Travel Betty

Encouraging Fearless Independent Travel For Women

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Crazy Travel Schedule Ahead

October 24th, 2010 · 1 Comment

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Tomorrow: St. Louis. This weekend: Vancouver, BC. Next week: NYC. The following week: Seoul, Korea. Two weeks later: Charlotte, NC. The week after that: Thailand.

Shwew! Even this Travel Betty is tired just thinking about it.

→ 1 CommentTags: Air Travel


What the Airline Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know: We Have the Power to Fight The Fees

February 7th, 2010 · 9 Comments

Please excuse me a minute, I think I’m gonna to rant…

Do you hate paying good money for bad food on an airplane? Do you hate having to make repeated purchases of 3 oz. bottles of hair gel because a full-sized bottle results in a $35 checked luggage fee each way? Do you resent your own knees for convincing you to fork over $50 for an extra inch of legroom? I do too.

You know what we can do to Fight the Fees? Stop paying them!

Travel Boyfriend Demonstrates How To Fights the Fees

Travel Boyfriend Demos How To Fight the Fees

What? How can that be? Companies have instituted these fees, they are the cost of doing business in these tough times (SFX: melodramatic piano chord) and therefore, we must pay.

“My paying additional fees for things that have already been included in the operational costs of the base fare stimulates the economy.”

“Increased profit at my expense saves jobs.”

“Really I deserve to pay more for a stale tortilla wrap to quiet my stomach on a 6-hour flight. Especially since I failed to factor in that we’d be stuck on the tarmac for 9 hours before takeoff. Stale tortilla wraps are a privilege, not a right, right?”

Ah, yes, the indoctrination has been successful. Perhaps we asked for it. Our wallets bulging seductively, dollar bills (or more likely, overdrawn credit cards) peeking out between the folds of too-tight leather. How could these companies help themselves? Really, these fees, this poor service, it’s all punishment for our own bad behavior. We should have known better. Expecting to pay fair prices for products and services instead of subsidizing poor business decisions like we should be.

Granted, failing to pay these greedy, fear-induced fees may mean a few of the airlines and hotel chains we put up with may fail too. But what’s brilliant is that where there is demand, there are enterprising companies poised to take their places. Gardeners know that pruning results in more robust plant life. Cut the old, wasted foliage to birth the new. It’s the circle of life, but in today’s economic climate (SFX: melodramatic piano chord again), we are afraid to prune. The old foliage, although unproductive, is familiar!

Too big to fail is a phrase that this Travel Betty hopes goes the way of staycation (SFX: toilet flush). It’s not that many of these legacy companies are too big to fail, it’s that they have proven they are too big to innovate. Having worked at and with a fair share of America’s behemoths, I’ve seen this pattern repeated ad nauseum. It’s difficult to gain momentum on even the simplest of innovations because the gravitational pull of the masses demands stasis. That’s how you get those steady, barely perceptible upticks in the quarterly stock returns. And who doesn’t like those?

Companies that are too big to innovate deserve to fail. When you’re business model requires squeezing your customers at every turn with you repeatedly finding yourself a hair’s breath from the licking flames of bankruptcy, you have an untenable business model. That’s when successful, forward-thinking legacy companies and scrappy upstarts should be able to come in and steal your market share. Is that fair? It is if you’re relying solely on your good looks and charm long after both have faded.

Attracting customers vs. trying to relentlessly extract from them means offering more not less. Take Virgin America, Southwest, or Jet Blue for example. These are companies with the ability to inspire fanatic obsession. They are the budget airlines of our day, but they offer premium experiences. The key to their success is setting expectations (“we are a budget airline”) and exceeding them (“mood lighting, anyone?”). What these airlines didn’t do was set the expectation that they are a full-service, full-fare airline and then whine, manipulate, extort and go beg big daddy Congress for bailouts when the business climate changed, but they didn’t (although some did adopt the baggage fee policy and boooo to them!)

