Catch up on our favorite travel articles and videos of the week.
How GPS Is Messing with Our Minds
It’s hard to imagine navigating the world without a GPS these days, but this article from Time notes that relying so heavily on such devices harms our ability to make our own “cognitive map” — i.e., to get a clear sense of where we are in the context of our surroundings. This sometimes has tragic results (such as people following their GPS unit’s instructions into dangerous mountain terrain). Is it time for good old-fashioned maps to make a comeback?
Forget Your Passport; You’ll Need a DNA Sample to Enter Kuwait
Well, here’s an alarming idea. The New York Daily News reports that anyone who wants to travel to Kuwait will soon have to provide either “a swab of saliva or a few drops of blood” as a DNA sample. Though the Kuwaiti government promises that the samples won’t be tested for disease or otherwise infringe on property, it’s easy to see how this could go wrong (and make passport control lines even longer…).
Tipping Is Really Out of Control Now
Christopher Elliott of Elliott.org reports that more and more employees are asking for gratuities these days, including people we wouldn’t normally think to tip (such as tow truck drivers, airline ticket agents and even opticians). In a poll at the end of the article, about 70 percent of respondents say they’d like to have tipping restricted or banned by law. Do you agree?
Cruising Through the End of the World
Pacific Standard offers a fascinating look at the Northwest Passage, the famed pathway through the Canadian Arctic that intrepid explorers once suffered and died trying to find. These days you can explore it yourself aboard a cruise ship, seeing remote villages and looking out for polar bears.
‘Eat, Pray, Love’ and Travel
The New York Times interviews Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestseller “Eat, Pray, Love” — inspiration for a collection of essays called “Eat, Pray, Love Made Me Do It.” Gilbert reveals her favorite moment in the new book, shares her future travel plans and explains why her mother started traveling late in life.
Delta Is First Airline to Use New Baggage Tracking Technology
Could this be the beginning of the end of lost luggage? Conde Nast Traveler reports that Delta will start using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to track checked bags by the end of this year. Delta claims that this system is 99.9 percent effective, more so than the current system of barcoded tags and scanners. We’re crossing our fingers.
Why I Travel the World Alone
Travel + Leisure features an essay by a hardcore adventure traveler (“During a recent trip to Chad … I spent 19 days sleeping in the great outdoors — and going to the loo there, too — while crossing the Sahara Desert. I showered twice in 21 days”) who finds incredible rewards in the challenges and freedoms of traveling alone. We bet you’ll be inspired by her story too.
This week’s featured video comes from JetBlue, which turned frowns upside down on a recent flight by giving away discounts off a future trip every time a baby cried on the plane. Happy Mother’s Day!
Our Airbnb hosts in Colorado Springs were health enthusiasts who had run marathons on multiple continents, had a refrigerator bursting with organic fruits and vegetables, woke up at 5:30 a.m. to meditate, and trained by jogging halfway up Pikes Peak every Thursday morning. A conversation with them was enough to motivate anyone to skip dessert and do a few extra push-ups — and yet one of them said they found us inspiring.
“I love that you spend this kind of quality time traveling together,” she told me and my mother. “It makes me want to call my daughter and see if she might want to travel with me.”
This year marks the 10th year my mom and I have taken a mother-daughter trip together, dating back to a long weekend in Boston in 2006. Since then we’ve walked on a glacier in Iceland, explored art museums in the Big Apple and gone on an “Anne of Green Gables” pilgrimage on Canada’s Prince Edward Island.
Like any mother and daughter, we don’t always get along perfectly. I love a plan; she wants to be spontaneous. When we’re lost, I check a map while she asks a local for directions. After dinner I’m ready to head back to our room to read and relax; meanwhile, she’s looking for the nearest live music venue. But over the years we’ve learned to deal with our inevitable conflicts by obeying the following tips:
Find what draws you together. Though our personalities may be opposite, we share a common love of art (Mom is the only travel companion I’ve ever had who’s just as happy to spend an entire day in one museum as I am). We also enjoy hiking and browsing indie bookstores. We avoid arguments by centering our trip on activities we’re both passionate about.
Compromise. You learned this one in kindergarten, and it applies to any journey with another person, not just mother-daughter trips. If Mom keeps us out late listening to blues music one night, we’ll make an early evening of it the next day so I can recharge. Letting one person make all the decisions leads only to resentment.
