamova, the chief guide for Chernobyl Tours, who has been leading tours to the Chernobyl nuclear site for years, at the New York Times Travel Show. Last year, 70,000 people toured Chernobyl, and the numbers have been increasing 30 percent a year © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The New York Times Travel Show, which takes place each year at the Javits Center in New York City, is the largest consumer travel show in North America. Essentially, in the course of an afternoon, you can travel around the world on a single floor and 1000 steps.

The three-day showcase features global cuisine tastings, cultural performances, travel book signings, one-on-one conversations with travel experts, travel seminars and special discounts and offers from 600 exhibitors.

Here are some highlights from our “tour” around the floor at this year’s show:

Chernobyl Tour, Ukraine

The world’s largest radiation catastrophe at a nuclear power plant took place at the now infamous Chernobyl, in the Ukraine. An area the size of a small state was abandoned. Today, it is a tourist attraction, visited on daytrips and multi-day trips.

I meet Katoryna Aslamova, the chief guide for Chernobyl Tours, who has been leading tours there for years, and asserts that visiting is absolutely safe.

Though people love to post selfies of a Geiger counter beeping when it hits 0.3, she notes that the level of radiation during the course of a full day tour is equivalent to what you experience on an hour-long airplane flight (she says that the flight from Ukraine to London showed 2.82; to NY 3.91); 160 times less than a chest x-ray; 3600 times less than a whole body CT scan. It is even safe for pregnant women. The only ones not allowed are people under the age of 18, mainly because they cannot be legally prosecuted if they break rules, take out any of the rocks or disturb the soil (that could unleash damaging material).

(You can order a personal dosimeter “it will make your experience more enjoyable and memorable by making the radiation level visible and show your exact radiation dose at the end of the trip.)

 “It is so easy to set up the mood, the perception that visiting Chernobyl is risky. There are some hot spots on the ground– the size of a coin or tennis ball and the closer you come to it, the higher the radiation. But it can’t influence health because it would need long term exposure. Even if you measure a hot spot in the radiation zone, no place is high enough to risk health. The only place that would be dangerous would be inside unit, which is covered (double-sealed).

What could be risky hypothetically is the radioactive dust  (that give off alpha rays) that is still in ground have particles  –“ if you would dig it up or ingest it, that would cause dangerous exposure – so it is prohibited to dig or plant there.”

There is no restriction for pregnant woman if not prohibited to fly.

To take the tour, you are picked up in Kiev, capital of Ukraine, at 8 am for the 1 ½ hour bus ride. Over the course of a full day (the bus returns about 8-9 pm), you visit several sites.

The first stop is the village of Zalissya, which was the biggest in the area. “We are trying to tell not only about the accident but how people lived.”

Next the town of Chernobyl, which is 18 km from the powerplant (and not the ghost city that is so frequently pictured). People still occupy Chernobyl – scientists and foresters – who live there for 15 days a month in dormitory. “It is a unique place for research.” Visitors who do the overnight tours stay in hotels in Chernobyl.

There also are “self-resettlers” here and in other villages in the contamination zone – people who were evacuated after the accident “but sneaked back into the houses in the zone. They were homesick or had no place else to go.”

The accident took place in 1986, and many believe it contributed to the collapse of Soviet Union. “People stopped trusting government and the economy collapsed.”

She notes, “Nobody knows how many affected by Chernobyl explosion – the Soviet government tried to hide.”

The tour visits Radar Duga-1, a secret Soviet base known as Chernobyl 2 –which would have launched nuclear weapons. It is the only remaining antenna.

This reminds me of a documentary, “The Man who Saved the World,” about a Russian Lt. Colonel, Stanislav E. Petrov, who on September 26, 1983, despite radar showing the United States had launched nuclear missiles against Russia, refused to give the order to launch Russia’s missiles, literally saving the world from nuclear holocaust (for which he was disgraced and lost everything). No one knew of him for 25 years, but she knows of him. “He was a hero but not appreciated.” In that moment, I had such a sense of connection with this young woman from the Ukraine through our mutual knowledge and appreciation of Petrov.

The tour continues on to Kopachi Village which was buried under ground because there was too much radiation, but there are still some buildings (that’s where the famous photo of a kindergarten is from). You come up to the side of the power plant – 300 meters from the accident (but still, she says, 4x lower radiation than on an airplane.” 

Then the Red Forest, famous because it was consumed by the cloud. “We don’t go inside, but measure radiation.”

Then on to the famous ghost city of Prypat. This is not just where people lived – it had a population of 50,000  – but was a model city of the Soviet Union. The average age was 26 – every third person was a child. They were employees of plant. It was supposed to be model of the great Soviet life, if Communism would have worked.”

Chernobyl was biggest nuclear accident ever, but what does the whole world know? That there was an explosion, people died, it can’t be inhabited. But it is also a story of victory – of the mitigated areas.

All of this in one day, but there are multi-day tours, as well.

Every year 30% more people come on the tour (which is offered year round). Last year 70,000 people came (there are at least five tour companies, of which Chernobyl Tour is the largest.) Most take the one-day tour $89 – includes insurance, transfer, guard, permissions (can book day before, but it costs more).

There are also tours inside the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and other limited access facilities; airplane and helicopter tours over the Chernobyl Zone and Ukraine; military tours to the shooting ranges, rides on armored vehicles and visits to a nuclear missile base; underground tours in the drainage systems, subway, tunnels and caves, and sightseeing tours in Ukraine.

Chernobyl-Tour.UA, 11 Andriivskyi descent, Kyiv, Ukraine, tel. 888-752-0336 (US), www.Chernobyl-tour.com.

Americans Continue to Visit Cuba

Travel from the US to Cuba is expected to rebound in 2019 after declining in 2018 after Trump renewed restrictions on travel and issued a State Department warning. That didn’t deter visits from Canada, Europe and Russia, and visits to the island nation increased. Cruise arrivals continued to increase in 2018, and were expected to exceed 850,000, with 70% of the cruisegoers coming from the US. Travel companies continue to offer tours that meet the Trump requirements, and all forms of “purposeful” travel authorized by the Obama Administration remain in place (heritage, family, journalists).

Independent travel by individuals, families and friends is largely unchanged but now falls under the rewritten license category of “Support for the Cuban People” instead of “People to People.” But Americans are cautioned not to stay or use facilities that support the regime; staying homes (Air BnB), is okay. “Keep your receipts for five years,” a woman who traveled independently through Cuba in 2017 tells me.

“I used Air BnB, stayed with beautiful families, visited schools, brought school supplies,” Shay Pantone of NY, who traveled to Cuba in 2017, tells me, adding “You need to speak Spanish if you are going to travel independently.”

Despite the Trump Administration’s branding Cuba with a Level 2 travel advisory (“Exercise Increased Caution”), the same status as 57 other countries including 12 in the Americas and 7 in western Europe, Cuba is judged by most as one of the safest destinations in the region with less crime and disease.

How to go? The Fund for Reconciliation and Development (www.ffrd.org), a group that has been advocating for opening travel and overturning sanctions against Cuba for years, advises:

  • Book nonstop to Havana on Jet Blue from JFK or on United from Newark; American, Delta and southwest have connecting flights. American or Jet Blue flies from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale to Santa Clara, Holguin, Varadero, Carnaguey and Santiago (from May 3).
  • Select “Support for the Cuban People” as the appropriate license category from the airline menu.
  • Use Air BnB or Trip Advisor to reserve a room or apartment (casa particular) from a private owner.
  • East in private restaurant (paladar)
  • Buy handicrafts, art and clothing from self-employed craftspeople and creators (cuento propistos).
  • If you need a guide, hire privately (preferably in advance)
  • As much as possible, use private taxis (also available between cities)
  • “Whatever you do, wherever you go, be intentional and responsible that your goal is ‘a full time schedule of activities that enhance contact with the Cuban people.. and that result in meaningful interactions with individuals in Cuba.’ (The judgment of what qualifies is yours.)”
  • Apportion recreational activities like concerts, dancing and the beach as in a normal work week.
  • Keep a journal or list of your ‘meaningful interactions’ for five years.
  • If you are on a cruise, exercise your right to explore independently or with a local guide.

More information:

Current US government regulations: tinyurl.com/regsnov2017

Essential information for independent travelers: tinyurl.com/Cubabasics

Fund for Reconciliation and Development is offering a fam trip May 3-10 to explore Santiago and Guantanamo; and for Carnival, July 20-28.

Fund For Reconciliation and Development, 917-859-9027, director @ffrd.org, www.ffrd.org.

Safaris with Social Benefit

Zulu Nyala promotes animal conservation in its six-day, six night safari packages using four-star lodges, in its own safari park the family has had for 35 years. “The owner was out with his family and stopped to look at a giraffe, saw a for-sale sign, and bought 15,000 acres.” The park accommodates up to 300 guests in three lodges (50-units, 56 suites, 48 safari tents). The all-inclusive program is hosted by a game ranger and offers two activities a day (walking or driving). (www.zulunyala.com).

The organization also offers the opportunity for organizations to use the $6,000 safaris as a charity fundraiser – for example, starting the auction at $2500 for two for a six-night stay, where the organization keeps 50 percent and gives the safari company 50%.

“There’s no money or risk on the part of the organization; we’ve been doing it for 15 years, and supported hundreds of American organizations.” (Contact Debbie Bosman, African Safari Donations, 800-595-5810, www.safarisforcharity.com, bosman@zulunyala.com).

