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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Up and Coming Hot Spots with the Coolest Hotels in America

Here's my most recent story on hotel trends for Orbitz Blog. 

For years, many smaller American cities have flown under the radar. But with prices and hassles soaring in major metropolitan areas, tourists and businesses alike are rediscovering the appeal of the country’s smaller metropolitan hubs. The hotel industry is certainly taking advantage of this trend, developing these one-of-a-kind hotels in emerging hot spots:
Graduate Hotel

Photo courtesy of the Graduate Hotel

The Graduate Hotel: Oxford, MS

Oxford, Mississippi has a long literary legacy, in large part due to the works of one William Faulkner and other artistic revolutionaries. Of course, over the years, the home of Ole Miss has also been known as being somewhat rebellious, albeit not always for the good. These days rebels of the more creative sort, as in musicians, visual artists and writers are finding inspiration in Oxford’s rich history and small town appeal. The Graduate Oxford takes on the town’s Southern preppy style, with subtle design touches that play up to local athletic, cultural and historic traditions. The Library Sports Bar pays homage to bookish traditions, as does the lobby, which is stacked with vintage reads. But worry not, this is not a stuffy place. Colorfully-patterned carpets, furniture and walls make the Graduate Hotel novel and fresh.

21c Museum Hotel
Photo courtesy of the 21c Museum Hotel

The 21c Museum HotelBentonville, AR

Best known as the home of Walmart, Bentonville is rapidly becoming an Arkansas cultural capital. While only the 10th largest city in the state, the place packs an artsy punch. The 21c Museum Hotel reflects the city’s new zeitgeist. Located near the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the 104-room hotel is a cultural civic center and contemporary art museum in its own right. The gallery space showcases rotating exhibitions of regional and avant-garde artists while the guest rooms dazzle. Even the food here is art of a sort. The hotel’s restaurant, The Hive, is headed up by a James Beard Award semifinalist who serves up refined country cuisine. There are also 21c hotels in LouisvilleCincinnatiLexingtonDurham and Oklahoma City.

Modern Hotel and Bar
Photo courtesy of the Modern Hotel and Bar

The Modern Hotel: Boise, ID

Perhaps due to the fact that it’s the most geographically-isolated urban area in the lower 48, Boise, with a metro population larger than 600,000, has developed in a highly-individualistic way. The Boise way, which includes amazing recreational opportunities and a growing arts and food scene, is drawing folks in as never before. The Modern Hotel reflects the city’s development from rural backwater to metro hot spot. The inn has its origins in the not-so-modern days. During the Great Depression, a former sheepherder opened a Basque boarding house called The Modern in nearby Nampa. The granddaughter of that early hotelier crafted a new incarnation of the Modern out of a run-down Travelodge. Located in Boise’s au courant Linen District, some of the features include Japanese soaking tubs, walk-in rain showers, locally custom-made fabric headboards and bubble lamps. The Modern’s landscaped interior courtyard and its curved walnut bar are both places where locals like to mingle with out-of-towners.

The Yard at the Iron Horse Hotel
The Yard at the Iron Horse Hotel | Photo courtesy of the Iron Horse Hotel

The Iron Horse Hotel: Milwaukee, WI

Milwaukee is hopping, and not just due to its beer scene. Wisconsin’s largest city is transitioning from its Rust Belt roots into a center of urban cool. The Iron Horse Hotel is one extension of the trend. While the term “Iron Horse” once referred to trains, in today’s pop culture, it is more associated with the motorcycle. With the Harley-Davidson Museum just blocks away, hipsters meet hogs at this hot rod hotel. Originally built as a mattress factory in the early 1900s, the property opened as the Iron Horse in 2008 and is now considered by many to be Milwaukee’s best hotel. Unique touches are everywhere, including the Charles Dwyer Americana Flag, hanging in the lobby. Look closely—it’s crafted from 32 and a half pairs of jeans. Check out The Yard for live music or grab a gourmet bite at Smyth, one of Milwaukee’s top restaurants.

Varden Hotel
Photo courtesy of the Varden Hotel

The Varden Hotel: Long Beach, California

Long overshadowed by its neighbor to the north, Long Beach is undergoing a major renaissance. Downtown is being redeveloped with a range of modern buildings, including a sleek courthouse, luxury apartments, and retail and outdoor space. The Varden Hotel, dating back to 1929, sits in the middle of it all. When given historic landmark status in the 1980s, the property had fallen on hard times. But, just as Long Beach started reawakening about a decade ago, The Varden was bought, renovated and reopened. It’s now a European-style boutique hotel with nods to historic chic. For example, the check-in counter, the windows and railings are all retro originals. The property’s black and white landmark sign was recently restored to its original glory and at night graces the downtown skyline with red and blue neon lighting.

