Saturday, May 31, 2008

Cloudy Weather Makes For Great Photos

There are lots of people who believe the best photographs are taken with a brilliant sun shining. The sky is a robin's egg blue.

Well, there is no question that great pictures can be taken under those circumstances but, in my opinion, it's lousy weather that creates the real interesting stuff.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Did your flight get cancelled?

You get an email or phone call from your airline. Please contact the airline as you need to be rebooked.

Uh..oh. Flight has been cancelled. You get online to check and, sure enough, the flight you were on is no longer there.

So you need to call the airline, and wait to get a live person, only to be presented with what are probably lousy options for times and connections.

So what do you do?

BEFORE you contact the airline, you check online for other (as in different airlines) options for your itinerary. Find something that works well and is comparative in price? Or even lower? (Would you believe some fares for summer travel have gone down!) Great. Start your reservation on line. Just don't ticket it yet.

NOW call the airline and when presented with options that really don't make you happy, ask for a refund! If they say 'yes', ticket that reservation you just started.

Who could end up with better flight times AND a lower fare.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Don't drink and drive in Hungary

Statistics in Hungary show that 13-14% of driving accidents that cause fatalities or serious injuries are caused by drunken drivers. Not only is the plan to now strengthen the drunk driving laws but also allow fines to be collected from foreign drivers.

In addition, it looks like the maximum allowable blood alcohol level of .08% is going to be reduced to .05% and that fines will be given based on, not blood tests, but on breathalizer tests.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Using alternative airports to save money on airfare

I was just reading this article about saving money on airfare by checking alternative airports. They use an example of a family flying into Key West and demonstrate how much money they would save if they few into Ft. Lauderdale instead.

In my opinion it's a lousy example to prove their point. I mean, just how much traffic does Key West get compared to Ft. Lauderdale? Wouldn't you expect a busier airport, used by a lot of low fare carriers to be cheaper than Key West? Of course you would.

The tactic of checking alternative airports is an old one. Our local airport isn't served by Southwest but an airport an hour away is. So would air be cheap enough to make it worth the drive? What about alternate airports at the other end?

I'm considering a flight to Los Angeles. Besides LAX there are five other commercial airports in the Los Angeles area. I checked all kinds of combinations, under the impression that I could find a cheaper fare if I considered one of the alternatives.

Not true. Yes, I could save a few dollars driving to that other airport an hour away. But by the time I added gas and the cost of long term parking, the savings were gone.

So, yes, definitely check all your available options. It can pay to think out of the box and look at different routing options. But the best option in the end could be the simplest: your home airport to the airport closest to your destination.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Mirador Del Inka Hostel, Cuzco, Peru

There are lots of travel forums on the internet, offering help and hints for travelers with questions. One of the best forums is the one run by Lonely Planet called The Thorn Tree Travel Forum.

I found this post on there. Since I've posted here information about our trip to Peru, and hope to have future readers looking for information, I thought I would add this link:

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day - In Honor of Our Fallen

The top 10 visited memorials in the U.S. Compiled by Forbes Traveler

10. Fort Sumter National Monument
Annual visitors: 923,061
History: Fort Sumpter in South Carolina was the site of the first shots of the Civil War.

9. Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park
Annual visitors: 787,831
History: The park commemorating some of the hardest fighting of the Civil War lays in both Georgia and Tennessee.

8. Minute Man National Historical Park
Annual visitors: 1,093,352
History: This site in Massachusetts commemorates the 1775 battle at Lexington and Concord that opened the American Revolution.

7. Valley Forge National Historical Park
Annual visitors: 1,230,618
History: Twelve thousand soldiers in George Washington's Continental Army spent a brutal winter at this site in Pennsylvania.

6. USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor
Annual visitors: 1,539,986
History: A trickle of oil still leaks from the sunken battleship that lies beneath this memorial in Hawaii. The Japanese attack killed 1,177 crew members.

5. Gettysburg National Military Park
Annual visitors: 1,702,764
History: President Abraham Lincoln immortalized the site of the Civil War's bloodiest battle as the "final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live."

