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the IBIT Travel Digest 6.30.13

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel

Angor Wat

© Paop | Dreamstime.com


CREDIT FOR TRAVEL
If you want to travel, especially internationally, you’ll need some plastic. Plan on bringing a couple of good credit cards, one for general use, the other reserved for emergencies.

(And no, I’m sorry, ladies, but a half-off sale at the Christian Louboutin shop in Paris does not constitute an emergency.)

But what constitutes a good credit card for travel? Frequent-flier miles for a particular airline or hotel, miles you can use anywhere with anyone, a percentage of your purchases rebated back to you as cash? Cards with or without an annual fee, cards that don’t charge fees for foreign transactions?

And how do you find them?

Well, there are Web sites for that.

One of the best known is Bankrate.com, a handy reference site for all things banking. Click on the “Credit Cards” link in the navigation bar across the top of the home page, then use the pull-down menu in their “Find a Credit Card” box to select among 16 different categories of plastic.

Bankrate also offers lots of advice on using your cards in travel.

Another really good one is CreditCards.com, which looks specifically at travel and airline credit cards, breaks them down by their features, and lets you determine at a glance which suits you best.

Happy hunting.

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TRAVEL IN THE HOT ZONES
When it comes to traveling, there are two kinds of hot zones in the world. Either the sun’s rays will have you running for shade, or the political climate on the streets will have you running for cover.

Egypt currently appears to qualify on both counts, but it was the latter last week that led to the death of an American citizen.

Andrew Pochter, a 21-year-old college student from Maryland, was watching a clash between pro- and anti-government protestors in the city of Alexandria when one of them stabbed him to death. The US State Department has since issued a travel warning urging Americans to put off non-essential trips to Egypt.

It seems fair to say that the bloom has been off Egypt’s Arab Spring for a good while now. If anything, the country appears to be in danger of sliding into a long winter of discontent.

I bring this up because there’s an ongoing debate among travelers and travel writers over whether it’s a good idea to visit the world’s political hot zones.

It’s true that people in most places will go to great and even extraordinary lengths to help and protect their foreign visitors, but it’s also true that your passport is not bulletproof…and neither are you.

How do YOU see this issue? Better to travel fearlessly, or better safe than sorry? Leave a comment in the handy box at the bottom of this post. Your answers will appear in next week’s IBIT Travel Digest!

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WORLDLY TREASURES
UNESCO — the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — has added 19 new locations to its list of World Heritage sites, bringing the total number of priceless historic sites to 981.

These treasures are scattered across the globe. At least one of them is a globally recognized cultural icon, Japan’s Mt. Fuji — which UNESCO respectfully refers to as “Fujisan.”

At the other end of the recognition scale is a place most of us have never heard of, in a country where it probably never even would’ve occurred to most of us to look — the ancient Kaesong fortress in what is now North Korea.

The rest were mostly in Europe and Asia, with three in Africa and two in North America — one in Canada and the other in Mexico.

To get a look at all 19 sites, go to the UNESCO World Heritage site here.

A site that makes this list is more likely to draw interest from travelers and scholars, and more likely to be protected from damage or development — which often amounts to the same thing.

On the down side, none of the five sites nominated in Ethiopia were even considered this year. When I find out why, you’ll find the answers here at IBIT.

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AND FINALLY…
Regular IBIT readers already know that we Americans get less vacation time and travel less than any other developed nation. A lot of us even go in to work on vacation days.

Now, it turns out that even when we’re on vacation, we’re really not.

A survey shows that a clear majority of us — 64 percent of men and 57 percent of women — work while on vacation.

It seems all those smartphones and tablet computers that were supposed to make our lives easier are actually chaining us invisibly to the workplace. We’re making calls or texting back and forth to the job, checking work-related email, all while we’re supposed to be away from work.

And we wonder why so many of us are so stressed?

It’s official, America: We’ve lost our minds.