Quirk Hotel
Photo courtesy of the Quirk Hotel

Quirk Hotel: Richmond, VA

The former capital of the Confederacy has risen again, but this time in a distinctly all-American style. Richmond’s recently-designated downtown arts and design district is filled with boutiques, galleries, street art and even tattoo parlors (Richmond is said to have the most tattoo parlors per capita in the United States). Richmond’s hottest hotel sits in the middle of it all. The Quirk Hotel is reminiscent of a Barbie dream house on steroids. The hotel was re-imagined from an Italian Renaissance-style building that originally opened as a high-end department store in 1916. A pink and gray color scheme runs from the high-ceiling lobby/restaurant area to the cozy rooms. Custom beds are made from the salvaged floor joists of the original building, and the hardwood floors are also largely original. The lobby features a massive work of art made from discarded coffee lids, while abstract paintings are showcased in guest rooms.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Manners Manifesto: A (Not Emily) Post* on Press Trip Etiquette: PART II

With so many bloggers in the travel writing game, press trip invitations are on the rise. Sadly, so are bad manners. In Part 1, we covered the ABCs of press trip behavior. Now, it's time for the EF and Gs.

E is for Ew...as in "Ew, you stink":

A recent press trip reminded me to include this very important maxim in this piece. If you smoke, wear perfume, eat profuse amounts of garlic or otherwise reek, be aware that your scent stays with you. If you are in close quarters on a press trip, be it on an airplane or a minivan, realize that your secondhand aroma is likely off-putting to others in the group. 

F is for Food and Form:

  • Always let your host know in advance about food allergies or other health restrictions. You make life very difficult for your hosts if you spring this information on them at the last minute.
I told my host well in advance--"no gluten for me."
As a result, I greatly enjoyed my Norwegian foods.
  • If you plan to diverge from the schedule, let your hosts know well in advance.
  • Do not expect the host to arrange the alternative plans (although they might offer to).
  • Don’t diverge from the press trip to visit your Aunt Sadie. If Aunt Sadie demands a visit, add a day to the trip (at your own expense) and visit her then.
  • Furthermore, never ever diverge from a press trip for a Tinder hook up. Yes, apparently, this is a thing. Remember, there are plenty of fish in the travel writer sea, and if you use trips for international matches, you may end up on the be naughty list.

G is for Good

  Bad behavior reflects upon your fellow professionals. Therefore, be good.  

  •  Be on time.
  •  Show up for activities.
  •  Pay attention.
  •  Don’t overindulge in alcohol, especially if it impairs your performance.
  •  Don’t complain you don’t have enough free time for shopping or sitting by the pool.
  •  Don’t be a prima donna.

We see you at the end of this
walkway shooting a selfie.
  • Don’t spend all your time shooting selfies. Destinations want coverage of their attractions, and don’t need to have you self-photobomb every beauty shot.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Great Midwestern Cities: #TravelTopics on Twitter

When thoughts turn to summer vacation, the heartland of America may not be top of mind. But the Midwest has a multitude of advantages, particularly for budget-conscious travelers. Even if you are someone who equates summer getaways with frolicking in the water, well, believe it or not, the Midwest has opportunities for that by the boatloads.

On Thursday, June 2, from 1 to 2 PM Eastern/Noon to 1 PM Central, we explore Great Midwestern Cities during the #TravelTopics Twitter chat. Join in to share your thoughts on the Midwest or to access valuable vacation ideas. @VisitMilwaukee and @VisitOKC will be along for the ride.

Here are the topics we will be covering:

  • Q1: What makes the Midwest an appealing destination for summer travel?
Courtesy: Visit Milwaukee
  • Q2: What are the advantages of opting for trips to medium-sized cities versus mega-metro areas?

Kayaking in Oklahoma  City
Courtesy: Visit OKC
  • Q3: What are some of the things you can do in the Midwest that those on the coasts would be surprised about?

  • Q4: Experts from @VisitMilwaukee and @VisitOKC are in the house. Ask questions/offer intel about these Great Midwestern Cities.

Milwaukee Art Museum
Courtesy Visit Milwaukee

  • Q5: Why is the Midwest the perfect destination for family travel?

