Travel Safe Travel Smart Blog

Welcome to our Travel Safe Travel Smart Blog. [New posts below.]

I began this blog as an addition to our website a few years ago. While it's still young in relative terms, it's settled into a direction I never envisioned at the time.

Back then I was new to blogging, and this seemed a good way to introduce my site and point out what was new, revised, or updated in our articles.

However, it quickly became clear that blog posting was a freer form of writing than evergreen web pages, which have to meet specific criteria in order to gain traffic and visibility.

Though some 'visibility' rules still apply, blog posting seems a bit more liberating: more of a travel viewpoint.

Since I review a huge amount of online travel data, I found there was so much to share with my readers, while adding my own input, commentary, and/or personal travel experience. Most of the posts are pulled from that experience - either from my years employed in the travel industry, a business or personal overseas trip, or research I've done on specific places or travel events.

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How Clean is Your Airplane?

Are you a germaphobe?

I am. Especially, when I fly.

Germs on airplanes lurk wherever you turn.

Most travelers blame the cabin air, if they get sick after flying. Turns out, it’s not the air that’s bad. It’s everything you touch that’s swapping germs with you.

And dirt, mold, bacteria, even virus's left by former fliers and shared with you and your cabin-mates.

Most accusations about fetid, germ-laden, recycled air on airplanes, just aren’t true.

Nope. The germs on airplanes making you sick are from everything you touch. And sit on, eat on, cover up with, or rest your head on.

Boarding an airplane is often the first leg of a much anticipated vacation. Weeks and months of planning culminate in this first leg of your journey. You’ve packed clean clothes, showered, shaved, and coiffed yourself. And now you’re walking into a closed environment that may be as dirty as last week’s trash!

So what do you do when flying so you don’t wind up sick, nauseous, or exposed to everything from germy filth to life-endangering bacteria?

How can you protect yourself from what other flyers leave behind [and airlines fail to correct] before you board your plane?

How do you protect yourself from all the disease-carrying germs on airplanes?

The lavatory: It’s small, it’s cramped. It’s busier than your average public restroom. It’s not thoroughly cleaned and sanitized between flights…there’s not enough time. Germs and bacteria are on every surface.

Protect yourself: Close the toilet lid before flushing to prevent bacteria-laden spray. Use towels to operate faucets and the door when leaving. Spend as little time as possible in the lavatory. [What do people do in there for so long…?] Back in your seat, use sanitizer on your hands and exposed skin.

The tray-table: Whether you plan to eat on your tray-table or not, fliers before you used it for dirty napkins, used tissues, bags from the floor, a baby-changing station, and food particles that may have been there for days.

Protect yourself: Use sanitizer wipes when first seated. Easier than liquids [and not limited by TSA], wipes can disinfect tops, bottoms, sides, and handles. Never put food directly on the tray. And while you’re at it, wipe the hard parts of your armrests.

The seat pocket: It’s convenient. The perfect place to store stuff to make your flight more comfortable. For you, and hundreds of fliers before you!

We all know where the barf bags come from. It’s also where they go, after use. As do dirty napkins, soiled diapers, uneaten food, worn socks, and magazines handled by dozens of unwashed hands.

Protect yourself: If you wouldn’t put your belongings in somebody else’s trash can, don’t put them in the seat pocket. Instead, keep them accessible in your own carryon bag.

Germs on airplanes lurk on every touchable surface, including handles, pillows, blankets, and upholstery.

But with a little common-sense [and some sanitizer] you can protect yourself from all those germs on your next flight!

Continue reading "How Clean is Your Airplane?"

How World History Impacts Your Travel History

Do you appreciate world history? As a kid, I didn’t.

Not until a college professor brought it alive for me in a mandatory freshman World History class.

I remember dreading that semester-long course, predetermining it to be boring, dull, and devoid of anything to hold my required attention. History was not my thing.

Then I took the class and fell immediately in love with the professor and his ability to describe world historical scenes and events in ways that made movies of the day seem tedious and droll.

For each 1½ hour class I attended, I hung on his every uttered word, scribbling copious notes that would've filled my own historical tome.

But not until I began to travel internationally did I understand that learning about history’s iconic sights and seeing them face to face, would bring my appreciation of their historical significance full circle.

It would seem millions of other globe-trotting travelers agree.

It’s one thing to read about China's Great Wall and marvel that it’s visible from space.

It’s another to witness the scope of this massive stone barrier and contemplate the time, strength, and endurance of the souls who constructed it, block by heavy block.

It’s incredible to view images of Rome’s colossus Coliseum and wonder at the imposed cruelty of man on man, and man on beast, in hand-to-hand deadly combat.

It’s another to visit in person and view the recently opened lower quarters of this immense structure to see where men and animals were caged, awaiting their individual battles and imminent deaths.

