Tuesday, April 19, 2016

International Travel Bargains: Where the Dollar is Sky-High

Pondering an exotic locale for your summer vacation? Start by considering international exchange rates and bargain airfares.

Today, I discussed both topics on Great Day Washington on WUSA TV in DC. We focused on three key areas. Here's a link to the segment: http://www.wusa9.com/entertainment/television/programs/great-day-washington/travel-tuesday-4-places-to-travel-where-the-dollar-is-strong/143025718   *

The lagging euro means that countries in the Eurozone are cheaper than usual for Americans. The dollar is about 16% stronger against the euro than this time last year. Among the 19 countries in the Eurozone, Portugal is likely the biggest bargain.  It's traditionally been cheaper than its continental cousins and this year is no exception. United starts seasonal non-stop service from Washington Dulles to Lisbon this spring.


O Canada. Your loonie dollar is no longer on par with the US version, as it was three years ago. Today, it's only worth 80 cents vs. its U.S. counterpart. 

Then there's the South African rand, which has been plummeting for awhile. Three years ago, one buck bought 9.6 rand. Today, the almighty dollar buys 15.6 rand. Now, as many safaris are priced in U.S. dollars, you may not find huge discounts there. But when it comes to lodging, meals and activities like golfing or wine tasting or concerts, South Africa is going for a song. Add in the frequent deals offered by South African Airways, and you can have yourself a trip down under for less than ever before.

*Please don't hold me responsible for the video. That part of the production was not in my hands. Hence, the video of Paris while I'm talking about Portugal and cheesy tourism videos used for other footage.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

So You Want to Be a Travel Blogger?

.....and no, I am not referring to the Travelocity troll.

From dictionary.com:


2  noun
a short, pithy expression of a general truth; aphorism.

If you are looking to become a travel blogger this year, I beseech you to follow the advice seen below.

The Top 9 Travel Writing Taboos

#1: Avoid cliches like the plague. The Danish in Copenhagen isn't the best thing since sliced bread (since when is sliced bread so great, anyway, I wonder?) When was the last time you really felt like a kid in the candy store? And unless you are trying out a carousel, you don't give things a whirl.

#2: Avoid words you never use when talking. I'm talking iconicquaint, and rustic. 

#3: Just to prove that I am not overly persnickety, I'll allow one quaint or iconic per article. But never, ever use luxe or azure, for sure.

#4: That the grass is green is not newsworthy. That the beach is sandy is not newsworthy. Don't include useless and/or redundant adjectives. Keep it pithy, people.

#5: Can a city boast? Apparently, it can, as "Chicago boasts the best deep-dish pizza in the world" and "Honolulu boasts grand luxe hotels, sandy beaches, and azure skies."  But IMHO, a place cannot boast.

#6: Is Albania the next Italy? I don't think so. But some travel writers do. "The next...." is not merely cliched writing; it is also somewhat pejorative if you think about it (i.e.--the next best thing to sliced bread....but it ain't no slice of bread).

#7: Don't trash the locals or local customs just for the heck of it. If you do, as in this piece I did for National Geographic Traveler  that literally trash talks Albania, provide context and balance.

#8: Maybe it's me, because I simply abhor chick-lit. Articles about your journey of self-discovery are usually a yawn, even to your closest friends. Sure, an Elizabeth Gilbert or a Frances Mayes may hit the jackpot with prosaic poppycock. But my best advice is to circumvent this form of literary litany.
An aside--why is it that 99 out of 100 of self-confessional, self-delusional pieces are written by women?

#9: Never, never, never use the term "something for everyone" in your writing. It's lazy, it's annoying (to me, anyway) and it's simply not true. Don't you be telling me Des Moines has something for everyone. For example, if you are a surfer, where's the beach? New York City doesn't have something for everyone. If you are a climber, try finding a mountain to scale in Manhattan (skyscrapers don't count). Heck, even Sydney, the best city in the world (again, IMHO), doesn't have something for everyone. For example, if you are an astronomer, you can't see the Big Dipper and vast parts of Ursa Major in the Australian night sky. But you can pet a koala.

Which brings me to one more parenthetical point. You can pet a koala, but you can't pet a koala bear. Koalas are marsupials, not bears. Put that in your pouch and ponder. And one more point that may save your life one day: If you want to pet a koala, don't do so by awakening it from a eucalyptus-induced stupor. I can tell you from experience... this not a good idea. A koala awakened abruptly from its languor is a vicious animal. But that's a story to be chronicled later in my new blog called Adventure Travel for Weenies.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

On Travel Writing: Fair, Balanced or Puffery?

Traditionally, travel writing has gotten a bad rap. 

It's certainly understandable that it is often seen as being pure puffery. All too often, a most pedestrian place is praised as the greatest location on earth, a hidden gem with something for everyone.  Look, as an experienced travel pro, I do believe there's something to recommend about nearly every place. But let's not pretend every place is perfect (even when pictures make it look so).

Idyllic Iceland? 

