I'm Black and I Travel! | "Wherever you go, go with all your heart." — Confucius | Page 2 – page 2

From Film to Flight

Filming n location in China
On location in China

Want to use the locations of your favorite movies or television shows as inspiration for international travel? These sites can save you a lot of search time.

A few years back, I wrote about how you could use your favorite films or TV shows to give you a fresh, exciting list of vacation destinations. It’s still a good idea.

What I neglected to do was give you some online tools to do that quickly and efficiently. It didn’t occur to me back then that such tools would exist. But they do.

That’s right: There’s a Web site for that. Apps, too.

TheMovieMap.com
Most location Web sites are industry-oriented, geared toward helping filmmakers and location scouts rapidly identify prospective sites for new movies, TV shows or commercials. This one specifically identifies the locations of films already produced.

It’s far from being all-inclusive, and its search function seems surprisingly awkward at times, but with scores of films going back into the 1960s, it’s still worth a try.

One search of mine led to a list of film locations in London, England, which in turn produced a list of nearly 100 movies, some of which were shot in other locations as well as in London.

It also comes with an iPhone app that you can download.

You may need a little patience with this site, but the results should make the effort worthwhile.

movie-locations.com
What makes this site intriguing is that it lists locations not only by film title, but my actors’ names. The listings seem to be a work in progress, but there are enough of them completed to include this site in your search process.

filmneworleans.org
In recent years, New Orleans — and to a somewhat lesser extent, the entire state of Louisiana — has become Hollywood South. The combination of picturesque settings, ready workforce and eagerly offered tax breaks is just too good for filmmakers to pass up.

So if the first two site listed above still leave you wondering where to go, just head for The NOLA — and use this Web site to find your favorite New Orleans flick or TV series.

There’s bound to be one.

AIRLINES: New security fees

TSA inspector
TSA inspector

Substantially higher fees to pay for airport security could add $22 or more to the cost of your air travel.

This one case in which the federal government literally gets you coming and going.

In about three weeks, your airfares will be going up again, possibly by a substantial amount, but you can’t point a finger at the airlines.

Blame the TSA.

Yes, your friendly neighborhood Transportation Security Administration is hitting all travelers with increases in security fees which the airlines must automatically add to the cost of your ticket. Here’s how it works:

Until now, the federal government charged a flat $2.50 fee for each segment of a flight, with no more than two segments ($5) for a one-way flight or four segments ($10) for a round-trip flight.

After July 21, that $2.50 fee per flight segment goes up to $5.60 for each leg. Worse, there is no longer a maximum. If you have a layover longer than four hours on a domestic flight or 12 hours on an international flight, the next leg is treated as an extra flight segment — and that means another security fee.

So if you plan a circle trip that takes you to multiple destinations before returning home, the security fee could boost your total airfare by quite a bit. Per person, of course.

Opting out of these fees — for you or the airlines — is not an option. Depending on how their design their itineraries, some air travelers clearly will be hit harder than others.

But nobody gets away.

In its defense, the TSA says it needs the extra revenue to pay for the cost of securing the nation’s air and seaports, which the current fees have never dully covered. The new fees should to bring in nearly $17 billion over a 10-year stretch.

You may end up feeling a bit safer after all this, but your wallet almost certainly won’t.

My own feelings are mixed.

On the one hand, I don’t like the idea of anything that raises airfares, especially given how miserable the whole flying experience has become. I’m also aware, as you are, that airport security accounts for a sizable chunk of that misery.

On the other hand, I also know that TSA inspectors are as under-trained and underpaid as they are under-appreciated — including by me.

There’s a chance that Congress will intervene to reduce or block the imposition of these higher security fees, but there’s no guarantee of that. Meanwhile, there may be ways to avoid at least some of these new fees, but it will be tricky.

The key, obviously, will be to keep the number of legs, or segments, in your flight to a minimum. If you normally begin your trips from a smaller airport, that means traveling by car, bus or train to a larger “hub” airport, where you have a better chance of catching direct or nonstop flights to your destination.

You already see the two problems with that strategy, don’t you? One is the cost of getting to that other airport. The other is that direct and nonstop flights tend to be more expensive.

If you think this strategy can work for you, go for it…but do the math first, and carefully. Make sure the contortions you put your itinerary through don’t end up costing you even more money in the long run than just accepting the fees and forgetting about it.

AIRLINES: Southwest going long

Taking advantage of its takeover of AirTran’s old routes, Southwest Airlines becomes an international airline. But one big shoe has yet to drop.

For the last year, Southwest Airlines has called itself the largest domestic airline in the United States. American, United and Delta all may beg to differ, but that’s a different conversation.

What matters this week is that as of Tuesday, Southwest can now call itself, without dispute, an international airline.