Delta, American, United, US Airways, Continental—airlines people have resigned themselves to doing business with against their better judgment. We don’t like ‘em, don’t trust ‘em and don’t want to fly ‘em. But what choice does a Travel Betty have? Due to their legacy, these airlines fly the most routes and have the global partnerships. But if what we’ve seen over the last few years is any indication, maybe we’d be better off with more airlines each flying fewer routes. If the no-bloat airlines were freed from the fight against out of touch legacies and could instead create strategic partnerships of their own to provide seamless point to point travel for passengers, maybe the entire landscape of air travel would have the breathing room to change for the better.

Certainly there are companies that are big, bold and old that are doing it well, like the Four Seasons. These companies are successful, even in dire economic times (SFX: cue piano…oh, you get the point) because they know better than to take their customers, real live people with value beyond our wallets, for granted. They work hard to build a strong brand, protect it fiercely and use it to direct their vision. Employees believe in that vision and are encouraged to develop new ways to build towards it. These companies understand that there are no guarantees in business, no entitlements. Past performance is not an indicator of future performance, as investment statements like to trumpet. Whatever passion, drive and vision you had to begin with must remain whether you have a direct competitor or not. Because even without corporate competition, people always have the choice to disengage completely. Just ask the millions of Americans who are now willing to drive 15 hours in their (imported) cars simply to avoid the rape and pillage at the airport.

True, in some instances, these giants attempt innovation. Consulting firms like the one I work for are more than happy to help in this regard and happen to be extremely good at it. The problem is that once the innovations have been conceived, it can be painfully difficult to adopt them if the culture is resistant. And there’s nothing like a huge lumbering corporate environment to off-gas resistance. It’s like sending a drug addict to the best treatment facility in the country only to deliver him back to the doorstep of his dealer and crack-loving girlfriend. Be sure, the people who work at these companies are incredibly smart, and understand that failing to innovate means almost certain failure to exist. But there has to be an assimilation process, a plan, with buy-in not only from the “treatment facility” and “patient” but also from the community as a whole. And that’s where the size of the monster often scares away even the most brave among us.

So is there no hope for the legacies? Not if they insist on business as usual.

It’s time to shake up the old guard and take an industry-wide innovative approach to travel. Let’s update our air traffic control system for god’s sake. Let’s renovate airports to make passenger-flow not only efficient, but intuitive and pleasurable. There are millions of us trapped for hours at a time looking for something, anything to do and the best they can offer is a sea of shrieking TV monitors and easy-wipe seating? Not good enough.

This time it’s going to require focusing on inner beauty instead of just phoning it in with another logo makeover. And these companies need to stop looking to us to subsidize the efforts with short-term solutions like reserved seating fees. We’ll be happy to pay a fair price when they start offering something of value.

The Move Your Money banking industry campaign has been inspirational in reminding us that, oh yeah, WE’RE in charge. Let’s continue the momentum and show the airline industry (and hotels with those unconscionable resort fees) we’re ready to Fight the Fees.

Who’s with me, Betties?

Travel Tips on raveable

→ 9 CommentsTags: Air Travel · Travel Insights


Happy New Year, Travel Betties!

December 31st, 2009 · 3 Comments

Another December 31st is upon us. And I was just reflecting back on all the amazing people I’ve met over the years through my travels. Bojana, the Slovenian journalist researching witchcraft and ritual who I met in Siwa, the Egyptian oasis out near the Libyan border. Merrick, the goofy, but generous  owner of Villa Naga Maya in Bali who gave me a glimpse of the type of person my nephew Ryan might one day become. Or Anthony from the Happy Cretan, who created such a soft landing for us after our long journey, asking impishly and repeatedly, “Anything missing?” each time he hurried to our dinner table with another bottle of wine or platter of perfectly seasoned pork cutlets.

I hope each of them—and all the others I’ve met, too numerable to mention in one post—are ringing in 2010 surrounded by the people they care about most with a feeling of optimism for the next decade to come (Travel Boyfriend wants me to point out that the next decade doesn’t actually start until 2011…Forest through the trees…Forest through the trees, my dear TB).

What I love most about the new year is remembering that no matter what race, culture, religion, sexual orientation or level of spiciness you prefer your food to be seasoned, we all share in the passage of time. And even though for 364 days of the year (not counting leap year), we seem to be inundated with messages pointing out our differences as though they were pet soilings on an antique oriental rug, it’s quite nice actually that once a year we all pause for a moment to reflect on the year that has been and look forward to what is to come. We’re all open to the possibility of something even better. Imagine!