Why does this happen? Perhaps because a writer got a free trip and thinks that the quid pro quo is to only write positive thoughts. Perhaps he thinks he will be blacklisted from press trips if he regularly reports on the negative (and in truth, this can happen). Whatever the reason, the negatives are usually left unreported, leaving the reader with a biased take.

Nosy to know if
your favorite travel blogger
is a Pinocchio?
(picture taken at the
Puppet Museum in Tallinn, Estonia)
This notion is currently exacerbated by bloggers who are waxing enthusiastic about places and products in order to get or maintain sponsorships or strategic partners.  Not all travel blogs are pay-to-play. However, the fact is, the current model for making money in blogging is by gaining strategic partnerships.

Here's the rhetorical question, though: If a blogger is in bed with Marriott, will he or she write anything negative about the lodging behemoth?

Furthermore, will the blogger opt to ignore good news coming from competitors like Hilton or Westin?  Similarly, if one is being paid by the U.S. Virgin Islands, I doubt there will be much coverage about St. Lucia or Martinique.

Vive la Martinique

Trans-Siberian train track
along Lake Baikal
But for those dear, dear readers who still take an interest in journalism, the good news is, there is still room for fair and balanced travel reporting....and God forbid...I don't mean on Fox News. In recent years, I traveled far and wide, sometimes on press trips, sometimes on discounted journeys, and sometimes at full freight. Regardless of who is paying the bill, I make sure my reporting is just that...reporting, and not puffery.  Here are two examples. The Albania story appeared in National Geographic Traveler (October, 2008). The Trans-Siberian piece ran in Travel Weekly (October, 2013), the industry's leading trade magazine.

Please weigh in with your thoughts.

Monday, April 4, 2016

#TravelTopics Twitter Chat is on Thursday.....

We are talking the Beach and Beyond on April 7 at 1 PM EDT/6 PM London/10 AM PDT. Join on Twitter using the hashtag #TravelTopics. Below are the questions.

All images courtesy of @mymyrtlebeach

1. When choosing a beach destination, what are your main criteria? #traveltopics

2. Give us your best tip for planning a beach getaway. #traveltopics

3. What is your favorite beach activity? #traveltopics

4. Our sponsor @mymyrtlebeach is in the house. Feel free to ask any questions. #traveltopics

5. Did you know Myrtle Beach hosts an annual Masters of Miniature Golf? What's the strangest mini-golf course you have played? #traveltopics

6. What's the most unusual non-water-related attraction/nature spot you have visited while on a beach vacation? #traveltopics

7. What do you look for when it comes to the ocean at a beach destination? #traveltopics

8. What kind of accommodations do you like to stay in on a beach getaway and why?  #traveltopics

Friday, April 1, 2016

More Cool New Products from This Year's Travel Goods Show

For those of you who saw me on Let's Talk Live today, here's more information about the products discussed.  For this of you who didn't watch, here's the clip

Trying to get in an in-flight snooze, but there’s ambient light seeping into your eye mask? Occles keep the light out. And, if you use them with sunbathing, they’ll keep the UV rays out as well. Light, durable, strong and bridgeless (to avoid a tan line across the schnoz), the eye cover is padded with soft rubber, and the fit is adjustable to match your head size. Available in a variety of vibrant colors, a pair of Occles retails for $31.

4 A Clean Getaway provides the germ-phobic traveler with a washable, reusable, and fashionable seat covers for just $36. Simply slip the elastic end over the top of the seat and unroll. Voila, a clean seat. What's more, a zippered pocket lines the inside of the bottom of the cover, so you can stow books, bottles and devices germ-free.

Ever find yourself in one of those tiny hotel bathrooms where the only place to stash your toiletries is...the lid of the toilet? Yuck. Everything ORGO to the rescue. The ORGO Lite is an expandable, portable case that creates its own counter space. Unzipped, it spans across most sinks to create space, while closed and zipped up, it fits right into a small suitcase. Interior compartments are designed to hold everything in place. The suggested retail price is $40.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Baltimore Lights Up

Premiering on Monday, Light City Baltimore is the first large-scale, international light festival in the United States. Light City will provide a backdrop for the celebration of ideas, ingenuity and creativity through art, music and innovation.

In 1816, Baltimore was the first American city to illuminate its streets with gas lanterns, revolutionizing the urban landscape by transforming the city with light. So it's somewhat fitting that two hundred years later, Light City comes to Baltimore to shine light on the city’s creative, cutting-edge, multi-disciplinary talent. Light City’s programming is designed to inspire an ecosystem of ideas and learning during the day. Meanwhile, by night, lights, performances and live music re-imagine the Inner Harbor.

A 1.5 mile BGE Light Art Walk, stretching from the Inner Harbor to Harbor East, will be filled with 28 art installations on the promenade, in the water, and projected onto buildings. Along the way, visitors can check out street theater and musical performances. Hopefully...no mimes.

