Tag Archives: Tokyo

the IBIT Travel Digest 1.25.15

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

The Roaming Gnome has crossed the road, and gone over to the other side…sort of.

The online booking site Expedia has bought up its rival, Travelocity, for $280 million in cash, part of a buying spree that has Expedia looking to become the alpha dog of the online travel world.

Expedia already owns 11 other online travel bookers, including Hotels.com, CarRentals.com, Hotwire,Venere and Trivago, as well as Egencia, a giant firm specializing in corporate travel and China’s hotel booking site eLong.

It looked liked all these various online booking sites were fierce competitors, didn’t it? Sorry, they’re not.

If you’re a longtime user of either Expedia or Travelocity, you probably won’t notice a difference. Expedia has been powering Travelocity’s Web sites in the US and Canada for the last two years, among other services. So in that sense, this purchase just finalizes a merger that was already a reality in all but name.

Microsoft created Expedia in 1996 as an airline booking engine, and later spun it off as an independent company. It since has expanded to include hotels, rental cars, cruises and resorts.

Travelocity originally was the creation of Sabre, world’s first computerized airline reservation system, which was in turn created by American Airlines.

Expedia’s real rival these days is Priceline, owner of Kayak, agoda.com, Booking.com, rentalcars.com and OpenTable.

What does this all mean for the consumer? More on that in a later edition of IBIT. Watch for it!


Remember those reports that the Marriott hotel chain was seeking the US government’s blessing to block wi-fi signals from providers other than its own? It was a bad idea, silly, shortsighted and just plain wrong.

And now — at least for now — it’s history.

According to multiple media reports, including Travel Weekly, Marriott has announced it will no longer seek to block non-Marriott wi-fi signals in its meeting rooms and convention halls.

It says it never really did want to block guests’ personal wi-fi.

Had the Federal Communications Commission given them the go-ahead to do this to meetings and conventions in their hotels, you know they would’ve been going after hotel guests next.

But presuming it’s true that they only wanted to block meeting and convention wi-fi — and for the record, I don’t believe that for a minute — the idea was even sillier than I thought. Nice way to send your business/meetings clients to your competitors.

Honestly, who thinks of this stuff?


And now, here’s The Digest:


from the Associated Press
Are the airlines saving billions of dollars in lower fuel costs these days? Absolutely. Does that mean you can look forward to lower airfares? Don’t bet on it.

from MarketWired
Cathay Pacific is expanding service between San Francisco and Hong Kong.

from the New York Times
JetBlue’s Mint versus Virgin America’s Main Cabin Select: Which offers the greater creature comforts in return for your pricier ticket?

from the Washington Post
Ever wonder what happens to all those Swiss Army knives and other banned objects the TSA confiscates in US airports? Wonder no more.


from the New York Times
The NYT’s list of 52 must-see places for 2015.

from USA Today
Lodging with attitude. Some of the quirkiest hotels in the United States.


from Travel Weekly
An IMAX theater? A nearly full-scale amusement park ride? Its own craft beers? Cabins with hammocks? Say ahoy to Carnival’s newest mega-ship, the Carnival Vista. But if you want to be among the first to sail aboard her, you’ll have to go to Europe.

from the New York Times
Exploring Mexico’s Sea of Cortez on a historic — and very small — cruise ship.

from USA Today
Bring your own wine and do your own laundry. Two of the tips for saving money aboard a cruise ship.

from Travel Weekly
What do river cruise ships in France, Germany and the Netherlands have in common with drivers in Manhattan and San Francisco? ANSWER: They all have a helluva time finding a place to park.


from USA Today
If coffee and chocolate are uppermost on your list of basic food groups, your destination is Turin, Italy.

from USA Today
On the trail of Mexico’s liquid cultural icon, tequila.



from allAfrica.com
In the works, a single plan to allow travelers to visit 15 central and southern African countries on a single visa. It’s called UNI-visa, and it can’t come soon enough.

from allAfrica.com
Defying the downturn in African tourism driven by ebola hysteria, a lakeside city in Ethiopia is beating the odds and drawing visitors — not with safaris, but with urban attractions.


from the New York Times
Q&A: Sorting out the new realities of Cuba travel.

from The Guardian (London UK)
Some top-end vacation apartments and villas in Cuba.


from the Washington Post
Want to get a feel for the cultural heart of Japan, and maybe lower your stress level at the same time? Forgo the ultra-modern high-rise hotel and stay in a ryokan.

from the Japan Times
A city the size of Tokyo has hundreds of neighborhoods worth exploring. One of them is Sarugakucho.


from The Guardian (London UK)
In Pamplona, Spain, they’re hoping that an ultra-modern new art gallery by a prizewinning architect will give visitors reasons to stick around after the bulls have run their rowdy, dangerous course.

from BBC Travel
One of the most horrific battles of World War 1 took place in Slovenia. But with Slovenia behind the Iron Curtain for so long, few here in the States ever knew of tha horror — nor of the spectacular beauty that has long since replaced it.

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.


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

A Boeing 747 at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. Is the 747 era coming to an end? -- ©IBIT/G. Gross
A Boeing 747 at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. — ©IBIT/G. Gross

747 — END OF AN ERA?
After more than 40 years, her familiar humpback silhouette is still instantly recognized around the world and she’s still the largest airliner built in the United States. But there are signs that the famed Boeing 747, the aircraft that more than any other transformed modern air travel, is rapidly nearing the end of the runway.

Several media outlets, including USA Today, are reporting that Boeing is drastically cutting back production of new 747 models and has yet to sell a new one this year.

Bottom line, the airlines just don’t want four-engined airplanes anymore, especially big ones that burn a lot of fuel to carry less than full loads of passengers.

All good things come to an end, but this traveler will be sorry to see the big bird go.

My first real international trip was aboard a Japan Air Lines 747 from LAX to Tokyo in 1976. Boarding one for the first time was a thrill — even if your Economy Class ticket didn’t entitle you to visit the swank upholstered lounge at the top of the spiral staircase.

When they began flying commercially in 1970, airports used to boast that they were a destination for 747s — even as they struggled at first with massive new volumes of passengers, freight and luggage. And even after four decades, it remains one of the most comfortable airliners in the sky.

But while successive waves of upgrades have kept the 747 technically viable, it looks as if economic realities will shortly be its demise.


The airlines aren’t the only ones going the low-fare route. Bolt Bus, a spinoff of the iconic Greyhound inter-city bus line in operation since 2008, is hitting the highway in California.

Already in service in the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest with super-cheap fares, the New York Times reports that Bolt is opening up a new route starting Oct. 31 between Los Angeles, San Jose and Oakland.

To mark the occasion, Bolt is selling one-way tickets for the first four days of the new service for $1.

That’s right…a buck.

In a sense, it’s a throwback to the days when Greyhound and Continental Trailways buses roared up and down Highway 101 and Interstate 5 between Northern and Southern California, usually loaded with college students, budget-conscious vacationers and others who couldn’t cope with the cost of air travel — or just didn’t want to.

Those Trailways buses were pretty comfortable back then, with real legroom and even attendants who served coffee, sodas and sandwiches on board. None of that on Bolt buses, but you do get free wifi, electric outlets and leather seats. Unlike the old days, you also can get reserved seats if you buy your tickets online.


AFRICA — One region, under a visa
Little by little, the stable regions of Africa, looking to boost their tourism, are moving toward regionalizing their immigrations and customs controls for travelers.

West Africa, through multi-nation trade group ECOWAS, already has a visa that allows citizens of the 14 ECOWAS member nations to travel freely among each other’s countries on a single visa.

