We recently challenged our readers to write a trip review about the best journey they’d taken over the previous year. We received dozens of submissions detailing our readers’ travels to places like Curacao and Cambodia, Mexico and the Mediterranean, France and the Philippines.
It was tough to pick the best review to win the grand prize, a $250 Best Western Travel Card. But in the end, we gave the nod to Heather Ranes for her review of her trip to the Emerald Isle, Ireland – The 40 Shades of Green. Here’s a snippet of her winning review:
“Killarney is the poster-child for what we, as Americans, want to see when we travel to Ireland. The city is surrounded by lush meadows and forests, its adorable Main Street is bursting with pubs and eateries, and there are lots of stone ruins to explore. Taking the advice of friends, we rented bikes (about $20 USD per person) for the day and spent most of the morning and early afternoon biking around Ross Castle and one of the lakes nearby (the bike rental shops have plenty of advice and maps available). This decision was one I consider to be a once in a lifetime experience … being on bicycles, we were able to pass the pedestrian traffic (Ross Castle is a walkable distance from downtown Killarney) and spend several hours in virtual isolation surrounded by the mystical forests of Killarney National Park. If I were a fairy, I’d want to live here.” Read the rest!
We also chose five runners-up at random to win IndependentTraveler.com duffel bags. Click on the title to read more of each review.
Aloha from Morro Bay by Tim Owens: “We paddled near some sea lions gathered in the middle of the bay, and later came close to a couple of flocks of beautiful white pelicans.”
Back-to-Back Cruises are a Gift to Yourself and Other Guests by Ralph Koerber: “A Chocolate Lovers’ Buffet featured ice carvings displayed with any type and shape chocolate desired.”
Thailand-Cambodia by Lisa Boruff: “The smell of ginger, garlic, lemongrass, flowers, incense floating in air. Orchids of all colors, roses, and spices at the flower market…”
The AMAZING Oasis of the Seas by Lisa Brommell: “We were six women traveling for a girlfriends cruise (no husbands/kids allowed)!!”
London by Marcia L Hill: “Having lived in London, I was eager to return with [my boyfriend] nearly 10 years later to see what had become of this wonderful city.”
Feeling inspired? Write about your latest trip!
– written by Sarah Schlichter
This post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.
Those of us who fly frequently don’t usually get too surprised anymore by stories of airlines treating passengers like cattle. Yet the experience of a disabled U.S. Marine aboard a Delta Air Lines flight earlier this week shows that the airlines are capable of sinking to shocking new lows.
The Washington Post reports that Marine Lance Corporal Christian Brown, a double amputee wounded a year ago in Afghanistan, was “‘humiliated’ to the point of tears on a Delta flight from Atlanta to Washington after being clumsily wheeled to the back row of the plane, according to a complaint sent to the airline by an outraged fellow passenger.”
The passenger, retired Army Colonel Nickey Knighton, said that Brown was offered a seat in first class by another traveler, but flight attendants would not allow the switch because the doors had been closed for take-off and no one was supposed to move around the cabin. Instead, Knighton wrote, Brown was “paraded through the aircraft,” leaving him “visibly upset.” The Post reports that Brown was ill with a fever at the time and was traveling to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for treatment.
It’s unclear why Brown was brought onboard so late in the boarding process; Delta’s own Traveling with Disabilities brochure says that “Preboarding is offered on any Delta flight if you meet all check-in requirements and notify the gate agent.”
Delta’s corporate communications office responded to the incident with this statement, quoted in the Post: “The story in no way reflects either Delta’s standard operating procedure or the very high regard we hold for our nation’s service members. We are sorry for the difficulties that transpired and are investigating this event to determine the appropriate next steps.”
Spirit Airlines Denies Refund to Dying Vietnam War Vet
On Brown’s Facebook page was a comment from another Delta employee that seemed a bit more heartfelt:
“So sorry for your treatment on Delta,” wrote Facebook user Demian David Brooks. “As a pilot for Delta, I just wanted to tell you that we are with you, and when I fly, there are no more important passengers than our military. I personally do everything in my power to ensure all military personnel have a great experience on Delta. I have proudly transported many Wounded Warriors and make it a point to introduce myself and say thank you for your service. I have transported fallen heroes and always stand on the tarmac at full salute to pay respects. A few weeks ago in the terminal, I was fortunate enough to see 3 military personnel in uniform, and secretly paid for their lunch as I slipped away. Again, from one line pilot, sorry. And thank you for your service.”
