Saturday, January 31, 2015

AirBnB Parisian Style

My room with a view (sort of)
In a recent post Introducing AirBnB, I provided some background information to one of the fastest growing online short stay accommodation services in the world — AirBnB. To date, I have only used the service once—to book accommodation during a two week visit to Paris over the summer of 2014, and despite one or two hiccups, I obviously lived to tell the tale. And this is it. But first, a brief recap.
  
AirBnB began in 2008 when two designers who had space to share hosted three travellers looking for a place to stay. Today, AirBnB hosts are sharing spare rooms or their homes and apartments in 190 countries and more than 34,000 cities.

As a solo traveller on a limited budget, I figured that finding accommodation via AirBnB would be cheaper than staying in a budget hotel, especially if I took into account the ability to supply my own breakfasts and prepare at least some of my main meals ‘at home’, and this in fact turned out to be the case. 

The process for selecting my accommodations was relatively painless, and involved creating a profile on AirBnB, searching through the available listings (using price as my main guide), reading reviews from previous guests, ensuring the location was suitable, the dates available, and the host personable. I should point out that I was in Greece at the time I began researching my Parisian stay, not at home in Australia, and it was from Greece that I flew to Paris. 

Chest of drawers, sofa bed, heater/fan, travel books
Having settled on a small studio apartment in the 16th Arrondissement, I made my booking and got in contact with Philippe my host. He was quick to assure me that everything would be ready on my arrival, and immediately sent me detailed directions for getting to the apartment from Charles de Gaulle airport. I deliberately timed my arrival in Paris for early afternoon. As far as I am concerned, there is nothing worse than landing at night in a ‘foreign’ country where you don’t speak or read the language, and having to make your way to your accommodations in the dark using public transport! It adds a layer of stress to travel that you just don’t need.

Once I reached the building on Rue Chardon-Lagache that was to be my home for the next ten nights, I was quickly met by Philippe and shown to the small studio at the very top of a typical Parisian apartment complex. Thankfully, the apartment had an elevator that was large enough (just) to carry myself, my small case and Philippe the seven floors to the top, although the cubicle was so small that I was grateful I didn’t suffer from claustrophobia.

Chest of drawers with sheets and bedding
To be honest, I was somewhat taken aback by just how small the studio apartment was. I would have called it a garret, and as romantic as it is to think I was going to spend some time in a Parisian garret, I would have preferred a bit more space than what was on offer (the phrase ‘not enough room to swing a cat’ comes to mind). However, the room had been paid for, I had turned up as agreed, and there was nothing to do but make the best of a tight squeeze.

As you can see from the photographs illustrating this post, the room contained a sofa bed, a chest of drawers for storing clothes, a small electric stove, a bar fridge, a shower alcove, a collection of cooking and eating utensils, a number of guide books (mostly in French), a telephone and an excellent WiFi connection. There was a clean, shared toilet at the end of the passage which I had to share with one lone resident. During the ten days I stayed at the studio apartment I never heard, let alone saw the elderly gentleman with whom I shared this closet.

Philippe informed me that because I had booked ten nights, he was taking the opportunity to enjoy a short vacation of his own with his daughter, but assured me that if I needed anything I only had to call him. Since I am an independent traveller, I was not particularly concerned that he would not be at my beck and call, and anyway I did not anticipate needing to call him during my stay. Little did I know…but more about that below.

Location, Location, Location
Map of Paris's 16th Arrondissement 
The 16th Arrondissement takes in the Trocadero Gardens (directly opposite the Eiffel Tower), the massive Bois de Boulogne gardens, the Roland Garros tennis centre, any number of wonderful galleries and museums, and numerous foreign embassies.

The apartment was close to both Metro lines and several bus routes. Depending on where I wanted to go, I often jumped on the number 72 bus which provides a virtual rolling tour that takes in sections of the River Seine, the Trocadero (and the nearby Eiffel Tower), the Louvre Museum, the Tulleries Gardens, Place de la Concorde, and Palais de Chaillot before terminating near the Hotel de Ville. The apartment was also close to two Metro lines (#9, Exelmans, and #10, Chardon-Lagache), while the Pont du Garigliano station for the RER C line was also within walking distance of the room.

