Happy travel

by S&M

This post mentions the famous (I think) free 3-day Reykjavik layover from Iceland air. It got me thinking about other possible things to do on layovers, like the Air and Space Museum right next to Dulles. Then I started reminiscing about past layover “wins”.

Flying between Ethiopia and Germany, I had my flights rearranged in Entebbe as Clinton (and AF 1) delayed our departure. When I got to Rome, I had an 8 hr layover, and didn’t want to hang out in any more airport space. I rode the subway into the city, not sure where I was going, but happy to be out of the airport (I was 32, single, and childfree). As I came up from the station, most of the crowd seemed to be going in one direction. I saw no reason to swim against the tide. I continued to move along for a couple of blocks before the people ahead of me handed over their bags for someone to search. The whole crowd seemed to be lining up. Huh? Random security checks on the sidewalk? I looked around and realized we were at the gates of the Vatican. I went on in, no ticket required, and found myself standing in St Peter’s Square, just outside the Basillica, with hundreds if not thousands of people. What now? The pope? I was joking to myself, but sure enough, the crowd at one end parted, cheers went up, and there was the famous Popemobile, with the pontiff smiling and waving as he drove through the crowd. He drove around a bit before he gave a brief welcome and blessing and I think that was it. It was a bit of a surreal experience.

Another time, I knew in advance that my son and I would have an 11-hr layover after flying across the Pacific. We had nearly missed our outbound flight in LAX, so I was fine with the wait, but with a 3 year old? We took a cab to the beach, played in the surf, slept in the sun, ate in a cafe, and were refreshed when our redeye began.

So how ’bout it? Do you have any good layover stories, intentional or not?

Layovers Don’t Have to Suck: Escape the Airport and Explore

Why flying has gotten suckier

by MooshiMooshi

The current flying experience, in my opinion, totally sucks, and is much worse than say 8 or even 5 years ago. It is just as crammed and unpredictable as before, but now tickets cost a lot more, service to small and medium cities has been cutback drastically and in particular costs a lot more, and to add insult to injury, we now pay fees for almost every aspect of a “normal” flying experience. At some point, I assume, we will end up paying fees for being allowed to sit down. And yes, I pay the fees. If I am flying with a kid, I want to sit next to my kid because even though said kid would be fine alone, it is simply inconvenient to be separated. So I pay the fee to get an aisle or window seat, and I pay the fee to be allowed to choose. And since I would rather not be separated from my bag which has all my snacks and reading glasses, and work to be done, I pay for the priority boarding so I can get bin space. Boarding has turned into a stressed out competition. In the old days, one could relax and wait for your row group to be called. Now, it is a stampede, with everyone in a boarding group hanging by the gate, trying to be first in their group to get that bin space.

This is a great article explaining why this state of affairs is good for airlines.

“Calculated misery”: how airlines profit from your miserable flying experience

Although, they don’t really touch on the main reason why airlines have been able to do this: consolidation. The industry is so much a monopoly now that we consumers cannot vote with our feet.

I thought capitalism and free markets were supposed to IMPROVE things for consumers. But evidently not.

Do you guys think air travel will ever improve or will we end up paying an extra fee for the privilege of sitting?

Holidays from hell

by Grace aka costofcollege

What was your holiday from hell?  Maybe you’ve not suffered from situations as horrible as those in the article linked below, but have you had any time time when your carefully planned trip did not turn out as smoothly as anticipated?  Illness, injury, missed flights, dismal accommodations, horrible weather, unruly or incompatible traveling companions, disappointing destinations, or something else?

Holidays from Hell: From frisky elephants to a loo filled with frogs, tourists reveal the hilarious moments their trips went VERY wrong

One of my recent travel disasters caused me to miss my kid’s college graduation ceremony.  The series of unfortunate events began with a widespread thunderstorm pattern that cancelled our flight and ended with me pulling up to campus the next day just after the last graduate had been handed their diploma.  In between were many snags, including a daylong wait at the originating airport, outrageously priced replacement tickets, misplaced luggage, unexpected highway construction on the way to campus, and a clueless cab driver who asked me for the best alternate route.

My sister once spent the night with her toddler at O’Hare International on Christmas Eve. What travel mishaps or disappointments have you had?  Can you laugh at them now in hindsight?

More holiday season conversation

by Finn

With T-day in our rear-view mirror, we’re well into the holiday season.

Are you sending out cards? What kind do you send? Do you attach a newsletter to your cards? How do you feel about receiving newsletters with cards?

If you do send out cards, here’s some grammar help:

Are Your Holiday Cards Grammatically Correct?

