Friday, November 20, 2009

Flying Innovations

I'm not really sure how we got on the subject, but my boyfriend and I were talking last night about flying: how expensive flights are, and how much time it takes to fly places. I was telling him that if I had the time and money to spend on flights, I would travel everywhere, and all the time. Unfortunately for both of us, money is the biggest issue and there is no way we could afford all those flights, with fees, taxes, etc. But then he said something interesting about how if the airlines could figure out ways to cut costs or create planes that were more fuel efficient, pricing could be improved.

This intrigued me, and today I actually found an article from Budget Travel that discussed the many innovations that airlines and airports are introducing. It was my luck that fuel efficiency was not mentioned anywhere, but there were plenty of other innovations that seemed interesting.

1. Cathay Pacific Airways, based in Hong Kong, has reinvented the coach seat. When a passenger reclines, the seat bottom slides forward rather than the back moving. This prevents the person behind from having the seat right in their face. My concern: would this cut down on leg room?

2. In cabin mood lighting. Not that kind of mood lighting. Rather softer light on long trips to help people adjust to time change. Apparently the harsh cabin lights can have negative effects on the brain as it is trying to fight jete lag. But better lighting could help travelers.

3. Worried about losing that boarding pass among your many bags and coats? Well, if you're anything like me, this next innovation will be most helpful. Mobile phone check-in. My dad mentioned this to me a while ago, but he said it did not work very well. But after some improvements, it seems like it could work well. When checking it, one enters their cell phone number and their boarding pass is automatically sent via email or text with a scanable bar code. The people at security and the gate simply scan the screen, and you're good to go. Now just don't misplace your phone.

4. Don't you hate it when you're working on an important document on your computer during a long flight and then your computer dies? In flight power sockets to the rescue! Virgin America was smart by providing Wi Fi on all flights, but to go along with it, there are individual power plugs at every seat. Needless to say, this will be helpful to those workaholic business types.

5. Upgraded radar is the newest innovation, but it is still in the early stages. Basically, radar is outdated, and it can take an airport up to 30 seconds to locate a flight--which I guess is pretty slow considering most planes travel at over 500mph. The FAA is rolling out NextGen, a GPS based air traffic control system, that gives real time plane locations to pilots and air traffic controllers. With this technology, planes will no longer have to fly those crazy zig zag routes, and flights will travel more efficiently.

Obviously, there are more innovations people would like implemented. (A few I read included sleeping compartments rather than seats for long flights, heated massaging seats, bigger windows, and letting passengers who didn't place luggage in the overhead bins leave the plane first.) Some are pretty out there, and others are just plain crazy. But isn't it nice to see that some things are changing?

Now if only we could discuss this free flight thing...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Largest Sheet of Ice I've Ever Seen

Even with ice covering 80% of its surface, Greenland is still an incredibly beautiful country. And despite having an overall population of 55,000 people, there is plenty to do around the various regions.

Most of the inhabitants live on the West Coast, where Nuuk, the capital, is located. Cultures seem to collide in this area. One cannot help but notice the internet cafes and bus routes that have modernized the towns, and snowmobiles are a common form of transportation. But slightly to the north in Sisimiut,
dog sleds are still used in the traditional way.

For a complete contrast, head to the other coast and
witness the original Greenland--or the closest you'll come to it. There are only two towns in the area, because most of the time it is ice-bound and very secluded from the rest of the country. The language is totally different from the west, but it allows for the people to maintain their own eastern identity.

The North is known as the land of dog sleds and Midnight sun. When the fjords--waterways--freeze over, dog sleds are indispensable to fishers and hun
ters. During the summer, the sun never sets, and this period of endless light continues the further north you venture. The long distances between towns make for exciting boating trips where the full extent of the wildlife can be appreciated. One can see the skerries, the low mountains in the south, the monumental basalt mountains on Disko island, the highest mountains on the west coast near Uummannaq, the bird colonies on the cliffs of Upernavik and glaciers and ice fields along the way.

South Greenland is the greenest part of the country. In fact most of the flora of Greenland grow in this area. Since winters are much milder here, the culture is much different than the rest of the country. Where fishing and seal hunting are prominent elsewhere, the south has sheep farming and agriculture. Plus, the famous northern lights can be witnessed from this area at the end of August.

Venture to the farthest stretches of the north and you will find Qaanaaq. The average temperature in this area during February and March is around -30 degrees Celsius. Hunting is a way of life, and the people who live their use everything from their kills. Nothing from the hunt goes to waste: the skins are used for clothing and covering the kayaks; the flesh and offal are eaten by humans and domestic animals; the narwhal and walrus tusks are carved into finely-worked figures, jewelery and hunting instruments, and even feathers can be used in handicrafts.