  • Q6: Talk about water activities available in Midwestern states. What’s your favorite way to explore Milwaukee’s waterways?

  • Q7: What would out-of-towners find most unexpected about Oklahoma City or other mid-tier cities?

Skydance Pedestrian Bridge
Courtesy Visit OKC
  • Q8: What is the most unique attraction/destination you have encountered in the Midwest?

  • Q9: What’s your favorite festival in the Midwest?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Manners Manifesto: A (Not Emily) Post* on Press Trip Etiquette

Wowser. It's your first press trip. A destination has asked you to come along for the ride, not because you are fabulous (although you may well be), but because you reach an audience that the destination wants to reach.  You are thrilled, thinking you have hit the jackpot. A press trip = a free vacation, right? Think again.

Press Trip in Georgia
The enticement of free travel is a large part of why so many are flocking to become travel bloggers. If you have the right numbers, or if you are a shrewd marketer, you can often get yourself on the press trip circuit. But if you want to ensure that you get to, and stay on, the press trip A-list, it’s best to behave yourself.

Prior to presenting this manifesto, let me note that the most important rule of the press trip club is to produce. Don't drink from the well without adequately covering the trip. This is not kosher. More on that in Part II.

The Press Trip Manners Manifesto

  1. This is not a vacation. Many in the public relations community often moan about newbie...and not-so-newbie...travel bloggers who approach them with the pitch that their family wants to go on vacation to XYZ.. Said bloggers fully expect PR pros to welcome the entire family with open arms, for free, in exchange for a post.  This isn’t the way it works. Press trips are working trips. You usually cannot/should not bring a companion, unless that's part of the trip (i.e. family press trips may ask reporters to bring a kid). If you want to take a vacation, pay for it yourself and go on your own time.

Group Press Trip on the Outer Banks, North Carolina

  1. Don’t be a hijacker. Your needs are not more important than those of others in the group. Don’t hijack the itinerary to suit your needs.  Group trips are planned to give everyone a taste of a destination, and oftentimes, to spread the publicity wealth throughout the local tourism community. That’s why, if you are on a group trip, you may have to visit a few places you wouldn’t normally go on your own.  To mix metaphors, shut up and dance and just do it.  There will be other activities that you are into that fellow group members aren’t.  Group trips are a compromise. Deal with it.
  1. Don’t don’t show up.  It’s rude to the rest of the group, it’s rude to your host, and it’s rude to an attraction/hotel/restaurant that has been swayed to comp you in exchange for likely coverage. Destinations work hard to get attractions and hotels to buy into the idea of hosting you. When you don’t show up, you embarrass the trip planner and help ensure that specific places may be less eager to help out on future press trips. Sure, that’s not your problem, but still...

On a press trip in Estonia
  1. DIY. If you do need to do something outside of scheduled activities, or can’t participate in an activity for health or other legitimate reasons, tell your host well in advance that you are opting out. If you do plan to leave the group, offer to make the alternate arrangements yourself. Your host will usually offer to help, but don’t count on it.

5. Don’t delay the group. Don’t be the one who is always late. It is simply rude not to show up on time. Also, don’t alter the group’s schedule so you can be dropped off somewhere out of the way on an opt-out activity.

Step on it so you don't delay the group.
Here, my first step on Russian soil.

6. Don’t get in the picture. If there’s a brilliant photo op, don’t be a hog. Take turns getting the shot. Also, don’t step into someone else’s shot. Be aware of where others are pointing their lens. Finally, don’t be obnoxious about taking selfies. 

Photobomb selectively.
With Devon Turchan in Georgia

7. This is not a free ride.

Even though, in your mind, this may be a free trip, don’t expect the host to pay for everything.

  • If you bring someone along, pay for their transportation expenses, and offer to pay for meals and attraction entries.
  • Bring money for tips, snacks and sundries. The host is not paying for your dry cleaning.
  • Be prepared to pay for drinks. Some destination marketing organizations (DMOs) are restricted when it comes to covering alcohol expenses.

Whirling Dervishes
Press Trip to Turkey
More tips to come in Part II.

Media relations professionals and writers, please add your comments here so that we can add amendments to the manifesto.

*For those not in the know, Emily Post has long been considered the doyenne of etiquette.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

My first story for ShermansTravel.