The well stocked supermarket was a few minutes walk from the studio as were numerous cafes, restaurants, pizza outlets, and other eating houses. I fantastic weekend farmers market took place close by, stocked with a wonderful array of fresh produce including fish, fresh and cured meats, cheeses, and all manner of fruit and vegetables.

Drawbacks
Sink and two hotplates above; bar fridge below
Apart from the previously mentioned size of the room, the studio did not have a television, electric kettle or facilities to wash clothing. With regard to boiling water for tea and coffee, I made do by using a small saucepan. Hopefully, an electric kettle has been added to the inventory of items in the studio, even if a television has not. As for washing clothes, since I did not know where the nearest laundromat was located I made do by soaking and hand washing all my clothes in the small kitchen sink, and then rinsing items out whenever I had a shower. I then made sure I squeezed every drop of water out of the clothing before hanging them from a line I had brought along expressly for that purpose.

TIP: My technique for removing water from clothing is quite simple but effective: wring as much water out of the clothing as you can before wrapping each item of clothing in a bath or beach towel; take each end of the towel and twist them together as tightly as you can. Once all the excess water in the clothing has been absorbed by the towel you can hang the item up without worrying about water dripping onto the floor or onto items of furniture. Works for me every time.

Issues
[L] damaged drainage pipe       [R] WiFi and storage unit
Late in my stay, I was surprised — to say the least — when I noticed dishwashing water and suds pouring out the storage cupboard below the sink unit. On opening the cupboard door I saw that the ’S-bend’ drainage pipe had come apart. In fact, it had been put together so poorly that I was surprised the floor of the studio was not permanently soaked. I immediately got in contact with Philippe, and to his credit the problem was fixed within a matter of hours.

A couple of days before I vacated the room, I returned from a day out and about in Paris to discover the elevator was not working. By the time I had climbed seven floors to the top of the building my 66-year-old heart was pounding in my chest fit to bust. It was very sobering to learn that I am not as fit as I thought I was, but thankfully I did not need to head back out that night, so I had plenty of time to catch my breath and recover from my exertions. 

Even though other residents in the building must surely have contacted the relevant technicians to get the elevator moving again, I got in touch with my host once more (remember, he was trying to make the most of my extended stay, and had left on a short vacation of his own), and he promised to get someone to look into the problem. By the time I returned from my peregrinations around Paris the next day, I was delighted to see the elevator working again.

Recommendations
Apart from these two incidents, my first stay through AirBnB was a real delight, and as brief as my stay was, I certainly enjoyed the opportunity to live like a Parisian. I also appreciated the ability to prepare a few meals of my own, thereby saving money in the process. From this point of view I am more than happy to recommend that you give AirBnB a try.

However, as already mentioned in my previous blog post, make sure you do your homework, before committing to a booking. Ask questions of your host to be, and read any and all reviews from previous guests. There are always other rooms, so don’t feel you have to take the first option that presents itself. If in doubt—leave it out.

Happy trails.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge


Some good news out of Washington, DC. President Barak Obama’s Administration has moved to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, widely considered one of the most spectacular and remote areas in the world.

The Department of the Interior is releasing a conservation plan for the Refuge that for the first time recommends additional protections, and President Obama announced he will make an official recommendation to Congress to designate core areas of the refuge – including its Coastal Plain – as wilderness, the highest level of protection available to public lands. If Congress chooses to act, it would be the largest ever wilderness designation since Congress passed the visionary Wilderness Act over 50 years ago.

“Designating vast areas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as Wilderness reflects the significance this landscape holds for America and its wildlife,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “Just like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of our nation’s crown jewels and we have an obligation to preserve this spectacular place for generations to come.”

The President’s decision builds upon years of public engagement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revise the Comprehensive Conservation Plan and complete an environmental impact statement for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as required by law. The plan will guide the Service’s management decisions for the next 15 years.

Currently, over 7 million acres of the refuge are managed as wilderness, consistent with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. However, more than 60 percent of the refuge – including the Coastal Plain – does not carry that designation.

Based on the best available science and extensive public comment, the Service’s preferred alternative recommends 12.28 million acres – including the Coastal Plain – for designation as wilderness. The Service also recommends four rivers – the Atigun, Hulahula, Kongakut, and Marsh Fork Canning – for inclusion into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to the most diverse wildlife in the arctic, including caribou, polar bears, gray wolves, and muskoxen. More than 200 species of birds, 37 land mammal species, eight marine mammal species and 42 species of fish call the vast refuge home. Lagoons, beaches, salt marshes, tundra and forests make up the remote and undisturbed wild area that spans five distinct ecological regions.