Off Season Adventures: The idea here is to safari in Tanzania and Zanzibar off-season, when there are fewer people, it is less expensive, while also supporting local communities. The company reserve 5% of clients’ total package cost to invest in the communities and wildlife through a 501(c)(3) public charity Second Look Worldwide.  “These community and environmental investments are tangible projects which our clients can see during their trip. All projects are determined by the communities and dependent on their most direct needs, however, we are focusing on projects that support water management solutions. Our goal is to become a sustainable, net-positive travel company by replacing and building up all resources used by our clients during their tours.”

The company’s first community initiative, the Kakoi Water Project , is a project that will provide a year-round source of water to the village of Kakoi and its surrounding communities, which include three other villages, two schools, and a dispensary. “By supporting these local communities that border Tarangire National Park in Tanzania, we contribute to their well-being and encourage them to make an extra effort to protect animals in the area.”  The tours include an excursion to the Kakoi Water Project. Visitors get to visit a relative of theirs – go into hut, gather honey, seeds, roots, experience how live.

Off Season Adventures not only times its safaris in Tanzania and Zanzibar in the off-season when there are fewer people, it is less expensive and less stressful for villagers and wildlife, but also allocates 5% of tour price to support local community; this year, supporting the Kakoi Water Project to provide a year-round source of water for the 1000 people of the Kakoi Village and surrounding villages, and brings its guests to see it.

The tour company also offsets all carbon emissions through a partnership with Carbon Tanzania, which conserves huge tracks of forested land in Tanzania, a more productive way of offsetting carbon.  “To date, we have offset 83.84 metric tons of CO2 and protected 69 trees by helping Carbon Tanzania preserve 35,000ha of forest in the Yaeda Valley, an area that the Hadzabe tribe have called home for thousands of years. This way of offsetting not only has a positive environmental impact, but also has a positive impact on the local population of the Hadzabe.”

“Travel has the power to transform not only the traveler, but also our world. This belief forms the foundation of our business. We have a deep commitment to protecting and preserving the destinations we visit, and building a better world through sustainable travel.

“We believe in integrating sustainability into all components of our business. We are committed to providing experiences that have a positive impact on the environment, community, and economy of each destination visited. We work closely with our local partners to ensure that travelers are respectfully visiting in a way that showcases authentic experiences.”

(Off-Season Adventures, 100 Marshall Street #416, Hoboken, NJ 07030, 619-971-0823, offseasonadventures.com). 

Tours by Locals

Tours by Locals has now grown to a network of 3100 independent-contractor guides. The company facilitates the trend toward independent, “authentic,” experiential travel. The company marked a milestone: 10 years and 1 million travelers. You can find a guide for Vietnam ($50 US for 8 hours private, with car; less if walking or cycling city). The most northerly guide in the registry now is in Svalbord, Norway (where the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located); the newest is in Mogadishu, Somalia (the guide comes with security); and there is an uptick in requests for guides in Cuba.

Israel for Foodies

I found it intriguing that Israel was the sponsor of the Taste of Travel section for the second year. Israel, after all, is not top-of-mind for cuisine. 

“Israel has wonderfully diverse gastronomic. We have James Beard Award-winning chefs,” Chad Martin, Northeast Region Director for the Israel Ministry of Tourism (www.israel.travel), says. “Israel is 70 years old- we now have fourth and fifth generation Israelis. Israel is a pot that hasn’t melted – In Israel, you might have four grandparents from different ends of the earth: Argentina, Morocco, Russia, East Asia – all Jewish and intermarrying. They borrow the best recipes from every grandparent, the spices mix together

What is Israeli food? “Israeli food is a mix of 70 cultures. The combination of cultures and innovation together – Israel, after all, is the Innovation Nation with the most start-ups.- it has a culture of creativity and that manifests in the food. We invented the cherry tomato. We’ve made numerous innovations in agriculture – we made the desert bloom, and there, things grow sweeter.

“The Israeli food scene is based around fresh ingredients. We are the size of New Jersey but have our own vegetables.”

At the New York Times Travel Show, Israel shows off its diversified offerings for travelers beyond heritage and pilgrimage experiences, from culinary to adventuring © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Culinary experience is just one of the ways Israel is reaching out beyond the most traditional sources of visitors- Jewish Heritage and Christian Pilgrimage. For the first time, Israel surpassed 1 million visitors from the North America, posting 42% growth over a two-year period. People are coming for food and wine experiences, meetings and incentives, even adventure and outdoors travel – mountain biking in the Negev where the country’s first Six Senses resort is opening and a new airport is opening in Eilat. Hikers can travel Trail Israel – it takes a month – and kayak in the grottoes of Rosh HaNikra, a geologic formation on the border between Israel and Lebanon, on the Mediterranean Sea coast in the Western Galilee.

“40% of our visitors are returnees, but not just for heritage, but because they realize that can’t really ‘do Israel’ in one trip. The ‘sophisticated travel’ segment has skyrocketed.”

The New York Times Travel Show brings culture from around the world to entice travelers to discover © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The New York Times Travel Show, now in its 16th year, is the largest and longest-running trade and consumer travel show in North America, hosting 10,000 travel professionals during a Travel Industry Conference, and some 22,000 travelers at Consumer Seminars, Meet The Experts Pavilion and an interactive Exhibition with more than 600 exhibitors representing travel to all seven continents, positioned within 16 pavilions (including Adventure, Africa, Asia, Australia/South Pacific, Canada, Caribbean, Cruise, Europe, Family, Global, Latin America, L.G.B.T.Q., Mexico, River Cruise, Travel Products, and U.S.A. Pavilions). In addition to discounts and special offers, the show provides educational seminars and live entertainment for families, individuals and couples and seniors.

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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

NYT Travel Show: ‘1000 Places to See Before You Die’ Author Shares 20 Favorites for 2019

Iceland, Land of the Midnight Sun, offers other-worldly scenery and is on “1000 Places” Author Patricia Schultz list of recommended places for 2019 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Patricia Schultz, author of the New York Times best-seller, “1000 Places to See Before You Die” offered up some 20 of her favorites to consider for 2019 in her talk, “Global Travel Experiences” at the New York Times Travel Show.

In writing her book, though, she said, “I started off with 100 drop-dead places” but was encouraged to increase the number to 1000. It took 8 years to write the book.

 “I did all the homework. Are these your favorite 1000? Probably not. You may ask, ‘How will I ever see all 1000?’ But it’s not about seeing all 1000, it’s having those places that resonate, talk to you, realize that this is place you’ve always heard about, or never knew existed.”

Despite skepticism of how the book would be received, within days of publication, the book shot up to #1 on the New York Times best seller list. “And to prove I am still alive, I gave myself the gift of travel. I don’t need a special occasion.” But she notes that it was a landmark birthday, “so with a friend I went to Machu Picchu.”

Machu Picchu – You fly from Lima to Cuzco to see the Lost City, 11,000 ft above sea level. The risk here is altitude sickness. “I was cocky. All that mata de coca stuff in the lobby didn’t work. So I’m sitting with an oxygen mask in the lobby, and  engaged in conversation with a woman from Newark celebrating her 90th birthday with her first passport stamp. She spoke of having dropped out of school at age 11 during the Great Depression, put four children through university as a washerwoman – one became an attorney, another a gynecologist. As a gift for her 90th she told me, ‘Perhaps you heard of it, 1000 Places.’ They gave me a magic marker to highlight any place and they would send me.’”  Edith with her husband of 70 years gave me two wonderful quotes: ‘Your knees have expiration dates’ (and she was on her second set of replacements, titanium); and ‘You need to do the difficult places first.’”

Scotland: Isle of Skye, Inner Hebrides Islands– brooding, romantic, often misty, green (it rains a lot). Of the islands off Scotland’s west coast, one is connected by bridge. Skye is only 50 miles north to south – incredible to hike. There’s a whisky trail (The Scots love whisky); a castle trail. Edinburgh. Take the train from London– wild, unexpectedly beautiful. Edinburgh has one of best performing arts festivals in world, Edinburgh Arts Festival. Part of it is the Military Tattoo –tickets are hard to come by – there are drummers, bagpipers from all over the Commonwealth around the world, who perform at night in front of Edinburgh Castle.

Iceland’s main city, Reykjavik, is quirky, the smallest capital city in Europe with just 125,000 people but that’s still about half the entire country’s population © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Iceland is only about 5 hours flight (about as long as it takes to drive out to the Hamptons on Long Island’s eastern shore from New York City- Icelandic Air has discounted fares – often you can stay days or a week in Iceland enroute to/from 20 cities in Europe.  The main city, Reykjavik, is quirky, the smallest capital city in Europe, just 125,000 people but the entire country has a population of just 300,000, and most live in the southwest corner. Icelanders are unusual people, highly literate, cultured, well traveled, speak English. The scenery is other-worldly.

Iceland is probably best known for Northern Lights, a celestial spectacle, sublime and surreal. Vikings, Iceland’s indigenous people, always had an explanation for the spectacular display of lights that can last 5 minutes or 5 hours – green, blue – if you haven’t seen it, you have to. You can take Northern Lights packages – but stay at least 4 nights because they don’t happen all the time, you can’t guarantee.  In summer, you don’t see the Northern Lights; instead, you have the Midnight Sun.

(Hurtigruten offers a Northern Lights cruise through Norway – if you don’t see the Northern Lights, they reimburse you.)

