Why I Travel the World Alone

I’ll never forget the day I checked in for my flight to Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I was at South Africa’s O.R. Tambo International Airport and had been waiting in line forever. When I finally reached the counter, the agent took one look at my ticket and asked why I was going to the DRC. When I replied, “For vacation,” he laughed.

I admit, my vacation choices aren’t always conventional. I can’t remember the last time I stayed in an actual hotel—the kind with hot running water, fluffy towels, or any real amenities aside from a can of bug spray next to the bed. During a recent trip to Chad, I didn’t have a room. I spent 19 days sleeping in the great outdoors—and going to the loo there, too—while crossing the Sahara Desert. I showered twice in 21 days: the morning I left the capital city of N’Djamena, and the afternoon I returned. For the first five days on the road, I didn’t have soap to wash my hands with. A novice at camping, it never even occurred to me to bring any.

But none of that mattered. I loved every single minute of the trip, and was desperately sad when it came to an end. True, having a mixture of sheep, goat, and donkey poo splashed all over the pants I was wearing—one of only two pairs I’d brought with me and would have to continue wearing for another week—was not awesome. But that was a small price to pay for the chance to experience the vast, eerily beautiful nothingness of the Sahara, or hold a 370-million-year-old fossil in my hands, or a tool carved from stone that connected me through time directly back to the person who created it, some 7,000 years ago. 

I went for a week without showering when gorilla tracking with pygmies in the Noubalé-Ndoki National Park. But unlike in Chad, in this pristine, two-million-square-mile rain forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I was given a bucket of water to wash with each night. I also used this same bucket as my en-suite toilet in the small hours of the night, not because I didn’t want to walk alone through a forest filled with wild animals, but because of my abject fear of the outhouse filled with maggots and large flying insects.

I travel to far-flung places of my own volition, for the same reason a chicken crosses the road. If you want to see the world, you have to put up with in whatever digs the world has to offer.

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Wendy Simmons

I’ve been traveling my whole life, and I prefer to do so alone. I made my first solo trip abroad to Mexico when I was 12 years old, to visit a girl I barely knew. We’d become friends a few weeks before her family left my hometown of Bethesda to move back to Mexico City, where they were from. A year later, a blue airmail envelope arrived with a handwritten note inside, inviting me to visit for the summer. Despite not knowing the family, or having heard from them since they’d left (it was 1980 and therefore pre email, SMS, or Skype), my mom agreed to let me go.

Spending the summer on my own in Mexico was a revelation (her parents, both diplomats, were largely absent). Everything was an adventure. Each day meant something new to discover, a challenge to overcome, a riddle to solve. I roamed the city alone, inhabiting the life of someone who belonged there. I felt invincible and unstoppable, and by the end of summer I knew unequivocally what I’d always suspected: I was born to wander the world alone.

Travel, especially by myself, and particularly to unusual places (but really, anywhere) is a salve for my chronic restlessness, curiosity, and fierce independence. I never feel more alive, and more full of wonder, joy, gratitude, and pride than when I’m exploring somewhere new. Traveling demands I do what comes unnaturally: face my fears, make incautious decisions, and eighty-six my comfort zone, all of which I consider a privilege. Learning to make decisions for myself, figuring out what I truly like and want to do, and pushing myself harder and farther than I ever thought possible is, to me, the definition of absolute freedom, and it can be as unnerving as it is addictive.

It’s not that I won’t travel with other people. I have, and I will. But unencumbered by the preferences, needs, or energy of a traveling companion, the shots are mine to call; the risks mine to take. I am free to throw myself with abandon into uncharted circumstances and let serendipity lead my way, whether that means whiling away the hours drinking beer made out of sorghum (which looks and tastes exactly like vomit) with a bunch of Ethiopians who speak zero English at a local bar the size of my bathtub, missing every sight I’ve traveled so far to see, or climbing hand-over-foot up the highest mountain in Slovakia’s High Tatras with someone I met a few hours earlier, using socks for gloves, and climbing shoes and clothes procured en route to the mountain, just because it sounded like fun.