The refuge holds special meaning to Alaska Natives, having sustained their lives and culture for thousands of years. The Gwich’in people refer to the Coastal Plain of the refuge as “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins,” reflecting the area’s importance to their community, maintaining healthy herds of caribou and an abundance of other wildlife.

Since Congress is the only authority able to designate Wilderness areas and Wild and Scenic Rivers, one can only hope that Republicans and Democrats can put aside their differences long enough to turn this dream into a reality.

More information will be available at www.fws.gov

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Arizona Time Lapse

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
I am lucky enough to have a cousin living in Tucson, Arizona, and luckier still to have had the opportunity to visit her and her husband during trips to America in 2010 and again in 2012. On both visits I got to see some of the magnificent scenery around Tucson, as well as other parts of the state; namely Sedona and surrounding areas, The Grand Canyon, and Monument Valley (although Utah rightly lays claim to the heart of Monument Valley).

When I saw the video embedded below on Vimeo recently, I was impressed with it enough to include it here. At a little over two minutes in length, this time lapse video titled My Arizona, was created by Drew Geraci of District 7 Media with the assistance of Andrew Breese and Jason Fudge. While it doesn't appear to show the Grand Canyon or Monument Valley, it does provide a very brief overview of some of some of what you can expect to see in Arizona if you make the journey there.

Using a variety of digital cameras the footage was recorded over the course of three days in which the photographs covers some 500 miles. In the process they say, they “…trekked down 3000 foot ravines, exploring hidden water falls, open landscape and the clear night sky.”


Tech:
x2 Canon 5D Mark II
Canon 7D
Canon 16-35mm f/2.8
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 II
Canon 24-105mm f/4
Dynamic Perception Stage Zero

Music by: Gregg Lehrman
Assistance by: Andrew Breese and Jason Fudge

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

TED On Tuesday: Turning War Into Peace Through Travel

Aziz Abu Sarah helps people break down cultural and historical barriers through tourism.

When Aziz Abu Sarah was a boy, his older brother was arrested on charges of throwing stones. He was taken to prison and beaten — and died of his injuries. Sarah grew up angry, bitter and wanting revenge. But when later in life he met, for the first time, Jews who were not soldiers, Sarah had an epiphany: Not only did they share his love of small things, namely country music, but coming face to face with the “enemy” compelled him to find ways to overcome hatred, anger and fear.

Sarah founded MEDJI Tours to send tourists to Jerusalem with two guides, one Jewish and one Palestinian, each offering a different history and narrative of the city. Sarah tells success stories of tourists from the US visiting a Palestinian refugee camp and listening to joint Arab and Jewish bands play music, and of a Muslim family from the UK sharing Sabbath dinner with a Jewish family and realizing that 100 years ago, their people came from the same town in Northern Africa.

MEJDI is expanding its service to Iran, Turkey, Ireland and other regions suffering from cultural conflict. If more of the world’s one billion tourists were to engage with real people living real lives, argues Sarah, it would be a powerful force for shattering stereotypes and promoting understanding, friendship and peace.


While I found Aziz Abul Sarah’s talk inspiring for the possibilities he promises, I found this video produced by MEDJI Tours even more inspiring.



If you want to see more videos, check out the organisations collection of short films on VIMEO, and also visit the MEDJI Tours website.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Introducing AirBnB


During 2014 I spent two weeks in Paris, where for the first time I booked the bulk of my accommodations (10 nights) through Airbnb. For readers not familiar with Airbnb, let the company explain in their own words:

“Airbnb began in 2008 when two designers who had space to share hosted three travellers looking for a place to stay. Now, millions of hosts and travellers choose to create a free Airbnb account so they can list their space and book unique accommodation anywhere in the world.”

Today, Airbnb hosts are sharing spare rooms or the whole homes and apartments in 190 countries and more than 34,000 cities. Incredibly, since 2008, this company has grown from nothing to one valued at more than two billion dollars! Unlike free accommodation sharing services like Couchsurfing, Hospitality Club, Stay4Free, and others, Airbnb hosts charge a nightly fee for the use of their rooms or homes. Here’s an introductory video from the company:

Airbnb Intro video  

So how did the actual experience of researching, booking, communicating with my host, and the all important stay measure up against the glowing promo material? That dear reader is the focus of this entry.

