Sunday, March 25, 2007

Favorite On-line Travel Resources

“Ten Best” lists can get awfully boring. Our eyes really glaze over and we reach for the bottle of wine when we see “The 100 Best.” Yet like most journalists, we do have our favorites, and we’re opinionated enough to want to share them with you. So without embellishment, and without including any of our own websites, here is a short list of our favorite on-line travel resources.

Our 6 Favorite Travel BLOGS
Perrin Post -
Today in the Sky -
Upgrade: Travel Better -
The Cranky Flier -
Ellipses -
Johnny Jet -

Our 6 Favorite Travel WEBSITES
USA Today Travel -
New York Times Travel -
Sunday Times Travel (London) -
CNN Travel -
International Herald Tribune Travel (Paris, in English) -
TripAdvisor -

Our 3 Favorite Travel NEWSLETTERS
Internet Travel Tips -
The Travel Insider -
Visit Europe -

Our 1 Favorite Traditional (Printed) Travel Magazine’s WEBSITE
Conde Nast Traveler -

(We recently ran across a collection of old travel photos by our parents and grandparents, as well as many old travel postcards. We thought we'd share a new image on each of these posts.)

Rennes, France - Old postcard from 1934

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Travel Magazines Overview

There are dozens of travel magazines, all offering some useful information to travelers with different tastes and desires. You can always go out and buy a copy of each, and most have good websites associated with their magazine. As an overview, here is what we perceive as the strengths, weaknesses, and targeted audience of several of the most popular and widely available publications.

Travel+Leisure was one of the first big travel magazines. It is geared toward a fairly upscale audience, and seems to focus on cities, fine dining, fashion, and both U.S. and international travel.

Conde Nast Traveler
Conde Nast Traveler covers much of the same ground as Travel + Leisure, with (to our perception) even more emphasis on cities and style. We like Conde Nast’s columnists (especially Wendy Perrin) and their travel tips and advice. The magazine also generally includes good cruise info.

National Geographic Traveler
National Geographic Traveler leans much more toward outdoor, active travel (but still carries articles on urban travel). It may have a bit more bias toward U.S. travel than either of the two above, yet still covers destinations around the world. Another of our favorite columnists, Chris Elliott, writes for NGT. While we subscribe to many of the magazines listed here, this is our favorite.

Budget Travel
Budget Travel has a folksy, more down-to-earth take on travel. Its editorial focus varies, but generally strikes a balance between both U.S. and international travel destinations. It seems geared to the audience described in its title – budget.

National Geographic Adventure
National Geographic Adventure features many U.S. destinations, with a strong adventure-travel bent. It seems focused on a younger, trendy audience, with sound-bite journalism rather than in-depth articles.

Wanderlust is a UK publication, and another of our favorites. It has the usual mix of tips and info, as well as many feature articles about destinations around the world – many you might not have even heard of. It does offer articles on U.S. and North American destinations, but to a much lesser degree than any of the U.S. magazines. And despite being based in the UK, it does not have a heavy focus on British travel.

Sunday Times Travel
Sunday Times Travel is another UK magazine, put out by the Times Newspapers. It covers many international destinations, but seems to focus on cities (especially European) and more “civilized” destinations that does Wanderlust. It probably has a bit more info on UK travel than does Wanderlust. It, too, occasionally offers articles on U.S. travel, but most stories cover other international locations.

Both UK publications are available at many newsstands in the U.S., and Wanderlust’s U.S. subscription rates are not unreasonable.

There are also several other travel publications, which to us seem to have smaller distribution and/or less useful content, including CNN Traveler, Endless Vacation (good, but only available to RCI timeshare members), Town & Country Travel, Weekends, and others. One worth mentioning is Outside. Outside is generally not what we’d consider a “travel” magazine, but they publish an annual Outside Traveler issue (usually bundled with a fall issue of the magazine, and probably also available stand-alone on the newsstands), which usually has good travel and destination information, especially covering Caribbean and other warm-weather locales.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Avoid The Absurd

Should travel writers/journalists/bloggers mention sites or attractions which are not environmentally friendly? In a world that believes that “any publicity – even bad – is good publicity,” should we even mention the unethical, unfriendly, and disturbing destinations? Should journalists be gatekeepers of the unseemly? Or do we just report everything?

What got me thinking is the abominable new Grand Canyon Skywalk on the Hualapai Indian reservation in Arizona. This weird structure offends me deeply, yet the attitude of the tribe is that, like publicity, “all tourism is good tourism.”

The quotes former Grand Canyon superintendent Robert Arnberger as saying, “I think it’s a real travesty ... it desecrates the very place the Hualapai hold so dear.” Of course, tribal leaders contend such comments are elitist, or worse. Hualapai Tribal Council Chairman Charlie Vaughn said such criticism comes from “people ... eating tofu and pilaf and sitting in Phoenix with their plasma-screen TVs. Our tribe started in these canyons. We’ve always been here, and we’ll always be here.”

So, if I dislike the Skywalk desecration, should I even mention it? Should I tell people about it but urge them not to go there? Should I let folks make their own decisions? The question would be easier to answer if the news hadn’t already been splashed across every travel media in the U.S., but it has. Yes, sadly, everything has been found. So, I guess by posting this, I’ve set myself firmly in the camp of “Tell About It, But Don’t Recommend It.”

Please avoid the Grand Canyon Skywalk. Speak with your pocketbooks. Don’t support industrial, exploitative tourism. There are hundreds of similar travesties around the planet. Avoid them all and send a message to their makers and keepers.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Timeshare Tips

Timeshares, and their accompanying reputations, have been around for decades. They are still out there, but the sleazy operators have been weeded out, and the reputable developers can usually be trusted. But….

Why do you want a timeshare, and if you do, how do you plan to use or exchange it?

One of our favorite travel bloggers, Wendy Perrin of the Perrin Post, discussed timeshares in her March 5, 2007 post. She also referenced another popular blogger, Ed Perkins of Smarter Travel. Both articles contained the conventional wisdom about timeshare pitches and buying.

What is quite frequently not mentioned in these articles is the timeshare resale market. Basically, one can often buy a timeshare for a few hundred dollars from timeshare resale brokers, or even on ebay. When the upfront cost is reduced from, say, $10,000 to $600, a timeshare can make great sense. If….

1) You plan to use it every year, or trade it and use the trade every year. Once you miss a year, your annual maintenance fees effectively double.

2) You only buy a timeshare in a place you want to visit frequently, or you know your travel habits enough to know you’ll enjoy a trip where you’re based in one location for a week (the usual timeshare interval).

We’ve had great success with timeshare trades, despite the stories that “it’s hard to trade for a good resort/week/etc.” In prime color season last fall, we traded into a timeshare in the heart of Vermont (photo above). And the week before Christmas, we traded for a ski week in Banff, Canada (photo below).

The key to good trades is to buy a good trading property. Which means, basically, that you own….

1) A prime (“red”) week.

2) Preferably a two-bedroom unit.

3) And have low annual maintenance fees.

Do the math. Figure your amortization of the initial purchase price (including closing costs). Add you annual maintenance fees. If you plan to trade, add the cost of the trade company membership (the two big ones are RCI and II). Add the cost of the actual trade.

If, like us, you know that your annual costs work out to about $700 per year (trade), you can make an informed decision that you can or can’t find lodging for a ski week in Canada for $100 per night.

Bottom line, for us, is that we'd never purchase a new timeshare, but we'd certainly purchase a resale that afforded us good trades or was in a location we knew we'd visit every year.