St. Petersburg, Russia. Commissioned by the czars of Russia, St. Petersburg big port of call on Baltic cruises – second most popular European cruise (after Mediterranean and you don’t need to be 90) – visit Scandinavian cities, northern European – Taillin, Estonia, Gdansk in northern Poland – we sailed out of Copenhagen, capital of Denmark, sailed east then north up to St. Petersburg – so much to see, you get 5-8 hrs in ports, but in St. Petersburg, you overnight up to 3 days. The Winter Palace is grand – best known as the home of the Hermitage Art Collection (one of the three top art museums in the world, with Le Louvre in Paris and Metropolitan Museum in New York). The Heritage Museum, Russia’s Louvre, is one of world’s richest repositories of art. It holds the Guinness Book of Records for most paintings of any museum – most are stored in the basement . The crowds are crazy.

Bruges, Belgium is Brussels in miniature. Everyone goes to London, Paris, Berlin, fly into capital cities and sometimes that’s all you see – which gives you a distorted idea of a country. Brussels, the capital of Belgium, is a beautiful city but less than one hour by high-speed train (travel throughout Europe by train, makes Amtrak look medieval, embarrassing) from Brussels is Bruges. People go for a few hours, for lunch, the museums. It’s very picturesque.  Bruges was the seat of the Dukes of Burgundy in 15th century – the Venice of the north, a little Amsterdam also built on canals. Bruges is less than 2 hours from Amsterdam. Everything you experience in big cities like Brussels experience here.

Amsterdam: The canals in Amsterdam are 400 years old, a UNESCO World Heritage site. People think of cafes, marijuana, red light district. Amsterdam is so much more. I visited on an AMA Waterways river cruise that starts in Amsterdam, cruises on the Amstel River that connects with Rhine. The Christmas market season is magical. A walking tour of the Red Light District is fascinating; the district has changed generation to generation; there is much to be learned. 

Venice” taking advantage of nighttime hours to visit the Doge Palace in San Marco Square, you feel you have this extraordinary art, this spectacular space to yourself. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Venice, Italy – I took one of my first trips to Europe for ancestral purposes, to discover my roots – that’s a real thing, to explore your background, heritage, the reasons, traditions you grew up with. My mother was not from Venice, but from Puglia (on the heel of boot; Venice in northeast corner of ‘boot’ on a Peninsula). Venice was the seat of government; the Doge ruled this maritime republic that reached to Asia. San Marco was where the Doge lived and ruled; he built a cathedral to house St Mark’s bones, “borrowed” during the Crusades from the Holy Land. The Basilica of St. Mark was built over 1000 years ago – it’s not the oldest church in Italy but one of the most magnificent. It looks Byzantine, Arabesque because it was fashioned after Sophia in Constantinople. 

Istanbul, Turkey – rising above the chaos, where East meets West. There are other bi-continental countries (Russia), but Istanbul is the only city in the world that is bi-continental with one foot in Asia and one in Europe. Istanbul was a prime, super important hub on the Silk Road for millennia –merchants came with goods from China on their way to the Mediterranean and Venice – then loaded up European treasures to bring back. Over time, this commerce between East and West also resulted in an exchange of religion, ideology, DNA, cuisine, language, culture, everything imaginable. Built in the 6th century to spread Christianity (what was America was doing then?), Hagia Sophia was the inspiration for the Basilica St Marks in Venice. Today, it is no longer a cathedral or basilica; Ottomans stripped it of its Christian-ness and converted it into a mosque. The Muslims plastered the Christian frescoes over but did not destroy them, so some have been restored, so today, you can still see the fresco of Virgin Mary. Ataturk (who founded Turkey) made it into a museum, but it is still imbued with a spirituality; Muslims and Christians still pray here. Turkey has an incredible food scene, both traditional and contemporary. 

In Morocco, ride a camel at sunset into the Sahara desert where you overnight in a tented camp © David Leiberman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Marrakesh, Morocco is an everyday carnival at the heart of the Medina – Morocco is so much fun, offering Islamic welcome and history. Most Americans believe Morocco is in the Middle East, but in fact is in North Africa. One of the best food markets, Jenna el Fna Square, happens in the evening in Marrakesh (overly loved by tourists); from 5-6 pm, they set up the stalls – a lot of vendors sell the same secret ingredient specialty, 6 generations. You can smell bbq, couscous for miles. Atlas Mountains and Sahara – you travel like Bedouins by camels and can spend the night in a tented camp. One night is fine in the desert under the stars. 

Lalibela, Ethiopia –Ethiopia is known for coffee, who knew Ethiopia was Christian? St George, one of the most photographed and best known, is one of 11 medieval churches in Lalibela, named for King Lalibela, built underground. You go down 3 flights of stairs to the entrance –columns, vaulted ceilings, each column different, all one piece of stone, dating from the 11-12th century. How were they built? They say it was built by a legion of angels. This is one of nine UNESCO World Heritage sites in Ethiopia. You will also find some of nicest people. Coffee regions are lush – beautiful countryside – thought would be dusty scenes – but large parts lush. Very mountainous – Simien Mountains are among the highest in Africa; Simien National Park in Northern Ethiopia is a World Heritage Center site (simienpark.org)

Most go to Africa for the safari experience (“safari” is the Swahili word for “journey” ) – the big 5 Safari Countries: Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia.

In the Botswana’s Okavango Delta, you can go safari by mocoro canoe © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Okavango Delta, Botswana –is an incomparable wildlife oasis, one of the best places for safari– irresistible for many reasons, especially wildlife – Okavango Delta is the 1000th UNESCO World Heritage site – people danced in the streets when it was designated 3-4 yrs ago. You go into the Delta – a territory the size of Switzerland –in  dugout canoes the locals make. This is the only place in Africa where you can go safari by canoe or walking with armed guard and trackers (most places go by open top jeep). If you see 10% of what sees you, it’s a good day.

Mountain Gorillas of Uganda – It’s not cheap, just to get there to see the mountain gorillas of Uganda. Daily permits cost $600. There are three neighborhing countries (Uganda, Rwanda and Congo) where gorillas – who don’t know national borders – wander through, but pretty much stay put. The three countries together understand gorilla tourism is a big thing – accommodations are modest, fine – but it is about experience. For $600, you get a million dollar experience. The gorillas are not easy to find, but that’s what trackers do early in the morning, and report by walkie talkie or cellphone that they have found family x. The gorilla families are habituated to homo sapiens.  When they find a family is habituated enough, they allow you to sit with them for one hour. You sit and eat in the company of our closest relative (we share 98% of the same DNA). A Silverback can grow to be 500-600 pounds, they can be up to 6 ft tall. Males communicate with grunts and groans (but not us, lest we give the wrong signal or message). Uganda is spectacularly beautiful – Winston Churchill called it the  ‘Pearl of Africa’ and Ugandans even among Africans are known to be the friendliest.

The world’s three monotheistic faiths converge in Jerusalem © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Old Jerusalem, Israel – transcending time, place and faith. So many have been to Israel but if I had a dime for every time people ask, Isn’t it dangerous? We live in America – if you’ve looked at statistics of gun violence, worse off here than in Israel – all kinds of statistics that more likely to encounter risk in your bathroom – I just say go. World is big, wide, possibilities are endless, wonders are countless, and you won’t have the same experience if you just sit and watch beautiful documentaries. Get up, get out and do and visit the Holy Land. Regardless of your religion or inclination, the history is amazing –this is the only piece of real estate equally revered by three major religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam. One of the most photographed sites in Israel is the Wailing Wall. Also the Church of Sepulcher, built on the spot where Christians believe Jesus was crucified; the Golden Dome revered by Muslims. Israel is quite small (size of New Jersey); there is a new high speed train from Tel Aviv (like South Beach on the Mediterranean) to Jerusalem.

Petra, Jordan – the Pink City is half as old as time. Just across the border from Israel is another holy city, more and more visited in the last 10 years. Petra hit its stride during the Arab Spring, then tourism came to a standstill. Petra is mentioned in the Old Testament 2000 years ago. It was on the trade caravan route – and had water – so caravans laden with incense, frankincense, myrrh – spices found almost exclusively on the Arabian Peninsula, sold throughout Europe and worth its weight in gold – would stop in Petra and be taxed heavily by Nabataeans who were fabulously wealthy. Petra is actually 100 sq miles – you hike, go by mule (it’s 110 degrees), follow a mile-long sikh (natural alleyway) from 3-4 story high cliffs, that open up to reveal the Treasury. Most people visit for 2-3 hours and go back to Amman or Wadi Rum – like our Red Rock Country – and down to Aqaba (Lawrence of Arabia Country, center of Arab revolt). But if you stay overnight, you can go back in the evening, the place lit by votive candles, and hear Bedouin musicians perform.

Samarkabnd, Uzbekistan –another timeless caravan stop along the fabled Silk Road. Of the 5 “stans,” Uzbekistan is the best. Tashkent, the capital, is actually very modern in a Dubai way – crazy architecture, lots of money – but there are corners of the capital that are locked in time. Cities like Samarkand which were stops along the Silk Road, are some of the oldest inhabited cities – the tiles you see are remarkable – but what knocked us over was the hospitality of the people. They have been welcoming foreigners –  wide eyed and fascinated – for thousands of years. It’s an exciting time to visit and not just for all the architecture, but for the food and the exchange of culinary traditions over millennia.

