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How to enjoy the world’s great cities

Shinjuku district, Tokyo
Shinjuku district, Tokyo / © Perati Komson | Dreamstime.com

Want to get the most out of the world’s big cities, without being overwhelmed? Think like a sushi chef.

You know the great cities of the world. Places like New York, London and Paris. Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro. Tokyo and Hong Kong. Cairo, Lagos and Nairobi.

Different continents, different cultures, different vibes, but all of them equally, mind-numbingly enormous. Within five minutes of arriving in this massive jumble of unfamiliar buildings, street and teeming crowds, you feel engulfed, overwhelmed.

Jet lag only makes it all worse.

Some of these cities boast an urban footprint so wide that it could take you an hour to fly across it. Some have neighborhoods whose populations exceed a million people.

It’s easy for mega-cities to intimidate a first-time visitor, especially when you don’t speak the language. But even a native-born American hitting Manhattan for the first time can feel lost amid the sheer density, intensity and enormity of the place.

Still, there are too many attractions in the world’s great cities — not the least of which are the cities themselves and the creative energy of their people — to kick them off your bucket list.

So how do you get the best out of a big city, without returning home physically drained and mentally steamrolled?

Start by letting go of unrealistic expectations. Fully getting to know one of these cities could take years, maybe a lifetime. You’ve got what, a week, ten days? It’s not going to happen, so don’t worry about it.

How, then, do you approach one of these mega-cities?

Think tapas, sushi, Szechuan. Tasty meals served up in small bites. You can handle the big cities the same way. Break them up into smaller, manageable chunks. Slice and dice your visit.

The reality is that every city, no matter how big, is still a cluster of communities, a collection of neighborhoods, each with its own character, its own personality.

So just go mentally Benihana on the place.

Most cities are already split into sections and districts — New York and its boroughs, Paris and its arrondissements for instance. Such divisions all serve to subdivide the world’s gigantic cities into smaller bits that a resident — or a traveler — can cope with.

Within each of these urban sub-units, you’ll find neighborhoods. Look for one that holds major interest for you. It could be anything — food, music, fashion, art, architecture, shopping, night life, whatever.

When you find the one that hooks your interest, find a hotel there and make that your base. Even better, find a vacation rental or short-stay apartment and become a temporary “local” yourself.

Turn a block or two off even the largest, most crowded, pulsating boulevards of the world’s biggest cities and you can suddenly find yourself in a small residential neighborhood, an island of calm and quiet, where you can encounter people as individuals and not a churning river of faces.

Walk around. Visit the local shops, eateries. Take advantage of public transportation. Look for excuses to strike up conversations with others locals.

Even if your visit takes you to other parts of the city, make sure you spend a part of each day making yourself familiar with some fresh aspect of “your” neighborhood.

When you return home, you’ll be telling people about your visit to Rome or Rio or Shanghai, but you’ll feel more like you lived there, if only for a short time. You will have mastered a little of one of the world’s great cities, instead of it mastering you.

And believe me, that’s a great feeling.

URGENT: US airlines drop Israel

Delta Airlines flight landing at Lindbergh Field, San Diego | ©Greg Gross
Delta Airlines flight landing at Lindbergh Field, San Diego | ©Greg Gross

Delta and US Airways pull the plug on their Tel Aviv flights after a rocket lands near the airport there. No word on what American and United plan to do.

The fighting now raging in the Gaza Strip between the Israeli Defense Force and Hamas militants just scored a direct hit on travel to the Holy Land.

News media worldwide are reporting that both Delta Air Lines and US Airways have cancelled all of their flights to Israel indefinitely after a rocket landed near Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv (TLV).

They were later joined by Air France and Germany’s national flag carrier, Lufthansa.

American and United also fly to TLV. No word yet on what they intend to do.

The FAA has banned all US airlines from flying to Tel Aviv for 24 hours.

This comes on the heels of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Fight MH17 over Ukraine. The main difference between the two incidents centers on intent.

The Malaysian jumbo jet was struck down by an advanced weapons system that “acquired” the doomed plane on radar, tracked it in flight and guided a sizable surface-to-air missile to the kill. There’s no question that it was a deliberate act.

Most of Hamas’ small Qassam rockets have no guidance at all. They just fire them in the general direction of Israeli territory and they hit what they hit.

