Welcome to The Nation’s Most Respected Travel Q&A Site. We suspect you are busy and we appreciate your visit:

The three largest categories of web site visits account for almost 80% of all of the hours spent by Americans on the internet: They are Gambling – Pornography – and Travel Searches. We can’t do anything about the first two, but we can do our best to offer one travel site that does not insult your intelligence. This is a site for educated adults. 

You don’t want flashing lights and phony prices all designed to lure you in. You don’t want a song and dance. You don’t want Blah Blah from PR firms disguised as travel writers paying back suppliers for their free vacation, and you certainly don’t want some commission-based travel agent calling 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 self-proclaimed “critics” whose credentials you cannot certify, many of them paid marketing shills using e-mail aliases.

This is a place you can feel comfortable visiting. You can count on the fact that no one here is trying to sell you anything. You can assume your name will never be used or given to any advertiser or marketer. In fact, unless you choose to reach out to us, we do not wish to intrude on your privacy in any way. You will never receive any unsolicited communication from us. Ever. There is nothing to purchase on this site. There are no links or pop-ups.

This is the only consumer-driven 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.

We’ve been in business for thirty years, our phone numbers are unlisted, we’ve won all the awards and accolades that count for anything in this industry. We do not need to use this site to troll for new business. You will, in fact, need to reach out to us and complete a Profile if you ever wish to initiate a long-term relationship with our firm. 

In our current environment, the travel consumer is bombarded by misinformation and outright lies on a daily basis. Bait-and-switch “from $499” ads are the rule – not the exception. A half-inch is defined as “extra legroom” and a moldy hot tub may be a “luxurious spa”. Google virtually any travel-related topic, from hotel properties to destinations and you are smothered in a sea of tens of thousands, perhaps millions of ads disguised as information. No one seems willing to help. Everyone wants your credit card number. We hope that traveltruth.com is just the first step toward changing that perception.  Travel does not have to be about lies, hype, or ads that treat you like a child. Travel is not a commodity to be sold at Costco next to the frozen peas. We’re talking about people’s dreams, some of the best experiences of their lives. You are entitled to professional consultation free of bias and always offered on a complimentary basis.


Our mission is simple: We wish to be the most unadulterated, truthful, and industry knowledgeable travel site in the world.


 

IS COLOMBIA A DESTINATON WE SHOULD CONSIDER AT THIS TIME?

Q —  We are in our early and mid-seventies, in great health, and we love adventure. We don’t mind camping out to see great sites but we do have some qualms about safety as we consider a trip to Colombia. We’ve been big fans of Narcos on Netflix and it does not paint the most beautiful picture of the local crime scene. Any thoughts would be very much appreciated. Our entire community in Scottsdale now follows your Q&A. 

A – The deal is that the FARC rebels made a peace agreement with the present Colombian government in 2016. That opened up major portions of the country including the west coast, which appears in Narcos. It is a land of lovely beaches and underdevelopment. Make certain that you use a really good on-site tour company to handle your arrangements. There are now flights from both Bogata and Medellin to the really quaint towns of Nuqui and Bahia Solano.  You will likely end up staying in eco-lodges. We think this is a safe destination when compared to the average city in the United States. Hard to imagine that when watching Narcos – but true. Do the trip but take out emergency evacuation air insurance with a company like Med-Jet.

DO WE GET BETTER AIRFARES SEARCHING A SITE ONL;INE LIKE SKYSCANNER OR KAYAK?

Q –  We are in our mid-forties and, being self-employed, I’ve worked things out so I can get away up to four weeks a year on various vacations. Most last a week but sometimes we do a longer trip. I don’t use an agent because all we are booking are flights and hotels and, quite frankly, sometimes we just arrive in our destination and select a place to stay or we use AirBnB to book a small home or apartment. Yes, we’ve one or two hiccups, but for the most p[art, the freedom to just do our own thing, mostly beaches, is worth it.

My question has to do with strategy. Given our profile should we be using a travel agent and how should we focus that search? I would also like to know whether you would trust Kayak or Skyscanner more in terms of finding the lowest fares? 

A – We really see no reason why you should not continue to make your own travel arrangements. We think that a professional agent with expertise might get in your way. Kayak and Skyscanner are really quite different. Kayak is good at showing you routing, who flies it, and what the airlines are charging on their own sides. It is one-stop for fares and schedules. Skyscanner consolidates data from a number of firms that sell discounted tickets. It also checks them out, to a degree, as discounted international air tickets from third parties is frequently not what it appears to be. The best strategy for air is simple. Search everywhere and everything you want to until you have all of your “information”. Then go to the airline’s actual site and book it directly with them. It is foolish to do otherwise as you have little recourse if there is a change or more serious problem down the runway. 

