Those of us stuck in coach on every flight now have a silver lining to console us as we wedge ourselves into those cramped seats: we may be more likely than first-class passengers to survive a plane crash.
This was the primary takeaway from a recent safety study in which scientists crashed a Boeing 727 into a desert in Mexico, reports the U.K.’s Daily Mail. “During the $1.5 million experiment — which was arranged by Channel 4 and television production company Dragonfly — the first 11 rows of seats ripped out as the nose of the plane dipped and the front of the fuselage sheared off,” says the Daily Mail.
Because the front rows are where first-class passengers are normally seated, the scientists noted that no one in the more expensive cabin would have survived the crash. However, 78 percent of the remaining passengers would have survived — and the farther back in the plane they were, the better their chances.
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The study also found that the “brace” position, in which passengers prepare for impact by bending forward to touch their heads to the seats in front, does offer meaningful protection in the event of a crash. The scientists included dummies in three positions during the experiment: one in the brace position and wearing a seatbelt, one sitting upright with a seatbelt fastened, and one not wearing a seatbelt. According to the Daily Mail, “The dummy in the brace position would have survived the impact, the one not in the brace would have suffered serious head injuries, and the dummy not wearing a [seatbelt] would have perished.”
While the success of the brace position has been corroborated by multiple researchers, the equation of “back of the plane = safer” is not quite as conclusive. One study by Popular Mechanics supports the idea that the rear of the plane is safer, while a British Civil Aviation Authority/Greenwich University study found that passengers near the front of the plane were more likely to escape a crash-induced fire. Boeing’s own Web site simply says, “One seat is as safe as another, especially if you stay buckled up.” Survival rates vary widely depending on the circumstances of each crash.
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So what’s a safety-minded traveler to do? Being in or near an exit row is generally a good idea, and fliers sitting in the aisle seats may be more easily able to escape than those who are in less accessible window seats. Wherever you’re sitting, read the safety card, know the location of your nearest exit, keep your seatbelt fastened and follow all crew instructions in the event of an emergency.
Would this study make you think twice about upgrading to first class?
– written by Sarah Schlichter
Most young American adults have a limited “understanding of the world beyond their country’s borders,” according to the National Geographic-Roper Public Affairs 2006 Geographic Literary Study.
Understanding geography is something travelers take for granted. It’s both a requirement and a side effect of travel. For Sandy and Darren Van Soye, it is a passion.
In 2003, the couple took their daughters, then ages 10 and 12, on a nearly five-month trip around the world. Through e-mails to their teachers, the family shared the voyage with the entire school. Classmates loved the missives from across the globe, and the experience changed the Van Soye daughters.
“Both girls came home understanding where places are and that much of the world lives differently than they do in California. They had more confidence and were also not afraid of interacting with adults,” said Sandy.
Years later, the couple read that 29 percent of U.S. 18- to 24-year-olds could not find the Pacific Ocean on an unlabeled map. “We decided then and there to find a way to give back as we travel, to hopefully get kids around the globe excited about geography,” said Darren.
The couple saved for seven years to take a 14-month trip to 50 countries on six continents. Now 229 days into their trip, they have covered 36,000 miles, hiking to some of the most remote places on Earth between visits to cities and towns. Lest you think the extensive trip is just a scheme to acquire bounteous frequent flier miles, the Van Soyes stay “close to the ground” using local public transportation (bus, train, ferry) whenever possible. Their goal is to experience the world more closely and minimize their carbon footprint.
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Far from being just a vacation, however, the Van Soyes are using their excursion as a “teaching moment” for 55,000+ schoolchildren across the globe. Some 850 educators from 20 countries are following the Van Soyes’ journey with their students on the couple’s Web site, Trekking the Planet. There are also 300 or more “armchair travelers,” many of whom are fellow cruisers (the Van Soyes, avid cruisers, have incorporated five Princess cruises into their itinerary so far).
The couple provides weekly newsletters with a country-specific educational module, an article or two and often a video. “The goal is to establish a two-way link with students where they can witness first-hand the world ‘out there’ and even pose and receive answers to their questions in near real time,” said Sandy. The materials are free and accessible via their Web site as well as Facebook (Facebook.com/TrekkingPlanet) and Twitter (@TrekkingPlanet).