Embrace your relationship as adults. For mothers and daughters who no longer share the same home, it can be challenging — but rewarding — to leave behind the patterns of the daughter’s childhood and form a new relationship as equal adults. For us, this has meant me breaking the sometimes resentful habits of a prickly adolescent and Mom trying to be a little less over-protective.
Acknowledge that some things never change. On our flight home I was in the bathroom when the plane lurched into a sudden patch of turbulence. I stumbled out of the bathroom but couldn’t make it back to my seat because the flight attendants were hustling down the aisle with the drink cart. I ended up joining them in their jumpseats for a few minutes while we waited for the plane to settle; I knew my mom was probably worrying about me from her own seat a few rows up.
I was right. When I returned to my seat, Mom touched my arm with a sense of relief and affection any parent would recognize, no matter the age of their children. “I knew you were safe back there,” she said. “But I feel better having you with me, right here.”
Have you ever traveled with your mother or daughter?
How do you really know if the cost of an airline ticket is on the money? A new formula came out late last week, providing travelers with a gauge to determine whether the airfare you’re considering is a good deal.
If you book a U.S. domestic roundtrip airfare, the total cost of the ticket should come to less than the total number of miles you’re traveling, times 3.2 cents, plus $230, according to Adobe Digital Index’s 2016 Travel Report. In other words: roundtrip miles x $0.032 + $230.
For international flights, the formula is this: roundtrip miles x $0.08 + $200.
These seemingly simple calculations are based on months of “slicing and dicing” more than 15 billion pieces of data from Adobe’s travel industry clients, explained Luiz Maykot, a data science analyst with the Adobe Digital Index.
“It always seemed to me that the price of tickets was random. But I had a feeling there was a connection,” Maykot told us in an interview.
For example, the 828-mile roundtrip flight between San Francisco and Las Vegas averages $256.50, according to the Adobe formula — which means the $87 United fare we saw in a recent search is a real steal.
While the formula isn’t intended to perfectly predict airfare costs, Maykot explained, it does show that there is “a basic structure to airfares” that can help you judge whether you are getting a good deal.
Adobe Systems Inc. has a cloud-based marketing system used by seven of the 10 largest airlines in the world, nine of the 10 largest hotel groups and countless other travel industry companies. That data, plus the results of a 1,000-person survey in March, guided the analysis, which is one of the most exhaustive in the industry.
Other interesting facts uncovered by the Adobe team:
-The cost of U.S. domestic airfare is down 6.6 percent this year over last year; international flights are 1.8 percent lower. Interestingly enough, more than four out of five people said they think airfares are the same or higher this year.
-Booking flights 90 days in advance will get you the best rate, except if you’re flying over the July 4 or Labor Day weekends. In those cases, you need only book 40 days in advance.
-In all cases, hotel rooms should be booked 30 to 40 days out.
-Waiting till the last minute can hurt; once you hit 20 days before your trip, airfares tend to rise by 3 percent a day up until six days before the flight. This is just on average, Maykot points out; flights to California go up at a higher rate than flights to Florida.
-Though travelers say they plan to spend 20 percent less on travel this year, the data tells a different story. Spending is expected to go up 5.5 percent.
This week’s puzzle is a word scramble. Below are the jumbled names of four major cities from around the world, followed by the country where they’re located. Your job is to unscramble them. For example, “IALM, EURP” would be “Lima, Peru.” Identify all four mystery cities to win.
Enter your list of unscrambled cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 2, 2016, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.
Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Nancy Paquin, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the puzzle answers below.
Catch up on some of the more interesting travel news and features of the past week.
Cheese, Miso and Tea Bags: The ‘Must-Pack’ Items Travelers Around the World Always Pack
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton recently revealed she never leaves home without hot sauce in her purse. She’s not the only one who refuses to travel without a favorite edible. A survey of 7,500 travelers from 29 countries showed that 56 percent of Japanese travelers bring miso soup with them, 38 percent of New Zealanders pack ketchup and nearly have of all Brits stash their favorite tea bags. The Daily Mail runs down the list of what other travelers won’t leave home without—food or otherwise.
Nepal Begins Reconstruction on Quake-Damaged Heritage Sites
A year after a massive earthquake in Nepal killed almost 9,000 people and destroyed a half-million homes, Nepal’s prime minister announced that key heritage sites around the capital will be reconstructed. More than 600 historic structures, including Buddhist temples, stupas and monasteries, were damaged or destroyed in the magnitude 7.8 earthquake last April 25, ABC News reports.