 

WE ARE CONSIDERING A ONE WEEK TOUR TO THE CANADIAN ARCTIC WITH AN OUTFIT CALLED NATURAL HABITAT ADVENTURES. ARE THEY RECOMMENDED?

Q – We are seriously interested in doing all possible to preserve our fragile environment when we travel. We are interested in spending just over a week touring portions of the Arctic out of Churchill, Manitoba. We are quite serious about not wanting to leave a carbon footprint when we travel, although our aircraft will certainly mess up those plans. We’ve come across a company called Natural Habitat Adventures. Do you recommend them and their program in this region?

A – We think you will be extremely pleased with this company. They really attempt to be a carbon-neutral travel provider and they work in conjunction with the World Wildlife Fund. Their seven-night program out of Churchill will include interaction with indigenous people including village elders, tracking polar bears, and a chance to truly understand issues related to geology and climate change.It is a wonderful program and they limit group size. It is priced from $6000-$7000 based on traveling date and specific itinerary. Good work. You have found a “keeper”. But room service will not be 24 hours and that thing on your pillow may not be chocolate. 

WHAT SHOULD A TRAVEL AGENT CHARGE FOR A HOTEL RESERVATION?

Q –  We are now taking three to four vacations a year and we’ve been using a local travel agent here in St. Louis. She seems fine but I’ve started noticing that we’re being charged $25 per hotel for every booking she makes. Since I assume she gets a kickback from the hotel, does it seem outrageous to you that we’re being charged these fees which certainly add up? We tend to use middle-of-the-road smaller hotels and we do a great deal of touring on our own. But we book the car and the airlines through her. She charges something or everything she does, When we went to Australia last year, our fees totaled $600. 

A – Based on the information you have provided, it would appear that your agent is seriously undercharging you. If you asked us to plan a truly memorable vacation in Australia, which we have to assume was in the two to three-week range, our Planning Fee would be $500 Per Person. Charging for hotel reservations is now standard industry practice. Agents don’t get “kickbacks” from hotels but you are paying the travel agency commission in the price of your room. The trouble is that hotels are notoriously slow in paying agents these commissions so there is often a great deal of back-and-forth paperwork. Many agencies now charge $50-$100 per hotel booking for their time and work. 

There is some good news. You have a choice. You can always book you hotels directly. You can and should demand a refund of the travel agent commission because you booked direct. That way you can save the agent’s booking fee as well as the commission.  If you go on one of the online sites be prepared to be treated as a statistic and know that there is a good likelihood that the best-located rooms are not going to be assigned when you arrive.

You can assume that your travel agent is making next to nothing on your airfare unless you happen to be a First Class flyer, which, we suspect, is not the case. There is a general rule you might want to try to understand: If you book your trip yourself, you should theoretically be saving between 12-15% of the total cost in travel agency fees and commissions. That sounds pretty swell until you realize that the only fees you will actually save are the small fees assessed by your agent. You will still be charged the agency commission by the hotels, the auto-rental firms. and the airlines. You can kick and scream but they are going to charge you anyway. So even though you will be devoting a great deal of time into reserving your trip with all details confirmed, you will have saved very little in the big picture since the commission that makes up well over 80% of your costs is still going on your credit card. In the United States of America you are charged for the services of a travel consultant even when you don’t use one. That appears to still be legal. It is the secret no one wants to tell you because it involves huge profits for billion-dollar corporations. They absolutely want you to book with them directly so they can double and triple their profit on your transaction while giving you nothing in return except a short chat with Harry or Harriet Headset who are clueless about you and your vacation. 

HOW DI I KEEP TRACK OF MY MILES WITH SEVERAL AIRLINES?

Q – This airline business is uniquely frustrating and I am wondering if they make it intentionally tough to cash in miles? I currently have miles and elite status with American, Alaska, and United Airlines. I get e-mails and notifications but it is all very confusing and I tend t just give up and pay whatever they ask me for. Is there some way to make this easier? I do a lot of flying at age 73, but it is now mostly to visit family and friends. Two of my children are studying abroad, one in Milan, Italy and the other in San Paolo, so there is a good bit of traveling. I just hate the idea of leaving miles on the table. This is a well-run site and we have recommended it to our friends. You should advertise a bit. It never hurts. 