Researching
This is the easy part: decide which city you want to visit, entry your check In and check Out dates (any dates will do, if you don’t know your exact dates), start searching. The screen that appears next should give you the option to rent the Entire Place, a Private Room, or a Shared Room. You will also see a Price Range slider from which you can select your maximum price per night. As you fine tune your selections, links to the available rooms automatically display as does a map showing each location.

At this point it is easy to check out each location, examine the uploaded images, read the fine print, and especially read through the reviews left by previous visitors.

Booking
To make a booking you will first need to sign in and register the usual information that all websites can’t seem to do without—even those sites that don’t require billing information. Airbnb, of course, does need billing information so go ahead, register and make your booking. You do have the option to send your host a message and ask questions of them, so if you have any concerns or questions the obligation is on you to ask them before you commit to making your booking.

Watch out for the extras as you are booking your accommodations. These are generally included under the Prices category on the site, but some hosts charge more for extra guests, towels and such like, and these are not always noted under Prices. They are generally mentioned under House Rules or the Description of the property. 

Communicating
All hosts must provide an email address so that you can communicate with them before and after you make a booking. As far as I am aware, all hosts must supply a contact phone number, although I am not sure if they are obliged to make it available to you before you make a booking.

The best hosts know that open, quick communications with potential or actual guests is always the best way to foster confidence and trust in both them, their accommodations and Airbnb itself. Again, reviews from previous guests are generally a good way to gauge the reliability and trust of potential hosts, so make sure you read all the reviews for a property you are planning to book.

Another Airbnb Video worth watching  

Be Quick Or Be Sorry
I did not start researching my Paris stay until well into July. Since I was trying to make my booking during the height of summer, I found that many of my first choices were booked solid right through July, August and into September. Further, I wanted a minimum of ten nights. By leaving my booking late, those places that did have bookable nights often had no more than two or three consecutive nights available. I began to worry that I had left it too late to find a suitable rental via Airbnb, but thankfully I was eventually lucky enough to find the right place, at the right price, for the right number of nights. However, the lesson I learned was that it pays to book well ahead if you are planning to hit Paris, London, New York City, or any other major metropolis during the height of the travel season.

Safety
I have mentioned several times the importance of reading reviews for rental properties. However, there is one potential ‘spanner in the works’ to this and that occurs when a new listing has been added to Airbnb, and the property owner has only one or two reviews, or even worse—none at all. Obviously, someone has to be the first person to book a property and there is no reason why it should not be you, but as always, the obligation is on you to make sure you are completely satisfied that the host and the property are what they claim to be.

If you are travelling alone, your best option may be to simply ignore properties with no reviews. On the other hand, on the basis that there are supposed to be safety in numbers, you might go ahead and rent a property if you are planning to share the accommodation with a friend or partner. Of course, it is entirely possible that a property listing has had guests stay there, but visitors have not bothered to write a review for the host.

TIP: When checking a listing, find the About The Host heading. This includes information about how long the host has been a member. The newer their membership, the less likely are they to have a lot of reviews, or any at all. However, if the property has been listed for three months or more, one could reasonable expect there to be at least one or two reviews, if not more, especially if the property is in a popular destination.

* * * 

UPDATE: I have written about my first Airbnb experience here...

Saturday, January 17, 2015

What We’re Reading This Week


12 Small Ways To Travel More
Suzy Strutner writes about travel matters for The Huffington Post. I thought her recent post examining alternatives to major travel was of interest.

I think exploring your own city and nearby locations is always a good idea, not least because it helps to keep your travel bug well fed and nourished while it waits for the longer journeys ahead.

As Suzy writes: "A trip doesn't have to cross continents, span oceans or even leave the house to be a healthy, inspiring adventure that leaves you totally refreshed." 

Here are some of Suzy Strutner's suggestions.
  • Spend one night under the stars (in your backyard, at a campground, on the beach... anywhere!).
  • Take an hour-long drive to a different city, and go out to dinner.
  • Roll out the map, point to a country with your eyes closed, and research a traditional meal to cook for dinner.
  • Go to the tourist spots in your hometown... sometimes we forget why they're famous in the first place.
  • Spend the night in a nearby B&B.