Adopting the routes it inherited when it bought AirTran in 2010, Southwest is now flying to the Caribbean, starting with Jamaica, the Bahamas and Aruba. By November, Southwest tails will be seen in the Dominican Republic and three destinations in MexicoMexico City, Cancun and Los Cabos.

So what does this mean for Southwest customers? Not as much as you might expect — at least, not at first.

To begin with, while Southwest is working the Caribbean into its route map, you won’t be able to fly to Caribbean destinations directly from more than a handful of airports that Southwest serves.

So for the time being, that nonstop Southwest flight from Oakland or Phoenix to Nassau remains in the dream stage.

Another point, which this Time magazine article makes, is that Southwest’s entry into the Caribbean air market does not automatically mean cut-rate Caribbean airfares.

Indeed, Southwest has spent a lot of time and effort moving away from its reputation as an off-beat, low-fare upstart. If you’re not sure whether that’s a good or a bad thing, well, neither am I.

Meanwhile, there’s another, potentially bigger bombshell that Southwest has yet to drop, the one the rest of the airline industry — and a lot of Southwest customers — have anticipated for several years.

That’s the one that sees Southwest flying from the US mainland to Hawaii.

Southwest has edged toward this for a while, acquiring larger (and longer-ranged) versions of the Boeing 737 twin-jet medium-haul airliner, getting FAA certification for over-water flights.

Indeed, the new Caribbean service could be viewed in part as a moneymaking dress rehearsal for Hawaii.

Until then…Bahama Mamas, anyone?

Mosquitoes: Beat the bite

Second of two parts

There’s not much you can do to keep mosquitoes from finding you when you travel in tropical climes, but you can fend them off.

There are 175 different species of mosquitoes around the world, and they all seem to love us.

The Aedes variety, the one that carries the chikungunya virus now running rampant through the Caribbean, really thinks we’re delicious.

UPDATE
Since this post was written, Puerto Rico has declared a chikungunya epidemic. Also, for the first time, a Florida resident who has not traveled abroad in recent months has contracted chikungunya, which means the disease is now establishing itself in the continental United States.
— IBIT
20 July 2014

It would be great if we could just avoid these little devils altogether, but we really can’t. The sheer number of human attractions to a mosquito is…well, look for yourself:

  • Genes
    Genetics account for 85 percent of your chance of being bitten. So if you’re a mosquito Happy Meal, blame your parents.
  • Blood, O-yes
    If your blood is Type O, you are a mosquito’s most sought after entrée.
  • Carbon dioxide
    Every time you exhale, CO2 gives you away.
  • Dark clothing
    Makes you look like a large, tasty, warm-blooded mammal — which, to a mosquito, is exactly what you are.
  • Strong aromas (good or bad)
    Body odor, be it fragrant or funky, is a mosquito’s dinner bell.
  • Body heat
    They zero in on it. NOTE: Drinking alcohol raises body temperature. To a mosquito, you now glow in the dark.
  • Sweat
    Contains both CO2 and lactic acid, engraved invitations to a mosquito.
  • High cholesterol
    To your doctor, this is an invitation to a heart attack. To mosquitoes, it’s a flavor enhancer.
  • Pregnancy
    Greater blood flow. Higher body temps. Elevated CO2. It’s just not fair.

We can stay clean and dry, ease up on the perfume-y stuff, wear loose, light-colored clothing that covers arms and legs. A cap or hat helps, too. We can emphasize fruits, vegetables and lean meats in our diet. And it wouldn’t hurt to ease up on the beer at those beach barbecues.

Still, your best shot at beating the bite is a good insect repellent—or two.

Most commercial repellents are based on powerful chemicals like DEET (for your skin) and permethrin (for your clothes). Both are instant death to mosquitoes.

When it comes to DEET-based repellents, look for one with a concentration of 30 to 50 percent DEET. Less may not work. More is overkill.

There are repellents with 100 percent DEET, but unless you’re facing mosquitos the size of Mothra, you don’t need them.

Repellents come in ointments or liquids. Being lighter, liquids may feel less oppressive on your skin in hot weather, but experiment with both before you travel. Also, look for a repellent that doubles as a sunblock.

Swimming and sweating can wash off your DEET-based repellent, so you may need to re-apply it every few hours.

Which brings us to permethrin.

Never ever put this stuff on your skin. It’s strictly for your clothes. Why treat your clothing? Because mosquitoes can bite through if it’s light enough.

DEET’s protection only lasts on your skin for maybe half a day, but permethrin persists in fabric for weeks. Using both in tandem is like wearing mosquito body armor.

In West Africa, I loved watching them do U-turns in mid-air trying to land on me.

Some folks understandably would rather avoid these harsh toxins. You can buy or concoct your own natural alternatives to DEET, and many people swear by their favorite formulas.