In any case, the close call at Ben Gurion was enough for Delta and US Air to pull the plug on their Israel flights until further notice. A Delta flight already en route to Israel has been diverted to Paris.

US Air had planes on the ground at TLV; they have been moved. A US Air flight to Tel Aviv from Los Angeles was ordered to land in Philadelphia.

This announcement effectively trashes the travel plans of thousands of travelers, especially students and religious groups that conduct trips to sites important to Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

What would you do if it happened to you? What are your rights and what are your options? If your travel plans gets shot down, can you deal with it? More on that later.

LAX to Africa?

Boeing 787 Dreamliner of Ethiopian Airlines
Imagine courtesy of Boeing

Ethiopian Airlines could become the first African air carrier to connect the Mother Continent to the US West Coast.

This time next year, you may be able to fly to Africa from the West Coast of the United States — on an African airline.

Ethiopian Airlines has announced plans to begin flying out of Los Angeles (LAX) to the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa (ADD).

The LAX-ADD flight would make a European stopover in Dublin, Ireland (DUB).

This is not just huge. It’s historic.

Currently, the FAA allows only six African airlines to fly to and from the United States. Ethiopian will be the first to touch down anywhere west of the Mississippi.

The airline already flies to ADD out of Washington Dulles (IAD).

It’s but one in a series of ambitious moves signaling the intent of Ethiopian to be recognized as a major player in the air travel industry.

(NOTE: Skytrax, the British airline rating Web site, gives the airline three stars out of a possible five, putting it on a level at least equal to that of most US-based airlines. The highest rated African airline flying to the US is South African Airways, with four stars.)

Ethiopian already is Africa’s largest airline.

For the last several years, it’s been expanding its route map to Europe and Asia, and gone to Boeing for jumbo jets with extended range, including its new state-of-the-art 787 Dreamliner.

In 2017, another long-range specialist, the Airbus A350-900, will join Ethiopian’s fleet.

Its arrival at LAX will definitely raise its profile among international travelers, especially in the US, and could pave the way for the arrival of other African air carriers to the US.

But they aren’t stopping there.

The airline also is looking to open new routes to Madrid and Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia.

Clearly, these guys are serious about taking the Ethiopian Airlines brand — and by extension, Ethiopia’s national identity — to almost every corner of the world.

When Boeing was catching hell for the teething pains of its new 787, from being three years late on its first deliveries to a series of problems with its lithium-ion batteries, Ethiopian Airlines stood strong behind both Boeing and the Dreamliner, even as other airlines delayed or cancelled their orders. That loyalty may have helped save the Dreamliner program.

A Dreamliner of Africa
AFRICA — The air game changes
The “Wings of Nigeria” reach the US
AIRLINES: Africa extends her reach

Movable luxury

Four Seasons Jet

If you want to go big, luxury resorts, cruises and even flights will lavish you with all the creature comforts you can stand — for a price.

Do you ever dream of seeing the world in style and comfort — especially comfort? Well, if you’re going to dream big travel dreams, you might as well start with a few dreamy details.

WARNING: Hide your wallet. The dollar signs are about to get scary.

Open Skies
If there is such a thing as a “boutique airline,” this subsidiary of British Airways just might qualify.

Open Skies flies Boeing 757s between the East Coast of the United States and ten gateway cities in France, starting with Paris.

Open Skies Prem class seats

Think of a 757 and you envision a big narrow-body airplane with 180-230 seats, a single-aisle with six seats across. Surely not the most comfortable way to fly to Europe.

Only that’s not how Open Skies rolls. At least, not entirely.

It does come with 60 Economy Class seats (they call them “Eco Class”) in the back of the aircraft — with the usual 31-inch seat pitch, 17.5-inch width and the middle seat that everyone hates.

However, that Eco Class seat also comes with leather upholstery. Your in-flight entertainment comes from an iPad that goes with your seat, pre-loaded with 70 hours of personal entertainment — movies, music, games, the works.

From New York (JFK) or Newark (EWR), your Open Skies flight to France will take a max of maybe ten hours. You’re good.

At the very front of the plane is their Business Class section. When you want to sleep, your seat converts into a fully flat “Biz Bed,” complete with Egyptian cotton duvet, a full-size pillow and your own pajamas.

Your gourmet French meals come with real china and silverware, along with some equally real French wines.

