In Saudi Arabia, a Kingdom to Myself
It’s unlikely that many of us will ever travel to Saudi Arabia, so it’s fascinating to see this in-depth look from the New York Times. The writer visits an island with only one hotel, explores pre-Islamic tombs and attends a local festival.
Monotony and ‘Moments of Terror’ Mark Search for Flight 370
Nearly two years after the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, both the fate of the plane and its location are still shrouded in mystery. This AP story captures the difficult and often tedious job of searching the ocean floor with sonar for the lost aircraft.
What It’s Like to Live on a Cruise Ship for 8 Years
Forget retiring in Florida — the Washington Post profiles an 87-year-old woman who’s spending her golden years on a cruise ship. Lee Wachtstetter began her life aboard Crystal Serenity a few years after her husband’s death.
New Senate Bill Proposes End to “Ridiculous” Airline Fees
Two Democratic senators have put forward a bill that would allow the Department of Transportation to prevent airlines from raising fees or charging prices that are “unreasonable or disproportional to the costs” of a service. Will the proposal ever make it into law? Here’s hoping.
This week’s stunning travel video will put the Philippines on your bucket list if it’s not already there. Do yourself a favor and view it in full screen.
This morning, a colleague received an email from the U.S. State Department with a rather alarming subject line: “Message for U.S. Citizens: Worldwide Caution Update.” The email was a transmission of the Worldwide Caution released on the State Department’s website on March 3.
The message offers nearly 1,800 words of warnings about terrorist threats around the world, particularly in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia/Pacific. “U.S. citizens continue to be at risk of kidnappings and hostage events as ISIL, al-Qa’ida, and their affiliates attempt to finance their operations through kidnapping-for-ransom operations,” the State Department wrote. “U.S. citizens have been kidnapped and murdered by members of terrorist and violent extremist groups.” Threats include suicide bombings and attacks on highly populated places such as trains, shopping malls and restaurants.
“No wonder people are afraid to travel!” my colleague said. “This is a terrifying email.”
If reading the message makes you want to hide under your bed until the world gets less scary, you’re not alone — but there are a few important things to keep in mind before you call off your next trip and retire your passport. First, this Worldwide Caution isn’t new. The State Department updates this overarching security warning at least every six months, according to the Washington Post, in order to provide information on the most current threats. So if you’ve felt comfortable enough to take a vacation in the past couple of years, you were already traveling under a worldwide warning.
Secondly, the chances of being affected by a terrorist attack are still extraordinarily low. Wendy Perrin, Travel Advocate for IndependentTraveler.com’s parent company, TripAdvisor, notes that the largest cause of death for Americans traveling abroad is actually motor vehicle accidents, and that in recent years more Americans have been killed in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil than in attacks overseas. (See 7 Keys to Traveling Without Fear Despite Terrorist Attacks to learn more.)
Conde Nast Traveler editor-in-chief Pilar Guzman makes another important point when she tells the Wall Street Journal that by avoiding certain countries that rely on tourism — such as Egypt — we might be helping to destabilize those countries and make them more susceptible to radicalization. You can check out the full video below:
Government warnings have an important place in helping travelers decide which countries are and aren’t safe to visit; each of us has a different tolerance for risk, and the more information we have, the better able we are to make the decisions that are right for us. (See Travel Warnings and Advisories for tips on how to use and evaluate government advisories.) But the danger of a Worldwide Caution is that worried travelers will decide not to go anywhere at all — leading to a more insular worldview that is driven by fear, not empathy and understanding.
Does the threat of terrorism make you more afraid to travel?
— written by Sarah Schlichter
Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.
Among the world’s busiest airports, Seoul’s Incheon International Airport and Singapore Changi Airport provide the best customer services and amenities, according to a new survey from Airports Council International (ACI).
The two Asian airports provide modern amenities and entertainment options for travelers, including Incheon’s ice skating rink and Changi’s butterfly garden. Amenities like those make for a better traveler experience, an ACI representative told Skift.
The Airports Council International, a trade association for the world’s airports, interviewed 550,000 passengers at more than 300 airports around the world, asking them about such topics as checking in, cleanliness, security, airport facilities, food and beverage, and retail offerings. Seoul and Changi tied for first place among airports handling more than 40 million passengers a year.
Indianapolis International Airport was ranked the top airport in North America for the fourth straight year. The airport, which sees more than 7 million travelers annually, has 2,000 acres of protected land surrounding it. Researchers study bats there, and last year, conservationists added an apiary to breed honeybees. The airport is also home to the largest solar farm at any airport in the world. Inside, the airport is filled with art and local eateries.
Five North American airports tied for second place: Grand Rapids, Tampa, Dallas Love Field, Jacksonville and Ottawa.
The best airports in other regions, according to the survey, are:
Africa: Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport in Mauritius
Europe: A three-way tie among three Russian airports — Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International, Pulkovo International in St. Petersburg and Sochi International
Middle East: Amman Queen Alia International Airport in Jordan
Latin America/Caribbean: Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport in Guayaquil, Ecuador
Things You Should Never Order from Room Service
Do you know why you should order a room service steak a little rarer than you normally would, or why you should probably just pass on a shrimp cocktail? Conde Nast Traveler offers some fun facts about how room service works and which menu items aren’t a good bet.