This year Travel Boyfriend and I were lucky enough to visit many equisite places together, some old favorites, some new: Montreal, Olympia, Seattle, LA, Memphis, Las Vegas, Missouri, Fort Meyers and most memorably Greece. In addition, I had a couple of short business trips to DC and Phoenix just to keep things interesting (hopefully next year will be a little more interesting in that regard).

Greece Catamaran

2010 is a toss-up between India (TB’s choice) and Thailand (mine). Which one should we choose? Or are we overlooking somewhere even better? We’re definitely open to suggestions!

So yes, here it is, December 31st again. The new year is upon us. What possibilities are you excited about? Who in the world will you meet on your own travels near or far? Will you stick to your resolutions this time?

Nah, me neither. Oh, except the one to blog more.

Happy New Year, Travel Betties! May 2010 be the best year yet.

→ 3 CommentsTags: Travel Insights


San Juan Marriott Resort is Giving Away Free Nights

December 21st, 2009 · No Comments

Do you Twitter? Do you have a camera? Do you like staying places for free? Me too!

I got tipped off to a holiday promotion taking place over the next few days for the San Juan Marriott Resort (that’s in Puerto Rico, y’all!). They’re hosting a daily photo scavenger hunt on Twitter that could leave you with a handful of free nights for use in 2010, which isn’t too shabby, especially if you were planning to visit PR next year anyway. (Bioluminescent Bay anyone?)

Good luck (especially since you’ll be competing against me)! There are only 4 days left to enter.

→ No CommentsTags: Lodging · Photography


Settling For Branson? Then You Might Enjoy Lambert’s.

December 7th, 2009 · No Comments

Duck!

(You might want to shield your mouth too while you’re at it).

You’re at Lambert’s: The Official Home of Throwed Rolls [sic] and the Unofficial Sponsor of the Pannus. That’s right, seeing a flock of morbidly obese consumers waddling by comes as standard as the mugs containing a refillable 52 ounces(!) of soda.

On our recent trip to Springfield, Missouri, our extended family generously offered to take us to this food circus to honor the memory of Travel Boyfriend’s mom who enjoyed it here. After our hour and 15-minute wait outside in the frigid elements, our cousin whispered, “Why couldn’t your mom’s favorite place have been a take-out pizza joint?”

But soon enough we were shown to our wooden pens for fattening. When first enlightened about this place, I have to admit I was excited. They serve traditional Southern Food and toss rolls as you while you eat. What’s not to love? But not long into it, as roaming waiters spooned flavorless fried okra onto paper towels used as makeshift appetizer plates, and I saw the mass engorgement happening all around me, this Travel Betty just became incredibly, horribly depressed.

The sheer amount of food foisted upon you is ridiculous. The meals themselves are served in skillets. Not ironic skillet-inspired plates, but actual filled-to-the-brim, industrial-sized cooking skillets.

Our poor waitress must have been new because her wrist was literally shaking as she served us our oversized sodas. When she returned with the food tray, her body bent back severely into a letter “C,” she crashed the whole deal down on the table squishing a handful of our recently throwed rolls.

Tip: A human shouldn’t consume what another human can’t carry!

As we ate, the staff was busy serving even more food (free sides of the aforementioned okra, fried potatoes, black-eyed peas, white beans and others in addition to the sides that already come in your skillet), with one woman following behind the roll thrower trilling, “Sor-ghuuuum Mol-asssssses” with a ladle and a smile. Then, after we’d over-eaten to the point of bursting, our waitress came back to ask innocently, “Who’s up for seconds, y’all?”

Why does this place exist, you might ask? Well, my theory is because Lambert’s has a good gimmick and is strategically located along the road to Branson. So every day busloads of people stop here, apparently under the misconception that Branson itself is a food-free town. Then sated, they leave happy to subject themselves to the Ozarkian delights of entertainers who inspire remarks such as, “Huh, I thought he died.” (Andy Williams, anyone?) Or perhaps you’d be surprised to know Yakov Smirnoff has yet to be deported. Not only is that last statement true, but the guy is now rich beyond any of our wildest dreams.