Frankly, I trust none of them. When I go into mosquito country, I need to know my repellent works.

Overall, there really isn’t much you can do to keep mosquitoes from finding you. But a few precautions, coupled with the safe and careful use of good repellents, can keep them bay — and keep your tropical vacation plans on track.

ALSO CHECK OUT:
“Travel v. mosquitoes”
Chikungunya (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Travel v. mosquitoes

First of two parts

Aedes mosquito sucking blood on skin
Aedes mosquito, carrier of the chikungunya virus, among other things.

The likely spread of a debilitating virus across the Atlantic from Africa drives home the need to protect yourself against mosquito bites when you travel.

Whenever I urge folks to consider travel to Africa — which is often — I inevitably hear fears of regional conflict or terrorist attacks.

For the record, the world’s deadliest terrorist is the size of a mosquito. In fact, it is the mosquito.

These little suckers kill at least 700,000 people a year from malaria and other tropical diseases. Al Qaeda? Al Shabab? Boko Haram? The lot of them don’t even come close.

We’ve talked about malaria here on IBIT before. It remains a scourge across much of Africa, especially south of the Sahara.

The only reason we don’t have similar problems here is due to the relative handful of county and state health workers who bust their butts to keep these little devils in check.

So why bring this up now? The problem is a virus known as chikungunya.

Like the trans-Atlantic slave trade, it has made its way from Africa and taken hold in the Americas. And if you contract it, you are in for one of the worst weeks — or years — of your life.

The name derives from the language of the Makonde people of East Africa, where it first appeared ages ago. It means “that which bends up” — as in contorted in agony.

You’ll experience about a week’s worth of headaches, nausea, insomnia, rashes and a fever as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

But chikungunya is most notorious for excruciating joint pain — and that can linger for more than a year.

Vaccines? There are none.

Chikungunya has been around a long time, but never on this side of the Atlantic until it turned up on the island of St. Maarten in 2013.

Since then, it has torn across the Caribbean. In Haiti, which can’t ever seem to catch a break, it is already an epidemic.

Cases of chikungunya already have appeared in Florida, North Carolina, Mississippi and Georgia. The common thread among the victims is that they contracted the virus while traveling in the Caribbean.

UPDATE
Since I first published this post, Puerto Rico has declared a chikungunya epidemic. Also, for the first time, a Florida resident has contracted chikungunya without prior travel abroad, which means the disease is now establishing itself in the continental United States.
— IBIT
20 July 2014

Does this mean that you have to forget about vacationing in tropical destinations? No. You do need to get serious about your mosquito protection, though.

Because that bargain bug spray in the handy aerosol can may not cut it anymore.

NEXT: How to keep the mosquitoes at bay.

Carry-ons: For shame?

airport baggage graphic

Carry-on scofflaws with their oversized bags move a writer to act. Can social media succeed where the airlines themselves have failed?

If you’re one of those airline passengers who insists on dragging suitcases the size of hay bales onto an airliner and calling them carry-ons, you know the airlines are starting to come after you.

The people who do this slow the boarding process to a near-standstill, causing flights to take off late, which means they often arrive late, disrupting flights through throughout the air travel network.

Part of that delay includes having to take cases that wouldn’t fit in the overheads off the plane to be checked at the gate, a process that’s not only become increasingly common but becoming more expensive to travelers.

(Some airlines are now charging as much as $100 per bag if they have to take your bag out of the passenger compartment and check it. Ouch!)

Well, it turns out that the airlines aren’t the only ones ticked off by all this. Some of your fellow passengers aren’t too thrilled, either.

They’re tired of waiting for you to muscle your over-sized, overly heavy bag into the overhead bin, holding up scores of people behind you, many of whom waiting for their chance to do the same thing. They’re tired of you hogging the bin space with suitcases that were never intended to be stored overhead.

They’re especially tired of having your bag fall on their heads, either when it slips from your grasp or when the overhead bin latch pops open in flight and it comes flying out.

“We’ve all seen them,” says San Francisco Chronicle writer Spud Hilton. “The passengers at the gate dragging roller luggage that is more the size of a clown car than a carry-on. And of course they have a “personal item,” a bag or case in which you could smuggle a small pony.

“They stand in line at the airport, 2 feet from the airline’s carry-on sizer rack, clearly transporting the entire cast wardrobe for “Beach Blanket Babylon” (including the hats). Then they walk past the gate agents with an air of entitlement that says, “Those silly rules don’t apply to me.”

Evidently, Mr. Hilton has had enough of this nonsense. He’s launching his own one-man online shaming campaign against travelers who go to extreme lengths to evade the airlines’ much-despised fees for checked baggage.

He wants other travelers to snap cellphone pics of passengers slipping past airport gate agents with their ridiculously over-sized carry-ons, then post them on Twitter, Instagram and Vine with the hashtag #CarryonShame.

