Friday, October 24, 2008

Politics and Travel

Despite the criticisms we’ve occasionally heaped on the heads of the TSA and the Department of Homeland [In]Security, we’ve tried to keep this blog fairly non-political. After all, it’s a travel blog.

But travel can be a political act, and politics can and does affect when, where, and how we travel. The policies of the U.S. government (under any administration) clearly affect how the rest of the world views us, and how we interact with the rest of the world, as both a nation and as individuals.

No matter what your political affiliation, please read and thoughtfully consider the words in the just-published presidential endorsement by the New York Times editorial board. Our decisions here in America can, and probably will, affect the rest of the world. As citizens of – and travelers around – that world, we encourage you to think about your personal choices on November 4.

WWII Commando Memorial, Great Glen, Scotland

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Travel, Charity, Support With Micro Loans

If you’ve ever traveled to less-developed parts of the world, you can’t help but be aware of the disparity of wealth between Americans and people in parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, South America, etc. – there are pockets of poverty everywhere. Many words have been wasted arguing about tipping, handouts, giving gifts or money, and other ways of supporting individuals in less fortunate countries.

In general, we believe that part of our responsibility as travelers to those regions of the world includes some form of support. Yet we really, really dislike the give-away attitude. We’d really rather support organizations such as Kiva, which offers people an incentive to do better for themselves.

Kiva does not give away any money or “things” – they loan money to folks who are truly trying to create a better life with the loan they receive. We’ve been supporting Kiva for a couple of years now, and are extremely pleased with what they seem to be accomplishing. (In the past, we’ve also supported organizations such as Heifer International and other charitable causes, so we feel we have a good base of comparison.) Note that Kiva is a loan organization – not only do the recipients have an incentive to become self-supporting, but when they pay back your loan (which they nearly all do), you can then redirect your funds to another deserving individual.

Each of us makes our own choices, but if you’re a traveler to a part of the world where people could use some help, consider supporting an organization such as Kiva instead of handing dollars or trinkets to people on the street. You can support an individual trying to start a business or improve a life with as little as $25 to Kiva. Seems to us that goes so much farther than a handout.

Malawi, Africa

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The “Financial Crisis” and Leisure Travel

You only have to be a consumer – of anything – to know that the U.S. (and the rest of the world) is in a deep financial mess. The details of how we got here are confusing and convoluted, but it’s a significant world event, and will impact our economies for years.

Whether you hole up at home; whether you still spend freely on luxuries; or whether you barely make ends meet as your mortgage is underwater and your credit cards are being squeezed, you either are now or will soon be affected.

Americans love to spend, spend, spend. On food, travel, clothes, automobiles, electronics, and a hundred other categories. And in our opinion, if a real financial squeeze comes for most Americans, travel will be one of the first “luxuries” to be eliminated from the budget. (But then, do any Americans actually have and follow a “budget” any more?)

The short-term effects of a recession, depression, or whatever you call this economic pullback are being felt not just on Wall Street, but at your local bank (where, if the bank’s still in business, hiring and raises are frozen as deposits melt away), at the construction jobsite (where developers can’t get enough credit to cover payrolls), at the grocery store (since shoppers are gravitating toward WalMart and Costco), at the car dealer (where gas guzzlers sit on the lot for months), and in most corners of your community.

It may take awhile for the financial crisis of 2008 (and probably well into 2009) to be fully felt within all segments of the travel industry, but it will happen. Airlines will cut even more flights (at the same time trying to raise fares). Hotels will see lower occupancy rates (and they can’t park underutilized hotels in the desert like the airlines can park planes). Ski resorts and other destination attractions will find fewer visitors this winter and into the coming year.

In recent years, the travel industry took a hit during the first Gulf War and after 9/11. But on a day-to-day economic basis, those world events were minor compared to what we’re facing now. Of course, we may be in a “fear bottom,” and everything various governments are now doing will pull the economies of their countries up in a short time.

But talking to everyday folks both here in the U.S. and abroad, it seems everyone is talking about reigning in their discretionary (travel) spending in a major way. We’re not economists (thank goodness), but we believe that the travel industry has a very tough year or two ahead. Businesses will fail. And as a consumer, you will have fewer choices, higher prices, and your overall travel habits and patterns may change, affecting the industry for many years to come.