Do you have travel plans for the holiday? Kids coming home from college? Do you have any travel planning tips to share? Ever tried Google flights?

Making travel planning less stressful this holiday season

Do you have any gift ideas to share? What items seem to be this year’s “it” gifts?

Bargain travel

by Grace aka costofcollege

Despite her initial doubts, this NYT travel writer gave a positive review of a trip she took using a bargain package deal.

Looking for a Bargain Vacation? Don’t Rule Out Hawaii

For years I’d seen online ads for surprisingly affordable prefab vacations — airfare and hotel, with maybe a car and a tour thrown in — through unexpected vendors like Groupon and Costco. I remember thinking, “Do people actually buy vacations through Costco?” To me, packaged bulk trips were the five-pound tub of mozzarella balls of travel. Sure, it’s a bargain, but how bland? What quality could you possibly get for that impossibly low price? I was, in short, the worst kind of travel snob.

I regularly check deals that come my way, mainly Groupon Getaway and Travelzoo.  But I’ve never tried any.  Sometimes they seem too good to be true and sometimes they seem to scrimp more than I’d like.  (Are the hotels lacking?  Can I get an aisle seat on the plane?)  Sometimes they don’t seem like such a great value when I start to compare low airfares and housing options that I could assemble on my own.  But I keep telling myself that one day I need to throw caution to the wind and buy a five-night inclusive trip to the Caribbean for under $600.  How bad could it be?

Here are three travel deals I recently came across, all departing from New York:

  • 11-day Thailand & China Tour w/Air for $1499 that includes hotels, transfers, daily breakfasts, and several tours including one of the Great Wall of China
  • London & Rome 6-Night Trip for $799 that includes air, hotels, transfers, daily breakfasts
  • Punta Cana 5-nights all-inclusive beach side resort including air for $589

Do these sound enticing to you?  Have you ever bought one of these deals or have you considered it?  Do you know people who’ve had good or bad experiences?  Do you avoid these mainly because they’re too conventional and you prefer more personalized travel?  In other words, are you a “travel snob”?  Any advice for someone who’s considering buying one of these deals?

Also, do you have any travel plans coming up or any dreamy destinations that you’d like to visit soon?

Vacation splurges

by Denver Dad

We are going to Iceland next month and we booked a tour for an obscene cost. It’s a helicopter ride to the Thrihnukagigur volcano and then you take an open elevator down to the volcano floor. It’s the only place on earth where you can go into the magma chamber. We went back and forth on it, and finally decided it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we figured if we’re going to do it, we might as well go all in and do the helicopter ride instead of hiking up.

What are the biggest splurges you’ve made on vacation? What was worth it and what wasn’t?

National Parks

by Honolulu Mother

We’ve talked about national park visits before, but it’s summer so why not take the chance to reminisce, plan, and share experiences again.

This FiveThirtyEight article, The National Parks Have Never Been More Popular, notes that the park system continues to get more and more visits over the years. Even though on a per person basis we’re visiting a bit less often than previously, population growth has driven visitor numbers upward. The article goes on to list parks from the most-visited to the least-visited, so if you want to avoid a crowd you can look to the bottom of the list.

Based on the list, the least-visited one I’ve been to recently was Mesa Verde, which was indeed vastly less crowded than the Grand Canyon (our next stop) and for that reason was beautiful and peaceful in a way that Grand Canyon village really couldn’t compare with. We were able to sit out on our porch having a drink and watching the cottontails scurry around in the scrub outside our room while the daylight slowly faded, feeling like we had the place to ourselves.

And I clearly should plan a visit to the North Cascades, which MooshiMooshi so highly recommended and which is in a state we often visit!

What park experiences have stood out for you? What is the least-visited park on the list that you’ve been to? And do you think visitor numbers are all that important in planning a trip, or do you go with the theory that even in the Great Smoky Mountains, you’re pretty much on your own once you get a little way down a trail?

Totebaggy travel

by winemama

How totebaggy are your vacations? Do you pass on the Mousetrap?

To me, teaching moments and travel go hand in hand. So our family vacations are designed to incorporate elements of enrichment: exposure to foreign culture, a brush with history, interaction with nature, discovery of new foods, engaging in activities that make us step outside our comfort zones. Sure, Disney is fun. But school breaks are few and handled with extreme care.

5 Family Vacations That Don’t Involve Disney World

Choosing a Vacation Destination Based on its Economy

by Honolulu Mother

Vox put together this Vacation Index showing which countries are the best – and worst – bargains for vacationers at the moment. According to the article, it’s not intended to compare bang for the buck in absolute terms, but rather to show which countries are cheaper or more expensive than they usually are. Do you think the index is an accurate representation of that? Would you consider choosing a vacation destination based on it?