He has his reasons:

“If it were just passengers rationalizing their behavior as trying to cheat the airline out of checked baggage fees (or fliers just trying to save money), we wouldn’t care. But the increasingly aggressive disregard for the size standards — which has led to flight delays, a much longer boarding process, abusive passengers, and increased theft from gate-checked bags — also is disregard for everyone else on the plane. When your steamer trunk inconveniences someone else, there’s no excuse for that.”

Flight delays. A much longer boarding process. Increasingly aggressive passengers. I’ve seen all that with my own eyes. Theft from gate-checked bags, however, is a new one to me. New and disturbing.

This could get interesting. Actually, I could see it getting out of hand. Then again, when I watch the boarding process degenerate into a theater of the absurd, I suspect it’s gotten out of hand already.

ALSO CHECK OUT
AIRLINES: Crackdown on carry-ons
WTF: Pay for your carry-ons?
AIRLINES: No more carrying on?

A Juneteenth road trip

National Park Service photo
National Park Service photo

The day that marks the official end of US slavery can be a great entrée for your kids to Black American history and heritage — not to mention a good excuse to travel.

By the summer of 1865, the Civil War was over, the Confederacy was crushed and slavery had ceased to exist everywhere in the newly re-United States of America — except Texas.

Now, a Union Army general faced a crowd of townspeople in Galveston, TX and read them a short proclamation that said, in effect:

Your slaves are neither yours nor slaves anymore.

The date was June 19, 1865.

American schoolkids are all taught about Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. Few learn about Juneteenth. But the reality is that while Lincoln’s proclamation may have been a political masterstroke, it did little for most slaves.

Three years later, that brief announcement in Galveston changed everything.

The 19th of June immediately became an annual day of celebration among Black Americans, some of whom adopted it as their second birthday. It became a day for family get-togethers, fun and feasting on barbecue and strawberry soda.

But it also was a day for reflection, about education, self-improvement and prayer, about looking to the future and a determination to build a better one.

If you were Black and you were breathing, you wanted to be in Galveston on that day.

A century and a half later, Black Americans mark Juneteenth in large ways and small across much of the United States and far beyond. In those years when the date falls on a weekday, as it does this year, many American cities schedule their celebrations on the weekend before or after.

Galveston remains the epicenter of Juneteenth commemoration. What began as a day of annual jubilation in this Texas coastal city has morphed into a celebration lasting half the month.

Officially, in fact, Juneteenth in Galveston started this week and will run through June 24.

The death of slavery is a good vehicle for giving kids a grounding in Black history and heritage. It’s also a good excuse for some early summer travel.

A family vacation with a Juneteenth theme could take you a lot of places. Here are just a few.

ROCHESTER, NY
So what does upstate New York have to do with Juneteenth? Well, Rochester is the birthplace of Gordon Granger, the Union Army general and Civil War combat veteran who delivered that proclamation to Galveston.

Rochester is big on flowers. Its nickname is “the Flower City.”The whole family might get a kick out of the Strong Museum in Rochester. This place is devoted to the serious study of…play, especially the National Toy Hall of Fame and the International Center for the History of Electronic Games.

Will it be the parents having to drag their kids out of there, or the other way around?

If photography is your thing, you’ll want to check out the International Museum of Photography and Film at the George Eastman House. Photo enthusiasts of a certain age will recognize the name Eastman, is in Eastman Kodak, which still makes its home in Rochester.

Sustain yourselves on Rochester “white hots” — the local version of a hot dog. If you really want to terrorize your arteries, ask the locals who makes the best “garbage plate.” Survivors can chill out with a frozen custard from Abbott’s.

Adults in need of something stronger can sample the local craft beers and high-end vintage wines.

But when it’s time to get serious about delving into Black history and heritage, it’s time to head south.

WASHINGTON DC
You’d be hard pressed to find another US city with more of “our” heritage packed into one place than the nation’s capital — and that’s before the Smithsonian Institution opens the long-awaited National Museum of African-American History and Culture in 2015.

There are African American heritage tours, either guided walking tours or bus tours, along with Neighborhood Heritage Trails for self-guided walking tours through historic Black neighborhoods.

One stop surely would have to be the African American Civil War Memorial in the Shaw district of Washington, erected in honor of the more than 200,000 black men who volunteered to fight for the Union.

But it’s not all about the past in DC, which you’ll realize the moment you hit neighborhoods like Georgetown, Adams Morgan and the U Street Corridor.

Georgetown is where the tourists go to eat, drink and window shop. Adams Morgan has evolved into DC’s designated hipster hangout. And folks in DC will tell you that when it comes to Black American culture, U Street was Harlem before Harlem.