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Wendy Simmons

When I travel on my own, overcoming even the smallest obstacles (for example, managing to figure out what bus to take) and handling head-on whatever comes my way fills me with such disproportionately immense amounts of joy that it’s hard to explain to anyone over the age of three. It’s as if whatever fear-conditioning the world at large has tried so hard to drill into my tiny little brain is extirpated by the exciting deeds, physical challenges, and hilarious (mis)adventures I find myself triumphing over. 

People always remark how brave (or crazy) I must be to travel on my own, especially as a woman, which has never resonated well with me. If I’m a confident, focused, capable problem-solver at home in New York, does it not stand to reason I would be the same everywhere else? And because I’m a single woman, must I only vacation in countries that are free from State Department warnings? Sorry, but I’m not buying it. If I listened to every State Department (and/or guidebook) warning, there’d barely be a country left to visit.

I understand the world is an inherently dangerous place, and traveling carries a certain amount of risk, but I refuse to accept that these risks are any greater because I’m a woman. The formula for safety is the same for all sexes, whether you’re in Palm Springs, Paris or Pyongyang: Don’t be stupid. I am no more susceptible to harm than the person standing next to me if I have prepared properly, and taken steps to mitigate unnecessary risks.

So unless we’re talking about an errant cockroach that runs across my stomach while I’m sleeping (thank you, Ethiopia), a rat that sneaks into my room during the night and eats my toothbrush (thank you, Kenya AND the Philippines), or a beetle infestation that sends me screaming from my room (thank you, Sri Lanka), being scared is just not something I’m afraid of. It’s a price worth paying for once-in-a-lifetime-experiences and adventures, and having explored 85 countries and counting, I can say with some authority, it’s absolutely worth it.

As British travel writer and explorer Freya Stark, who was the first Westerner to travel through many regions of the Middle East, wrote in her book, “Baghdad Sketches”: 

To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure. You have no idea of what is in store for you, but you will, if you are wise and know the art of travel, let yourself go on the stream of the unknown and accept whatever comes in the spirit in which the gods may offer it.

Like Stark, when alone in a strange new world, I am not filled with fear, because I do not know “what’s in store” for me. Instead, I am born again. I am a blank slate, I am a catalyst, and I am an electric force for change. You can’t ask for much more than that from a plane ticket. 

Wendy E. Simmons lives in Brooklyn and is president of Vendeloo, a management consultancy she founded in 2001. Her book, My Holiday In North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth, will be be available from May 2016.

Article source: http://www.travelandleisure.com/trip-ideas/solo-travel/why-travel-solo

BEST JOB EVER: This airline wants to pay people to travel for free and…

TravnikovStudio/ShutterstockWOW Air’s “SnapTravelers” will visit four of its 28 destinations to create Snapchat stories around the world.

WOW Air is looking to hire four people who will get to travel around the world for free and Snapchat their experiences this summer.

The Icelandic budget airline will pay for its selected “SnapTravelers” to visit four of its 28 destinations — which include Barcelona, Copenhagen, Warsaw, San Francisco, and more — over three months, from June to August.

Flights, hotels, and activities will all be covered by WOW Air, Travel + Leisure reports.

“SnapTravelers” will also get a travel allowance to spend on their trips, each of which will last between three to eight days and include at least two Snapchat-worthy activities, according to the terms and conditions on WOW Air’s website. Business Insider has contacted the airline to find out how much it will allocate to travellers’ allowances.

“SnapTavelers will also gain social media exposure and hopefully some priceless memories,” the announcement on WOW Air’s website reads.

Snapchatters are encouraged to help plan their trips and suggest activities, though ultimately the airline will decide what they do.

Eligible applicants must be aged 18 or over, able to speak English well, and in good physical and mental health.

To apply, you’ll need to create a two-minute Snapchat story, save the story to your phone, and submit it to the application page on WOW Air’s website by May 8, along with your personal details, including your email address, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat handles.

WOW Air will announce the winning Snapchatters over its social media accounts on May 17.