A – Well, actually, they do make it complicated so that approximately 20% of all miles are never cashed in. There are a number of strategies but we don;t want to give you a strategy that is too challenging. We can understand why you are traveling overseas frequently – we wouldn’t buy the “study in Italy and Brazil” stories either. You can affiliate with a travel agency that does a lot of business air ticketing. They will have a program where, for a fee, they will keep careful track of your miles. They use computer programs that do this for them, Or, you can do it yourself by using one of the better Apps that manages airline miles. The two best are Awardwallet.com,  and Points.com. Thank you for the advice. This site, as well as our others, is primarily designed to help our own clients navigate the complicated world of travel planning. 

PREPARING FOR ITALY AND NOTICING THEY HAVE DELIS – ARE THEY REALLY DELIS?

Q – We are off on our second trip to Europe, following London last year. We’ve arranged a Collette Tour and we are trying to do some homework. We love Deli food in the US, being New Yorkers I suppose that is not surprising, and we are wondering if the Delis we see listed in Venice and Florence are going to look familiar and have some of the sandwiches we love. We really hate to take the time to eat a sit down lunch – we far prefer take-out Deli food and a stroll in the park.

A – Italy does not do the kind of Deli food you would find in New York  Deli, in the New York sense,  originated in Germany in the mid 1700’s and then spread to the United States where Ashkenazi Jews who had migrated from Germany were served by kosher delicatessens which first opened int he late 1800’s. But the ritual you describe is very Italian and you should seek out shops in Italy bearing titles such as gastronomica, bottega alimentare, and salumeria (a store that features salami). Italian delis are wonderous places and the adventurous traveler will find a wide variety of things to enjoy on a park bench or back in your hotel room. Whether or not you will enjoy sharing your Italian deli products with the pigeons is another story. Better to stick with Katz’s. 

MY WIFE IS A CLEANLINESS NUT AND WE’RE READY TO RETIRE

Q – This is only marginally a travel question. My wife is extremely concerned about the environment and the lack of cleanliness in American cities compared to what we have seen in our travels. America really is a garbage dump in a high percentage of our cities with litter and filth everywhere. We’ve about had it and want to move. We would move to the cleanest city in America if we knew what it was but we’re not averse to moving north or south. The data we’ve examined is mostly biased  so we’d love to know, because you don’t seem to be in bed with any of the tourist boards, what city you might look at for a reconnaissance visit?

A – We will take this as a serious request, although there are a great many small towns in New England, the Midwest, the South, and the Western States that would seem to be cleaner than the city you are describing. But if you want an itinerary – fly north and go to Ottawa, Canada. There are dozens of programs in the Canadian capital designed to keep the city clean and livable. Our favorite is the annual Spring Cleaning Program that starts every April 15th and lasts a month. Last year, more than 60,000 volunteers showed up to clean the city’s roadways, sidewalks, green spaces, and parks – even though many hardly needed it. 

From Ottawa we’d head to Calgary, which is generally acknowledged to be the cleanest city on the planet. Calgary has a well-planned grid system that reduced traffic and pollution. There is a terrific light rail system and any number of transfer stations that sort through every citizens garbage removing recyclable and biodegradable materials. 

Finally, we’d suggest you end your tour by giving one American city a try. Fly to Honolulu, the cleanest large city in America. The city is covered with a transportation system using pollution-free buses that are the envy of city planners from all over the country. 

Or – just get your wife a new vacuum. Let her know that, while we may not be the cleanest country in the world, our Olympic Curling team is really good. 

WE ARE TRAVELING ABROAD AND GOING TO USE OUR AMEX CARD FOR EVERYTHING?

Q –  We are kind of newbies to the idea of travel out of the country. We will be taking our first trip to Europe aboard a Celebrity cruise in July sailing the lower Med to Spain, Italy, and Greece. We couldn’t be more excited. One bit of advice we need concerns credit cards. We took out an American Express card because our travel agent said it was reliable. We also like the way American Express totals everything when you get your bill. Our agent, who works for Celebrity, also said we should pay for everything in dollars as it makes it easier. Also wondering about dress for this trip. The agent said it might be warm and to bring some summer clothes but not shorts. Any comments about this would be appreciated. As I said, this is all very new to us.