Life = Not fair sometimes.

When it was all said and done and I was writing out my check (Lambert’s doesn’t take credit cards for some quaint and downhome-y reason), I found myself getting sick at the thought of how much food must be wasted each day (on top of the sickening thought of how much is actually consumed).

“I hope to GOD they compost,” I said to Travel Boyfriend.

“You’re adorable,” he replied.

Travel Betty Basics

Lambert’s
3 Locations:
Ozark, MO
Sikeston, MO
Foley, AL

Things To Do on raveable

→ No CommentsTags: Food and Drink · Missouri · USA


Spa Betty Series: Ayuervedic Shiro Dara Treatment

May 9th, 2009 · 9 Comments

Having always wanted to try that treatment where they dribble hot oil over your forehead, I do a search when I’m in Bali and see that Prana Spa is my best bet.

Welcome to Prana

It’s a bit of a splurge, but Prana also owns Chill, my ultimate favorite reflexology place in Bali, so I know it’s going to be quality. Unlike Chill with its clean, sparse design, Prana Spa is quite elaborate. The décor has lots of Indian influence with rich colors and regal flourishes. And the spa is part of a bigger complex including villas, a delicious veggie restaurant I went to twice (a veggie restaurant that also happens to serve meat!), and a pretty kick ass and reasonably priced store.

After checking in at the front desk and being a dork by taking pics (so my Betties can get a feel for the place), I am led back into the spa complex to an ornate changing room. Another woman, who I will affectionately refer to as the Spa Nazi, instructs me on the finer points of dressing roomery. It’s not so much in a “let me be helpful to you” kind of way more than it is a “I’m the boss, jackass” type of helpful. I don’t dare ask to take pictures of the dressing room. I don’t even dare to look around too much. But before I get a detention for snapping my gum, I am fetched for my Ayuervedic Shiro Dara treatment.

In the treatment room, I spy what I assume is the oil drooling device and I start to feel giddy. But before we can get to the good stuff, the whole thing starts off with a scalp, neck and shoulder massage. It’s nice and all, but I’m anxious for the oil. And soon enough it comes.

Regarded as an anti-aging treatment, Shiro Dara is also said to awaken the third eye. At first mine says, “Hey, who the F$#@ is pouring hot oil all over me?” but after a minute or so it says, “Mmmm, this feels good if I just keep my lid closed.” The oil is warm and silky and oh so soothing as it glides over my skin and starts to drench my hair. Every once in a while, the technician moves the spigot around so that the oil isn’t just spilling onto the same spot on my head. I think about how this whole process sounds similar to Chinese water torture and I can’t help but think what a difference viscosity makes.

Unsure of how long it will last, I spend most of the time trying not to worry about when it will stop. Maybe defeating the purpose. But either way, I feel relaxed and calm and pampered. After about 20 minutes, the well is dry and I am again given a neck and shoulder massage. But now it’s just feeling kind of irritating because the technician keeps rubbing the same few places over and over again. Soon enough, I am offered tea and led back up to the Spa Nazi. I spend my time in the shower thinking up ways of getting myself my own oil dribble machine. With spa prices what they are in the States, I doubt I’ll ever know the pleasures of Shiro Dara again.

Travel Betty Basics

Prana Spa at the Villas
Seminyak, Bali, Indonesia
Ambiance: 5.0 out of 5 Passion Fruits
Treatment: 3.5 out of 5 Passion Fruits
Cost: $75 U.S. (the only place that charged me in dollars)

Note: I was able to make a reservation for my treatment online which was great because I didn’t have a phone. But I didn’t get a same-day appointment, so if you want to go, make sure that you reserve ahead of time. It’s the only place I’d needed to.

Things To Do on raveable

→ 9 CommentsTags: Bali · Spas


Mexico: Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations Premiers Tonight

January 5th, 2009 · 12 Comments

Just a reminder to all you No Reservation fans, Anthony Bourdain enjoys the delights of Mexico tonight on the Travel Channel.

