Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to plan, you’re planning to fail”; and I couldn’t agree more. It’s January, we’ve recovered from the holidays and it’s time to take a look at the calendar to decide what vacations you’re going to take this year. I am all for spontaneous getaways, but for most of us, the calendar is a factor in our trip planning. So I say, create a “Dream Vacation Calendar” for the year. Why do this? Because the sooner you book, the greater the likelihood you’ll get a better deal on price. For instance, “wave season” in the cruise industry starts January 1 and runs through the end of March. This is the period of time when A LOT of cabins get booked for the year. I suggest using a printed calendar so its a visual you can look at day-to-day for motivation! So let’s get planning!
2019 was a banner year for us here at Erik the Travel Guy and Beyond Your Backyard and 2020 is going to be even better. I can share a few details about the next 12 months, but before I do, I’d like to share a quick thought about 2019.
The only wrong way to book a hotel room is to be uninformed.
When it comes to lodging options on your vacation, you have choices galore. Booking the best cheap hotel room? That depends on your definition of cheap. I am a big fan of using the word “value” for your vacation dollar spend. In other words, are you GETTING what you’re paying for? Which brings me to a few ideas/questions to consider before you book any hotel room for your next vacation.
My only assumption is you (the person/people) can’t afford to get it wrong. In my opinion, lodging should enhance or be commensurate with the rest of your other vacation elements. The same can be said for your car rental, airline trip and itinerary, etc.
2020 is upon us and once again, I’m writing with a nod to caution in my relentless pursuit to inspire you to travel.
Did you read the story about the screen actress and her family in Lake Tahoe and their Air B&B (or AirBnB)? She and her extended family were literally sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner at their Air B&B house rental when members of her family (including children) started to feel ill. They assumed it was standard travel malaise when the symptoms worsened. It turns out it was Carbon Monoxide. That’s right...their rental was quickly filling with deadly fumes with no warning from Carbon Monoxide detectors installed in the home. It was later learned that all of these detectors were not functioning. Because of the fast-acting group and first responders, nobody was seriously injured. But certainly a close call.
This is yet another reason why I am not a huge fan of any lodging accommodation other than reliable, hotel/motel brands. Of course, this is an isolated incident and it could have happened anywhere in any lodging option. And for experienced Air B&Ber’s, you most likely already have your “pre-check-in” list of items to attend to. But for me, I honestly do not want to have to wonder whether or not the homeowner checked the smoke detectors.
While I completely understand Air B&B’s (and others) value proposition to consumers, this is yet another reason why I do not feel confident supporting the idea of staying or sharing someone else’s home on your vacation. Again, I’m not a gloom and doom guy but please consider the following before booking outside of a trusted accommodation option:
Read Anna’s full story here
Read Air B&B’s latest safety article here
Happy (and safe) Travels in 2020!
It's time to take a look at your driver's license and see if it is compliant for travel within the United States.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on December 20, 2013 a phased enforcement plan for the REAL ID Act (the Act), as passed by Congress back in 2005. This means, if you are a US citizen over the age of 18 and are flying domestically (within the US) then you will need to present a compliant, valid ID. If that is your driver's license, then it must comply. You'll know because it, generally speaking, will have a star at the top of the license.
You can read the official release from the Department of Homeland Security here.
The deadline to comply is October 1, 2020 so check with your state's DMV to acquire a new ID. You will not be able to pass through security checkpoints at airports without this enhanced driver's license or other acceptable forms of ID.
The TSA has a little helpful "Real ID" information which can be found here.
You can use a valid US passport for domestic travel but why risk losing it for quick trip to Chicago? I say, do a little home-state sleuthing and get yourself down to the DMV.
So, you have the travel bug and your significant other doesn’t? Or, maybe it’s you that simply just doesn’t see the value? In either case, I can help. Travel is aspirational, it’s a “want” and not a “need” in the eyes of most. It’s often hard to clearly define the benefits of travel because, well, travel is personal. And what I mean is, travel means different things to different people, therefore the pros and cons are all over the map, so to speak. Nevertheless, I will do my best to shed a little light on the subject.