Mongolia – across the Steppes in the path of Genghis Khan. There is one asphalt road. The people live in white tented gers (yurt), which they roll up to follow the herd to the next place. The nomadic herdsman culture goes back to Genghis Khan – they say one out of three Mongolians has Genghis Khan’s DNA (Genghis Khan now rock star reputation). Mongolia has eternal blue sky – Montana on steroids – countryside is open, untrammeled – people have very hard scrabble life – winters are harsh – snow, horrific sub-zero weather but still live in yurts.

Kerala India – backwater lagoons with highland plantations – India has 39 states –a big country with a population of 1 billion –  but most tourists confine their visit to Rajasthan (the Taj Mahal in Agra, Jaipur). But this time, I went to Kerala in the south – you have to go. Kerala has the highest rate of literacy in India – this corner of India is very cultured – feels different – very hot, humid, and looks like Sri Lanka (which is nearby) – the highest population of Christianity but predominantly Hindu – also has one of the oldest Jewish communities in Asia, in Cochin (the traditional account is that traders of Judea arrived in Cochin in 562 BCE and more came as exiles after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE). This place is what Vasco de Gama and Christopher Columbus were looking for when they were searching for a maritime route to India, what Henry Hudson was looking for when he wound up in Albany (de Gama found the route to India on his 1497-1499 voyage). Everything is wild here. The highlands have some of the largest tea and coffee plantations, and spices from here (black pepper was gold) made their way into the cuisine. They say there are 100 kinds of curries from coconut here. The backwaters offer hundreds of miles of lagoon labyrinth. You fly into Fort Cochin – we arrived in Tamil Nadu – on the triangular tip of southeast Asia.

Kyoto, Japan –It is surprisingly easy to get around Japan independently, but if you are concerned about language, go with a group.  But the independent experience is such a different thing. Especially in Japan, which is so safe.  We think New York City is big but it’s a village compared to Tokyo, with 33 million people, but one of safest, friendliest – if you like big cities you will love, Tokyo. But you get on the Bullet train to Kyoto, small by comparison – just 1 million people. Kyoto is a city of ancient temples and gardens amidst a modern cityscape – among the most important, Fushimi Inari Shrine. Everyone comes for shrines, temples (2000) – Inari, Shinto Shrine to saki, rice, business (mushed together) – magical – Kyoto also home to thriving geisha community, remarkable cuisine.

Sa Pa Vietnam – On the northernmost border with China – Yunan – over 30 ethnic hill tribes live in a concentration you don’t find in China.  

Ubud, Indonesia – of the 17,000 islands of Indonesia, Bali is the most visited– Australians go to Bali like we go to the Jersey Shore – package deals, spring breaks, bachelor parties. But leave Bali behind and go to the interior, to Ubud – predominantly Hindu – beyond the beaches on the island of the gods.

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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

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

The Douro River Valley in Portugal, one of the oldest wine regions, should be on travelers’ lists, travel expert Pauline Frommer  tells the New York Times Travel Show © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

What places will be really exciting in 2019, unusually inexpensive, or offering special celebrations – in other words, that should be on the list to travel in 2019?

At the New York Times Travel Show, renowned travel expert Pauline Frommer offered her picks – notably they are alternatives to the most heavily trafficked places that are top-of-mind these days:

Austral Islands, Tahiti: inexpensive to get there now – air fare is low thanks to the arrival of an upstart carrier, French Bee, going directly from California to Tahiti, driving down fares on  competitors.  But once you get to Tahiti, she advises, don’t go to the popular Moorea or Bora Bora, where you will spend $400-500/night for a hotel on the beach. Instead, go to Austral Islands –you fly into Papeete and most take a short hop, 45 minutes to Moorea or Bora Bora; instead, it takes 1 hr 15 for Austral Islands).

“You will see Tahiti as when [the artist Paul] Gauguin was there – totally undeveloped – there are not even hotels, you stay in a local guest house –a main house and a lot of bungalows on the beach where you pay $75-100/night, where there are incredible caves to explore, rich Tahitian culture – but you will pay 30-40% less than just a year ago.”

Matera, Italy: A city in the region of Basilicata in southern Italy, Matera is one of longest continually inhabited places on earth. People have been living in the caves here since 7000 BC. It looks as if it is from the Biblical era – which is why Mel Gibson filmed “Temptation of Christ” here, and other biblical tv and movies filmed here.

“It’s a real success story. In the 1950s, Matera represented everything that was going wrong with Italy. Carlo Levi wrote a famous memoir, “Christ Stopped at Eboli,” about the area, the deep poverty that the south of Italy was living in. In Matera, people lived in caves with no electricity, plumbing, their livestock in the caves. As a result, the Italian government intervened, pulled people out of caves, and created a new city for them. Then in the 1980s, entrepreneurs came in and repurposed the caves to boutique hotels. This year there will be even more visitors because Matera will be one of two European cities of culture – 1000 artists will descend on Matera to create site-specific operas, dance, music. It will be so exciting to get there.”

“The government was supposed to create high speed rail from Rome to Matera, but, this being Italy, they didn’t, so it is a little difficult to get there. But there you will find warm people, great food, and an art scene this year.”

Olympic National Park –there is overtourism elsewhere in America’s national treasures, our national parks, but Olympic National Park is under-touristed. “It’s the size of state of Rhode Island but 95% of it has no roads. You get to the edges of park. To go deeper, there will be in pristine wilderness, two hours from Seattle. You will find glacial covered peaks, 70 miles of undeveloped coastline (the most in lower US), primordial rainforests with thick sweaters of moss, trees 300 feet tall – you feel as if there should be a dinosaur clomping through – so under-touristed. Rain – they get 16 feet of rain per year – that’s how moss gets so thick – but you can stay close by, in Sequim, one of driest places in the US (its lavender farms make it the Provence of US, the air scented with lavender). If you go to Washington State, visit Olympic National Park.”

Pousada do Porto, Freixo Palace Hotel, in Porto © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Estrada Nacional 2 Portugal:  “This is Portugal’s Route 66. Portugal is on the rise, everyone wants to go there. It has the cheapest prices in Western Europe, restaurants and hotels, gorgeous things to see and do. Estrada Nacional 2 goes north to south through Portugal’s interior – you see less visited places like medieval villages in the mountains, where you can visit farmers – cheese, wool – and wolves howl at night; the Douro River Valley, one of oldest wine regions in Europe. Spend a night in a 15th century quinta (manor house); visit ancient gothic houses, university cities. In many places you will see places slathered with gold. This is because in the 17th century, Portugal was the most important on earth in wealth, bringing galleons of gold from the New World, so you see gold slathered all over churches. Then, in 1755, Portugal had bad luck – a major earthquake stopped development, then, in the 20th century, Portugal was under the control of the dictator António de Oliveira Salazar. It had the deepest poverty in Europe, the worst rate of infant death rate in 1950s-60s. Then, after 1968, Portugal emerged from cloud – but is still not as developed as other parts of Europe, so feels more preserved. Do this wonderful road trip.”

New York State: “New York State is one of best places to go in 2019. There are all the glorious nature sites – Finger Lakes; Lake George (free music festivals in September, fireworks Thursday, dino themepark opening); the state has the most ski resorts of any state in the nation. But the reason we picked it as a top place in 2019 is that there are so many new developments.”

The Nest, one of the new attractions (under construction and due to open in 2019), located near the popular Highline and Javits Convention Center, along with special celebrations in New York City and around the state make New York one of the top destinations for 2019 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In New York City, Hudson Yards, just across from the Javits Center in Manhattan, is a little controversial but will be catnip to tourists – in middle ‘The Nest’ – opening in April –you climb over it (which will likely be as popular as the fabulously popular Highline). There’s an arts center, The Shed, on wheels so artists can decide whether artwork should be seen inside or outside. Soon it will have going to have tallest observation deck in the hemisphere where you look down.

Jackie Robinson Museum, an 18,500 sq. ft museum at 75 Varick Street, in lower Manhattan, scheduled to open in spring2019.

2019 World Pride, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Stonewall uprising, taking place in June, is expected to draw millions of visitors to the city, and throughout the state. “There is a rumor Madonna will be performing; Niagara Falls will be decorated with rainbow colored lights. It will be amazing time.”

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, with two concerts, one by the original producers (not in the original place) and another in the original place with a mix of old/new artists.

Walt Whitman is turning 200, with exhibitions and commemorations, centered on “where it all began,” in Huntington, NY, with events throughout the year, but special birthday celebration on May 31: Walt Whitman’s 200th Birthday! (246 Old Walt Whitman Road, Huntington Station, NY 11746, www.waltwhitman.org).

Singapore is a huge movie star with “Crazy Rich Asians.” Singapore also has extraordinary cutting age architecture: “Super Trees” which are vertical gardens, with live plants growing along side and solar panels for energy. “People forget this is a culturally rich small nation, settled by people from Malaysia, China, India – a mix of cultures – little Indias, mosques, temples, museums to all the cultures, fabulous food (the only Michelin 4-star restaurant where you can get a meal for $1.50 – it’s actually a food stand in one of hawker centers). If you ever wanted to go to Singapore this is the year: commemorating milestones: Raffles, man who came and claimed Singapore, 200 years ago, exhibitions, in context of longer Singaporean history, culture.