But the section that gets my attention is their premium economy section, which they’ve cutely labeled “Prem Plus.”

Prem Plus is actually similar to what Economy looked like in the early days of the Jet Age. Two spacious, plushly padded leather seats that recline 130 degrees, with an eye-watering 47-inch seat pitch.

Are these lie-flat seats? Obviously not. Will you care? Probably not.

The same iPad as in Eco class, the same classy French cuisine as in Biz class, along with priority check-in and fast-track security screening.

Overall, Open Skies reduces the number of seats to 105 total, meaning more space and comfort for everybody.

All this luxury, even in the relatively minimal Eco section at the back, comes at prices higher than regular airlines. Whether it’s worth the price depends on how much you value — or miss — your comfort when you fly.

Four Seasons Private Jet Experience
The upscale Four Seasons hotel chain is reaching for the skies these days, flying you to their private hotels and resorts around the world in their own — in effect, your own — private jet.

They call it the Four Seasons Private Jet Experience.

The resorts are all 5-star, but you may not want to get off the airplane — 52 seats total, all of them comfy lie-flats.

What else do you get? Plush carpet, leather seats, global wi-fi, gourmet meals.

I’m not sure what an in-flight concierge does, but it might be fun to watch.

(For some, the all-black Four Seasons Jet will remind them of the Big Bunny, the DC-9 jetliner that Playboy magazine magnate Hugh Hefner had converted into his own winged limo back in the 1970s.)

This jet can take you to any one of Four Seasons’ upscale resorts in Europe and Asia. But if you really want to go all-in, they’ve got a round-the-world package, which includes all your flights on this ultimate bird.

Cost? A cool $119,000. That’s a house in the Bible Belt, or a one-car garage in California.

As I always say, small dreams are a waste of sleep.

Luxury Cruise Lines
There are several cruise lines that qualify for 5-star status — with prices to match. This, however, may be the ultimate example of “You Get What You Pay For.”

Silversea luxury

And what do you get when you pay their eye-watering cabin prices? In a word, everything…and less.

Okay, so that’s two words. Stay with me here.

Luxury cruise lines are big on all-inclusive cruises. Once you pay for your cabin, everything’s covered.

Take Regent Seven Seas Cruises as an example. They list the following items as free:

  • Roundtrip airfare to and from the ship
  • RT Business Class airfare on European cruises.
  • Transfers between airport and ship/
  • Shore excursions (unlimited)
  • Specialty restaurants
  • Drinks, including alcohol
  • Open Bars, lounges and your in-cabin mini-bar.
  • Pre-paid gratuities for cabin and dining room staff.
  • Shipboard wi-fi

Of course, none of these items are actually gratis. They’re covered in the cost of your cabin or suite.

But when you all the out-of-pocket costs during a typical mass-market cruise — shore excursions, spa access, specialty restaurants, drink plans, and shipboard wi-fi — you may find that your champagne cruise tastes and your beer budget aren’t as far apart as you thought.

Other luxury lines that offer similar all-inclusive cruises include:

The “less” aspect involves the number of passengers on board. About 600-700 is usually the max. Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships house more than that on one deck.

Fewer passengers means no long waits or long lines, either aboard ship or embarking and debarking.

It also means the ratio of crew to passengers is closer to one-to-one. So there’s always somebody waiting to tend to your every wish or whim.


None of this comes cheaply, so start saving. But hey, don’t you deserve a little self-pampering once in your life?

AIRLINES: Go international


If you’re considering your first real international trip, don’t be afraid to choose a non-US airline to start your journey. It could be your best flight ever.

More than a few Americans, when planning a vacation or business trip beyond North American shores, wouldn’t think of traveling on anything other than an airline based in the United States.

The idea of entrusting their trip to a foreign-flag carrier has them envisioning sharing a cabin with ducks and chickens while being fed strange, inedible substances by stern-looking stewardesses speaking some indecipherable tongue.

Or maybe it just scares them to death.

Such folks usually have one thing on common: They’re utterly new to international air travel. Believe me, the veterans know better.

That includes the writers over at Smarter Travel, who recently posted a list of seven airlines “that will make you love flying again.”

Of the seven airlines listed, only two — Virgin America and JetBlue — were US-based. AnD Virgin America is actually a US subsidiary of a British airline, Virgin Atlantic.