They’ve visited schools in American Samoa, Thailand, Laos, Nepal and Latvia so far. “The schools in Laos were some of the most remote places we have visited – the buildings were made of bamboo and had dirt floors. But to see the kids’ faces as we talked about our journey made the trip worth it! During our visits, we always ask the students questions that we received from the classrooms that are following us,” said Sandy.
“Technology has changed so much since our last trip in 2003. Last time, we used a stylus-based Casio Cassiopeia to write our e-mails and resize our photos. We used Internet cafes to send the e-mails along with our photos. Now we can do the whole thing with our smartphones,” said Darren.
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The Van Soyes are doing their part — first for their children, now for the world’s children — to broaden the understanding of young people, helping them prepare for a future that is, as the Roper report says, increasingly global.
– written by Jodi Thompson
We often talk about travel bucket lists filled with big-budget trips that require a lot of planning. They’re stressful, at times, because so much goes into them and we have such big expectations. There’s a reason these trips often stay on the bucket list for many years; it’s much easier to just escape, spur of the moment. So we keep a few trips in our back pocket. Not mega-bucket-list trips, but cheap and easy trips we could take without much planning and with minimal damage to our savings.
San Juan has been calling me lately. For about $520 total, my husband and I could fly there on AirTran. I’d stay at the Hotel Milano, only 15 minutes from the airport, but in the middle of the old city. The family-owned property has free Wi-Fi throughout the hotel, a necessity for me. I can imagine having coffee on the rooftop terrace.
Since this isn’t a bucket list destination for me, I wouldn’t feel any pressure to do anything except wander, eat empanadillas and drink rum. Since it is hurricane season in the Caribbean, I could most likely continue to do at least two of my intended activities should the weather turn foul.
A completely different, yet equally satisfying back-pocket trip, for me, would be Acadia National Park in Maine. I want to challenge myself on the Dorr Mountain trail, a series of granite steps up the mountain, much of it through the forest. (Can you imagine the autumn foliage?)
I’d fortify my hike with popovers on the lawn at Jordon Pond House. I’d stay at the Moseley Cottage Inn, preferably in a room with a working fireplace. Sure, the rate is a bit high for my strict budget, $205 per night, but my husband and I would drive to Maine, saving on airfare.
The qualifications for a back-pocket trip are simple: cheap, quick and no stress. Not much of an itinerary is required. Need inspiration? Check out our travel deals.
We’re all about extensive travel, with plenty of planning and packing. But sometimes we just have to throw a few things in a bag and go. That’s why we need a couple of trips in our back pocket. Which destinations are in yours?
– written by Jodi Thompson
I spent last week on vacation with my family in a house at the New Jersey shore. The day I left the office, one of my coworkers said, “Have a nice trip!” as I walked out the door. I thanked her, but inwardly I felt a little jolt — I didn’t actually feel like I was taking a trip at all. A vacation, yes. A trip, no. And then I wondered: What’s the difference?
For me, taking a trip means traveling, exploring, getting lost, stretching myself out of my comfort zone. But the goal of a vacation is the exact opposite: total relaxation. My week at the shore is something I do every year with the same people in the same spot, a place as familiar to me as my own home town. I leave the passport and guidebooks at home, packing nothing more than tank tops, shorts, flip-flops and a towering stack of novels.
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When I travel, I’m in exploration mode, and I love to take in something new every day — a neighborhood, a cafe, a museum or historic site. When I vacation, I happily sink into a comfortable and beloved routine: a morning bike ride, an afternoon at the beach, an evening dinner with my family on the balcony.
As an avid traveler, I’d never consider spending all my days off lazing on the sand. There’s too much world out there to discover! But I’d never give up that precious week of true vacation either. The ultra-relaxation I find there recharges my batteries in a way nothing else does — so I can keep on exploring.
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Do you see a difference between vacationing and traveling? Do you try to incorporate both into your life?
– written by Sarah Schlichter
As soon as the 24-hour check-in window opened, I pounced on seat 10A, a $37 exit row upgrade with enough legroom to do calisthenics in.
There are 93 Airbus A319-100′s in the US Airways fleet, according to IndependentTraveler.com’s sister company Seat Guru. To make room for the left and right exits in row nine, the window seats (9A and F) were never slotted in. For the occupants of 10A and F, that bit of safety-inspired good fortune meant that our 2.5-hour flight from Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, to Philadelphia offered 62 inches of seat pitch (the distance from one point on a seat to the same point on the seat in front or behind). That’s the kind of space you could comfortably tie your shoe in without fear of head injury — the kind of space you could disappear in. You can’t disappear in first class, where the pitch is a meager 38 inches.