I’m hoping he spends some time in one of my favorite vacation locations, The Yucatan, and visits my dear amigos at Tita Tulum. I mean, it’s about time Tony starts following Travel Betty around the world, instead of the other way around. We’ll see.

Speaking of, in November, Travel Boyfriend and I were lucky enough to spend some time bellied up to the same parilla counter Tony and his brother ate at during last season’s Uruguay episode.

Stay tuned for more details from our trip, which was mostly Argentina-based (aside from 3 days in Uruguay and a few exciting minutes spent in Brazil after a failed attempt to sneak over the border sans visa!)

→ 12 CommentsTags: Mexico · Pop Culture


How Hypnotherapy Helped Me Manage Panic Attacks And Travel More Fearlessly

December 20th, 2008 · 15 Comments

As noted in my open letter to Benjamin Weisman, I suffer from panic attacks. They started back when I was in grad school, but they weren’t too bad then. Usually they occurred while I was driving and I’d just roll down the window or turn on the AC to feel something moving around me and within a minute or so, back to normal.

Over time, they got worse and worse until a couple of years ago when I was taking public transportation in the East Bay and had a full-scale meltdown. I thought I was having a heart attack. I was convinced of it. I felt alone and trapped and terrified. Somehow I was able to make it to my freelance gig where I asked a woman I hardly knew to take me to the hospital. Once there, I was miraculously healed. Every symptom disappeared the second I told the admitting nurse that I thought I was having a panic attack.

After that, I would have at least one major episode annually, more often than not in November. Another doozy was when Travel Boyfriend and I went to Southeast Asia. It was our first night and we were in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Until then I’d only really traveled to Western countries and to say that Cambodia is quite different than your Germanys and Spains is the world’s biggest understatement. Triggered by water retention around my ankles from the long flight and my discomfort at realizing I was as far from home as I’d ever been, this panic attack had me curled up naked on the bathroom floor with Travel Boyfriend feeding me Xanax and talking me down. After that I resolved to cure myself. I never wanted to feel that way again.

At first I tried talk therapy as well as some tapes I bought from that anxiety infomercial lady, Lucinda Bassett. The talk therapy helped with some other issues, but not the attacks. And I was too lazy to get very far with the tapes. Eventually I just decided to live with the periodic attacks and fear the month of November.

But a little over a year ago, I found out about a hypnotherapist in San Francisco named Angie Choi. Travel Boyfriend and I were just starting to plan our dream trip to Egypt and due to a nightmare I’d had in college, I was convinced something bad was going to happen to me there. In fact, I actually believed I was going to die in Egypt. That thought, coupled with the fact that my panic disorder had also manifested itself into a fear of flying quite inconvenient for a Travel Betty, convinced me to give hypnotherapy a try. Surprisingly after only a couple of sessions with Angie, I was able to take my first flight without Xanax. I couldn’t believe that the fear was gone. It wasn’t just sort of gone, it was completely gone.

Encouraged by that short domestic flight, I started to look as forward to my trip to Egypt as I’d always imagined I would. Angie made me a CD that was specific to my fears about the trip and so armed with that and my comfort bag, I was ready to hit the airport with confidence. The flight over went great and I thought I was cured. But at that point, I’d had yet to fly on Egypt Air.

My first flight on Egypt’s national airline had me gripping the armrests from the moment I stepped onto the decrepit plane. As we were taxiing down the runway for takeoff, the overhead compartments were shaking so violently, I thought they were going to crash down on our heads. I was a wreck and disheartened that I wasn’t totally cured. I was also afraid that this flight scare had dislodged all hypnotic suggestion and that I was destined to a life fearful of flying once again.

Luckily, that turned out not to be the case. Now, I’m about 80/20 with flights, and I rarely have to resort to Xanax anymore. Certain things trigger my fears. Anything that makes my body feel not quite right, like a cold or some unexplained soreness. Also drinking caffeine and especially if I drink alcohol the night before. If I’m even slightly hung over, chances are I’m going to feel afraid on the plane. It’s a bummer that I’m not totally cured, but it’s also so much better than it was before. I can’t imagine having gone to Bali by myself without Angie’s help.

