Category Archives: Blog

A British Peek at North Korea

Observations from the rare Western tour group.

The Chinese city of Dandong has the easternmost section of the Great Wall. It also enables curious tourists to glimpse the formidable, secretive country North Korea just across the Yalu River. “Want to see North Korea? Head to Dandong, China,” a CNN Travel report on this curious spot, reports on the contrast between the two on-and-off friends.

It is, of course, almost impossible for Westerners to set foot in North Korea, and Americans would be wise not even put it on their bucket lists. But Hilary Bradt, founder of the highly regarded Bradt Travel Guides, visited with Regent Holidays and filed this blog report called “Hilary Bradt in North Korea.” I’m not sure when she made this guided and controlled excursion, but I just stumbled on it toady and wanted to share it.

On the Road with Dave Wiggins

Wiggins on Wheels is new experiential road trip site.

5thwheelHere’s what my friend Dave Wiggins recently posted: “For those of you who may not know it, I’ve become a travelin’ man with no set address or house. My home is a 43′ fifth-wheel trailer named Big Mo. To log my odyssey I’ve created a blog. Check it out if you want: https://wiggonwheels.com/. Happy travels!”

I didn’t know it. Dave is a founding partner o Widness & Wiggins Public Relations . He’s been Colorado,  but now is roaming. Sara Widness remains anchored in Vermont as Dave takes to the road. Since August, he’s been in Montana, Nevada, New Mexico,  old Mexico and Arizona. I looked at his site, enjoyed the pictures and the words and enjoyed all.  Take a look. You might too.

Is the Stanley Colorado’s ‘Coolest Hotel’?

Website tags “coolest hotels” in all 50 states pus DC.

Thrillist-logoWhen I clicked on Thrillist.com’s post listing of the coolest hotels in each of the 50 states plus Washington, DC, I expected the Colorado choice to be something like The Crawford atop Denver’s fabulously repurposed Union Station or Aspen’s ultra-hip Sky Hotel.  I was surprised by the site’s pick of the spooky Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. Not that I don’t like the Stanley for a whole bunch of reasons, but the coolest in the state? Here’s what thrillist.com wrote about the Stanley:

The Stanley Hotel

Estes Park, CO
Colorado’s got plenty of luxurious mountain resorts, but there’s only one so awesome it inspired Stephen King to write 200,000 words about it. This spot (named for the same guy who founded Stanley Steamer) is the hotel from The Shining, and while you might not run into a bartender who tells you to kill your family, there are enough rumored ghost stories in this place to make it a bonafide haunted landmark.

Airlines’ Extra Fees Soar Ever Higher

Extra revenues are passengers’ burdens.

smarter-travel-logoSmarterTravel.com posted “Airlines with the Most Extra Fees,” citing a new study by industry consulting firm IdeaWorks. which “found that the airlines’ ancillary fees had increased by almost 1,200 percent between 2007 and 2013, from $2.45 billion to $31.5 billion,” adding that “lthough the overall trend is clear, and inescapable, not all airlines are equally oppressive when it comes to tagging every imaginable atomic particle of air travel with a surcharge. There are more and less egregious gougers. According to the report, on a per-person basis, the airlines imposing the highest fees are as follows:”

  • $55.61. Jet2.com (a UK company that bundles travel components and thereby  manages to hide extra fees)
  • $51.22.  Spirit (a US nickel-and-dime champ that I flew this past spring — and never again)
  • $45.67. Qantas
  • $44.87. Allegiant (from what I understand, a Spirit-like carrier)
  • $44.43. AirAsia
  • $40.97. United (no surprise)
  • $38.93. Korean Air
  • $34.41. Wizz Air
  • $33.92. Virgin Atlantic
  • $32.61. Alaska Air Group

Most dispiriting of all are the add-ons by low-fare domestic carriers, because the extra fees are a hefty percentage of the fare. When a robust add-on is charged for long and pricy trans-Pacific or even trans-Atlantic flights, the percentage isn’t quite so bad. I’d rather pay an extra $35-$45 to, say, Qantas or Korean Air than to Spirit.