You Could Snag this Luxury Travel Internship
A Sydney-based luxe travel company is offering a dream internship, but there’s an important catch: You must be at least 60 years old to apply. The 10-day internship would require you to inspect five-star luxury hotels in Bali, go for spa treatments, sample exotic cocktails and take day trips, according to the Travel + Leisure article. Singles or couples may apply.
Travel Tips from Sportswriters: How to Play the Game
Who provides the best advice on traveling efficiently and inexpensively? Sportswriters, says The Wall Street Journal. You can glean great tips on using hotel loyalty programs, eating well in airports and packing light from the journalists who travel the most for their jobs. One of the best pieces of advice? Invest in a laptop with a longer battery life, because only half of all planes have power outlets, one sportswriter advises.
Check Out the 2016 Business Travel Award Winners
The May issue of Entrepreneur magazine runs down the winners of its annual Business Travel Awards, including best airlines, hotels, airports and luggage. Quantas, Hawaiian and Virgin Airlines take top nods for best airline food. JetBlue’s new Mint business-class service provides the top in-flight amenities, including posh toiletries and expanded television channels.
The Cheapest Days to Fly for Summer Travel
If you are planning a summer vacation and want to save the most amount of money, avoid flying in July, according to research by airfare search engine CheapAir. Airfares are the priciest then. This article from Lifehacker says that the least expensive days to fly this summer are June 1, July 26, August 31 and September 10. Check out the research for more tidbits on how to save money on summer flights.
Spain’s Cursed Village of Witches
Apparently, there’s a hilltop village of 62 souls in Spain that’s so cursed, only the Pope himself can lift it, the BBC reports. Trasmoz, in the province of Aragon, has a history of witchcraft dating back to the 13th century.
Video of the Week
What a scary, exhilarating, take-your-breath-away moment: Watch what happens to this paddle boarder in Southern California.
Each month, we’ll highlight one new trip review submitted by an IndependentTraveler.com reader. If your review is featured, you’ll win an IndependentTraveler.com logo item!
In this month’s winning review, a traveler has a life-changing volunteer experience at Sri Lanka’s Millennium Elephant Foundation. “It’s 7:00 in the morning,” writes TS Buchanan. “It’s 35 degrees [Celsius] already, the sweat is pouring off me and I’m shoveling crap. Literally … shovelling crap. But not just any crap, I’m shovelling elephant dung. And I’m having the time of my life!”
I’m sure there are still plenty of people simply staring at their phones the whole time, or curled up on an uncomfortable bench trying to catch a snooze. But there are a lot more interesting things to do at airports these days during a long layover.
Learn CPR. Chicago O’Hare International is the latest airport to introduce free kiosks where you can learn CPR. The video arcade game-like tutorial shows you how to do hands-only CPR and practice on a rubber torso attached to the machine. Push hard and fast in the center of the chest to the beat of the Bee Gees song “Stayin’ Alive,” the tutorial advises.
And if you ask one University of Dayton student, the tutorial is time well spent. He learned CPR during a three-hour at Dallas/Fort Worth international. The lesson took 15 minutes, and he ended up saving the life of a fellow student two days later.
Take a free city tour. A number of airports offer free city tours to airline passengers with layovers, writes Jennifer Dombrowski of Luxe Adventure Traveler in 5 Things to Do at an Airport During a Layover. Tokyo Narita, Singapore Changi and even Salt Lake International Airport are among those offering free tours.
Icelandair launched a new program called Stopover Buddies this winter to pair up travelers with airline employees who take you skiing, ice skating, out for a spectacular meal, horseback riding or for a dip in a thermal pool, among other activities. The sky’s the limit, depending on how much time you have. The Stopover Buddies program concludes on April 30, but I hope they continue it again later this year.
Get sporty. As this Lonely Planet article details, you can go to the gym at Changi Airport in Singapore, ice skate at Seoul Incheon International, go surfing — actual surfing, not on the web – at Munich International or do yoga in a studio at Dallas/Fort Worth International.
Hang out in a first-class lounge. You don’t have to be a first-class ticketholder to pass your layover in an airline lounge. According to the website Sleeping in Airports, more than 190 airports around the world have 300 lounges that you can access by prepurchasing a pass. Or check with the airport information desk to ask about lounges that allow you to purchase access. For more information, see 7 Ways to Score Airport Lounge Access.
Be a foodie. So many airports have specialty or themed dining options that you could design your own eating tour. Travel Pulse suggests a Latin food tour at Miami International by sampling Cuban and Venezuelan dishes at various eateries. Likewise, you could go on a wine tasting tour. Two dozen U.S. airports have outposts of the winebar Vino Volo.
