We've all stayed at hotels that proudly boast, via little signs on the bed and/or bathroom sink, that they're doing their part to save the environment. Don't want towels changed in order to save water? Just hang 'em up, and the housekeeper will know that you're a carbon footprint-savvy traveler.
Sure. I can count on half of one hand the number of hotels that have actually paid attention to the location of my towel. I've seen countless housekeepers dump the contents of in-room recycling bins into their trash bags. I don't have any expectations at motels, but when it comes to boutique, "eco-friendly," or high-end properties making these claims, I find it infuriating.
My focus as a writer and traveler is on sustainability issues, and I'm overjoyed that an increasing number of hotels are more aware of their environmental impact. What doesn't thrill me: the amount of greenwashing, or false eco-claims, that take place in the hospitality industry. This problem isn't unique to hotels, but it's prevalent.
We've all done it. Caught up in the excitement of a great trip, we find ourselves "going local," and buying an article (or wardrobe) of indigenous clothing to show our love for a place. Sometimes, as with vintage aloha shirts, pretty kurtas, handcrafted leather sandals or Latin American peasant blouses, these looks play well back home. At their worst, however, they make the wearer resemble a clown, costume party-refugee or garden variety idiot.
I understand the urge to wear groovy clothes that scream, "I'm a world traveler!" But more often, bad sartorial choices are the result of too many margaritas, too much pakalolo or the shopping frenzy that results from visiting foreign craft fairs and artisan markets. God knows, I could stock a Goodwill with past purchases. But, like cornrows on white girls, male sarongs or anything from Hilo Hattie, most wearable souvenirs are better off left in their place of origin.
View the slideshow for a selection of frequent travel fashion violations.
Some people are naturally better travelers than others; so it is with pets. But whereas humans can temper their anxiety or irritation at the airport bar or by downing an Ambien, dogs don't have that option (although, to be accurate, your vet will prescribe a travel sedative for your pet if need be).
Now, there's a class available for canine air passengers that's aimed to keep them calm when going through airport security and in-flight. According to MSN, Talaat Captain, the president and CEO of the world's largest "aviation-themed film studio," Air Hollywood, was inspired to create the Air Hollywood K9 Flight School. Given a dog's acute sense of sight, hearing and smell, it's no surprise that blaring announcements, crowds, hovering strangers in uniform and turbulence can make for a stressful experience.
As travel writers, taking solo trips goes with the territory, so to speak. Sometimes, we're able to take along significant others or friends, but that's the exception. For my part, I prefer to travel alone, be it work or pleasure (which, given my occupation, generally turns into work in some form).
I just returned from a two-week-long solo assignment in Hawaii; it was my 15th visit, 14 of which have been made solo. In the early and mid-90s, I lived on Maui, and those experiences are what really cemented my love of traveling by myself, even in a place marketed to, and dominated by, couples. Sure, it can be lonely or a bit depressing at times to be a lone nomad, but I prefer to focus on the numerous advantages:
You generally get more of a cultural immersion when you're by yourself. Depending upon where you are, locals may either pity you or find you an object of curiosity. This results in invites to dinner in private homes or to local events, and other experiences not easily had when you're a twosome or in a group.
There's no one to get pissed off at you when you inevitably get lost.
If you're a frequent traveler as well as an animal-lover, there are two scenarios that likely describe you: petless and sad about it, or pet-owner, but usually forced to leave it at home or board it. Neither is a happy option, but the always-innovative Aspen Animal Shelter has a furry, feel-good Band-Aid for you.
The for-profit, no-kill shelter offers a Rent-a-Pet program that allows visitors to borrow dogs from two hours to an entire weekend. Explains Director Seth Sachson, "Our motto is 'Exercise your heart. Walk a dog or cuddle a cat.' It's meaningful for a shelter to have this type of program, because these are adoptable animals, and visitors and volunteers are helping the dogs get exercise and develop socialization skills."
Rent-a-Pet, which is also open to residents, pairs pet-friendly people with dogs (or cats) to ensure a good fit. If your desire is to spend a full day out on the trails, you'll get an athletic animal that's up to the task. Casual strolls may find you with a more mellow mutt. And, bonus: like most ski towns, Aspen is incredibly dog-friendly, so you'll find that many hotels (including the toniest of properties) welcome pets.
Ugh. Layovers. We've all had to while away the hours at airports, but regular travelers know that every so often, a layover can be more respite than penance. Such is the case with Vancouver International Airport, a modern marvel with art and architecture to die for.
