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Travel Carnival 5: Photos Worth 1,000 Words

Welcome to the 5th travel carnival, where photos speak volumes. A few entries include photos (applause, please) while others do not. Nonetheless, there's quite a potpourri of perspectives and journeys. Read on...

  • Kelly Curtis presents Wish for You, with a trip to Mackinac Island solidifying the bond between mother and daughter. The last two photos in the slide show are priceless.
  • Joe Kissell presents Neuschwanstein Castle saying, "Of the several castles built by the eccentric king Ludwig II of Bavaria, none is more recognizable than Neuschwanstein, which inspired Cinderella's Castle at the Disney theme parks."
  • Kelly Vaughan presents Şile: a walk on the Beach, giving us a look at seascapes of a Turkish beach town. My interpretation? Cloudy days have unique beauty if you look at them in the right way.
  • David presents Philanthropic Travel Worldwide, giving us a glimpse of why and how five-star travel in developing worlds can allow you to dip your toes in humanitarian work without seemingly wrinkling clothes or getting dirty. There are two contrasting photos: one of three smiling children living in a developing country, and another of two starchy, white adults hugging an elephant trunk. The photos are fascinating. My idea of a volunteer vacation is people getting a little grimy with their "up close" experiences. But who knows. Maybe the pampered approached would be my preference when I decide to book a volunteer vacation. There's also an interesting label for indigenous folk in this post: "bottom of the pyramid." Hmm. Thoughts, anyone?
  • Maureen O'Brien presents Lake of the Ozarks, pitching her camping trailor for condo travel at the Ozarks in Missouri.

Carnival submissions sans photos:

  • Madeleine Begun Kane brings husband-wife road trip, weekend getaway humor to life with her rendition of Taking A Vacation on the Contract Plan.
  • Jennefer presents Travel to Russia: Moscow giving more recommendations (and links) to major and minor Moscow attractions, activities, and walkabouts than I think I've seen anywhere. From the Kremlin to Gorky Park to Lenin's Masouleum to the Bolshoi Ballet and beyond, she's done her research.
  • Tracy Coenen presents A Tour of New Orleans and the Damage Left by Hurricane Katrina. A first-hand account of the realities of the hurricane aftermath. Seems like touring New Orleans is like touring Ground Zero - doing so is out of concern and curiosity. An insightful read.
  • Zane HM presents Ol' Grand Fort Lily (1885) Betong and adds color to a bit of Asian history likely little known outside of Asia.
  • Leslie Carbone presents Sunday Morning in Rehoboth, an ode to a Bentley.
  • Stephen Harris presents One of Those Days, a kiwi's perspective on business travel to Brisbane, Australia and how hotel rooms can feel like home sweet home after "one of those days."

Thanks for reading and, contributing bloggers, thanks for sharing your perspectives and photos.


Holiday Travel Planning Tips

Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve are three of the biggest holidays of the year. I received my first holiday party invitation just last week, which reminds me that people are planning early. If you're traveling or hosting a family or friend get together around the holidays, here are some basic tips:

2-3 months in advance (minimum)

  • Research how group reservations work if 10 or more people are traveling together for a holiday.
  • Restaurants book up during the holidays and often stop taking reservations when they've reached reservation capacity. Book reservations for your group now for holiday parties and gatherings.
  • Holiday travel is one of the busiest times for many airlines. Start looking for flight prices and if you find one in your budget, book it now. Depending on your location, you can look into train travel as a transportation alternative.
  • Hotels in major metropolitan areas and beach areas see an uptick in business around the holidays, so book early.
  • Create or determine a budget for yourself (for Christmas gifts especially) and stick to it.
  • If your trip hinges around one big event such as a New Year's event, purchase tickets as early as possible.

1 month in advance

  • If you're hosting guests for big meals such as Thanksgiving, Christmas dinner, etc., plan the courses and make food assignments if necessary (desserts, salads, appetizers, wine, etc.) to share the expense and responsibility. Most guests want to contribute.
  • Accommodations for those not staying in hotels or last-minute arrangements for friends/family who weren't able to book in advance. Perhaps you can make arrangements to borrow a neighbor's house while they are away, or book a local B&B that isn't easily discovered on the internet but would make the trip more enjoyable and affordable for some.
  • Plan group activities such as area sightseeing, attraction visits, purchasing admission tickets for events such as art exhibits at museums/galleries or theater shows.
  • Collect money from everyone and track shared expenses.
  • Shop for gifts.