Some trends that will shape travel in 2019:

Chinese New Year in Chinatown, New York City – the rise of 100 million travelers from China are changing the economics of travel around the Chinese New Year, no longer a “low season” for pricing, availability. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Chinese tourism: Last year, 137 million Chinese travelers left China to venture to other parts of world. The World Tourism Organization (WTO) estimates their average spending double the international average, so the travel industry is bending over backwards to make Chinese tourists happy – hotels are replacing alcohol bars with tea bars, using feng shui design. This trend will affect Americans negatively by changing the seasons of travel: For example, January-February had been low season everywhere in the world (where you could expect low rates and few crowds), but that’s Chinese New Year, the time when Chinese go out to travel. That means  you will see spikes instead of dips in January-February around New Year, and around Golden Week, in September.

Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon. Travel experts like Pauline Frommer fear such places are being “over loved” – there were more Americans visiting Iceland than Icelanders – and suggest some alternatives to “overtourism. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Overtourism is a significant problem. “There are places that are over-loved,” she says, offering suggestions for alternatives:

Instead of Barcelona, travel to Girona, Figueres, Roses

Faroe Islands instead of Iceland (last year, there were more Americans in Iceland than Icelanders)

Komodo instead of Bali

Similan Islands of Thailand instead of Maya Bay (made popular by Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie, ‘The Beach,’ the government closed it to protect it from overtourism)

Choquequirao instead of Machu Picchu

Rovijn instead of Dubrovnik

Basilicat et Puglia instead of Cinque Terre et Amalfi Coast

“A lot of tour operators are working with this. They understand the problem”  that if a destination is overrun, the very thing that people are coming to experience will be destroyed, so are pushing clients to travel different times of year. “There are many more tours to Japan in the dead of winter – much of what there is to do is indoors, anyway, and it is wonderful to go to the baths in winter. (fyi: You won’t be able to use the baths if you have a tattoo, the mark of Mafia).”

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

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

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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

Favorite Family Winter Holiday Places, Where Life-Long Memories are Made

Horse-drawn sleigh ride across a field at the Mountain Top Inn& Resort in the Vermont countryside is like a Currier & Ives painting come to life © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are lodgings you choose to hang your hat after skiing, and then there are lodgings you choose because they are absolutely enchanting, especially for the winter holidays, which have the added delight of providing proximity to great skiing – ideal for families when not everyone’s cup of tea is skiing. Here are some of our favorite places to spend the winter holidays:

Mountain Top Inn & Resort, where we had the most delightful Christmas last year, is breathtakingly enchanting, complete with rides on a horse-drawn sleigh gliding across its expansive fields, a Currier & Ives landscape come to life. The setting, on 350 acres with a 740-acre lake, and ringed  by the Green Mountain National Forest, offers its own 60 km cross-country ski trail network; a small old-fashioned (natural) skating pond; snowshoeing (twilight tours available); snowmobiling; spa; hot tub; fire pits; and the coziest fireplaces. It’s also a 30 minute drive to Killington Mountain for downhill skiing (shuttle transportation available, 8:30 am, returning 4:30 pm; reserve in advance). Mountain Top Inn & Resort, 195 Mountain Top Road, Chittenden, Vermont 05737, 802-483-2311, www.MountainTopInn.com.

The Sagamore, a grand historic hotel dating back to the 1880s that sits on a private 70-acre island on Lake George, is a sensational self-contained resort in one of America’s oldest tourism destinations. It is just 45 minutes from Gore Mountain, one of the best ski destinations in the East, certainly in New York State (a shuttle is provided); also nearby is West Mountain (downhill skiing, tubing, night skiing) and Crandall Park (cross country skiing, night skiing). The full-service resort offers ice skating, snowshoeing, indoor pool and spa, special holiday activities, (www.thesagamore.com866.384.1944)

The Sagamore, a grand historic hotel dating back to the 1880s, is set on a private 70-acre island on Lake George © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mohonk Mountain House has been enchanting guests for more than 100 years. Founded by the Smiley Family in 1869, the Victorian castle resort, a National Historic Landmark, is set on cliffs overlooking a lake, nestled in the Hudson Valley surrounded by 40,000 acres of pristine forest, only 90 miles north of New York City. Mohonk offers a world-class 30,000 sq. ft. “eco-friendly” spa, indoor pool, a spectacular skating pavilion, rock climbing, 85 miles of trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. New winter “wellness” programming is designed to help guests combat the “winter blues” and embrace the beauty of the season, with new mindfulness offerings that include fireside meditation, winter forest bathing and mindfulness lectures. If you can pull yourself away from its warm embrace, downhill skiing in the Catskills (Hunter Mountain, Belleayre, Windham) is an hour away. (844-207-8372, www.mohonk.com)

Now an Omni Hotels resort, the elegant Mount Washington Hotel, “a favorite New England retreat of presidents, poets and celebrities,” is just across the road from New Hampshire’s largest ski area, Bretton Woods (yes, that famous mountain hotel where world leaders signed the 1944 Treaty of Bretton Woods ending the gold standard in, fittingly, the Gold Room), with numerous trails and glades and three terrain parks. The grand resort has its own cross-country skiing on the golf course; one of the longest zip line tours in New England (year-round); a full-service 25,000 sq. ft. spa; two 4-diamond dining rooms (one is a former speakeasy) and sleigh rides. (www.omnihotels.com/hotels/bretton-woods-mount-washington)

Stockbridge, Massachusetts is another utterly picturesque New England village which is like a Norman Rockwell painting of Americana – in fact, its Main Street is immortalized in Rockwell’s “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas” that includes the Red Lion Inn, where we stayed one Christmas – so much character!  The Red Lion has been welcoming travelers to the Berkshires since 1773, one of New England’s few inns that has been operated continuously since before 1800. It is beyond charming – with early American furnishings, much of which has been in place for a century. It has hosted five presidents and other notables including Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Cullen Bryant, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  And much to do in Stockbridge, including the not-to-be-missed visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum, as well as Arrowhead Museum, the home of Herman Melville, in Pittsfield. (www.redlioninn.com).

We were able to combine our delightful holiday stay at the Red Lion with downhill skiing and snowboarding at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, the largest ski and snowboard resort in southern New England (37 Corey Road, Hancock MA 01237, www.jiminypeak.com, 413-738-5500).

A great source for fascinating places is Historic Hotels of America, www.historichotels.org and www.historichotelsworldwide.com, where you can find the perfect destination hotel or resort, intimately connected to the heritage, the people, the personality of the place, wherever you are headed.  

Skiing, a Great Way to Spend the Holidays

Skiing (and snowboarding) is the great equalizer for families, something that is adventurous and gets the adrenalin rushing, where you feel a satisfied sense of accomplishment, and where kids can show up their parents. The resorts, especially the self-contained ones built around a small village with cute cafes and boutiques, all do a superb job of being festive. And there’s nothing better after a vigorous, bracing day on the slopes, than coming back and getting cozy in the condo with hot chocolate, or smore’s over a firepit, or a steamy Jacuzzi, or setting out for the skating rink or hopping a gondola to a mountaintop restaurant.

Park City’s historic Main Street. The Hyatt Centric provides a free shuttle into the town each evening © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Park City, Utah, goes all out for the holidays and the town itself is utterly charming with sensational restaurants, boutiques, and you can fly out in the morning to Salt Lake City and be on the slopes, just 35 minutes away, by 1 pm. Park City Mountain celebrates the holiday season with Snowfest: a 16-day winter festival, Dec. 22-Jan. 6, featuring après ski events, musical acts, village entertainers, and activities including ice sculptures, s’mores roasting, meet-and-greets with the avalanche dogs and more. Activities will be presented at both the Park City Mountain Village and Canyons Village each day. On Monday, Dec. 24, Park City’s 56th annual Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade takes place, a tradition as old as the resort itself, when 100 Park City instructors ski down with lit torches creating a beautiful scene on the Mountain, joined by Santa Claus. The resort, the largest in the US with 7300 acres of terrain, two distinct base areas, nine hotels, two dozen restaurants and a new eight-passenger gondola, does an excellent job of interconnecting with Park City itself, a most charming Western town. Book 7 days in advance online for discounts on lift tickets; check out holiday packages, events and lodging and updates on terrain and weather reports at ParkCityMountain.com. (Also visit snow.com for info on all the Vail Resorts.)

The intoxicating view at Park City Mountain, Utah, which after being combined with The Canyons, is now the biggest ski area in the US © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Hyatt Centric at the Canyons base, which has been a superb lodging for our stay and has its  own lift for ski in/out convenience, and is just a five-minute walk to the shops and restaurants, let us use the outdoor heated pool, hot tubs, sauna and lockers after we were checked out. Our two-bedroom condo (the hotel has 27 two-bedroom suites, which can be turned into 3 bedroom suites, and 15 one-bedroom suites) is unbelievably spacious, outfitted with every possible amenity including a full-kitchen, a dining table that seats eight, three TVs, a Jacuzzi bathtub in the master bedroom, four balconies, windows everywhere there open up to the gorgeous outdoors, and washer/dryer (so convenient when you ski).The hotel also offers a free nighttime shuttle into historic Park City (parkcity.centric.hyatt.com).

Similarly, Lake Placid is a charming village that is the hub for Whiteface in the Adirondacks in upstate New York. Plenty to do, from the Olympic ice skating oval and museum downtown, to Olympic venues (you can even do bobsled, skeleton, biathalon, go up the Ski Jump towers, cross-country – even if there is someone in the family who doesn’t ski, or even if do, there is so much to enrich a trip. (Try to also fit in a hike through Ausable Chasm, incredible in winter).  It’s not for nothing SKI Magazine named Lake Placid #1 ski town for Off-Hill activities.