The other five chosen by Smarter Travel were:

  • Turkish Airlines
  • Emirates
  • Porter Airlines (Canada)
  • Open Skies
  • Asiana

Americans may have invented the airline, but when it comes to creating comfortable cabins and warm, efficient service with lots of amenities, America’s airlines find themselves in the jetwash of more than a few of their non-US counterparts.

The first two non-american carriers I ever few on were in Asia. Japan Air Lines took me from LAX to Tokyo, while Cathay Pacific shuttled me between Tokyo, Hong Kong and Bangkok.

The JAL flight was aboard what was then a still relatively new Boeing 747, so the airline was going all-out to make a good impression, and it did. The flight attendants made you feel you were being cared for and the in-flight entertainment was state-of-the-art for its time.

That flight also served as my introduction to Japanese food, which was surprisingly good. One stewardess even patiently showed me how to deal with chopsticks (although I’m sure she had a great laugh about it later).

Good as that experience was, however, the legs flown by Cathay Pacific, aboard already tired Boeing 707s stuffed with Economy Class seats for charter flights, were unforgettable.

Multilingual flight attendants who were so attentive, they almost seemed to be mind readers. Incredible meals and drinks, served with real silverware. Great in-flight music and movies.

It was the first time I could ever recall feeling sad to leave an airplane.

JAL has since slipped a bit in the eyes of air travelers, but Cathay Pacific maintains its place as one of the world’s most respected airlines for the caliber of its in-flight service.

So says Skytrax, which ranks airlines and airports based on reviews by passengers.

Since then, I’ve flown national flag carrier lines from Europe, Latin America and Africa. Nearly all of them could go wingtip-to-wingtip with any airline in the United States in terms of their reliability, comfort and their treatment of passengers.

And more than a few of them, frankly but sad to say, leave their US counterparts behind. Sometimes, in the case of outfits like Emirates or Cathay Pacific, far behind.

Often, these foreign airlines actually represent their countries abroad — hence the term “national flag carriers” — so their crews and staff are highly motivated.

None of this means that all foreign airlines automatically are created equal, or are equally great. You need to do your due diligence when selecting any airline, domestic or not.

So talk to your friends or family members who have flown overseas. Check out the reviews on some of the many Web sites that feature airline reviews. Here are a few:

Indeed, flying to a foreign country on that country’s official national airline can be one way of starting your international adventure the moment you leave the ground.

The United States used to have a national flag carrier of its own. It was known as Pan American World Airways — Pan Am for short — and for 64 years, its blue globe logo was synonymous with worldwide air travel.

Indeed, it was one of the pioneers of the international airline industry, flying between the continents on propeller-driven flying boats known as Clippers that took off from and landed on water.

It was among the first to computerize airline reservations and ticketing, use jets for transoceanic flights. It built terminals at New York’s JFK international airport that were architectural wonders.

It’s no exaggeration to say that, when you thought (or dreaming) of traveling the world, you envisioned doing it aboard a Pan Am flight.

Eventually, time and international competition caught up with Pan Am and it faded away in 1991. Today, other US airlines fly the skies of the world, but none of them captures the imagination, or symbolizes American air travel, way Pan Am did.

AIRPORTS: Charge up…or else

Airport SWAT

New airport security rules may soon have TSA inspectors checking your personal electronics to see if they power up. If they don’t, there will be drama.

New security rules being implemented by the Transportation Security Administration could complicate your travel with cellphones, laptop computers and other personal electronics.

At certain overseas airports, security screeners now will be checking your personal electronics to see if they actually work.

If they don’t power up, they wont be allowed on the airplane.

The fear behind this new rule is that terrorists might try to use consumer electronic devices to hide bombs. Evidently, you can’t get explosives and normal working mechanisms into a device at the same time.

You can read more specifically about the new rules from the TSA Web site.

Right now, these new rules target airports outside the United States, but it doesn’t take much to envision it eventually being applied to US airports sooner or later.

Probably sooner.

What does this mean for you as a traveler? Simply put, it means you need to be diligent about keeping your gadgets fully charged. Because we all know that what the TSA taketh away, it seldom ever giveth back.

A little charging time before heading for the airport, therefore, can save you a lot of drama, not to mention a lot of expense.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.
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.

“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.

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.
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.

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

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