There, you’ll find nightclubs and historic jazz spots (after all, this is where Duke Ellington was born). It’s also where you’ll find Ben’s Chili Bowl, an old-school neighborhood fixture that’s become a required stop for celebrities, up to and including Presidents.

GALVESTON, TX
When you’re ready to take a break from the Juneteenth festivities, there are plenty of other things to see and do here. This is where a lot of Texas comes to party, especially on holiday weekends.

That’s partly because Galveston sits on an island, one of the long, skinny “barrier islands” that stand between the Texas mainland and the Gulf of Mexico. When residents say the city beach is 32 miles long, they’re not kidding.

You will run out of energy long before you run out of sand and surf.

The town is packed with museums devoted to planes, trains, sailing ships. You’ll also learn about the hurricane in 1900 that took out 6,000 people here in a single day and physically rearranged this place for all time.

But how many places in the world do you get to go hands-on with an actual offshore oil rig?

The star of the Offshore Energy Center is a retired offshore “jack-up” rig, similar to those that have operated for decades out in the Gulf of Mexico, and still do. You can get an idea of what it’s like to live and work on one of these steel islands standing in waters hundreds of feet deep.

Being in Texas and being a beach town, you’d expect to find good barbecue here. Two places to test that theory are Queen’s Bar-B-Que And Leon’s World’s Finest.

These are just a few possibilities. Dive into your US history and discover your own, then get the family together and start planning your Juneteenth road trip.

You’ll come home with a lot of memories, a better sense of where you live, and maybe even a fuller sense of how we came to be “us.”

IF YOU GO
Some resources to plan your trip:

Galveston TX
Galveston.com

Rochester NY
VisitRochester.com

Washington DC
CultureTourismDC
The African American Heritage Trail

SITE REVIEW: Hopper

SITE: Hopper

TYPE: Travel planning engine

CAN I BOOK FROM THIS SITE? No

FOUNDERS: Frederic Lalonde, Joost Ouwerkerk

BASE: Boston, Montreal

HOOK: “powered by the world’s largest structured database of travel information.”

COST: Free

How do you make yourself stand out in the midst of a virtual sea of travel? If you’re Hopper, you try to do less than other sites, and do it better.

From its site design to its content and navigation, Hopper keeps it real — real simple. If you called these guys minimalists, they’d probably agree with you.

After shortening it to “min.”

Their home page home page features exactly two navigation links at the top — “Flights” and “Destinations.” Both self-explanatory. Click on the one you’re looking for. Easy. Simple. Quick.

Each page features a relative handful of potentially helpful articles from travel bloggers with tips on flights and destinations, all stacked in a vertical column down the left side of the page. Cool.

But Hopper’s real strength is on the right side of its home page, the side marked “Flight Research Tools.” This is the sharp end of the site, where you will either save yourself some money, or just have a lot of fun looking.

Flight Research Tools has three main components:

  • Flight Deals Map
    You enter either your starting point, labelled “From,” or your destination, marked “To” and then click on “Create Map.” Hopper will immediately start showing you prices from your origin airport to various major destinations around the world, or to your chosen destination from various locations.

    Further, those points on your map are interactive, and clicking on them will bring a wealth of more data, including info on direct flights and flights with one or more stops, as well as alternative airports for departures and arrivals — and the airfare differences for each. It also brings up a calendar showing the cheapest time to go.

  • When to Buy and Fly
    Fill in your departure and destination airports, then click on “Create Report.” Hopper succinctly breaks down what constitutes a good price for your chosen routing, as well as showing that “Cheapest Time to Go” calendar, alternate airports, and which airlines might have the cheapest fares.
  • Airport Report
    Fill in the your chosen airport, click “Create Report” — and brace for the avalanche of data. By far the most detailed of its offerings. Longest routes. Shortest routes. Most popular routes. Cheapest and most expensive routes. Best days to fly. Biggest price drops or price increases.

Click on any of the destinations listed — under Airport Report or anywhere else on the site — and you’ll be routed to a page devoted to that destination. Things to Do. Food & Drink. Places to Stay.

Hopper is all about air travel and destinations, period. If you’re looking for information on cruises or other travel genres, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Some will see that as a shortcoming. I see it as a strength. This is not one of those travel sites that leaves you feeling as if you’re trying to find your way through a maze.

Hopper doesn’t do things that no other travel site out there is doing. It just does its thing in a way that’s easier on the eyes, faster to navigate and more readily focused on exactly what you’re looking for.

If you value your time as much as you value your money, those are qualities you’ll appreciate.

Travel is a risk

IMG_3037

No amount of research can guarantee that you’re going to fall in love with every destination you visit. But that doesn’t mean the trip was a waste.

If you hear someone merge the words “travel” and “risk” into the same sentence, what comes to your mind? Terrorism? Tsunamis? Airliners vanishing without a trace over the Pacific Ocean?