4. Korean War Veterans Memorial
Annual visitors: 3,208,690
History: Located along the National Mall in Washington D.C., the memorial consists of 19 statues of soldiers, a wall listing nations that contributed to the war, and a "Pool of Remembrance."

3. Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Annual visitors: 3,538,479
History: The V-shaped granite wall inscribed with American soldiers who died in the war was designed in 1981 by Maya Lin, an undergraduate student at Yale.

2. World War II Memorial
Annual visitors: 3,547,583
History: Featuring a semicircle of pillars representing America's states in 1945, this memorial opened in 2004 along the National Mall.

1. Arlington National Cemetery
Annual visitors: 4,000,000
History: More than 290,000 veterans and casualties of American wars are buried at this site in Virginia, just outside of Washington D.C.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

American Airlines and Luggage - DUMB!!

What the crap???!!!

$15 to check a piece of luggage????!!!

What the heck is going through the heads of American Airline excecutives????!!!

Are they absolutely NUTS???

So you want to bring a bottle of shampoo with you when you fly? It will cost you $15.

Want to have your pocket knife at your destination? It will cost you $15.

Want your flight to leave on time? Forget it as passengers scramble for carry on space. Of which there really isn't enough to begin with.

I can understand the new policy of most of the airlines to charge for a second checked bag. I travel a lot and 85% of the time, I use only a carry on. Yes, we did our trip to Antarctica and our trip to the Galapagos with just a rolling carry on for each of us which went into the overhead bin and a backpack for under the seat in front of us.

But to pay for one checked bag??!!! With the current security restrictions in place, that is absolutely nuts.

I'm hoping the other airlines don't follow American Airline's stunning example. If AA's competition maintains a policy of the first bag free, I can tell you which airline I definitely won't be flying!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Galapagos Flowers and Flora

We were in the Galapagos in September. This is, technically, the dry season. Our guide pointed out to us, on various islands, that the dry, stick plants we were seeing were very different in the rainy season. During January, February and March, the islands were covered in green, as they twigs sprang to life.

So, typical of a dry season, the plants we saw were cacti and succulents. Certainly not the landscape we would have seen in the rainy season but attactive to us, nonetheless.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Want to increase your chance of getting bumped?

Fly Delta.

The year 2007 had the dubious distinction of setting an 11 year high for the most number of passengers that were denied boarding by the 18 largest U.S. airlines. The number of 63,878 passengers worked out to an average of 1.12 passengers per 10,000.

Airlines have long oversold flights to help them compensate for passengers who don’t show up. When too many do show up, the airlines might ask for a volunteer, with typical compensation being a voucher for a free flight within the continental U.S., good for one year. When there aren’t enough volunteers, someone gets bumped.

Delta bumped the most last year, with an average of 2.47 bumped passengers per 10,000. Also having high bumping rates were Continental and Southwest. Jet Blue had the lowest with only 43 forced bumps for the entire year.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Thermal wonders at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

We finally made it to Yellowstone National Park. And we were in for a big surprise. In spite of all the reading I had done about this park, we didn't learn until we arrived that most of the park was a caldera, a collapsed volcano.

The park is full of geysers (of which, Old Faithful is the most famous), hot springs, bubbling mud pots and thermal terraces. As we drove through the western part of the park, we could see that a good portion of it is thermal, with steam rising from vents in the ground.

Upon arriving at Old Faithful, we went into the lodge to check out the time for the next eruption. The cycle is 75-90 minutes. There are benches around the geyser and we headed out early as we wanted a front row seat. We were not disappointed by the show Old Faithful put on. (And even went back the next day and saw a totally different eruption.) Afterwards, if you like, you can walk around the boardwalks that take you through the thermal area. If you have the time, do this. However, if you don't have a lot of time in the park, skip this. We discovered other, less well known areas, that were, in our opinion, more spectacular.

Check out the Upper Terrace loop by the Mammoth Hot Springs. This is a one way drive that takes you through an area of remarkable formations and colors. Plan to drive slowly to really enjoy it and it should take about half an hour.