Comes now Univisa, which would allow visitors to travel between multiple countries in southern Africa on a single visa, instead of having to get separate visas — and pay separate visa fees &mdash for each country.

It’s only in the idea phase at the moment, but according to Travel Weekly, it’s an idea that generated a lot of traction at this year’s meeting of the UN World Tourism Organization in Victoria Falls.

This is an idea whose idea is long overdue in arriving — not just for the sake of non-African tourists, but travelers within the Mother Continent. In too many instances, it currently is easier to travel from Europe to Africa than it is to move between African countries.

If African travel, tourism and commerce are ever to reach their full potential, that has to change.


When we Americans first start traveling to Europe, the fascination is endless, and why not? Centuries of history to pore through. A multitude of languages, cultures, interwoven histories. It’s all layered amid cutting-edge architecture, fashion, music, food — and all stitched together by perhaps the most streamlined and sensible transportation et on the planet.

Soon enough, though, you may find an uneasy feeling coming over you as you contemplate yet another visit to London, Paris, Rome or Barcelona. That been-there, done-that, got-the-T-shirt feeling.

If that’s you, hidden europe is here to help.

It’s the Web site for hidden europe magazine, which reveals the less-familiar pleasures of Europe for travelers, especially to Europeans looking for something a little different for their own vacations. In their own words, “we criss-cross the continent to bring our readers the very best of what’s new, what’s overlooked, what’s odd and what’s fun.”

What’s more, they’re big on travel by train and ferry, which makes them travelers after my own heart.


And now, here’s The Digest:

from the Washington Post
Have airline reservation change fees climbed so high that it’s now cheaper to just not show up? Sometimes, the answer is yes.

from USA Today
Ryanair, Europe’s ultra-cheap airline, has built itself an image — low fares and no respect. And by its own admission, the latter may be wearing thin with its customers.

from Travel Weekly
Zipcar and its contemporaries are forcing Hertz to get into the self-serve car rental game.

from Travel Weekly
Princess Cruises will have five cruise ships instead of seven for European summer cruises in 2014. So where will the other two ships be? Alaska.

from Travel Weekly
Viking River Cruises is no long Viking River Cruises. These days. it’s Viking Cruises. Why? Because it’s elbowing its way into the ocean cruise business, starting in 2015.

from the New York Times
Going beyond fast-food chains, airports around the United States are bringing in restaurants offering travelers some truly local flavor.

from Travel Weekly
Some travel purists are fond of looking down their noses at “foodie” travel. The industry is not. Food-oriented travel has become a major niche category all its own, and its growth shows no signs of slowing.


from The Point (Banjul, Gambia) via allAfrica.com
The Gambia — Africa’s smallest, least populous nation becomes a magnet for tourism investors from Russia.

from NewZimbabwe.com (Zimbabwe) via allAfrica.com
Zimbabwe looks to tap into religious tourism in the country, partly as a way to prevent Victoria Falls and Great Zimbabwe from becoming over-saturated.

from Angola Press (Angola) via allAfrica.com
Angolan citizens are being asked to select the country’s own seven national wonders — and it looks as if they have nearly 30 impressive sites from which to choose. Voting is being done by SMS, naturally.

from SFGate.com
Good reasons to visit some of the less-visited travel destinations in Mexico. And no, I haven’t lost my mind.

from the Washington Post
In Thailand, elephants have been so badly mistreated by logging — and tourism — that the Thais felt compelled to create a sanctuary for most badly abused of them. SLIDESHOW

from The Guardian (London, UK)
File this one under “Who Would Believe It?” A 460-mile hiking trail that criss-crosses virtually the entire length of the Korean Peninsula. That’s right, North as well as South Korea.

from the Washington Post
A visual tour by day and night through the twin cities of Budapest, one of the best-preserved treasures of Eastern Europe. SLIDESHOW

from The Guardian (London UK)
Ice skating on the ocean? They do it off the coast of Sweden.

from The Guardian (London UK)
An insider’s guide to beautiful, fun-loving, independent-minded Barcelona.

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

IBIT Travel Digest 6.23.13

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

© June Cairns | Dreamstime.com
© June Cairns | Dreamstime.com

Venice has always been a photographer’s dream, but over the last decade or so, we’ve seen images out of the Italian lagoon city that can’t help but jar you, like the one above — that of massive cruise ships juxtaposed against the Venice palazzos.

Well, it turns out that Venice itself is being jarred by it.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the locals worry that wakes from the giant vessels are damaging the delicate foundations on which Venice sits.

They’re also fearful of pollution from the big ships — and when it comes to pollution, the cruise industry doesn’t exactly have a sterling reputation.

The concern is growing into anger, so much so that people have taken to lining small vessels across one of Venice’s major canals in an attempt to keep them out.

For their part, the cruise lines say their skippers are extremely careful when navigating close to Venice, even without the Costa Concordia disaster to remind of the consequences of getting careless.

This is dicey, because for all its history and beauty, Venice really doesn’t have much going for it except tourism. Cruise ships pour millions of tourists — and their money — into the city every year. Add in the port fees the cruise ships pay for docking there, and Venice has a huge financial stake in cruise travel.

It’s also the most popular cruise stop on the Mediterranean Sea, so the cruise lines have a vested interest in keeping everything nice, and staying on good terms with the Venetians.

But Venice is as fragile physically as it is financially. Every building sits on pilings of timbers pounded into the muddy lagoon bottom, not exactly a bedrock foundation. Anything that disturbs those pilings — like wakes from giant ships — ultimately could threaten Venice itself.

This will be one to watch.

It’s list time again from our friends at the BBC, and this one is all about getting around.

In most of Southern California, including the corner of it I call home, you’re pretty much a hostage to your car. But I’m actually a big believer in public transportation — and when I travel, I try to make the most of it.

The world’s great cities — with Los Angeles still among the notable exceptions — try hard to make it easy for people to get around on a combination of subways, trams and buses. More often than not, it’s easy, cheap and efficient.

Moreover, when you’re a visitor in places like London, Paris, Tokyo or Hong Kong, do you really want to take on their day-to-day traffic?

Not if you’ve ever seen it, you don’t.

With that in mind, BBC Travel has come up with a list of cities that have great public transportation, all but one of them in Europe and Asia.

The one exception? Take a bow, Portland, OR.

The Vikings are coming to America. Viking River Cruises, that is.

The company is headquartered in the Los Angeles area, but operates its cruise ships in Europe and Asia, with no cruises in the United States.

That may be changing.

The word from Travel Weekly is that Viking is planning to run cruises along America’s “father of waters,” the Mississippi River, by 2015.

It would be the first major Mississippi cruise venture since the New Orleans-based RiverBarge Excursions folded in 2008.

Viking has been building new ships at a furious clip for the last two years, at one point christening 10 new vessels in one day. It’s not yet certain if the ship would be an existing vessel or a new one purpose-built for the Mississippi, but one thing has been made clear already:

It will not be another replica of a Civil War-era paddlewheel steamboat.

With very few exceptions, Mississippi River cruises have been limited to attempts to re-create the “genteel” days of the antebellum South, complete with tours of plantations and slave quarters.

Not everyone is drawn to that, especially younger travelers of color. But a modern tour of the Mississippi aboard a 21st century vessel with floor-to-ceiling windows and balconies, and a passenger list in the scores instead of the thousands? That might draw some interest.

IBIT definitely will be watching this one.