All these regions surround the largest part of Gr
eenland, the ice sheet. It is a vast body of ice covering 1.71 km². It is the second largest ice body in the world, following Antartica's great ice sheet. The ice sheet is almost 2,400 kilometers long in a north-south direction, and its greatest width is 1,100 kilometers. But even with most of the country being covered with ice, it is difficult to ignore with such breathtaking scenery, culture, and history.

And no matter what area you visit, you will be greeted with brightly colored houses...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I Love a Good Road Trip

If you enjoy hitting the open road--or just going for a long drive--nothing makes the trip more satisfying than the right gear. But many of us can't afford all the equipment we would need for a quality cross country trip. Never fear, DailyCandy is here!! (Yeah, I know I talk about it alot, but this website is awesome!) They are offering a giveaway for all DailyCandy subscribers to get in on. Just enter your name and email address and you are automatically entered to win some pretty cool stuff.

1. The Magellan GPS System
2. An Oversized--and super cute--weekend bag
3. MP3 player car dock, and gift certificate to purchase more music
4. A new pair of sunglasses
5. A refillable Sigg water bottle and gourmet snack pack.

Check it out!
Magellan: Road Trip Essentials Giveaway

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Hot Spots for Next Year

Thanks to my new favorite website, Black Tomato, I know the "it" places to visit next year.

So if you have yet to book a vacation, here are some hot ideas for destinations that will be buzzing in 2010.

Turkey --one of the top places on my own list--will be a popular place for many tourists. Since it is out of the "eurozone" it's a bargain trip for sure. Istanbul, the thriving capital city, has a mixture of everything. It brings in aspects from other countries, while maintaining it's Turkish Style. And if a city scene is not your thing, there are plenty of mountain ranges and stretches of beach to keep you satisfied.

Colombia! Yeah, emphasis was necessary. I mean, the country has gotten a bad reputation in the past, but it also has so much to offer a willing traveler: The Caribbean Sea, the Andes, colonial cities and the Amazon. Jungles, Mountains, Beaches, Oh My!

How about a safari in Africa? On a boat? Yeah, if you head to Botswana. Journey to the Okavango Delta and you'll see plenty of wildlife. And it's an added bonus if you are viewing from a river cruise ship. But don't worry, you can venture on land as well.

Australia is always popular. But there is more to see than the Sydney Opera House. Venture to Western Australia for a more rugged landscape. The reefs here rival the Great Barrier Reef, and the wine is some of the best in the world. And who wouldn't want to swim with whale sharks?

The Middle East does not seem like the most ideal place to visit right now, but give Syria a chance and you may come back singing a different tune. Hit up Aleppo, poised to be the hippest new city in the Middle East, and you will be greeted with a culture rich in history, tradition, and food.

As for Central America, head to Nicaragua. Why you ask? Two words: volcano surfing.

For a bit of a slower, more relaxed vacation, Bhutan is the place for you. With a zen-like atmosphere, you're sure to leave your worries behind in the office. Plus, the scenery is simply breathtaking. So cross your legs, breathe deep, and say Om.

India is definitely on the list, and why wouldn't it be? One can explore the psychedelic cities of Delhi, Jaipur and Udaipur; and watch wild tigers in the thick jungle of Pench. Plus, venture into Amber--the ancient capital of religion--on the back of an elephant.

Wandering back over to South America, Chile has made the list. I don't know about anyone else, but I have been dying to go here for years, ever since my friend showed me pictures of Changara Lake. And with a long list of "best of's"-best landscape, best activities-there is plenty to see and do. Sip some of their heavenly wine along the way, too.

Finally, make time to visit colorful Tanzania. Black Tomato provides an exclusive safari destination that few have ever heard of. So if you want to see a place full of animals and devoid of other tourists, check out their website.

So there you have it, the top places to go to next year compliments of me and Black Tomato. Honestly, I'm going to be adding some of these locations to my list.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

South Africa is Booked!!!

For those of you who have been paying attention to my blog, I mentioned a couple weeks ago how expensive flights to South Africa are and the difficulty we have had in booking them.

Well, no need to worry further...our flights are completely booked!!

Thanks to my parents insane determination--and many, many frequent flier miles--we successfully found flights. Admittedly, it is going to be a long trip, but it's a sacrifice we are willing to make. First, my boyfriend and I fly from Chicago to Newark and meet my parents there, then we all fly over the pond together to Lisbon. We have to stay a night in Lisbon, but I've never been to Portugal, so that makes it all the more exciting. Then we fly from Lisbon, have a stop over in Mosambique, and then arrive in Johannesburg. The final leg is Johannesburg to Durbin. Yeah, it's gonna take us about three days to travel there, but that's half the fun, right?

