Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Travel Snobs...They May be on to Something

As I came up to the Fullerton El stop, I grabbed a RedEye, as always. The cover story? "Five-Star Flying." Basically, there are travelers out there who actively avoid certain airlines due to lack of service or certain airports because of their bad on-time flight percentage. People will pay extra for a seating option that gurantees they won't be sitting in that middle seat or for flights with no layovers. Bottom line, depite the recession and airlines' offers for cheaper tickets, people are still picky about how they travel.

For the ones who can afford it, being choosey about travel can be an advantage. While some would say they are snobbish, others would claim they are geniuses. The article talks about veteran travelers who know what kind of planes are used at specific times for specific destinations, and therefore opt for the ones that use a larger plane. It mentions people who avoid certain discount airlines because their options are a la carte and they don't want to pay a fee for a coke. Some people will buy two seats on a cheap airline like JetBlue rather than a first class ticket on another because there is 3 more inches of leg room and a personal tv at every seat. What people will do for comfort.

Some travelers--and I personally think this is really smart--avoid connecting flights through cold cities during winter months so as to avoid any weather delays. While it may cost more, or force a longer flight, at least the person is on the way to their destination rather than sitting on the floor in a crowded airport munching on trail mix and getting bored with their trashy travel novel.

I honestly cannot afford to spend extra to avoid those small inconveniences. But as a student I have learned to deal with sitting in the middle seat, or having my stomach grumble for three hours because I didn't want to spend $3 for a bag of pretzels, or long layovers. But I can totally understand those people who prefer to travel with a little bit more comfort; feet propped, drink in hand, gold rolex indicating an on-time arrival, all from the comfort of their prearranged aisle seat.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Visit to the Pitch

Last night, I was a spectator at the CONCACAF Gold Cup Semifinals soccer match, where the U.S. battled Honduras, and Mexico faced off against Costa Rica. The experience was nothing short of exciting. The U.S. played first, and though the game was slow most of the way through, America managed to pull off two impressive goals to take the win 2-0. The Mexico/Costa Rica game was made infinitely better by the enthusiasm of the crowd. While neither team could manage to score until the very end of the game, the crowd kept spirits up with their shouts of encouragement, the wave, and chucking half full beer cups at the opposing players. It was a nice little taste of what I'll be seeing a year from now in South Africa at the World Cup.

I will be the first to admit that I am not exactly a soccer enthusiast. I appreciate the sport--hell my 50-year-old dad still plays every Sunday--and I enjoy a good match just as much as the next person. Needless to say, my soccer-crazed friends are extremely jealous of my fortune in getting to witness a World Cup, and are probably justified in their angered emotions that someone who barely knows the rules of the game gets this privilege. But nonetheless, I am off to South Africa in less than a year, and I can't wait!

The soccer game last night just sparked a fire in me, and next June cannot come soon enough. It won't just be the soccer games that I'll be anxious to see, but I'll be venturing to a country, a continent, I've never visited. There is so much to see and do, and I only have a couple weeks to accomplish it all. Going to the beaches in Durban--the city we're staying in,--going on a safari in the desert, visiting Victoria Falls, treking through the rainforests, etc. The list goes on and I'm sure it will only grow. What is truly exciting is to be in the host country where such an exciting tournament that brings the whole world together will be played. The atmosphere alone is enough to get even the most lathargic person up off their couches and dancing in the streets--or bars.

If the fans at last night's match were any indication of what's to come, I am sure in for a wild time in Africa.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

National Geographic Travel Books...

...there's an option for every traveler and trip.

Sure, in this economy people are staying at home more. But let's face it, we were meant to explore, born to roam. National has formulated a list of six books dedicated to travel, and each one provides the reader with a little something different.

For the literary types who fancy visiting the locales in their favorite novels--the Royal Crescent in Bath where Elizabeth Bennet walked with Mr. Darcy perhaps--, Novel Destinations is the right book. It provides a list of over 500 literary sites across the U.S. and Europe. It lays out the history of museums, houses, bars, restaurants, and festivals all featured in books and authors' lives. The book can give anyone a private tour through the pages of a classic novel.