And now, here’s The Digest:

from CNN Travel
One of the world’s smaller airlines goes airborne with some of the world’s largest seats, the better to accommodate its heftier passengers.

from The Telegraph (London)
Could the election of a purportedly more moderate president in Iran open the doors to tourism there?

from the Washington Post
Get ready to say goodbye, eventually, to that old magnetic strip on the back of your plastic. Chip-and-PIN credit cards are, or may be, the coming thing for travelers.

from CNN Travel
When that pricey first-class train ticket might be worth the added cost.

from CNN Travel
Ten life-changing travel destinations — not for you, but for your kids.

from Yahoo!
The best cruise lines for solo travelers.

from Budget Travel
Six great American wine regions, not one of which is spelled N-a-p-a.

from Associated Press via Yahoo!
In Accra, the capital city of Ghana, there’s an up-and-coming cocktail scene as bars turn to a traditional liquor called akpeteshie to generate some fresh buzz.

from Yahoo! Health
Farmers markets can be a fun weekend outing and a good way to stock up on fresh, healthful food — but you still need to be careful. Sadly, everything at your favorite farmers market may not be what it seems. SLIDESHOW


from The Guardian (London)
File this one under “counter-intuitive:” Egypt names as governor of a tourism-dependent province a man from a hard-line Islamist group linked to terrorists who killed 58 tourists in Egypt back in the 1990s. The locals are not happy. The country’s tourism minister resigns in protest.

from The Star (Kenya) via allAfrica.com
A sign of Kenya’s growing maturity as a travel destination: Demand for short-stay rental homes as an alternative to hotels is going up.

from the Daily Trust (Nigeria) via allAfrica.com
Etihad, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, apparently is serious about boosting the number of Nigerian travelers to the country — so serious that the airline is offering free 30-day visas to Nigerian visitors.

from the Los Angeles Times
Tourism in Mazatlan, hit hard by crime and violence related to Mexico’s drug war, is making a comeback.

from The Guardian (London UK)
A different kind of bar exam in San Francisco.

from BBC Travel
Ah, New York City. Where else could you find free jazz matinee concerts being offered…in someone’s house?

from BBC Travel
In Ecuador, when they talk about “living high,” they’re talking about high-altitude haciendas.

from the New York Times
Good surfing in Japan…who knew?

from the New York Times
Terrorists in police uniforms massacre of a group of foreign mountain climbers in northern Pakistan. A Sunni Muslim group claims “credit.” No Americans apparently among the victims, who were mainly from Ukraine and China.

from BBC Travel
Surf’s up…in Munich? River surfing in Bavaria.

from Reuters via Yahoo!
Ten European cities, four of them in Eastern Europe, still under the tourist radar. Worth a visit while they’re still off the well-worn tourist track.

from the Washington Post
Schöneberg is the neighborhood where John F. Kennedy forever endeared himself to the people of Berlin a half-century ago. JFK would be dead five months later, but Schöneberg remains a lively, diverse community.


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

© Mtoumbev | Dreamstime.com
© Mtoumbev | Dreamstime.com

You’re fastening your seat belt when the flight attendant announces, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a full flight.” If you think you’re hearing those words more often nowadays when you fly, it’s not your imagination.

According to the US Department of Transportation, nearly 737 million of us flew on regularly scheduled airline flights last year, and airliners flew at or close to capacity last year more than they have at any time since 1945.

It’s true that, for all the griping we do about its cost and discomfort, lots of us are flying these days. But it’s also true that that airlines have spent the last couple of years taking planes out of service.

They do that partly to retire older jets with less-efficient gas-guzzling engines, but also to make fewer seats available to the flying public. Fewer seats means greater demand — and less need to lower airfares.

And speaking of flying…


Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, its battery troubles apparently behind it, is returning to the world skies.

Several airlines have already put the 787 back on their established routes, and Ethiopian Airlines is going a big step further, recently committing to opening service next month between Addis Ababa and Brazil’s two biggest cities, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

Now, Thomson Air has become the first British airline to accept delivery of a Dreamliner. And the Chinese government has cleared the aircraft for use by airlines in China, giving Boeing a crack at a fast-growing Chinese airline market.

So it looks as if Boeing has its new ultra-light, hi-tech jet back on track — and probably not a moment too soon.

That’s because Airbus Industrie is on the verge of debuting its 787 competitor, the A350.

Both these jets are designed to fly farther on a single load of fuel. That means less money spent on gas for the airlines, and more hours spent in the air by you.


Sticking with the air theme, the word from Travel Weekly is that JetBlue is planning to create some kind of premium air service offering on its transcontinental flights, as well as free basic wi-fi and in-flight streaming of Netflix movies.

JetBlue already is one of only two US-based airlines given a 4-star rating by the British airline review site Skytrax (the other being Virgin America), but felt it was being edged out by its 3-star American competitors on transcontinental flights.

So the airline is looking to step up its game on its long-haul flights. Given th airline’s strong reputation among travelers for good customer service, it’ll be interesting to see what the JetBlue folks come up with…and whether it will be worth the price.


And now, here’s The Digest:

from the Washington Post
Contrary to popular opinion (mine included), the merger between US Airways and American Airlines is not quite yet a done deal — and there are those who don’t believe it should be.

from USA Today
Flying itself may still be a largely miserable experience, but the airlines are starting to put some effort (and money) into making you more comfortable on the ground.

from The Guardian (London)
Looking for the best exchange rates when buying/selling foreign currency? Don’t do it in the airport. Any airport.

from USA Today
When you rent a car, do you prepay the rental company’s fuel charge? Better yet, should you?

from USA Today
Vital information for summer travelers: Where to find the world’s best ice cream parlors. If you can’t get Berthillon in Paris, these may be good alternatives.

from USA Today
European travel guru Rick Steves talks about how to do Europe by train.

from USA Today
On Jan. 23, 2015, the Pacific Princess will push back from the dock in Los Angeles harbor. She will return May 15. In the 109 days in between, she literally will have sailed around the world.

from the NY Times
California already produces some of the world’s best wines. So it’s only fitting that it now is producing the cheese to match.


from the Washington Post
Say hello to Burkina Faso, a West African country relatively few Americans have heard of.

from Tanzania Daily News (Tanzania)
Can the country generate some “bounce” in its tourism from President Barack Obama’s visit to Dar es Salaam?

from the Washington Post
A look at the joys and struggles of a multi-ethnic neighborhood in Cape Town, South Africa.

from IOL Travel (South Africa)
Pardon me, would you like some whale with your salad? Whale watching, that is. You can do that in Cape Town.

from CNNgo
Somalia…tourist hotspot? Apparently, yes.

from USA Today
Several North American cities are turning their waterfronts into great places to visit. Here are some of the best.

from The Guardian (London)
If you’re fascinated by wildlife, you can hardly find a better place for viewing it than Brazil’s Pantanal said to be the world’s largest swamp. But in a land that literally is constantly shifting, getting there is NOT half the fun.

from the NY Times
How to kill a weekend in Jackson, MS.

from The Guardian (London)
Bar-hopping Austin TX-style.

from CNN Travel
In Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Fish Market, you truly have to be an “early bird” to catch this sushi.

from CNN Travel
Forget “the ugly American” — now it’s the ugly Chinese. Obnoxious behavior by newly well-off Chinese tourists has the Beijing government issuing instructions to its citizens on how to act abroad.

from the NY Times
How to enjoy the outdoors in Berlin.

from The Guardian (Europe)
Want to live the real “dolce vita” this summer in Italy? Live it like a local. That means skip the hotel scene.

from The Guardian (London)
Looking to save your food budget this month in the very pricey United Kingdom? These two-for-one lunch deals at some English and Welsh pubs might help.

from CNN
Are you a Game of Thrones fan? You can visit the castles in Northern Ireland and Croatia where the HBO series is shot.

the IBIT Travel Digest 2.3.13

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


When you’ve finished overdosing on Super Bowl hype, chips and dip, come refresh your mind with a peek at what’s happening in the world of travel

We are soon to find out, because according to Travel Weekly, the Federal Trade Commission has signed off on Priceline’s bid to buy the popular travel search engine for $1.8 billion.