Tops on our list turned out to be the Midway Geyser Basin and its Grand Prismatic Spring (see photo). Definitely walk the boardwalk. It will first take you past a deep pool of incredibly blue water. At the furthest point, you'll arrive at the Grand Prismatic Spring. We were lucky and the sun was out. The sunlight brought out the beautiful oranges and blues within the steam as it rose and moved across the lake. It was hypnotizing and a wonderful experience.

see also:
Yellowstone caldera, geysers and more

Friday, May 16, 2008

Did you see the one about the toddler left behind?

Just in case you missed it, I figured I'd post this link here:

How the heck do 4 adults not manage to keep an eye on an 18 month old? Thank goodness this happened at a secure place like an airport.

What happens when they go shopping at the mall? I'd hate to think about it.

Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport Scam

I was just reading about this.

Apparently, upon arrival, Immigration officials were asking visitors where they would be staying in South Africa. Also, the visitors were asked to declare how much cash they had.

Then a pattern began to appear. A number of arriving passengers were followed to their destinations and robbed. While the police said they couldn't find any evidence of collusion, it was deduced that the information about destination and cash was being passed onto criminals by the Immigration officials.

The rules have now been changed and the officials no longer ask the incoming traveler to state where they'll be staying.

UK Visits to Florida Made Simple

For those of us living in the United States, trips to Florida are easy to put together. But if you were going to another country, wouldn't you want some help putting your vacation details together?

It's the same thing for travelers from the UK who would like a Florida holidays. And that's where comes in, providing a site with one stop shopping for a complete Florida package including air, hotel, and attraction tickets.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

How to Avoid a Cancelled Flight

As airlines find themselves pinched tighter and tigher financially, the easiest way for them to save money is to cancel a flight.

Of course I'd love to be able to write that if you follow this advice completely you'll never end up with a cancelled flight. But we all know I can't do that. However, these suggestions can put the odds in your favor that the flight you are booked on will be the flight you take off on.

Fly at Peak Times: The 8 AM from New York to Washington, DC is always going to go, barring weather or mechnical problems. The 9 PM flight maybe not.

Don't fly airlines which have just announced mergers: You can be sure that when airlines merge, some flights are going to be cancelled. Why take a chance it's yours?

Book closer to your departure date: Yes, this probably means paying more for your ticket. On the other hand, the closer it gets to your departure date the less likely that the flight will be cancelled.

Check out an airline's new destinations: As an airline strives to make a position for itself in a city, it might undercut the competition. If that competition is in a weakened financial state to begin with, flights may end up being cancelled. Case in point is Frontier's situation in Denver as Southwest establishes a foothold.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Yucatan: Go Beyond Cancun, Mexico

There is SO much to see and do on the Yucatan Peninsula. In my opinion, way too many people who visit Cancun don't take full advantage of what the area has to offer.

Just off the coast is Isla de Mujeres (Island of Women). Isla de Mujeres is very laid back, with small hotels, restaurants serving typical Mexican dishes and a fantastic beach. It's a great place for a 3-4 day VERY laid back vacation.

The Yucatan is filled with Mayan ruins such as Chichen Itza and Tulum. Tours can be arranged at most hotels.

If you are considering a visit to Tulum, you might also consider staying in that area. A good central place to stay is the town of Playa del Carmen. Besides being near the eco-parks Xel-Ha and Xcaret, it is also close to the Sian Ka'an Biosphere. This biosphere is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that crossed 1.3 million acres, encompassing coral reefs, beaches, lagoons, cenotes and low tropical forests.

So if you'll be spending some time in Cancun, considering going beyond. If you'd like some additional information, you can check out the Mexico Tourism Board.

Economy Plus

United Airlines has something called Economy Plus. You get 5 extra inches of leg room on both domestic and international flights. Economy Plus seats are available on a complimentary basis to its Mileage Plus Elite Members. Nice.

If you are not an Elite member, you can buy the upgrade. It used to be that you had to wait until you got to the airport to buy the upgrade, if it was available, after all the Elite members had checked in. Now, if you want, you can book, pay for and ticket Economy Plus at the time you make your reservation. Cost is $14 per ticket and up. Sounds like a great idea, right?