The Real Reason Fliers Hate the Airlines
– written by Sarah Schlichter
Forget sushi — on your next Japan Airlines flight, you could enjoy a homegrown American favorite: KFC (once known as Kentucky Fried Chicken). The airline recently announced that for the next three months, meal service on select U.S. and Europe flights will feature a two-piece chicken meal from KFC, including a drumstick, a chicken breast fillet, coleslaw, flat bread and lettuce leaves (which you can use to make a chicken sandwich).
KFC will be available during the second meal service on premium economy and economy flights from Tokyo’s Narita airport to New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, London, Paris and Frankfurt, through February 28, 2013. According to the airline’s press release, “KFC is widely popular in Japan particularly during the Christmas season.”
Personally, I’d rather have sushi. But I guess KFC is as delicious and exotic to the Japanese as sushi is to us Yanks!
Why Airline Food Stinks: A Scientific Explanation
Do you like the idea of a fast food chain serving up airline meals, or do you get enough fast food in the airport? Vote in our poll and leave your comments below.
5 Foods to Avoid Before Flying
– written by Sarah Schlichter
Would you board a plane with no pilot? Sounds like a crazy idea — but according to an article from the Economist, it’s something that could become the future of air travel.
At some point within the next few weeks, a pilotless flight is slated to be tested during a trip from England to Scotland, meaning that the pilot operating the plane will be doing so from the ground in a control room. (There will also be a pilot in the cockpit, just in case anything goes wrong.)
The article notes that the U.S. Congress has shown interest in the technology, asking aviation regulators to find a way to incorporate unmanned aircraft into America’s air traffic control system as soon as the year 2015. The technology would likely be used on smaller aircraft carrying out functions such as border patrols or police surveillance.
For commercial aircraft carrying large numbers of passengers, it’s unlikely that onboard pilots would be eliminated altogether; instead, opines the Economist, flights might have just one pilot instead of a crew of two or three. (Our two cents: If any airline might try cutting pilots, it would be ultra-discounter Ryanair, whose CEO questions the importance of seatbelts in the air.)
How Flying Coach Could Save Your Life
Most of today’s planes are technologically advanced enough to take off, fly and land at a specified destination automatically — much like drone aircraft currently used by the military.
Overall, there still seem to be a lot of unanswered questions: How safe is an unmanned plane? Could this lead to job losses among pilots? Will pilots be able to concentrate better while controlling aircraft from the ground, or will it make them less accountable for safe flying if their lives aren’t at stake like those of the passengers onboard? And how might it affect consumer airfare prices?
10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight
Would you feel safe flying on a pilotless plane? Be sure to leave your comments below.
– written by Ashley Kosciolek
From advanced technology that alerts guests making a racket in the hallways to keep it down, to human monitors knocking on doors when the snoring gets too loud, two hotel chains in the U.K. are cracking down on noise.
Premier Inn is installing “ssshhh-o-meters” in 620 hotel locations, the Daily Mail reports, that will be triggered when a certain noise decibel level is exceeded. When triggered, the meters, installed in hotel corridors, will flash as a reminder to guests to lower their voices.
When the Hotel Guest Next Door Won’t Shut Up
Last year, Crowne Plaza began trialing a more low-tech way of ensuring guests have a quiet stay. According to Reuters, the chain launched “snore patrols” in six hotel locations in England, whose sole purpose is to wake up noisy sleepers in designated quiet zones.
According to the Reuters article, the job of the snore patrols is to listen for “offensive noises,” then knock on the door of offending guests. If a guest repeatedly snores too loudly, the hotel may ask him or her to move to a room outside of the quiet zone.
33 Ways to Sleep Better at a Hotel
The patrols can be found in hotels in London, Leeds and Manchester.
What do you think of the two systems? Do you think flashing hall lights will keep late night revelers quiet? And should snore patrols be picking on people who probably can’t help how loud they snore?
– written by Dori Saltzman
Flying in the face of safety regulations around the world, one airline executive is speaking out against seatbelts on planes. “If there ever was a crash on an aircraft, God forbid, a seatbelt won’t save you,” claimed Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary, as reported in Britain’s Daily Telegraph.
Actually, Mr. O’Leary, we beg to differ. In a recent test crash, scientists found that passengers without seatbelts would have died, while those wearing seatbelts and using the brace position on impact would have survived. (See How Flying Coach Could Save Your Life for more details.)