From the elegance of the Roman Spas at Bath, to the personalized faces of Xian’s Terracotta Warriors.

From the still used 25,000 seat open-air theatre in Ephesus, to Mexico's Chichén Itzá, Tulum, and Teotihuacán.

From Israel’s mountain-top Masada, to the Great Pyramids of Egypt, to the Navajo and Anasazi rock-hewn dwellings of the American Southwest...what remains of all these compelling historical sites and the cultures that built them is for us to learn and be amazed.

With a receptive mind toward art, music, literature, and architecture, I value both modern and contemporary contributions of the creative human spirit.

But what makes my soul sing when I travel are the time-tested, traditional, even ancient human-built contributions of such overwhelming significance that millions of us take our precious vacation days to wonder and marvel at these historical creations our forbears wrought with their hearts and their hands.

Knowing world history elevates your travel experience and opens your mind to the 'can do' attitude of so many souls gone before.

I’m fortunate to have visited a number of world history sights to discover the impact and significance they add to our global community.

I hope your next vacation allows you to include at least one world history sight in your own itinerary.

You’ll not only expand your personal knowledge, you'll compound the value of your travel experience.

Isn't that what real travel is all about?

PS: I aced the history class!

Continue reading "How World History Impacts Your Travel History"

Traveling Europe – Is it Safe This Year?

Who doesn’t love traveling Europe?

If you’re a wanderer at heart [and a Europhile, to boot] this is the year you’ve waited for.

The dollar’s strong, the Caribbean’s alive with mosquitoes, and aren’t we all tired of political candidates saying stupid, irrelevant things?

Why not find a tour or create an itinerary, then take all those saved pennies and blow them on a week in Europe?

Traveling Europe gets easier every day. Just hop online [or visit your favorite travel agent] and in no time you’re booked for 10 days in Paris, a self-drive tour around Ireland, or a relaxing cruise on the Rhine.

But is this really the best year for traveling in Europe?

If you’re a U.S. citizen, you may want to look carefully at the state of geo-political affairs on the Continent to make sure you understand what’s going on there. And that you know how to keep yourself safe.

If you’ve not been a recluse for the past few weeks, you know the U.S. State Department issued a travel alert for Americans traveling Europe this summer.

Although the government-issued advisory has received exposure through some news and internet channels, there’s a bit of confusion as to exactly what the 'warning' to American citizens is.

And what it is not, is a Travel Warning!

While the advisory 'warns' Americans of the potential dangers of traveling abroad this summer, especially to Europe, a Travel Warning advises potential travelers that a specific place is neither safe nor advisable to visit.

What the State Department issued is a Travel Alert, which advises on conditions of safety [or lack thereof] for a period of time, and how to protect yourself, when you travel there.

Again, the advisory issued for Europe for summer, 2016, is a Travel Alert. It remains in effect through August 31.

Europe is hosting several worldwide events this summer, among them the European Soccer Championship, the Tour de France, and the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day.

These events take place around Europe, and the inclusive dates for the Travel Alert encompasses them all. France has extended its current state of emergency throughout July to include the events held in that country.

While Europe is providing extra police, soldiers, and private security to protect visitors, there are steps every traveler should employ for their own safety, when traveling in Europe this year:

  • Always be aware of your immediate surroundings, avoiding crowds;
  • Remain alert and vigilant in public places, especially when using mass transportation;
  • Stay 'tuned in' to local news/media outlets; follow directions for areas to avoid;
  • Register your trip with STEP for information on local conditions;
  • Know how to reach the nearest American Embassy, Consulate, and the local authorities;
  • Keep in touch with those you travel with and with those at home.

Traveling Europe is a great life adventure. Stay informed; be smart; travel safe; and you’ll have an unforgettable experience to remember for years.

Continue reading "Traveling Europe – Is it Safe This Year?"

Visiting Paris - To Love, or Not To Love

Ahh, Paris….

The City of Light. The Louvre. The Champs Élysées. The Sacré-Coeur. The Eiffel Tower. The boulevards. The architecture. The Tuilleries. Place de la Concorde. The sidewalk cafés. Montmartre. The Seine. The food. The gardens. Îlle de la Cité.

Visiting Paris. What’s not to love?

Paris is a traveler’s city. Beauty and history at every turn.

Yet there are those who shy away from this iconic European city, especially when traveling on their own.

But why? you ask.

Is visiting Paris not the dream of every armchair traveler? Is it not the heart of France, the Euro-Continent?

There’s so much to see, to do, to experience. You can stand on a corner and watch the world go by.

Yet visiting Paris, to many would-be travelers, is formidable. It may rate a day or two on an escorted tour. But traveling on your own: get in, get out, get on with your trip.