That pretty much makes the sale a done deal, which could go down as soon as next month.

Snapping up Kayak gives Priceline a powerful search tool to tie in with its existing travel sales service. Less clear is how this marriage will benefit the traveling consumer.

On the other hand, Priceline has said that Kayak will to function as an independent entity, so we’ll see what happens.


You know that a new way of doing things really works when the big, old-line corporations start diving into it. That’s what has happened with car sharing.

Car sharing is kind of the automotive version of couchsurfing. It got its start in Switzerland in 1948 and took hold in the rest of Europe in the 1970s.

Once you become a member of a car-sharing service, you can rent a car for an entire day, a few hours or even a few minutes, if that’s all you need. You pick up the car in town, use it around town, drop it off in town. Cheaper and often more convenient than conventional car rentals, more flexibility and independence than taxis.

The concept doesn’t appeal only to travelers. Some people who don’t need a car full-time every day are actually getting rid of their own wheels (and the costs that go with them) and resorting to car sharing instead.

It’s also a good way to get a real-world feel for operating an unfamiliar vehicle type, whether it’s a pick-up truck or an electric car — without having to put up with a car salesman.

One of the pioneers in this field has been Zipcar, available in 34 states and the District of Columbia, as well as Ontario and Vancouver in Canada, as well as Barcelona, Spain and five cities in the United Kingdom.

How well does this concept work? Well enough for some of the rental car industry’s biggest players to take notice.

Hertz is answering its challenge by creating a car-sharing service of its own which it calls Hertz On-Demand. Enterprise followed suit with what they call WeCar. Even U-Haul has jumped into this game with U Car Share.

Avis, too, is buying the Zipcar concept. It’s also buying Zipcar…for $500 million.


At this point, I’m not sure if the cruise industry’s shipbuilding binge is entering its second decade or its third. The one thing I do know: It’s not stopping.

Royal Caribbean, locked in mortal combat with Carnival for the dominant share of the market, is showing every sign of both expanding and updating its fleet super-sized cruisers.

They’re already moving to trademark the names of six new Oasis-class vessels that haven’t even been built yet.

The Oasis-class — led by its namesake, the Oasis of the Seas — is currently the largest cruise ship afloat, maxing out at 5,400 passengers.

But Royal Caribbean isn’t stopping there. The line also is working on a new, slightly downsized cruise ship, the Sunshine-class, designed to transport and entertain a mere 4,100 passengers at a time.

This ship is so new, the first one hasn’t been named yet, much less built. But according to Travel Weekly, Royal Caribbean has already committed to building a second one.

I have no idea how the folks at Carnival will respond to this, but you know that they will be respond. It’s like an arms race, only with oceanview suites, water slides and Bahama Mamas.


If you were (or perhaps still are) a regular viewer of the 1970s TV series M*A*S*H, you might vaguely recall lots of occasional references to some mythical town or village whose name sounded like “Wee-John-Boo.”

Well, it turns out that Uijeongbu is no myth. It’s a real place, where the real Mobile Army Surgical Hospital operated during the Korean War. And in South Korea, its legacy extends far beyond film and television.

The people of Uijeongbu, desperately hungry during the war, made meals of whatever they could get their hands on. The result was a dish the locals called budaejjigae, Korean for “army base stew.”

Basically, it combined traditional Korean ingredients with whatever leftovers the locals could scrounge or smuggle from U.S. Army mess tents.

The shooting eventually stopped (the Korean War has never formally ended), but “army base stew” remained a staple of Uijeongbu — and Julie Wan of the Washington Post took advantage of a visit to her family in Seoul to seek out this most unconventional dish in its birthplace.

And as you’ll see when you read her story, she found it.

If you know the origins of things like gumbo, barbecue or fried chicken, you can relate to budaejjigae. Cookbooks today are full of dishes devised by poor, hungry people who tossed anything and everything into a stew pot and used a slow fire, a lot of spices and their imaginations to create something unforgettable.

If I ever find myself in South Korea, I may need to make a small side trip to Uijeongbu.


And now, here’s The Digest:

from Travel Weekly
JetBlue experimenting with an expedited security service that could — maybe — speed you past regular airport security lines. For a fee, of course.

from Smarter Travel
Visual advice on how to dress for air travel. Aimed mainly at women, but the fellas can learn a few things from this, too. SLIDESHOW

from Smarter Travel
The TSA shuts down an airport terminal in Atlanta because of an unattended…toothbrush? You can’t make this stuff up. I mean, those Colgate bombs can be deadly…

from Smarter Travel
Did you know that fresh oranges, in addition to being healthy for you on the ground, can help keep you hydrated in the air? These and other healthy food tips for air travelers.

from Travel Weekly
Hertz now letting its Gold Plus Rewards members upgrade their rental cars via their smartphone app.

from Travel Weekly
Carnival cancels Belize port calls for two of its biggest ships through 2013. The cruise line says the port is overcrowded with ships.


from Tanzania Daily News (Tanzania) via allAfrica.com
Serengeti National Park, already a UN World Heritage Site, wins a prestigious international tourism award.

from The Star (Kenya) via allAfrica.com
The German cruise ship MV Astor makes a historic port call at Lamu, setting aside fears of kidnappings by Somali bandits.

from The Star (Kenya) via allAfrica.com
Are British Army units training in East Africa arming and equipping poachers?

from CNN Travel
Today’s Super Bowl is more than just a battle between two pro football teams. It’s also a tale of two cities, Baltimore and San Francisco, and how they play. SLIDESHOW

from NBC News
New York City’s Grand Central Terminal celebrated its centennial last Friday. The Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty may be great monuments, but if you want to locate New York’s beating heart, you’ll find it here.

from the New York Times
Yes, you can send an email to the Bahamas, but a mail boat can send you there.

from Travel Weekly
Haiti officially protests the latest U.S. State Department travel advisory on visiting the island nation, which reads in art: “No one is safe from kidnapping, regardless of occupation, nationality, race, gender or age.” State denies trying to discourage Haitian tourism.

from Yomiuri Shimbun
Deep in a forest, well away from the mad urban bustle of Tokyo, a village of Japanese craftsmen hand-builds elegant wood furniture with skills honed over 15 centuries.

from France 24
Missed out on the New Year’s Day festivities Jan. 1? Well, there’s still Chinese New Year coming up on Feb. 10, and the place to party is Hong Kong.

from CNTV
A small lake fishing village in China’s Yunnan province becomes a hidden tourist gem.

from the New York Times
Feel yourself choking on mobs of tourists in Venice? Find a way to go eat with some of the locals.

from Lonely Planet
Is this the world’s most beautiful train ride? It’s in Norway.

from Travel Weekly
The Waldorf-Astoria hotel chain is making a serious move on Europe. With hotels already in London, Rome and Versailles, the luxury brand is now opening a Waldorf-Astoria in Berlin. And they’re not done. SLIDESHOW

Japan in pictures


Since gaining international attention in the 1970s and 80, Japanese comics called manga and animated shows known as anime have won a worldwide following. But to truly delve into the heart of this pop culture phenomenon, you need to visit Japan.