Airlines to Introduce an ‘Economy Minus’ Class
Flying coach is already bad enough — but Fortune reports that a new, even worse class of service is trending across the airline industry. “Basic economy” (also known by some as “economy minus”) will cut even more amenities in order to offer bare-bones low fares. Book one of these tickets, and you can say goodbye to a free carry-on bag and advance seat assignments, among other things.
The Challenge of Taming Air Turbulence
The New York Times explores how airlines try to prepare for unexpected bumps in the air, and even questions whether warmer weather due to El Nino could cause turbulence to become more common. (The answer: no one quite knows.)
The Political Push to Destroy Hidden Hotel Fees Has Begun
We all hate showing up to a hotel and having unexpected costs such as resort fees and other surcharges tacked onto our bill. (See Hidden Hotel Fees for some examples.) Skift reports that U.S. Senator Claire McCaskell has introduced a bill that would require hotels and travel sites to reveal such fees at the time of booking. Sounds reasonable to us — we’ll see if Congress agrees.
Why You Can’t Trust GPS in China
Travel + Leisure takes a fascinating look at how digital maps — such as those on your smartphone or GPS device — are slightly inaccurate in China due to the country’s security regulations. For example, a building in Beijing that you’re standing right next to could appear to be a few hundred yards away on your phone.
This week’s featured video features timelapse footage of Vienna, whooshing the viewer from theaters and monuments to parks and quiet streets.
Would you be willing to ditch your daily latte habit for half a year, give up cigarettes or downgrade your cocktail of choice in order to afford a vacation? Forty-one percent of Americans say yes, according to a new survey.
And that’s not all some Americans are willing to forgo paying in order to afford a getaway, says the survey sponsored by the vacation rental search company Tripping.com. Nearly a third of the 1,000 respondents would downgrade their cell phone plan. Nine percent of people say they’d skip paying their bills one month, including a smattering of people (5 percent) who’d intentionally miss a mortgage or rent payment. (Highly not recommended, by the way.)
In other perhaps inadvisable behavior, more than 7 percent of respondents said they’d lie to their employer or even sacrifice their jobs to take time off. This isn’t surprising, considering that about one in four private sector workers in America do not get any paid vacation leave, according to a 2015 survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
What would you give up in order to save money for travel?
Airline Complaints Spike Even as Service Improves
By many measures, the airlines are actually getting better these days (hard as it may be to believe). USA Today reports that more flights are arriving on time, with fewer lost bags and fewer passengers being bumped from full flights. Despite these improvements, however, passenger grievances are on the rise, particularly complaints from people with disabilities.
JetBlue Asks Flyers to ‘Reach Across the Aisle’ in Election-Year Stunt
As the 2016 U.S. presidential election gets increasingly contentious, JetBlue is attempting to bring us all together in the spirit of travel. Adweek highlights a recent publicity stunt, er, video, in which the airline gives away free tickets to an entire plane full of people, as long as they can make a unanimous choice about where to go. (Their eventual pick? Costa Rica.)
Comparing Airbnb and Hotel Rates Around the Globe
In case you’ve ever wondered whether booking a vacation rental would save you money over a hotel, the answer is yes — at least in some of the cities where Busbud compared rates. The site found that Airbnb could save you the most in London, where the average rental is more than $108 cheaper than the average hotel. At the other end of the spectrum is Barcelona, where hotels cost $139 less on average.
Read up on our favorite stories from the travel world this week.
The Italian Villages So Popular You Will Now Need a TICKET to Visit Them
The Daily Mail reports that Cinque Terre, a collection of five famously charming coastal villages in Italy, is so overwhelmed by travelers that it will be limiting them in 2016. This past year 2.5 million people visited the site, but the 2016 total will be capped at 1.5 million, with advance tickets sold online.
How to Avoid Getting Counterfeit Money When You Travel
Counterfeit money may not be something you usually worry about when you travel, but Forbes reports that it may be more common than you’d expect in some parts of the world. This comprehensive article advises travelers to get money from ATMs associated with banks (rather than those at shopping malls or in standalone locations) and to check for things like blurred ink or flimsy paper when receiving change.
Advice for Avoiding Costly Airline Fees for Changing Plans
If you’ve booked a nonrefundable plane ticket — as most of us do — you could pay up to $200 (plus fare differences) if you need to change your plans. The Associated Press offers a few tips to help you avoid change fees, including booking with one of the few airlines that don’t charge such fees.
Behind the Masks in West Africa
CNN offers a fascinating slideshow from a photo series called “Woongo, Behind the Masks,” in which Tunisian artist Selim Harbi took pictures of West African people wearing traditional masks in an attempt to provide a different perspective on the way Africa is typically represented in the media.