Well, for those of us who are NOT Elite members I think it's a great idea. But imagine if you are an Elite member who would normally get an Economy Plus seat and now find yourself in the back of the plane because they've all been given away or previously sold. If I was an Elite member I don't think I'd be happy.

The US Passport Card – Why can’t the U.S. Federal government do ANYTHING in a timely fashion?

(I wrote a short post about US Passport Cards earlier. But as I read more about it, I started to get really annoyed about the way the government has handled it. The result of my rant is below.)

If you need to make frequent land crossings between the U.S. and Canada or Mexico, the U.S. Passport Card could work for you. It really is a great idea. And as is typical with so many things proposed by the U.S. Federal government, it is being implemented late.

Efforts have increased since 911 to make U.S. borders more secure. These very same efforts have made it difficult for Mexicans and Canadians, who often have legitimate requirements for frequent visits to the U.S., to make quick and smooth transitions through border control.

Because of how easy it is to obtain fraudulent drivers’ licenses, a new policy was developed out of a desire to reduce reliance on the licenses for entry into this. The first phase of the new rule went into effect Dec 31, 2005, which required all U.S. citizens, traveling by air or sea, to or from the Caribbean, as well as Central and South America, to have passports.

The result of this ruling caused, literally, a months’ long backlog to obtain a U.S. passport. The Department of State was totally unprepared for the volume of applications. Even when it became apparent that the State Department was woefully understaffed, it still took an inordinate amount of time to hire and train additional staff to shorten the wait time from an unacceptable 4-6 months.

The next phase, which would apply these documentation rules to all air and sea travel to or from Mexico and Canada, began a year later. And the last phase, which affects the most people, took effect on Dec. 31, 2007, applying the requirement to all air, sea and land border crossings with Mexico and Canada.

Many border communities requested an alternative to a traditional passport. In response, the Department of State announced a proposal for developing a card-format passport for travel between the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda. It would be a limited use wallet-sized card that would cost significantly less than a traditional passport. The media note for this card was released October 17, 2006.

Now, fast forward (if such a term is at all possible when referring to the United States government) and applications are finally, now, being taken for this card. Production is projected to start next month. That is June 2008 for a policy that was implemented LAST December. If a passport card will work for you, better get in line fast.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Take your vacation

Did you know that the average American employee gets only 13 days paid vacation per year?

Compare that against 28 days for Great Britian, 37 for France and a huge 42 days in Italy.

Not only that, but what to me is even crazier, is that many Americans don't take the full amount of vacation days due them. And then when they do go away, the Blackberry and laptop computer come with them.

Nuts in my opinion.

Do you know where the word vacation comes from? Vacate. As in 'leave' or 'empty out'.

Everyone should take their vacation time as everyone needs time to distress and discharge. Actually, vacationing can be very good for your health.

Get beyond Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

I wonder how many people who visit Puerto Rico get much beyond visiting San Juan.

There is so much to see, some of it quite unique.

For instance, there is El Yunque National Forest which is the only tropical rainforest in the United States.

There is The Aricebo Observatory.

And if you are into beach and water and looking for something even more exotic, head over to the island of Vieques, just off the east coast. Check out Bahia Mosquito (Mosquito Bay). After the sun sets, you can see a stunning display of bioluminescense in the shallow waters. Try to check it out on a moonlight night and be sure to take a dip.

Best Map Tool for Road Trip Planning

I think one of the absolutely best tools on the internet for helping with a road trip is the AAA Trip Tik site. If you'll be taking a road trip of any distance, this is a tool worth learning. When you are done, there are several options for printing it out, from map only, to full trip tik. We did a 7 week cross country car trip last year and this tool was invaluable for helping with calculating mileage on the scenic highways that we took.

You do not need to be a member of AAA to use this tool. (However, you do need to be a member to save your work. If you are not a member, you’ll need to complete the trip tik before you close out the window or the work will be lost.)

To access the site, go to, click on Travel, then Maps and Directions. Then click on TripTik travel planner.

I admit this site has a bit of a learning curve. But that is because it is so powerful.