* * *

Parts Unknown: Vietnam 
Photo: Yiannis Apostolakis
I’ve never been to Vietnam, but I know numerous people who have been there, and with one exception they all loved it. If I can make the time, I will make the journey there myself one day, but for now I will have to make do by visiting through the eyes of other travellers.

Yiannis Apostolakis describes his site as “One mans’ blog about travel, photography and digital technology.” And adds: “It all started in Vietnam.” His website is heavy on photographic images, which is always a great way to tell a story and give readers (viewers?), a sense of place. 

I particularly like this image of baseball caps and bags utilising recycled aluminium (aluminum) Coca-Cola and Pepsi cans. Check out Parts Unknown…

* * *

Tips For Women Traveling Alone
This article from Madelen Lindgren provides good advice for men as well as women. Among her most salient suggestions:
  • Read about your destination and learn some basic phrases of the language
  • Research the good and the bad about your destination
  • Don’t walk around in the wrong clothes. Observe cultural norms.
  • Be street smart. Don’t walk in the dark. Don’t flash your money.
  • Follow your gut feeling, trust it, every time.

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Bridge Too Far?

Barges on the River Seine, Paris, France
I was checking out the Solo Traveler Blog recently, and couldn’t resist adding a comment to a blog post on the site written by Janice Waugh. Titled Bridges, New Perspectives and Solo Travel, Janice writes (in part: “To get the big picture of a city you need to stand back and the best way I’ve found for doing so is by walking a bridge. […] A bridge, by providing some distance, offers new perspectives on a city.

In my comment I wrote:
“Wow! And I thought I was the only 'bridge walker' out there. I have a 'thing' about bridges anyway, but I will always walk across a bridge if the opportunity presents itself. Along with the usual Brooklyn Bridge walk, I have walked across the George Washington Bridge (I can legitimately claim to have walked from New York to New Jersey), and the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges. On my next visit to NYC, I hope to get an opportunity to walk across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that links Brooklyn with Staten Island.
Speaking of the George Washington Bridge (GWB), I walked across it a few months after the event referred to as the 'Miracle On The Hudson' took place in January, 2014. I'm referring to the incident in which Captain Chesley Sullenberger landed United Airlines flight 1549 in the middle of the Hudson River. Standing on the walkway in the centre of the GWB while looking down river gave me some sense of the view that Cpt. Sellenberger must have been looking at as he flew low over the bridge towards his eventual touch down on the river near Midtown Manhattan. And it was a very sobering view to be sure.
If you are looking for a new perspective on a well known city, do what I also like to do -- hit the water. I never miss an opportunity to take a ferry ride, river cruise, or some other type of water borne transport when I travel. Cruises around the waters of New York City abound, and the views from the Hudson and East rivers bring a whole new perspective to that amazing city. I've taken short cruises on the Mississippi (out of New Orleans), the Mekong River (out of Phnom Penh), on Melbourne's Yarra River, and numerous others. Then there are harbour cruises that can be just as interesting -- if not more so. If you have ever had the opportunity to cruise on, or just catch a ferry across Sydney Harbour you will understand what I mean.”
With regard to harbor cruises in particular, regular visitors to this blog will have seen my numerous entries and updates for the wonderful Hidden Harbor tours organised by New York City’s Working Harbor Committee. These provide a unique insight into the (generally) unseen industry that helps to keep New York City and New Jersey ticking.

A bridge too far? Not far enough in my opinion.

By the way, if you are a solo traveller already, or interested in going solo, the Solo Traveler Blog is a fantastic resource for all manner of information related to solo travel. Check it out and look for the free eBooks available via the site, and subscribe to the weekly newsletter as well. Happy (solo) travelling.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Stop Following The Crowd

Image: www.telegraph.co.uk
In a previous post I responded to 21 Travel Resolutions To Make For 2015, a post by Suzy Strutner, writing for the Huffington Post. Today I thought I’d offer a few more suggestions not covered by Suzy in her post. But first, a word or two from Albert:

“The one who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The one who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been before.” ~ Albert Einstein

Using the wisdom of Albert Einstein as my guide, I offer these additions to Strutner’s selection:
  • Break out of your comfort zone and try something different (a new location, food, activity)
  • Travel Solo (if you normally travel with others, or travel with others if you normally go alone )
  • Book and organise your own vacation, don't leave it to a travel agent
  • It's never too early to start planning your next holiday, so start now!
Break out of your comfort zone and try something different
Too often we like to stick to the tried and tested; whether choice of literature, genre of movies, favourite foods, make of car, or travel destinations. The problem with this is that we can miss out on so many exciting, new, and different experiences. 