1 week in advance

  • Confirm all flight, accommodation, activity, restaurant and train reservations and/or arrangements.
  • Final gift shopping.
  • Dust off games, borrow games from friends/neighbors, or buy new ones to make time spent with friends and family more enjoyable.

3 days in advance

  • If cooking a big meal, get all foodstuffs and start preparing meals early.
  • Wrap all remaining gifts. Buy a few extra general gifties (calendar, journal, wool socks, gift certificate to Barnes & Noble) in case someone brings a boyfriend or girlfriend home unexpectedly.
  • Clean the house, or if everyone is traveling to a destination, make sure you have a friend or neighbor keeping an eye on your place (collecting mail, watching pets, watering plants, etc.)

Holiday day

  • Relax and enjoy the company of friends and family

Group Hugs

Nothing beats a good hug. From your grandmother/father, mom/dad, your husband/wife, your sister, brother, best friend, child. And when groups get together for club or team events, family reunions, getaway vacations, or weddings, a few things become inevitable. You'll eat too much. Laugh a lot. Take a group photo. And hug.

If you're lucky, you'll find yourself embraced in a group hug, armed locked, joy and silliness sprouting up all around you. Family, friend, or other bonds bring you close together. Hugs are greetings and goodbyes: physical symbols of those bonds between us. They remind us that, despite our temporal existence, we're all in this together. Hugs are good.

I was browsing around Technorati today and saw this free hug campaign video on YouTube. It's worth viewing... the whole video is quite funny, and poignant. In an urban area, a man with a sign saying "free hugs" looks like a freak, but by his simple and persistent act of love, winds up drawing crowds and a growing number of hugs from others, including group hugs. Sound ridiculous? See for yourself. Then turn around and hug the person to your left. You're sure to extract a smile, from both of you. :-)


Sharks Bites: What Every Swimmer Should Know

Unpleasant yet intriguing as the subject of sharks and the sea may be, I found some good data on Divester for vacationers who surf, swim, scuba dive, snorkel, and enjoy all sorts of water sports. Summer may be over, but many friends and families will soon take trips to beach destinations such as Hawaii, Caribbean, Mexico, or Australia where the sand is as warm as the day.

Sharks are out there. It's true. They are one of the great predators of the sea. But whales still rank higher on the marine food chain, and I've heard they can take a Great White shark down (someone correct me if I'm wrong). Nonetheless, one of the things that stirs shark fears is all the media hype coupled with ignorance about the true nature of shark attacks. How common are they? Divester examined a 200-page report called Finding a Balance. If knowledge is power, here are some statistics to help quell your fears (and mine).

  • The number of shark-related fatalities has dropped from 13% in the 1990s to 8%, attributed largely to advances in safety practices, medical treatment, and greater public awareness.
  • In 2005, surfers and boardriders composed 54% of victims worldwide; swimmers 37%; and divers 5%.
  • There appear to be "no causative factors" for bites.
  • The average depth in which bites occur is 20 feet and average distance offshore was 330 feet.
  • Florida, South Africa, and Australia have the highest number of shark bite incidents.
  • Although some degree of conditioning can occur between sharks and cage diving boats, this happens when operators do not comply with regulations and allow sharks to feed on the bait. However, this conditioning occurs between the shark and cage diving boats and cannot be linked to any conditioning with bathers as potential prey items.

And since the International Shark Attack File reported that there have have been 870 reported, documented shark bites worldwide since 1990, chances are extremely slim you'll have an issue.

Once on a snorkeling tour with my sister, she saw a 4-foot long reef shark swim about 20 feet below her, but the shark had no interest in the snorkel group. Of course, if you're intrigued by sharks enough to swim near them, there are plenty of "swim with sharks" tours out there. Go, adrenaline junkies, go. Me? I'll linger ashore sipping drinks with tiny umbrellas, taking quick dips to cool off.

Source: Divester


Clubs and Teams Travel Guide

You're a member of a church that takes spiritual retreats. Perhaps your tennis or ski team travels for competition. Or your alma mater organizes football tailgate parties for home and away games. You could be a soccer parent planning away games with other parents. Or even belong to a swanky book club that travels to Italy after reading Under the Tuscan Sun. Whatever your lifestyle is, membership organizations (clubs, teams, associations, etc.) are great ways to stay active and pursue interests while meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends or colleagues.