A – You want “comments” – we’re going to give you comments:

01 – No Travel Agent works for Celebrity. Since it would appear that you have only made deposit and not a final payment, take the booking away from Celebrity and sit down with the best local travel agent in your town. Have them take over your booking. You’ve been dealing with a reservations staff member who works on commission and knows nothing about worldwide conditions, credit cards, or much of anything else that will be useful for you to know. The job of someone in reservations in to get your booking.

02 – You haven’t told us which type of American Express card you took out. There are several different cards and each one carries different benefits and features. It is likely that the one you chose does carry a foreign transaction fee which normally is 3%. This is a total rip-off. You should always travel  travel with a card that has “No foreign transaction fees”.  Amex has some co-branded cards that carry this benefit. We do agree that Amex is “reliable” and they are aggressive about fighting fraud. They are also less readily accepted by merchants abroad than Visa or Mastercard.

03 – You always want to pay in local currency using your US bank credit card. That will assure that the currency conversion is done by your bank utilizing the official rate. This will negate costly commissions and conversion fees abroad.

04 – Finally, your “agent” seems to be underestimating the heat issues. July has seen heat waves with temps reaching 100 degrees for the past two years. You can wear shorts in that weather but it would be better to wear lightweight slacks given the likelihood that you will be touring churches and buildings of historical importance. Discuss this with your real “agent” once you convert the booking.

SHOULD I LET THEM KNOW THAT I POST FREQUENTLY ON TRIPADVISOR?

Q – We recently checked in to a Hilton at the airport in Rome. I was really disappointed with my room and I went to the front desk and reminded them that I had made my reservation with one of the largest online agencies and that I personally post frequently on Facebook, Instagram, and TripAdvisor about my travel experiences.  This did not seem to do a lot of good. Finally, I asked for the manager on-duty, who explained that they were sold out that night and she could not make a change. I’m not sure if I believed her. It was only for one night so I didn’t pursue it further. How should I deal with this in the future to obtain an upgrade?  I certainly feel that with my postings, I am influencing lots of their potential customers but they do not seem to want to hear about it.

A – When you are shown to a disappointing room you should politely walk back down to the front desk and ask to speak to the Rooms Manager or the Manager on-duty. Explain why this trip is important to you and keep your tine low and polite so other guests do not hear your conversation. We would suggest you keep your TripAdvisor connection to yourself as hotels are quite tired of hearing about those who expect to get something for free because they have enough time on their hands to type amateur reviews as self-anointed “critics”. Most of the better travel critics we know have years of hard-earned credentials. 

If you belong to Hilton’s Honors Club, your room preferences should be a part of your stored profile. You should not be assigned an inferior room. But you booked on one of the online sites and you were, we would guess, assigned one of the remaining rooms in your category. Hotel chains want bookings to be made via their own sites so they do not have to be paying out commission to third-party web sites. When it is noted that you have been brought to the property by a discount online agency, you should expect less than VIP treatment. If you care about your accommodations, have your travel consultant VIP you or write a short note tot he Hotel Manager in advance explaining why you worthy of upgrade consideration. Never mention that you blog or have online “followers” or billions of “likes”. Travel industry staff are so tired of hearing this from consumers headed their way that it has become an industry joke. The fact that you are celebrating an important anniversary or taking a “second honeymoon” will get you much further than referencing the junk you share online. Most hotel staff have a healthy disdain for opinions posted about their properties online.They realize that the internet has proven itself to be the most perfect vehicle for the dissemination of misinformation ever devised. 

IS THERE A LEGAL WAY TO BRING LIQUOR ON-BOARD A FLIGHT?

Q – I fear I may be ridiculed in your pages, but let me explain that there are certain liquors and tequilla that I really prefer to what is offered in Business Class on the airlines I fly. The flight attendants tell me there is no way to legally bring my own liquor on the plane but I just wonder if you guys know of a work-around. I do not have a drinking problem – I suppose my real problem is that I am a snob when it comes to choosing my alcoholic beverages. Am I out of luck?

A – Actually there is a work-around. We’re going to share it with you but we are wondering just how long these flights are that you can’t abide by the drink offerings in Business Class – no less. TSA rules require that any liquids be clearly displayed and carried in small bottles not to exceed 100 mil. Just try to find the mini-size bottles of your favorite brand and keep them in your carry-on next to your hand cream and cologne. They have to be kept in a clear bag for inspection. But they are totally legal.

Now, here’s the thing. You can drink them at your seat but absolutely are not allowed to open the mini-bottles by yourself. Only a flight attendant is allowed to do that.