I once arranged a two-week independent tour for a husband and wife beginning in Paris with several days of sightseeing, taking them by car through the French countryside, chateaux country, the wine regions, ending in the South of France near Marseilles. [A trip I would have sold my soul for.]

A week after their departure, the husband stood in my office, apologizing for asking me to help him recoup some of his prepaid travel funds for advance reservations. His wife hated Paris!

'The people were rude, the language impossible'. She didn’t like the food. She spent their short time visiting Paris, crying.

They flew home after 3 days.

For those of us who breathe travel, this is nothing short of incomprehensible. But while seeming extreme, this feeling, especially for unseasoned travelers, is not uncommon.

What you often hear from travelers who consider visiting Paris: 'The people aren’t friendly. They don’t like Americans. They’re rude to tourists.'

Yet for those committed to visiting Paris the right way, it’s a warm, welcoming city, with friendly inhabitants, exquisite sites, enchanting travel adventures.

The difference is in the way you travel. Whether you approach Parisians at their level, with a sincere respect for their culture.

You must meet Parisians eye to eye.

Climb off your traveler’s perch and engage, greeting them as you would a friend.

Speak a few simple words of French conversational courtesy. Step away from your fear of language blunders and acknowledge their customs and way of life.

A colleague/writer/friend of mine who lives in the city says being an expat is wholly different from visiting Paris. As an expat, you become 'Parisian'.

But when visiting Paris, any attempt to recognize the 'Parisian way' will endear you to all you meet.

A simple 'hello' and 'good-bye' [in French] will ingratiate you and soften their hearts to yet another foreigner in their city.

Courtesy and respect toward your French hosts will give anyone visiting Paris a marvelous trip with memories for a lifetime.

Me? I love Paris. And formidable or not, I’m on my way!

Continue reading "Visiting Paris - To Love, or Not To Love"

Does Your Bucket List Need a Do-Over?

If you’re a traveler at heart, you probably have a bucket list of places to visit, landmarks to see, and adventures to experience before time runs short.

We’re all familiar with the popular movie that brought the reality of a travel 'bucket list' front and center. Two wiley characters portrayed by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman set off around the world in a last ditch effort to fulfill their travel dreams, before respective illnesses took them on their final journey.

And who hasn’t heard of Patricia Schultz' venerated bucket list of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and added a few of their own to the list?

You can disagree with her choices, but the chance to see the world through her travel-writer eyes is an opportunity unrivaled.

I remember a TV series of the same name, which took a newly-married couple on their own [all expenses paid] bucket list trip-of-a-lifetime: a five month global travel odyssey.

[And all I got was the Page-A-Day Calendar!]

Whatever the reason to create, or add to, our travel bucket list, the number of destinations never seems to shrink.

For every destination we scratch off, more are added from the never-ending onslaught of books, movies, blogs, and brochures that entice a traveler’s mind with exotic and picturesque places.

A bucket list is a container. A mental holding bin for places we hope to see.

And as vacation times get shorter and life’s demands increase, we jet off to Europe for a quickie to scratch off our list:

  • 12 Things to See in London in 48 Hours
  • What to do With Two days in Rome
  • Three Days in Prague: Where to Go, What to Do

Dubbed the tourist traditionals, time barely allows a glimpse of the landmarks, museums, and art we go to see, let alone find anything resembling the soul of our destination.

We take a cursory glance at the immortal cities, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Madrid, not knowing just down the road lies the essence of what we came to see: towns and villages inhabited by descendents of centuries-ago residents.

Our travel becomes the CliffsNotes of real life adventure.

But, perhaps there’s another way....

What if we took our travel bucket list and unwound it?

What if we took time to visit just one place without constraint of time?

What if we traveled at a pace that allowed us to know where we visit, not just see the 'high points', but the 'everyday' of something we call enchanting, but others call home?

Our bucket list is like a budget. It exists to keep us in line and in control.

But travel is exuberance.

It’s breaking the rules.

It’s life out of the ordinary.

So, away with our bucket list! It’s time to do more than observe what we travel to see.

It’s time to live it!

Continue reading "Does Your Bucket List Need a Do-Over?"

Travel Connections

Could you live your life un-connected?

Probably not. I know I couldn’t.

Most of us today are barely out of bed before we’re 'connected' online. To cell phones, tablets, laptops. Even that clunky old desktop we use at work.

Connected is the new norm. It’s how we live our lives. How we keep up. How we socialize.

But it’s also how we get ripped off. Especially, when we travel. Or when we’re planning to travel.

Yeah, it’s frustrating. Even when arranging a fun trip out of town, we can get taken, scammed, threatened, or stolen from, and may not know it 'til the bill comes due.

Online travel scams are not only growing, they’re becoming as sophisticated as the process for online travel planning has evolved into point, click, and book.

