Dear Travel Truth Seeker:

With the billions of pages of consumer-oriented travel information and data available in cyberspace, why would we devote a major web site to offering you truthful answers to your travel questions?

Sadly, there is a need for truthtelling in this industry. Unfortunately, the vast majority of travel sites do everything possible to insult your intelligence.

You don’t want a song and dance. You don’t want to exchange e-mails or have a salesman call you. You don’t want to filter through hours of travel drivel to find a kernel of truth. And you certainly don’t want your travel questions interspersed with meaningless chatter from those whose credentials you cannot certify, many of them paid shills using e-mail aliases.

This is something different. This is a place you can feel comfortable visiting. You can count on the fact that no one is trying to sell you anything. You can assume your name will never be used or given to any advertiser or marketer.

This is the only travel site that will not accept advertising or money from  advertisers or suppliers. We think it is impossible for any travel site to really be honest with the consumer if it is accepting payment from the very people it is reviewing.

Traveltruth is the only travel site written by the award winning journalists and consultants at Churchill & Turen Ltd. Every single word on this site is written by the Senior Contributing Editor at the nation’s leading industry magazine or a consultant with more than two decades of awards including “Travel Superstar”, an accolade given by Conde Nast Traveler to only eight individuals in the United States. Two of the “Superstars” write for this site.

This is traveltruth.

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Travel Q&A


Kanda Restaurant TokyoQ – Through a recent merger, I am going to be spending a fair amount of time in Tokyo and environs. In Manhattan, my fiance and I love going out to the best sushi restaurants. I know there is a ton of great Japanese food to be discovered in Tokyo but I was wondering if your food experts know of a place where I might feel comfortable dining alone while having some of the best  food in the city. I guess I am looking for a place where I won’t be stared at (I have red hair).

A – No worries, half the kids under 18 have pink and green hair in Tokyo. It sounds to us that you might really like Kanda. It sits in a plain apartment building near Ropponji Station. The door is unmarked so you might need a local the first time. There is an 8-seat counter that you will find extremely comfortable as you sample the Kaiseki-style menu. Try the kawahagi, a fin fish sushi served with liver. Seriously.


Water  CXX NY Daily NewsQ – Ultra-cool travel site – but no one has written in yet who seems to share my need to feel constantly hydrated while flying those stretch aluminum cans. I have to have water when I fly – lots of it. I just think dehydration is an awful feeling on a plane and its so easy. I used to bring several bottles through the airport (am I boring you yet) but TSA make me empty my super-size water bottle. This leads to my question – is it appropriate, normal, polite, expected that I would keep asking the flight attendants to refill them?

A – You have posed an interesting moral-ethical dilemma. Yes, ask them to refill your bottle from time to time, but since you will be getting up to use the lavatory every hour, carry the bottle up with you so it is easier for them to fill it. Then beware of what you are drinking. If they give you the aircraft’s stored water you very well get sick. Never drink anything but water that you see being poured out of a bottle on any aircraft. The water hose is hooked up to each plane on the ground and the fuel and water tanks are filled up. This is not tap water and the storage tanks may never have been scrubbed for decades. But we do not think you are overstating the need for hydration. We don’t think you’re weird. At least not all of us.


Chase Sapphire PreferredQ –  My fellow anesthesiologists and I have been following traveltruth for several years and all I can tell you is that if you ever want to be put out we’re here to help. The question of which travel-related credit card is best came up last week at our morning meeting. Can you fly any of the major airlines with the Chase Preferred Card which you seem to rate highly?

A –  Dear Docs – nice to know your business meetings center around which credit card will get you the best perks. We like the initial perks that come with the Chase card, the double points on travel and restaurants, the no foreign transaction fee policy, and the sign-up bonus coupled with the waived fees for the first year. But the card is weak on airline partners. The only airlines currently in the program are United, British Airways, Korean Airlines, and Southwest.

If you are after primary mileage perks on the widest variety of airline partners, look at the American Express Starwood Card.



Insurance Travel 1 AXXQ – We are going to be leaving for the Seychelles in six months on a trip booked through GoWay, a company we are working with for the first time. They wish to sell us insurance but before committing, we are wondering what your take is on that subject. We are First Class but definitely not deluxe travelers (don’t know if my terminology is correct) and we’re recently retired from Wells Fargo and ready to do likely two major international trips a year. Do agents make commission on this stuff and do you usually recommend travel insurance to our clients?

A – Our team has strong opinions on this one and we can easily ramble on about travel insurance. So let us summarize our response by offering


Insurance Travel 201 – Each time anyone sells you insurance they are earning a commission that is built into the price.

02 _ Travel insurance is expensive – the cost on many policies is now between 8-10%. If your insurance is 7% or less of the total value of the trip you have gotten an insurance “deal”.