Article source: http://uk.businessinsider.com/wow-air-snaptravelers-travel-for-free-2016-4

Travel Insurance to Protect Your Vacation

You’ve finally booked a long-awaited Mediterranean cruise. Before cracking open your guidebook, make one more purchase to ensure that your dream vacation goes smoothly: travel insurance.

See Also: Fabulous Travel Freebies

Nearly one-fourth of Americans had to cancel, delay or interrupt travel plans between spring 2013 and fall 2014, reports the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, mainly because of illness, severe weather or transportation delays. A comprehensive travel insurance policy includes coverage for those problems and others that might derail your trip, both before and during your vacation. As insurance goes, it’s relatively inexpensive—typically 5% of the cost of your trip. You can generally lock in coverage up to 24 hours before your departure. But the sooner you buy, the more key, time-sensitive benefits you get, including coverage for preexisting conditions.

Good reasons to buy. Most insurers’ package plans will reimburse your prepaid, nonrefundable trip expenses if you have to cancel or interrupt your travels because of a close family member’s death or illness, storm damage that makes your destination uninhabitable, or a layoff from work. They also typically reimburse you if your flight is delayed or your bags are lost or stolen. And you should get 24-hour phone support.


If you fall ill or injure yourself abroad, the medical and medevac component will pay for emergency medical care, as well as medically equipped flights to a hospital or, in extreme circumstances, back home. When you travel abroad and rely on your own health insurance, you typically have to pay out of pocket and submit a claim when you return—if your policy provides coverage at all. Medicare pays for treatment abroad only in rare circumstances.

But even comprehensive policies have plenty of limitations and gaps—and hoops you have to jump through to claim a benefit. For example, if your bag was stolen, you’ll need proof, such as a police report. And the coverage probably won’t pay to replace your most expensive items—at full value or at all—so you may do better to add a camera or iPhone as a “scheduled item” on your homeowners policy.

Damian Tysdal, founder of TravelInsuranceReview.net, says that one of his clients’ most common regrets is not buying a policy sooner because they lose out on valuable perks. For example, preexisting medical conditions are normally excluded from travel insurance. But this exclusion can be waived if you buy your policy within about 10 to 30 days after you put down your first deposit toward your trip and satisfy a few other conditions. Usually, you can also add a “cancel for any reason” rider if you buy insurance within 10 to 21 days of spending money on your vacation, but such a rider is rarely a good value.

Terrorist attacks and disease outbreaks, such as Zika, are high on the list of travelers’ concerns this year, but you may pay a lot more to cover these perils. What about weather-related problems or disasters? If you buy a policy with hurricane and weather coverage well in advance and there’s storm damage to your destination that forces you to cancel, you are eligible for coverage. But your flight may have to be significantly delayed (say, between 12 and 48 hours), your accommodations ruined or the area evacuated. Once a hurricane is named, it’s too late to buy coverage.

Don’t rely on travel insurance sold by airlines, cruise companies or travel-aggregator sites. “It’s one plan, no choice,” says Tysdal. Even if you recognize the name of the insurer, it may have trimmed-down benefits to make the plan more affordable. For example, searching a weeklong trip to Peru on Delta.com produced a trip insurance add-on for $50. But it limits medical coverage to $10,000 and evacuation to $50,000, and will reimburse cancellation expenses for fewer reasons (and only up to the cost of the $668 plane ticket). Searching for a policy on comparison site Squaremouth.com for the same itinerary produced similarly priced plans with broader coverage, including ones with at least $50,000 in medical coverage and $100,000 for evacuation.

With a cruise-protection plan, you might receive a refund as credit toward a future cruise rather than as cash. Your credit card may offer trip-protection benefits, but the gaps are even more notable, especially for medical care.

If you don’t think you’ll need trip insurance—or you think the hassle of making a claim would be more trouble than it’s worth—at least consider a stand-alone medical and medevac policy. Emergency evacuation can run six figures, which your travel insurer will coordinate and pay on your behalf. As above, look for about $50,000 in medical coverage and $100,000 for medevac coverage.