Let’s start with the facts. According to Forbes, the travel industry worldwide is a $7.6 trillion industry. It directly and indirectly employs millions of people. It’s a true economic force not to be reckoned with. Think about, the airlines, travel agents, hotels, car rental agencies, cruise lines, local shops, restaurants, bars, theme parks, and national parks- they are just a cross section of industries whom all rely on a financial transaction that has something to do with travel. Let’s not forget about the auto industry, apparel, luggage, and tech companies- if you look around, you’ll start to see, travel isn’t a BIG it’s a HUGE business. So, by participating, you are fueling economies, paying for goods and services, or maybe helping to make someone else’s life just a little bit easier. Think of the housekeeper you tipped $5 for taking care of your room for two nights, or the server who went out of their way to serve you an excellent meal- so you throw them $20 as opposed to the standard 20 percent.
How about time off? According to the U.S. Travel Association’s Project: Time Off initiative, the average American leaves eight paid vacation days on the tabe each year. Unacceptable. Really? It’s a benefit of your employment. Because employers figured out long ago they want happy, motivated workers. They are literally paying you to be away from the office and, for the most part, were opting to stay at our desks working ourselves to death.
Speaking of health, more and more research emerges consistently about the health benefits of travel. Sure it might be a little counterintuitive because travel can be stressful, but the the big picture is, travel is usually good for the mind, body and dare I say soul. Have a look at the latest research conducted by Timo Strandberg of University of Helsinki, and learn all about lowering your blood pressure while away. More benefits include getting a little more Vitamin D from the sun, getting a little more exercise by exploring or swimming in the ocean, or even having better sex! It’s not my opinion, it’s science, folks.
Not getting along with your mate as well as you’d like to? Well, travel is an excellent way to share an experience with the one you love. Laughing a lot, trying new thing, and falling asleep in each other's arms again can all be part of the travel fun!
The New Year celebrations have long since ended and perhaps you made a resolution to learn something new. Or learn a new language or become more culturally well-rounded? Hello? TRAVEL!
Okay, now comes the uncomfortable part. How do you pay for this life-changing vacation? That’s up to you. But the word TRAVEL begs a little personal definition. I used to define “vacation” as a far off place, that's expensive, and that requires a tremendous amount of planning and financial resources. Those trips do exist. But after traveling for a living for more than a decade, I now completely understand the true meaning of the word. Travel is defined by YOU! An extended weekend away without the kids? Travel. A short cruise to the Caribbean? Travel. Getting in the car and rediscovering your neighboring town? Travel. Camping by the river or in your own backyard? Travel. Forget about keeping up with others. Don’t just do what everybody else does, do what YOU want to do. Go where you want to go and be with the people you want to be with. Nobody really cares and if you have people in your life that you feel are judging you based on your travel plans….get rid of them! You see, you DEFINE what travel travel means to you and yours. Travel doesn't have to be expensive. How about missionary work? Voluntouring? The possibilities are seemingly endless because travel’s such a huge business.
Hopefully, I’ve peeled back the onion layers here to help you get a clearer picture of the big world out there just waiting for you to explore. Now, all you have to do is... do it. Good luck and keep me posted on your plans- before, during, or after you return from your next great adventure.
Two of the giants in the air American Airlines and Delta Airlines have plenty to offer travelers, but have you stopped to think and compare them? There are more factors to consider than flight prices and the convenience of direct flights (nonstops) offered. Let’s put the numbers, flight amenities, alliances, sheer number of destinations and actual number of planes side by side for a closer analysis of two of the most dominant airlines.
American Airlines is the world’s largest airline with headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas and boasts flights to 350 destinations. This doesn’t include their regional airline American Eagle and its seven individual airlines, with flights to 242 destinations. Compare that to Delta Airlines, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia and flights to 241 destinations, 328 if you include their regional carrier Delta Connection.