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An hour in, I gifted my spot to my sleepy travel companion. She vanished, and reappeared looking refreshed when we touched down.
The one drawback is that the tray is in the armrest — so you can’t move the armrest up and expand the width by a centimeter, no small measure in a world defined by tiny bags of pretzels, coffin-sized bathrooms and implied demilitarized zones between strangers.
Certainly no flier is pleased with the so-called deconstruction of airfares, those added fees for a checked bag or a smile from the flight attendant. But this was $37 — waived for certain frequent flier achievers — well spent.
– written by Dan Askin
Ladies, when you’ve got to go, well… you’ve got to go. But when you’re traveling, it’s not always a fun experience. Foreign bathrooms are often dirty, smelly and sometimes require a bit more muscle than usual. But a little bit of preparedness can go a long way in making the trip to the far-off loo a little more tenable.
Here are five things you’ll need in order to be prepared to visit the bathroom in any destination.
Running into a stall and discovering too late that the toilet paper dispenser is empty can happen anywhere, but in many overseas bathrooms you won’t even find a dispenser. Make sure you’ve always got a pocket pack of travel toilet paper or facial tissues with you wherever you go. Your best bet is to keep a packet in your pocketbook or backpack, your jacket pocket, your pants pockets and any other place you can think of.
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I can’t count the number of times I’ve been to a bathroom overseas where there was no soap, and sometimes not even water, to wash my hands. And whether I managed to get by without touching door knobs and flush handles didn’t matter. First of all, I always like to wash my hands, and second, if the bathroom is disgusting I’m going to feel dirty after using it. A little hand sanitizer goes a long way to relieving my discomfort. I always keep a bottle in any bag I’m carrying with me. I know sanitizer doesn’t trump soap if it’s available, but when there’s nothing else, sanitizer can save the day
I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but I think we can all agree that restrooms can get pretty smelly – to put it mildly. And roadside bathrooms are among the worst. I vividly recall stopping at a room of toilets (it really didn’t deserve to be called a bathroom) alongside a highway in Romania. The smell was so bad I couldn’t stay long enough to… I think you get the picture. Nowadays, I try to carry a small bottle of peppermint oil with me. A little dab rubbed on the skin under my nose manages to mask the worst odors at least long enough for me to do what needs to be done.
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Steady balance and strong thighs
I apologize but I’m about to get a little more personal for these next preparedness tips. I don’t think I know a single woman who hasn’t at some point had to squat over a toilet she didn’t want to sit on. And unless you can pee really, really fast, your thigh muscles are going to get a workout. It’s even worse when you don’t have a seat. Most world travelers have done the Turkish toilet at least once – you know the one where there is simply a hole in the ground and two elevated foot prints to plant your feet on? That doesn’t just take strong thigh muscles; that takes balance too. If you know you’re going to be traveling somewhere these two scenarios might play out, I suggest starting a regimen of squats and balance exercises right now.
Go Girls, Whizzys and P-Mates
This blog post is primarily for the ladies because let’s face it, it’s much easier to find a less disgusting place to pee when you can do it standing up. For the more adventurous ladies among us, you too, can join the men’s club. There are numerous products out there that claim to give women the ability to pee while standing. They come in plastic and paper varieties, vary in funnel shape and in my experience are messy to use. But maybe I did something wrong. The only way to find out is to test one out yourself.
– written by Dori Saltzman
Maybe you’re having a disastrous day at the airport, trying unsuccessfully to get rebooked after a canceled flight. Or you’re sitting at home on hold with an airline’s customer service department, listening to hour two of Elevator Music’s Greatest Hits. In growing frustration, you may be tempted to take your complaint to social media — but when you pull up your airline’s Twitter page, you encounter something like this:
“@jetblue doesn’t respond to formal complaints on Twitter. For official customer concerns go to jetblue.com/speakup or call 1-800-jetblue.”
“Have a complaint/compliment to share with us? Go to usairways.com/feedback so we can followup [sic] directly. We aren’t able to provide a proper response on Twitter.”