You must constantly be on the lookout for bad guys: always vigilant when, and with whom, you do business.

Think you know the online company offering that great airline deal? Maybe.

But did you go directly to the airline website...or immediately respond to that enticing email in your inbox?

What about that hugely discounted cruise from your 'friend' on Facebook? Do you know where the deal originated? Or has the scam gone viral through a friend of a friend and suckered all of you into buying a cruise that doesn’t exist?

Do you buy travel on your mobile? How’s the security for your on-the-go device? Do you have mobile security tools onboard to protect your data and purchases?

Is your online booking secure? Did you verify which travel connection sites are genuine? Do they take precautions to keep your personal information protected?

So you like that hotel review you read. It’s just what you’re looking for. But are you sure the online travel agency promoting it is legitimate? Or is it a third party 'reservation center' pretending to be a hotel?

What about the negative comment you read? Could it be an angry competitor, or a lousy guest with an axe to grind?

Always fllter reviews with your own common sense. And average the comments you read, even on well-known hotel and travel review sites.

Used to be, you worried about pickpockets in busy areas, gangs of street beggars, even outright thieves who targeted tourists en locale. [You still should!]

But our current world of fingertip travel connections has made us vulnerable to electronic pick-pocketing and complex travel scams happening right under our noses. Or fingers, as the case might be.

We all know knowledge is power. So power up, fellow travelers and learn to protect yourself when planning travel online.

Make sure your travel connections offer real travel experiences, purchased through secure online travel sites, with bona-fide travel companies you can verify.

Don’t let the scamsters ruin your next travel adventure. Turn the table and beat them at their own game by being smarter and sharper than they are.

Make your travel memories about your trip. Not the travel scam that almost ruined it!

Continue reading "Travel Connections"

Do You 'Do' Opera?

Europeans love opera.

Though seldom included in organized tours, European operas are a staple of entertainment on the Continent: revered and anticipated, with beautiful opera houses in all but the tiniest of countries.

First performed in Florence in the late 1500’s, this new theatre-set-to-music quickly spread throughout Europe, becoming a forerunner of the cherished art form known as opera around the world.

What, you say?

Operas are for high brows. Old folks. Bored rich people. The aspiring bourgeoisie.

To which I say, not so. Check some online stats, and you’ll learn that opera season is far from on the wane.

It is, in fact, growing in popularity with modern composers, re-interpreted set designs, radio and TV simulcasts, video transmissions to movie theatres, and online digital downloads.

Operas in Europe are heavily state-sponsored [funded by taxpayers]. And, willing contributors or not, Europeans of every rank and file look forward to their local opera season, scouting opera schedules and tickets weeks or months in advance.

Even American opera is coming of age. In the previous decade, opera companies increased faster here than in even the most dedicated Euro-countries, surpassing NFL football in attendance!

But what America and the rest of the world don’t have, for the most part, are the glorious, opulent opera houses that dot European cityscapes, elevating their famous operatic productions to the top of their game.

As a misplaced Europhile where old world architecture is concerned, I long to see for myself.

I’ve attended a few famous operas in my day, but never in the best houses of Europe: La Scala in Milan, the Royal Opera House in London, the Palais Garnier in Paris, or Theater an der Wien in Vienna.

While my experiences were rich in beauty and theatrical composition, I can’t help but feel to see Don Giovanni in the splendor of the Estates Theatre in Prague, where Mozart first offered his legendary opus, would be an unrivaled event.

Or to experience Carmen in Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu, a short trip away from the town plaza in Seville where her story begins, would be mesmerizing.

The magnificient opera houses of Europe are not just sumptuous buildings. They’re a tribute to the stories portrayed on their stages, the melodies made perfect by their acoustics, the dramas more powerful by their surroundings.

Next time I’m in Europe, if I find myself near any of the best houses of Europe, or for that matter, any opera house in any European city, I think I’ll spend a few hours to check it out.

Travelers who take the time to see these magnificent houses of history and music are seldom disappointed. Many relay these visits to be a highlight of their trip.

Check for tours, backstage or front of house, at online tourist boards or directly with the opera houses for visitor schedules and costs.

There's a wealth of information for all things opera on the web. I think it may be time to check it out.

Continue reading "Do You 'Do' Opera?"

The Cost of Travel

There’s no way to sugar-coat it: the cost of travel is not cheap.

Yet millions of people, rich and poor, find a way to 'get out of town' when they want to. Or need to.

Traveling is often an annual vacation: a trip to the beach; a visit to family; maybe a Caribbean cruise.

But vacations don’t necessarily qualify as bona fide travel. Not for those of us who constantly yearn to visit faraway lands.

That travel is what we plan for, dream of, and prepare for like a college exam or the perfect job interview.

Travel is an adventure we work toward. It’s research and learning because we want to.