Needless to say, I am very excited for this trip. The flights are set, the hotel is booked. Now all we have to do is wait. Wait for the matches to be decided--so we know who we'll be watching during the tournament. And wait for that glorious June day when we board the plane for our African journey.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Travel Website to Explore: Black Tomato

How is it possible I did not know about this website? I have no idea.

I receive emails from DailyCandy--a current events/pop culture website that talks about everything from food to fashion to art--and usually I get ones that specifically relate to Chicago. But I also signed up to get updates from DailyCandy Travel, which I receive maybe once a week. Most of the time the articles are about destinations the writers went to and what they liked about them. I enjoy reading these, mostly because I like to learn about new places and the things I can do while visiting. But this week I got an email that discussed DailyCandy Travel's new feature on Black Tomato.

Instantly intrigued, I ventured to the website. I soon discovered that this was not like any other travel website that just offers flight and hotel deals. This was much, much more. Not only do they discuss travel trends and point out must-see spots; they work closely with travelers to create a special, tailor-made, unique experience that fits their needs, budget, and desires.

The founders of Black Tomato--having a hard-core love of travel--realized that there are lots of people out there who want to travel, but may not have the time in their busy lives to put all the necessary planning into a trip. That's where Black Tomato comes in. Just tell them where you want to go, how long you want to stay, and what you want to spend, and they take care of the rest. They can plan incredible outings for travelers, like swimming between tectonic plates in Iceland or motorbike safaris in Botswana. They feature honeymoon vacations in destinations like Estonia--or Mexico, if you're looking for something more classic. Honeymoons, as a matter of fact, are one of their specialties. So if you're on the lookout for something truly original for that special trip after the big day, take a look at their honeymoon destinations. But you don't have to pick from a pre-created one, they can help you make one from scratch. They make you your own web page with all the details of your honeymoon. Pretty cool, uh?

Who wouldn't want someone else making arrangements for their trip? I mean, obviously, I want some say in the matter. But they work with you the whole time to make sure you're getting the vacation you want--and deserve. We work hard, our vacations should be everything we want.

One aspect of the website I really like is their way for people to search on vacations. There is a drop down box next to their "browse our ideas:" icon that reads "by need." When scrolled over, the box shows needs like "some bustle," "to get lost," "a purpose," or "freedom." I think that really stands out because everyone has different reasons for wanting to get away.

An added bonus--at least for me--is that DailyCandy subscribers get exclusive trips that are not available to anyone else. Also, if you book any trip through them, they will throw in a little something extra, whether it's an extra night's stay at the hotel, free airport transfers, a romantic dinner, or a day excursion--and it's all on Black Tomato.

I am seriously considering booking my next trip through these guys.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Worth Revisiting

Last night I was looking through old photos on my computer with my boyfriend. We were trying to pick out ones we liked to frame and hang in our study/guest room. As I scoured through the numerous files that documented my college years, a sense of nostalgia rushed over me with each memory I saw. And then we got to the pictures of all my trips, and I got this overwhelming desire to go back.

I mention in this blog all the time about how I want to see the world and venture to new places. I have a list on the side that mentions all the cities or countries that I desperately want to see. But there are plenty of places I have gone that I would consider revisiting.
With a lack of money and time, why waste it on a place you've already been?

This is an exellent question, and I'll be the first to say that I would rather vacation somewhere new. But there are certain places that just stay with a person, that have such an affect that one can't help but go back time and time again.
I have been to Italy 4 times, and if I was given the chance to revisit, I would do it in a heartbeat. Not only has Italy had such a profound impact on my life, but there is still so much of the country I have not seen. The Southern areas, particularly the Amalfi Coast, are at the top of my list. (Sicily is technically it's own country, but that is worth exploring for sure.) I have barely scratched the surface of the Eastern portion and the Umbrian region. And who wouldn't want to explore the Italian part of the Alps and snowboard in Torino? On top of there being more for me to see, there is plenty to do in Italy. I want to learn more about Italian cooking, Venetian jewelry, Roman architecture. Keeping busy in Italy would be pretty simple.
But the photos of Italy were not the only ones that made me want to go back. I was looking at the photos from my spring break trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and I could just picture myself back on that beach watching the sunset. Or the pictures of me and my mom in Hawaii riding ATV's through the old sugar cane fields, and how I would love to have that dirt on my face again. And even the depressing photos from my trip to Auschwitz, Poland, made me yearn to return to the country and see some of it's more culturally festive and active cities.
I think now I may have another list--places I would definitely want to revisit in my life:
*Italy
*Hawaii
*Mexico
*Poland
*Australia-Sydney, Melbourne, the Outback
*Greece
*Vancouver-Whistler
*Paris, France
*London
I'm sure there are others that I would go back to, but those are the top destinations.
Where would you go again?