You can put a start and ending destination in and click Get Maps and Directions. The tool will give you the quickest routing.

But suppose you don't want the quickest? Or you've got intermediate stops you want to make? Not a problem. You can easily add new destinations. You can change your route and re-order your stops with a simple drag of your mouse.

Don't want to travel the interstate? 'Grab' the route (the blue line) and drag it to the road you want to use. Don't like the itinerary? ‘Grab’ a destination, move it up or down, and drop it in a new position.

Drilling down on the map you are creating (using the tool in the upper right), allows the display of icons such as hotels, gas stations, etc. There is a whole list to choose from. A click of your mouse will open new windows with further details on places to stay and attractions.

Once you route your first trip using the AAA Trip Tik site, you’ll find it hard to do it any other way.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Will Rising Fuel Prices Make Road Trips a Thing of the Past?

We have an ‘occasion’ to attend in Los Angeles next April. We thought we should be able to include that in our road trip of the southwest.

I dug out my scenic byways guides. I stopped by AAA and got a map of the U.S. so I could highlight the routes and then work them together.

I sent away for information from the states of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. (Yes, I love the internet but I also like having paperwork I can spread out before me.)

But now I’m looking at the rising price of gasoline. No one knows where it will be next spring but everyone says it will be higher.

We took my husband’s car on the last trip. My car will probably need to be replaced next year. What do we buy in anticipation of the high fuel prices? Do we consider buying a hybrid car?

Or, should we do something like turn our current cars into hybrid cars? That idea is a very popular one circulating on the internet right now.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Water4Gas . I did some research into this. Is Water4Gas a scam? Well, if you pay someone for something, and don’t get what you were told you would get then, yes, that is a scam.

Here is what Water4Gas promises:
IMPORTANT: We are going to reveal to you fuel saving techniques unknown to the average mechanic

Based upon my research, Water4Gas is not a scam because it gives you exactly what they say they will: fuel saving techniques unknown to the average mechanic.

The book contains ideas and suggestions on ways to improve your gas mileage that anyone is supposed to be able to implement and benefit from.

And if you want to install the Water4Gas conversion into your car, they provide pictures and part numbers, including where to buy the needed items, to build your own hybrid system and include the instructions on how to install it.

On top of all this, if the information they provide doesn't work for you, you can get back the money paid for the book. All this seems to make Water4Gas worth checking out.

(This is NOT a sponsored post.)

Friday, May 9, 2008

Birds of the Galapagos

I have already put up several posts, and quite a few photos, of our trip to the Galapagos. I think I'd be remiss though if I didn't include a post that was just birds.

I have to admit I'm not an avid birder. While my husband can identify more species than I can, when you get to the Galapagos it can get very complicated.

For instance, there are many different varieties of Darwin or Galapagos Finches on the islands. All these birds are about the same size and color. What sets them apart are the different sizes and shapes of their beaks which developed based upon the available food source. These birds ended up playing a significant part in the development of Darvin's theory of evolution. To novices such as myself, I couldn't tell them apart.

That doesn't mean though that I didn't enjoy the variety of what we saw. Different colors.

Different shapes and sizes.

And, of course, the blue footed booby

Airline Fuel Surcharges Increase

American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines have raised their prices AGAIN. This time the increase is $20 rountrip, to help them out with the rapidly rising cost of fuel.

With the fuel surcharges now totaling $130 roundtrip on many flights, passengers could end up paying more in charges, fees and taxes than the actual airfare itself.

And to think I've got two upcoming trips and I haven't bought my airfare yet. Gee whiz! What was I thinking???

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Passport Card Option

Will the new U.S. Department of State Passport Card work for you?

With the increase in border security, and now requiring a passport to go to Canada and Mexico, a lot of communities along the borders have been asking the Federal government for an alternative to the bulky passport.

The result is the Passport Card. Production is expected to start in June. It is less expensive and more portable than the traditional passport. The Passport Card will be valid for land and sea crossings between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. It may NOT be used for air travel.

For further information, be sure to check out the official web site.

Comfortable Air Travel - an oxymoron?