03 – Do not compare policies or look for “deals”. Insurance companies are never on your side. But some have a reputation to maintain and they do not want to lose the business of multi-billion travel agency groups. Your travel consultant should know, from personal experience, which insurer is best for you. If you are using a travel advisor for the first time, test them by asking them to summarize why they recommend a specific company or policy for your specific trip.

04 – As a general rule, avoid supplier-issued insurance. You will normally get better coverage and stronger advocacy from an independent policy. There are many exceptions to this rule and they include AMA Waterways, Tauck Tours, and Disney Cruises and Land Tours.

05 – One advantage of a private versus supplier travel insurance policy is that private policies are age-based, so if you are under 65, you may get far more reasonable premiums than travelers in their seventies or eighties. Supplier issued policies are not age-based so the fees for more mature travelers are figured into the total premium cost.

06 – Check with your home insurance agent to determine your level of insurance when you travel internationally. It’s probably worthless but do check.

07 – If you have Medicare or work-related insurance, we are less likely to recommend the absolute need to take out insurance for travel in the United States.

08 – Unless you are a Bernie Sanders supporter, you likely feel that insurance companies are entitled to make all the money they can. Yes, 8-10% of your total trip cost is rather obscene, but that should not prevent you from insuring travel to Asia, Africa, South America, Antarctica, and southern Europe. If you are traveling in Northern Europe hope that you get sick in Scandinavia. We would never recommend that you travel anywhere outside the United States, with the exception of Canada, without carrying some form of trip cancellation and medical coverage. And remember, they are not at all the same thing.

09 – Do not ever book travel insurance on the internet. If you have a claim, your travel consultant can be your advocate if a claim is unjustly denied.

10 – The single biggest financial hit you can get while traveling overseas is medical evacuation by helicopter or medical aircraft. Do make note of how much coverage you receive for this eventuality. If you receive less than $50,000 in medical evacuation coverage, walk away from the policy.


Seats too narrow on airplaneQ –  Given that I am a  multi-state franchise territory manager, I guess you could say I’m a very frequent flyer. As a large man, I’ve started noticing that sometimes my economy seat feels like I actually have a squoosh more room but for the most part, it seems like the seats are getting smaller. I was talking to another frequent flyer on a flight to Minneapolis last week and he swears the seats are, despite what the airlines might say, actually getting smaller. I told him I knew who to ask.

A – The web site, actually studies this stuff and they have compiled some interesting statistics that clearly demonstrate that seats have been getting narrower in the back of the plane.

Airlione Narrow Seats 2In the 1970’s, the average seat width on America’s major airlines was 18″. In the 1980’s, a rather competitive decade for the airlines, seating increased to 18.5 inches. But currently, seat average are down to 16.5 inches of width. Meanwhile, the average male passenger weighed 173 pounds. Today, the average male passenger weighs in at 196 pounds in a significantly narrower seat. So you are not imagining anything.

Airlines in the 1970’s flew at 70% capacity with 17 inches as the average seat width. Today, most airlines are maintaining 85% capacity loads.

Airbus has partnered with the London Sleep Center and determined that an 18 inch seat in coach will actually enable a passenger on a night flight to experience a “53% improvement in overall sleep quality”. As a result, Airbus has been calling for a mandatory 18″ seat width as industry standard.

If you want to understand how this all really works, look at a company called Recaro Aircraft Seating, a major industry player. They claim the airlines have been asking them to make seats that are both smaller and more comfortable. To achieve this, according to CNN, the company has slimmed down armrests to give passengers more room for their over-sized hips and they have moved the literature pocket above the tray table which, at least theoretically, increases leg room. They are also working with a netting material that clings to the body, replacing foam. This creates a bit more legroom.

But, the deal is that airlines can order seating tot heir own specifications and some airlines are more concerned with squeezing in so many seats that comfort is normally unobtainable. We see this on a 777 that is delivered with ten seats across in economy. The airbus 380’s always provide 18 inches of seat width in coach.

So – what to do about all of this. Well to assure the airline’s profits remain healthy we could all go on a nationwide fast and lose 100 or so pounds. But it might be easier to follow the seating charts on to determine if you are flying in a seat that has been designed for maximum profit instead of maximum comfort.


Surfing Goat DairyQ – Really cool site and we love the lack of ads, pop-ups, and other distractions. We’re headed to Maui with our 9 and 11 year-old boys and we want to spend a day or two inland. We’ll be based in a family-suite at Kea Lani but would love just a few specific suggestions. Yes, we have used a travel agent and she has been quite helpful – up to this point.

A –  If you head inland make the Surfing Goat Dairy a planned stop. The kids can pet the goats, you can buy cheese, and get a tour of the farm.To get there. We also like the idea of a day on Lanai for kids. It has none of the commercialism of the other islands and is easily reached by day boat from the Maui Marina. Look into The Feast at Lele, a good quality luau that is less Las Vegas than many. Finally, consider taking the kids on a helicopter tour to Hana-Haleakala to fly over the crater.