One more thing. You are permitted to purchase a bottle of liquor from the duty-free airport store and you may request that a flight attendant open it for you aboard the aircraft. But do not attempt to bring the bottle with you when connecting to another flight. It will be confiscated and show up at a TSA Supervisor party weeks later.

IS IT REALLY DANGEROUS TO DRINK COFFEE OR TEA ON A FLIGHT?

Q – I have been reading this material religiously but I keep coming back to one piece of advice you gave some time ago. Wondering if you are still suggesting that it is really dangerous to drink coffee aboard an aircraft. If there was an issue – it would seem like the airlines would have fixed it by now. Are you really suggesting that I bring a cup of Starbucks aboard my future morning flights? 

A – Dangerous may be too strong a term. Let’s just say that those savvy travelers who do their research, stay away from coffee and tea cooked aboard aircraft using tank storage water that has  not been properly brought to the boiling point. That makes it possible for storage tank well-documented bacterial content to exist in the water. Our own investigations into this subject have never uncovered a single aircraft where care was taken to boil the water being served to passengers. We have never, for example, encountered an airline that used sealed bottled water to brew coffee in coach.  You drinks their coffee and you takes your chances! This is very much a budgetary issue. The cost of using bottled water versus the storage tank water filled by airport maintenance crews would be significant. This is a bottom-line issue. So, yes, absolutely board with your own Starbucks.

CAN WE DRIVE A NEW FERRARI FROM SAN FRANCISCO DOWN TO LOS ANGELES WITHOUT PAYING A FORTUNE?

Q – Great site – thinking about renting a Ferrari for a slow drive from the Bay area down to LA. Can this be easily done and any advice?  This is a definite bucket list item I want to complete before my 40th birthday. 

A –  You are breaking the “Bucket List” rule. Bucket lists are not supposed to begin until you are at least fifty years of age. You can certainly rent  from a number of companies. The Ferrari California is, of course, the model everyone wants. The standard rental is just around $1,500 plus delivery fees and taxes. But the cars are rarely rented for less than a week. The costs of transportation are just too high. The real cost is when they have to fly out a techie to show you how to use the car. If you can avoid that, the cost is much less. This is one of those situations where you need to know exactly what you want and then call the top three companies in the market for price quotes. And make one of those calls to the exotic car department at Hertz or Avis. We believe that you will find that costs vary tremendously. Make sure to verify that your current auto insurance policy offers coverage for “exotics.”

For starters, try Menlo Park Exotic Car Rentals, Gotham Dream Cars, Italia Rental, or San Francisco Exotic Car Rental by Enterprise. 

 

WHY DID ALASKA AIR PULL OUT OF CUBA?

Q – My husband and I were scheduled to fly our favorite airline, Alaska Air, to Cuba in March. We live in Pasadena and the non-stop flight from LAX was perfect. Now, we have been notified that they are operating their last flight in January. We’re making other plans, but we’re wondering why they would pull out when the flights appeared to be going out full?

A – Actually, business to Cuba is down significantly, Alaska Air says by 80% since the November 9th U.S. government decision to end the people-to-people program. Given the sharp reduction in business, Alaska, along with several other operators, have cancelled or reduced their operations to Cuba. 

There are several intertwined issues here one of which is the fact that laws in Cuba currently require heavy percentages of Cuban hotel and tourism industry ownership. This basically means that if you construct a new hotel, there is a likelihood that your partners will be Cuban military and government officials. We have been advising that travel to Cuba should be postponed for 24 months. We now think that a more realistic timetable is five or six years assuming new construction plans with ownership adjustments can be implemented by the current administration. (wasn’t that said nicely?)  

WHAT DO WE BRING TO CUBA: BITCOIN, DOLLARS, PESOS, OR EUROS?

Q –  We are doing a Caribbean cruise that includes several days in Cuba. The information about spending money in their country is a bit contradictory. Do we just bring a bunch of singles, do we use local currency for best results? What is the best strategy? As Cuba is opening up, we think you should increase your coverage of questions related to this destination.

A – Actually, Cuba is closing up last we looked. If you found anyone willing to accept US dollars you would be totally ripped off. Cuba hosts many European tourists. The strategy that is the simplest is bringing in Euros for your shopping and incidentals. They are readily accepted and the exchange rate is quite fair. Leave your dollars in the room safe aboard your ship. 

