May 31, 2013

New museum to see: The “English Pompeii” is finally on display

As a fan of great museums, England, and historical stuff in general, I’m excited about a brand new museum that has just opened this week.

Located in the historic dockyard of Portsmouth on England’s picturesque south coast, the Mary Rose Museum houses the sixteenth-century hulk of the HMS Mary Rose, the pride of Henry VIII’s navy. Built in 1511, the massive warship sank off the coast of England in 1545 while fighting the French fleet. After ages under the waves, her remains were resurrected from the sea by marine archaeologists and installed in the new museum. A museum that, incidentally, is situated in the very dockyard in which the ship herself was constructed.

Remains of the Mary Rose

Remains of the Mary Rose

But it’s the collection of objects from within the ship—thousands of sixteenth-century items being called the largest trove of Tudor-era artifacts ever assembled—that are the real stars of the museum. By a stroke of fate, the silt of the sea floor created a virtually airtight tomb for the small objects within the vessel. The resulting collection of relics is so well preserved that it has been dubbed “the English Pompeii” for its quality and poignancy.

Sixteenth-century artifacts from the Mary Rose

Sixteenth-century artifacts from the Mary Rose

The artifacts on display within the hull include miraculously preserved musical instruments, rosaries, board games, silverware, weapons, book covers, medical equipment, furniture, coins, and even the remains of several of the Mary Rose’s sailors. Facial reconstructions of the recovered skulls put a human dimension to the 500 men who perished with the ship, as do the everyday items they used. Combs with Tudor-era lice still trapped in them are also in the exhibit, as are the remains of the ship’s dog.

mary rose 4

Taken together they are sure to tell a story of lives lived and lost within a sixteenth-century ship’s creaking timbers.

I can wait to see this for myself.

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Category: Europe, Family Travel, General, Notes from the collective travel mind, Travel News

February 22, 2013

Towns of Boring and Dull plan epic celebration of all things uninteresting

We all know that most cities are desperate for tourism money in this lousy economy. Some are going to great lengths to generate interest. Now a PR man (or woman) has looked at a map and cooked up the tourism industry’s latest publicity stunt:  Two towns, separated by an ocean and thousands of miles, plan to launch a joint promotional effort to entice tourists with a day of celebration that boldly promises to be a total snooze.

It all began when a UK traveler, passing through the west coast of America on vacation, happened upon a community with a name similar to his own hamlet back in Scotland. Before long, the Oregon town of Boring had itself a “sister city” called Dull, a tiny Scottish village.

A real town in Scotland. Pretty place. Not much in the way of nightlife, however.

Now an article in the UK paper Telegraph describes Boring and Dull’s plan to make August 9th— the anniversary of their union , or whatever—a mutual, transatlantic day of celebration of all things uninteresting. The  intention is to draw free publicity to their respective communities’ charms. With a low population, rainy climate, and eight hours’ time difference, it is still unclear whether Boring and Dull’s event will be, well, eventful.

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Category: Europe, Images from the road, North America, Notes from the collective travel mind, Travel News

January 8, 2013

An Exciting Development in Indie Travel From Boots-N-All

Sean Keener, CEO of Boots-N-All is a friend of mine and one of the most passionate people I know when it comes to developing resources to empower and encourage independent travel. A few months ago he let me in on the Beta testing of the ace up his sleeve, and today I’m as excited as he is about the launch.

The team over at Boots-N-All has made a giant leap forward for the indie travel market in developing a tool that will allow us all to chart our own courses in a way that has not been possible up to this point.

Did you Know?

Not any more!

Enter Indie. 

It’s the first of it’s kind airfare booking service with no rules, instant prices and online booking for itineraries of more than six stops.

It’s being unveiled for the very first time today, after being in Beta for three months. As someone who travels full time, I can’t tell you how excited I am about the possibilities!

Kudos to Sean and the team for putting together yet another practical resource the could change the travel industry.

Check it out, people: http://indie.bootsnall.com

 

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Category: Air Travel, On The Road, Travel News

June 6, 2012

Global data plans becoming more affordable

AT&T this week rolled out new international data packages with prices cut nearly in half, a change that comes six weeks after Verizon announced a new international data package. Although these options are still more expensive than using an international SIM card, the changes signify progress toward making smartphone internet use more affordable and accessible for travelers.