And yet, those smart electronic devices can be invaluable for travel, from making reservations to helping us navigate around unfamiliar cities and finding the cool places to eat, drink and entertain ourselves.

What’s an Information Age citizen to do? Maybe ignore email and unload the work-related apps for a few days? I mean, the whole point of a vacation is to get away fro the routines of work and home for a little while.

Isn’t it?

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And now, here’s The Digest:

AIR
from the BBC
If you’re flying with British Airways, you no longer have to wait until the aircraft has come to a halt at the gate to use your mobile phone. Once the plane’s off the runway and on the taxiway, you’re good to go.

from CNN Travel
Can you gauge the personalities of air travelers based on whether they choose the window, aisle or middle seat on the airplane?

from the International Business Times
Several Asian and Pacific airlines join forces to ban cargoes of shark fins. Why this is a good thing.

LAND
from Budget Travel
The life, times and travails of a travel nanny. (And no, I didn’t know there was such a thing, either.)

from Yahoo!
And now, for something completely different in a bed-and-breakfast — a refurbished elevated platform in the Atlantic Ocean, 100 feet tall and 25 miles off the North Carolina coast. You can only get there by boat or helicopter. When the owners call this place a getaway, take their word for it.

from The Somerville, MA News
Old travel guides as collector’s items? Their information may no longer be current, but they can make for a fascinating read into a region’s past

SEA
from USA Today
The Vikings are going to sea. Viking River Cruises, one of the world’s largest operator of small, low-draft river cruise vessels in Europe, is building its first ocean-going cruise ship.

from CNN Travel
It’s definitely not all smooth sailing these days for the cruise industry. Overall satisfaction is still good, but nearly 20 percent of cruise passengers in a recent survey reported problems.

from USA Today
Carnival Cruise Lines, battered by multiple mishaps aboard its vessels, starts its comeback by adding more ships in Port Canaveral, FL and bigger ones in New Orleans.

FOOD & DRINK
from CNN Travel
Beijing discovers microbreweries. In a country whose homegrown beer selection currently consists of Tsingtao and a bunch of forgettables, this is good news.

from CNN Travel
Barbecue Brazilian-style. How to navigate your way around a churrascaria in meat-mad Brazil.

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AFRICA
from Africa Review
In the tug-of-war for global influence between the US and China, Africa is now the rope.

from The Star (Kenya) via allAfrica.com
Two sites of wilderness beauty near Mt. Kenya named as World Heritage sites by the UN.

from Africa Review
The Next Big Thing on the world cultural scene: African art.

from Capitol FM (Kenya) via allAfrica.com
A tough-talking tourism minister puts her country’s unlicensed tour operators on notice: “Your time is up.”

AMERICAS
from the New York Times
Family visits to New York City — how to tackle the Big Apple with little kids.

from the New York Times
The long-neglected coastal city of Valparaíso in Chile is making a comeback, led by major cultural attractions and a thriving restaurant scene. Having the Pacific Ocean on your doorstep doesn’t hurt, either.

from the Boston Globe
A journalist decides to spend a week in Cuba before the inevitable end of the US trade embargo against the island, the place she calls an “exotic mystery.”

ASIA/PACIFIC
from The Guardian (London UK)
In the same year that UNESCO meets in Cambodia’s capital to add new locations to its list of World Heritage sites, archeologists uncover an enormous ancient lost city near the famed ruins of Angkor Wat, at least seven centuries old.

from CNN Travel
Ten new hotels in Hong Kong, each designed to appeal to a different type of traveler. Which one is your style?

from the Washington Post
When you think of alpine wildflowers, Asia probably is not the first region that comes to mind. The Daxue Mountains in China’s Yunnan province could change that.

EUROPE
from The Guardian (London UK)
Bear watching and booze cruising in Croatia.

from the New York Times
How to enjoy the alternative arts scene in Europe the way the locals do, on the cheap.

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