For like-minded individuals who travel together, here are planning resources for organizing your next group trip.

How to Book Group Reservations

How to Pack Properly

Tips for Traveling en Masse

Quick Checklist for Club, Team, or Organization Group Trips

  1. Prepare a budget. How much will it cost? What are the shared expenses? What are deadlines for deposits, etc.? A basic spreadsheet with all big pre-trip shared expenses will help if you're organizing or on a committee for a given trip or retreat.
  2. Collect money for shared expenses such as hotel rooms and transportation. You can track money owed using TripHub's money tracking tool.
  3. Get release forms. If your trip is a school scenario with kids traveling with parents, coaches, and chaperones, you'll need to make sure release forms are signed.
  4. Make dining reservations and arrangements for your group. Depending on group size, some restaurants may or may not be able to accommodate you, so book well in advance (even a couple of months). Groups get cranky when not fed, which makes for a stressful, less fun experience for everyone. Arrange for meals on group trips to people sated and/or energized.
  5. Order custom group t-shirts. Nothing screams "team spirit" like a gaggle of people wearing matching uniforms. Geeky though it may sound to some, it's still unifying. Not only can you easily identify each other in crowds, but you'll have a memento from traveling together. You can even put a logo, photo, or pithy slogan on it.

TripHub allows you to easily plan and coordinate trip details so everyone stays informed about trip plans and itineraries. It's ideal for groups where there are varied interests, budgets, needs, etc. Here's how TripHub can help clubs, teams, and similar groups plan trips:

  1. Determine location and destination for the trip
  2. Create a trip home page
  3. Invite team/club/association members (ski team, church group, school mates, professional organization members)
  4. Discuss trip details with travel companions
  5. Create an event schedule of dinner reservations and other key itinerary details
  6. Shop for flights, hotels, rental cars, activities and attractions (or share travel information if already booked elsewhere so the group knows when people arrive, leave, and where they're staying)
  7. Discuss hotel options

Ski Guide for Groups

Carving around corners, bumping down moguls, breathing in cool mountain air and sweeping views. Ah, the essence of skiing. What a rush. Plus, there's also the company of like-minded ski aficionados. Ski villages offer whatever nightlife you crave, from a quiet family dinner to dance floors for shaking your groove thing with friends.

Sun_valley_group_ski_travelBoarders and skiers put their passion for powder to practice on slopes across North America from mid-November through March (later if snowfall permits). Skiing is an ideal activity for groups, fostering camaraderie and a healthy dose of competition among friends and family. It allows adventure-seekers to vacation together, skiing off on separate runs if desired and meeting up at the lift lines to swap slope stories. At the day’s end, everyone regroups for some après ski activities. Here’s a guide with tips and resources to help you plan your group ski trip with ease.

Planning Ski Trips

  1. Find a mountain and ski resort for your group
  2. Invite friends, family, or team/club members (ski team, church group, school mates, professional organization members)
  3. Discuss trip details with travel companions
  4. Create an event schedule of dinner reservations and other key itinerary details
  5. Shop for flights, hotels, rental cars, activities and attractions and share booking details

Ski Trip Checklist
When planning a group ski trip, there are plenty of factors to keep in mind. Does anyone in the group require child care for their kids? Is anyone interested in taking group ski lessons and how varied are the ski skill levels? Is everyone buying group lift tickets before arriving or while there? Here's a quick list of things to consider before you go:

  • Lift tickets
  • Ski rentals
  • Group discounts
  • Group ski lessons
  • Ski lessons for kids
  • Daycare for kids
  • Restaurant reservations
  • Bulk food assignments made (who's bringing what?)
  • Hotel or rental home reservations
  • Pet-friendly hotel rooms, condos, or houses
  • Extra gear for those who may have forgotten gloves, goggles, hats, wool socks

Top Ski Resorts in North America
Take your pick of ski areas, states, and snow conditions for the upcoming ski season and start planning your ski trip. Since there are simply too many ski areas to list, but here are 10 popular ski resorts for groups for starters (in no particular order):