GOING TO IRAN, CHINA, AND INDIA ON BUSINESS

Q – This is a bit out of your normal range of questions but wondering if  you might help me with a recommendation on an issue of personal security. As I write this it looks like the US is moving the Israeli capital to Jerusalem and I am headed to visit several parts of the middle east, including Iran, where protests could be an issue. I also have to meet with manufacturers in India and China, not always in the best of locations. Any hotels you might avoid and any recommendation as to whether or not I should plan on purchasing a satellite phone just in case internet is disrupted. I worry about that more than anything as I imagine CNN will not always be available. I’m not afraid, and I’m fairly well read on these countries, with some travel experience in India and China, but just wondering what you all would advise. Thanking you in advance.

A – There are several questions here so let us break them down as clearly as possible, point by point:

  • We recommend that you stay in a non-US luxury hotel, preferably one that is locally-owned. Try to ascertain in advance if you will be able to get CNN in your room – in an emergency that could be extremely useful. Avoid hotels that cater to American guests. In times of duress you might actually find that having Wolf Blitzer in your room is comforting – although we can;t really see why. 
  • Start practicing used text messages on your phone. In fact, China and India have outlawed satellite phones so that is not a good option. 
  • Figure out where the safest neighborhood is in each of your scheduled stops and try to choose a hotel located within that area.
  • In all cases – do not make these arrangements on your own. Have your agent use a locally-based on-site office with whom they have a close relationship. That will provide a valuable source of comfort and protection should any situation get out of hand. 
  • As you are no doubt aware, India and China are significantly safer than we are here in the US. Gun violence is extremely rare. Iran does, of course, have parts  of town that are not kosher. Travel safe 

We are leaving in eight days for a vacation in Quebec. How do we get in to Canada without a passport? What’s the “work-around?”

Q –  How do we get in and back out of Canada without a passport. My fiance and I had no idea you needed one and it appears that for certain trips you do. This is just a vacation at a nice hotel we booked using points. Our agent never mentioned that we needed a passport. What should we, could we, do at this point?

A – First, initiate legal proceedings against your travel agent. You are going through a lot of hassle for no reason. Secondly – don;t worry – spring into action. Use one of the better passport and Visa Processing firms like A. Briggs and ask for a 48-hour expedited passport. They will tell you what to do or you can use their web site. Unless you have committed multiple felonies, you should, at a rather steep cost, be able to get passports within eight days on an expedited basis. Tell your fiance we suggested she “reconsider”.

WHICH COUNTRIES HAVE THE MOST UNFRIENDLY RESIDENTS

Q – Really wondering if you might help us. We are starting to do a lot of traveling as we have come into some unexpected inheritance. The obvious start is to begin in Canada and Scandinavia where we keep reading people are actually open and friendly, something that just strikes us as worthy of support. There is no reason for us to explore while having to deal with really obnoxious locals who have no appreciation of the money we are spending to share and understand their culture. But no one ever says where the most unfriendly people are located, “unfriendly” in terms of the manner in which they welcome and treat tourists. We realize this is not scientific but if you could list some of the most unfriendly places we would be appreciative. If this is too subjective – no problem – love the site anyway.

A – There have been studies of very frequent travelers and there is a study of 140 countries called “The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report” that attempts to gauge the “attitude of the local population toward foreign visitors.” (2013)  The results show that these are the three most “Tourist Unfriendly” countries on earth:

#1 – Bolivia

# 2 – Venezuela

# 3 – The Russian Federation

HEADED TO PARIS – IS THERE ANY PLACE I CAN GET NAKED?

Q – My girlfriend and I are vegetarians, world travelers I suppose, fans of modern art, foodies to a degree, and, of late, folks who enjoy nudist activities. We are in our mid- 60’s and keen to take a day or two of our upcoming Parisian vacation to get naked in public without upsetting the gendarmes. Any suggestions would be most appreciated.

A –  Actually, nudists in Paris  have been in a snit over the lack of availability of  proper facilities and gathering places for naturalists. The government has now set aside a reserved space, a grassy space, in a nudist “zone” opened in the city’s Bois de Vincennes park. The government tourist board has been promoting holidays for naturalists and they hope to ensure naked tranquility by placing several warning signs about the designated area so the unsuspecting family might not just wander in to their skin wrinkled encampment. We think you will have a lovely time and the people you will meet in the park will advise of other areas of the city where nudism has the blessings of the authorities.  There are a reported 2.6 million naturism practitioners in France.