AT&T’s new international data package tiers, available for these 135 countries, are:

 

Verizon’s new plan, announced in mid-April, provides 100 MB for $25/month with coverage in 120 countries. This is the only package offered; you can add by increments of 100 MB for $25.

While AT&T and Verizon seem to be making headway in the global data market, Sprint and T-Mobile’s packages are not as competitive. Sprint offers multi-country packages covering only 39 countries, and at 40 MB for $40/month or 85 MB for $80/month, the prices are much higher than the others. T-Mobile’s international service is very expensive at $15 per MB.

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Category: General, Travel News

May 7, 2012

How many websites do you need to plan a trip?

Planning a trip can be a logistical tangle.  At any one time, I’ll have more than half-a-dozen tabs open in my web browser, each a different website.  For example:

Cross-checking between so many sites can be daunting, even for an experienced vagabonder. The new site Georama aims to change that by tying together different travel needs into one online platform. The slogan is “Plan. Book. Share.”  Still in private beta, but you can sign up to get advance access.

It’s certainly an enticing prospect. You’d save a lot of time from flipping from one site to another. On the other hand, it seems very much like the same idea behind web portals. Yahoo and MSN are prime suspects that the portal model can seem bloated in this age of lean, agile, focused applications.

Would you use Georama? What sites do you use for travel planning? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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Category: Notes from the collective travel mind, Travel News, Travel Tech

March 5, 2012

More travelers, less tourists…

If you haven’t read last week’s post on the “Rise of the Tourist“, I suggest you give it a quick once-over before reading on.   Short on time?  No problem.  I’ll sum up the broader points:  Tourism is big business and in 2012 there is expected to be 1 billion global travelers.  This trend will continue so long as there is economic progress in previously economically depressed nations, and, so long as there is an industry to market, package, and deliver destinations.  This isn’t necessarily a horrendous development, but rather one that is full of potential.

All caught up?  Alright then…

What’s the problem with more “tourists” anyhow?  After all, that’s a tide that shouldn’t (and can’t) be turned.  More travelers on the road can loosely be equated to more cultural exchange, more economic growth at local and national levels, and, generally speaking, broadened horizons for all.

Win-win-win, right?

I like to think so, but  based on what the fine print on my vagabonding card says, I’m obligated to point out that independent travel (long-term or otherwise) is inherently different than what the majority of “tourists” will experience. So what insights can the vagabonding perspective offer to the those inclined to partake in all-inclusive, pre-package, culturally sterile vacations?   Here’s a few thoughts:

Patronize the locals.   Eat, shop, and lodge locally.  Foreign owned companies often own hotels and airlines and restaurants and all manner of shops and by patronizing them you’re essentially creating the “leakage effect“.  Find out where your dollars are going.  Local isn’t necessarily always better, but it does mean you’re directly funding and impacting a community – aim for that.

Travel slow.  A theme covered recently on vagablogging  (Read more here and here), traveling slowly, with purpose, while soaking up the moments is a central aspect to understanding the world and cultures and peoples around us.  Travel should be more about the experience (and less the extravagance) and a good experience should always be savored and never rushed.

Go where your presence matters.   Burma?  Egypt?  Greece?  Haiti?  Japan?   Skip the hotspots and go where your money matters.  Burma, Egypt, and Greece are all clamoring for international tourism to return.   As for Haiti and Japan, both nations who’ve been hit by disaster in installments, these nations can use your time and help either as an in-country traveler or as a volunteer.

Widen your world view.  Let go of any ethnocentric thoughts and embrace other perspectives.  Read up on where you’re headed.  Familiarize yourself with the history, the land, the people, the languages, the customs, etc.  Challenge your own assumptions as they relate to governance, security, religion and the global relationships between nations and individuals.   You don’t have to compromise your beliefs, but realize that there are a myriad of other perspectives.

Be respectful of nature and replenish yourself in it.  Take the time to reflect, if not also genuflect, in nature.  Cherish the wide open spaces that rival the expansive soul residing within you.  The world is wild and impartial and that’s just its way of reminding you how indifferent it is to your worldly concerns.  I’m obligated to add that you should (re)read Edward Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire“.