Rent a day room. I’ve hit the age now where trying to nap in an airport has zero appeal. So I love the concept behind Hotels by Day, in which hotels offer unsold rooms for day use at lower rates. There are a number of airport hotel options if your layover doesn’t afford enough time to travel into a city but you still want a chance to shower, take a nap or watch television.
This Friday’s challenge is a photo of an unidentified place somewhere in the world. Can you tell us where the photo was taken? Leave your guess in the comments below — and check back on Tuesday to see if you were right!
Hint: This precariously perched monastery is located in a country whose government measures “Gross National Happiness.”
Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, April 25, 2016, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com prize. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.
Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Margot Cushing, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was the Taktsang Monastery in Bhutan. Paro Takstsang and Tiger’s Nest Monastery were also correct answers. Margot has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.
Check out the travel stories you may have missed this week.
National Parks: Ken Burns on Why They Were America’s Best Idea
With the 100th birthday of the U.S. National Parks coming up in August, USA Today sits down with filmmaker Ken Burns and his partner Dayton Duncan to discuss the importance of the parks — which Duncan calls “the Declaration of Independence expressed on the landscape.” They also reveal their favorite parks.
Visiting Museums Like the Louvre Is Terrible, and There’s No Fair Solution
A Washington Post columnist bemoans the crowds that mob the world’s great art museums, making it difficult to experience works such as the “Mona Lisa” and Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” without having to see past waving cell phones and cameras. (Our best solution: Travel during the off season and come early or late in the day.)
The Multi-City Flight Trick May Soon Be Ending
Conde Nast Traveler reports that American, Delta and United have closed a fare loophole that once saved crafty fliers some money. Before you could connect multiple nonstop tickets to create your own cheap connecting itinerary, but now you won’t be able to do that unless you purchase each ticket separately.
Update From Ecuador: What Travelers Should Know About Visiting Right Now
Following a strong earthquake in Ecuador last Saturday, Travel + Leisure reached out to the country’s Minister of Tourism to learn how its main tourist areas were faring. The Amazon and the Galapagos Islands were unscathed, while the port city of Guayaquil and other areas along the coast faced varying levels of damage.
10,000 People on the Waiting List to Try London’s New Naked Restaurant
Hmm, how appetizing does this sound? Lonely Planet profiles a London restaurant called Bunyadi, where you can dine naked in a “secret Pangea-like world” while perched on wooden stools. (Gowns are provided to put between your bare skin and any possible splinters. Whew!) The restaurant will only be open for three months this summer.
31 Secrets About Travel Insurance Only Insiders Know
Even we learned a few things from this GOBankingRates.com slideshow on travel insurance — like the fact that many plans come with concierge services, and that they also offer at least 10 days to cancel for free.
Where Marrying a Local Is Forbidden
BBC Travel profiles the remote Palmerston Atoll, a South Pacific island home to just 62 residents (all of whom are related). Foreign visitors are immediately adopted into a local family and can join the island’s daily volleyball game.
Speaking of the South Pacific, this video captures mesmerizing footage from Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, the Cook Islands and more.
You’ve arrived at your destination, but your luggage hasn’t. It’s annoying enough to have to buy new clothes and toiletries to get by before your bag is delivered by the airline (if it comes at all). It’s even more annoying if you paid a nonrefundable fee of $25 or $30 for the privilege of checking that bag.
The newest bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration includes language that would require airlines to refund baggage fees in cases when your checked suitcase is delayed, reports the New York Times.
You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but as the author of the Times piece notes, there are numerous barriers that currently keep you from getting your money back. First, many airlines, including United, Spirit and American, declare that their baggage fees are nonrefundable. (United’s Contract of Carriage does note that baggage fees will be refunded if your suitcase is lost — but makes no such comment in the case of delays.)
If you do get a refund from the airline, it may be in the form of a voucher to be used on a future flight, often with a one-year expiration date. For people who don’t fly often, such a voucher may be pretty much worthless.
No luck with the airline? You can try contacting your credit card company to dispute the charge — a strategy that is sometimes successful, but can take some persistence.
Travelers should cross their fingers for the Senate version of the reauthorization bill to pass; it would require airlines to give an automatic refund of baggage fees to anyone who hasn’t received their luggage within six hours of arrival on a domestic flight or within 12 hours of an international arrival. The House has a more lenient 24-hour deadline and would not mandate automatic refunds.