Shop around. The best way to shop for a policy is to use a comparison site, such as www.insuremytrip.com or www.squaremouth.com. (Policies are priced the same whether you buy them through a site or directly from the provider.) First, jot down your concerns or nonnegotiable items: Is your beachfront resort in hurricane territory? Look for a policy that allows you to cancel if a hurricane warning is issued within 24 to 36 hours of your departure. Are you participating in any “hazardous” activities, such as scuba diving? You may need to purchase an additional rider or dive only to a specified depth.

Next, enter into the quote box your trip dates, some personal details and the sum of all prepaid, nonrefundable portions of your trip that you don’t want to forfeit. Once the search engine has generated a list of plans, sort them from least to most expensive, then work your way down until you find a policy that meets your needs at a reasonable price.

Getting reimbursed can be a hassle, and failing to submit proper documentation, such as proof of payment for claimed expenses, can delay or rule out a refund. For example, you will need a physician’s note declaring you unfit to travel in order to cancel for medical reasons, or a report from the airline confirming your suitcase is delayed. Meals and accommodations may be covered while you’re waiting out a flight delay, but you will need to keep your receipts. And if you recoup trip costs another way—say, your airline offers you credit for a missed flight—you can’t accept the credit and apply for reimbursement. Look for travel insurance plans with primary medical care, rather than secondary, to speed up the claims process.

In all situations, call your provider as soon as you encounter a problem to confirm you’re following the correct steps.

Cancel for any reason?

Spooked vacationers are increasingly looking to travel insurance to soothe their worries about terrorist attacks and diseases such as Zika. But even if your policy includes terrorism coverage, you’ll typically be compensated for canceling your trip only if the attack occurs in or near a city on your itinerary (not just anywhere in the country), within 30 to seven days of your departure, and if it is deemed a terrorist attack by the State Department.

The same goes for travelers who are anxious about traveling to Zika-prone countries. Government or CDC warnings related to disease outbreaks are not considered valid reasons to suspend your trip. However, you’ll still be eligible for medical coverage if you contract the virus during your travels.

To assuage your fears, you would need a “cancel for any reason” rider, but these upgrades are not a great value. The rider typically increases the price of your policy by 50% and will reimburse you for only about 75% of trip costs. “We don’t recommend it unless travelers come to us with very specific concerns we know won’t be covered,” says Megan Singh, project management director at Squaremouth.com. Plus, you must still cancel two or three days before your trip is scheduled to begin.

See Also: 10 International Travel Bargains

Article source: http://www.kiplinger.com/article/insurance/T059-C000-S002-protect-your-vacation-fund-with-travel-insurance.html

Readers’ travel photography competition: May

Have you taken a particularly stunning snap on your recent travels? A glimmering river at dawn? A pungent street-scene? A rare bird bursting from the undergrowth? Whatever it is and wherever it was taken, we want to see your best travel photograph.

We’ll choose and publish a selection of our favourites, and the winning image will be mounted and displayed to the public with the other monthly winners in an end-of-year exhibition at the Guardian offices in London. Plus digital printers Point 101 will send you a copy of your winning shot to hang on your own wall.

The winner will be entered for the overall prize, a seven-night ‘Secret Fjords’ self-drive holiday to Iceland for two people, courtesy of Discover the World.

Please read this before you post your image:

You must be a UK resident to enter
We need you to upload the highest possible resolution of your shot via GuardianWitness.
We’ll only consider one photograph from each person, so don’t submit more than one.
We can’t consider photos that have been published elsewhere.
You’ll also need to provide a caption of up to 50 words on where it was taken, what’s happening in the shot, what inspired you to take it, any technical details if pertinent. You must also supply your full name with the caption.

Don’t forget to read the terms and conditions before you enter.

The closing date for entries is 23:00 on 25 May 2016.

GuardianWitness is the home of user-generated content on the Guardian. Contribute your video, pictures and stories, and browse news, reviews and creations submitted by others. Posts will be reviewed prior to publication on GuardianWitness, and the best pieces will feature on the Guardian site.