Simpler times before the last financial storm – postcard from London, postmarked 1928

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Airlines You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

How many of these airlines have YOU heard of?

  • Pegasus Airlines
  • Aegean Airlines
  • Lagunair
  • Siberia Airlines
  • Aer Lingus
  • Jet Airways
  • Dalavia
  • V Australia
  • Icelandair
  • Jet2
  • bmi
  • Boliviana de Aviacion
  • Go Air
  • Xiamen Airlines
  • Paramount Airways
  • Kingfisher Red
  • First Air

If you’ve heard of more than three of these airlines, take a bow.

These 17 airlines were mentioned during the past week alone on Alternative Airline News. And there are many, many more detailed elsewhere on the website. Most of us probably have little interest in regional Chinese (Xiamen) or Bolivian (Boliviana de Aviacion) carriers, but some folks might actually find it useful to know about Kingfisher Red, which operates flights from London to India.

Nonetheless, the Alternative Airlines website is new (to us) and fascinating. Break out some airline trivia next time you’re cornered by the World-Traveling-Airline-Snob.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

United 30,000 Mile Credit Card Offer

For collectors of United Airlines frequent flyer miles, this United offer is one of the best credit card offerings we’ve seen in a long time. 30,000 miles for signup, plus “one $25 United Discount Travel Certificate and one One-way, 1,000 mile, One-class Upgrade Certificate.” Some reporters have claimed success churning (applying for a card, canceling, then applying for a new card with a new sign-up bonus) United Chase cards, but this offer states “offer is valid only for first-time United Mileage Plus Visa cardmembers with new accounts.” Sometimes the credit-card companies hold to those restrictions, sometimes not. The terms and conditions state a $60 annual fee, with no mention of free for the first year.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Travel Musings

As we’ve noted, we don’t have to travel for business anymore, so our focus on leisure travel has caused us to reevaluate some of our ideas about the hows and whys of travel. Our most recent trips have solidified our thinking about several topics. A few rather random thoughts.

We just want to get there, and to feel our legs when we arrive. We have no need for First Class, little need for Business, but Premium Economy is essential. We’d much rather spend the thousands of dollars saved by not buying upper-class tickets at our lodging, on treasures, or participating in activities at our destination. Now, if we can get Business Class as an upgrade....
Anyway, we love Premium Economy (or Economy Plus, as it’s sometimes called). We’ve posted about Premium Economy several times. Obviously, for some (most?) folks a Premium Economy ticket is an extra $200 or $300 or whatever that they’d rather not spend. And if the flying bus is all you need, that’s OK.

We’re enjoying more regional destinations lately – places that we can visit with an easy two-day drive (for week-long trips) or a day’s drive (for long-weekend getaways). There’s usually so much to see along the way, and we find drive trips generally more relaxing than the hassles of air travel. Plus, car travel allows us to take all our various toys and favorite foods.

Our somewhat-splurge is more on the lodging side. We’ve given up on cheap hotel rooms – actually, we’ve pretty much given up on hotels completely, preferring B&Bs, lodges, cottages, cabins, and the like. We don’t need the service or pampering that hotels offer.
We like to cook, and drink wine without having to worry about driving. So we frequently chose self-catering (as they’re called in Europe) accommodations. In the U.S., it’s frequently B&Bs, because many VRBO (vacation rentals by owner) are for week-long time periods. If we can find a VRBO that allows us to book just a couple of nights, we frequently take that option.

We like the freedom of rental cars, but we don’t like driving in most foreign countries. We grew up driving the freeways of L.A., and felt if we could navigate the 405 we could drive anywhere. But if it’s a crowded destination (most of central Europe, Japan, etc.) we’d really rather take the train, and hire a driver/taxi for local transport. Of course, more rural areas (Scotland, Chile, Canada) are a lot easier to navigate.

We actually rather dislike that word – sightseeing. We much prefer to experience a place, by hiking, bicycling, snorkeling, kayaking. Of course, there are places and things to see everywhere, and being photographers we enjoy dramatic landscapes and historical sites. But if it’s a choice between standing outside the stone circle of Stonehenge and photographing the site, or wandering among the huge circle at nearby Avebury and feeling the ancients building that place, we’ll chose the second every time.

Hiking along Hadrian's Wall, England