Even in non-crash situations, seatbelts can keep you safe. According to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), 58 people are injured each year by turbulence when not wearing their seatbelts.
Naturally, O’Leary’s diatribe was brought about because those pesky seatbelt regulations are keeping him from making money. According to the Telegraph, he wants to add “standing room only” cabins in the back of Ryanair planes, allowing budget-minded travelers to stand throughout their flights (while holding onto a handle for greater stability) at a price of 1 GBP, about $1.58 US. This is not permitted under current aviation safety laws, which require air travelers to wear seatbelts during takeoff and landing. “We’re always looking for new ways of doing things; it’s the authorities who won’t allow us to do them,” complained O’Leary. “They are all a bunch of plonkers.”
Would you buy a ticket in a standing-room-only section of a plane if the price were cheap enough?
– written by Sarah Schlichter
On top of decimating houses and deluging city streets, Hurricane Sandy temporarily upended what we travelers take for granted: the ability to hop in a car or plane and go. But while that “right” has been more or less restored for most, many New York and New Jersey residents are still reeling (yesterday’s nor’easter didn’t help matters). Thankfully, along with an outpouring of aid from individuals and the expected charitable heavyweights, a number of popular travel brands have jumped in to help, some leveraging their leisure offerings in creative ways.
Last week, non-legacy favorite JetBlue partnered with NYC food trucks to offer free meals and snacks to hard hit residents of Staten Island, the Rockaways and Hoboken. The airline says thousands of locals were offered bites from mobile purveyors of grilled cheese, pizza, Lebanese specialties and cupcakes. JetBlue is also matching all donations to the Red Cross up to $100,000, and touting frequent flier miles as a bonus incentive. Those who give can earn six TrueBlue points for every $1 they donate by November 30.
Sandy Response: Which Travel Companies Stood Out?
Hip “for rent by owner” site Airbnb has partnered with the city of New York in an effort to offer free housing for residents displaced by Sandy. Several hundred local hosts have offered up their couches and spare rooms. Airbnb uses a mutual verification process — owner and potential renter must meet virtually and the owner always has final approval. (Renters and rent-ees can be both be “reviewed” and Airbnb cautions never to rent unless you’re completely confident in the occupant.) Though no money is changing hands, hosts are still covered by Airbnb’s guarantee. For those who can afford to shell out a bit for their temporary digs, there’s also a list of “discounted for Sandy” spots.
Toilet Paper Tussle at the Airbnb: How I Survived a Homestay
American Airlines is using its Web space and social platforms to promote the efforts of the American Red Cross — and throwing in some bonus frequent flier miles for good measure. Through November 30, 2012, AAdvantage members can earn a one-time award of 250 AAdvantage bonus miles for a minimum $50 donation, or 500 AAdvantage bonus miles for a donation of $100 or more to the American Red Cross.
Have a favorite travel brand you think deserves kudos? Share it in the comments.
– written by Dan Askin
Deciding the direction of your country for the next four years is heavy business and not something we at IndependentTraveler.com have any interest in analyzing. But examining the differences in travel styles between Republicans and Democrats – that’s much more up our alley. Turns out we differ more than you’d think.
The findings, released by Hotels.com, revealed that Republicans are more likely to stay close to the 50 United States, while Democrats are more willing to venture further afield. In fact, a whopping 86 percent of Republican travelers prefer to stay within the U.S., Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean, while Democrats are 11 percent more likely to visit Europe, the Middle East and Latin America.
Democrats are also more free-wheeling with their money. According to Hotels.com, “Democrats admitted to spending slightly more on items such as clothing and accessories, as well as drinks with friends and family while traveling for business.”
Destination: Washington D.C.
While Democrats are more willing to spend on things, Republicans would rather spend more to extend their vacation. Of the 1,000 respondents to the survey, Hotels.com found that Republicans outweighed Democrats by 11 percent when asked if they would call out sick to get an extra vacation day.
But Republicans and Democrats also are alike in some of their business travel habits. Both are just as likely to expense amenities such as hotel Wi-Fi, flight upgrades, room service and upscale dining.
And both are almost equally unlikely to pilfer an item from a hotel. Ninety-three percent of Republicans and 88 percent of Democrats said they had never stolen from a hotel.