Article source: http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2016/apr/29/readers-travel-photography-competition-may

How to quit your job and travel for two years


By Terence Loose/GOBankingRates

Years ago, on a Sunday afternoon, I sat across from my wife Gayl in a taco stand and told her that I thought we should sell our house, quit our jobs and sail to Tahiti. “Terry, we don’t know how to sail,” she said.

She had a point, but I was much more worried about the financials of how we would bail out of society for two years and not end up begging in the streets of a foreign country. I was a magazine editor making less than $50,000 a year; she was a surf industry production manager making about the same. To make matters even more complicated, we had just bought our first house and had no savings.

Yet while she dreamed of starting a family, I dreamed of starting an adventure — anything that got me out of my cubicled existence. It took a hard sell, a lot of beer and promises of future parenthood, but somehow I convinced Gayl of the plan. Three years later, after taking everything from basic sailing to advanced anchoring, we quit our jobs and set sail in an old, leaky boat on a two-year, 6,000-mile journey to Mexico and the South Pacific.

Financially, the most difficult part was getting away; once Gayl and I were traveling, without even attempting to be frugal, we spent only $600 to $1,000 a month. That was less than our mortgage alone had been.

The trip, and preparing for it, convinced me that, when properly motivated, anyone can take two years off to travel the world.

Here are the 10 top things we did to make our dream adventure a reality.

This article was originally published by GOBankingRates.

Article source: http://www.cbsnews.com/media/how-to-quit-your-job-and-travel-for-two-years/

Local tours and guides in Cuba: readers’ travel tips

Winning tip: Gay Havana

Though homosexuality was legalised in Cuba in 1979, much of Havana’s gay scene, like the best of its culture, is still underground. A great way to see it all is with a guide, and there can be few better than the hugely informative Yunior Crespo. A tour will probably start in the Plaza del Cathedral and end up with mojitos in the heaving gay bars on Calle 23, via an art gallery, a supper club and salsa dancing.

Viñales sunrise hike

Photograph: Alamy

While in Viñales this month we joined a group of four for a sunrise hike to Los Aquaticos organised by Villa Los Reyes (Salvador Cisneros 206C), a local casa particular. The views were stunning and we saw plenty of birdlife on the return walk. Our guide was enthusiastic, knowledgeable and spoke fluent French and English. The tour cost 15CUC (about £11) per person and we just booked it the day before.


Horse riding near Trinidad

Photograph: Alamy

The highlight of our stay was a seven-hour ride to a waterfall in the Valle de Los Ingenios, with turkey vultures circling above. Our guide Carlos collected us from our casa, and we followed him and his chestnut mare along the cobbled streets to join our group. We rode to a coffee plantation, and to a finca for lunch: plantain, congri (rice and beans) and fresh-pressed sugar cane. We swam in a natural pool under a waterfall while our horses rested in the shade of Cuban palms. Carlos spoke no English but the ride was varied and the horses were well cared-for. A great day out for £18 each.
Jane McDermott

Local guides in Havana

Photograph: Alamy

Backstreet tango dance lessons, cafes thick with cigar smoke and locals drinking rum, a Chevrolet ride though old Havana, a walking tour of the harbour area – all by local guides – are just a few of the exciting options for seeing Cuba with toursbylocals.com. From around £34 for groups of four or more, these outings are a great way to experience authentic Cuban culture and you can choose your own guide

Sighteseeing in Viñales

Photograph: Alamy

Strange mogotes (rocky limestone hillocks), rich red soil, triangular tobacco drying huts and ox-driven carts: this is Viñales. Go to Los Jazmines (you can stay here) for a spectacular view. Or board the tourist bus, only £3.60, and hop off at the Indian Cave, the Prehistoric Mural and Viñales town. Trek through the lanes, with a guide, to see fields of tobacco and other crops – arrange this at the museum in Viñales’s main street. You can also arrange to visit a tobacco farm and see how the crop is grown, stored and rolled into the best cigars in the world. At the family-run Casa de Caridad botanical garden, you can sample an array of exotic fruits and pay what you wish.