With two kids you have likely rented a mini-van. Consider ditching it and opting instead for a convertible big enough for four. If you are doing the back roads of Maui you must be in a convertible or you will be viewed as “uncool”.


Lisbon # 28 TramQ – We will soon be visiting Portugal. We were in our doctor’s office on Saturday and he mentioned that there was a fantastic, curvy, atmospheric tram ride through some interesting neighborhoods in Lisbon. But he he didn’t remember the name of it. He couldn’t remember if it was orange or yellow. Actually, he’s not even sure if it was Madrid or Lisbon – this was about ten years ago. Anyone on your staff who might know about this?

A – Well our first thought was that we hope you are not seeing this doctor for help with memory loss.

You want to catch the #28 tram that runs between the quite hilly Alfama District to the Prazeres Cemetery. This is an old, old route and the cars reflect that. They are painted a bright yellow and have wood interiors. There will be lots of close turns down narrow streets. It’s a great ride and should not be missed by anyone visiting Lisbon.


Apple IpayQ – Although I appreciate that this site deals with upscale travelers, there are those of us in our thirties who can afford to travel well. But to do so, I would want to use my iPhone for payments. It’s just easier. How do I do this?

A – Yes, we understand. Taking a credit card out of your billfold is just so damn time-consuming. If the Apple Pay machinery is working properly, you might save two seconds. Delta Airlines is the only major airline currently on-board with Apple Pay. But you have to access it through their “Fly Delta App” so there goes the two seconds.

We think you will see other airlines quickly following Delta’s lead. In 2016 it is estimated that about 18% of all online airline bookings will be made via smartphone technology. This means that everyone is being trained to squint at flight schedules at fares in the palm of their hand. The airlines love this because it cuts their distribution costs. This is not good news for online travel agencies who, of course, have their own smartphone apps.

The consumer meanwhile will look back wistfully and recount stories for their grandchildren about the time they actually got to deal with a human being when making flight reservations.


lapland 2  BXQ –  I thought I’d reach out to you for suggestions to extend a Scandinavian trip for next summer already booked. We are considering having our kids  fly to Stockholm to meet us and then spending a week in Sweden, just the four of us. We are active, nature loving, travel veterans and usually enjoy avoiding cities and renting a house or cozy inn in a smaller town with easy access to the outdoors. I’m guessing Sweden has neat towns on pretty lakes but I could use a little direction. The alternative, or additional, thought is to head up north to check out Lapland since it is so unique. Our travel time is July 28th – August 6th and we probably wouldn’t want to go more than 2 places in that time. We usually do the travel planning ourselves, how does working with an agent work in terms of fees work out?

A – We think that either destination could work well for six days or so. There are some transportation issues in Lapland, but those can be overcome.

The answer to your question is simple – all of the years that you have been making your own arrangements you have been paying a 10-15% supplement for a travel consultant’s services. It is in everything you ever bought. If you demanded a refund of that money after the booking was made, then you have not been ripped off. Otherwise, you have consistently been charged for services you never received. When we arrange  a tour or a cruise, we have never had to charge   fees of any kind. It is always part of the supplier’s price.

In any other industry we suspect, this would be considered fraud, the idea of being charged for consulting and processing services that the hotel, airline, cruise line etc. never provided. But in travel it is accepted practice. It is one of the industry’s dirty little secrets.

Now there is one exception to the rule above. If you ask us to craft a vacation experience especially for you, using the best available guides, vehicles, and planners, we work with a mark-up in the 30% range. That is rather standard but it often goes higher. But that is only when hours of work are devoted to creating something unique for you and your family.

Lapland is a location where both Sweden and Norway-based travel firms handle arrangements. You can book directly and save some substantial planning fees.

Most of the better travel agencies in the States have consortium affiliations with top-level travel firms in Sweden. They can  create a wonderful private experience based entirely on your likes and dislikes using properties that will please you and one-of-a-kind experiences. But in Sweden, this can get fairly expensive.

Lapland Highlights

This is a remote wilderness stretching north of the Arctic Circle, that is a part of Finland. Lapland has always had an air of mystery about it, not least for its climatic idiosyncrasies—the omnipresent Midnight Sun of the summer months, the perpetual twilight of winter and, of course, the dazzling spectacle of the Northern Lights.

Blanketed with snow from September to April, Lapland is one of our  ultimate winter destinations for families.  Just imagine a vacation where your kids  can visit the official home of Santa Claus, whiz through the snow on a snowmobiles, ride a husky-pulled sled past herds of wild reindeer, then bed-down in an atmospheric ice hotel.

The decision to have a travel agent do personal trip planning on your behalf is a delicate ratio of expertise versus cost. The public is generally unaware of the high mark-up tour operators attach to arrangements for individuals. Tours and packages that reflect group savings can be of high quality while coming in at a substantially lower cost. Your travel consultant needs to be a travel traffic cop – directing you toward the best options for each component of your trip. This is particularly necessary when considering travel to Scandinavia and the areas surrounding the Arctic Circle.