Light City U is bringing together innovators and thought leaders in four key industries during the festival.These change makers will explore one question: How do we become a more responsible and equitable society? It’s certainly a key question in today’s Baltimore and, in fact, in election year America.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

More on Travel Accessories and Luggage from CNN Travel...and Me

8 hottest new accessories for travelers

(CNN)Roll-top suitcases, germ-busting bags and sleep-inducing face spoons — these are likely to be this year's headline-making travel gadgets.
That's the takeaway from this year's Travel Goods Show, held in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Crowdfunded products and 2.0 smart technology seem to be the prominent trends in the travel accessories arena.
    That translates into a wide selection of innovative products, from the practical to the posh.
    Here's our pick of the best:

    EgeeTouch Smart Travel Padlock

    This high-tech padlock looks like an old-fashioned lock.
    It isn't.
    It claims to be the first of its kind to require no key, no dial, and no code.
    Instead, a fob using Near Field Communication sends an abracadabra signal to the lock.
    Another option is downloading the Egee app to a smartphone.
    While NFC is the primary unlocking mechanism, Bluetooth is incorporated to allow for vicinity tracking should luggage go astray.
    The EgeeTouch lock is TSA-accepted.
    Pricing for the lock and matching fob -- crowdfunded on Indiegogo -- starts at $45.


    Prior to its release to the general public this year, Trunkster had been generating a ton of buzz.
    It all started with the most successful crowdfunding campaign (via Kickstarter) ever in the travel products space.
    That was followed up by an appearance -- and a deal -- on U.S. TV show "Shark Tank."
    Now, it's a winner of the Travel Goods Show Product Innovation Award.
    Trunkster is shaking up the world of luggage design with new-wave suitcases that dispense with zippers in favor of a roll-top sliding door.
    There's also an integrated digital scale, a removable battery, global tracking and a super-sturdy handle.
    Seductive design doesn't come cheap. The current website price is $355.

    Genius Pack Carry-On Spinner

    This case packs your clothes better than you do.
    Hauling around dirty laundry is the bane of the traveler who doesn't want to get soaked by hotel dry-cleaning prices.
    The Genius Pack 22-inch Carry-On Spinner can't wash dirty clothing, but it can compress it to take up less suitcase room.
    Laundry Compression Technology works by expelling unwanted air through a valve integrated into one compartment of the luggage.
    Back home, the dirty laundry bag is taken out and its contents thrown directly in the wash.
    Other novelties are a built-in slot for umbrella storage and a strap designed to secure a jacket onto the suitcase handle.
    The case weighs in at less than eight pounds and retails for $258.

    ORGO Lite

    We might like the price of micro hotels, but those tiny hotel bathrooms, where the toilet lid is the only place to stash toiletries, officially suck.
    This is where ORGO Lite comes in.
    It's an expandable, portable case that generates its own counter.
    Unzipped, it spans across most sinks to create space. Closed and zipped up, it fits easily into a small suitcase.
    Interior compartments are designed to hold lotions, potions, and toothbrushes in place.
    The ORGO Lite was another winner of the TGS Product Innovation Award.
    The suggested retail price is $39.99.

    Healthy Back Bag

    Ergonomics is a key focus in travel accessory design these days.
    The Healthy Back Bag tackles the issue with its teardrop-shaped satchel.
    Created by a leather craftsman, a doctor and a chiropractor, it molds to the shape of the body to combat problems of weight stress.
    With a non-slip strap to keep it in place, the Healthy Back Bag distributes weight across the back rather than pulling from one point on the shoulder.
    The designers say the more places a bag touches the body when worn, the lighter it feels, thus encouraging good posture.
    Price ranges depending upon size and fabric.


    This product, crowdfunded on Indiegogo, relies on the concept that the only thing keeping us from getting a decent in-flight snooze is ambient light seeping into our eye masks.
    The makers of Occles say their goggles will keep the illumination out, even if they make the user look like they're wearing spoons on their face.
    If used for sunbathing, they'll keep the UV rays out as well.
    Light, durable, strong and bridgeless (to avoid a tan line across the nose), the eye covers are padded with soft rubber.
    The adjustable fit works for a wide range of head sizes.
    Available in a variety of vibrant colors, the eyewear retails for $31.


    The Airpocket comes with a wide band that can be secured to a suitcase.
    Airline seat back pockets can be a cesspool of germs.
    That's why the Airpocket, crowdfunded on Kickstarter, may come in handy.
    This Australian-designed bag, made from somewhat pungent neoprene, organizes travel essentials into a neat package that fits in the seat back pocket.
    A wide band across the back allows it to be secured to a suitcase handle during crazed dashes across the airport.
    Add-on accessories include the Travelbook ($35) which holds documents in a slim flat case with RFID blocking and the Amenities Case ($20) with a see-through top.
    The suggested retail price for the Airpocket alone is $71.


    Armrest wrestling with neighboring passengers is one of the major annoyances of air travel.
    Arm-Share claims to end this territorial struggle for good.
    The double-decker device creates an upper and lower armrest surface permitting neighbors to use the same space, albeit on different levels.
    It's actually more comfortable, on all levels, than the airline armrest itself, and it folds up for easy storage.
    The product is expected to be available for sale by late summer 2016 for $30.