Panic attacks are definitely scary, but being able to recognize them for what they are is a huge leap towards being able to manage them. If any other Betties out there have had positive experiences curing or managing their panic attacks, please feel free to share them in the comments section. That way we can all help each other to be more fearless on the road.

Travel Betty Basics

Unfortunately, the fabulous Angie Choi recently closed her practice, but she recommends Marilyn Gordon for other Travel Betties in need of hypnotherapy in the Bay Area.

Travel Tips on raveable

→ 15 CommentsTags: Air Travel · Bali · Egypt · Health


Four Years Makes A World Of Difference

November 10th, 2008 · 9 Comments

Last time our country had a presidential election, Travel Boyfriend and I were on our way to Southeast Asia. I remember getting ready to board our plane in South Korea for Cambodia when I saw that my home state of Ohio had officially made Bush president for a second term. Tears sprang to my eyes as I felt shame and sadness. I was embarrassed and angry and could not understand how the man behind Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib could get anyone’s vote, let alone the majority of the nation’s.

I remember the conversation we had with our cab driver when we arrived in Phnom Penh. He told us he was confused because he’d ever met anyone from the United States claiming to like George Bush, so how could the man get elected again? I informed him that sadly, and most likely, the people who would vote for Bush were not the same people who would ever travel to Cambodia.

Throughout the trip we were asked to defend the voting actions of our fellow countrymen, but we couldn’t come up with a single defense. We were told that the world had excused America after the first Bush win due to the inconsistencies in voting, but this time, we were on our own. The world had put the USA on the Colbert Report’s notice board and I couldn’t blame them.

So, it is with tremendous gratitude and joy that tomorrow Travel Boyfriend and I will board another plane on our way to our belated honeymoon in Argentina and Uruguay with our heads held high. America is a country capable of so much more than the past 8 years have demonstrated.

Change has come to America, indeed!

→ 9 CommentsTags: Pop Culture


9 Reasons Virgin America Is The Best Domestic Airline Flying Today

October 8th, 2008 · 34 Comments

1. Flies out of SFO’s International terminal, so you get to feel like you’re a global jet-setter even if you’re just going to Seattle. The terminal is newer, more spacious, has better food and is a much more relaxed environment than the domestic terminals. This has nothing to do with Virgin America, but it sure adds to the mystic and overall experience.

2. The check-in area has fresh flowers and white Mac-like self check-in kiosks. There’s a red carpet leading up to the first-class counter. You feel more like you’re in a retail environment than standing in a human corral.

3. The gate agents seem younger, hipper, friendlier and more eager to provide good customer service. They even smile!! Some of this may be perception, drafting off other Virgin brands and Richard Branson’s personality, but it is also illustrated through their advertising and even the uniforms worn by the gate agents themselves. Black t-shirts are not uncommon.

4. First-class is not astronomically out of reach. Yes, it’s more, but only by a hundred bucks or so each way. And if your flight still has open seats in first, they release them for only $50 more at the gate. So there’s always the possibility you’ll be movin’ on up like the Jefferson’s.

5. You don’t walk onto a plane, you walk into a club. Mood lighting makes all the difference. The crew is wearing uniforms, but they are far from stogy. The sleeves on the stewardess blouses had delicate ribbon details that made it look like it might be for sale at Macy’s.

6. The planes are brand new. You feel safer and they seem fresher and cleaner than the ratty-tatty planes of the Delta / United type airlines. No Cheerios crumbs all over the damn place.

7. I don’t know if it’s the mood lighting, but even the passengers seem more hip. Less mom hair, more gel-spiked bangs and tattoos. Perhaps Virgin attracts a more fashion conscious customer than Southwest. I felt cooler by association.

8. The entertainment options are good. No one is forced to watch “Air Bud: Golden Receiver.” TV, movies, games, there’s even a chat option if you want to pick up a fellow passenger.

9. The safety video is a great example of Virgin’s attention to detail. Yeah, they could have just got a couple of community-theater actors to mimic seat buckling skills in a rented studio space, but instead they made the video something you would actually watch. The video makes you like the brand. They treat safety in a way that acknowledges our collective intelligence without coming off as flip. Delicate balance handled astutely.

→ 34 CommentsTags: Air Travel