When it comes to travel, there actually is a risk more fundamental than all of those, albeit not necessarily to your health.

Not long ago, I stumbled across a very thoughtful piece from travel blogger Dana Carmel about her visit to Hungary’s capital city, Budapest.

Specifically, it was her written musings on “why I didn’t gel with Budapest.”

Whether for fun or for a living, we pour a lot of time, thought, effort and anxiety into planning our trips, especially in this, the Internet Age. We research destinations with the same zeal with which the Central Intelligence Agency presumably vets its job applicants.

And why not? In terms of both money and time, we’ve got a lot riding on our travel. And the longer, the more distant and more costly the trip, the more we feel we have riding on a successful outcome, even if it’s wholly for the sake of leisure.

How any one of us defines that success is not the point. What counts is being able to return home able to tell one and all: “It was fantastic!” So we do our due diligence, and then some.

We pore over destination guides, in print or online. We study maps until we can navigate the terrain in our sleep — and just might.

We consult friends, family members and total strangers, anyone who’s been to the places we’re thinking about visiting. We devour YouTube videos with a frenzy that would embarrass Jaws.

I mean, we turn into paleontologists when it comes to researching a place, forensic travel investigators. CSI Frommers, jack.

We do all this in the belief that, with enough “prep,” we can guarantee ourselves that our chosen destination will meet all over hopes, expectations and fantasies. It’s not so much research as an act of faith.

Which means that, sooner or later, we will face disappointment.

Gloomy architecture. Gloomy history. Bad weather. Bad smells. Brusque waiters. Unexpected closures. Too big. Too small. Too dirty. Too sterile. Too loud. Too quiet. Too chaotic. Too dull. Too foreign. Too familiar.

Or just some vague, undefined, unrelenting vibe that says, “This place isn’t me.”

Brussels was my Budapest, and I have no real idea why. There were no disasters. no one did or said anything wrong. I just felt somewhat unsettled the entire time I was there.

I’ve had similar feelings in other places, more than a few of them right here in the United States. And I could no more tell you why than I can explain my reaction to Brussels.

Whatever the reason, there will be times when the good ship Expectation sometimes runs aground on a reef of Perception, which may or may not be closely related to a shoal called Reality. It can’t be helped.

What ultimately defines us is how we handle it when that happens.

First, don’t blame the place. Second, don’t blame yourself.

The fact is, regardless of whether it’s urban or rural, tame or adventurous, familiar in its culture or totally alien, every destination is what it is. It’s wonderful when they live up to or even exceed our hopes and our fantasies, but they have no moral obligation to do so.

Which makes every venture we take into the unfamiliar a physical and psychological roll of the dice.

The fact that we don’t click with a particular locale may say a lot about the place, but it probably says even more about ourselves. What do we take from that? What do we learn from that?

Just as our failures sometimes teach us more than our triumphs, so too can the places we don’t fall in love with ultimately teach us more about ourselves. Self-discovery may not always be fun, but it’s always valuable.

Life is a risk, and so is travel. It’s how we learn, and ultimately how we grow.

the IBIT Travel Digest 5.25.14

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

Happy African American Family in Front of Cruise Ship.

MAZATLAN MAKES A COMEBACK
Three years ago, with reports of cruise passengers and crewmembers alike being mugged and assaulted there, the major cruise lines dropped Mazatlan as a port of call faster than the NBA dropped Donald Sterling.

It was a major blow to the cruise lines and the Mexican Riviera in general, and to Mazatlan in particular. The city has worked to win its way back into the good graces of the cruise lines ever since.

It looks as if Mazatlan has succeeded.

Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Azamara Club Cruises already have either resumed calling on Mazatlan or announced plans to do so as of last year. Princess Cruises announced earlier this year its own plans to return in the fall.

Now, the cruise industry’s 800-pound gorilla, Carnival Cruise Lines, says it will return to Mazatlan starting next spring with year-round cruises out of Los Angeles.

Welcome back.

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CUBA BY SEA
And speaking of cruises, it’s a widely held belief that Carnival, Royal Caribbean and the rest of the cruise industry big boys will descend on Cuba in force once the US government finally lifts its long-outdated trade embargo against Havana.

But not everyone is waiting for that.

According to Travel Agent Central, an outfit known as Wilderness Travel is offering an eight-day cruise to Cuba for 48 passengers aboard the three-masted sailing ship Panorama starting Nov. 29.

It’s part of the People-to-People cultural exchange program that Washington allows to take American travelers legally under license to Cuba.

Technically, it is not absolutely forbidden for Americans to travel to the island nation, but the embargo places a blizzard of restrictions on who’s allowed to go and what they can spend there.