Both airlines have loyalty programs that offer frequent passengers a number of perks. Not only can American Airlines’ AAdvantage members earn miles, they can also take advantage of upgrades, no blackout dates, the ability to buy gifts or share miles, and have access to the Oneworld Alliance (American has alliances with 23 airlines). On the contrary, over at Delta, their SkyMiles loyalty program offers miles that never expire, rewards at every level, no cap on miles earned, and the ability to earn miles with their 20-plus partner airlines.
American leads when it comes to the number of aircrafts with 965 while Delta has 764. With regards to baggage fees, both offer the first carry on for free. The second bag will cost you $30 domestically and $60 internationally with American, while Delta charges $30 for the second bag under 50 pounds.
Here’s the lowdown on onboard experiences, meaning entertainment, food, and classes of service:
American has seven classes of service and they include...
Delta has seven classes of service and they include...
That’s a rundown of comparisons between the two giants to help you make an informed decision according to your travel plans and needs. Next time you book a flight, know what’s available then take off on your next adventure. Bon Voyage!
P.S. Explore how to pick the best airline mile programs with yours truly!
At a recent speaking engagement, I was asked "do you really spend 30 weeks traveling per year?" My answer was "yes." As you may know I love to travel, both to host "Beyond Your Backyard," make short form travel videos and for personal vacations. The weeks add up per year and I love it. I stay in a variety of accommodations but, primarily I stay in large chain hotels or resorts. I believe Airbnb has made staying in someone else's home "cool" and convenient for both the visitor and the owner. I also believe it is an excellent option for some travelers, especially seasoned globetrotters. But as you know, this is not a unique concept. Sometimes staying in a vacation rental is just more economical especially when vacationing with larger groups of people in your party.
But for the most part, I prefer staying in large properties for a myriad of key reasons. I do stay at other types of properties such as cute, little cozy inns, vacation rentals, and bed-and-breakfasts. But, a larger property (preferably part of a chain) is my preference. Here are a few other reasons why:
I like earning points with hotel loyalty programs or earning extra miles (or points) when booking with a hotel or airline credit card. The three programs I use the most are Marriott, Hilton and IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group). While I do use online travel companies (Expedia, Priceline, or Hotels.com) where I can read hotel reviews, I actually prefer to book directly with the property or chain. Sometimes by booking directly with larger properties, I can get a better deal booking unsold inventory. This is a major hotel tip: Hotels like to be full and fill every vacant room. A larger property is likely to sell that inventory at a discounted rate, rather than let the rooms go empty.
With larger properties, I have options when booking a room type that best suites my specific needs. King bed, two queens, a one bedroom suite, balcony, square footage bathtub, a gorgeous view, location relative to the elevators, stairs, and/or parking are also considerations.
Websites like Airbnb and HomeAway have really made it easy to communicate with the property owner or manager, but not all owners are as responsive as I might like. Keep in mind that each booking is a little different based on factors like key location, security codes, front gate codes, parking passes, parking locations, and local laws.
Transportation and Favorable Location
Larger properties are easy to get to (and return to) with different transportation options. They may have an airport shuttle for instance. Taxi drivers and Uber drivers don't always have to rely on GPS because they are aware of a larger property's location. And in some cases a larger property is located in a locations city-center.
I also prefer staying in commercial neighborhoods rather than a residential neighborhood. More restaurants, convenience stores and other businesses are more-likely to be closer when a hotel is situated in a commercial neighborhood (think downtown or a busy suburb).
Service and Amenities
Honestly, I'm pretty low maintenance when I'm traveling, but I like knowing (and sometimes) utilize the services and amenities of a lager property like a fitness center, swimming pool, sun deck, business center, lounge, bar, meeting rooms etc. Room service is sometimes helpful when I want a quick bite or breakfast in my room before I start my day. Valet parking is also sometimes a welcome addition to my hotel bill.
The check-in process is seamless with the use of a larger property's app. In some cases I can open my guest room door with my phone. I also can communicate (via the app) with my property in advance of my arrival with last-minute changes and/or requests. This way, the property is ready for my arrival, therefore making the process as smooth as possible.
And when something's just not right, larger properties are sometimes able to make a change quickly without hassle.
