Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine travel without digital cameras, Facebook, and iPods. The New York Times was lucky to interview one of the original Frugral Travelers, John Wilcock:
Wilcock has credentials that would make any aspiring writer mad with envy: he wrote some of the first guidebooks for Arthur Frommer, co-founded The Village Voice, and started up Interview magazine with Andy Warhol.
What stood out most to me was Wilcock’s reliable method of research: talking to people. Although websites like TripAdvisor and Yelp can serve that function these days, it’s essentially the same thing. Word-of-mouth is the best way to find the hidden gems of a place.
The fascinating part was where he talked about the forerunners of websites we take for granted now. In the interview, Wilcock described The Travel Directory, a project in the 1960s where people could sign up to offer spare rooms to travelers. This was CouchSurfing, decades before that website was even founded. Again, an old traveler’s practice that found its way online.
A refreshing change of tone was how Wilcock didn’t romanticize the past. Certainly, we all know someone who criticizes anything new, but he doesn’t fall into that camp at all. In particular, Wilcock actually criticized some of the ways travel writing was handled back when he worked for The Times.
How has travel changed since you first started? Share your thoughts in the comments.
The rising fortunes of the emerging economies and the lowering of barriers have given students a whole world of educational opportunities. Governments are investing in improving facilities at home. Meanwhile, students impatient to get ahead are already applying to overseas schools in droves, as this TechCrunch article explains: The Global Education Race.
Studying abroad is becoming a realistic option for more and more people. To be fair, there are still hurdles to overcome, such as immigration, financial aid, and academic recognition for courses taken abroad. On a positive note, increasing incomes and greater international integration are helping to close the gap.
Both host countries and the students’ countries will benefit from exposure to new cultures. Such interactions will lead to a more diverse food scene, at least. On a more practical level, cash-strapped universities are already welcoming these kids and the tuition money they bring. Foreigners often pay more than residents.
In any case, more interactions should lead to better understanding across borders. The classroom is a safe space to discuss issues, learn new things, and settle differences. So there is a “peace dividend” to be had.
Have you studied abroad? Do you see more foreign students where you live? Please share your stories in the comments.
As usual, the media is full of stories of disasters rocking foreign countries. For a good status report, check out this CNNMoney article: 5 tourist spots in turmoil.
Savvy travelers are cashing in on the deep discounts being offered by travel providers. I know an American expat in Thailand who’s been booking Air Asia flights like crazy to take advantage of cheap flights to Chiang Mai and the Thai islands.
South Korea has been in the news due to having a submarine allegedly destroyed by North Korea. Lately, the rumbles are fading and it’s back to normal.
Have you ever traveled to a country that was in crisis? Did you go during the problems, or just immediately afterwards? Please share your experiences and tips on staying safe.
A total of 21 new sites have been inscribed, including 15 cultural and 5 natural properties. Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, and Tajikistan are the newest members of the list of UNESCO countries. Some cultural highlights are;
The new natural properties added are;
The more sobering list that the Committee maintains is the World Heritage in Danger, those sites for whom armed conflict and war, earthquakes and other natural disasters, pollution, poaching, uncontrolled urbanization and unchecked tourist development threaten their existence. Four sites were added to this solemn list;
Thankfully, because of significant efforts made by Ecuador in addressing the threats posed by invasive species, unbridled tourism and over-fishing, the Galapagos Islands have been removed from the list.
Looks like the guidebooks are heading for the really small screen: mobile devices. With the soaring popularity of the iPhone and other smartphones, guidebook publishers are moving to take advantage of new platforms, as this AP article describes: Guidebooks adapt to mobile download era.
However, they are running into a common problem in the tech world: compatibility. Mobile networks may not offer the same availability of apps from country to country. The cost of roaming is also a major dealbreaker, which can cause sudden spikes in phone costs.
The guidebooks may also be playing catch-up to popular websites like WikiTravel, VirtualTourist, and others that already offer similar information online. Will guidebooks on mobiles find an audience? Or are they doomed to be left behind?
Do you prefer to get your information from the printed page or an electronic screen? Or how do you mix the two? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Blazing-fast Internet has become commonplace in Asia. Japan and South Korea frequently rank as the most wired countries in the world. Singapore is looking to boost its broadband infrastructure too, according to this NY Times article: Singapore gets wired for speed.
John, an Australian expat friend of mine, just moved into a new apartment near Tokyo. When John got Internet installed, he settled for a 200 megabit per second connection. There was a waiting list for the 1 gigabit (1,000 megabits) connection, he explained.
How much does it cost? According to the article, one company in Singapore plans to sell 100 mbps connections for SGD$21 (US$15) per month. In Hong Kong, a 1 gigabit connection costs HKD$200 (US$26) per month. Meanwhile, my local ISP provider in the states offers a “high speed” 8 mbps connection for a whopping US$50 per month.