Wonderful ‘Go Big or Go Home’ Travel Blog

New Pinterest travel pins announcement led me to this bright blog

GoBigGoHome-logoI don’t know the creators of the Go Big or Go Home travel blog. The mom is Traci and the dad is Matt. The kids are identified as The Boy and The Girl. I don’t know where the family lives. But that doesn’t really matter at all. I feel their sense of curiosity and wonder via their blog about “What Happens When A Small-Town Family Visits The ‘World’s Largest’… Whatever!”

I found them as I was clicking around cyber-chatter relating to Pinterest’s new “travel pins” — and this site came up. It has won all sorts of blogging awards — rightly so, for it displays the family’s great approach and great attitude. I’m adding their blog to my list of faves. And if they stumble upon this blog, I invite them to check out Denver’s Big Blue Bear in person someday.  It might be the world’s largest bear or maybe merely the world’s largest blue bear. But this wonderful example over oversize street art as it peers into the Denver Convention Center merits a visit if and when the family comes to Colorado.

Denver's 40-foot-high Big Blue Bear. Photo" xcite.com.
Denver’s 40-foot-high Big Blue Bear. Photo: xcite.com.

Traveling Nannies’ Tips for Family Trips

Guest post from Carrie Dotson, Summer Nanny Jobs

Photo courtesy www.havebabywilltravel.com
Photo courtesy www.havebabywilltravel.com

I took my infant son on his first road trip when he was only one month old, his first long flight from New York to Colorado when he was five months old, his first coast-to-coast flight at nine months and his first trip to Europe at nineteen months.  It was pre-9/11, pre-TSA screening and before airlines recommended or required car seats strapped into airline seats. Other than clothes, the kid and a lightweight collapsible stroller were all I took, transport-wise, so flying was logistically easier for everyone.

OTOH, it was also before there were all sorts of electronic entertainment gadgets. Fortunately, he was a good, smiling little guy who had no trouble eating, sleeping or being in unfamiliar places with strangers’ faces all around. Plus, I was a single mom for most of my son’s young years, so when I went somewhere, as often as not, I took him along. Not all little ones are so easy to travel with, so I present this helpful guest post  from Summer Nanny Jobs to help those of you whose baby might not have been born to travel.

Traveling with a Baby

Traveling with an infant doesn’t have to be stressful, provided you’re well prepared. Dress your baby in layers so that he won’t be too cold or too hot on the plane. Make sure to bring enough diapers, clothes and food for at least a day because you never know what kind of delays you may encounter. It’s important to have enough supplies on hand. Check out these 10 blogs to gain helpful tips from seasoned family travelers.

Airplane Travel with Toddlers and Older

Photo courtesy www.expatchild.com.
Photo courtesy www.expatchild.com.

It can be difficult to travel with toddlers and older kids because they’re more likely to get bored and want to move around. Allow each child to carry on his own backpack or bag containing snacks, toys and a change of clothes to keep him or her busy on the plane. Bring along electronic devices and allow your child to watch as many cartoons as he or she wants. Now is not the time to fight against screen time. More ideas for what to bring along on the plane can be found on these blogs.                                          

Vote for the Eighth Wonder of the World

World wonders on the list to become No. 8

8thWonder-logoVirtual Tourist, an online travel site, is taking a reader survey to identify the 8th Wonder of the World. The site has “narrowed it down” to a mere 350 candidates that are a mishmash of natural and man-made wonders, or between technical and aesthetic ones. I actually wonder about some of these wonders. How do you pick between, say, the Galapagos Islands and Blenheim Palace, or the 110-year-old Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth or the Grand’ Place in Brussels? And why is Bubble Gum Alley on the list at all? The 70 foot-long, 20-foot-high alley’s walls are covered in about 1.9 million wads of chewing hum. It is a somewhat yucky curiosity, but a world wonder? I don’t think so. Click here to see the list and to vote. You may do so once a day through September 30.