These German Vacationers Don’t Take Kindly to the Kinder
The Wall Street Journal reports on a new trend in German luxury hotels: banning children. The story quotes one traveler who says, “I feel annoyed by the mere presence of children. Their running around, their loudness, their parents — it creates a tense atmosphere.” Hotels have limited their guests to adults only in an attempt to create tranquility.
This week’s video needs a warning for excessive cuteness. Behold: a polar bear at the Toronto Zoo seeing snow for the first time.
For Americans, taking a trip to Cuba got a little easier on Tuesday, when the U.S. and Cuban governments agreed to reinstate commercial air travel between the two countries for the first time in more than a half-century. Yahoo! News reports that up to 110 daily flights will be permitted between the U.S. and 10 different airports in Cuba, with 20 of those going to Havana. Before this agreement Americans could only fly to Cuba from the U.S. aboard charter flights or by connecting in another country such as Canada or Mexico.
The new flights aren’t available just yet, but odds are that your favorite airline is interested in offering them. According to USA Today, most of the major U.S. airlines have expressed their intent to apply for flights to Cuba, including American, Delta, United, JetBlue and Spirit. Southwest and Alaska are considering putting in bids as well.
Per Yahoo! News, the airlines have about two weeks to submit their applications, and we should find out which flights will be available within about six months.
Americans should keep in mind that visits to Cuba for simple “touristic” purposes are still not permitted — so if you’re dreaming of wandering freely around Havana or lying on a beach in Varadero, tap the brakes. Even after commercial flights are in place, you’ll still need to verify that you are traveling to Cuba for one of the 12 purposes permitted by the U.S. government, including “educational activities” and “support for the Cuban people.” (You can find the full list at Can Americans Travel to Cuba? Yes — and Here’s How.)
For now, the easiest way to visit Cuba is still to travel with a group such as Intrepid Travel, smarTours, Insight Cuba or Cuba Explorer, all of which offer government-compliant itineraries and will arrange charter flights for you.
No surprise: A real-life re-creation of Vincent Van Gogh’s famous painting of his bedroom, which was listed for $10 a night on Airbnb, sold out for the first month within hours of its promotion.
The Art Institute of Chicago commissioned the creation of the one-room rental — modeled precisely after the trio of paintings the Dutch artist made in the late 1880s — to help promote its new exhibit “Van Gogh’s Bedrooms.” One of the bedroom scenes is in the Art Institute’s permanent collection, and the other two are on loan for an exhibit that runs through May 10. It’s the first time that all three paintings are on exhibit together in North America.
The tiny rental room is located in a historic building in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. “This room will make you feel like you’re living in a painting,” the Airbnb listing says. “It’s decorated in a Post-Impressionist style, reminiscent of Southern France and times gone by.”
Airbnb will accept bookings for March stays during the last week of February. Monitor the Art Institute’s Facebook page or Twitter feed to find out exactly when the rooms will open up. (We assume they’ll book speedily too.)
For those who couldn’t land a night in the twin bed with the thin red blanket, the Art Institute exhibit includes a life-size replica of the room, where you can listen to period music and snap selfies.
And if Chicago isn’t on your travel itinerary for now through May, you can have a similar experience at the 42-acre Grounds for Sculpture park in Hamilton, New Jersey. Not only can you go into a room modeled after the bedroom, but you can also step inside three-dimensional replicas of other famous paintings, including Pierre Auguste Renoir’s 19th-century “The Luncheon of the Boating Party” and Edouard Manet’s “Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe.”
It’s that time of the week! Catch up on all the great travel stories you may have missed over the past seven days.
Walking the Great Wall’s Wild Side
This engaging story from the Alaska Airlines blog details a hiking adventure along an unrestored section of the Great Wall of China. Along the way the writer befriends three local women and tests his own bravery in the face of narrow paths and precipitous ledges.
Air Emergencies: Are Airlines Telling You What You Need to Know?
Canada’s CBC News reports that many airline safety briefings leave out a key bit of information that could save your life in a crash. A safety researcher quoted in the article says that using the brace position (in which you stabilize your body by bending over with your head against the seat in front of you) can “reduce severity of injuries” and “reduce deaths.” The position is illustrated on the safety card in your seatback pocket but often not mentioned in safety videos or live demonstrations by flight attendants.
How Scientists Are ‘Hacking’ the Body to Override Jet Lag
Could flashing lights help cure jet lag? That’s the latest from Conde Nast Traveler, which reports on a new study that tested short flashes of light administered 10 seconds apart while study participants were sleeping. This treatment is believed to help the brain acclimate more quickly to time changes.
A Robot Butler Is Replacing Humans in Some California Hotels
The next time you ring the front desk staff to ask if they have a spare toothbrush, you might find the real-life equivalent of R2-D2 bringing it to your door. Business Insider reports on a growing trend of robots in hotels, with about a dozen properties now employing them in California.
This week’s video features droolworthy footage from the Norwegian fjords, where a dedicated young guitarist hauled his instrument up to a few of the region’s most spectacular overlooks.