“Tweeting is short and sweet, but sometimes you need more than 140 characters to get an issue resolved. If you require a specific response: For post-travel issues related to travel [on] a United Airlines operated flight, please contact Customer Care at http://united.com/feedback.”
Why are the airlines on social media if they’re just going to shut down the conversation? Can they really do that?
Turns out that they can’t — and despite what their profiles say, they don’t even try. Even though JetBlue claims not to respond to complaints on Twitter, a quick scan of its Twitter page reveals responses to a delayed traveler (“We hear your frustration. What flight are you on so we can provide the most up to date information?”), a person having problems with the airline’s Web site (“You can either try using a different browser or give our Getaways department a call at 1-800-JETBLUE and they can help!”) and a passenger whose TV didn’t work in flight (“Sorry to hear – per our Customer Bill of Rights, you’re entitled to a $15 credit for the inconvenience”) — all within the past 13 hours.
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US Airways, meanwhile, tweeted this morning that it would rebook a delayed passenger, and asked other travelers having problems to DM (direct message) their confirmation codes so that the carrier’s Twitter team could look into the problem. United Airlines answered traveler questions and offered the appropriate customer service phone numbers and Web sites to Twitter followers who needed more in-depth assistance.
It’s clear that despite the airlines’ efforts to discourage passengers from speaking out on Twitter, people are doing it anyway — and the airlines are responding, often within minutes. Really, it makes sense; a tweet that goes viral can turn into a public relations nightmare, so it’s in the airlines’ best interest to resolve issues on Twitter as quickly and effectively as possible.
So the next time you’re fed up with a flight, consider the power you have in those simple 140 characters.
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Follow IndependentTraveler.com on Twitter!
– written by Sarah Schlichter
The 2012 Summer Olympic Games are in full swing in London, and as is often the case during major events, prices for accommodations were sold at large premiums in the months leading up to the Games. But many hotels have seen less demand than they expected, prompting some to “discount” their inflated rates at the last minute in order to fill still-empty rooms.
According to the Press Association, some booking engines reported prices inflated as much as 300 percent over the past two months, but say rates have since fallen back to levels that are closer to the norm.
Over-inflated prices aren’t uncommon when major events come to town, such as Mardi Gras New Orleans or Venice‘s Carnevale, but when demand is lower than expected, prices do sometimes fall — leaving visitors who booked early feeling ripped off. So what’s a budget traveler to do to protect against price gouging when inflation is an issue?
1. Use sites like Tingo.com, which will credit your card accordingly if the price of your booked hotel room drops. (See Want a Hotel Refund? Yes. Please. to learn more about Tingo.)
2. Look into refundable rates, check cancellation policies and consider purchasing appropriate travel insurance in case you have buyer’s remorse after booking an expensive room. Whether you find a cheaper room elsewhere or just flat-out decide to forgo the entire trip, you’ll be more likely to get your money back.
3. Ditch the hotel. If hotels are out of your price range during certain special events, consider staying at a hostel, a bed and breakfast or someone’s home (also known as couch surfing). Vacation rentals are also another option, which can be less expensive and offer more homey comforts.
Have you ever overpaid for a hotel during a major world event? Leave your comments below.
– written by Ashley Kosciolek
Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, which also owns Tingo.com.
Some of us love crowds. We can be found catching beads at Mardi Gras, hurling tomatoes at Tomatina and, at the London Games, ogling the athletes at the Horse Guards Parade — the venue for beach volleyball.
Not me. Ever since I spent a horrific New Year’s Eve in Times Square, I’ve been a bit crowd-phobic. The cheer isn’t enough to override the crowds and the commotion at the London Games. For the executive editor of our sister site, Cruise Critic, it’s the increased security at Heathrow that keeps her from London, even as a layover to Europe.
“The increased security is sure to add even more chaos to an already chaotic airport — and I still won’t feel completely safe,” Carolyn Spencer Brown told us.
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She’d like to avoid Heathrow this summer, but some airfare deals are making that difficult. “British Airways is offering cheap fares to Europe this summer,” Brown said. “I wonder if people are avoiding Heathrow.”
If they are shunning Heathrow and London, it’s a typical tendency to avoid visiting cities that host the Olympic Games. The Telegraph recently reported that Terry Williamson, chief operating officer of JacTravel, said “normal tourism” in past Olympic host cities post-Games dropped significantly during the events and “took some time to recover.”