An 'oxymoron' is a term that combines normally contradictory terms. For instance, jumbo shrimp. Some people love to use army intelligence, as an example.

So I thought that comfortable air travel now fell into this category. The list of issues can go on and on including narrower seats, less knee room, no food, cancelled flights, late flights, etc etc

As passengers we need to do whatever we can to improve our chances for a better travel experience. Along those lines I use Seat Guru as my reference when choosing seat assignments. You start by choosing your airline and the type of equipment used for your flight. You then can find out which seats to avoid and which seats are best. It is a great tool.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Airfare - YIKES!

We've been invited to a wedding in the Los Angeles, CA area. Not wanting to make the long trip just for the wedding, we decided to do three legs. Home to LAX. Then LAX to DEN. Then DEN to home.

I've been to Rocky Mountain National Park but my husband hasn't. I think he'd love it, particularly if he took his fly fishing equipment along.

I was hoping to use frequent flyer miles for at least one of the tickets. But I can't with the three legs. However, I might be able to use miles for two of the legs, the home to LAX and DEN to home.

Checking air for all three legs puts ticket prices in the $600+ per person range. YIKE!!! But what I discovered out of all this is that it pays to investigate buying two separate tickets, including a one way ticket, compared to the cost of all three legs together.

So I checked on LAX to DEN and, after watching fares for a while, picked up a good fare on SWA for that leg. Right now, if I bought the remaining air, our total cost would be around $450 pp. A lot less than $600+.

Still hoping to be able to use frequent flier miles for one ticket. I need to call the airlines again. Unless I see a super fare pop up. We'll see what happens. I've got time.

ECommerce might just be the way to start

My regular readers might remember my mentioning heading to Charleston SC to help my daughter move. She is now settled into Fairport, NY and her goal is to open a retail shop. Not an easy thing to do in this type of economy. She wants to focus on a niche market that, I have to admit, does have potential. So she’s working on her business plan, talking to local small business advocates, etc.

As part of the advice she has been getting is to perhaps start small and build an online store and to check out ecommerce software. But it’s not easy finding good shopping cart software either. I know as I’ve been looking for something appropriate as I surf the ‘net.

Then someone directed me to Ashop Commerce. I was very impressed by how clearly organized their site is. They offer several packages based upon how many products you want to sell. They are set up to accept all types of payments including major credit cards and PayPal. But what REALLY impressed me was they have a 10 day FREE trial offer and it really IS free…you do NOT have to provide credit card information up front.

I definitely have to pass this information along to my daughter so she can check it out for herself.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Preventing Athletes Foot While Traveling

I am extremely sensitive to athletes foot fungus. I always wear sneakers and socks when I fly because I refuse to go barefoot through security. If there is one spore on a hotel carpet or pool floor, my foot will find it. And then I'm miserable. When the TSA rules went into affect that all liquids had to be in bottles of 3 oz or less, the FIRST thing I checked was my anti-fungal med. Phew! I was OK.

So what do I do to prevent getting athletes foot fungus in the first place? I have 3 rules.
1) Never go barefoot.
2) Never go barefoot.
3) Never go barefoot.

My flip flops come with me everywhere. So not going barefoot in the hotel room is easy. And I wear my flip flops right up to poolside where I can sit down, slip my feet out and then over the edge into the pool.

The first flip flops I traveled with were those rubber-wear-at-the-beach ones. I tried wearing them in the shower. This turned out to be NOT a good option. They would get suctioned to the bottom of the tub and my feet would slip out.

Shower shoes that hug your feet are the way to go. Wear them in the shower. Wear them to the pool or the spa. Just remember to never go barefoot.

(More information on athlete's foot HERE.)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Beaches of the Galapagos

The Galapagos islands were all formed from basaltic magma lava flows. They are very young islands, geologically speaking, and are continuing to grow.

Considering that all of the islands were created in a very similar manner, it was interesting to see how very different each of them was. One of the most obvious differences were the different colors of the beaches.

This black sand beach is on Santiago island.

On Rabida the beach was a gorgeous red.

We saw beige beaches and white beaches. Hard to get our head around the fact that the same geological forces created these islands.

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