Our next vacation is to the very worst bargain listed, and yet the exchange rate is still better than it was the last time I was there. I think the index is looking at a relatively short-term timescale.

European travel plans?

by Finn

How have the recent bombings in Paris and Brussels affected you?

I’m guessing that one impact they might have on totebaggers is on travel plans. While Europe is not high on my list of places to go and things to do, there are a few places on my list, but those will probably have to wait for less turbulent times.

We’ve recently been affected. The kids’ school just hosted a group from Japan, who had originally planned a trip to Paris. But the bombings there caused a change of plans, and they came here instead.

Trip of a lifetime

by Milo

Looping With Little Ones

The family featured in this article took a year off from work, sold their house, bought a used cruising yacht, and took their three kids on a trip around the Eastern half of the United States via the Great Loop–the 5,000-mile circular journey from the mostly sheltered waters of the Eastern Seaboard to the mighty Midwestern rivers known to East Coasters like me only through the novels of Mark Twain.

I’ve mentioned that this is a brand new retirement goal for me, but this family, with children close in age to my own, got me wondering why they would do something like this and I wouldn’t. There are reasons, to be sure. He’s an independent contractor; I’m an employee. We’re pseudo-Totebaggers and therefore are loath to alter the kids’ path through traditional schooling. I’d feel too much regret over a year’s lost earnings at this point in my life.

But, oh to daydream about the possibilities if I were a little less boring and a little more adventurous.

What do you think about this trip in general? How about with kids, specifically? What great, long journeys have you enjoyed, or plan to do, or dream about?

Trip review — Rome & Spanish Basque Country

by Fred MacMurray

I thought I’d share my experiences on a recently completed trip to Rome and the Basque Country of Spain.

Rome

Hotel Teatro Pace
Via del Teatro Pace, 33
(just west of Piazza Navona on a quiet street; excellent location to walk pretty much anywhere in the areas tourists will want to visit)
Price (euros): 250/night double room; 140/night single room, breakfast included

Very good accommodations on the European scale. Quiet, clean, rooms, firm beds. Breakfast is served in the room, choose what you want from the menu the night before. Worked very well. I’d stay there again.

Some restaurants:
Campo di Fiore: Il Mercato. Kind of typical tourist restaurant, but pizza, pasta, salads, grilled vegetables were good. I had eaten there in 2009 and went back. Probably one of the better “touristy” places you can eat at for a reasonable price

Il Forno: pizza to go. Excellent.

Navona (about 4 doors down from the hotel): La Pace del Palato. Via del Teatro Pace, 42. Not a touristy menu at all. Very nice service and food. Recommend as a more upscale place when you’ve had enough regular pizza/pasta.

Gelato: not that you can really go wrong, but a couple we liked: Ice Crome and Frigidarium, both on Via del Governo Vecchio.

For the Vatican, I used MyVaticanTour.com . This was very good; I had also used them in 2009.
For Roman Forum & Colosseum, we went with The Rogue Historians. We had a private tour with Ian, but there are also group tours that are less expensive but also a mile wide and an inch deep.


Spanish Basque Country

Stayed in Bilbao
Hotel Miro Bilbao (5 min. walk from the Guggenheim Museum)
Price (euros): 200/night junior suite; 180/night deluxe king including breakfast and a complimentary snack bar in the lobby.
Modern hotel; would fit right in the US.

Restaurant
Serrantes III (right next to the hotel) Great seafood, especially the Fish Soup and the Fish Salad. Tremendously fresh food and good service

Pinxtos (Tapas) Bar
Casilda. Pinxtos are the Basque version of tapas. Much more elaborate than typically found in Madrid and other parts of Spain. There are plenty of other bars offering similar pinxtos; this place had the widest variety and best price (1 euro each).

Note: while there is plenty of English spoken in Rome…I think you could do it without knowing a word of Italian, English is much less common in Bilbao and the rest of the Basque Country. I happen to speak good enough Italian and I used to be practically fluent in Spanish, so my experience may have been atypical.

Happy to answer anybody’s questions, whether in the comments or privately.

Totebaggers, what places can you recommend to other travelers?

Exotic locales

by Ada

I enjoyed this recent piece in the Atlantic about someone who has achieved his goal of going to every recognized country in the world – and the 10 places it was most difficult to obtain visas to visit (who knew that Saudi Arabia did not allow tourists?).