Tenchi. Inuyasha. Momiji. Yu-Gi-Oh. Dragonball. Voltron. If these and similar names have meaning for you, it means you may be or may have been a fan of anime.

Anime are Japanese animated productions, ranging from TV shows to short films and feature-length movies. They are closely related to manga, the popular comics read in Japan by people of all ages.

They all share a common style — human characters with super-large eyes and faces, with the rest of their bodies often out of proportion to the head.

The storylines can be simple or complex, but often carry a moral message or delve into the struggle to find one’s way in a difficult, complex world. The images and storylines alike can range from innocent and playful to dark and sinister, or very sexy. They also often touch on themes in Japanese history and culture, as well as Japan’s relationship with the outside world.

Anime has been around since 1917, but it took the work of Osamu Tekuza, a physician who found his true calling as a cartoonist and animator, to set down what is now universally recognized as anime. The art form gained recognition outside Japan in the 1980s and its popularity now is virtually worldwide.

So why, you wonder, am I talking about Japanese animation on a travel blog? For the same reason I’d be talking about Disney characters or Harry Potter. That’s right, there actually is such a thing as anime tourism.

Just as the Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle provided the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle in California, and Alnwick Castle in northeast England was the real-life inspiration for Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, many of the anime storylines are set in or inspired by real places across Japan.

But Ground Zero for a true anime fanatic has to be Akihabara in central Tokyo.

This district started drawing tourists in the 1970s for its dizzying array of electronics shops, selling everything from small hand-held radios to cameras, stereo equipment, cell phones, video games and much more, often including gear “not sold in any store” outside of Japan.

It was enough to earn Akihabara the nickname “Electric City.”

More recently, it’s become the headquarters for otaku, people of all ages devoted to all things manga and anime. If you’re into both anime and collectibles, Akihabara is where you want to be.

But Akihabara takes it even further with its comic cafes called “manga kissaten,” where you can watch anime DVDs and read manga to your heart’s content. Then there are the “maid cafes,” where waitresses dress up and act like famous anime characters.

Cultural kitsch to the max.

If you’re wondering if anyone in Japan runs anime tours, the answer is a definite “Hai!” The tours themselves range in length from a day to a week or more, covering one or more districts in Tokyo or multiple cities. A cursory Web search found these:

    Group tours with bilingual guides. Owned by Japanese comics publisher Digital Manga. These guys immerse you in Japanese pop culture in your choice of four cities — Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama and Kyoto. They also can hook you up with manga artists and anime studios.
    Two things about this outfit caught my eye. The first was that they offer payment plans for their tours that don’t require you to buy the whole package up front (why don’t more tour operators do this?). The other was a vague Twitter reference to “anime-themed liquor.”
    They say their weeklong “Tokyo Anime Freedom Tour” is the most popular tour package they offer. The disastrous 2011 earthquake knocked them out two years ago, but they returned last year and are back again for 2013.

Believe me, this is only a very small sample of the tours available in Japan, but this should be enough to get you started. You also should contact the Japan National Tourism Organization, which can hook you up with tons of information on anime tourism.

Anime tours tend to run in the spring, so if this kind of Japanese visit sounds appealing, you really need to start planning now.

You come to understand ancd appreciate anything that much more when you get a look at it from the inside. An anime tour can take you deeper into this phenomenon than mere readers or viewers will ever get, and by extension, give you a richer understanding of Japan itself.

That alone is reason enough to seriously consider a wide-eyed flight into Japanese animation.

OT: Dave Brubeck, 1920-2012

Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck, 1920-2012

Today, IBIT strays somewhat from the topic of travel to mark the passing of an American jazz legend.

We lost Dave Brubeck today, and for anyone who grew up with a love and respect for jazz, the loss is immense.

If you’re of my generation and come out of New Orleans, jazz almost seems to be coded into your DNA. Duke Ellington, Count Basie, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and so many others.

You may even have jazz notes hanging like musical fruit from your own family tree, as I do.

But as a kid, I didn’t really connect with jazz on a gut level until I heard “Take Five” for the first time in 1962 — courtesy of an AM radio station in San Francisco.

I heard it while clutching a cheap plastic transistor radio the size of a small shoe, with “made in Japan” in raised letters on the bottom and a small, tinny-sounding speaker not fit for “elevator music.” The alternative was to plug in the somewhat uncomfortable oversized earphone, which in those days went into only one ear.

For me, none of that mattered. “Take Five” was the song that turned “cool” from a state of mind into a sound. More than that, it was the signal that my musical tastes were no longer those of a child — even though I still was one.

Most artists want to be known and respected for their body of work, not just one piece of it. In Brubeck’s case, though, it’s probably unavoidable, for “Take Five” is not just his song. It’s his signature.

I grew up thinking this was strictly an American thing, that we were the only ones who loved jazz. How wrong I was.

Black American musicians first exposed the rest of the world to jazz in Europe, just before and especially during World War 1, when Parisians listened to the Army bands of America’s racially segregated black units, a pattern repeated in Europe and occupied Japan after World War 2.

Which is one big reason why today, you can find a jazz club in the capital city of every major nation on Earth.

Another reason was the Cold War.

Back then, both sides tried to use culture as a weapon of sorts. When the Soviet Union was trotting out classical orchestras and the Bolshoi Ballet on worldwide tours as cultural proof of its superiority, Washington countered with the likes of Ellington, Armstrong, Basie…and Dave Brubeck.

Fast-forward to 1976. Tokyo, Japan. I’m sitting in a second-floor nightclub wedged into a small office building in the Ginza, drinking Kirin beers from a glass boot…and listening to young Japanese musicians playing American jazz.

Including Brubeck’s “Take Five.”

Soon after, I learned that there were countries all over the world with jazz radio stations — and even more, hosting their own jazz festival lasting days.

Montreal and Toronto, Canada. Paris and Nice, France. Copenhagen. Vienna. Montreux, Switzerland. Havana. Jakarta, Indonesia. Macedonia, Moldova, Algeria and Azerbaijan.

Jazz. For days.

Regular IBIT readers know I’m not big on traveling the world to experience American culture. My skin crawls at the sight of a McDonald’s on the Champs Elysee or all over the Recoleta in Buenos Aires.

For music, however, I make an exception.

I delight at listening to black African choirs put their own interpretations on black American gospel music. I truly enjoy listening to hip-hop and rhythm ‘n blues via London or Marseilles or Salvador in Brazil’s Bahia state.

Above all, I love hearing everybody’s spin on jazz.

Dave Brubeck was one of the geniuses who brought this uniquely American creation to the world, and the world has never let go of it, or him. Play this cut on the streets of almost any big city, anywhere, and someone will stop to listen. Not just because they like it, but because they know it.

David Warren Brubeck would have been 92 years old tomorrow. His music will live on a lot longer than that.

The good stuff never dies.

Dreamliner in flight

An inside look at Boeing’s new lightweight, long-range jumbo jet, from a passenger’s perspective. Here’s what you have to look forward to in the very near future.

Just after lunchtime, Japan Air Lines Line Flight 065 took off from San Diego’s Lindbergh Field, bound for Narita International Airport in Tokyo, the first direct non-stop flight between San Diego and Asia.

It’s also the first flight from San Diego aboard Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner, whose groundbreaking use of composites in place of aluminum in its structure make it ultra-light and thus give it ultra-long range.

This bird has been a long time coming. For a variety of reasons, its first deliveries from Boeing were a whopping three years behind schedule. We’ve charted much of the 787’s teething pains here on IBIT, and along with the rest of the international travel world, eagerly awaited its arrival.

Now, it’s starting to make its appearance at the world’s airports, including SAN.