I realize that the long-term, vagabonding perspective towards traveling and life may be a bit extreme for most, but, as in politics and religion and life, the extremes have a way of informing and pushing the center.    There’s a brave new generation of 21st century sojourners out there and they’ll be hitting the “road” in unrelenting waves, year after year…let’s see if we can push them a bit in the above directions and, hopefully, in the process create more travelers and less tourists.

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Category: General, Travel News, Volunteering Abroad

February 27, 2012

The rise of the tourist

Along with the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, tourism has become one of the world’s dominant drivers of global, national, and local economic growth.  At last tally, “the industry” – an aggregate of airlines, hotels and a slew of service businesses ranging from tour guides to street food vendors – employs a staggeringly high 200+ million people worldwide, or nearly 11% of the world’s workforce.

As previously reported, this same industry is on a path that will serve 1 billion souls in 2012 (or 1/7 of the world’s population).  And, rest assured, that number won’t be the pinnacle in terms of unique travelers.  Instead, 1 billion should be thought of as a beacon, a milestone to mark our progress on a long march towards a culture of global travels and tourism.

Photorights - Copenhagen by Valkarie

Photo credit / "Copenhagen" by Valkarie

In other words, 1 billion tourists in 2012 and, perhaps, 2 billion in 2020.  Is there anything wrong with the proposition of an increasingly saturated tourist landscape, aside from personal inconveniences and the potential loss of the unspoiled destination?    More to the point, should anyone deny someone else the joy, the thrill, and the trials of travel?

Citizens of BRIC nations and other, smaller economic power-houses, whose respective GDP’s continue to trend upwards, have travel aspirations that rival their rising economic status.  These brave new 21st century travelers are simply partaking in the same “pleasures” that the developed world has had access to for decades, if not centuries.   So, no, I would argue, there is nothing wrong with an increase in travelers or tourists or whatever way you want to divide and subdivide or categorize and classify.

The rise of the tourist is, in part, due to the rise of the tourism industry; it’s big business and there’s big profits to be had.  With an expanding market (i.e. the population boom), there’s more clientèle and, shock (!), they’re going to keep doing their thing.

We must keep doing ours.  Travel slow.  Travel independently.  Travel with purpose.  Travel with a conscious.  Travel with style.  Travel in whatever ways make sense to you.   And, don’t forget to spread the gospel.

Again, 1 billion tourists are just the beginning.  Previously marginalized populations will continue to find the world more accessible via Visa and Vayama.  We’re already seeing waves of new travels from every corner of the globe, not just those where past economic performance has paved the way.

Let this marinate a bit and check back next week where we’ll look more into why the numbers aren’t what’s important, but rather how people travel is.

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Category: General, Travel News

January 31, 2012

It’s a dog eat dog world in Southeast Asia

Media has been abuzz lately about the infamous dealings of dog trafficking. It’s not the purebred puppy mill business they’re describing, but the smuggling of dogs for dinner in Southeast Asia’s Mekong Delta. Street dogs, purebreds and even stolen pets with collars on are making their way via small wire cages to restaurants and dinner tables around the region. The business is thriving, and people are beginning to notice.

Canine cuisine in Vietnam, Korea and parts of China is nothing new; people have been feasting on man’s best friend in Asian countries and beyond for thousands of years. Why, then, is it making a splash in international news?

Street puppies at Kathmandu's KAT center

For starters, it’s the wrong season to be a dog in Southeast Asia. The cold months around Chinese New Year already increase the demands of the dog trade, since the delicacy is said to “warm” those who are eating it, help with metabolism, and even bring good luck.

Flooding in Thailand in late 2011 has also enabled business to thrive, as rising street dog numbers turn Bangkok into a dog catching free-for-all. Animal rescue groups are still working to find homes for the displaced animals, but smugglers often find them first.

Dogs in Bangkok after the floods

Perhaps what is most alarming, however, is the newfound attention on domesticated pets. Thailand’s Soi Dog Foundation suggests that captured street dogs simply do not fill the demand in a season when dog meat reigns supreme. What to do when street dogs are in short supply? Stolen pets become a dog trafficker’s target.