Wildlife at the Guanaroca lagoon, Cienfuegos

A Cuban trogon. Photograph: Alamy

We reached the lagoon after a short early morning car journey and a walk through woodland. The guided trip was booked through Cienfuegos’ tourist office. As soon as we started walking we saw many beautiful birds, including the endemic Cuban trogon and the Cuban tody among others, as well as tarantulas and some enormous crabs. From a viewing tower you can see the beautiful mangrove-fringed lagoon with its resident colony of flamingos. Once at the water, we were met by another guide who rowed us out on a little boat towards the flamingos. Being so close to a colony of these beautiful birds, with the gentle lapping of the water being the only other sound, was amazing.

Water fun at La Cueva de los Peces

Photograph: Alamy

This cenote sinkhole off the Bay of Pigs is a unique place for swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving. It’s possible to book from nearby towns or just drive to the area, where there’s a diving centre that rents all the equipment for as long as you want. The prices are about £18 for diving and snorkelling and £10 for snorkelling only, including equipment and a lift in a classic American car.
Clara Álvarez Alonso

La Boca village

La Boca. Photograph: Alamy

Cubans chill in the Caribbean shallows sharing rum and laughter; others smoke cigars and play dominoes on upturned cardboard boxes. Children climb trees, pausing on high branches to watch friends play football on the sand below. As the sky begins to glow pastel shades of pink and purple, fishermen row out towards the horizon, silhouetted against the setting sun. This is the small fishing village of La Boca, minutes from the relative bustle of Trinidad. Spend at least a few days here, adapt to the pace and allow it to soothe your soul. Stay at Hostal Buenavista, set among mango trees on the edge of the beach. The owners, Guille and Viola, offer excellent local advice and serve exquisite lobster, caught that afternoon.
Ryan Chapman

Camera obscura in Havana Vieja

Photograph: Alamy

The camera obscura in Havana’s old town is definitely worth seeing for £1.40 a head as it gives a good overview of Havana Vieja. The camera operator pointed out all the major landmarks, which definitely helps orientate you in Havana as a whole. Before and after the camera obscura show you have free time to wander the building’s rooftop and take in the views of Havana.

Article source: http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2016/apr/28/cuba-havana-local-tours-guides-gay-bars-travel-tips

A sneak peek at Google’s upcoming travel app, Trips

News that Google would soon begin testing a new mobile travel application leaked out last week, and now we have more details, including screenshots, of what that app will look like. The app, called Trips, is being trialed with a small group of testers, and will allow users to keep track of past and upcoming trips, while also making recommendations about tourist destinations, restaurants, local transportation options, and more.

Access to the Trips mobile app is only being made available to members of Google’s Local Guides program.

A revamp and rebranding of Google’s prior City Experts effort, Local Guides launched last year as Google Maps’ competitor to Yelp’s Elites. As with Yelp, program members are offered a variety of rewards and benefits in exchange for writing business reviews, posting photos, and helping to fill in and correct Maps information.

One of those benefits, as Google previously indicated, is early access to new Google products and features. This appears to be one example of that perk in action.

According to the initial leak, Local Guides were invited to be among the first to try a new “travel assistant app for Android and iPhone.”

What’s interesting about the new app is that it’s able to pull in your trip information just by scanning your Gmail messages, similar to how Google’s virtual assistant, Google Now, also works.

That makes it slightly competitive with TripIt, which has the larger goal of helping to automate collection of your trips into a single interface, then provide useful services on top of that, like tracking points, getting flight alerts, setting reminders, changing seat selections, sharing trips with others, and more.

However, in the case of the Google Trips app, it seems the focus is less on mimicking the somewhat utilitarian nature of most travel planners and companion apps, and more on the fun that comes with exploring a new destination.

As an app built using Google Maps data, Trips lets you find things to do – both inside and outdoors – around your location. It also helps you manage reservations, find nearby food and drink, access a list of saved places, and plan how you’ll get from one place to the next.