Breaking out of your comfort zone does not mean you should push yourself to indulge in dangerous activities of either the athletic type, or feel the need to partake in exotic meals of the culinary variety. For instance, you will never see me bungee jumping head first into a river, or white-water rafting down raging rapids. Neither will you find me eating fried Tarantula’s, drinking warm Yak blood, swallowing the raw testes of newly slaughtered rams, or trying other such exotic fare!

There are plenty of other, more pleasant ways to break out of your comfort zone. If you have a tendency to drive everywhere, get out of the car and walk more. If you catch planes—take a train instead. Looking for something to eat or drink? Check out what and where the locals eat and drink. I remember wandering through New York City’s Chinatown district one day, and walking into a small restaurant filled with Chinese diners. Pointing to a selection of dishes on display, I sat down to a full plate of rice, chicken, and vegetables that cost me a mere $3.00. One of the cheapest meals I have ever enjoyed.

Travel Solo
Some people can’t stand their own company! Still others can’t abide silence or solitude. Then there are those who never shut up! A pause in a conversation is a pause too long. It is a hole that needs to be filled, and filled as quickly as possible. Hopefully, you will never encounter these three character traits in the one person, but if you do, make a mental note right now to never travel with them. Better that you should travel alone, or not travel at all, than burden yourself with such a travel companion. 

Personally, I love to travel alone. I delight in the freedom it gives me to follow my own interests, to travel at my own pace, and to stay out late and to sleep in even later. As for silence and solitude, on long road trips I leave the radio off and the CDs at home. This allows my thoughts to float through my head in whatever random order they choose. I also like how solo travel encourages me to meet the locals and other travellers, to pay more attention to my surroundings, and to develop new skills I didn’t think I was capable of (a great boost to my self-confidence).

Book and Organise Your Own Vacation
Be the master of your own destiny! The advent of the Internet puts the ability to research, book and organise a vacation in your own hands. Your planning and organisational skills improve, as does your confidence and ability to deal with actual or potential problems on your own.

When I headed off on my first round the world trip in more than 30 years, in 2008, I made use of a travel agent, and have no regrets that I did. Again in 2010, I used a travel agent to book my main flights, but booked internal flights and accommodations myself. In 2010 and again in 2014 I went completely solo. That is, I researched, booked and organised all my own flights, accommodations, travel insurance, and all other aspects of my trips myself.

This may not seem like a big deal, but as a senior (I’m now 66), and solo traveller, the temptation to leave all the organisation to others is very — um, tempting! As already noted, doing everything myself has been great for my organisational and problem solving skills, self-confidence, and self-esteem. I hope to be travelling for many years to come, and as much as possible I will plan and organise these trips myself.

Start Planning Your Next Trip Now
It’s never too late, or too early to start thinking about and planning your next vacation. In fact, doing so can help you focus on budgeting, saving, and keeping on top of your spending habits and future purchases. Planning ahead—even one to three years ahead—forces you to reconsider every major purchase you might be contemplating. 

Do you really need a bigger television, laptop, tablet device, the latest iPhone/iPad, fancy-schmancy meal, seasonal outfit, or…? Well, you get the idea. For myself, planning and saving towards my next trip starts from the moment I touch down in Adelaide, my home town. In deed, I have taken to telling family and friends that I am back home for a holiday from my holiday.

I find that it helps to quantify your expenses before you spend your hard earned money on the latest iPad, or whatever it is you think you absolutely must have. In my case, my income consists of a fortnightly pension which is supplemented by money from my retirement fund. I try and bear in mind that every one-hundred dollars I spend on non-essential items could instead give me another night in a budget hotel in Paris or London, or several nights in any number of other cities around the world.