For the volunteer--or wannabe one--in all of us, 100 Best Volunteer Vacations to Enrich Your Life brings the world of "voluntourism" to the masses. Pam Grout gives lists of options for people with various talents and personalities. On top of that, beside each volunteer opportunity are personal trips to nearby locations, as well as tips and tricks while traveling in a new country.

How about a little getaway with the girls? 50 Best Girlfriends Getaways in North America, 2nd Edition covers destinations perfect for birthdays, relaxation, shopping, and bonding. It's easy to pick a place, grab a friend or two, and hit the road.

Family vacations are classic...and even when you're older, they can still be fun. The 10 Best of Everything: Families gives families lists of the ten best of any kind of trip they desire. Whether it's staying local (best ice-cream shops or parks) or traveling around the world (best adventure vacations or best itineraries for London), the book provides information, tips, and fun for the whole family. (Wow, that sounded incredibly cliche.)

Road Trips are becoming increasingly more popular in this economy, seeing as it is a lot cheaper to stay around the U.S. than travel abroad. USA 101 puts together a whole array of classic American destinations--the Statue of Liberty, Liberty Bell, Golden Gate Bridge--and invites travelers to get in on the events, fairs, festivals, and small quirks that this country has to offer.

And finally, who wouldn't want to go to the Dalai Lama's favorite travel spot? I know I would. My Favorite Place on Earth begs the question: What is your favorite travel discovery? It follows the stories of celebrities as they discuss their favorite places to go. Next to each celebrity's location, the author has placed information about fun attractions and places to see while visiting these various cities and areas around the world.

So pick up a book and read about where, how, and when to travel. If anything these books should give you some pretty good ideas for future vacations.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Paper Heart in Paris

Last week, I had the privilege of viewing an early screening of the movie Paper Heart, starring Charlyne Yi, Michael Cera, and Jake Johnson. Basically, it's a documentary style movie mixed with a fictional story, and it's all about love. Does it really exist? Will Charlyne ever find it? How do you know you've found it? What is it? Charlyne embarks on a trip around the United States asking people these kinds of questions, hoping that it will change her own perceptions of love. Near the end of the film, the crew heads to the "city of love," Paris, thinking it could be a strong ending to the documentary. But Paris is tainted by Charlyne's sadness over losing her boyfriend, Michael Cera, who she may or may not love.

As I watched the scenes filmed in Paris, I couldn't help but feel an overwhelming desire to go back. I have visited Paris twice in my life: once when I was 6 or 7, so I don't really remember it that well; the second time was last summer when two of my friends and I backpacked around Europe. However, we only stayed for three days and our budget was limiting, so there was not a whole lot we could do. But now I'm thinking I need to go back again, stay for longer and allow myself a larger budget so I can fully enjoy all the city has to offer.

I was reading through the New York Times Travel section, and there was a question posed by a reader about cheap places to stay in Paris. I was intrigued, seeing as the city is so prominent in my mind today, so I clicked the headline and had myself a read. I loved some of the suggestions that offer quality lodging at a rate that won't empty the wallet. Matt Gross, the Frugal Traveler, gave some hotel names, and I happily looked into them.
  • Hotel des Arts Bastille: located between Pere Lachaise Cemetery and Opera-Bastille, the hotel offers newly renovated rooms and an ideal location. It costs about $85 a night, which is certainly doable for a student like me. Let's face it, I don't need to stay in a 5-star resort...modest accomodations work for me.
  • Les Chansonniers: This hotel sounded fun just beacuse it is themed after the great old French singers. Plus, it is only $65 a night, and is in a great location where there is a market twice a week and numerous restaurants, cafes, bars, and theatres.
  • Hotel Langlois: This is a little pricier, but has a location closer to attractions like the Opera House. The hotel has a more historic feel than the others, giving visitors a better sense of the Old Paris. The price is about $163 a night, but for some travelers that is more than reasonable considering the look and feel of the hotel. Plus, it is Paris!
So while I will have to find a good time to travel to Paris, I know I have options for some more reasonably priced accomodations. Now, I just have to see who wants to come with me. Any takers?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fido is Flying in Style

Imagine your dog sitting in a first class seat on a flight to New York or L.A. Kibble being served in a silver dish. Chew toys available at the wag of a tail.