The Hardest Places in the World to Visit

It reminded me of this piece published in The Onion during the Arab Spring – when tourists were evacuated from many Middle Eastern nations. A good friend had just been to Libya the month before – she had talked up the trip for months – such a safe place, amazing Roman ruins, really under appreciated. She had a great experience – and fortunately missed the turmoil by a matter of days.

State Dept. Asks U.S. Citizens In Libya What The Hell They Were Doing In Libya

Another interesting take on this is about a place where guidebooks still matter – Myanmar. “The travelers one sees there are mostly Germans, many of them visibly miffed that we’d brought our daughter somewhere so seemingly remote as to be at the very end of the Lonely Planet. If a three-year-old’s there, it must be too late.”

Confoundingly Picturesque

We traveled to the Amazon headwaters to stay in a lodge several years ago. We took a plane over the Andes from Quito, a bus several hours down a dirt road and then a motorized dug out canoe several hours into the rainforest. Our travel time from Quito was about 10 hours. I realized that it would be faster to get from Quito to New York City than to the jungle cabin we slept in

What remote places have you been?

Where do you take your out-of-town visitors?

by Grace aka costofcollege

One Los Angeles resident wanted to offer his out-of-town visitors “authentic” local experiences as well as typical tourist attractions.

Figuring out how to provide an authentic experience that isn’t challenging for visitors who aren’t intimately familiar with this city’s quirks is a true local struggle.

I’ve faced this dilemma twice in my seven years of Angeleno-hood, and for the second time last weekend. For my parents’ most recent stay, I wanted to switch things up, focus less on tourist attractions and more on the places I find most interesting in Los Angeles.

My out-of-town visitors can check out famous local attractions like the Statue of Liberty and Broadway shows, but they can also spend a quiet afternoon at a less well-known place like Untermeyer Gardens on the Hudson River.

20150805.TUntermeyer1

What are the famous tourist attractions near you?  And what are some other “authentic experiences” that visitors to your area might enjoy?  Do you host visitors very often?  How does it usually go?

Should You Book Your Flight On A Tuesday?

by Grace aka costofcollege

You’re booking your flights all wrong

This article says it’s a myth, but last week I booked a flight that dropped in price on a Tuesday, and I’ve had that same experience at least a couple of times before.

What’s your experience?  Any tips for booking flights?  Hotels?  AirBnB?  Other travel tips?

Flying Alone

by Sky

At age 8, my father took the train alone over 100 miles, and transferred trains in New York City, to get home from summer camp.

At age 14, I flew cross country by myself, with transfers, in the days before cell phones.

When do you think kids should be allowed to travel alone?

When would you (or did you) allow your child to fly, or take a city bus, subway, or train without an adult accompanying them?

What limits have you set with your tween/teenage kids about traveling by themselves? What were you allowed to do?

Vacation Talk

by Rhode

Spring has finally sprung in my neck of the woods, and it has me thinking of how to use my vacation and personal time…

What is your favorite vacation spot?

Also, if money and time are no object, where would you go on vacation, who would you take with you, how long would you stay, and what would you do?

Business Travel

by Grace aka costofcollege

What are the benefits of business travel?

201503.eMiscMarPhoto1BI

A lifetime supply of hotel shampoo may be one benefit, but what else?  Chances to travel to places you would otherwise never go?  (That could mean Paris or Peoria.)  A break in the office routine?  (Too many breaks can be stressful.)  The ability to build up mileage and the associated perks?  (Even deluxe airport lounges can’t make up for too much time away from family.)

My perfect travel schedule would probably be one trip about every other month, planned well in advance, to destinations that have attractions above and beyond mundane office parks.

Do you like business travel, or hate it?  Do you travel much in your present job?  What would be your ideal work travel pattern?  Tell us your best and worst travel stories.

The Emptying of the American Countryside

by Honolulu Mother

The part of this article that most interested me was his point that rural areas of the U.S. are much emptier of people than they once were, which means that there are far fewer eyes to catch changes to the landscape and far fewer people with an ongoing connection to a particular and undistinguished little corner of the countryside (as opposed to having spent some time visiting a national park to see the natural wonders).

Farmland Without Farmers

We have an upcoming national-park-visiting trip planned, and the article made me muse on the difference between a pilgrimage to, say, Yellowstone, and regularly walking a circuit of the same few fields, meadows, copses, and country roads (like the area around my in-laws’ house) and noticing the small changes through the seasons and over the years.

Totebaggers, do you have a piece of semi-wild countryside that you feel connected to? How does that compare to a visit to the official wilderness in the form of a national park or surrounding area? And do you share the article writer’s concern about the people drain out of the country’s rural areas?