It’s an insatiable desire for new experiences. For food we don’t recognize, chatter we can’t decipher, and art we hold our breath for. It’s what makes us come alive!

Unfortunately, many of us are unable to satiate our travel desires as often as we’d like. Unless we’re part of the super rich, we pick and choose when we travel, which is usually when we can afford to.

And therein lies the rub.

If you’re a normal, work-a-day person, how do you afford the cost of travel?

What do you do to pay for the price of your travel addiction?

Some of us set about budgeting for travel. We determine our anticipated cost of travel, setting aside funds regularly, and when we’ve saved enough, we go.

Hard-core travel addicts have a more linear approach: they simplify. They consistently live below their means, adjusting their lifestyle downward and saving regularly. Their goal: they live to travel.

Dedicated souls get second jobs to save for travel, squirreling away the additional funds for the cost of their travel needs.

There are even tour companies with installment plans, a kind of travel lay-away. You choose a specific trip, paying regular amounts in advance to cover the price.

Then there are travelers who throw caution to the wind, traveling when the whim strikes. They go, they see, they enjoy – and then spend months or years paying down credit card balances.

Credit cards are great for managing travel expenses on the road. But they’re a fool’s ploy, when used to bankroll your gotta have it now trip, mortgaging your future financial health in the process.

The best way to cover the cost of travel is planning in advance and creating a workable travel budget.

You plan your trip as if it were on the near horizon, then set about adjusting your finances, slowly saving toward your travel goals.

As January slides away, now’s the time for deciding where to go, when to go, and how much your travel dreams will cost.

Like gardening, travel is done first in our head and in our heart, during the cold cruel grasp of winter.

Then, when our favorite travel time is here [or when we’ve saved to cover the cost of travel] we can turn our face to the sun, knowing our time is here.

Continue reading "The Cost of Travel"

The Colors of Fall

At beyond mid-November, most of the U.S. has seen the colors of fall come and go.

The wintry cold is settling into northern states, while across the west, resorts are gearing up for the monotone whiteness of ski season.

Here in the southern states, we’re blessed with roller coaster weather throughout the fall seasonal transition.

With ups and downs of spring-like afternoons and briskly-cool mornings, our slowly cooling temperatures drag on 'til we’re well into Christmas season, by then too busy to notice the color of leaves, beyond the carpets that litter our lawns.

Being a casualty of SAD [Seasonal Affective Disorder], fall is not my favorite season.

As daylight shortens and darkness descends before suppertime, I’m reminded each day of the long, dark winter to come.

I struggle to keep my mood elevated, finding the sun where I can. Some days, the only help is a bright lamp and a really good book to diffuse my melancholy mood.

But even lowering skies and the promise of cold can’t suppress the magnificent colors of fall beauty visited across our land each year:

Winesap red, pumpkin gold, hawthorn purple, magenta, russet, auburn brown. The colors of fall are not to be diminished.

No matter where we live, we’re showered [quite literally] with the shedding of nature’s summer garb, as she hunkers down for colder days ahead.

Today, my 2nd floor window is completely filled with the yellow-gold leaves of a great Live Oak, residing but 20 feet away. The gentle breeze brings a constant golden shower from her limbs.

But even as the time of year puts me in a mental funk, I know the fall shoulder travel season would be the perfect antidote to dispel my depressive doldrums.

How about a quick trip to Europe? Or a road trip to a neighboring state? Late fall can be the best time to get out of town and forget the approaching winter season.

Crowds are gone, prices are reasonable, and the weather’s crisp and clear. It’s a snap to get into popular sights, with time to linger and savor what you see.

I don’t travel every fall. But when I do, the gloomy mood of past fall seasons is nowhere around. The distraction of new faces and new places puts a bounce in my step and a glow in my heart.

Is it the perfect time to travel? I can think of a few reasons why fall fails the test as the very best time to travel.

Especially this year, with the scourge of evil floating on every traveler's decision.

But for me, traveling in fall can be just the jolt I need to renew my sagging spirit and remember that spring is just a few mere months away.

This too, shall pass. The cold, the scourge, And maybe, with luck, the evil around us.

Meanwhile, I’ll spend this fall traveling in my mind. I’ll read a favorite book and ponder faraway places.

And pray for Paris.

Continue reading "The Colors of Fall"

A Castle For Every Traveler

Europe is known for numerous historical assets, where her visiting tourists are concerned.

Predominate are the cathedrals, the great museums, the heightened sense of culture and history, and, the overwhelming draw [at least for me] – the castles!

Almost every European country has them, along with much of the rest of the world. But Europe’s castles are somehow different.

Larger. Grander. More powerful. More imposing.

They speak of the cream of medieval society: lords and ladies, knights bent on chivalry, great round tables, swords, turrets, moats, and damsels in distress.