For this reason, Trips would likely have more of an impact on local travel guide apps, instead of more comprehensive trip planners.

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This latter feature is found in the “Getting Around’ section, which offers details on the different options, including public transportation schedules for things like buses and trains, plus information on taxis and ride sharing services and more.

Also useful is that Trips allows you to browse your saved trip information even when you’re offline.

The screenshots and details regarding the app were posted to the Dutch blog AndroidWorld, then picked up by 9to5Google.

Much of what Trips offers can actually be found in Google Maps, thanks to the enhancements of that app over the years to offer more information than just maps and navigation. However, the Trips app puts this information into a standalone, native interface complete with a Material design and easy-to-use layout.

While the app being tested is available on Android, Google had said that it would be available on iOS, as well. The company has not yet confirmed further details about the app or its launch plans.

When asked, a Google spokesperson only provided this comment on the Trips app:

“We love to travel and are hard at work dreaming up new ways to make the travel experience hassle-free. While we do that, sit tight and keep on using our amazing tools like Google Flights, Hotel Search and Destinations on Google to plan your next adventure.”

Article source: http://techcrunch.com/2016/04/29/a-sneak-peek-at-googles-upcoming-travel-app-trips/

Closing the gap between commercial and private air travel

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Susan Sloan is cofounder/CEO of VolJet.com

By Susan Sloan

According to the U.S. Travel Association, domestic leisure travel grew steadily for most of 2015 and will lead the United States market into 2016. At the same time, attempts are underway to narrow the affordability gap between private and commercial aviation, with both sectors adopting trends from the other.

For example, some airlines are enabling a paid, last-minute upgrade for their elite first class passengers to fly on a private jet.

There are trends in the private jet industry to sell seats or share, imitating scheduled airlines. This blurs the traditional distinction between two types of travelers: those who fly by private jet (the “haves”) and those who cannot (the “have nots”).

With more options available to fly by private jet for a wider range of people than ever before, the new question for luxury travelers is “why not?”

Change means choice
In the contemporary sharing economy, what does this crossover between the commercial airline and private jet industries mean for luxury consumers? More choice and control.

In the U.S., flying private provides access to more than twice as many general aviation airports as compared to commercial.

For those whose time is the ultimate asset, this means no more crowded check-in lines, expected delays or long layovers at congested commercial airports and saving up to two hours on each leg.

Over the past several years, we have experienced a surge in the number of travel applications and sites offering discounted private jet booking services, including selling seats.

However, there are fundamental differences among the models that capitalize on filling planes that would fly empty (i.e. solving the empty leg dilemma) versus the booking platforms that satisfy the customer’s schedule and desires with options.

For example, most of these private jet booking service companies have an operator-focused business model that brings value to empty legs.

The ideal private jet booking model operates from the customer demand-side, and is accessible and flexible. It is designed to offer premium passengers access and control, while reducing the cost of luxury air travel through options, such as sharing the cost. Its offerings are centered on connecting people to private jets, on your schedule versus the jet’s schedule.

Perks or pitfalls?
Nearly 40 percent of chartered aircraft fly empty or at very low capacity during one leg of a trip.

Many business models built around filling empty legs struggle with drawbacks that limit customer choices and impact the passenger experience.

Your itinerary may be restricted by the other passengers’ travel desires. Other programs that require membership fees in return for flying a certain number of hours per month can be even more limiting.

The process for booking a private jet with many operators is time-consuming and cumbersome. The perks of “all-you-can-fly” and other discount programs – some that even claim passengers can fly for free – quickly erase the flexibility and benefits of private air travel.

Sharing with sophistication
The great news for luxury travelers is that change is inspiring the creation of customer-based jet sharing systems whose offerings are designed around you.

First class passengers who previously considered aircraft charter unaffordable or unattainable can enjoy all the advantages of private jet travel at prices well below full charter cost.

Existing private jet travelers who are value conscious can also save.

New technology is modernizing and bringing new benefits to this industry.

Jet operators are tapping into a new market space and customers have access to unprecedented options, enabling the gap to close at your fingertips.