So, bottom line: One of world’s top destinations for families – but comes at a high price for ice.


New Zealand Queenstown Stratosphere Restaurant AQ – We’ve been looking at several ways to do  Australia and New Zealand including cruising on Seabourn or Crystal, or possibly doing a land tour like Tauck’s 20-Day Grand Australia and New Zealand. You seem high on Tauck as a company and wondering what you think of their A/NZ trip? By way of background, I’m a scriptwriter in the LA area and I’ll be traveling with my wife who is a radiologist. Both mid-fifties, not especially well traveled, good health, love walking and seeing as much as possible when we travel. Both into photography and I don’t mean iPhone snaps. Price not really an issue. Mingle well with other humans but like quiet moments. And, finally, as I suspect you have already guessed, really into wine and experiencing some great stuff from both countries, particularly Syrahs. Likely our only trip to this part of the world so we want to choose the best option. Neat site.

A – Short of doing a personalized designed trip, which we would recommend if you were going to be joined by several friends, the Tauck Tour is going to be your best option. You will see far more of each country than you would trying to do a cruise. Sailings that include both Australia and New Zealand need to incorporate several wasted days at sea. Some of the best locations in each country are inland. The Tauck program gives you eight full days in New Zealand and only includes one single-night hotel stay so you are seeing a great deal and not unpacking every night. You will be able to dine by yourselves even while dining in a restaurant with the group. That is an important Tauck benefit. To maximize your photo ops with the disposable camera you use, and to truly assist the Australian and New Zealand vintners with their bottom line, the tour is clearly the better option.


Seasickness AXX PaintingQ –  I enjoy your site and appreciate all of the valuable information I have encountered! I have not seen any questions on how to avoid motion sickness on a cruise. My husband and I will be first time cruisers celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. I have heard that motion sickness is not much of an issue on much larger ships, however we will be sailing with Regent. We have upgraded to a room with a balcony in anticipation of this. What steps, if any, would you recommend I follow prior to our departure or even during the trip should I have issues? Thank you for your time.

A – The research shows that a surprisingly large segment of non-cruisers and first-time cruisers see this issue as a real concern. Since 94.3% of first-time cruisers book a second cruise within 36 months of their return, we have to assume that for the vast majority of cruisers, seasickness becomes a non-issue. So please don’t be overly concerned.

Sea sickness is more likely to happen based on your itinerary rather than the design or size of your ship. There is a fair amount of urban myth concerning cabin placement and remedies you can take before hitting the high seas. But the primary determinant of sea sickness is the amount of rough water you will encounter based the time of year and the route the ship will follow. This is where your consultant will be helpful. We like to ease first-timers into an itinerary that is likely to produce smooth seas. You did not indicate your itinerary so we can’t be as specific as we would like to be.

The most important thing to know about sea sickness is that you really don’t need to put up with it if it occurs. Every one of the world’s top ten cruise lines has a fully staffed medical facility. There are shots, several developed in Europe, that the on-board doctor can administer, that will take away that queasy feeling within minutes. One of the reasons these magic shots are available is that no cruise line can afford to have their crew immobilized by seasickness.  Your travel consultant will advise you if your line has the shot available to passengers. Regent Seven Seas does.

We’re not so keen on balconies during rough seas. You are likely going to be better off up on the top deck outdoors. The fresh air will be helpful.

In terms of known itineraries with potential churning seas we can point to any cruise around the tip of South America, cruises out of San Francisco Bay into the Pacific, the area on Panama Canal Cruises where the Gulf of Mexico flows into the Atlantic, and transatlantic sailings during shoulder season.

We do not believe in pre-trip anti-seasickness prep. If you like patching yourself up that’s fine but it won’t do much good. Some guests have success with Bonine, an over-the-counter motion sickness preventative. There are also advocates of ginger in its many forms.  Toast and crackers are fine but we always try to avoid having a cassoulet during seachop.

A lower-deck, mid-ship outside cabin with a balcony is the safest place to be for handling sea turbulence. And yes, although we are strong advocates of avoiding obese mega-ships, with thousands of passengers, larger ships provide somewhat more stability. But don’t read too much into it hat because smaller vessels are more maneuverable.

There are other considerations regarding the manner in which your ship handles rough seas. Will the Captain fully engage bow thrusters should the seas get unpleasant? You would think always but, in fact, these thrusters burn a lot of extra fuel and on some budget lines cost is always a consideration. So just how dedicated your cruise line is to seeing to its guests comfort is an important factor when it comes to smooth seas. How likely is it that the ship you are sailing will change direction or ports to avoid rough seas? You will find a close correlation between customer care and cost.

We were once sailing with the legendary Princess Cruises Captain, John Young.  We hit some strong seas off the coast of Scotland and he came on the ships PA system and explained that:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, you are currently ensconced in the bosom of the deep. And as you may be aware, bosoms tend to rise and fall. So please join me in lying back and making the most of this rare experience.”