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EAST AFRICA: ONE VISA FITS (ALMOST) ALL
The nations of East Africa are taking concrete steps to make the region more attractive for visitors. One of those steps is removing the hassle — and expense — of obtaining a new visa each time you cross from one country to another.

The East African Community, a five-nation economic cooperation group, is now offering the East African Tourist Visa, a single $100 visa that allows the holder multiple entries between countries for 90 days.

No more spending weeks sending your passport back and forth to embassies and consulates to arrange each visa in advance, or hours waiting in lines at border checkpoints and paying a different fee with each new visa. That’s the good news.

The bad news? The new visa covers only three of EAC’s five member countries — Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. The two remaining members, Tanzania and Burundi, have yet to come on board.

Perhaps they’re waiting to see how it works out before committing themselves to the process. If it goes as I expect, it shouldn’t take them long to see the advantages. And hopefully, it won’t take long for the rest of the Mother Continent to follow suit.

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ETHIOPIAN AIR’S GROWING STRENGTH
Ethiopian Airlines touts itself these as “Africa’s flagship carrier” — and it looks as if it’s building a fleet to back up that boast.

The second airline in the world to operate the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Ethiopian recently added its seventh Dreamliner to its stable of aircraft, and shows no lack of confidence in the plane.

Dreamliners are gradually taking hold on the world’s international air routes, despite nagging issues with its controversial lithium-ion batteries.

The airline expects to take possession of three more by year’s end, giving it one of the world’s larger 787 fleets and easily the largest Dreamliner fleet of any African carrier.

This matters because the hallmark of the Dreamliner — and its even newer Airbus rival, the A350 — is longer range. It means we American may one day be able to fly directly to the Mother Continent without first having to fly to the East Coast and then change planes.

Of course, that presumes that our FAA eventually decides to grant Ethiopian and other top-tier African airlines the right to connect to airports west of the original 13 colonies.

And now, here’s The Digest:

AIR

from Yahoo! Travel
Airlines with food you may actually want to eat.

from Reuters
How to get paid — and rather handsomely, at that — for air travel delays. Not only is legal, but it’s the law.

from the Irish Times
The future of air travel will be digitized and customized — especially up front in the high-priced seats.

from The Business Journals
The death of First Class in international air travel, and why that may not be such a bad thing.

LAND

from BBC Travel
The world’s five most affordable cities. Affordable, yes. Livable? You be the judge.

from BBC Travel
Seven of the scariest high-risk roads on the planet — and why people seek them out, anyway.

from AppAdvice.com
Is a luggage tag worth $119? Maybe, if it’s one that calls your iPhone to warn you that someone is stealing your suitcase.

from the Daily Mail (London UK)
Here’s one for “Bizarre” — A train from China to the United States. Eight thousand miles in two days, including a 125-mile-long tunnel under the Bering Sea. Supposedly, China wants to build it.

WATER

from the Sydney Morning Herald
River cruising in the United States must be pretty cool. Tourists are coming all the way from Australia to do them.

from the Sun-Sentinel (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)
In the go-big-or-stay-home world of cruise ships, Italian shipping line MSC is going big with two new mega-ships and an option for a third.

FOOD & DRINK

from the New York Times
Five flavors of France, by region — Alsace, Bouches-du-Rhône, Finistére, Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées.

from The Guardian (London UK)
The Spanish region of Andalucía is taking on Catalunya and the Basque country in a battle of regional cuisines. The most likely winner? Your tastebuds.

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AFRICA

from eTurbo News
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, a major air link between Europe and the United States, also connects Europe to East Africa, especially via Tanzania.

AMERICAS

North
from The Guardian (London UK)
See the USA — as the Brits see it.

from the New York Times
Chicago’s Riverwalk is getting a $100 million makeover in time for summer 2015.

from Travel Weekly
The top tourism destination in the Caribbean — Jamaica? The Bahamas? The Virgin Islands? You’re not even warm. It’s the Dominican Republic.

South
from the New York Times
How to kill a weekend in Montevideo, capital city of Uruguay.

from the New York Times
Heading to Brazil for this year’s World Cup? Tips to keep your budget cup from running over.

ASIA/PACIFIC

from Yahoo! Travel
Japan creates a new national holiday to encourage its work-obsessed population to take some time off. The other 15 holidays apparently weren’t enough.

from BBC Travel
Few cities in the world have their own national park, much less one with leopards. Mumbai does. Here, when you talk about an urban jungle, it’s a real one.

from BBC Travel
The Sichuan-Tibet Highway. That which does not kill you makes for an unforgettable journey.

EUROPE

from The Guardian (London UK)
If the tourist mobs in Barcelona have become too much for you, consider smaller and more bohemian La Coruña in northwest Spain as an alternative.

from BBC Travel
To see a body of art, visit almost any museum. To see the body as art, head for the World Bodypainting Festival next month in Pörtschach, Austria.