The Room Itself
One of the biggest reasons I stay in larger properties is the ability to control the temperature in my hotel room. A larger property is more-likely to have an HVAC system in good working order.
Cleanliness standards are also a big consideration for me. Large properties have cleaning protocols in place with oversight standards. They aren't always perfect, but at least they are in place.
I also think a little less about whether or some creepy homeowner's son has placed a hidden camera in the smoke detector in the bedroom. of course, this is an extreme circumstance, but it does happen.
Security of the grounds and physical structure(s) of major properties provides a little more peace of mind as well.
Again, these are just a few of the considerations I think about when I travel. I can't stress enough that i stay in all types of accommodation options, but hopefully this gives a little insight as to why I tend to gravitate towards large properties in just about every location I visit.
If you have hotel tips or thoughts to help other vacation thrill seekers, then please feel free to comment below.
Erik the Travel Guy is a respected travel industry expert and host of the Emmy-nominated, nationally syndicated PBS travel television series “Beyond Your Backyard.” He spends, on average, 25 weeks traveling around the world, hosting his show(s), making short-form travel videos and speaking at events and conferences. He lives in New York City and most enjoys spending time with his two daughters.
P.S. For more accommodation tips and stories explore:
Air B&Bs - A Cautionary Tale
Travelocity - A Quick Read
Discover the Basics of OTAs (Online Travel Landscapes)
Stop what you’re doing and book a trip to Scottsdale, Arizona. I returned to this famous destination in December of 2018 and I am so glad I did. There’s just something about this iconic place that is special to me, and frankly, the reasons are too innumerable to mention- but I’ll try.
First of all, flying into Sky Harbor International Airport is where the transformation began. I was there to host an episode of Beyond Your Backyard. My mind was squarely focused on creating the best television episode I could. I stared out the airplane window and saw the vast brown openness of this part of the country. Like you, I carry my own luggage, so after a brief stint at baggage claim, I was off to the rental car center to punch in the coordinates of the hotel. As I try to do on my travels, I arrived during the day before rush hour, so getting to the resort took about 20 minutes. The valet greeted me and the check-in to Mountain Shadows Resort was effortless. The saguaro cactus reminded me that the vibe here is unique. The dry heat was a refreshing change from NYC in December, and I was reminded once again that this trip was an excellent idea.
On this trip we stayed at Mountain Shadows Resort in Paradise Valley, which is a sister resort to the urban chic and very retro Valley Ho in downtown. This property has a very historic past, originally built below Camelback Mountain in 1959 but after a $100-million-dollar complete rebuild, re-opened with great fanfare in 2017. My room was spacious, and the bedding was very luxurious. But I’m not here to give a Trip Advisor review, I’m here to remind you that your lodging choice is just as important as the destination itself. I instantly felt this property embodied the free spirit of the West and the staff was as friendly as can be.
I first visited Scottsdale in 2007 and have been holding a slow burn candle ever since. My first day was an early start as we were whisked away for a hot air balloon voyage that was out of this world. The company we chose was Hot Air Expeditions and our Captain was fantastic. There is a reason this pastime is a popular one with both visitors and locals alike. After an eventful landing, a champagne toast was had by all in the desert and it was an excellent way to start the shoot. Also, on this journey we toured the Museum of the West and WOW, just WOW. We strolled along the downtown streets and dropped in on the art galleries. Old Town Scottsdale boasts world class art, especially along main street in the heart of the Arts District. We drove about 30 minutes from the town center and took a nature hike in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, where there are 30 acres of recreation and conservation area and miles of prime hiking and biking trails. Again, the sky was big, the vistas were gorgeous, and the work was simply easier and more fun because of the natural beauty. We had an excellent guide from McDowell Sonoran Conservancy Stewards and the Scottsdale official tourism bureau. We didn't have time to go horseback riding, off-road driving or play a round of golf. All of which win awards for exceptional experiences. Perhaps next time!