The Bobsled Experience: Lake Placid is the only area in the Northeast where you can experience bobsled, luge and skeleton. You get to “slide” with a professional driver and pusher © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

We loved our festive holiday stay at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, which offers a shuttle bus up to Whiteface, but also is a hub for all that Lake Placid offers: walking distance to the Olympic Oval ice skating rink and museum or ice skate on Mirror Lake just outside the resort; lovely shops and restaurants, and the local “toboggan roller coaster.” Also dog-sledding across the frozen surface of Mirror Lake and guided snowshoeing at Mt. Van Hoevenberg. (www.golden-arrow.com, 844-209-8080)

Other favorite New York State ski destinations: Gore Mountain in the Adirondacks (North Creek is a delightful village to stay), Belleayre, Windham, Hunter Mountain in the Catskills. (See Ski New York, www.iskiny.com, for more ideas.)

Other favorites for the holiday vibe as well as great skiing: Smugglers Notch (a complete, self-contained mountain destination that is tops for families), Mount Snow, Stratton (now part of Ikon Pass) and Okemo (now part of Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass) in the Northeast (see SkiVermont.com);  Heavenly and Northstar around Lake Tahoe, California; Vail, Breckenridge (a historic town), Keystone Resort (sensational for families, easy to reach from Denver International Airport) in Colorado. Great source for ski holidays, Ski.com, a ski-specializing travel agency.

Warmer-Weather Winter Favorites 

St. Simons Island is one of Georgia’s Golden Isles, lying midway between Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida. The islands are a popular resort playground, offering a mix of natural beauty, rich history and quaint charm, coupled with the allure of inviting year-round weather (winter temps are in the low 60s). Visitors are enchanted by the natural canopy of moss-draped live oaks and the memorable Tree Spirits, hand-carved images of weathered faces that immortalize the area’s sailors who lost their lives at sea. The King and Prince, a member of Historic Hotels of America, offers a complete resort experience, including oceanfront dining, beachfront activities to horseback riding, tennis, biking and fishing. A variety of tours are available that provide samplings of the area’s history and culture, whether by foot, bike, trolley or boat.There are five oceanfront pools including a heated pool; enjoy golf at its famous The King and Prince Golf Course, and tennis. What I especially love is the opportunity to explore St. Simons – especially by bike. There are also dolphin cruises, shrimp boat excursion, kayaking, historic trolley tours of the island. Take time to explore Fort Frederica National Monument (which was an entire settlement, dating from 1736), Christ Church, and St. Simons Lighthouse & Museum. (www.kingandprince.com, 800-342-0212; member of Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org.)

Eau Palm Resort in Manalapan, on Palm Beach Island, is an intimate ocean retreat, luxurious and comfortable; traditional and modern; playful and indulgent, situated on seven private Atlantic beachfront acres, magnificently landscaped with lush gardens and exquisite pools © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Eau Palm Resort in Manalapan, on Palm Beach Island, is a very special place. An intimate ocean retreat, it is both luxurious and comfortable; traditional and modern; playful and indulgent. Situated on the sweeping back drop of Florida’s Gold Coast with seven private Atlantic beachfront acres, magnificently landscaped with lush gardens and exquisite pools,  it is one of only two Forbes Five-Star resorts in Palm Beach and eight in Florida. The award-winning Eau Spa is not to be missed. The resort offers an imaginative array of activities, from stand-up paddleboarding, to snorkeling in aquamarine waters, to surfing lessons, tennis. Borrow a complimentary cruiser bike to explore Palm Beach on a fabulous recreational trail. Palm Beach also offers many wonderful museums and historic attractions also, like the Flagler Museum; try to fit in a visit to the Palm Beach Zoo if you can pull yourself from the beach and the stunning pools. (www.eaupalmbeach.com, 800-328-0170).

One of our favorite places is the Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, Delray Beach, Florida – if  Cole Porter were a hotel, it would be this one, and just steps away from Delray Beach (I think one of the nicest, most scenic beaches on the Florida’s Atlantic coast); the hotel even has its own private beachfront country club. Delray Beach is a sumptuous confection of art and culture, once voted “America’s Most Fun Small Town.”  Among the features are complimentary breakfast buffet; wifi at hotel & club; fitness room; weekend live entertainment; walk to beach and access to private beach club with a saltwater pool).  (www.thecolonyhotel.com, 561-276-4123, 800-552-2363; a member of Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org.)

Colony Hotel, Delray Beach, Florida is a luscious confection that has you singing Cole Porter songs © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another way to get into the spirit of “America’s Most Fun Small Town” is a stay at the  Crane’s BeachHouse Hotel & Tiki Bar, which puts you right in the middle of all the activity Delray Beach offers, including a short walk to the beach, and yet makes you feel so far away, in some tranquil, private tropical retreat. It’s whimsical and fun. A fabulous buffet breakfast is served under the thatch roof of the tiki bar. (cranesbeachhouse.com, 561-278-1700, 866-372-7263).

Leave time to explore Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Wakodahatchee (best birding anywhere), Loxahatchee (kayak or canoe in the Everglades, look for alligators!) and Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens.

The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs is wrapping up its centennial celebrations with the recent unveiling of its largest, grandest holiday gingerbread display ever, a 13 ½-foot-tall, 11×11-120-square-foot gingerbread replica of the original 1918 Broadmoor resort. Situated at the gateway to the Colorado Rocky Mountains in Colorado Springs, The Broadmoor and its Wilderness Experience properties of The Ranch at Emerald Valley, Cloud Camp and Fishing Camp encompass 5,000 acres. The resort campus has 784 rooms, suites and cottages. It includes championship golf courses, a Forbes Five-Star spa and fitness center, indoor pool, nationally recognized tennis staff and program, 24 retail boutiques and 10 restaurants and 10 additional cafes and lounges, including Colorado’s only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond restaurant Penrose Room. Other activities include falconry, guided mountain biking, hiking, rock-climbing tours, fly-fishing, paintball and more. The Broadmoor owns and manages attractions that include Seven Falls and The Broadmoor Soaring Adventure zip-line courses. During the winter season, Broadmoor guests may choose from a wide selection of complimentary weekend activities and classes designed to enlighten, excite, educate—or simply enjoy, including cooking classes, wine and spirits demos, fly casting instruction, golf instruction, dance classes, fitness classes. Holiday activities include Christmas dining events, face painting, carnival games, laser tag, and story time. Nearby activities include: Bear Creek Nature Center, Cave of the Winds, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Children’s Museum, Florissant Fossil Beds, Hiking in North Cheyenne Canyon, Manitou Cliff Dwellings, ProRodeo Hall of Fame, The Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center, Royal Gorge Bridge, World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame, The Broadmoor Seven Falls, Western Museum of Mining, and World Ice Skating Arena. (www.broadmoor.com, 855-634-7711)

More Holiday Travel Ideas

Cruising is a great way for families to be together for the holidays. Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess Cruises do a superb job for families, with spectacular entertainment, waterparks and other mind-blowing activities on board and age-appropriate children’s activity programs and dining options. These floating resorts bring families together around activities and interests, dining and entertainment, adding in the incalculable delight in exploring new places. Our family treasures our multi-generational reunion on a Carnival cruise during Christmas week that called at Key West and Cozumel (Mexico), both such colorful places. Your travel agent can best advise on choosing a ship, a cruiseline, an itinerary; also visit cruisecritic.com.

Visit Harry Potter at Hogwarts at Universal Studios Orlando © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Theme parks really deck the halls for the holidays, with parades, decorations, special activities. Our favorites include Universal Studios Orlando (loved our stay at the Loews Portofino), DisneyWorld (we had a really fun time at the Coco Key Hotel outside Disney, with its own waterpark and shuttle transport to the park), Busch Gardens Tampa (an outstanding zoo as much as it is a theme park) and Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

Close to home and an absolutely delightful theme park destination is Hershey Park (particularly great for families with younger kids): Its most festive seasonal event of the year, Hersheypark Christmas Candylane includes 4 million lights in a choreographed light show, 45 rides and coasters, entertainment, a visit with Santa. “Hersheypark Christmas Candylane Package,” available on select dates Nov. 16 – Dec. 29, includes one night accommodations at The Hotel Hershey (a grand, historic hotel) or Hershey Lodge resort and one day Hersheypark admission for the whole family, milk & cookie delivery, admission for 1 vehicle to Hershey Sweet Lights attraction. Also visit  ZooAmerica, an 11-acre zoo with 200 animals open year-round. (www.hersheypark.com, 717-534-3900).

Taking a trail ride at Pine Ridge Dude Ranch © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dude ranches are a hoot; no matter your age, you wind up being a kid again. We had an entirely different holiday experience the Christmas we spent at Pine Ridge Dude Ranch (formerly the Pinegrove Ranch, was acquired this year by the former barn manager and two long-time guests). It’s an old-fashioned all-inclusive Catskills Mountains family resort with horses and a “Toy Story” cowboy vibe. So festive, warm, friendly and utterly delightful.  It’s a nonstop giggle for children of all ages. Parents will slip back into their own childhoods while making new childhood memories for their own kids. There are activities galore, indoor pool, even laser tag, archery, tubing, iceskating, plus nightly shows and entertainment, three meals daily plus snacks and the holiday atmosphere is so special. Riding horses over snow-covered trails is really special. They regularly offer specials for Christmas and holiday times (some families return each year). Pine Ridge Dude Ranch, 30 Cherrytown Road, Kerhonkson N.Y. 12446, Ulster County, 845-626-7345, reservations@pineridgeduderanch.com, www.pineridgeduderanch.com.