Will the traffic, the crowds, the amped-up security, the missiles on rooftops keep you away from London this summer — even as a layover? Or will you be there — in the midst of it all? Vote in our poll below.
– written by Jodi Thompson
Be you bucket lister or wildlife buff, the idea of cruising the Galapagos is imbued with animal magnetism. It’s evocative of a science fiction adventure — ship as time machine transporting travelers to a prehistoric land of black lava, alien cactus trees and giant tortoises.
It turns out that planning for such a voyage, which includes ticking off items like “underwater camera housing” or “quick-drying pants that magically become shorts,” is oddly satisfying. So with the determination of a flightless cormorant who hasn’t had eel in a week, I began researching, prepping and packing for a July Galapagos cruise aboard Metropolitan Touring’s 48-passenger La Pinta.
As I dug through travel message boards and guidebooks, and picked the brains of past passengers, there emerged four cornerstones of the successful Galapagos cruise: protection from the sea and weather, proper footwear, a touch of pre-cruise study, and a means to record the experience of wandering onto a beachhead littered with groaning sea lions and thousands of fluorescent orange crabs.
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Protection from Sea and Sun
The packing list skewed more backpacker’s trek than cruise. Instead of a blue blazer and dress shoes, I stuffed my carry-on with quick-dry shirts, zip-top bags to protect equipment and a floppy hat to repel the equatorial sun. Also part of the regimen: two large tubes of sunblock, one SPF 45 for the delicate face, the other a waterproof 30 for the rest of the body — plus aloe, should I forget to re-apply either.
The sea poses its own problems — the wind-drawn Humboldt Current can bring with it nauseating, choppy waters from July to December — so I scored some Dramanine (which I later found that La Pinta offered in an all-you-can eat basket). Other passengers ultimately went with the prescription motion sickness patch, the dot-behind-the-ear option not available in South America.
Simply put, lava, over which many of the hikes take place, is unforgiving. Still, I left my hiking boots at home, opting instead for the TEVA sandals I’ve taken over rocky Greek Isles, European cobbles and dessert sands. However Galapagos visitors roll, they should make sure they’re properly out-footed. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, I’ll just bring my oldest pair of shoes and then dump them at the end of the trip,’” said John, one of our guides. “If there’s one tip I can offer, it’s to bring a solid new pair.” (Break them in pre-trip to avoid callouses.) Sure enough, one French passenger suffered a dual sole-ripping on a single walk. His well-worn boots literally ripped in half. Given his propensity for mocking American dining habits, no one seemed too upset for him.
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The Galapagos is a place where pre-knowledge enriches the experience — or so I was told. “On the Origin of Species” felt a little too “Challenges of Modernity,” a 200-level class, so I tapped Dominic Hamilton, Metropolitan’s Head of Communications, for something less collegiate. He suggested three: “The Beak of the Finch,” a non-fiction look at a pair of evolutionary biologists who watched natural selection, in real time, shape a colony of finches; “My Father’s Island,” a memoir written by a woman whose family colonized Santa Cruz in the 40′s; and “Galapagos, the Islands That Changed the World,” a photo-laden companion book to the BBC documentary of the same name. My public library had them all and all were winners.
Capturing the Tortoise
Though the local wildlife remains bizarrely apathetic to encroaching, camera-wielding homo sapiens, a colleague’s husband suggested renting a telephoto lens. I discovered LensProtoGo, which ships the lens in a waterproof, nearly indestructible Pelican case. The Nikon 80 – 400 millimeter telephoto lens costs about $1,600 new but only $15 a day to rent, and is ideal for framing the red-rimmed eye of the swallow-tailed gull or spying on other expedition ships. If you do bring the “bazooka” and plan on switching lenses, don’t forget the accouterments (a sensor cleaning kit). Jumbo-sized zip-top bags, procured from Amazon.com, would shield my camera equipment, already in a water-resistant bag, during wet landings (when Zodiacs pull up to a beach rather than a natural “dock”).
A second splurge, inspired by Galapagos cruise vets who shared regrets, was an underwater camera. I opted for a waterproof case for my Canon S90 point and shoot, which cost about $150. The video I took underwater, including a spiritual moment with a baby sea lion, was worth the cost.
The one thing I didn’t pack? My cat, a plague-like invasive species, had to stay.
– written by Dan Askin