WE ARE SCHEDULED TO FLY AMERICAN OVER CHRISTMAS; SHOULD WE TRY TO SWITCH AIRLINES GIVEN THE PILOT SHORTAGE

Q – We’ve been reading stories of American Airlines pilot shortage and the likely inability of the airline to fly many of its flights over the coming Holidays. Is it time to switch to another carrier if we can find space? I really don’t want a “substitute, part-time pilot.”

A – No, this isn’t like elementary school.  American has agreed with the pilots union to pay pilots double what they would normally earn for flights they take on during their previously, and erroneously, scheduled vacation time over the holidays. The initial offer was 150% but AA has agreed to a 200% bonus. This seems to have worked well and it now appears that all flights will be fully piloted. This was all the result of a glitch in the computer program that assigns flights to American’s pilots so there may be an opening in the computer scheduling department.  Nothing at all to worry about at this stage except for the normal Christmas airport chaos. Holiday flying requires “twin reconfirms” – one 24 hours prior to scheduled departure and the second three or four hours prior to departure. If you fail to do this you may be spending your Holidays at a terminal Cinnabon.

HOTEL SITUATION ON ANGUILLA

Q – We love the island of Anguilla and have been going there for years since your firm was kind enough to plan a vacation for our family after Cuisinart opened. We are wondering if you could update us on the status of the best properties since Irma?  Thought we would inquire on this public site as we know there are others interested. 

A –  We do have that information on our Private Client site but happy to update the latest information here:

Belmond Cap Juluca – Had been closed for renovations during storm – scheduled to open late 2018.

Cuisinart and The Reef by Cuisinart – Estimated re-opening is September 2018

Four Seasons and Residences – Currently scheduled to re-open April 2018

Malliouhana – Plans to re-open in April.

IS UBER HALF THE COST OF AN AIRPORT TAXI AT MAJOR US AIRPORTS?

Q –  As a rather frequent business traveler who is not, admittedly, tuned in to the latest apps and services, I was surprised when a colleague described her  extremely positive experiences with Uber. Wondering what you think of the service generally and whether or not it is true, as she has told me, that they are half the price of normal taxis to and from the airport? Really enjoy this site but wish there was much more information that would be helpful to business travelers.Are you planning on increasing your business travel coverage?

A – There are a few variables here that make your question difficult to answer with any degree of precision. Some of these have to do with the specific airport, whether or not you are using regular Uber or Uber Black, and the time of day you will be traveling. (Uber gets really expensive about 1:00am.)  Money Magazine did a survey of comparative fares and found that taxis are actually less expensive than Uber at Boston’s Logan, and New York’s JFK and LaGuardia airports. But in all other cases, Uber beats taxi fares and you have a 17% better chance that your driver showered that morning.

Uber, and their competitor Lyft, are fine if saving money is your goal. We think that people who use these services do so because they are unaware of just how dangerous a ride tot he airport is statistically. It is considerably more likely to cause your death than a terrorist attack abroad. Placing your life in the hands of a driver who has “online likes” is ridiculous and only those who don;t understand how much online likes and reviews can be manipulated would place any faith in them. The Uber Black program is more expensive but it has the better vehicles and the more professional drivers. Because they are using their own vehicles, we place more faith in Uber than the average big-city taxi driver. That would be our last choice. You will find some comparative pricing in the chart above. If the travel industry and the travel press really wanted to save lives we would shout this from the highest rooftop “Driving in some strangers car or taxi, here or overseas,  is the most dangerous thing you do when you travel”. Choose carefully.

Finally, I am afraid that we have little interest in business travelers. If you are late for your meeting in Omaha, you will survive. Warren will see you another time. But if someone screws up your vacation, the time of the year you worked those other fifty weeks to enjoy, well then we take that personally. There are some wonderful web sites dedicated to business flyers. Our favorite is “View from the Wing”. But we will continue to devote all of our attention in our media group and our travel planning consultancy  to the upscale and discriminating worldwide vacation traveler.

DOES A CHANGE OF ITINERARY RESULT IN SOME ‘INCONVENIENCE MONEY”?

Q – Our cruise on Royal Caribbean has been changed from an Eastern to a Western Caribbean itinerary. I am not really thrilled with the ports and wonder if we are entitled to some sort of major discount for this change in itinerary. It wasn’t what we signed on for and we didn’t cause the hurricane. Don’t you think we are entitled to an “Inconvenience Refund”?  I can;t believe how these cruise lines hide behind Irma to make all sorts of changes.