HOW DO YOU select the optimal online reservation system?

First, be sure you can instantly and easily search for flights and fares without providing personal information, upfront fees or a membership commitment.

Then, select a luxury travel site that offers pre-set and buy-now pricing, with no hidden costs.

To simplify the traditional booking process even more, the system may automatically select the ideal aircraft type depending on the group size or range between the city pairs.

Finally, relax and enjoy the freedom, time-savings, fun and prestige that come with flying on a private jet.

Susan Sloan is cofounder/CEO of VolJet.com, Sherman Oaks, CA. Reach her at susansloan@voljet.com.

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Article source: http://www.luxurydaily.com/closing-the-gap-between-commercial-and-private-air-travel/

BEST JOB EVER: This airline wants to pay people to travel for free and put it all on Snapchat

TravnikovStudio/ShutterstockWOW Air’s “SnapTravelers” will visit four of its 28 destinations to create Snapchat stories around the world.

WOW Air is looking to hire four people who will get to travel around the world for free and Snapchat their experiences this summer.

The Icelandic budget airline will pay for its selected “SnapTravelers” to visit four of its 28 destinations — which include Barcelona, Copenhagen, Warsaw, San Francisco, and more — over three months, from June to August.

Flights, hotels, and activities will all be covered by WOW Air, Travel + Leisure reports.

“SnapTravelers” will also get a travel allowance to spend on their trips, each of which will last between three to eight days and include at least two Snapchat-worthy activities, according to the terms and conditions on WOW Air’s website. Business Insider has contacted the airline to find out how much it will allocate to travellers’ allowances.

“SnapTavelers will also gain social media exposure and hopefully some priceless memories,” the announcement on WOW Air’s website reads.

Snapchatters are encouraged to help plan their trips and suggest activities, though ultimately the airline will decide what they do.

Eligible applicants must be aged 18 or over, able to speak English well, and in good physical and mental health.

To apply, you’ll need to create a two-minute Snapchat story, save the story to your phone, and submit it to the application page on WOW Air’s website by May 8, along with your personal details, including your email address, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat handles.

WOW Air will announce the winning Snapchatters over its social media accounts on May 17.

Article source: http://uk.businessinsider.com/wow-air-snaptravelers-travel-for-free-2016-4

Travel Question of the Day: Simon Calder on the best railcards for families

Q My husband and I are expecting our first child in August. A colleague insists that, when he or she is born, it is worth our while buying a Family Friends Railcard. Even though the child won’t legally need a ticket for several years, apparently the discount still applies. Is this correct?

Name withheld

A Yes, but it’s probably not the optimum answer. These very useful railcards are intended for families with children aged 5-15. They gets you a one-third discount on adult fares, and 60 per cent off for child fares (with a minimum fare of £1). You can buy a Family Friends Railcard online at www.familyandfriends-railcard.co.uk; the one-year version costs £27 (so long as you use the discount code LEAFLET3 when you buy, to secure £3 off) or you can go for a three-year version, price £70.

The rail industry is happy for you to buy a card even if your child is under 5 and therefore does not need a ticket. On all journeys when you claim a discount, you must take the card, a child and tickets for all three of you. 

To give you an idea of the savings on a London-Manchester off-peak return: with no card, two adults pay a total of £164.80; with a card and child, it’s £150. But a better plan is probably to get a Two Together Railcard, which offers that one-third discount to two adults so long as they travel together. On London-Manchester, you’ll pay a total of £108.80. The card also costs £27 for a year, again if you apply online at www.twotogether-railcard.co.uk with that LEAFLET3 discount code.

On both railcards, morning peak-time travel is excluded.

The only advantage of buying a Family Friends Railcard is if only one parent is likely to be travelling frequently with the child. The net discount in such a case is 15 per cent.

Every day, our travel correspondent Simon Calder tackles readers’ questions. Just email yours to s@hols.tv or tweet @simoncalder

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Article source: http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/family-friends-railcard-discount-baby-travel-advice-simon-calder-a7001121.html