Of course not everyone sides with the PETA activists and animal lovers. As perverse as it seems to feast on fido, (whether street dog or pet,) this business has been thriving for years and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Roasted dog in parts of Vietnam is as common as roasted chicken in the states. It’s not even the animal cruelty that’s illegal, but the underground trade business which generates millions of dollars each year. For as long as the meat remains popular and lucky, there will definitely be dog for dinner.

What can you do? Aside from not dining in dog restaurants, there are several organizations around the world that focus on street dog welfare and putting an end to the illegal trade. The Soi Dog Foundation and the Kathmandu Animal Treatment center are just a few. Lastly? Don’t bring your dog on your backpacking trip around Vietnam this winter!

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Category: General, Travel News

July 29, 2011

Social networks and travel: the hard numbers

Cartoon of a man playing with building blocks with the Facebook logo.

Man building his life with Facebook blocks. Photo: Urs Steiner / Flickr

Social networks have made a dramatic impact on travel. During my first backpacking trip in 2004, I relied on e-mail addresses to stay in touch with the new friends I was making.  I once met a girl in Paris. Later into my trip, I was shocked to run into her at my hostel in Edinburgh.  What a small world!

That kind of thing would not have happened today.  We’d have added each other as friends on Facebook, she would have put a status update on her profile saying she was in Edinburgh, and I’d have messaged her before my arrival.  Since people change e-mail addresses more often than their social networks, adding people is a safer way to stay in contact.  Work and school e-mails are notoriously temporary.

The travel startup Tripl created an infographic that appeared in TechCrunch: More Americans are on Facebook than have a passport.  A sad statistic, indeed.  The infographic says 50% of Americans connect with friends and family on Facebook, while only 37% hold a passport.  It continues on to say that 72% of travelers access social networks while on the road.  As someone who’s waited in line at hostels while guests are checking their Facebook feeds, I was surprised the number wasn’t even higher.

On the flip side, the statistics say that only 7% of travelers use mobile internet on the road.  I think that’s due to the lack of universal standards in networks.  Your mobile phone in one country often won’t work in another, because your telecom carrier handicaps your phone.  That and the absurdly high cost of roaming charges.  From interacting with backpackers, very few use mobile phones abroad unless they’re living abroad.  I usually leave the phone at home and solely rely on public computers to reach my friends via the Internet.

In brighter news, it seems like about half of the users said Facebook photos inspired their trips, and also makes them visit friends who are living overseas.  I will say that a trip is much richer if you have someone to meet up with over there, who can show you around.

How do you use social networks when you travel? Are they more help or hindrance? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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Category: Notes from the collective travel mind, Travel News, Travel Tech

July 8, 2011

Massive hidden treasure discovered in India

Buddha statue in India

Buddha statue in India. Photo: watchsmart / Flickr

Let’s face it: most archaeology work can be quite boring, compared to the Indiana Jones fantasy. You’re more likely to be dusting off pottery than exploring lost cities.  However, sometimes reality can trump fiction.

The New York Times had this incredible news: Beneath a Temple in Southern India, a Treasure Trove of Staggering Riches. As a routine matter, a court ordered several vaults under the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple to be examined to assess the temple’s assets. They got much more than they bargained for: a fortune in gold, jewels, and statues worth billions of dollars.

Where did all those valuables come from?  For centuries, devotees and wealthy patrons have donated cash and gifts to temples.  The treasures must have accumulated in the vaults over a long period of time.  Somewhere along the way, the record-keeping must have stopped.  A hoard of cultural artifacts beyond imagination lay unnoticed while the temple ran activities as normal.

Expect the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple to become a major attraction on Indian itineraries in the future.  There is already talk of setting up a museum to house and catalog the priceless pieces.

Do you want to get in on the action?  I’ve dug up some resources for those who want to do archaeology fieldwork:

Earthwatch Institute Expeditions

Archaeological Fieldwork Opportunities Bulletin

ArchaeologyFieldwork.com

Have you participated in an archaeology project?  Please share your experiences in the comments.

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Category: Notes from the collective travel mind, Travel News
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