If, like most of the world, you’ve yet to have a chance to experience a 787 yourself, here’s a link to one writer’s experience aboard a Dreamliner — and as you’ll see, there’s plenty aboard this aircraft that’s new.

Meanwhile, JAL’s inaugural flight from San Diego is making its way north up the California coast toward Alaska, following the polar arc toward Japan. If you want to track the flight of JL065 as it makes its way toward Japan, you can do that at the FlightAware site here.

At some point along the way, the passengers will be treated to lunch and dinner — which, for the first time in JAL history, will include an offering of Kentucky Fried Chicken, as I mentioned in yesterday’s IBIT Travel Digest.

If all goes as planned, that probably will be the roughest part of their flight.

A Dreamliner come true for San Diego
Dreamliner in flight
AFRICA — The air game changes
Dreamliner sighting
Battle of the bins

the IBIT Travel Digest 12.2.12

The good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media

Catalina sunset
Sunset off Catalina Island | ©IBIT/G. Gross

If you love rail travel — or just loathe air travel — The Guardian newspaper in London has one of the best resources for planning a fantastic rail vacation.

It’s created its own Web page dedicated to great rail journeys around the world.

Stories about terrific train trips on almost every continent, planning advice, suggestions from readers, photo galleries, it’s all there.

One such trip that’s definitely on my list is aboard The Canadian, a train that travels across virtually the breadth of Canada, from Toronto in the east to Vancouver on the Pacific coast.

It’s not a high-speed train, but given the beauty of the land, including the Rocky Mountains, you won’t want to go that fast, anyway.

Even if you don’t actually use it to plan a train trip, you’ll probably learn some interesting things from it.

For example, thanks to the English Channel tunnel, it’s now possible to travel not merely from London to Moscow, but from London all the way across Europe, Russia and Siberia to Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean — crossing ten time zones and nearly 8,000 miles — without ever stepping onto an airplane.

Not that you’d actually want to, but you could.


There’s a truism in the fashion world that says if you wait long enough, everything comes back in style. That may be the case among the airlines, as well.

About a decade ago, I joined my first airline mileage program. The airline of choice was American. The reason? Back then, American touting the fact that it was removing seats from its aircraft to create more legroom between rows. When you stand 6’3,” you pay attention to things like that.

Sure enough, a few years later, the airline decided it needed the money, so it put all those seats back into all those planes. Bummer.

Fast-forward to November 2012. An email from American Airlines pops up in my inbox:

“Good things do come to those who wait.

Earlier this year, we mentioned that extra legroom in the Main Cabin was coming. We’re happy to tell you that Main Cabin Extra seats have arrived. You’ll enjoy the following benefits when you purchase a Main Cabin Extra seat:

• Extra space to stretch out
• Group 1 boarding to settle in early
• Seats near the front of the plane so you can get on and off the plane faster”

Legroom is back. Cue the Kool and the Gang music. “Ce-le-brate good times, come on!”

Well, not entirely. There are a couple of differences this time around.

A decade ago, the extra legroom was spread through the entire cabin. This time, it’s being limited to the Main Cabin Extra section at the front of a selected group of new jets.

The other difference is one you’ve probably come to expect by now. If you want a seat in Main Cabin Extra, and you don’t have elite status with American, you’ll have to pay for it, anywhere from $8 to $118 per flight, according to American’s Web site.

On the other hand, you won’t be paying hundreds or thousands of dollars extra for a First or Business Class seat.


If I had a dollar for every unsolicited credit card application that turned up in my mailbox in the last five years (and went straight to the shredder), I could probably fly someplace nice… in Business Class. But here’s one Visa card I wouldn’t mind having.

It’s called the KQ Msafiri Visa credit card. It’s result of a joint venture between Barclay’s Bank of Kenya and Kenya Airways.

Not only do your purchases with the card earn miles toward free Kenya Airways flights, but you also get priority check-in and boarding, and up to $56,500 in travel insurance, free.

Cool. But what I’d really love to see would be for outfits like Kenya Airways, South African Airways, Ethiopian Airlines or Arik Air to partner up with some American banks — preferably some black-owned American banks — to create a credit card whose purchases would build miles toward travel to Africa.

That’s one credit card application I wouldn’t shred.


This last item sounds like a punchline, or maybe something from the satirical news Web site, The Onion…but it’s neither.

Starting this weekend on selected international flights, Japan Air Lines will be serving its passengers in-flight meals featuring…Kentucky Fried Chicken.

That’s right, JAL is hooking up with KFC. According to the JAL press release, it’s to be called “Air Kentucky.”

Greasy fried chicken at 35,000 feet? Neither I nor my bowels know quite what to make of this. Believe it or not, however, it does make a certain amount of sense, although perhaps not for the reason you’d expect.

It would be logical to presume that JAL is doing this to placate those Western passengers whose faces turn unnatural colors at the very thought of eating sushi. But you would be mistaken.

According to the press release, “KFC is widely popular in Japan, particularly during the Christmas season.” And according to CNN, it ties in with a JAL gimmick of partnering with restaurtant chains popular in Japan, such as “MOS Burgers, Yoshinoya beef bowls and Edosei pork buns.”

And there you have it. Pass me the sushi, please.


And now, here’s The Digest:

from Smarter Travel
A holiday gift from your friends at ST, the ten airlines that give you the best legroom in Coach — or as I like to call it, Sardine Class. SLIDESHOW

from Travel Weekly
Flying to the Caribbean from anywhere in the world? No problem, mon. Flying among the Caribbean islands on regional airlines? Big problem, mon.

from Travel Weekly
Delta to begin flying between Seattle and Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport, which is closer to the city than its other airport, Narita. But Seattle’s gain will be Detroit’s loss.

from Smarter Travel
The ST crew highlights the cold-and-flu season by pointing out the 10 Germiest Places You Encounter While Traveling. Their title, not mine. Never mind that, just take their advice and stay healthy going into the New Year. SLIDESHOW

from CNN
First, the bad news. Hotels are now going the way of the airlines and hitting their guests with hidden “resort fees.” The good news? The feds have taken notice.

from Smarter Travel
Five off-season travel destinations that are really cool, and not just because it’s winter. SLIDESHOW

from Travel Weekly
Ridership isn’t the only thing growing at Amtrak. Look for a larger number of Amtrak Vacations packages in 2013.

from Travel Weekly
Houston has had a gleaming new cruise ship terminal since 2009, but no cruise ships ever made port calls there. Starting next November, that will change.

from Travel Weekly
More life preservers, better tie-downs for heavy equipment aboard ship and standardized procedures for bridge officers are among the safety changes being proposed within the cruise ship industry as a result of the Costa Concordia disaster.

from CNN
How do you “undiscover” an island?


from Travel Weekly
British travelers recently declared Cape Town, South Africa to be their favorite city in the world — and it looks as if Europe’s international airlines are getting the message.

from the South African Government News Agency via allAfrica.com
A cultural, historical and anti-poverty industrial center dedicated to the memory of anti-apartheid martyr Steve Biko opens in South Africa. The Steve Biko Heritage Centre is expected to become a major tourist attraction.

from The Star (Kenya) va allAfrica.com
With foreign tourism starting to dry up, mainly over security fears as Kenyan forces tangle with Al Qaeda-aligned terrorists from neighboring Somalia, the government tries to boost domestic tourism to compensate.

from CNN
The ravages of Superstorm Sandy are not preventing holiday visitors from pouring into New York City.

from CNN
Take a look at Detroit through the eyes of its mayor, former NBA superstar Dave Bing.

from SFGate.com
Up in the Napa Valley, you can find restaurants that design menus around the finest local wines. Not down in Monterey. This beautiful seaside-scenic town, a two-hour drive south from San Francisco, has gone nuts over local craft beers — so much so that several local restos now feature entire dinners built around local brews.

from the Los Angeles Times
Memories of the California gold rush live on in Yreka.

from China Daily
Have you ever seen any of those ancient Chinese paintings depicting incredibly beautiful landscapes, towering bullet-shaped limestone mountains that couldn’t possibly be real? Well, they’re real, all right, and Guilin is the place that inspired a lot of those paintings.