There was a time for castles. And a definite need.

But being Lord of the Castle was no easy task.

As employer, overseer, livestock baron, gentleman farmer, community organizer, 5-star general, bailiff, safety czar, and often judge, jury, and commuter of fates, castle moguls were prime dispensers of peace and prosperity for most of Europe’s population in their time.

Often reporting to no less than the Queen or King of the land, the builder, owner, or inhabitant of a castle [if indeed they were not the Queen or King] fell to those who, by right or inheritance, survived to rise above the general populace by deed or invitation.

They were the entrepreneurs of their day, who rose to become the Chairmen of the Board.

America has castles. And grand houses they are. But personally, I disdain from calling them true castles. A castle is not just a rich man’s house.

It’s the symbol of life and livelihood. The cornerstone of the community. The ultimate protector of the people. And the pride of the realm.

The medieval castles of Europe leave no doubt as to who was boss. Even today, with many in ruined state, to see a castle high above the Rhine, is to witness another time and space.

To wander in the shadow of Edinburgh’s hilltop mount is to share the pride of today’s inhabitants in that noted symbol of their city.

To lunch beneath the walls of beautiful Vianden Castle in the Ardennes is to picture yourself an inhabitant of that quaint village below, so little changed from the time it represents.

But Europe’s medieval castles today are not just symbols and relics.

They’re art and beauty. They’re the grace and dignity of their age. They’re unfathomable engineering feats and a living legacy of those who built them.

The next time you walk through one of Europe’s great castles, think not just of the immensity of the structure or the wealth it took to build.

But remember the people who lived within its aura and knew they were safe and protected by its presence.

A castle is a home. But it’s also so much more. It’s representative of where we’ve been – and perhaps, a window for how far we have yet to go.

See 10 beautiful castles you can actually stay in, as reported by Budget Travel. I guarantee you, sleeping in a castle will make you feel like a Queen [or a King] for the day!

Continue reading "A Castle For Every Traveler"

Haworth on the Moors

In the mid-1800’s the literary world became fascinated with the wild desolation of England’s Yorkshire moors due to the disparate - if not desperate - writings of a single family.

Famously depicted in 20th century films as dark, windy, and barren, the Yorkshire moors in central England are a highland area noted geographically for little more than being between here and there.

If a UK travel adventure took you from London toward the walled city of York and onward toward Scotland’s Edinburgh, you’d probably view the moors as fallow, non-descript, and uninviting English countryside. Unless the heather is blooming!

But if you’re a fan of the Brontë sisters [as countless UK travelers are], a side trip to the village of Haworth in the heart of the midland moors is an absolute must, to visit the home of the famed literary sisters: Charlotte, Emily, and Anne.

Much as Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle has familiarized millions of contemporary television viewers with turn-of-the-century elite life in the south-central English countryside, the Parsonage at Haworth breathes life into the isolation of living on the moors, where the Brontës survived for most of their lives.

Haworth is a quaint rural village by any estimate. But living on the moors in 19th Century England brings 'rural living' to a whole new level of solitude and loneliness.

The Brontës, daughters of clergy and of modest means [and disliking work as either governesses or teachers], took the desolation of their ordinary surroundings, turning it into some of the great classics of English literature.

From Jane Eyre to Agnes Grey, from The Tenant of Wildfell Hall to the hauntingly dark Wuthering Heights, the Brontë sisters called on not only their bleak surroundings, but the isolation of their lives to bring characters to life.

The literary successes of the Brontës – in juxtaposition to their collective ill-health and early deaths – are endearingly familiar to lovers of that genre of Dark Romantic fictional prose.

Found west of Leeds, travelers to Haworth can immerse themselves in Brontë lore by visiting their parsonage home [now a museum] and the surrounding area in which they lived their daily lives.

Visitors can see in real time the ruins that evoked Heathcliff’s farmstead along with the Elizabethan-era house believed the model for Emily’s Thrushcross Grange [both of Wuthering Heights fame].

Literary travel is not uncommon in Great Britain.

With such giants of the realm as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, Defoe, Blake, Scott, Burns, Wordsworth, Byron, Keats, Shelley, Dickens, Browning, Tennyson, Eliot, Hardy, Doyle, Conrad, Joyce, Yeats, James, Lawrence, and Orwell, visiting the homes, villages, graves, and environs of a favorite British author is often de rigueur for inclusion in any UK visit.

For a lover of classical Brontë writings, Haworth is a pilgrimage worth indulging.

But if the classics leave you cold, real-life literary travel sights exist throughout England and the Continent.

A little extra work in your travel planning can bring your great – and not so great – favorite literary works to life.

Continue reading "Haworth on the Moors"

Where Have All The Flowers Gone…?

Have you flown recently?

How was your flight?