Upgrading the Coach Flying Experience

The well-traveled Johnny Jet shares a few tips

Johnny Jet (dark shirt, left) in an aisle seat with maximum legroom for "almost first class" comfort in coach.
Johnny Jet (dark shirt, left) in his  aisle seat with maximum legroom for “almost first class” comfort in coach.

Johnny Jet is the name of a travel website chock full of deals, advice and travel experiences. Johnny Jet is also the not-so-secret pseudonym of John DiScala, who logs roughly 150,000 miles in the skies and visits some 20 countries every year to research content for his site. You’d think that all airlines would upgrade him to the front cabin every time he flies. But he too has been relegated to crowded coach.

He isn’t any happier than the rest of us when jammed into the back cabin of the plane. In fact, being accustomed to the finer flights in life, he is even less happy, and he has found other frequent fliers share his dislike for coach/economy. He has coined a word to describe the emotion the back of the plane stirs up in people like himself: econophobia. It occurs, he writes, “when one grows up spoiled or becomes an elite member of an airline’s frequent flier program. The latter gets used to perks like free or heavily discounted upgrades.”

I was intrigued by a recent Johnny Jet post: “How to Make Coach Feel Like First Class.” Hyperbole? Perhaps. But also good, sound advice from one who knows. He has identified “six ways to get the best coach seat on the airplane. 1) The easiest, at least for people who fly often, is to gain elite status — usually attained at 25,000 miles a year. 2)  Keep checking online seating charts in the event that a better seat opens up, and print out your boarding pass when you have the best possible seat. 3) Set up seat alerts via ExpertFlyer.com (free for a single alert, 99¢ thereafter), an online service withlots of useful information for both frequent or occasional air travelers.

4) Be willing to pay extra for additional legroom or even just to move forward in the cabin. 5) He suggests being super friendly to the gate agent when inquiring about the possibility of a better seat. I’ve met Johnny several times and seen him on TV, and one look at his broad, engaging smile indicates that he radiates friendliness. Maybe I’ll practice in front of the mirror. 6) Finally, the man with the terrific travel site uses other sites, specifically SeatGuru.com and SeatExpert.com, for searchable aircraft configurations and highlights of the best seats in the plane. I’ve paraphrased all this, so go to JohnnyJet.com for more details on his tactics.

Trip Advisor’s Fictionalization

 Online travel site plays loose with my travel history, my travel opinions

TripAdvisor-logoWhen I had some spare time a while back, I added dots to TripAdvisor‘s travel map. I amused myself by clicking on places I’d visited. I don’t believe that I have ever written a review or otherwise gotten involved with what describes itself as “the world’s largest travel site.” Much to my surprise, the version of TripAdvisor that popped up on the Travel-Babel home page included a list informing me that my allegedfavorite travel destinations are:

My Favorite Destinations

  1. San Francisco, CA, USA
  2. Philadelphia, PA, USA
  3. London, UK
  4. Paris, France

Huh? I’ve been in Philadelphia very few times — once when I was very to visit the landmarks of the early days of the Republic (that was a day trip), once to visit the art museum for an afternoon and once for an overnight couch-surfing stop at the Society Hill home of a friend of a friend on a road trip from Connecticut to New Mexico. I’m sure that Philadelphia is very nice, as are the other three TripAdvisor assigned as my favorites, but they are not the four I would have named.

Among places TripAdvisor claims on “my” Cities I’ve Visited page are Redwood National Park, Memphis/Graceland, Colonial Williamsburg, San Antonio/The Alamo, Bloomington/Mall of America and Seattle/The Space Needle, none of which I have ever been too. It also attributes to me ratings that I never would give some of that places that I actually have visited. This is incredibly annoying, but is it truly important? Of course not — unless one hates having words put in one’s mouth or erroneously attributed online — in other words on principle.It also makes me question the veracity and usefulness of their other content. Should we trust their reviews? Their best-of lists? Am I just hypersensitive because sites built with free user reviews and other user-generated content has have undercut the livelihoods of professional travel journalists? Maybe, but I still don’t like my experiences and opionios fictionalized.