Travel Weekly
With cruise sales leveling off here and sailing over their own “fiscal cliff” in Europe, the cruise lines are turning to Asia to pick up the slack. Singapore has already built a new ocean terminal large enough to dock the world’s biggest liners, and more are coming.

from CNNgo
Paris? New York? San Francisco? Madrid? You can all sit down. The Michelin Guide to the world’s great restaurants has crowned the gourmet capital of the world — and it’s Tokyo…still.

from Travel Weekly
Canada’s Four Seasons becomes the latest luxury hotel chain to plant its flag in China with a new 313-room luxury tower in Beijing.

from The New Yorker
Paris, that gastronomic capital of haute cuisine, is going ga-ga over its newest craze. Brace yourself: It’s American hamburgers. We’re not talking Mickey D’s, either.

from Cisco
The next time you find yourself in one of those classic London cabs, whip out your smartphone or your iPad and see if its wifi is working. Cyberspace is coming to the hackney carriage.

from Reuters
It’s no big deal anymore to find a Muslim mosque in Paris. A gay-friendly Muslim mosque in Paris? That’s a very big deal.

Edited by P.A.Rice


The good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media

Liverpool | ©IBIT/G. Gross

For most of the last week, travelers have been coping with the chaos created by Hurricane Sandy. Clem Bason, president of the Hotwire Group, offered some really helpful tips for travelers to get through it.

But it doesn’t require a “storm of the century” to unleash havoc on the US aviation grid. All it takes is a strong storm lasting a day or more that hammers an airlines’ hub airport city like Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta or New York.

If nothing else, Sandy’s swamping of East Coast airports may get travelers thinking about how to deal with such crises in the future, and that’s a good thing. Because the realities of climate change mean we probably haven’t seen our last superstorm around here.

Bason recommends keeping your airline’s phone number in your smartphone. In addition to that, make sure you have one or more good travel apps in your phone that give you fast access to airlines, hotels, rental car agencies, whatever you need to get through the crisis.

But really, the best thing you can do for yourself during a travel emergency is to have a previously established relationship with a travel agent and keep that person on speed dial. A good, experienced travel agent not only can find alternative flights and lodging for you, but can book them…and probably a lot faster than you can.

Just a little something to think about, especially if you travel a lot — and before one of Sandy’s meteorological siblings shows up.


As in airline add-on fees, those extra charges for checking your bags and even the “privilege” of sitting in an exit-row seat. The airlines drained an extra $22 bilion out of your collective pockets last year on fees alone.

We all know and loathe them, but we don’t know all of them.

Until now.

The crew at SmarterTravel, one of the best travel Web sites going, has produced a guide listing every single add-on fee charged by every domestic airline in the United States. Fourteen different fees — and their varying amounts — from 14 different US airlines.

It’s a PDF entitled “Ultimate Guide to Airline Fees.” To download it, click here.

Bookmark that link on your computer. Keep it on your smartphone. Print it out. If you fly a lot, this is one list you definitely want to keep handy.


For many years now, Japan Air Lines, that nation’s original national flag carrier, has been flying in the jetwash of rival All Nippon Airways. It looks now as if JAL is trying to take the fight to ANA with a promise of more comfort in the sky.

It’s giving their extended-range Boeing 777s a major interior makeover. When done, its cabins will be divided into four classes — Economy, Premium Economy, Business and First.

The latter two classes will be lie-flat seats in their own self-contained shells, but JAL is promising that all the seats will be more comfortable, even in sardine class.

They’re calling these reconfigured 777s “Sky Suites,” and the first of them will go into service next Janunary between Tokyo Narita and London Heathrow. Eventually, however, they will be coming to America.


You may have heard of the Napa Valley Wine Train up in the Northern California wine country. It’s a great experience, and IBIT will have more on that in a future blog post.

Meanwhile, have you heard about the Beer Train in San Diego? It may sound like the punchline to a bad joke, but it’s anything but.

Unlike the Napa Valley Wine Train, the Beer Train doesn’t have its own rolling stock. Instead, it turns a Coaster commuter train into a rolling pub. Pub grub and short walks are part of the package.

Sounds like a sweet ride, does it not?


Travel Weekly reports that both Barbados and Martinique have plans in the works for new cruise terminals capable of handling the largest cruise ships out there. Which means that, in a year or so from now, passengers will be able to step off the ship directly onto the dock and head straight into town.

Caribbean ports need to do this, for the same reason that the world’s major airports have to build larger terminals to accommodate the Airbus A380 super-jumbo jet.

Some struggle to handle the larger new super-cruisers. Others can’t dock cruise ships at all. They have to use small, cramped tenders to ferry cruise ship passengers to and from shore, a time-consuming and somewhat risky process disliked equally by the ports, the cruise lines and their passengers.

Meanwhile, Caribbean cruise ships have been growing almost exponentially in size since the 1990s. Royal Caribbean International and Carnival, the two largest lines going head-to-head for the Caribbean cruise market are both building seagoing behemoths that would make the Titanic look like the SS Minnow.

It’s hardly a coincidence, then, that one of the principal partners in the new Barbados cruise terminal is Royal Caribbean. One look at their Oasis of the Seas will explain everything.


Travel media just love making lists — best this, cheapest that, coolest whatever. If you look long enough, you’ll probably find someone making a list of the best travel lists.

But the prize for the most counter-intuitive travel list goes to Budget Travel. Its “winning” entry: the world’s 25 must-see tourist traps.

Normally, when travel writers say anything about tourist traps, it’s to advise you — usually with great disdain — to avoid them. This slideshow does just the opposite. It lists the top 25 destinations that invariably are crawling with tourists, but worth a visit, anyway.

To look at it another way: These places are all teeming with visitors for a reason.

So if a certain sight or destination really piques your interest, don’t automatically let the travelerati put you off from it.

And now, here’s the Digest:

from SmarterTravel
from CNN Travel
Window or aisle: What does your choice of airplane seat say about you?

from SmarterTravel
Eight airline perks that are — are you sitting down? — still free. SLIDESHOW

from the Los Angeles Times
First, airlines started tapping into celebrity chefs. Now, American Airlines will let passengers in First and Business Class reserve their choice of in-flight meals. The biggest shock? There’s no fee attached.

from Travel Weekly
JetBlue plans to offer satellite-based wifi beginning early in 2013, which it says will be better than the ground-based airborne wifi being offered by their competitors. It also plans to offer at least a basic version of it…wait for it…at no charge.

from Travel Weekly
Lufthansa launches a new low-fare carrier in Europe, Germanwings.

from SmarterTravel via USA Today
Five tips to make the most of that carry-on bag.

from Budget Travel
When it comes to unexpected travel costs that can ambush your wallet, we all know about the airlines and their hated baggage fees. But there are at least a half-dozen more that BT wants you to know about.

from Reuters
The streetcar, thought to be obsolete a half-century ago, is making a comeback in New Orleans. One more reason to visit the Crescent City.

from Associated Press via Yahoo
From bike-sharing programs to building bicycle “superhighways, European cities are embracing cycling like never before.