Was it fun and pleasurable? Or an agonizing means to an end…merely a method to travel from A to Z in the quickest possible manner?

On today’s flights, even speed is a relative uncertainty with system congestion, mechanical glitches, and tarmac delays.

From lack-luster 'on time' departures to excruciating pre-boarding security lines, unless you’re traveling across the country or across the pond, you can frequntly travel as quickly by car, as you can by attempting to maneuver the interminable check-in queues, wait lines, baggage carousels, physical gropings, and other 'hurry and wait' situations that are part of today’s flying environment.

With planes corroding in the desert, there are fewer passenger seats, less luggage space, higher prices, exponential fees, miniscule civility, and absolutely no respect for today’s airline customer.

Does it have to be this way? Do we have to be treated like cattle, or for that matter, convicts [think Conair], when paying for the privilege of flying?

Do we have to be nickel-and-dimed to death, forced to sit in body-numbing positions for hours, suffer rudeness and deliberate inattention, while being denied all the creature comforts of aviation’s bygone days?

Has airline customer satisfaction completely gone the way of the dodo?

It seems the airlines think this to be true. And it’s become the mantra by which they collectively run their industry:

  • Treat your customer as poorly as you can.
  • Force them into uncomfortable, contortionist seating for hours.
  • Refuse them palatable food or drink [and don’t worry if you fail to board mere 'snacks' for your onboard passengers].
  • Charge them for everything beyond their actual seat [and question even this].
  • Steal their personal possessions from the baggage they entrust to you.
  • Dehumanize the very essence of paying customers by failing to run a fair and consumer-driven business.

Some say deregulation is the culprit for the industry’s eroding civility and total disregard for airline customer satisfaction.

Others tout the few remaining airlines are freer to abuse their passengers. With so few named-carriers left, there’s little competition for routes or service.

Even Frequent Fyers, those corporate travelers who traditionally provide airlines with the bulk of their profits, feel they’re mis-treated and mis-handled.

They frequently choose to conduct online meetings and video conferences, rather than subject themselves to the indignity of today’s flying process.

For those who knew airline travel as it used to be, it’s seldom we look forward to a flight today.

The flying procedure has become an ordeal to endure to get us to our destination, especially for international travelers, who have little alternative.

While airports continue to update facilities, adding amenities to entertain, refresh, and embrace their travelers, airlines seemingly take the opposing tack:

Do whatever you can to subdue, suppress, and de-humanize your paying customers!

Will we ever relive the golden days of flying?

Probably not.

Not unless we discover another way to achieve our destinations.

But when we do…expect the airlines to tremble in fear.

Continue reading "Where Have All The Flowers Gone…?"

The Photographs in My Mind

One of my favorite memory makers when traveling is taking loads of photographs of the places I go, the things I do, and the fabulous sights I see.

I’m a pretty good photographer, even though I still get confused about f-stops, filters, and other camera settings, that make the difference between an amateur image-maker and a photography professional.

I take my photos not just to remember what I see. [I have a terrible memory and need the photos to remind me].

I take them as a means to revisit my trip.

Photographs allow me to experience my travel adventures again and again, recalling my journey.

They bring back the people I met, the foods I enjoyed, the locations I visited, and all the wonderful things I saw that made my trip the experience I worked so hard to achieve.

Photo images give me the opportunity to recall the situations and events that occurred during my travels, but slipped almost unnoticed into the recesses of my mind, because it was too overloaded to process everything.

Photos take me on my trip again, for free.

I can re-live my feelings of awe, joy, enlightenment, and even frustration, in the security and comfort of the familiar surroundings of my everyday world.

Sometimes the photos I take add their own significance to the meaning of my travel experiences. As I enjoy them at leisure, my mind wanders back to the situations and circumstances I saw face to face.

I can ponder their significance in my own time, rather than rushing off to some other site or landmark, barely processing what I came so far to see.

Photographs are the physical souvenirs of my feelings throughout my travel adventure.

They’re the reality of the planning, packing, and preparing I did for so many months.

They’re the visual record my plans became real.

They’re the soul of my journey, when I return home....

I’m not a photographer of people.

Having decided I must have been an architect in a previous life, my image-taking focuses on buildings. The glorious façades man created in his own time, that show us a window into our past.

They say people make the photograph. I argue this is not so.

The buildings say it all. Where we’ve been. What we’ve accomplished. Even where we’re going.

People show you only what they want you to see.

But buildings – architecture – is a raw, real, slice of time that holds no secrets.

You get what you see: honest, true, faults, cracks, kilter, and all.

Once again, my online friend, Budget Travel, has gathered photos from their traveler-readers for a collection of Beautiful Villages Around the World.

Let them inspire you to break with tradition on your next trip and put your photographic focus on the structures.