5 of the Dirtiest Places on a Plane — and 5 Ways to Avoid Them

 flickr/Cory W. Watts
flickr/Cory W. Watts
Given the number of people sleeping, eating, and breathing on flights every day, it’s not surprising that airplane cabins are a cesspool of germs. Add the short-staffed flight crew, who is under pressure to offload and reload passengers quickly, and there is little time for the kind of proper clean-up needed to remove those germs before the next departure. According to a Wall Street Journal report, airplanes get lightly cleaned overnight, and they only undergo a deep cleaning every 30 days — meaning those germy microbes can continue to multiply for up to a month.
Here are the five places passengers should be most wary of on a flight:
1. The Seatback Pocket
Think about it. What do you put into a seatback pocket? Likely things like old water bottles, used tissues (ew!), and food wrappers. Seatback pockets are also the go-to repository for airsickness bags. That’s why you should think twice about using the pocket to store food or beverages. Also, realize that the stuff that’s already in there when you get on the plane (the magazine and safety instructions) may be riddled with bacteria, too.
2. The Tray TableA website called TravelMath recently hired a microbiologist to take microbe samples from various spots around the plane (the seatback pocket wasn’t included). The scientist was looking for the number of colony-forming units (CFUs) per square inch. The more units, the dirtier the surface. Of the places sampled, the germiest was the tray table, with 2,155 CFUs per square inch. Compare that to the 172 CFU average found on the average household toilet seat or the 27 CFU found on cell phones.
3. The Seatbelt Buckle
While the 230 CFUs found on seatbelt buckles might seem small in comparison to tray tables, that is still more than what is on your toilet seat. Since you probably wouldn’t want to eat food off your toilet (unless you have some odd habits), you’ll want to sanitize your hands before touching food after you buckle-up.
4. The Overhead Air Vent
When the TravelMath microbiologist tackled the overhead air vent button, it measured in at 285 CFUs. That’s not even taking into account the microbes that may be running through the ventilation system, which spews re-circulated air. That said, you might be better off avoiding the vent altogether.
5. The Lavatory
This one is a no-brainer. Consider the outside and inside doorknobs, the lock, the flush panel, and whatever else is in there. Knowing the nature of the loo in general, it does makes one question the mental health of those who use said privies to join the Mile-High Club.

So what’s the germaphobic traveler to do?

1. Get a seatback organizer that fits into the pocket and put your stuff inside that. Wash the organizer when you get home. Short of that, line the seatback pocket with a plastic bag.
2. Buy a tray table guard or fashion your own out of a piece of fabric. One company claims to have a product made with patented copper and ion technology that actively attacks harmful microbes on the table.
3. Wash your hands frequently. If you can’t wash, douse yourself with hand sanitizer (you might also want to bring along hand lotion, as the alcohol in the sanitizer is quite dehydrating).
4. Use a tissue to open and close the lavatory door and lock, and always wash after flushing.
5. Consider bringing a magic wand. Battery-operated ultra-violet sanitizing wands eradicate micro-organisms with a zap of light. Your seat mates may think you are crazy as you wave the wand over the tray table and into the seatback pocket. Let them laugh. Better yet, offer to do the wave over their germy parts and make new friends.
- See more at: http://blog.shermanstravel.com/2016/5-of-the-dirtiest-places-on-a-plane-and-5-ways-to-avoid-them/#sthash.DO441uhM.dpuf

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Puns A' Plenty at the DC Improv

News from the DC Improv and Me

Beltway Pundits

Beltway Pundits

Produced by Laura Powell, it's #SundayPunday! Come out to our lounge and compete in DC's new pun competition. Two ways to play ...

This is another new "game night" that we're testing out - the first edition in March sold out, and we're bringing it back for another round in two weeks. It's "open registration," so anyone can sign up to compete if they pay the $5 cover.

The registration is full for our "Pun Battle" (a bunch of short pun speeches). But you can still compete in The Punger Games, a quick-draw tournament in which up to 24 puntestants face off in punder and lightening rounds. This is where improvisers can shine - competitors have to come up with puns on a dime, making 'cents' of a given theme. The last punster standing in each round moves on to the next quarter... or semi ... or final. If this sounds confusing, don't sweat it - we made a short video explaining the process.

Right now we only have about 15 seats left, so if this intrigues you, get a ticket ASAP.

Monday, May 2, 2016

9 Gnomes About Travel Writing

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

In honor of the new year, I am revisiting one of my most popular posts. The sequel can be found  here.

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?) 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 awakening from its hebetude can be vicious, vicious, I tell you.  But that's a story for another post.