16 Ways You Know You’re Addicted to Travel
– written by Dori Saltzman
This week, super-storm Sandy grounded planes and snarled travel itineraries across the Eastern Seaboard and beyond, with some travelers still marooned even now. In today’s Friday Free-for-All, we want to hear from readers whose travel plans were affected by the storm. Did you have to reschedule a flight, cancel a hotel booking, reroute a train trip or make a travel insurance claim? Was your airline or other travel provider helpful in responding to your dilemma? Tell us in the comments below!
Several staffers from our sister site, Cruise Critic, shared their own Sandy stories.
Managing Editor Colleen McDaniel gives US Airways a gold star for its assistance during the storm. “Six hours before my flight was scheduled to depart from Norfolk to Philadelphia, I got a call notifying me my flight had been canceled,” she told us. “I called US Airways to reschedule, and was able to speak to a real, live person who helped get me booked on a flight a few days later. Sandy came and went in Virginia, causing damage and some power issues, but when it hit New Jersey, knocking out power to millions and causing widespread damage, I realized I was better off staying put. When I explained the situation, the US Airways agent was perfectly agreeable to another switch. I wasn’t charged a dime for the changes either time, and the agents were perfectly pleasant despite, I’m certain, some tough customers.”
Foul Weather Travel Tips
Senior Editor Dan Askin was also booked on US Airways, but his experience was complicated by the fact that he’d booked with frequent flier miles. “When the airline announced to the world it was waiving change fees … we didn’t apply,” he said. “Naturally, there were no ‘awards eligible’ seats available on any flights leaving inside of three days, so there was nothing for us, ostensibly the most loyal fliers, to switch to. Our only option — if we wanted to avoid change fees or recoup the miles — was to wait until the flight was actually canceled. We did so, and were able to rebook on a Wednesday flight. Then that was canceled, so we scrapped the trip altogether.”
United Airlines gets mixed reviews from Editor-in-Chief Carolyn Spencer Brown, who was scheduled to fly from Newark to Istanbul for a cruise. The airline canceled her flight a full two days before the storm even arrived. “At least I had some notice and could make an effort to find another route, but United was absolutely unreachable — as a platinum member all I could get was a fast busy signal when I called. I didn’t even have the pleasure of being put on hold,” she said.
Brown generally doesn’t recommend that cruisers book airfare through their cruise line — “they usually cost more and don’t accommodate personal preferences” — but in this case, asking for help from her cruise line, Regent Seven Seas, saved her trip. “A quick e-mail to Regent’s air/sea department at midnight resulted in a rebooking on Swiss Air, same night, though this time from JFK. It got me onboard — and on time.”
The takeaway? Brown told us she’ll consider booking a cruise line’s airfare for complicated itineraries; that way, “you’ve got back-up if you need it.”
4 Common Travel Disasters and How to Prevent Them
How did Sandy affect your travel plans? Share your story in the comments.
– written by Sarah Schlichter
Strolling the historic streets of Rome while savoring a few creamy scoops of gelato is one of travel’s most delicious pleasures. But if you’re visiting the Eternal City any time soon, don’t try to sit down on the Spanish Steps or the Trevi Fountain with that ice cream — a new Roman ordinance prohibits eating and drinking near the city’s historic, architectural or cultural treasures, reports the New York Times.
The ordinance, designed to protect landmarks such as the Pantheon and the Colosseum from potential damage (it also prohibits camping on the monuments), follows similar statutes elsewhere in Italy. The New York Times notes that it’s illegal to eat a bag lunch while sitting on the steps around St. Mark’s Square in Venice, while this summer Florence banned visitors from the steps of its cathedral.
11 Best Italy Experiences
Of course, Italy isn’t the only country where tourists could be tripped up by unexpected laws. You’ll want to watch your step in the following places around the globe:
1. Germany: Drivers who run out of gas on the Autobahn could face a fine.
2. Singapore: You won’t find chewing gum for sale anywhere in this city-state, nor are you allowed to bring it into the country yourself (except for medicinal/therapeutic reasons). Violators could face fines, stints of community service or even jail time.
3. Thailand: You may not step on or destroy any part of the local currency. It’s considered an insult to the king, whose face appears on all coins and bills.
4. New York State: You might want to reconsider that vacation fling. Adultery is illegal here (it’s on the books as a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail or $500 in fines).
16 Signs You’re Addicted to Travel
– written by Sarah Schlichter