The façades, homes, storefronts, café’s, and cathedrals, built by the hands of those who made the places you visit what they are.

And give them meaning.

You, too, may find an 'architect' hidden inside.

Continue reading "The Photographs in My Mind"

How To Scuba - If You Don’t

I don’t Scuba.

But I do enjoy the photos and images some of my Scuba loving friends and afi-cionados bring back from their global Scuba diving vacations.

I’m a land loving Europhile myself. But for dyed-in-the-wool Scuba fanatics, there’s no place too far for them to travel to get their underwater fix from a Scuba dive trip.

Frankly, I don’t blame them.

Underwater is a travel destination no single spot on terra firma can rival for its vibrant colors and other worldly inhabitants.

For many of us, the closest we’ll get to viewing this fantastic underwater land-scape is through the images our Scuba loving friends bring home from their dive trips to share with us land locked travelers.

There’s no doubt even amateur underwater images often surpass those captured by skilled professional photographers in our above water world.

Underwater images – because most of us never see the real thing face to face - seem distinctly more surreal. As if we’re sneaking a peak at an altogether new and different world.

Which, indeed, we are.

From the Bahamas to Belize, from Bali to the Great Barrier Reef, there are Scuba diving vacations that will treat you to underwater wonders to make your eyes pop with delight. Color and form and rhythm are displayed, unlike any of the animal wonders who share our air-breathing world.

Yes, there are great aquariums with strange and beautiful marine life from the oceans of the world.

But Scuba takes you there in person: mano a mano with the reefs, the colors, the habitats - even the possible dangers the safety of an aquarium visit can’t mimic.

So come along and see the collection of underwater photos assembled by Budget Travel, as contributed by loyal readers from their own Scuba diving trips, and see why these air-breathing humanoids don their Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus [SCUBA] at every chance, to escape below sea level for the world they love.

Or, if you’re lucky enough to have friends who Scuba and photograph the adven-tures of their own dive trips, convince them to share their submarine images with you.

Some neighbors of mine did – projecting them via their oversized flatscreen TV. And what they allowed me to view from their many underwater diving adventures is nothing short of spectacular!

Travel – no matter where you go – is different things to different people.

Perhaps those who prefer their travel beneath the waves have found something the rest of us vagabonds can only dream of.

Continue reading "How To Scuba - If You Don’t"

Is It [the Best] Time to Visit Europe?

Whether you’ve traveled to Europe before or planning your first trip this year, for the first time in a long time, it may be the best time to visit Europe.

With the price of everything going up, up, up, the travel gods have moved to deflate the Euro down, down, down, to rates not seen in a decade.

For U.S. travelers, this signals dollars go further, exchanged funds buy more, and the cost for purchases in Europe are a much better deal.

[If you’re not from the U.S., check exchange rates for your currency. With Europe’s economy in a pseudo-depression, global currencies are rallying to a better rate of exchange.]

While across-the-pond airfares remain high, committing to visit Europe now gives you ample time to search for deals, gather points for redeemable miles, and hope airline greed will moderate into lowered profits, reducing the cost of your trip.

Once in Europe, discount airlines like Ryanair, Easyjet, and Norwegian Air, will keep you flying in Europe for less.

Never before has travel information been so prolific and easy to find.

Destination blogs, sharing sites, and travel-friendly apps collectively offer main-stream methods to save more, spend less, and have a better time when you travel.

For instance, rather than an expensive hotel when visiting Europe, rent a room in a private home [or the home itself] through Airbnb: more room, less money.

Or rent a chic apartment for a longer stay, and settle into your overseas home away from home.

Share a meal in a private home, or eat like you live there, and go where the locals go.

Try regional foods and home-grown dishes, beer, and wines. You’ll intensify your Europe experience, while learning the local food culture, and doing it for less.

Use the web for bus and train schedules. Ride across town or across country like the locals do. Share a car for an hour, a day, or more. You can even share a ride.

Rent a bike [with your smart-chip card] for easy local transport. Carve out time for the free and cheap: visit a park, stroll a garden, or get an overview of local history in a notable cemetery.

Travelers are drawn to the majestic museums, the celebrated architecture, the revered works of art. And see them you should.

But rather than exhausting your days with art and history the crowds flock to see, scope out smaller, less prominent museums, everyday houses of worship, and side-street architecture not mentioned in major European guidebooks.

Join a walking tour with a local. Instead of boiler-plate scripts, be immersed in generational history by those who live and love and work there.

Share an hour chatting with natives and see your trip come alive. It won’t cost you a dime.

Is now the best time to visit Europe? Maybe so. It’s certainly worth your contemplation. Europe planning time is here.

For me, every year is the best time to visit Europe. Only this year, it will cost me less!

Continue reading "Is It [the Best] Time to Visit Europe?"

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