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Please contact us for details, pricing, and availability


Isle of Wright Festival BQ – We won’t discuss our personals but let’s just say that my wife and I remember Woodstock for lots of reasons some of which can’t be discussed on a classy travel Q&A site. Our tie-dyes still fit, well my wife’s does anyway, and we want to try to relive the experience somewhere in the world, most likely Europe. If we have as good a time as we think we will, it may become an annual summer ritual, following the music and the carefree young. Our travel agent seemed lost when we asked the question and we sense this is one trip we ought to handle on our own. But where to go?

Isle of Wright PosterA – Woodstock is going to be hard to replicate, although some of the odors will be the same, and we agree, Europe is where you want to be heading. Specifically, we recommend you find a big and tall shop that will sell you a tie-dye and get yourself to the Isle of Wright Festival. It is held during the second week in June on an island that is just off the coast of England’s Hampshire. Use a reliable British online ticket broker and set up your transportation in advance. We agree, don;t burden a travel agent with this. The fun is in the planning. We figure you are approaching 7o so we hope you will get back to us with an update. Isle of Wright Mud

Do be careful about the mud that develops whenever it rains during the festival. Best to leave your jewelry at home and bring ear plugs. Seriously.


Whales on Hermanus Beach BXQ – We’ve got the world’s greatest kid. He just won a full music scholarship, saving us four years of college tuition and we want to take him on the best trip of his life somewhere outside the USA. He’s been to London – that’s about it, and his passion is seeing whales up close. Money is really not the issue here, we can go up to $100,000 since it will be our last family gathering before he begins his studies. My wife and I have done a good deal of traveling in Europe, we’ve been to Russia, and I’ve had three trips to Brazil on business. But this trip, I’m thinking just under two weeks, is for Jacob and his passion for whales. I’ve been told we should go to the coast off Cabo San Lucas but somehow that doesn’t excite us and I want this trip to absolutely floor the kid. Love to know what you might recommend.

A – You know, sometimes we offer an opinion and we sense it is correct. Here’s one we know is correct. Forget about Cabo. You need to take the family on an African safari that begins in Cape Town, South Africa. Driving southeast out of Cape Town you will turn off on the N43 route that will be heading in the direction of the water. You will soon reach beautiful Hermanus Beach, considered the optimal whale watching location in the world. Best of all, the whales are in these waters in the summer. You can spend four nights in the Cape Town area, fly to one or two safari camps, and then, perhaps, go up to Victoria Falls for a night or two. Then fly home out of Johannesburg. This will be one of his life’s most memorable journeys. We promise.


A&K Land Rover Vacations 1Q – Hello. I’m an off-road enthusiast. My wife and I drive a Jeep Cherokee and we’ve had it on just about every hill in Arkansas we can find. A buddy of mine told me that you can now do touring by four-wheel drive and see some really neat parts of the world in luxury. I’m a redneck but I’m also a CEO so I love nice things and I prefer to see the world on my own terms. I’m starting to slow down a bit and will retire in the next 24 months, so if I can get in some fun driving while seeing a bit of the world I’m all in and I know my wife would love it. How do I go about this and what’s the best company to use? I would use an agent since it sounds as though I’d be paying for one anyway. I am really wondering if we can see some of the world on a genuine off-road experience. I do promise to leave my shotguns at home. Appreciate your information and advice.

A –  The best available program is rather new. Famed Tour Operator, Abercrombie & Kent has partnered with Land Rover to set up an entire catalog of off-road adventures in Morocco, Scotland, England, Tanzania, Namibia, and Australia.

Maximum group size is 12 and you are accompanied by an A&K Guide on these adventures as well as a team of instructors/mechanics from Land Rover. Pricing is based on two in a vehicle. The trip is not entirely self-drive, but several of the itineraries provide more than enough time behind-the-wheel. Land Rover Discovery 4’s will be used on most of the tours but the Sport model will be driven in Morocco and Australia.

The A&K/Land Rover partnership is unique and the fact that two Land Rover instructors will be along (some trips will have even more staff) will help assure high levels of service on the ground.

By going off-road, you will, of course, be able to see portions of many countries that tourists just miss. You will also be about as far away from the tour buses as one can get. Kids under 10 are not accepted on these journeys and you have to be at least 21 to drive. Each tour has been specially designed by Land Rover to utilize the vehicles off-road prowess.

They cover a fairly narrow list of destinations but each is a place where the advantages of off-road capabilities are obvious. This is the way to go for an adequate challenge while enjoying peace of mind about your personal safety.


Hotel Deals   Find the Best Deals BXQ – We were reviewing your truly ambitious site. You have set yourselves quite a challenge. But how are we to trust your information when we read that “if you know the price you’ve paid for a hotel room – you’ve paid too much.” Please explain. Otherwise love the information and the way it is presented without “commercials.”