A – Yes, it really seems unfair. Why weren’t you given the choice of sailing to islands that were unaffected by the devastation when you could have kept to your original itinerary. Of course if you had, you would not find any port tours operating and your only option ashore would have been to help with the rescue plans in some way. In fact, Royal Caribbean sent ships to San Juan and rescued thousands.

But here’s the thing. Since you didn’t cause Hurricane Irma and you will admit that Royal Caribbean didn’t cause it, we think you should find the person responsible and have them assist you with some “inconvenience money.”

 

FLYING NEXT SUMMER IN JULY: IS HEAT AN ISSUE WITH PLANES?

Q –   Wow – what a site. Really appreciate the opportunity to learn all this stuff in such a neat way with no sales pressure. My question has to do with the summer just past and all of the heat issues. As we will be flying out of New Orleans next July, we are wondering how heat can affect flights and if they cancel them when it gets near or over 100 degrees?

A – High temps make it necessary for planes to reach a higher than normal speed to take off in extremely hot weather.  This has to be accomplished even though their thrust performance is limited by the light air. So the thing to understand is that a plane’s ability to take off is a combination of several things which must be measured by the pilot mathematically. These include air density, the design of the particular aircraft being flown, the length of the runway and the flight’s weight at take-off. If you look at these factors you will see that only only can be controlled and that is weight. So in really hot weather, either fuel, cargo, or passengers must be removed from the plane. The first is a safety issue, the second is highly profitable, which leaves fewer passengers as the only viable alternative.  The number of flights that have been “heat restricted” has been steadily climbing at busy airports like LaGuardia in New York and Washington D.C.’s Reagan National. Both airports have rather short runways, a safety issue that should have been corrected years ago.

The airport with some of the most serious heat-related take-off issues are Phoenix and Denver in the States and Dubai, Hong Kong, and Bangkok overseas. Projections into the future see weight restrictions increasing by as much as 30% in the next two decades. Long distance aircraft like the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner will see the greatest number of passengers bumped for weight issues because the Dreamliner is used on longer routes requiring full fuel tanks. The single-aisle jets like the Boeing 737 or the Airbus A320 will be impacted less with the exception of the short runway airports mentioned above.

THERE IS LOTS OF NEWS ABOUT DAMAGED ISLANDS – IS THERE A LIST OF UNDISTURBED ISLANDS POST HURRICANE IRMA?

Q – We are already planning for our daughter’s wedding in mid-June. But the recent storms have created a great deal of confusion regarding the status of the various islands and major resorts in the Caribbean. Do you have any information that might help us?

A – We are pleased to give you a list compiled by the reporters at Travel Weekly Magazine. If you Google Travel Weekly, the highly-respected industry magazine, you will find an island-by-island analysis along with status updates of the major hotels on each island. The reality is that the travel industry press generally provides far more detailed information that the popular consumer travel press. Here is the current update. Warm congratulations to your daughter and your family. 

The following islands were outside the paths of Irma and Maria and suffered little or no damage from the storms:

Aruba

Barbados

Belize

Bonaire

The Cayman Islands

Curacao

Guyana

Grenada

Haiti

Jamaica

Martinique

Saba

St. Eustatius

St. Lucia

St. Vincent

Suriname

Trinidad and Tobago

 

 

WILL THIS DRIVER’S LICENSE WORK FOR ID?

Q –  Good Morning – while searching Airline fares I came across your website – it looks like it contains a wealth of information.  I’ll be sure to refer to it in the future.  I have a question concerning  the proper identification for a trip my wife and I are planning this fall from CT to San Antonio.

When I renewed my  Connecticut driver’s license in May of this year, I was informed of a new regulation that required me to bring my birth certificate in order to obtain a license that could serve as a proper ID.   I was not aware of this. This did not prevent me from renewing my license, complete with photo and all – but because I did not have my birth certificate with me and I didn’t want to return another day (and wait in line for another 1.5 hours) I opted to renew my license that contains the line: ” NOT FOR FEDERAL IDENTIFICATION”. Here’s my question.  Will the license as it now  reads prevent me from boarding a plane?  If so, I do have the option of going back to the DMV before my trip to obtain a new license-  What is your advice?    Thank you for your help.

A –  TSA rules are getting stricter by the week. By all means pay another visit to the funsters at the DMV. Since they are explicitly stating that the license you have may not be used as a photo ID, it is essentially worthless in terms of  getting you past security. Our recommendation is that you bring some bocce balls with you. We like to organize a game while waiting to hear our number called.

 

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