from Travel Weekly
Norwegian Cruise Line doing away with its discounts for children under age 2. A money-making idea, or a way to force parents to leave their babies at home with grandma?

from Travel Weekly
The Love Boat in unfamiliar waters. Princess Cruise Line’s Pacific Princess will offer a 10-day Caribbean cruise next January.

from Travel Weekly
New cruise industry safety rules now require cruise ship crewmembers to do lifeboat drills that involve actually putting the boats in the water and maneuvering them while being filled to capacity. If you’re guessing this is a consequence of the Costa Concordia disaster, you’re right.

from The Guardian (London UK)
A few days in the bush in Zimbabwe.

from Le Monde (France)
African migrants are increasingly abandoning dreams of reaching Europe or America. These days, the “promised land” is increasingly becoming South Africa. But while the dream destination may be different, the hardships and sorrows of the journey are the same.

from Monkeys and Mountains
Shark diving in South Africa — with camera and without a cage.

from Capetown Festival of Beer
When the world thinks of alcoholic beverages and South Africa, it automatically and for good reason thinks of South African wines. These guys would like to change that.

from the New York Times
Like some sort of post-apocalyptic epiphany on wheels, New Yorkers living in the wake of Hurricane Sandy are rediscovering their bikes…and liking them.

from Travel Weekly
Government bureaucracy plus consumer confusion is making a muddle of new rules governing legal U.S. travel to Cuba.

from Travel Weekly
The Imperial Palace hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip is undergoing both a year-long makeover and a name change. When it’s all done, some time around the end of 2013, it will be known as The Quad.

from the Associated Press via SFGate
The San Ysidro border crossing between San Diego and Tijuana is often touted as the world’s busiest world crossing, and often cursed as the world’s most congested. It’s now getting a makeover intended to streamline the traffic flow going south. Northbound travelers…*shrug.*

from CNNgo
Vietnam puts its own spin on fast-food dining. It usually involves two motorized wheels and some seriously fresh and tasty eats.

from Travel Weekly
What it’s like to tour quake-shattered Christchurch, New Zealand. Just one example of “dark tourism.”

from Travel Weekly
Get ready to rock out in in the Middle Kingdom. Hard Rock International is bringing its rock ‘n’ roll-themed hotels to China starting in 2015, including one on the island of Hainan.

from Travel Weekly
China’s on-again, off-again issuance of permits for foreign tourists to visit Tibet is off again.

from The Guardian (London UK)
Missed Halloween last week? No worries. You can always catch up at the Witches Night festival next spring in Prague. Parades, witch burnings (in effigy only, mind you) and some of the world’s best beer.

from Travel Weekly
The British travel company Trafalgar is planning a 13-day tour of European battlefields from both world wars. Included is a visit to the Belgian cemetery that inspired the famous World War 1 poem, “In Flanders Fields.”

from Typically Spanish
Spain has long been a traditional warm-weather refuge for British tourists. These days, they’ve increasingly got company, from an even chillier Mother Russia.

from the BBC
Paris for lovers…of chocolate.

Edited by P.A.Rice


© Shutter1970 | Dreamstime.com

Relying on print and especially television news for our knowledge of the world has made too many of us fearful of venturing beyond our own shores.

When you talk to people who’ve never traveled outside the United States, you realize after awhile that a lot of people can actually afford to travel, but don’t. Why? Because they’re afraid.

Travel’s a lot less hazardous today than it was for Vikings in their longboats, the Polynesians in their outrigger canoes, or the Portuguese mariners under Henry the Navigator. But some folks still react to the idea of international travel as if they feared sailing off the edge of a flat world.

And if you really want to see that fear on full display, just broach the idea of visiting Africa.

Too primitive, they say. Too backward, too poor, too politically unstable, too dangerous. Nothing to do there but go on safaris, sleep in the bush, and hope you don’t end up as a Breakfast Jack for some hungry lion.

The fears we have of venturing into foreign lands are very real, but where did those fears come from? We weren’t born with them. Who taught Americans to be afraid of people who don’t look, speak, live or express their spiritual side the same way they do?

And who taught so many African-Americans to be fearful of Africa and suspicious of Africans?

It certainly doesn’t come from any first-hand, intimate knowledge of the wider world. It’s well-documented that Americans:

  • Get less vacation time than the people of any other developed nation.
  • Use less of the vacation time they get than the people of any other developed nation.
  • Travel less than the people of any other developed nation.
  • As a population hold fewer passports than almost any other developed country, about 30 percent.

So where is all this fear — and inevitably, loathing — come from? You need look no further than American mass media — film, television and especially what passes these days for TV news.

I call it the Mainstream Fear Machine.

The reality is that a great many Americans learn of the world outside the United States from what they see on television, mainly on network and cable TV news shows, which far too often seems to consists of camera crews bouncing from one crisis to the next, offering little context and even less perspective.

As long as it yields spectacular, sensational images, that’s good enough.

Most newspapers long ago stopped sending journalists to cover the world in depth, especially those parts of the world with which Americans are least familiar. Their audience wasn’t interested, they said.

Likewise, schools generally make only the most cursory, half-hearted attempts to teach kids anything about the rest of the world.

None of this is new, and it certainly didn’t start with 9/11. The Mainstream Fear Machine is as old as America itself. The World Trade Center attacks just prompted it to crank up the volume.

Try this experiment with anyone you know who’s never been to the Mother Continent. Tell them to close their eyes and describe the images they see when they hear a certain word. Then say “Africa.”

Odds are, your test subject will come back at you with one or more of the following:

  • A lion, a hippo, an elephant or a giraffe. A herd of water buffalo or wildebeest.
  • A wide-eyed young boy with an AK-47 assault rifle almost as big as he is, slung over one shoulder.
  • Angry mobs in the streets, throwing rocks. Barricades made of burning tires. Burning American flags.
  • Swaggering, grinning dictators.
  • Somalia. Blackhawk Down.
  • Skeletal, malnourished, wide-eyed babies, languishing in the arms of their equally starving mothers.
  • Muslim terrorists.
  • Nelson Mandela.

Anyone who has been to even a handful of Africa’s 54 countries can tell you there’s so much more to the Mother Continent than that​.

Thriving urban centers. Hustling entrepreneurs. The second most prolific film-making nation in the world (Nigeria). The most creative music scene on the planet. World-class art, fashion, cuisine. And some of the warmest, friendliest, most loving people on Earth.

Odds are, your test subject won’t know any of that, but that’s not his fault. What most of us know of Africa, and most of the world, we learned from the Mainstream Fear Machine, whose message is simple and readily understood:

The world is a scary place, full of scary people who envy you and hate you and want to hurt you.

A lot of black Americans especially worry about the way they’ll be treated abroad simply because they are black Americans.

Wherever I’ve gone in Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa, my most cherished memories are of people. Their friendship, their kindness, their willingness to share a little of themselves and their culture with you.

The young Japanese students who led me to a terrific little jazz club in Tokyo, just for the chance to try out their classroom English.

The Mexican shopkeeper who gave me a miniature stone carving of a giant Toltec head.

The Amsterdam tram operator who gave me directions, then took me there on his tram without charge.

The Gambian hotel worker who, upon meeting me, invited me into his home for the naming ceremony for his newborn son.

Are there people out there who fit the fearful descriptions? Most definitely. Does that description fit the entire world, especially the non-European parts of of it? Absolutely not.

But you’ll never know that until you break the grip of the Mainstream Fear Machine and start to know that world and its people for yourself.


Edited by P.A. Rice