Spotted something you’d like to see in the next IBIT Travel Digest? Send me a message using the handy form below:

My other “bucket list”

Coast Starlight 2014

When it comes to the world’s great destinations, regardless of what or where they are, one visit — or ten — may not be enough.

Just about everyone has a so-called “bucket list,” that mental registry of must-see destinations they want to visit someday. Not me. I don’t have one.

I have two.

One is your standard traveler’s wish list of places to go and things to see. The other list is of the places I’ve already been, to which I want to return.

That’s the problem when your traveler’s soul takes over. Even as new destinations beckon, so many of the old ones keep calling you back.

To grow, we need to learn new things, meet new people and go to unfamiliar places. And we will leave a lot of those new places glad that we came, but feeling no real need to return. One and done.

But even as new places await our arrival, there are other places we feel compelled to revisit, again and again.

The reasons for wanting to return to a destination can be as varied as the destinations themselves.

Maybe you didn’t get a chance to experience enough of a place to develop a true “feel” for it. In the world’s mega-cities like New York, London, Shanghai or Mexico City, it’s easy to leave after a week or even a month feeling as if you scarcely penetrated beyond the tourist veneer.

That’s especially true if you’re following a fixed tour itinerary that leaves little or no time to explore on your own, like on all-too-brief day tours in a Costa Rica or Nicaragua.

Sometimes, after an absence of years or even decades from a city like Tokyo or Hong Kong, you feel the need to return to see how the place has changed, and whether for the better or the worse.

You may discover that you have changed more than your destination, but that’s a discovery worth making, no?

It could be that all your senses were so overrun in a place like Beijing or Berlin or Buenos Aires or Senegal or the Gambia or Hong Kong that you feel the need to return, just to put the place in sharper focus in your mind.

Or it could be simply that you fell in love with a place — a San Francisco, a Vancouver, a Paris, a Venice, a Yosemite.

The tug-of-war between old and new destinations can leave you feeling torn, even a little guilty. There’s so much world out there waiting to be experienced, even in the places you’ve been before. So how do you solve this dilemma?

Honestly, that’s easy. You don’t.

You just point yourself in the direction of the call that your traveler’s heart finds the most seductive — and you go. No rationalizing, no self-justifications required.

I have friends who return almost yearly to London and England’s Lake District. They’ve been doing this for about two decades now, to the point that they’re de facto residents. But after all the years and all the visits, they still love them both.

And that’s all that really matters in the end.

When it comes to a destination, you love what you love, whether you’re seeing it for the first time or the fiftieth. It’s your journey, no one else’s.

So when you find a place that most loudly and clearly speaks to your soul, be sure to listen to it.

And then…Go. Just go.

URGENT: French pilots poised to strike

French pilots union calls for a rolling month-long work stoppage in May to protest a law that limits the ability of pilots to strike. Disruptions to passengers’ travel plans could be fierce.

You may never have heard of SNPL France ALPA, but if you have a trip to or in France coming up this month, it could seriously impact your life.

That’s the union representing French commercial pilots. It is calling on all its members to strike starting Saturday, May 3 — for the entire month.

The idea is to conduct a kind of rolling work stoppage, a few hours at a time, on certain flights on certain days, every day through May 30.

Even if your particular flight isn’t stuck on the tarmac, the strike figures to send chaos rippling through entire flight schedules — and not just in France.

According to the AnglINFO expat blog, the planned “grève” would affect nearly 30 airlines in France, Europe, the United Kingdom, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

Several of those airlines, such as Air Tahiti Nui, Corsair, XL Airways and most of all, Air France, fly to and from North America, especially the United States.

According to media reports, the source of the union’s ire is a relatively new French law that effectively limits pilots’ ability…to strike.

Isn’t irony wonderful?

Still, if you’ve got a trip to or from France coming up this month, you might want to have a Plan B handy, including possibly some form of insurance to cover trip interruption or cancellation.

In the spring, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote so poetically, “a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love.” In France, almost any time of year, it turns to walkouts.

Unlike the US, where unions have largely been beaten into submission, organized labor is strong, vocal and active in France, so much so that the late summer-early fall months are often referred to “strike season.”
And public transportation of any kind is a frequent target.

Rare is the frequent visitor to Paris who has never seen — or had their travel plans altered by — labor protest.

One of my most indelible memories of Paris is slowly pulling out of the Gare de Lyon station aboard the high-speed TGV train bound for Lyon, just ahead of striking railroad workers who came flowing down the platform like a human river, flags and banners flying in the morning breeze.

The good news is that the union and the French government are still talking to each other, and there’s a chance the planned strike could be cancelled.

So stay tuned.

But keep your Plan B ready, anyway.

"Wherever you go, go with all your heart." — Confucius