In addition to high-tech design that includes soaring ceilings, lots of skylights, and sculpture from the region's indigenous tribes, there's a leafy, indoor aquarium/park area ideal for destressing, and loads of boutiques and food outlets that are a notch above the standard airport fare.
What makes YVR (the airport code) equally distinctive, however, is the Fairmont Vancouver Airport hotel. Sure, other hotels have airports, but have you ever stayed in them? What you usually get is a musty, generic, not terribly hygenic, overpriced room, and a complete lack of serenity or style. The Fairmont, by contrast, is an oasis not only for guests, but travelers just passing through on layover. Read on for the best ways to spend your layover at YVR (for once, you can hope it's a long one).
For those of us who consider pets members of the family, leaving them behind when we travel often isn't an option, especially if they're a certified companion or therapy animal. Sometimes, however, we just want to bring our furry friends along. Fortunately, the travel industry has cottoned on to this fact (we hate to give Paris Hilton credit for anything, but she probably did help to facilitate this one), and an increasing number of hotels, airlines, bars, and even restaurants are cool with guests bringing along an animal.
If you're thinking of hitting the road (or skies) with your dog, cat, or even rabbit (don't laugh; the Fairmont Vancouver Airport hotel has a lot of guests from Asia who travel with their bunny buddies), here's some tips on making the journey easier for everyone involved:
Do your research
Don't waste your precious holiday time trying to find a hotel last-minute that accepts pets. Book rooms beforehand, and be sure to ask about pet deposits. CNN posted an article today on the 12 of the world's dog-friendliest hotels. Many properties go to great lengths to ensure your loved one (no, we're not talking about your spouse or partner) is comfortable, well-fed, and walked regularly, even if you're busy enjoying other activities. The same book-ahead/ask questions before, not after, approach should apply with regard to airlines and other forms of public transportation.
When I was a kid, beds modeled after race cars were all the rage. Apparently, what's cool these days is having a bedroom that so closely resembles a 737 cockpit, it doubles as a simulator. Oh, and bonus points if your dad builds it.
According to Gizmodo, Laurent Aigon has spent the last five years constructing aforementioned bedroom/cockpit. Aigon, who is from Lacanau, France, isn't a pilot nor an engineer, by the way. He's a waiter who once aspired to be a pilot. After much study, he put together a control panel and screen, and added "five networked monitors... he's made it possible to simulate journeys to destinations as far-flung as Sydney and Rio de Janeiro. His copilots, presumably, sleep in the bunkbeds to his right."
When not playing in his kids' room, Aigon has been asked to lecture at the Institute of Aircraft Maintenance at Bordeaux-Merignac, which has used his creation to train students. Watch the video and take a quick trip, yourself.
Bolivia has a turbulent, often tragic history. Rich in natural resources, the country was plundered by the Spaniards for silver and gold in the 15th century, exploiting the indigenous Quechua and Aymara peoples in the process. Yet, Bolivia has managed to retain a strong indigenous cultural presence; something that can be seen and felt throughout the country.
Despite its abundance of precious metals and other minerals, however, Bolivia remains the poorest country in South America. The remote, southwestern department of Potosi is among Bolivia's most poverty-stricken. The high-altitude city of the same name (elevation 13,420 feet) was founded by the Spanish in 1545, and ironically remains a rich source of silver, lead, copper and zinc. Recently, large reserves of lithium have also been discovered in the region.
Although poor, Potosi has remained a stunning colonial jewel, and intrepid tourists come to admire its lovely buildings and narrow, cobbled streets.The ornate colonial buildings are painted in faded pastels. There's a bustling mercado, and a handful of restaurants and shops showcasing local handicrafts (silver jewelry, mostly) form the basis of the centro. It's an exceedingly pleasant place to while away a day or two.
Potosi is also a magnet for adventure travelers, who come to tour the working silver mines of Cerro Rico ("rich hill"). A massive, barren red hump of a mountain looming over the town, Cerro Rico is the main mining center, containing roughly 650 entrances to the various cooperative mines. The co-ops provide little benefit to the miners, even in the case of accidental death or work-related disease. The average lifespan for a miner is 10-15 years; most die from silicosis pneumonia. Cerro Rico is also in a slow state of collapse, due to overmining. Despite the risks, it's believed that half of Potosi's population of over 2,600 (mostly Quechua) work in the mining industry. The miners may not be getting rich, but let's just say I saw a lot of spanking new Hummers rolling around those cobbled streets.