Rocking Horse Ranch is a perennial family favorite. In the best tradition of Catskills resorts (all-inclusive) and dude ranch, it offers unlimited horseback riding, an indoor water park, live shows and entertainment, meals and tastings. Activities include bungee trampoline, rock climbing wall, mountain tubing, a spa and “exotic wildlife” exhibit (600 State Route 44/55, Highland, NY 12528, 800-647-2624, www.rockinghorseranch.com).

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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

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

 

At the New York Times Travel Show, travelers showed tremendous enthusiasm for foreign destinations, such as these Indonesia, a destination that Pauline Frommer is recommending for 2017. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Travel expert Pauline Frommer, of the Frommer Guides and radio show, says that 2017 is probably the best year for Americans to travel abroad because of a surging dollar, competitive pressure on international airline fares, and an international climate where destinations are thrilled to have foreign visitors.

Travel expert Pauline Frommer urges travelers to be skeptical of online travel searches but says 2017 is a great year for Americans to travel abroad because of a strong dollar and low air fares. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

But she began her presentation to the 2017 New York Times Travel Show counseling travelers to be skeptical of technology that is transforming so much of how people travel and even where they travel – how online search engines can force you into purchasing more expensive hotels and airlines based on the profile that previous searches create, and, as a corollary, the intrusion into privacy.

“Often the answers you are going to get through an online search aren’t necessarily the answers you want.” This is especially true because of the way the search engines keep track – through cookies, for example – and will provide listings that seem to conform to previous searches.” The cookies might be in your computer after you did a search for a hotel or a business trip where the boss pays, so you book a $400/night hotel. “So when you try to find a hotel for a family holiday, in your search, all the expensive hotels come up first. It’s more difficult to find the least expensive.”

This is true for flight searches on popular sites (like expedia.com), where if you log off, then go back, you might find that the flight is $200 more. The way around it? You have to either clear your browser of cookies, or go online again on a different computer, or “even go to Starbucks and use their WiFi.”

Based on research that Frommer commissioned from a freelancer, Frommer recommends a couple of websites for airline searches:

Momondo.com (which doesn’t use cookies, so when you return, the price is same but you have to reenter information); and Skyscanner.net (which does use cookies)

She also counsels that the cheapest days of the week to book are Saturday, Tuesday & Wednesday flights.

And based on a study of 26 million airline transactions by the Airline Reporting Corporation, which acts as middleman between airlines and travel agencies (online and storefront), there are trends in fares (she warns won’t always be true and likely not for traveling on Christmas or SuperBowl weekend). Nonetheless, to get the best fares, she advises:

Book on a weekend, 19% savings

Book 57 days before travel for domestic tickets,10% savings

Book 176 days before travel to Europe, 11% savings

Book 77 days before travel to the Caribbean 5% savings

Book 160 days before travel to Asia/Pacific 13% savings

Book 144 days before travel to the Mideast, Africa, 24% savings

Book 90 days before travel to Central/South America, 10% savings

Book160 days to get the best air fare to Asia Pacific; new carriers are also holding international fares down© 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Frommer (as well as travel expert Peter Greenberg) warn buyers to beware of the new category of “basic economy fares” which American Airlines recently introduced, following on heels of United and Delta. Averaging $25 less than regular economy, the airlines have tended to offer them in markets where carriers have competition from low-cost carriers like Frontier and Spirit.

“But these are really, really ugly. You will never get to choose your seat, which means you are likely to wind up in a middle seat. This is a problem if you are travel with children – if there is a plane crash, how could you leave the plane if your kids are in different seats. I don’t think will be brought up soon with current administration.” On American and United, the austerity goes beyond (and is even parodied by comedians): you don’t get to use the overhead bin, you can only bring on board the plane what you can slip under your seat; if you need to check luggage, it costs $25. Another disadvantage: you don’t get any loyalty points when you buy a basic economy seat (though loyalty doesn’t mean much of anything, anymore, she adds).

Rethink loyalty. Loyalty has been devalued by the airlines now. In the last year, you would get points for how many miles you traveled; now it’s for how much money paid, that is multiplied by how high you are in their system. If you are a big-time business traveler, your money is multiplied by 5; if you only travel only twice a year, it is only multiplied by 2 – not greatest system. It will cause major fights at the gate.”  American, she says, is soon going to use its new Loyalty standard to determine where you get on a list to upgrade (it used to be, as an elite member, first-come, first serve, now the airline will look how much money you spent to get elite membership).

The only way to make the points game work in this climate, she advises, is to use credit cards.

Good news for travelers: airfares in the US have stayed stable, and airfares abroad are dropping dramatically because of new players like Norwegian Airlines (offering $499 fare each way to London), WOW airlines, XL Airlines (operating to Paris, www.xl.com/us/, which used to only concentrate on French travelers, but now Americans, too); Thomas Cook Airlines, Eurowings, AirAsia, Emirates, and soon, JetBlue, adding, “Any airline flying into the United States has to adhere to our gate standards.”

Emirates Airlines, which has been offering low fares, is not new but going to a lot more places in Europe for a lot less money. “Now Milan is the cheapest gateway in Europe because of Emirates.” And the international scene may get a new competitor, as JetBlue is looking to starting to fly to Europe.

Also, AirAsia has started flying to Asia, pushing fares down 25% from last year.

Context Travel specializes in small-group walking tours led by experts and focused on a theme, such as of Ancient Athens, Greece © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

How do you find great ways to sightsee besides using Frommer guide? All around the world, you can find local walking tours led by starving graduate students. “These are people who go to places like Venice, Rome, New York, Chicago to work on dissertations and to make a little extra money, often lead walking tours. They know they have to be really entertaining or they won’t get a tip (which is all they make). The best walking tour in Rome, Through Eternity, is led by a woman writing her dissertation on Michelangelo, who had been studying letters his assistants on scaffolding had been writing the Pope. From those, she learned that Michelangelo, who was from Florence, believed Rome’s water was poisoned and because of that, did not bathe for the 10 years he was in Rome. That’s what his assistants were writing about. This woman really knew and was passionate about what she was speaking about.” Such tours can also be a refreshing change from tour guides who, because of limitations on purchasing licenses, have been at it for decades, and “sometimes are so bored telling about Hadrian’s Gate for the 10,000th time.”

Atypical tour companies include:

G Adventures

Djoser

Intrepid Travel

Explore!

Context Travel

Road Scholar

G Adventures, Djoser, Intrepid Travel all are designed around small groups, never more than 12 people, use locally owned guest houses, local transportation to keep green [and provide a closer, more authentic experience], provide a lot of free time to explore on your own, and tend to be much cheaper than the competition. G Adventures is based in Canada, Djoser in Holland, and Intrepid is an Australian company so you are not just traveling with other Americans, but people from all over the world [which is also a special experience].

“I took an Intrepid family tour with my kids in Morocco. It was the most wonderful tour because of our group. We had a German family, 2 British families and a family who lived four blocks away from us in Manhattan. Explore!, an interesting British company, does hardcore tours of places that are otherwise difficult to get to on your own – the Stans, deep Africa, deep south Africa. Context Travel hires erudite guides – it is the most expensive on list, but they run really smart learning vacations to major cities. It started in Italy, now everywhere. Road Scholar (used to be Elderhostel) is for seniors, offering smart tours, hub and spoke so you stay in one place and take day trips; tours are often led by professors, educators.”

Under the category “Solo travel with a safety net,” Frommer cites Women Welcome Women (a UK-based international membership network started by a woman who was jealous of son being able to do exchange, http://www.womenwelcomewomen.uk/article/home.aspx; which is not a travel agency or travel company, but basically network women traveling to other cities).

Greeter Tours are free tours run by local who love showing their home town to people from around the world. (in NYC, Chicago, Houston, Paris, Lyon, Bangkok, Delhi, Cordoba, Grenada, Sydney, etc. (GlobalGreeetersNetwork.info)

For a very different perspective on a city, look for a greeters program, such as “This is My Athens” program offered through the city’s tourism bureau, which matches visitors with a local volunteer. Here, my Athens with a Native guide, Constantine E. Cavoulacos, with the owner of Panagiotis, a neighborhood eatery. © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Accommodations. There’s been a sea-change in accommodations – AirBnB now has more beds in its inventory than all the major hotel chains combined. “Last year, [hoteliers] were saying AirBnB wasn’t affecting prices because a different person uses AirBnB. But this year, they are saying it is affecting prices. It used to be hotel chains would know they could raise prices sky high for a major holiday; now they no longer have that kind of security [control].”

The best search sites for accommodations, she says, are HotelsCombined.com (#1 for prices 92% of the time, according to a study, but Hotelscombined doesn’t actually sell from inventory, it just Googles), followed by Trivago (which is owned by Expedia; expedia gets inventory from the major chains).

In terms of OTAs (online travel agents), booking.com wins (not just the big hotel chains), followed by Asia specialist Agoda.com (best prices for Asia).

The best Booking Blind sites are: Priceline.com, hotwire.com, and biddingtraveler.com.