A – You are taking a sentence out of context. There was a long explanation that led up to your quote.

When you book a hotel online or directly with a hotel, you are receiving a rate that is in the public domain. It is available for everyone to see. The very best rates are not available to foreign tourists who book their rooms online or directly with the hotel. They are contracted rates available only to local travel firms that do substantial business in the destination. These are known as “In-bound” travel specialists. They book complete programs for individual travelers or groups. They negotiate and receive special discounted hotel rates in a confidential tariff. In other words, the rates they get cannot be revealed online or even directly to a travel agent. They are incorporated in a proposal that might include transfers, sightseeing, as well as accommodations. The best hotel rates are contracted, confidential rates. You will receive a total price for your arrangements but the actual, per night charge for your hotel room will not be broken out separately. That is how to get the best hotel rates worldwide.

If this all sounds circuitous, it really isn’t. Every travel agent who belongs to one of the major consortiums works with in-country experts who use these special confidential, contracted rates. It is really true that you have paid too much if you know the cost of your hotel stay. But we truly do understand that this is rarely discussed openly and so it sounds suspicious.


Budapest Chain Bridge AXXXQ –  We are scheduled to stay in Budapest for three days before boarding our Uniworld River Cruise. The news is just awful, and the refugees seem to be causing all sorts of problems in the city. My wife is somewhat fragile and I will admit, based on what I am seeing on TV, I’m worried. We were just planning on walking around on our own. We booked ourselves into the Prestige Hotel. We set up the entire trip ourselves so we’re dependent on you for some good advice here. Should we try to cancel in view of what is going on? Is the news media overstating the situation in Budapest?

A – They are not overstating it according to the hoteliers and offices in the city with whom we work regularly. This is a serious situation and the reaction of the Hungarian government to newly arriving immigrants from Syria and other war-torn nations in the Middle East is something that cause some level of civil unrest. But we still believe that tourists can avoid the areas where authorities are cracking down on new arrivals, particularly in the area around the city’s central train station.

We are a bit concerned that you have no one to fall back on should you need help. If things go bad, you will have only your own resources. Our recommendation is to initiate a relationship for the future with the  best travel agent in your town. This is a very personal situation and should not be handled on the internet. Ask the agent to arrange services by a trusted guide during your three days in the city. If that is not something you are willing to do, we think you should write a detailed letter tot he Head Concierge at the Prestige Hotel. We like the property and it is near Parliament and St. Stephens Church on a quiet side street. It should work well for you.

We have migrant workers and an estimated 40 million people who don’t get enough to eat living in our own country. Put it all in perspective, listen tot he arguments on both sides, and go see for yourself. The attempt by refugees in escape horribly oppressive regimes is a terrible thing to watch. That it is happening in those very countries where some of our own relatives tried to escape persecution not very long ago, makes it particularly poignant. The refugees, most of them, are headed to Germany and just trying to pass through heading in a northerly direction. It is not in anyone’s interest to harm American tourists and we think you will be absolutely fine if you follow our recommendations above.


Greek Walls Blue BXQ – We are doing a cruise out of Athens on Oceania that departs in September. We’ve scheduled our arrival early so we can have three nights in Athens to see the main sites. Would you advise that we cancel this trip, although we don’t think insurance would cover it since it is not medical. But then again, if we get killed that would be “medical”. Any guidance would be appreciated. Any precautions you would advise if we do go?

A – We are expecting some major disruptions in Athens this summer. We are placing our clients in the most secure hotels. Tourists are appreciated and no violence will be directed toward you, but there could be street demonstrations and some flying souvlaki overhead.

This is our recommended game plan:

Do not cancel your cruise. You will love the islands and your enjoyment of the itinerary and ship will not be affected. But we would suggest you not change your flight schedule but do consider cancelling the three nights in Athens and, instead, connecting on a short flight to one of the lovelier islands for your three-night stay. (Perhaps fly into Rhodes and stay on Simi, or visit Lesbos or Patmos) Then on the day the cruise departs, book an early flight back into Athens and have a driver meet you for a visit to the Acropolis, the Plaka District, and any of the riot sites you care to visit. You won’t need to be at the ship until 3:00 pm. This will really maximize your enjoyment of this vacation without the need for major trip renovations.