For a good case study of how a country builds such an Internet infrastructure, check out this CNN article: Why Internet connections are fastest in South Korea. A lot of ideas get discussed, such as whether the private sector or government should lead the way, the role of competition, etc.
There is a downside to having fast, cheap Internet, however. Some people might succumb to the temptation to spend too much of their lives online and become antisocial. Another NY Times article highlights an extreme case: South Korea expands aid for Internet addiction. In a less serious fashion, as more backpackers bring along laptops and netbooks, they could spend more time surfing the web than seeing the country they’re in.
To broaden the scope beyond broadband, have you ever encountered better infrastructure abroad than at home? For example, some of my American friends envy Europe’s trains and Asia’s airports. Share your thoughts in the comments.
According to National Geographic, a 2009 survey using Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) equipment revealed images of an ancient Mayan city stretching over 68 square miles in western Belize. Presented at the recent International Symposium on Archaeometry, in just four days, the airborne lasers showed thousands of structures, 11 roads and thousands of agricultural terraces previously unknown to researchers.
Anthropologists Arlen and Diane Chase, directors of the University of Central Florida Caracol Archaeological Project, have been working in the area for years but have seen only a small fraction of the ruins. The funding for the 2009 LiDAR survey came from NASA, and the survey itself was performed by the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping.
This survey, along with the recent news that scientists have found more than 200 earthworks in Brazil’s upper Amazon basin with the aid of Google Earth images, lets us see the broad reach of these ancient settlements. Even though they’re far from ready for travelers to see firsthand, it gives us a clearer picture of just how much the natural world can hide the past.
Have you given some of your travel time to help an archaeological project? Would you? Where?
One of my favorite columns is “The Frugal Traveler,” written by Matt Gross for the the New York Times. He gives his final swan song in this piece:
It’s a great retrospective of his career as a travel writer. While I haven’t always agreed with his definition of “frugal,” I always found Gross to have an engaging narrative voice and that curious nature that all vagabonders have.
I definitely agree with his lesson that “friends are worth more than dollars.” There have been so many times when I’ve gone on a trip excited to see new places. Yet afterwards, it’s the people that I remember. He sums this up well:
“Meeting these people, hearing their stories and participating, if only for a few hours, in their lives have been the high points of my travels, and the prospect of encountering more fascinating individuals is what has kept me continually excited about being on the road.”
Like a true traveler, what’s first and foremost on his mind is where he hasn’t been yet. He gives big clues on where his future destinations might be. Budget Travel magazine says that he’s also heading to the small screen, in this report: Saying ciao to Matt Gross.
By the way, if you Google “Matt Gross,” the very first result is Vagablogging’s own interview with him. Check it out for more fun tidbits about how he got started as a travel writer.
After a year of collecting suggestions from over 32,000 people, the U.S Dept of State has unveiled a completely revamped source for travel information, travel.state.gov.
While most Americans may only interact with the Bureau of Consular Affairs when they obtain or renew their passports, their charter also includes assisting citizens who fall victim to crime, accident or illness in other countries, or just want to cast their absentee votes in US elections. They “deal with events and issues that have a personal impact: birth, death, marriage, adoption, child custody, citizenship, and relocation to another country” and they manage the visa applications of visiting foreign nationals.
Together, the CIA World Factbook and the State Dept site provide vagabonders with useful information when planning international travel, such as the history, climate, geography, political structure, economy, travel warnings, entry and exit requirements, crime, medical facilities, criminal penalties, and embassy locations of countries worldwide.
The new travel.state.gov highlights recent travel alerts on their front page, such as lifting a six month warning on Sri Lanka and noting a possible danger during the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. There are easily navigable links to hurricanes and emergencies, passports and visas, and of course, country information, where you can find out that “Traffic in Laos is chaotic and road conditions are very rough. Few roads have lane markings. Where lane markings, road signs, and stoplights do exist, they are widely ignored. Many drivers are unlicensed, inexperienced, and uninsured,” or that “An exit tax must be paid when departing Guatemala by air.”
When you research upcoming travels online, do you often feel like you’re hunting through the results to find relevant information? A new search engine, Kaweinga, is trying to make it easier for you to get the specific travel info you need.
Started by Daniel Guttentag in February, Kaweinga’s search results are powered by Google, but the results are limited to six travel-specific information types, covering destinations, forums, articles, blogs, reviews and videos. Just looking for forum discussions about a topic? You can focus your search on those alone, and not get the results clogged up with other data.
This is especially helpful if you’re looking for information on a destination and don’t have time to check through your bookmarked list of trusted sites. Instead of going to each one and searching for your destination, you can (ideally) search them all from one place. Don’t see a great site in the results? Submit the URL to Kaweinga for consideration.
Try it out and see what you think!