Not quite. Pets will not be strapped into seats, but rather will be getting their very own plane to travel across the country. Pet Airways, the first airline exclusively for pets, is launching its new service starting next week, July 14. The airline currently is only available in 5 cities—New York, Washington D.C., Denver, Chicago, and L.A.—but hopes to expand nationwide.

It's simple. Right now animals that travel with their owners on planes are treated as baggage and kept in crates in the cargo area. This can be a scary and traumatic event for pets; especially since cargo holds can reach temperatures up to 120 degrees. Also, many airlines recently have disposed of their pet-acceptance policies and will no longer allow pets on flights. Of the airlines that do still take pets, they have policies that state they cannot accept them when the temperature outside is below 45 degrees or above 85 degrees. These regulations are for safety reasons, but it makes traveling with a pet extremely limiting.

Pet Airways provides pets a ride in a Beech 1900 airplane, where the seats have been removed, so pets can be placed in their private pet carriers and secured using a proprietary restraint system. Pet attendants monitor the comfort of the animals every 15 minutes throughout the flight. Dropping off and picking up pets is made easy with Pet Lounges at every airport where owners check their animal in two hours before the flight. If people need to check in earlier, their pet can stay at the Lodge provided by the airline up to 72 hours before the flight. For peace of mind, owners can track their pets the whole way online at the Pet Airways website.

The prices are a little steep, if you ask me--as low as $149 one way. I spend less on regular round-trip tickets. I know that airline policies for pet travel are changing, and can be limiting at times, but is it really worth it for that much money? For people who love to pamper their pet, probably. But I find it's just better to find a pet-sitter, and leave your animals at home.

Currently, the airline only provides services for dogs and cats, but reptiles, birds, and pigs are soon to follow.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Taste of Chicago Provides a Taste of the World

This past Fourth of July weekend, I braved the crowds and ventured to the Taste of Chicago with my boyfriend. For those who do not know, Taste is a huge festival that takes place at Grant Park for 10 days and consists of over 70 restaurants from around the city. Visitors can sample from as many stands as they want and receive a variety of different kinds of cuisine.

In my past couple visits to the taste, I have st
uck with the traditional foods--ravioli, chicken legs, corn on the cob, burgers, pizza, cheesecake--but this year I opted for cuisine that I had never really experienced before. My boyfriend is Polish, so he suggested I try Pierogies, semi-circular shaped dumplings with unleavened dough and various fillings. I went with the chicken pierogi, and also took a sample of cheese danish with raspberry sauce. To my delight, it was all delicious.

The beauty of Taste is that Chicagoans get the chance to discover restaurants around the city, but also taste international delicacies. And with such a dynamic city, it only makes sense that all these places can exist in one place. Of course the classic deep dish Chicago pizza will always be close to my heart, but now I may venture even further from my comfort zone and try those dishes I may never have before. It will only prepare me for my travels around the world.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Vroom Vroom

I don't know a lot about cars. But we can overlook that, right?

When it comes to road trips, I'm all about cars. If you don't have a good ride to get you where you're going, then it almost doesn't seem worth it. But I learned about some amazing road trip deals that allow you to rent some pretty impressive cars.

Red Travel Italia's Ferrari Tours are customizable tours through Italy all from behind the wheel of the latest Ferrari models. Red Travel has plenty of options for travelers, providing driving pleasure and panoramic views. Each trip gives people an experience that mixes art, food, fashion, and the historic cities of Italy.

If Italy is not your idea of a great vacation spot--though I don't know how that's possible--there are tours in England which rent out classic, vintage cars. A quick lesson is provided so travelers can learn the ins and outs of driving the old models, and then the whole country is at your wheels.

As much as having one elite car is nice, what about 5? Western Road Adventure gives you a different car everyday as you explore the canyons of Colorado. The southern California coast calls, as well as 32 historic bungalows and a Mercedes Benz--or a BMW 3 Series, or Lexus ES 350.

Now, most of these are pretty expensive, and only when I'm rolling in the dough will I be able to afford trips like these. But, hey, it's nice to dream.