Here is what tourists planning future travel to Greece need to know as Greece enters a pivotal week in its testy relationship with the Eurozone:
1. Greece’s most immediate – as in first thing Monday morning – source of danger is its banking system. To compensate for accelerated deposit flight, the European Central Bank injected additional emergency funding on Friday to allow the banks to open on Monday. With a lot more needed, the ECB will grow more hesitant to pump in new money unless the Greek government secures an agreement with its European partners and the institutions through which they operate (the European Commission, the ECB and the International Monetary Fund).
2. A Summit of European leaders has been called for Monday to increase the chances of such an agreement. The aim is to find a compromise under which Greece would agree to a set of economic reforms, creditors would provide additional debt relief, and at least 7 billion euros of previously committed funds would be released immediately to help Greece navigate its tough payments schedule over the next few weeks.
3. The Greek government faces a virtually impossible choice in these negotiations. Either it relents and agrees to the demands of its increasingly restless creditors, thereby breaking its electoral promises and undermining what it has fought and stood for; or it holds out and risks seeing a series of disruptions that include the total implosion of the banking system, the rapid accumulation of payments arrears to creditors and suppliers, the imposition of capital controls to counter the accelerated flight of money out of Greece, and the issuance of government IOUs to meet pensions and other government obligations – all of which would deal another blow to an economy that is already ravaged by recession, alarming unemployment and climbing poverty; and it would render very difficult Greece’s continued membership of the Eurozone.
4. The unpleasant choices also apply to Greece’s creditors. Even if the Greek government agrees to additional reforms, few believe that it would actually implement them. As such, they fear that the new money disbursed would only buy the country a few weeks while continuing to transfer private liabilities to the European tax payers; and this is assuming that national parliaments, including in Greece, would approve the revised terms for the bailout. Yet the alternative is also very unappealing. If creditors continue to withhold funds, Greece would be tipped into a catastrophic crisis that, for the rest of Europe, would also entail the threat of massive migration out of the country as well as geo-political risks.
5. Markets have been relatively calm in the face of a growing probability of a Graccident and the Grexit that this could entail. Some market participants believe that, as has repeatedly been the case in the past, a last minute agreement will be reached to avert a Greek economic, financial, social and political disaster. Others realize that such an agreement could well elude Europe this time around but are comforted by the steps that have been taken to contain the negative spillovers. Greece Ya Ya and Protest AX
6. The rest of the Eurozone is indeed better placed to deal with a Grexit than it has been at any time since this crisis first emerged in 2010. A number of regional funding windows have been put in place. The ECB has already embarked on large-scale balance sheet operations which could be rapidly expanded. The European Investment Bank has obtained greater lending flexibility. And the usual list of peripheral European countries at risk – including Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain – are themselves less vulnerable than in the past.
7. Minimizing contagion risk does not equate to eliminating it. Given the truly unprecedented nature of all this, there are lots of unanswered questions, including vexing legal and operational ones. For example, it is far from clear how a Greek currency redenomination process would play out given that there are no established procedures for this. Existing safety nets are way too weak and already-extremely stretched to handle the likely human dislocations. And new mechanisms would need to be found to reset the banking system in order to restore a minimum level of financial services to citizens and companies.
8. While seeking an agreement to avert a Greek implosion, also expect European leaders to work hard on a “Plan B” that most, if not all, could rally around. In addition to establishing a new European relationship for Greece should it be forced to exit the single European currency system (such as an association agreement with the European Union), they would need to approve a “whatever it takes” mandate for regional institutions to contain contagion risk emanating from a Greek disaster.
9. The implications for the global economy depend in large part on whether European leaders succeed in finding a durable solution for Greece or, alternatively if they fail to do so, are able to contain the crisis from pushing the rest of the continent into recession and financial instability.
10. Whatever happens, and while the blame game is likely to intensify, there are important lessons to be learned for all involved. If this learning process does indeed happen over time, some small good could emerge of what otherwise is a terrible Greek tragedy.

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.
Mohamed El-Erian is chief economic adviser to Allianz and chair of President Obama’s Global Development Council.

Churchill is not currently advising that travel plans to Greece be altered. But all of our guests contemplating travel to Greece in the upcoming months should make certain that all payments are made by a highly-rated credit card. All guests to Greece should carry “cancel for any reason” insurance.


Queen Mary 2 BXQ –Need your advice and help on a possible trip for this December. Since we had to cancel our July Silverseas Baltic trip (which has been rescheduled for next year) I need to use or lose my airline credit by the end of the year. For many reasons, December would be the best month for us to travel (birthdays, anniversary, etc.)

Anyway, one of the things that we have wanted to do was to take a cross atlantic trip. If we do so we are thinking that the Queen Mary 2 would be the best given the possible rough weather. I see that there is a crossing from Southamption to NYC on December 15. We are thinking of going to Europe a week earlier, spending some time perhaps in Rome (which we haven’t been to in a long while (or maybe Spain???) then making our way to London for the sailing?

If we take the QM2 we would want a decent stateroom (Queens Grill category.) I haven’t really seen much on Traveltruth regarding the QM2 so your advice is, as always, my first choice.

Please let me know regarding this possible itinerary and whether Italy or Spain would be a better choice for December.

A – Thanks so much. Pretty straightforward.

You don’t want to be in the middle of the Atlantic in December in any class of service. We  think it could be more of an adventure than you both require in your lives.