  1. Vail Ski Resort, Colorado
  2. Breckenridge Ski Resort, Colorado
  3. Heavenly Ski Resort, Lake Tahoe
  4. Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort, British Columbia
  5. Steamboat Ski Resort, Colorado
  6. Mammoth Lakes Ski Resort, California
  7. Killington Ski Resort, Vermont
  8. Aspen Snowmass Ski Resort, Colorado
  9. Park City Ski Resort, Utah
  10. Jackson Hole Ski Resort, Wyoming

Ground Transportation Options
Find out what options are available at the airport and ski resort your group is heading to. If you're on a budget, shuttle services offer group rates. One of the greatest benefits of a group trip is being able to split costs such as transportation to and from venues.

  • Shuttle service – There are usually private services that transfer you from airports to your hotel or ski resort area. Some ski resorts themselves even offer airport transportation to and from their resort. Call ahead so you find the best deal for your group.
  • Private limo
  • Taxi
  • Bus
  • Rent cars, SUVs, vans
  • Hotel/resort transportation service
  • Friend as chauffer – best option if available

Ski-In, Ski-Out Accommodations
Convenient for those who plan to spend most of their trip skiing, you can save gas and glide right outside your hotel door. Hotels, condos, and resorts can all fall into this category. Examples include Snake River Lodge & Spa in Jackson Hole, Sunshine Inn (Banff's only ski-in/ski-out hotel), and The Loft at the Mountain Village 3-bedroom condo in Park City.

Vacation Rental Homes
One of the best ways to enjoy a group ski trip is by renting an entire house. I've done this several times and it's usually been the best option. Do a Google search for your ski area or look at this worldwide directory for ski area vacation homes.

Aprés Ski
TripHub allows you to discuss, plan, and make decisions on group activities with your trip mates all in one central location, saving you the hassle of sending a zillion emails to coordinate.

  • Shopping – Most ski resorts cater to skiers and the fact that you're a relatively captive audience, having traveled through snow-covered roads to the mountain. So there's plenty of shopping variety from apparel boutiques to candy shops to cafés to video rental stores.
  • Sightseeing – Whether driving or flying in for a weekend getaway or vacation with friends or family, ski destinations often have more to offer than just mountain with slopes. There may be historical or art museums/galleries, or nearby attractions such as lakes to explore. Find out what interests your group most and offer suggestions before the trip.
  • Nightlife, Restaurants & Bars – You can always find a variety of restaurants, many of them high-end, to recharge after a day on the slopes. And all major ski resorts (Whistler, Vail, etc.) have nightlife equally as invigorating as the day life (if you're in a party mood). But there are also quaint, charming pubs and restaurants as well as the cheap eateries. If your group is set on a certain type of food or restaurant, book reservations as early as possible to ensure a seat.

Wintry Activities – Numerous ski resorts give snowbirds other ways to play in the snow either before or after they ski (or when taking a day off of the slopes):

  • Ziptrek or ziplines through treetops
  • Heli-skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Dog sledding
  • Snowshoeing
  • Cross-country skiing (most major ski areas have trails for this, including Lake Tahoe, Telluride, Stowe, The Canyons, Sun Valley, and smaller resorts around the continent)
  • Massages at spas

Ski Trivia

  • Ski history includes Swedes and Russians hunting on skis, Norwegians popularizing the sport in the 1700s, the Winter Olympic Games in 1936 including alpine skiing for the first time, and Austria and Switzerland developing the first ski resorts shortly after World War II.
  • Historical ski cartooning – who knew such a thing existed? – includes a look at ski humor from 1500 to the present. My favorite is a cover page cartoon from The New Yorker.
  • The U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame, located in Michigan, was born in 1956.

Best of the Web (Ski Related Links)

Photo: Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau


Scuba Dive Grid

While summer ended with the quiet dawn of fall, winter vacations in sunny destinations are coming soon, including trips to Maui, Cancun, the Bahamas, and anywhere else you can still get a tan and splash around.

Scuba diving is one of those activities you can still do in the winter - in sunny destinations. I've heard Grand Cayman is a diver's mecca, and the Great Barrier Reef and Red Sea also rank high. Since I'm terrified of being masked and submerged for extended periods of time, my water activity consists of snorkeling in shallow bays near shore.