As much as I would love to swap my 64Gb iPad 2 for the latest (and lighter) iPad Air, I have decided to forgo the upgrade for as long as possible. Mind you, this decision is made easier knowing that there will always be a newer model in the offing within months of the latest release. So why rush? Besides, the cost of a high capacity iPad Air in Australia—say, a 64Gb model—is around half the price of an Adelaide to New York City return ticket (or Adelaide to almost anywhere in Europe, for that matter). Knowing I have a perfectly good iPad 2 as well as half a return ticket to the rest of the world sitting in my bank account, is a great incentive to keep saving, and to make sure any purchases I do make are absolutely essential.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Welcome to 2015


The Huffington Post writer, Suzy Strutner recently offered 21 Travel Resolutions To Make For 2015 which all make very good sense (despite the fact that there were only 19 suggestions in the article), but then, who's counting?

Well, actually, I was. Anyway, among her suggestions I particularly liked:
  • Get lost
  • Start a conversation with a local
  • Read something on the history of your destination before you get there
  • Be spontaneous and open to straying from your itinerary
Get Lost
Of course, there is 'lost' and there is lost. While I have never been completely lost, and therefore at risk of personal danger, I have found myself wandering through some of the far corners of major cities well away from the usual tourist haunts. The key to this type of getting lost is to make sure you are doing it during daylight hours, and not after dark - which may well result in the risk of personal danger. During the day, it is much easier to pick out landmarks that help orientate and guide you through unfamiliar neighbourhoods. If you do find yourself running out of daylight, head to the nearest major road or avenue. These tend to be well patronized and well lit. If you can't find access to public transport like a subway station to get you back to familiar ground, you should at least have a better chance of finding a taxi along a major thoroughfare to get you safely back to your hotel or accommodations.

Start a Conversation
To be honest, I'm not great at starting conversations with complete strangers, but I am more than happy to respond to complete strangers if they start conversations with me. In this way, I have met a number of people during my extended travels, and those meetings have all helped to make my trips more memorable and enjoyable. With the advent of social networking online, it is much easier to maintain contact with people you meet on the road, and I have added several contacts to my Facebook page after having met friendly locals during my travels. Of course, the other benefit of getting to the know the locals is that you also get to know something about the country you are visiting and what makes it, and its citizens tick.

Read Some History
I am a great believer in this suggestion. I have always been a voracious reader, and now that I am travelling again, I make a point of reading as many non-fiction books with subject matter that matches the country or city I am planning to visit. This is made so much easier to do with tablet devices like iPads, Kindle's, and other any number of other eReaders now available at very reasonable prices.

My iPad has hundreds of books stored on it, and while most of these are fictional novels, I also have a large selection of historical non-fiction books as well. I great source for free eBooks, one I have written about on numerous occasions, is Gutenberg dot Org. It is a rare day when I can't find a good book on that site on almost any topic or country you care to name.

Be Spontaneous
I know some people who are not happy travellers unless they have preplanned and booked every aspect of their journey. The problem with this is that there is no room to manoeuvre if schedules get changed, delays occur, or if they want to make even minor changes to their itinerary during the course of their travels. I must admit that I have tendency to go to the other extreme on this question. I like to leave my itinerary as flexible as possible.

For example, after spending almost four weeks in New York City during my 2012 trip to America, I took in Lancaster and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (seven nights); Washington, DC (five nights); Savannah, Georgia (ten nights); New Orleans, Louisiana (five nights); and Tucson and Flagstaff, Arizona (fifteen nights). The trip was bookended with four or five nights in Los Angeles. While my arrival and departure dates were fixed, and my accommodations in New York City were also pre-booked and confirmed, pretty much everything else I eventually did was worked out as I went along.

Of course, not everyone has the luxury of spending three months in the USA, or the freedom to indulge their whims as I did, but the principle remains the same: Build some flexibility into your vacation, no matter how long to give the unexpected a chance to surprise you and enhance your trip in ways you had not planned on.

Since Suzy Strutner's article was a couple shy of the promised 21 suggestions I thought I'd offer a few more of my own:
  • Break out of your comfort zone and try something different (a new location, food, activity)
  • Travel Solo (if you normally travel with others, or travel with others if you normally go alone )
  • Book and organise your own vacation, don't leave it to a travel agent
  • It's never too early to start planning your next holiday, so start now!
I will cover these suggestions in a future post. For now, I hope you are looking forward to a New Year filled with health, happiness, much love and lots of travel.

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