December is difficult – Spain would be marginally better than Italy but the weather will not be very different than, say, the Washington D.C. area at that time of year. We would think you might think more about someplace like St. Petersburg, Russia or Stockholm, where the winter weather could be fun.

To save some money and have a good experience, you might want to look at one of the Christmas Market river boat cruises in December to Germany. We love the experience but it helps if you would enjoy the beer and sausages.

When we think of December travel you could use your miles and be in prime season in:

The Orient/Southeast Asia
Portions of Africa
South America

The crossings are wonder but we think that is a bucket list item that should be checked off in prime season.


Q – I am taking our family on a really nice cruise. Fortunately for me, our children are gainfully employed and will need to be in touch with their offices, as will I. I went tot he Seabourn web site and got links to a satellite provider for the ship. Utterly useless. So what do we do? Will our smartphones likely work. We’re among the select few to own an iPhone.iPhone5 - Cruise Ship on Ocean -  CX

A – We can see that you have gotten a bit of a run-around in terms of sites linking to sites – none of which really answers your question.

Seabourn has invested in satellite communication technology. But Internet service and Wi-Fi connections at sea are extremely problematic. No one can guarantee a clear connection unless you bring along a Satellite Phone and point it at the southern sky.

Here is what we  recommend you do.

01 – Call  Wireless Traveler – 866 – 700 – 3883. A human being will answer the phone. . They will ask what countries you are going to be visiting and what your needs are and they will overnight you the proper phone with sim card, along with detailed instructions. You don’t need to purchase a phone – just rent one for the length of your trip that will work in the countries you are visiting. Wireless Traveler will take care of all details.

02 – As an alternative, AT&T and Verizon rent overseas equipped phones to their customers. But you would need to have a nearby office for convenience.

03 – You will significantly better connections on land than you will have at sea so I would plan for that eventuality.

04 – If you have a serious need to be in telephone communication while aboard the ship, do seriously consider renting a satellite phone from Wireless Traveler. They are bulky but they always work as long as you are on a deck, outdoors aboard ship.

05 – Your current phones will not work abroad because they lack the proper Sim cards so one of the above steps is required.


Report from the Silverseas Explorer in the Galapagos:

We really enjoyed this journey. Two primary areas need improvement:
1. The quality of the wine; and Galapagos Rainbow AX
2. The fitness center.

There are literally hundreds of wonderful South American wines that retail in the US for under $20 a bottle. Silversea can and should do better. There were two problems with the fitness center. The first was the absence of a treadmill. They did have two elliptical machines. In my experience, both from personal use and observation in many fitness centers around the world, treadmills are much more popular and they should have offered one of each. The other problem was that a weight machine that they had in the facility had instruction that were incomprehensible and for three days I could not find anyone on the staff of the ship who could explain how to use it. Finally on Friday they found someone who could help but there was no longer time to arrange a meeting or to use the machine.

We had a delightful time. The ship is certainly not up to the standards we experienced on Seabourn and I am sure it is not up to the usual Silversea standards. That may not be possible in the Galapagos. But I suspect this is by far the nicest cruise ship in the Galapagos and we had a great trip and highly recommend the ship and crew.




Wine SlobsQ – This has been bothering me for years and I thought you might be able to help. Our best friends are absolute wine snobs. I am getting tired of my friends habit of insisting on doing all the wine tasting on our frequent forays abroad. He makes a big deal of swirling his glass, endlessly “aerating” his wine before tasting it as the hapless wine steward stands by anxiously awaiting his nod of approvals. My friend takes every available wine course offered in our city and I suppose he knows what he is doing but the tasting and, occasional spitting out the wine back in the glass is sometimes embarrassing.  How would you deal with this?

Q – If he enjoys it we would say let him gargle his wine, spit into out, or put it behind his ears. But, in truth, we would likely not hold back and point out that truly knowledgeable wine connoisseurs never taste a wine. Taste is a very personal thing. It tells you nothing important about the wine except whether or not, on that day, at that time, your friend likes it.

When a wine steward presents a bottle of wine the proper response historically is to simply sniff the cork to determine if the wine is spoiled or rancid.




Chiltern Firehouse BX

Q – Any recommendation for a nice, unique, small hotel, in London that attracts a hip crowd?

 A – Try the new Chiltern Firehouse. This small, 26-room property was a firehouse in the 1890’s. It has a lively bar and a recommended restaurant. Can’t promise “hip” but it has been attracting an artsy, younger crowd.



Ritz Carlton Dorado Beach

Q – We want to find a Caribbean resort that will provide sun, spa, serenity and an opportunity for my husband and I to have, well, never mind. But we’re stymied because we live in Chicago and it has to be an easy non-stop flight.  Is there an answer to our dilemma?

A – There are several but the one that first comes to mind is the Dorado Beach Ritz Carlton. Think beautiful, secluded beach and the Spa Botanical plus James  Beard award-winning chefs on premises. This is a one-of-a-kind Ritz Carlton Reserve Property. 

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