However, divers take note: Scubaratings.com is a site that allows you to find dive packages and rate dive trips to various destinations. It looks like a divers' community site, complete with a new "Dive Grid" where you enter in trip criteria (number of divers, travelers, dates, number of rooms needed, etc.) and see results of vacations that are specific to divers.

In doing a basic search for 6 nights, scuba diving 5 days, and traveling solo, I got results ranging from $463 to $8,011 across 11 countries (from Trinidad to Tanzania). Quite the range of budget to luxury packages. Dig around and see if the dive grid or site works for you. Summer may be over, but sun worshippers and adventurers who gear their travel around warm-weather activities can start planning now for winter getaways.


Best Spas

Spas offer a respite from daily stress, a transformative means to health, and boost the spirit. Massages melt muscles with seductive aromatherapy, perfect pressure points, and release knots, putting your body and mind at ease. Nothing beats a good masseur or masseuse. For a girls getaway, guys getaway (er, mancation?), or any other trip, here's a list of some of the best spas in the world.

  • Best destination spas ranked by Travel + Leisure's readers in 2004
    Destination spas offer a complete immersion in pampering, with setting, food, ambience, and treatments all aimed at making you feel as relaxed as imaginable (or unimaginable).
  • Best resort spas ranked by Travel + Leisure's readers in 2004
    Resort spas are normally connected to luxury hotels or resorts, often in locations with great natural beauty, offering a wide range of spa treatments.
  • Best spas for hikers by About.com
    For active vacationers who like adventure mixed with pampering.
  • Best spas for detox by About.com
    For travelers in need of a spiritually cleansing or healthy vacation.
  • Best spas on a lake by About.com
    For spa lovers who find as much peace on a lake as during a massage.

But are any of these really the best? Such a subjective word: best. What makes a spa ideal for you? I've heard amazing things about Mii Amo in Sedona, Ariz., but from my personal experience (so far!), the best spa I've gone to was in Calistoga, Calif. Here's why it was amazing:

When I walked in, the clock was at least 10 minutes slow and the front desk clerk smiled, "Welcome. No worries about the time, we're on spa time." My shoulders dropped with relief. No stress here. After calmly slipping into a robe in the dressing room, I drank cucumber-flavored water before the masseuse brought me to my sea salt soaking tub. After the soak, I had the massage of a lifetime. The masseuse was a magician with strong, experienced hands who worked every knot out of my back and shoulders, then had me doing a breathing exercise while she released tension from my neck and left my body and mind dizzy with delight. Being on vacation in Napa Valley also helped with the carefree mood. Still, I highly recommend Indian Springs Spa. As part of your appointment, you even get free use of their outdoor swimming pool. Another cool perk.


What's Your Travel Style?

Gadling published a photo of the day with a neo-classic shot of a wired traveler. The photo is akin to a still life painting that captures the essence of an era; in this case, our traveling culture in an age of Web 2.0 (think flickr, travel blogging, TripHub). This photo is a statement, by the photographer/traveler, about his/her traveling life. It says "I'm wired." Is this traveler's hi tech set of gadgets so extreme?

When I travel for a week or more, I usually bring a camera, guide book, iPod, books, rarely my cell phone, and all other essentials. I suppose all I'm missing is the video and computer. My style of travel is much more low key and low tech, usually finding as many ways to disconnect as I can. I still don't have a digital camera - I actually use film. (E-gad! I can hear collective gasps.) Think margarita in hand after a kayak paddle, feet up watching a sunset. And the best travel moments I often forget to snap photos because I'm too busy enjoying them. Now, that's my style of vacation. Still, if I laid out all my gear on a bed, what would it say about me? Pseudo-techie? Quasi-techie? Hmm...

What's your travel style?


Autumn Trips with Smallish Crowds

TripAdvisor.com issued a list of "fall's finest escapes" and I wanted to republish the list, as it gives great ideas of where to watch the leaves turn vibrant shades of red, yellow, orange and kick up the fallen leaves before they become mulch. The crowds happen to thin in these destinations during the fall, so this is an ideal time to go (in my opinion).

1. Munich, Germany

2. Napa Valley, Calif.

3. Montreal, Quebec

4. Asheville, N.C.

5. Woodstock, Vt.

6. Vancouver, Canada

7. Lake Placid, N.Y.

8. Camden, Maine

9. Mystic, Conn.

10. Aberdeen, Scotland