For lodging rentals, she recommends:

AirBnB.com

Homeaway.com (owns Rentals.com, owned by Expedia, massive corporation)

Zonder.com

FlipKey.com

VRBO.com

Sea Changes in Cruising: The cruise industry is seeing a sea change in technology. Frommer is skeptical about where technology is leading, particularly the juncture of privacy and marketing.

Carnival Cruises, for example, is very excited about a new medallion that replaces a key card, credit card, and knows if you are scheduled for a yoga class or a show or have a restaurant reservation.

“Medallion or Horcrux?  They hook you up to an app. They know where every member of your party is, open your door, order a drink, and will sell you things. I find this disturbing – from the point of view of the lack of privacy –a large corporation is going to know everywhere you are. They will be able to up-sell you. You may be glancing at a list of shore excursions and somebody will appear at your side to tell you why you should take a shore excursion.”

But one good trend in cruising, she says, are the lines that have responded to complaints about getting into a port at 9 am and leaving at 2 pm. Some are changing itineraries to allow more time in port, and some make it a focus. Azamara Club Cruises (which pioneered overnight stays, even 2-3 nights in a port so you can really get to know a city, but the trade-off is fewer sea days to relax) and other lines where they give you more time in port, like Oceania, Celebrity Cruises, Costa, MSC, and Holland America, so you can experience nightlife in a place and you don’t have to rush back to ship).

Cruiselines also are introducing new ports to their itineraries such as in Ireland, Australia, Asia, Scandinavia).

Frommer has a bugaboo about how much shore excursions cost: “They scare guests to take them when they don’t need to. They say if you don’t, the ship can leave without you. I say, get a watch. In most cases, you can wander off the ship and see as much as the shore excursion.

But, you can purchase less expensive port excursions than the ones offered by the cruiseline through such agencies as CruisingExcursions.com, ShoreTrips.com, Viator. CruisingExcursions.com and ShoreTrips.com offer 12-person vans and usually charge 2/3 of cruise ship costs. Viator is more of a marketplace for city tours will give you guarantee that if you miss the boat they will pay to get you to next stop.

There are tremendous differences in cruiselines – aesthetics, what the experience is like. “When you take a cruise, the ship is your vacation, so get the best ship for you. Use a travel agent. This is one area where you are foolish not to use travel agents – those who specialize in cruises, get special discounts they can pass along, complimentary upgrades, shipboard credits, bottle of wine. They know their boats [and typically have toured the ship and have worked with the line]. Not all travel agents are equal. Ask questions. Make sure the travel agent represents all lines or, at least, the ones you are interested in. They can suggest the best cabin for the price you are willing to pay.

River Cruising has become extraordinarily popular, largely due to the success of Viking River Cruises. “For centuries, the rivers of Europe, Asia, America were the arteries that people used to get place to place, so you are in the middle of everything. You step off the boat and in front of you is the cathedral, the historic square.” (Frommers has a guidebook just on river cruising.)

The beauty of river cruising is that cities are right along the water. The Danube is one of the best rivers for cruising. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

But not all river cruises are alike, she notes.

In the category of Over the Top, most luxurious: Uniworld, Tauck, Scenic.  “Uniworld has a designer that Marie Antoinette would approve – crystal, silk wall paper; it’s over the top extravagance. Tauck is as luxurious but a little more contemporary in décor, well known for shore excursions. The dirty little secret of river cruises is that all the river cruises except Tauck and Gate 1 share the same guides on shore. Scenic gives all its guests headphones, so can hear commentary about what you are passing on shore; it is an Australian company so you are traveling mostly with Australians and blasts Olivia Newton-John at night; it offers fun trips (and also owns a budget river cruisline, Emerald Waterways).

Luxurious: AmaWaterways, Viking River Cruises, Avalon Waterways. Avalon and Ama are trying to attract younger crowd with more active experiences – kayaking on river; Ama carries bikes on board.

Budget Emerald Waterways, Grand Circle, Croisie Europe. “Croisie Europe is the second biggest river cruise company in the world after Viking, but you probably never heard of it because the line only marketed to Europeans until recently – so in Europe, you are surrounded by Europeans. Croisie tends to have very reasonable prices, but some Americans aren’t comfortable because of a language barrier. “Grand Circle, in contrast, only markets to Americans so you will be on ship with Americans, have burgers at every meal if you want, but in their defense, they do a lot on the educational side, bringing on educators, so the cruises are more erudite, but cheaper than the others.”

Family friendlyAmaWaterways has partnered with Disney to do tours for families. “These are wildly popular and very well done (not surprising, Disney). There are no characters onboard, but they have activities to keep kids busy on land and river. It’s great for multigenerational.” Tauck is another with family-friendly tours.

Best rivers (for first timers): Danube (variety – castle, spas, vineyards, interesting trip), Mississippi (variety, start or end in New Orleans, plantations, Civil War sites, Mark Twain sites); Mekong (because you go to many places you couldn’t otherwise get to except by river cruise).

Where to Go 

The US Dollar is strong pretty much everywhere, “whooping every other currency.”

Brexit tanked the British pound

Euro that cost $1.45 in 2012 costs $1.05 in 2017.

Japanese yen lost 1/3 of value against the dollar from 2012

“It’s never been a better time for Americans to travel abroad (at least from a strong-dollar point of view).

Imperial Palace, Tokyo. The dollar has more buying power in Japan because of a strengthening dollar against the Japanese yen. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

As for where to go, Frommer (and Peter Greenberg as well), also tell Americans not to be discouraged by terror attacks in places like Paris, which has lost 30% of its tourism, a vital economic component. “In certain rooms in the Louvre, I was  alone; I didn’t make advanced reservations at restaurants, some of most coveted in Europe; the hotel room, everything was cheaper,” Frommer, who visited Paris in June, says., “And Parisians are happy to see Americans. There’s never been a better time.”

But she points out that a lot of the discomfort for Americans, who see headlines and have little comprehension of geography, is perception:

“What do the UAE, Bahamas, France, New Zealand, United Kingdom have in common? They each issued travel warnings against coming to the United States because of gun violence. We are New Yorkers. We know what it is to bounce back [after a catastrophic event].”

But if you are looking for a city like Paris but has bagels? Montreal is celebrating its 300th anniversary this year. The home city of Cirque d Soleil will be the scene of the craziest, most surreal celebrations – 40 foot tall marionettes marching through streets, 3D projections on the river; you can download a free app of the historic district and as you go through, suddenly there is a Sound & Light show.

Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands; the people changed back the name to the original First Nations name) “has everything that Alaska has – fishing, wilderness areas, First Nation’s culture but without the crowds and 30% cheaper. I highly recommend visiting before it is better known.”

Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation in the world. “Open the doors. Go there but not necessarily Bali – that is over-loved.” She recommends Sula Wessy – an island of incredible culture, architecture, bright green rice paddies, the smallest monkeys on planet, and fascinating cultural rituals. In

Bali, outsiders can go to weddings and funerals, where welcome; in Sula Wessey, funerals are so elaborate that when people die, they are mummified similar to Egyptians, and left in the house; the mummy lives with the family for years because it takes that long to raise money for the funeral. They have elaborate processions, feasts, dances, and water buffalo sacrifices, then finally the body is buried in rock caves. It is fascinating to visit and less touristic than Bali.

Northern Lights. This is the year to see the Northern Lights, a phenomenon caused by storms on the sun that shoot particles into the Earth’s atmosphere. It goes in a 10-year cycle and 2017 is the last year of the cycle. It will be spectacular this year and crumby for the next. There are inland places in Norway, next to Arctic Circle, where there are no worries of fog from the sea obscuring as well as dog sledding.

Pantanal, the largest inland wetland in the world – twice the size of Iceland, is straddles Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay (?). A decade ago, you couldn’t go in, because it was too difficult, but now river boats go in and for nature lovers it is spectacular because all the foliage is low to the ground so you can see more easily than Amazon – 500 species of birds, jaguars, tapirs, giant otters, fascinating wilderness. It is becoming more popular, so go now.

Nashville prides itself as being the “Athens of the South.” this year, “Music City” is celebrating the 120th anniversary of the Ryman and 50th anniversary of the Country Music Hall of Fame. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Nashville – hot – wonderful city – 120th anniversary of Ryman, 50th of Country Music Hall of Fame – every kind of music – get off the plane, live musicians. Foodie scene. Parthenon-replica [Nashville considered itself the Athens of the South], – which sounds silly until you visit – it is the symbol for the city which has many universities, a major medical center, a whip smart population. You will meet great people.

Bermuda – will be home to the America’s Cup this year, undergone millions of dollars of infrastructure rejiggering. Martin Samuelson opening restaurant, great chefs opening. The Hamilton Princess has undergone a multi-million renovation. “More than fun in sun, Bermuda has interesting culture (British, high tea, Bermuda shorts without irony) –a really interesting place, historic sites.”

Not just “fun in the sun” on its famous pink beaches, Bermuda also offers a rich heritage, travel expert Pauline Frommer says © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

She adds as a “bonus place” to her list: Cuba. “President Trump has said he will shut the door there and he can with sign of pen. It was opened by President Obama by executive order so can be closed down just as quickly. But Cubans are smart, when Trump was elected, they fast-tracked port rights to Carnival and 5 other major lines, fast tracked hotel building permits to Marriott and Hyatt and are trying to get Corporate America on their side so Trump can’t undo relations. But go to Cuba while you can and before the changes that would inevitably come.

Connect with Pauline Frommer at Frommers.com, @frommers, on Facebook Frommers.

See also: 

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

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