With more than 900 restaurants in Scottsdale frankly, I’m not sure where to start with the local cuisine. Every meal we had was bursting with flavor. The Mission was one of my new favorites. We also spent time with chef/owner Brett Vibber at Cartwright’s Modern Cuisine in Cave Creek. His passion for the destination runs as deep as the menu choices. Oh, and for breakfast, make a stop at The Hash Kitchen & Bar for eggs benedict made with a giant soft pretzel topped with thick cut bacon, two poached eggs, fried onions and a beer cheese hollandaise sauce.
Again, I cannot quite put my finger on WHY I am a huge fan of Scottsdale, I just am, and you will be too after your first visit. So, stop what you’re doing and book a vacation to Scottsdale.
If you are so inclined, watch the video to see how amazing it truly is! And PLEASE share your thoughts and questions about Scottsdale in the comment section below.
So here’s what happened. I was on vacation with my two young daughters for Spring Break. I opted to take them on a cruise because they had never been. We sailed out of New York in April and avoided airfare for four to south Florida. It was a simple seven-day itinerary which sailed to Port Canaveral Florida, the cruise line’s private island and Nassau Bahamas. Incidentally, the girls had so much fun! I repeatedly reminded them that this was “their” vacation and they could decide the activities in which we partake.
In Nassau, I announced (since no other formal requests were made), we would be exploring downtown. My original plan was to take them to the pirate museum. But I decided to see how the day went before making promises I couldn’t keep. In addition, I opted to NOT visit Atlantis. Visiting this paradise island oasis is a vacation onto itself and a pricey one at that. I’m not going to editorialize on the value of an Atlantis vacation because I haven’t stepped foot on that property for years. But I know they charge a pretty penny for premium experiences.
Anyhoo, we began exploring downtown and the girl stepped into the Gucci store and various other shops. But we happened upon a store that looked brand new to me. It was bright, filled with pottery, art, jewelry and an attentive sales staff. The girls marveled at the bowls (handmade and imported from Turkey). I noted the rug and carpet selection. One of the girls spotted this small art studio with a tray of cloudy water and a small paint set which appeared to be in-use by someone not currently present. At that moment, a kind a gentle man of about 50 said “girls! Let your uncle show you”. Naturally I asked “how much” he declared “it’s free”. I was skeptical. After all, this was the Caribbean and tourism dollars are precious. The man (who turned out to be one of the three owners) sat with my two children and their friend and each created an 11 x 17 piece of art on the spot. I couldn’t believe it. They girls were going crazy playing the paints and obviously working with an artist who loved to teach. I would say we spent a half an hour in that store or more. The owner even wowed the girls with a couple of magic tricks. The man treated us like we were the most important people in his world in the time we were there. The girls each purchased a $10 bracelet and we left almost in disbelief at how much fun we had. Even as I write this post I have a smile on my face at how kind and gracious he was to the children and to adults as well.
The name of the store is Turquoise Gallery and it’s located on Bay Street just three doors down from Parliament and essentially next door to the Gucci store. Here is a link to their Facebook Page. I had been to Nassau just a year prior and I didn’t remember this store and I thought I would have. But as I spoke to one of the other owners, he informed me they just opened three months ago. It all made sense. As you know I rarely dedicate an entire blog post to just one store as I value your time. Incidentally, if you wish to watch an episode of Beyond Your Backyard which includes Nassau, you can here. But here’s the point. Obviously if you’re travel plans include Nassau, stop by Turquoise Gallery and say hello to my new friends. And here’s the other point. The old saying “noting ventured, nothing gained” couldn’t be more true. The girls and I set out to explore and found a gem of a place less than 500 yards from our cruise ship.
Incidentally, if you wish to learn more about Nassau, Bahamas, have a look at our Nassau page and watch the full episode of Beyond Your Backyard.
I am on a mission to get you traveling more often. As the host of the Emmy award- winning, nationally syndicated television television for PBS and the Create channel, "Beyond Your Backyard," I travel (on average) 25 weeks per year. I am very grateful for the opportunity to meet cool people, experience new places, eat delicious food and work with the best production crew in the world. Hopefully, through this blog, you will join me on my travels and be reminded just how exciting it is to be alive!